Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India, 15 March 2023, Under a clear blue sky, the rising sun was catching the peaks of the mountains as His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived at the gate to his residence this morning. He was received by President of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) – Sikyong Penpa Tsering, Speaker of the Parliament – Khenpo Sonam Tenphel and Chief Justice Commissioner (Acting) – Karma Dadul.
As monks playing horns led the way, the three officials escorted him under an arch of flowers to the temple where the CTA were to offer a ceremony of prayers for his long life on behalf of all Tibetans inside and outside Tibet. In addition to smiling and waving to members of the crowd, His Holiness stopped now and then to listen to singers and watch dancers who performed for him.
Once in the temple, His Holiness took his seat on the throne and the Ganden Tri Rinpoché stepped forward to greet him and then sat down again in the centre of a line of Lamas who represented Tibet’s religious traditions.
To the left of Tri Rinpoché, who is the leader of the Geluk Tradition, representing the Sakya Tradition, was Chopgyé Trichen Rinpoché; representing the Nyingma Tradition, Ringu Tulku and Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen; to Tri Rinpoché’s right, representing the Bönpo Tradition, was Menri Trizin Rinpoché; representing the Drukpa Kagyu, Khenpo Ngédön Rinpoché; and representing the Jonang Tradition, Jonang Gyaltsab Rinpoché.
Prayers began with Trulshik Rinpoché’s ‘Clouds of Ambrosial Blessings’. Meanwhile tea and sweet rice were served.
As part of the ceremony five monks dressed in ornate costumes representing dakinis from the eight cemeteries, the 24 dakini places and the pure lands came forward. They would request the Lama not to remain in the world, but to come with them to the pure lands. The monks performing the Long-life ritual replied that, as all the Buddha’s doctrines were still present, the holder of these doctrines should remain in the world for the welfare of sentient beings and made clear that he was being requested to do so. They told the dakinis that they should return to their own abodes.
The disciples renewed their pledges to the Lama and begged him to remain while asking the dakinis to leave. In order that they would not depart empty-handed, the dakinis were offered an effigy in place of the Lama, with the assurance that, because of the blessings it had received, it was more precious than the actual Lama and should be taken instead.
The master of the ritual then told the dakinis he would offer them whatever they wished, but requested them to leave him the ribbons representing the light rays by which the Lama would be led to the pure lands. He then cut the ribbons, symbolically severing the Lama’s path to the pure lands, and wrapped them around the dakinis’ necks. One by one the monks representing the dakinis turned and left the temple, following which the effigy of the Lama was also taken out.
Next, the Nechung Oracle, who had been invoked and gone into trance in the Kalachakra Temple, entered the Main Temple at a run. He paid his respects to His Holiness and offered him representations of the body, speech and mind of the Buddhas. He was followed by the Yudrönma oracle, who likewise paid her respects.
Nechung gathered the Ganden Tri Rinpoché, the Sikyong and the Speaker together before His Holiness and delivered his request before his trance came to an end.
In conjunction with an elaborate mandala offering, the Ganden Tri Rinpoché stepped forward and, flanked by the Sikyong and the Speaker, began to read an appreciation of His Holiness’s deeds and a supplication to him to live long.
“We, the Central Tibetan Administration—on behalf the Tibetans inside and outside Tibet, and the Protective Deities of Tibet—bow at your feet and briefly request Your Holiness, to live long. We also renew our rock-solid pledge to you.
“Avalokiteshvara is the special deity of Tibetan people. As you promised in the past, “May I be like a parent to the beings of the Snow Land”, you manifested as the ‘Three Ancestral Kings’—Songtsen Gampo, Trisong Detsen and Tri Ralpachen—and then the series of Dalai Lamas.
“You were born in the Tsongkha Dekham region of Amdo and grew up in Tibet at a time of great turmoil, but still you diligently pursued your education becoming a top-ranking scholar, a holder of the Geshé Lharampa Degree. At the age of 16, you took up temporal and spiritual responsibility for Tibet. You introduced reforms.
“When we came into exile, we knew no one, but under your guidance we built settlements, monasteries, nunneries and schools.
“You introduced the idea of democracy to our exile community, made changes to the way it was fulfilled as necessary, and finally, by devolving your responsibilities to the elected leadership, actually implemented a fully functioning democracy.
“You have explained the value of love and compassion in creating a peaceful, more compassionate world. You have promoted inter-religious harmony. You have encouraged the preservation and promotion of Tibetan religion and culture as well as the protection of Tibet’s natural environment. You have revealed that the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is like a treasure for the world, and you have supported the revival of ancient India wisdom. These are your principal commitments.
“You have participated in the many Mind & Life Conferences that have provided opportunities for modern scientists and Buddhist scholars and practitioners to learn from each other. You have overseen the SEE Learning programme that demonstrates how such basic human values as compassion and warm-heartedness can be combined with a modern education.
“You are unanimously honoured and respected as the protector, refuge and guardian of all the people of Tibet, China, and Mongolia
“We offer you the seven royal emblems that represent the vast ocean of Buddhafields; we offer representations of the body, speech and mind of the buddhas, along with the eight auspicious symbols and the eight auspicious substances. We also wish to make an offering of practice.
“We strongly pray to Your Holiness not to waiver from your pledge to live to more than 125 years of age.
Remain until cyclic existence comes to an end
As protector of the Land of Snows
Whose beings are without protection.
Continue to incarnate until all beings are enlightened
And bestow blessings of the four excellences:
Spiritual knowledge, prosperity, happiness and liberation.
“In 2011, when Your Holiness devolved your temporal authority to the elected leadership, you retained only the title ‘Fourteenth Dalai Lama’ and yet the inextricable historic bond between the Dalai Lamas and Tibetan people remains as strong as ever.
“We the Tibetan people wholeheartedly request Your Holiness to kindly accept our request, as the Seventh Dalai Lama has written in his ‘Praise to Avalokiteshvara’:
Even your own name is blessed.
Whoever hears it will be freed from fear.
Those who keep your name in mind will reap fruit
similar to performing devotions to countless buddhas.
This has been taught by the great sage with words of truth,
and so, with great hope we make a prayer that you, great protector,
whose mind is undistracted,
will rescue these desperate sentient beings.”
The Lamas representing their respective traditions came forward to formally offer His Holiness representations of the body, speech and mind of the Buddhas. Meanwhile a procession of people bearing offerings filed through the temple. Musicians and singers performed in the background. At the end came an elderly man in a white chuba carrying a Tibetan flag.
Addressing the crowd, His Holiness told them, “I don’t have much to say today. Not only are beings with form here, but the formless beings of Tibet have joined us in this Long-life Ceremony.
“Tibet has gone through great difficulties, yet we have sought to preserve our Buddhist culture and traditions for the wider benefit of the people of China, Mongolia and Tibet. At the same time interest has grown in the West and scientists have been eager to learn about the inner workings of the mind and emotions. In taking part in this I feel I have achieved some benefit for the doctrine. I intend to continue to do what I can in the coming decades.
“Today, the people and protectors of Tibet, such as Nechung, have offered this Long-life Ceremony on my behalf. I am physically well and I will continue to do all I can to preserve the Dharma in the Himalayan regions. The purpose of Buddhism is to be of benefit to others. I pray that relying on this very body I may continue to bring about others’ welfare. Please join me in making similar aspirations.”