On the day before the Monlam officially started, the Gyalwang Karmapa made time in his busy schedule to visit the Akong Tulku Memorial Soup Kitchen—even taking a few minutes to help chop vegetables. The soup kitchen operates during the Kagyu Monlam each year, and offers nutritious hot meals and kindness to hundreds of Bodhgaya residents. This year, in addition to serving lunch five days in Bodhgaya, the soup kitchen delivered food and supplies to three nearby villages.
The idea for the soup kitchen came about eleven years ago, when a group of Akong Tulku Rinpoche’s students from Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland came together to the Kagyu Monlam. Many in the group had never been to India, and they were saddened by the suffering they saw among the beggars and impoverished people in Bodhgaya. Vin Harris, who was present in that group and is now the director of the soup kitchen, said the group asked themselves: “What would Rinpoche do if he was here?”
For them the answer was clear—Akong Tulku Rinpoche would feed people. Rinpoche had made a commitment to help those suffering from extreme poverty and sickness after having nearly starved to death himself during his escape from Tibet in 1959. In addition to his many dharma activities, Rinpoche started the Rokpa Foundation and was involved in many other humanitarian projects before his death in 2013.
Having decided what to do, the group from Samye Ling started the next year by handing out dry food during one day of the Monlam. This continued for three years. Then, with the help of the Karmapa’s sister, Chamsing Ngodup Pelzom, the soup kitchen expanded and started cooking hot meals. At that point, Akong Rinpoche told those organizing the soup kitchen that it would be wonderful to be able to offer medicine as well. Lama Choedrak, the director of Kagyu Monlam, helped fulfill Rinpoche’s wish by suggesting the soup kitchen work with the existing medical camp. Now, the medical camp and soup kitchen operate across the street from one another, providing food and medical care in tandem. They have also partnered this year to visit and offer help to local villages.
In addition to the medical camp, the soup kitchen operates with the support of many different organizations and volunteers from around the world. One such organization is the All India Bikkhu Sangha and Shakya Muni College, which offers their garden and space for the soup kitchen each year. The All India Bikkhu Sangha, led by Bikkhu Pragya Deep, is an organization that teaches bikkhus the dharma, who in turn teach the dharma to villagers across India. Bikkhu Pragya Deep attends all the soup kitchen events and was delighted by the Karmapa’s visit. When I visited the soup kitchen the next day, the Bikkhu, who was sitting in his special seat, told me with a big smile, “Yesterday Karmapa sat here.”
Another critical part of the soup kitchen—the food—is organized and cooked by Tergar Monastery. The Tergar catering manager, Lama Tenzin, is in charge of ordering all the food and managing the preparation. This year, six or seven cooks from Tergar came each day of the soup kitchen to prepare and cook high quality meals for up to 500 people. They did this using a small temporary kitchen set up next to the lawn where people sit to enjoy their meal.
Other organizations that also support the soup kitchen are the Kagyu Monlam, Tsurphu Labrang, and the Rokpa Foundation.
Many volunteers from across the world also show up each day to help serve the food. Harris told me he has never needed to make a schedule for volunteers, he simply trusts they will come. “I never plan,” he said. “People who are meant to hear about it just come and help.” He told me they usually have between 5-15 volunteers show up each day. These volunteers come from around the world. This year, Harris said he met volunteers from South Africa, Scotland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada, the United States, Malaysia, England, Germany, France, and Sikkim.
“One of the best things about this project is the way it brings people together,” Harris said. “Normally at the Monlam people from different countries tend to stick together in groups and it can be hard to meet people. But here, when people come to help they form an instant community.”
The trips to nearby villages added yet another layer of interdependence and activity to the soup kitchen this year. In a fitting way, one of these villages includes Sujata, where the ascetic Buddha was offered milk-rice shortly before attaining enlightenment.
In partnership with the medical camp, the soup kitchen contacted leaders of three local villages, and asked them what the people in their communities needed. In addition to food and medicine, they learned that the schools need books and sports equipment, and that there is also a need for clean water. So along with food and medical care, the groups brought footballs and books to schools. They also installed a new water purification system at one school. Harris said he hopes that these offerings will be able to bring longer-term benefit to people.
One of the things Harris said he felt is most important for him is remembering the teachings of Akong Tulku Rinpoche, and putting them into action. One of the teachings Harris recalled receiving from Rinpoche is that in serving and receiving food, there is no high or low. “In Rinpoche’s own experience, he knew it makes no difference if you are a tulku or a beggar—you need food,” Harris said. The soup kitchen aims to put this teaching into practice by teaching their volunteers to look each person they serve in the eye, and to treat them with love and respect.
