THE POWER OF GURU RINPOCHE
The heart opening Australian Guru Bhumtsok experience
in Hobart over Saka Dawa 2017
Peace and compassion 9-11 June
Something very special happened in Hobart, Tasmania between 9th – 11th June 2017. FPMT in Australia captured the imagination of people across Australia as well as internationally as we held a massive 100,000 Tsok Offering puja to Guru Rinpoche (Guru Bhumtsok), with local co-hosts Chag Tong Chen Tong Tibetan Buddhist Centre. The event was for the long lives of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet and Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche, as well as for World Peace.
Below we have posted audio of the puja as well as images and descriptions. We have also posted the names of the sponsors and participants – these lists are going to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche to remember in their extensive dedication prayers. This Guru Bhumtsok took place in the clear air of Hobart, surrounded by the natural beauty and historical sites of Tasmania. What follows is the cataloguing of an event that aimed to cultivate world peace and compassion in Australia…
‘’World Peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not just mere absence of violence. Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion.”
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet
FPMT in Australia decided in December 2016 to organise a national 100,000 Tsok Offerings to Guru Rinpoche (Guru Bhumtsok) puja, inspired by the advice of Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche. We wanted to connect strongly to Rinpoche and offer the puja for the long lives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Rinpoche. We also wished to dedicate the puja for World Peace.
This was the first time that this event would be offered in our region and Chag Tong Chen Tong Tibetan Buddhist centre (CTCT), Hobart, co-hosted the event. Tasmania, with its pure air and World Heritage wildernesses and mountains, and Hobart with its award-winning restaurants, organic produce and heritage areas are very popular tourist destinations. Hobart hosts an active community of artists and designers who are inspired by Tasmania’s natural environment, and Kickstart Arts, an organisation dedicated to community art, partnered with FPMTA and CTCT to hold the event.
A large geodesic white dome was erected in the garden next to where CTCT’s 3 metre high Golden Buddha was placed. The Golden Buddha formed the focus of the event – a place where we offered silken robes, gold-leaf, incense, circumambulated whilst chanting and did the Tsur offering around a fierce fire every evening as darkness fell. Early each morning we would start by offering tea-lights to the large stupa set up in the middle of the dome, the flickering flames lighting our faces in the shadows before the sun rose.
Inside, the gompa was resplendent; luminous with Kickstart’s theatrical lighting that shone on the rich brocades, thankgkas, silk buntings, khatags and holy images that covered the walls and ceiling, tables of beautiful Tsok offerings and long lines of water bowl, light, incense, food and flower offerings. At the front in the middle: a high throne covered in beautiful brocades holding images of His Holiness and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and beautiful crystal bowls overflowing with gold-covered chocolates, and mandala offerings on the silken cushions. The stage was filled with exquisite Tsok – wrapped in brilliant ribbons and coverings, and abundant with Guru Rinpoche incense from Kopan, crystals, gold-leafed tsa tsas and beautiful objects. In front was vase upon vase of colourful flowers.
Internationally renowned artist Martin Walker-Watson installed an exhibition of gilded repousse holy images at the venue called Sacred Art for Global Peace. The exhibition room at the venue was filled with his wondrous gilded Tibetan Buddhist deities mounted on rich brocades.Prajnaparamita, the Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom, gleamed with fine gold leaf, as well as green, yellow, white, and red gold leaf. Her robes were trimmed with purple leaf (a resin coated silver leaf) and also with palladium leaf; her crown mounted with Swarovski crystals. A palpable sense of presence emanated from the exhibition room.
We started the puja on Saka Dawa evening, Friday 9th June. Over 160 people crammed into the gompa, including children and families, to listen to special guests such as the Speaker of the Tasmanian Parliament, the Honourable Elise Archer, and Dr. Sonam Thakchoe, Tibetan representative and scholar, open the puja. We commenced by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, the Mouheneenner people, and all Aboriginal Elders past, present and future. The Hon. Elise Archer made the first offering of the puja, presenting a delicate gold and white posy of flowers to the throne.
