His Holiness the Dalai Lama greeting retired CTA officials as he arrives inside the Main Tibetan Temple in Dharamsala, HP, India on July 5, 2019. Photo by Tenzin Choejor

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Dharamshala, India — The day before His Holiness the Dalai Lama's 84th birthday, about 300 retired staff of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and 200 members of their families offered prayers and an elaborate ritual for their spiritual leader's long life, at the Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, India, July 5, 2019.

The path through the middle of the yard to the Tsuglagkhang, the Main Tibetan Temple, had been decorated in bright ceremonial colours which contrasted with the grey sky of impending monsoon. His Holiness was escorted from his residence to the Temple by former Kalön Tripa, Tenzin Namgyal Tethong, Chairman of the Retired CTA Staff Committee, Lobsang Jinpa and the Disciplinarian of Namgyal Monastery, Ven Tenzin Norbu.

As is his wont, His Holiness stopped to greet friends and well-wishers on the way. On several occasions, children from the Tibetan Children’s Village School were visibly thrilled that he had spoken to them. Inside the temple, His Holiness greeted the Sikyong with members of the present Kashag, the Chief Justice, and Speaker of the Parliament in Exile. He pressed through the several retired officials around the throne to welcome Garje Khamtrul Rinpoché, who is now confined to a wheel-chair.

Once His Holiness had taken his seat on the throne, Chairman of the CTA Long Life Offering Committee Lobsang Jinpa offered the mandala and the threefold representation of the Buddha's body, speech, and mind, and former Secretaries offered scarves as the prayers began. Following the recitation of a Praise by Trulshik Rinpoché, Recounting the Previous Lives of the Dalai Lamas, emanations of Avalokiteshvara, His Holiness intervened.

“Today, former staff of the CTA are offering this long life ceremony. Your faith, devotion, and spiritual bond are strong. I thank you for praying that my life may be long. This morning, former Kalön Tripa, Tenzin Namgyal escorted me here. I’ve known him since he was a small boy when his father was a Tibetan official in Mussoorie.

“As refugees in exile, we have left behind a lot of old customs, which for me was like breaking free. Some people have observed that before this I lived in a golden cage. Fortunately, due to the kindness of my Tutors, I was able to study.

“We lost our country and escaped into exile, but we have all worked hard to preserve our religion, our culture, and our identity. It’s been 60 years since our country was lost and there’s still no freedom there, but we have longstanding links here in India. In exile, we’ve been able to study classic Buddhist texts by Nalanda masters that are indicative of the unique relations between India and Tibet.

“In the past, there were some who referred to Tibetan tradition as Lamaism, as if it were not a pure Buddhist tradition, but what we have kept alive is the genuine tradition of Nalanda. In losing our country we gained an opportunity to study, practice and share the vast and profound instructions of the Buddha’s teachings.

"These we can explain in our own language, Tibetan. We have been able to preserve and promote our Buddhist traditions, not on the basis of blind faith, but using reason and logic. As a consequence, nowadays people from other Buddhist countries and countries that previously had no interest in Buddhism have taken an interest in what we know.

“Anyway as we say in one of the operas, ‘We old people should get together, have fun and celebrate.’ Tibet is a land that Avalokiteshvara takes care of. We can see this in history and the record of his incarnations in Tibet. He has 1000 eyes and 1000 arms, but since I can talk and relate directly with people, I think of myself as his messenger," His Holiness said.

"Early in our days in exile, when I was still staying at Swarag Ashram, I dreamt that I was in the Jokhang in Lhasa before the statue known as the self-generated, five-faced Avalokiteshvara. He beckoned me to him and we hugged. He told me to keep up my spirits and not to give up. Later, during the Cultural Revolution, that statue was destroyed, but some pieces of the faces were rescued and brought to me here. Some of them I placed inside the Thousand Arm Avalokiteshvara we have here; others are kept in a box next to him.

“Those of you who have worked hard for the CTA will be cared for by Avalokiteshvara in life after life. This isn’t a matter of empty faith, it’s based on reason. Consciousness has its own substantial cause. It’s because the mind is preceded by the mind in a continuity that we speak of life after life. And because you have a unique connection with him through your work, Avalokiteshvara will take care of you. Under these circumstances try to cultivate compassion, loving-kindness, and the wisdom understanding emptiness.

“At this difficult time in our history, you have done your best, so pray to Avalokiteshvara to help you realize emptiness and the awakening mind of bodhicitta. Remember what Milarepa said about the bond between the patrons in the valley and the practitioners up on the hill working together so all may be enlightened.

“At a time when we see turmoil across the world because people are driven by disturbing emotions like anger and attachment, try to develop love and compassion and dedicate your work to peace in the world. We pray for the well-being of all sentient beings, but in reality, those to whom we can actually be of practical benefit are the 7 billion human beings who are our companions on this earth. This is why wherever I go I encourage people to be more warm-hearted. If you are kind-hearted in your day to day life, you’ll definitely find more peace and satisfaction.

“We will all die, but when it happens you can go without regret. You can recall that you followed His Holiness’s advice and did your best—pray for Avalokiteshvara to take care of you in life after life.”'

Led by their Abbot, Thamtog Rinpoché, the monks of Namgyal Monastery proceeded to conduct a long life ritual based on the practice of Amitayus taken from the Secret Visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama. In the course of this, a long procession of former CTA officials carried a series of offerings through the temple. As the ceremony came to an end former Kalöns and officials of the CTA personally presented scarves to His Holiness, including Khamtrul Rinpoché who was lifted up to the throne.

Members of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, playing a mixture of modern and traditional Tibetan instruments, performed a song of praise and appreciation. Before the offering of the thanksgiving mandala, His Holiness spoke again. “Those of you who have dedicated your body, speech, and mind to the cause of Tibet and the preservation of our spiritual heritage have led meaningful lives," he said.

"On my part, I always make a determination to live long. Trulshik Rinpoché recommended emulating Thangtong Gyalpo, who lived to be 125. That may be hard to do. Other friends among the meditators I know have suggested that I could follow the example of Panchen Lobsang Chögyen and live to 108. I don’t know about that, but I feel I could live into my 90s or to 10," he further said, adding: Anyway, I always make prayers on behalf of sentient beings and the flourishing of the Dharma:

As long as space remains,

And as long as sentient beings remain,

Until then, may I too remain

And help dispel the misery of the world.

“I feel I have been able to be of some service and if I live longer I’ll be able to be of more help.

In regions where the supreme, precious teaching has not spread

Or where it has spread but then declined,

May I illumine that treasure of happiness and benefit

With a mind deeply moved by great compassion.

‘Otherwise to hope for a long life with no meaningful purpose makes no sense. Now you can offer the thanksgiving mandala.”

Many elderly Tibetans who have served His Holiness in various capacities down the years offered him a scarf, which he returned with an affectionate pat on the head. As he made his way from the temple down to the car waiting in the yard, many more members of the public offered His Holiness their good wishes and he responded with a smile, a few words or a handshake. Finally, he drove home to lunch.

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