“We’re not going to solve the problems of India,” said Harris. “But if the people we serve are met with kindness at least once, that is what’s really important.”
Gaya, Feb 20 (ANI): The 17th Tibetan Buddhist Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje led world peace prayers at Mahabodhi temple in Gaya, where hundreds of devotees and monks gathered from across the world to offer prayers for the world peace. Dorje presided the week-long special prayer session of 33rd 'Kagyu Monlam' which began on February 16. The Monlam (festival) will conclude with the Marme Monlam on February 23. Monks and devotees worshipped Lord Buddha and prayed for the world peace. Buddhist scriptures describe Bodh Gaya as the navel of the Earth.
Bodhgaya, Feb 14 (ANI): A memorial function was held in Bodh Gaya on Sunday under the guidance of the 17th Karmappa Ugyen Trinle Dorje in memory of the 16th Karmappa Rangiung Ringpe Dorje. Drikung Kagyu's head Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang was the chief guest on the occasion in which Buddhist religious leaders and Tibetans were also present.
Recapitulating the essential message of the previous days, the Gyalwang Karmapa began his talk emphasizing the importance of recalling impermanence and death. Doing so, he said, allows us not to be attached to the things of this life and mired in thoughts about it. He then continued reading from Potowa’s text:
You do not know when you will die, so resolve not to procrastinate about practicing the Dharma. Nothing else will help at the time of death, so be determined that you will not have attachment for anything.
To illustrate what this might feel like, Potowa gives the example of a person being led to their execution. If along the way stunning jewels and gold were spread out before them, what interest would they have? We alone will face death, and knowing this, we should not be attached, for example, to friends. If we have them it is fine and if not, that is fine, too. The same applies to being wealthy. Whatever arises, our mind is joyful, and we simply allow whatever happens to happen.
Turning to the topic of spreading the Dharma, the Karmapa noted that we are all Dharma practitioners, and knowing the benefits of the Dharma, we should encourage others to enter the Dharma as well. It would be strange if we advised them instead to engage in worldly pursuits. In general, the Karmapa said, teachers should explain the Dharma in harmony with the inclinations and thoughts of others. The Karmapa cautioned, however, that this does not mean understanding someone’s character and then saying what pleases them. Actually, the Karmapa explained, one has to say something weighty that others might not want to hear: They must turn their mind away from this life, because attachment to it is not a path to freedom or true happiness. If we want to practice real Dharma, we must turn our backs on whatever we are attached to.
The signs of not giving up attachment to this life, the Karmapa noted, are, for example, people giving advice to sponsors and talking of benefitting the teachings when they themselves are involved in negative actions; people studying so they become famous; or those who should be spending their time in practice saying that now is the time to engage in activity, so they give empowerments and explanations and collect followers.
Those who are still attached to this life, also say that now is not the time to practice. “We are ordinary people,” they say, “How could we practice the Dharma the way it is taught?” The Karmapa remarked that such people think that all they can do is make aspirations, wish that something will happen, and hope that things go well. However, he noted, now that they have the good fortune to have attained a precious human rebirth and still say they cannot practice, then when could they?
If Dharma won’t arise in your being now, it will be even less likely to arise if you are born a dog in your next life. It is less likely still if you are reborn as an ox, donkey, animal, or in another of the eight states that lack leisure. Even now, you cannot get your mind to do anything if your body is even slightly indisposed. So I think there is no better time than now to practice the Dharma.
If we are just slightly uncomfortable, the Karmapa said, our minds do not function and we cannot focus our thoughts. In the future, if we are reborn as an animal, how could we possibly develop the Dharma within? So the best time to practice is now. Saying “I’ll practice in the future” is a fool’s talk. The Kadampa masters of the past said that if we are going to practice Dharma, that very practice begins today. Some think, “I’ll have a good time now and then practice when I’m old.” “This will not work,” the Karmapa confirmed, “as our practice begins on this very seat.”
He continued reading from Potowa’s text, which starts with the thoughts of people who think authentic practice is not possible: “It is always difficult to be an accomplished master or perfect. Now we must go on our aspirations.” Potowa then explained, “Mara” does not mean some external, dark, and grotesque being. It means the inability to develop higher qualities and positive thoughts despite your own good intentions and good companions.”
