Cremation of His Holiness Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche

July 31, 2014

On the morning of Thursday, 31 July 2014, Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, presided over the cremation ceremonies for his late teacher, His Holiness Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche. Shamar Rinpoche had requested that he be cremated at his monastery, Shar Minub, just outside Kathmandu, Nepal. The ceremonies, and the preceding and succeeding events, were attended by many thousands of people from Nepal, India, and worldwide, as well as dignitaries and Buddhist teachers from all the main schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The late 14 Shamarpa Mipham Chokyi Lodro was a holder of the Karma Kagyu lineage, second in the spiritual hierarchy only to Karmapa himself. His passing in June 2014 at the age of 61 was felt as a sudden and profound loss to Buddhists worldwide. As a highly accomplished Buddhist master, however, Shamar Rinpoche showed signs that he was fully aware that his current incarnation would soon draw to a close. In this, he followed the precedent of other lineage masters, including his own guru, His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, who advised some of his close students one year in advance of the date when they should travel to Rumtek, where his cremation took place.

In a similar display of realization, Shamar Rinpoche, while continuing to travel and teach, had quietly dissolved all his private possessions, set his projects around the world in order, and dropped hints to his close students. His last recorded teaching concerned impermanence, conquering attachment, and how not to fear death. Shamar Rinpoche even instructed a surprised lama in Shar Minub monastery to make preparations for Karmapa (who had never been there before) to arrive in Kathmandu at the end of July, without giving any reason.

From the place where Shamar Rinpoche had passed away, his main European seat, the Bodhipath Centre in Renchen Ulm, Shamar Rinpoche’s kudung (mortal remains) was taken on a journey to the main places of Buddhist learning in India he had established: first the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute in New Delhi, and then the Sri Diwakar Institute in Kalimpong.
Wherever the kudung was taken, it was accompanied by ceremonies and huge crowds of students and mourners at each stage. Karmapa had been travelling with the kudung since Germany. The kudung then went on to Paro, Bhutan, where His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan, paid his respects. Also accompanying the kudung wherever it went was a procession of monks carrying victory banners (Tibetan: gyaltsen) and playing ritual instruments including drums, cymbals, and Tibetan short and long horns.

Honouring Shamar Rinpoche’s wish to be cremated in Kathmandu, which he had expressed several years previously while visiting Nepal, extensive preparations were undertaken, led by his Nepalese disciples. The permissions needed to hold such a large international event were obtained at the last moment, and two days before the cremation date, Shamar Rinpoche’s kudung arrived in Nepal aboard a special Druk Air flight from Bhutan. On the final stage of the journey from Kathmandu Airport to Shar Minub monastery, a motorcade carrying the kudung slowly circumambulated the two great Stupas of central Kathmandu: Boudha and Swayambhu. All along the way, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets to pay respect and witness this historical moment. The following day, Karmapa arrived in Nepal, and the next morning, he arrived at Shar Minub to preside over the cremation ceremonies.

Karmapa arrived together with a procession of monks carrying the kudung, which had been placed in meditation posture, up to the highest point of the roof of the monastery. The kudung was placed inside the cremation stupa.

The kudung of Shamar Rinpoche being taken to the cremation stupa. Photo/Tokpa Korlo

The kudung of Shamar Rinpoche being taken to the cremation stupa. Photo/Tokpa Korlo

Then Karmapa took his place on a throne prepared under a canopy on the top of the monastery, and six simultaneous pujas (Buddhist practices) began. Each puja was led by a different eminent Buddhist master.

In the area at the front, directly facing the cremation stupa, Karmapa led the puja of Gyalwa Gyamtso (Sanskrit: Jinasagāra). Accompanying him were the Karma Kagyu lamas Shangpa Rinpoche, Sangsang Rinpoche, Sabchu Rinpoche, Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche, Trinley Tulku, and Kalden Rinpoche.

Also at the front facing the cremation stupa, the renowned Sakya master Luding Khen Rinpoche of Ngor Monastery led the puja of Kye Dorje (Skt: Hevajra), with Thartse Khen Rinpoche, Gar Shabdrung Rinpoche, Tharig Rinpoche, Dongsang Shabdrung Rinpoche and Khenpo Ngawang Dorje.

To the south, the puja of Mitrugpa (Skt: Akṣhobhya) was performed by Lektsho Lopon of the central monastic body of Bhutan (Drukpa Kagyu).

To the north, from the Nyingma school, Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche performed Samatabhadra’s Heart Essence fire puja of Vajrasattva (Tib: Dorje Sempa), with Tulku Urgyen Yangsi, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Phakchok Rinpoche and Tsoknyi Rinpoche.

Also to the north, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche led the puja of Dorje Phagmo (Skt: Vajrayogini), with Beru Khyentse Rinpoche, and Dupsing Rinpoche (Karma Kagyu).

To the south, Trungram Gyaltrul Rinpoche and Lopon Rinpoche (Karma Kagyu) performed the puja of Khorlo Demchok (Skt: Chakrasamvara).

When the six pujas were finished, the fire offering (Tib: Jinsek) of the kudung began. The ceremonial fire under the stupa was lit, as per tradition, by a young boy who had never met Shamar Rinpoche.

The fire offering was performed by all the assembled Rinpoches, in full ceremonial garments, including five-petalled crowns adorned with the five wisdom Buddhas.

At this time, twenty-seven birds were seen to fly around the burning stupa, considered to be an auspicious sign.

The canopy burns through. Photo/Tokpa Korlo

The canopy burns through. Photo/Tokpa Korlo

In death, Shamar Rinpoche united the Karma Kagyu family in ways that were previously not thought possible. The presence of countless people he had touched through his teachings and example, coming to pay their respects and honor his memory, demonstrated the gratitude and devotion he had inspired through his immeasurable compassion and tireless efforts to protect and strengthen the Karma Kagyu lineage.

In recognition of the important role Shamar Rinpoche played in the culture, religion and history of the Himalayas during his life, many dignitaries attended. Those present included the Nepalese Minister for Information and Communications Dr Minendra Rijal, the Nepalese Minister of State for Labor Tek Bahadur Gurung, the Thai ambassador to Nepal Kanthong Unakul, and Legso Lopon, representing the Chief Abbot of the Central Monastic Body of Bhutan Je Khenpo.
In addition, tens of thousands of devotees came to pay their respects. They came from as far away as Europe, North and South America, and Australia, as well as from Asia and the local area.

A video of the cremation can be viewed here: