Shewatsel, Leh, Ladakh, India – The weather was brighter and school-children were demonstrating their debate skill in front of the teaching pavilion as His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove out from his residence. As is his custom, he paid his respects before the image of the Buddha in the pavilion before stepping out to wave to the crowd.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama arriving at the Shewatsel Teaching Ground pavilion to attend prayers offered for his long life in Leh, Ladakh, India on July 24, 2023. Photo by Tenzin Choejor
Once he was settled in his seat on the throne, he addressed the approximately 50,000 strong congregation.
“Over the last three days, the teachings have gone well and today you are offering prayers for my long life. When faith and the spiritual bond between disciples and Lama are unwavering, they become an auspicious condition that contributes to the Lama’s being able to live long.
“In my dreams I’ve seen signs that indicate that I may be able to live to be about 110 years old. When you look at me now, do I look like I’m in my eighties? Don’t I look younger than that?
“As far as I’m concerned, I have a spiritual bond with the people of the Land of Snow and they have unwavering faith in me, as do the people of the Himalayan Region. What’s more, people around the world, whether they are Buddhist or not, have expressed admiration for what I’ve done.
“As a follower of the Buddha, my main practice is to cultivate the awakening mind of bodhichitta and an understanding of emptiness. You too should try to practise in this way. And if you do, that will create an auspicious circumstance for me to live long.”
Tea and sweet rice were served.
The long-life ceremony today belonged to the Sutra tradition and was based on Prayers to the Sixteen Arhats. It included praises to the Buddha, the Prayer to the Sixteen Arhats, a Seven Limb Prayer and short Mandala Offering and a Request to the Lama to Remain.
Taktsak Kundeling Rinpoché presenting an extensive mandala offering during the prayers for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Shewatsel Teaching Ground in Leh, Ladakh, India on July 24, 2023. Photo by Tenzin Choejor
During an extensive mandala offering led by Taktsak Kundeling Rinpoché, representatives of the organizers specifically requested His Holiness to live long. Next was an offering of a Buddha statue, a scripture and a chörten, a set of robes, a fruit-filled alms bowl, and a monk’s staff. These were followed by offerings of representations of the seven symbols of royalty, the eight auspicious symbols and the eight auspicious substances.
During the chanting of the ‘Song of Immortality – an Extensive Prayer for the Long Life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’ composed by his two Tutors, Kyabjé Ling Rinpoché and Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoché, a long procession of local people, young and old, filed past the stage. The participants carried a variety of offerings including a collection of scriptures, bags of grain and carved tables. At the same time horns and drums were played and singers sang.
The procession came to an auspicious end with the Indian, Tibetan and Buddhist flags held aloft. Finally, bringing up the rear, was a white-haired old man in a white gown who offered a silk scarf to His Holiness.
The end of the procession of offerings including Tibetan, Indian and Buddhist flags during the prayers for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Shewatsel Teaching Ground in Leh, Ladakh, India on July 24, 2023. Photo by Ven Zamling Norbu
Representatives of the organizers, the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) and the Ladakh Gonpa Association (LGA) and others offered a mandala and the three representations of the body, speech and mind of enlightenment to His Holiness in thanks for his attending today’s ceremony.
Dedication prayers included ‘A Prayer for the Flourishing of the Non-Sectarian Teachings of the Buddha’ and ‘The Prayer of The Words of Truth’, both of which were composed by His Holiness.
Invited to address the audience again, His Holiness at first told them he had nothing special to say.
“The stronger your faith and devotion prove to be, the more you create circumstances for the Lama to live long. I’ve had the opportunity to give teachings and meet members of the public. And, as I’ve already said, there are indications that I may live to be 110 years old. You’ve witnessed my efforts to serve the teachings and all sentient beings and I will continue to do so.
“Although there may be some who seem to be practitioners, but lack the real qualities within, the most important thing is to have a good heart, with no thought to do others harm. We must avoid doing harm. We should abandon what should not be done and adopt what it is proper to do. If we can do that the Buddhas will be pleased.
“As I’ve already told you, I meditate on bodhichitta and emptiness every day. You can do this too. First do a scanning meditation of the main points and after reflecting on them, integrate them within yourselves. If you can do that, experience will arise. You’ll gain a genuine experience of bodhichitta and emptiness that will enable you to ascend the five paths. From the path of accumulation to the path of preparation and on to the path of seeing, you’ll make progress that will culminate in the attainment of enlightenment.
“We all say this prayer:
To the Buddha, Dharma, and the Highest Assembly
Until enlightenment I turn for refuge.
Through the store of wisdom and merit accrued by giving and other virtues
May I achieve Buddhahood to benefit all wandering beings.
“The first two lines refer to the causal refuge, whereas the second two lines indicate the resultant refuge when you accomplish the Buddha, Dharma and Highest Assembly within yourself. Keep these lines in mind.
Ladakhi women in traditional dress performing during the prayers for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Shewatsel Teaching Ground in Leh, Ladakh, India on July 24, 2023. Photo by Ven Zamling Norbu
“Over the last two or three days of the teaching everything has gone well in the beginning, middle and end. I would like to thank everyone involved in the organization, officials of the local administration and members of the LBA and LGA, as well as the police and security personnel, volunteers and other supporters. I’d also like to thank members of the public for the great faith and positive attitude you have shown. You inspire me to come to Ladakh every year to avoid the monsoon in the plains. So we’ll see each other again. Thank you”
Applause rippled through the crowd.