Devotion, history of the BMI

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Victor H. Gabriel, a member of  the Los Angeles Karma Kagyu Study Group under Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, conceived the BMI in February 2003. Years before, he had helped establish a Dharmakaya stupa in Manila. 

Vic's story:  Meeting the 16th Karmapa
In 1977, His Holiness the 16th Karmapa visited Manila, The Philippines. The visit was arranged by a small group of Chinese-Filipino Vajrayana disciples. At that time, I was a Catholic, as were most citizens of that country.  I went along at the invitation of a lawyer friend, a member of the Theosophical Society, who had read The Life of Milarepa and who was excited to have me see a leading master of that famous Tibetan's lineage.  I took refuge from His Holiness during that visit. 
The Ceremony of the Black Crown   In Manila, Karmapa Rigpe Dorje performed the ceremony of the Black Hat.
I don't remember all the details of the Ceremony.  Legend has it that the reason Holiness holds on to the Black Hat is to prevent the dakinis from taking it back.  The masters say that the Black Hat is so empowered that the disciple who is ready is liberated upon seeing it.  Anyone who is not yet ready will still receive the blessings and establish a connection with Holiness that can last beyond this lifetime. 
I can't recall exactly how long the ceremony took.  But all the while, the 16th Karmapa sat on the throne with great dignity, His back erect and His right arm raised so as to hold the high black Crown on His head.  He remained steady and motionless, maybe for an hour or more, until the completion of the ceremony.   I think the Black Hat was displayed 3 times in all. Holiness Karmapa demonstrated amazing strength and stamina; he was totally present during the ritual.
Karmapa Rigpe Dorje looked glorious.  In my limited perception, He had absolute certainty of what the ritual was accomplishing.  He was obviously in a meditative state and for sure, exposing the Black Hat was not only for the disciples physically present at that time, but for all beings formless or with form. 
The ceremony was extremely solemn. Since at the time I was not fully aware of its significance, relating this story makes me remember what a precious event that had been. I can repeat the image of that ceremony in my mind and thereby receive the full blessings.
As this Black Hat ceremony happened in 1977, it was only a few years later [1981] that the 16th Karmapa went into Parinirvana.
After that visit, many Tibetan lamas, such as H.E. Tai Situ, H.E. Jamgon Kongtul, H.E. Goshir Gyaltsap, Kalu Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, and Dabsang Rinpoche came to Manila.  With their visits, my interest in Vajrayana Buddhism slowly developed.

Then in 1993, the tragic accident of [3rd] Jamgon Rinpoche happened.  When Rumtek Monastery hosted the 49th-day prayers for His Eminence, many rinpoches, lamas, monks, and lay people attended and I was one of 20 Filipino disciples there.

Meeting the 17th Karmapa  After the ceremonies, although most of our group headed back to Manila, three of us did not.  Bettie Gosiengfiao, another lady (Gene Abubo,) and I conceived the idea of continuing on from Sikkim to Tibet to meet the 17th Karmapa, who was then eight years old.  Our determination to meet Him was very strong, but the problem was we did not have enough money to make the trip.  Although some members of the party returning to Manila contributed funds, we only had enough for bus fare to Kathmandu, with a little extra. 
We stayed a few days in Kathmandu trying to figure out how to fund the next stage of the trip -- the flight to Lhasa.  We first thought of borrowing money from some monasteries, but decided against it since they have so many monks to support and we could not burden them further.

Finally, I looked through the Kathmandu telephone directory and dialled the number of a travel agent that sort of stood out among several names.  The three of us went to their office and after introducing ourselves, we related our predicament.  The owner listened attentively, smiled and said that he knew the 16th Karmapa and was happy to hear of our plans.  He immediately issued three airplane tickets to Lhasa, arranged for hotel accommodations while there, and also for a vehicle and guide to take us to Tsurphu.  We gave him our assurances that we would pay him back upon our return to Manila.  For us, this was the first in a series of miracles and blessings from Karmapa --  receiving the airline tickets from a travel agent who knew Him.

We were at the airport in Kathmandu when an announcement said that there was a flight problem.  As a consequence, the airlines provided 1st class hotel accommodations and free meals.  This we enjoyed, saying it was a further blessing from His Holiness.
The following day we arrived in Lhasa. We spent the day going around the city and doing prostrations at the Jhokang. The next day, the guide, driver and the 3 of us headed off for Tsurphu.  
 
Tsurpu At the great monastery, seat of the Karmapas, the Mahakala yearly festival was in progress -- we had had no idea of this at the time we planned this trip.  When we arrived the lama dance was in progress and many Tibetans were there.  The secretary general informed us that we could see His Holiness in the morning of the following day.
There were many lamas, monks and lay people, mostly Tibetans, who came from all over the region. The lamas participating in the Mahakala dance were dressed in colorful, elaborate costumes.  HH Urgyen Trinley Dorje was just eight years old then, and gazed at the presentation from his window.
Disciples from all over joined long lines, carrying precious gifts to offer His Holiness. These lines were closely watched by Chinese military guards in olive green uniforms.  In fact, Tsurphu was teeming with guards.

Outstanding was the whole-hearted devotion expressed by the Tibetans, many of whom  must have traveled from far-flung areas of Tibet.   Their clothes may have been disheveled, their hair unkempt, but with only a little money they would dig deep in their pockets, and from the earnest expression on their faces, one could see the love, respect, and full devotion they have for Karmapa.  I watched in awe as they pushed and shoved while on queue, so as to be assured of getting a glimpse of His Holiness and receiving His blessings.