People who do not recall death and are attached to this life, the Karmapa continued, also say “the real teachings have become degraded, so even if we practice, we will not get the result of awakening. These people are fantasizing something like a Golden Age of Dharma in the past, like the time of Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa.” Thus, in addition to not practicing themselves, the Karmapa explained, such individuals are discouraging others from practice by telling them they do not have the possibility of achieving results. Such a statement is a sign that these people do not know the actual situation of how things really are.
The Karmapa then looked at this situation through the lens of logic. The statement “This is not the time of authentic Dharma,” and the statement, “This is a time when you can make aspiration prayers” contradict each other. Why so? Practicing utterly pure Dharma means that you make aspiration prayers from the bottom of your heart for the sake of all living beings. There is no more profound or vast Dharma than this.
The protector Maitreya taught that bodhichitta is the wish to attain full awakening for the benefit of others. (There are debates about whether bodhichitta is a primary mind or a mental factor, the Karmapa noted, but if mental factors do not accompany a primary mind, then it cannot do much, can it?) In brief, he said, “Precious bodhichitta arises as an aspiration, and how could there be anything superior to this wish?” Therefore, he explained, saying “this is not a time when we can practice real Dharma,” and also saying “it is a time when we can only make aspirations” is a sign of not knowing the Dharma well.
Furthermore, the Karmapa remarked, “Saying ‘we can only make aspiration prayers’ disparages aspiration prayers, making them seem minor and inconsequential. It shows that one has not studied much, since making aspiration prayers is one of the ten perfections. If you want to achieve Buddhahood, aspirations are indispensable.”
When people say, “This is a time for aspirations only,” what they are really saying is that there is no need to turn their mind from this life, no need to examine their attachments. In logical terms, it is equivalent to saying that turning your mind away from this life is not found among knowable phenomena. To explain this, the Karmapa looked at two categories that include all living beings: ordinary beings and noble ones. Someone who turns away from this life would have to belong to one of these two. Concerning the first category of ordinary individuals, it was stated that they cannot turn their minds away from this life because of attachment. Concerning the second category, the noble ones, they have already liberated themselves from the three realms and have no attachment for this life; there is no need for them to turn their minds away from this life again. Therefore, the Karmapa concluded, there is no basis for the statement “turning away from this life,” since it would have to apply to ordinary individuals or to noble ones (two categories that include all living beings). Since turning away from this life applies to neither, it would be impossible for anyone to do this. With this line of argument, the Karmapa showed the logical absurdity of the statement, “This is a time for aspirations only.”
The Karmapa mentioned that quite a few people have said to him that given how things are in the world these days, no one, or almost no one, is practicing authentic Dharma, and those who seem to be practicing are all fakes. So these people say, “How could we practice pure Dharma?” This is a sure sign that they have not practiced themselves: they have not recalled death nor seen how attached their minds are. What they are doing instead is projecting their own limitations, their own negative character, onto others and saying that other people are not practicing.
The people who talk like this are actually Maras, the Karmapa explained, because Mara is not a dark person with horns in a pitch black room and wearing dark clothes, but someone who obstructs us from engaging in virtuous actions or increasing them. Mara can also be understood, he said, as something in our own mind stream that prevents us from acting in positive ways and increasing our qualities.
The Karmapa continued reading from the text and summarized, “If you do not recall death, there is nothing to be done.” Potowa states, “If you want to practice Dharma from the depths of your heart, there is no way not to recall impermanence.” If you practice Dharma without recalling death,” the Karmapa observed, “from the outside it may seem you are practicing Dharma, but actually you are not.” Potowa writes:
All the difficult austerities, such as mountain retreats, sealed retreats, living on alms or in solitude, eating only once per day, and so forth, which you go through, will simply contribute to merit generated for this life, how much people will respect you, how much gain and fame will come, and your ambitions for this life. None of these will become Dharma.
The Karmapa commented that without remembering death, all these hardships are a mere similitude of Dharma, performed to impress others; such people only seem to be Dharma practitioners. This becomes evident when they meet with difficult situations, the Karmapa noted; if there is no need to practice patience, they can do it, but when a difficult situation comes up and they need to be patient, they lose it. The last sentence of Potowa’s text for today summarized his message: “Dharma cannot become the path if you do not remember death.
The third publication to be released during the commemoration of the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje, was Dharma King, a magnificent volume of photographs of him, carefully arranged and captioned to tell the narrative of this radiant master’s inspired life. Interspersed among the images are specially selected texts by him, including his prophetic poems, a commentary on refuge, a talk on bodhichitta (by one who embodied it), and a guru yoga.
The aim of this publication is not merely to collect historical images, but to produce certain feelings and emotions. This book should serve as something impervious to the processes of birth and death, allowing us to know and to feel that we have never been parted from the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa—that he is in fact with us still.
