New Executive Director of PLTLP, Adrienne Moberly Vilaubi, reflects on the experience of being at Tashi Lhunpo for the consecration of the Prayer Hall December 2015.
Dear PLTLP Board Members,
The Tashi Lhunpo Monastery is beautiful. I arrived to Bylakuppe with my daughter the evening before the Inaugural Ceremony. The Dalai Lama consecrated the Prayer Hall on December 19, 2015 and the ceremony was a grand affair with guests and dignitaries all seated in the front of a huge tent. Many officials spoke to the crowd assembled, including a presentation by Khen Rinpoche and the local ‘governor’ of the Karnataka. The state of Karnataka, which contains a great many Tibetan settlements, has along history of being very supportive to Tibetans in exile, and numerous people including His Holiness thoughtfully noted this. The details of orchestrating such an event were amazing.
As you can imagine, security was very tight and no cameras were allowed into the enclosed monastery area throughout the time HHDL was there. The pictures attached are primarily exterior shots from outside the main gates although we did capture a few shots early one evening after teachings were finished for the day and after having had the privilege of a brief visit with Khen Rinpoche.
The overall scope of the event is hard to convey. The monastery was transformed into a veritable convention center and the scope of managing all of the details was, by observation, exhausting. Most of the monks, including Rinpoche, looked tired. Prayer flags were strung from every corner of every building, hung on every fence and gate, and bordered all roadways! It was extraordinary; it was splendid. There was an air of officious delight and happiness was palpable. Gold and white lights were strung in beautiful patterns across the facade of the buildings perimeters and the monastery could be seen from a great distance away like a fantastic beacon in the night. Huge tarps were erected to provide covered areas for attendees to sit during the Inaugural Ceremony, and then throughout the Dalai Lama's teachings, which took place in both the morning and the afternoon. The legion of monks and staff must have worked ceaselessly, months on end preparing for the massive number of guests, notwithstanding trying to complete the building itself. The word that kept resurfacing for me was "wondrous."
The interior of the Prayer (Assembly Hall) Hall is spectacular. Covered with Thangkas, beautiful tapestries and wall hangings of colorful brocades, and brightly painted columns with ornate caps. There is a huge throne behind which a giant Buddha sits protected by a Plexiglas shield.
The exterior is equally as beautiful, and the area where HHDL sat to give his Lamrim Teachings had a large throne surrounded by garlands of flowers and columns covered in brocade tapestries. Several monks and other participants sat behind His Holiness, but it was unclear how one got invited to do so. On our last day we were invited by several people from the Siddhartha School to sit there with them and we felt quite humbled.
The entire Prayer Hall building is much larger than I thought it would be and it has living quarters for the Abbott of Tashi Lhunpo, His Holiness, and permanent quarters for the Panchen Lama. It also has a small and beautifully appointed museum depicting the history of Tashi Lhunpo in Tibet and in exile, and the relationship between His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the 10th and 11th Panchen Lamas. The story and picture galleries were very well done, and dedicated to Ruth, which was a moving and wonderful surprise and testament to all the many years of devotion that you all have shown to this remarkable undertaking. At the end of the exhibit there was a postcard writing campaign using the picture of the young Gedhun Choekyi Nyima for people to write to the Chinese government praying for his return or release to his rightful home at Tashi Lhunpo.
The number of monks in attendance was estimated at 20,000 with an additional 10,000 to 15,000 guests, dignitaries, staff, and security personnel on site daily. What makes this incredible aside from the sheer number of people in one place at one time was that the monks from Tashi Lhunpo fed everyone. They provided daily water, breakfast buns, and butter tea in the morning (you were to bring your own cup), then there was lunch served to anyone who brought their own bowl and then more tea in the afternoon. There were a few specific dining halls set up for dignitaries, guests, and specific committees where three meals a day were provided.
Many guests were housed at the monastery in nearly finished new monk housing or guesthouses, while others stayed in prearranged housing in nearby hotels or homestays. There were a great many guests sponsored by different monks, and many associated with Khen Rinpoche stayed in what will be new "elder monk quarters" in what was called Block A.
I brought back to share with each of you the official Tashi Lhunpo pamphlet that was created for the event. In it you will see that the next major official project that Khen Rinpoche is planning is to serve as a resource and center of learning for all the monks. Please send me your physical home addresses and I will get them in the mail to you within the next week. Rinpoche will be coming to the USA sometime in the spring and we can all look forward to seeing him again at that time.
It was a blessing to have been able to be there.
Adrienne Moberly Vilaubi