After chai and cake was served, the first puja session began. With over 18 sangha present from all over Australia the gompa was filled with maroon and saffron robes and at the front, the two Geshes – Geshe Tenzin Zopa-la, who led the puja, and Geshe Phuntsok Tsultrim-la from Chenrezig institute, Queensland. At the front also was Lama Jimay-la from Tasmania who ably assisted with the hook drum.
In the first session we started by chanting the full verses of the Prayer to Guru Rinpoche that Spontaneously Fulfills all Wishes – a poignant and melodic tune. This was followed by the Tsok offering prayer and Guru Rinpoche mantra which were repeated many times. These repetitions were accompanied by cymbals and drums with a very stirring beat. As the pace of these repetitions was fast, it took a little while for everyone to get their head around the Tibetan syllables but soon everyone settled into a kind of rhythm, with Geshe Tenzin Zopa-la’s clear voice leading us forward. The sangha played the ritual instruments and the gompa became warm and energised.
Evoking the spirit of Guru Rinpoche, and knowing that this puja had been blessed by Lama Zopa Rinpoche beforehand particularly to clear obstacles, made everything in the gompa seem timeless, vivid and very clear as I looked at the large thangka of Guru Rinpoche above the Tsok offerings.
To get to this point had taken over six months of preparation. Attending were students, directors and previous directors, spiritual program coordinators and sangha from most of Australia’s 20 or so centres, study groups and services.
CTCT had conjured a large team of volunteers to host the many sangha, prepare the delicious food, look after people flow, work in the shop, help erect the dome and install the 3 metre Golden Buddha, and we were helped by volunteers from other centres such as Buddha House’s director and spiritual program coordinator who came early to help wrap the Tsok. There were parking attendant helpers who braved the cold 5.30am air, an usher team who were suddenly swamped by more than 160 enthusiastic participants – only 80 pre-registered but our panic quickly turned to ‘welcome: here is your goody bag’ joy – as well as gold-leaf tsa-tsa makers in the months leading up to the event. Co-organiser, Venerable Lindy Mailhot (director of CTCT) and FPMT in Australia wanted everyone to feel welcomed, cared for, and nourished by the puja as well as the food, no matter what obstacle arose. But more than anything we wished to please the mind of our precious Guru.
Geshe Tenzin Zopa led the gompa set up team in the week before the event, directing with precision and tirelessly climbing ladders, putting up silk bunting and hanging holy images, khatags and thangkas, as well as working with Dan Mailhot, (nicknamed the Golden Buddha man for his work in golding the Buddha) to transport, welcome and decorate the Golden Buddha in the garden.
Because the puja was also dedicated to World Peace at a time when so much war, terror, famine, and suffering was happening, this event captured the imagination of those at Kickstart Arts and the Hobart community, as well as participants and sponsors. An Israeli FPMT group who sponsored Tsok, made their dedication to the overcoming of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They sent a link to a moving meeting between Israelis and Palestinians whose families had been killed in the conflict and yet who wished only for peace.
At the food tables and tents in the garden hung with prayer flags, in the gompa, in the Sacred Art exhibition, an atmosphere of togetherness and warmth encircled everyone. We started at 6am on the Saturday and Sunday with light offerings and chanting of Om Mani Padme Hum, slowly circumambulating the Golden Buddha to enter the white dome, the sangha first, holding their warm zens around them in the cold winter morning.
We also offered gold-leaf to the Golden Buddha, with the two Geshes and sangha leading us all out to the garden where Martin Walker assisted those participants including many children to gold leaf the Buddha’s feet. Sponsors waited in line for 2 hours for their chance to offer gold leaf to the huge beaming Golden Buddha.