A Cure for Altitude Sickness After a few hours at the monastery, the three of us started to feel sick.  Everything was spinning and we felt nauseous.  I thought that I would die right then and there;  I could hardly breathe.  My friend Gene could not stand up without help.  The dizziness continued until the next morning.  We could hardly sleep in the spooky room with only a single candle burning; its light only lasted until about midnight.  Gene kept pleading for help but we other two were too groggy to attend to her.  That part of the trip was probably the most trying.  We murmured prayers to the deities to help us through the night.

Finally, it was morning and the secretary general with some monks announced that we could now meet His Holiness.  By this time Gene could not even stand up and had to be helped by 2 monks, one on each arm.  Bettie and I still felt dizzy and sick, too.  Finally, before His Holiness we prostrated.  He must have been wondering why all three of us were sobbing. He held a scroll of paper with a red ribbon that he placed on top of our heads as if in play.  Right then and there, the altitude sickness disappeared.  That was a really powerful blessing.  It was not merely a gradual disappearance of the sick feeling, but instant relief.

Since there were many others still in line waiting for an audience, we were ushered from the room.  We excitedly compared notes about how the dizziness had disappeared. Later, a western lama we met said that our biggest mistake was proceeding directly to Tsurphu without first getting acclimatized to the altitude by staying in Lhasa for a few days at least, not just overnight.

After the joyful experience of seeing Karmapa, we were en route to Manila via Hong Kong.  At Hong Kong airport, we were hungry but did not have any money.  Then, as the  3 of us walked to the boarding area, on the floor Gene found some meal tickets for an airport restaurant.  We all laughed, once more enjoying blessings from His Holiness.

Meeting the 17th Karmapa Once Again

In January 2002, I was fortunate to see His Holiness Karmapa in Bodhgaya, where he led the Kagyu Monlam.  Then, after a few days at the Vajra Vidya Institute in Sarnath, I had the opportunity of having another audience with Him.  I related our meeting at Tsurphu, which he acknowledged.  I requested His blessings. Again I experienced a powerful energy which is difficult to describe.  It was as if my whole being tingled with joy and excitement.
I had gone to Vajra Vidya, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche's institute, after hearing that Karmapa would be staying there for some time.  I was told that in 2001 while at Sarnath, He had given teachings to the Westerners.  But in Feb. 2002, no such teaching was scheduled. The disciples hurriedly passed around a note asking for signatures from those requesting teachings from His Holiness.  
The response was quick.  Overnight, the Western disciples signed up and collected offerings.  I saw how much the disciples from various foreign countries wanted to hear and see Karmapa.  In a room packed with more than 50 foreign disciples, we had the opportunity of listening intently to His discourse on  "The Guru-Disciple Relationship". 
In spite of the limited time, Holiness expounded thoroughly on the topic. Everyone left the room with smiles on their faces.  I heard them say how happy they were that Holiness was able to cover good ground.

I was deeply moved by Holiness' radiance. His face and entire aura is bright. He moves with gentleness and elegance.  I could somehow feel the great courage and confidence that must be coming from Absolute Wisdom. When he addresses disciples, I could sense the vast kindness that flows from His heart/mind as he looks at you with sweet gentleness.
I am so grateful that even with my limited and inconsistent practice in the past, I am able to slightly perceive, thru His blessings; that when I am in His presence, I am actually beholding a living Buddha, a fully enlightened being manifesting as a Bodhisattva for my sake and that of all beings.

Taking It All Back Home  While on the flight back to Los Angeles from New Delhi, my heart was overflowing with the desire to contribute or support the activities of Holiness. The yearning came spontaneously, since I felt so joyful in His presence listening to Him.  I thought surely others must have similar experiences on meeting Him. 

Also, for some, maybe a stronger connection is made when they see Him; that is, the establishment of the seed of liberation through the faculty of sight.  How could this ever happen for people if they have no chance of seeing Him?  I made the fervent wish that He would take His seat at Rumtek and be able to travel abroad, as was the case in the 1970's.

At the first opportunity, I went to the Rumtek website and read that one of the supports that can be offered His Holiness is the chanting of Karmapa Chenno.

I emailed a KDK disciple and from there I got linked up with Tenzin at Simhanada (simhas.org). Then Daniel, another Kagyu disciple, linked me to Khandro of Khandro Net. After some email exchanges, the Billion Mantra Initiative was conceived. Both Khandro and Tenzin created special web pages to explain the BMI.  Meeting them is another great blessing. As a result, disciples from all over the world are aware of, and can take part in, the BMI.

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Philippines:  Many parts of this West Pacific archipelago of 7,000+ islands had a sophisticated culture long before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 1500s.  It was visited by Indonesian traders, received refugees from Malaya, and from at least as early as the 7th century (Tang dynasty) through the 10th (Yuan,) Chinese merchant ships traded there.  The influential Chinese communities that were established popularized Confucian and Taoist principles,  and Buddhist shrines were built.

In the 13th century, the Arabs sent thousands of Muslim missionaries yet by 1899 when Spanish rule ended, most Filipinos had converted to Catholicism.   The USA had a strong presence from 1898 until 1945. At the end of WWII, the Americans liberated the country from a relatively brief but cruel Japanese occupation, democracy was introduced, and there was a climate for intellectual inquiry.  A period of general prosperity followed, but was short-lived due to widespread corruption and mismanagement.  Thousands left their island homes to seek their fortunes elsewhere. 

Tagalog is the predominant language of Filipinos.  In its classical or Bayeng form, it is written in a script from India via Indonesia that bears certain similarities to Tibetan. 

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