For those who did not have the great fortune to meet him themselves, I hope this book offers a glimpse of what it meant to encounter him personally. The 16th Gyalwang Karmapa seldom gave Dharma teachings through words, but taught intensively through physical gestures, and tamed beings through his mere presence. As a tribute to this special quality of the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, this book offers these images as a basis for experiencing his physical presence….
I make aspiration prayers that all those who see these photos or hold this book in their hands may receive the full benefit of his actual presence.
Recalling the tremendous difficulties of the era in Tibetan history when Rigpe Dorje lived, the Karmapa explains:
Great beings are not born great, but in the course of their lifetime from birth to parinirvana, their activities naturally come to reflect their greatness….
Except through sheer spiritual power and fierce commitment, it is hard to imagine how anyone could bring the lineage through such radical changes intact, much less lead it to flourish. Yet looking at these photos, we can feel clearly the spontaneous joy of his perseverance, which makes his accomplishments seem so effortless. I am deeply inspired by the 16th Karmapa’s resilience in the face of these obstacles. I take courage in how much he could achieve despite the great adversities he faced.
The Karmapa concluded:
Just as the images of all the places he visited and the people he met are united here in these pages, my heartfelt aspiration is that we can all join together to work side-by-side to benefit the beings of this new century. I pray that this will happen soon; the magnitude of the suffering of beings is too great, and the social and environmental challenges facing the world today are too heavy for us to bear separately, and can only be fully addressed if we are united.
The book was introduced during the celebration by the American nun, Ani Damcho, who worked closely with the Karmapa to produce this volume. She noted that it “pays tribute to one of the major ways that His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, impacted the world, through what can be described as ‘liberation through seeing,’ or thongdrol in Tibetan.”
On the process of creating the book, she commented: “His Holiness the 17th Karmapa himself oversaw each phase of the production of the book, from the original concept to reviewing choices of photos, tracking down rare historical images himself, creating the calligraphy that appears as the book’s opening page, and contributing the foreword.” Louise Light designed the book and restored many of the photographs.
The Dharma King is indeed a stunning visual biography. As Ani Damcho describes it:
From rare photos of the 16th Karmapa’s parents and birthplace, Dharma King carries us along through each phase of the remarkable life of this exceptional spiritual leader. It allows us to accompany him on his early pilgrimages to India, Nepal and Bhutan, on his 1954-1955 trip to Beijing, and then across the mountain passes into exile in 1959. It takes us through the process of building a new seat at Rumtek in Sikkim, reestablishing a ritual calendar and monastic practices, and it depicts his preservation and appreciation of Tibetan opera and other traditional arts, as well as his intense efforts to support the printing of Tibetan texts, his activities to care for his heart sons and to lead his lineage through this immensely challenging period in its history. The images visibly demonstrate that the 16th Karmapa weathered these stormy times with unshakable tranquility and strength.
During the ceremony commemorating the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, three volumes of his collected works were released. Published jointly by the Tsurphu Labrang and Amnye Machen Institute, these texts are a landmark of the Karma Kamtsang lineage and continue the tradition of gathering the words of the Karmapas to make them more widely available.
The volumes of the collected works are beautifully produced with covers, chapter openings and running heads in burnished gold. The three volumes of over 300 pages each, contain a wide range of works, including the records of the Dharma the 16th Karmapa received—empowerments, reading transmissions, commentaries and other teachings; letters recognizing reincarnate lamas; the prayers for the swift return of lamas who have passed away; the advice he gave; and the rules, regulations, and curriculum for his monastic colleges (shedra); life stories written by others and autobiographies; and his own compositions, including his beautiful and prophetic poetry.
The main person responsible for this project was the historian khenwang Tashi Tsering, the founder of Amnye Machen Institute, whose family has had a long connection with the Karma Kamtsang tradition. For over thirty years, beginning with his long stay in Rumtek, (the residence of the 16th Karmapa in Sikkim, India), Tashi Tsering collected the writings of the 16th Karmapa, and he was also the main editor.
In his introduction to the three volumes, printed in the first one, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa acknowledged Tashi Tsering’s great contribution, saying that in the beginning, middle, and end with sincere faith and loyalty to the 16th Karmapa, he worked unstintingly in detailed research and with a broad vision using his historian’s knowledge of the succession of rulers and the origins of the Dharma in Tibet to craft these volumes.