As Registrar I received emails from the many sponsors of this event, and in the week leading up to the puja sponsorships quadrupled. By Saka Dawa I was seriously overwhelmed, with sponsorships arriving from all over the world – India, Malaysia, Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the dedications were beautiful, sometimes heart-wrenching, with a clear abiding love of His Holiness and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. To achieve world peace and inner peace was a constant theme. Then suddenly we received incredible news: Lama Zopa Rinpoche had recorded a video personally addressing puja participants and Venerable Holly was sending it through. Venerable Lindy and I broke down. To hear that Lama Zopa had done this for us in Australia, knowing how unbelievably busy he is – words could not describe the feelings of being cared for by him, of the deep connection being made between all of us involved with the puja and the person most precious in our lives, Lama Zopa Rinpoche. It made us weep.
We held five puja sessions per day of Guru Rinpoche prayers. Venerable Lindy and I sat behind our chant leader, Geshe Tenzin Zopa and were subsumed by the waves of the Guru Rinpoche mantra and tsok prayers reverberating in the gompa; the swift rhythm of the cymbals and drums which created a trance-like beat. Even with my eyes closed I could see the details of Guru Rinpoche’s image – present in the gompa through the large thangka and also the exquisite Bertrand Cayla painting on the front of the prayer books we had printed. Even with a failing voice, Geshe Tenzin Zopa-la continued to lead us as we entered the world of Guru Rinpoche. Sangha swayed, many with eyes closed, students called out the fast-beating prayers and the cymbals and drums rattled and shook the gompa. Inside was warmth and light, radiant light. An intense white brightness emanated from the front of the gompa, the silken tsok ribbons and faces of the delicately painted thangka images glittered and shone beneath it. It was hard not to feel a strong presence.
As we entered our breaks we came out into a different world, a present and conventionally real world of lunch: warm delicious food, and cool wind on our cheeks that made the prayer flags flutter. The kind Tibetan community and CTCT offered delicious momos on the Sunday. After lunch we darkened the gompa to play Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s two videos on a huge screen. The first ten minute one thanked everyone there for coming to Tasmania to do the Guru Bhumstok. Rinpoche, in his characteristic style gave 100,000 thanks to all of us for coming and for those sponsoring this event and spoke of the incredible good it was doing. He thanked all the Geshes. He went into detail of how he remembered Venerable Lindy’s mother making him a head warmer. (This was over 35 years ago).
In the next video Rinpoche gave a wonderful teaching about Guru Rinpoche and how he arrived in Tibet: his journey there as well as his power in clearing obstacles. It was as if Rinpoche was in the gompa with us and in fact he was. His spirit and intention was. Rinpoche was with us for the Guru Bhumtsok and there was no doubt, listening to these teachings made specifically for us, that what we were doing was of enormous benefit.
Practitioners and volunteers worked beyond their tiredness until the final session. As Geshe Zopa-la led us in the final prayers and extensive dedications, there was a quiet power that seemed to hum in between the words of the prayers. The gompa was full of faces that were calm and happy, swaying with shining eyes. FPMT in Australia and CTCT gave out many presents of thanks to the myriad volunteers and hostesses who contributed so much, not forgetting the wonderful Tibetan community. Greatest thanks were reserved for Geshe Tenzin Zopa who advised and supported Venerable Lindy and myself in all aspects of the event, selflessly giving his time. At the time of thanking him publicly words choked in my throat, words were not enough.
At the end of the event students embraced one another, many in tears, as this had been an event where big things had happened internally and also in some other world – of this we somehow felt sure. Guru Rinpoche would help overcome the obstacles at the FPMT centres and in our personal lives – this was Rinpoche’s advice. This puja was unlike any other puja I had attended. I struggled to find the words to express the power I had connected to. I just kept seeing Guru Rinpoche’s face and robes so clearly in my mind and hear the sound of his swishing silk and musical instruments. Venerable Lindy and many others reported similar experiences during and after the event.
There was a great love that we had connected to through Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Guru Rinpoche. It manifested in the feelings at the end of the puja in that lit hall where all spontaneously embraced each other and cried. We felt enfolded in the arms of the FPMT family, and we had our hearts opened by our spiritual father, Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
(By Stephie Brennan, FPMTA Education/ Tour Coordinator)
SPONSORS AND ATTENDEES NAMES BELOW….we thank you!