The Karmapa also gave a brief history of the Collected Works. In 2000, after the Karmapa arrived in India, he first talked to Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche about gathering the words of the 16th Karmapa. Ponlop Rinpoche offered his support for the project, gave the Karmapa all the writings he had collected, and then worked together with Tashi Tsering. In 2013, the Karmapa related, it was decided to hold this commemoration, and publishing the collected works was considered of utmost importance. And so the search for the 16th Karmapa’s writings was intensified and carried out in Tibet as well as all over the east and west. The Karmapa noted that there were still texts to be found in Tibet and other places, so in the future, these would be published in a fourth volume.
The Karmapa gave his thanks to those who supported the gathering of the writings and the publication, mentioning Tai Situ Rinpoche, Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, Surmang Garwang Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche, and Dilyak Drupon Rinpoche, all of whom knew the 16th Karmapa and witnessed the activities of his body, speech, and mind. The Karmapa also acknowledged the support of other organizations and his own staff in preparing the volumes.
The Karmapa turned to “the life stories of masters from the past who, without regard for their own lives, first searched for the Dharma, then practiced it night and day without break, and finally devoted themselves to accomplishing their own benefit and that of others. Recognizing that these life stories should be taken into their experience, followers of the Karmapa should value them highly with great faith and reverence. So that the texts do not gather layers of dust, they should read them again and again and realize their meaning. It is extremely important that the 16th Karmapa’ writings become a way of accomplishing the level of unchanging bliss.”
The Karmapa closed his introduction with a dedication aspiring that “All those who have a connection with the 16th Karmapa would be continually cared for by him; that they would see all that he did as excellent, hold what he taught to be valid, and blend their minds with his, thereby easily attaining the level of the lama who pervades everywhere.”
During the actual ceremony on February 14, it was Khenpo Kelsang Nyima from Rumtek Monastery who introduced the Collected Works. After warmly welcoming everyone, he described the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa as a luminous pearl and said that these new volumes bring the activity of the 16th Karmapa into reality for us. He recapitulated the history mentioned by the 17th Karmapa adding that the collection adorns the Karmapa’s co-emergent wisdom. Giving an example of this, Khenpo Kelsang Nyima quoted the 16th Karmapa’s prophetic song, written when he was visiting Situ Rinpoche’s Palpung Monastery in 1940:
Not now, but on a distant tomorrow, it will be decided.
Both the vulture and I know where to go.
The vulture soars into the depths of space;
We people do not stay but go to India.
Among all his activities, the Khenpo stated, the words and teachings of the 16th Karmapa are his greatest deeds. As the Buddha said, I cannot wash away misdeeds with my hands or transfer my realization to others; it is by teaching the Dharma that I bring beings to peace. In another sutra, the Khenpo mentioned, the stream of teaching is likened to the stream of nectar that flows from teachers or to a moon that shines brightly in the sky. In the catalogue of the Collected Works of the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, it is said that gathering the oral teachings to preserve them is one of the greatest offerings we can make.
The actual way to achieve Buddhahood, the Khenpo explained, is through the union of emptiness and compassion, which is made possible through the teachings. For ordinary people to be able to do this, the teachings must be written down. As the words of the Buddha have been gathered, similarly the words of the teacher are gathered into a single collection. This is a wonderful way to spread teachings and extend the activity of the 16th Karmapa.
Just as when the Buddha was teaching, the Khenpo explained, a few words of the Dharma were treasured as more precious than life, the great masters of the past searched for the Dharma without any regard for life, intensely practiced them, and finally, they achieved the ability to benefit themselves and others. An important service to all the teachings is preserving the Buddha’s words by collecting them in one place and providing the opportunity to read them over and over, so their meaning can be realized.
Khenpo Kelsang Nyima ended his presentation with thanks to all who had helped in the publishing of the 16th Karmapa’s Collected Works and with the wish that the great lamas live long like an indestructible vajra, and that all living beings enjoy great good fortune.
One of the most delightful events in the Monlam is the Kangyur procession around the Bodhi Tree during the freshness of early morning in the palest shade of tinted light. For the first time this year the Karmapa invited all the nuns to attend the procession and they could be seen walking through the fields from the Pavilion to the Bodhi Tree just after dawn - a momentary capture of a new Buddhism emerging from its ancient roots. While the monks were assigned the reading of the Kangyur in the Monlam Pavilion, the Gelongs and Gelongmas gathered at the Mahabodhi Temple where 110 volumes of the new Jiang Kangyur were stacked in a corner near the Bodhi Tree:109 volumes of text and an extra volume containing a scroll preface written by the King of Jiang.
''It is an important and precious edition that will help to revive teachings in danger of being lost'', the Karmapa announced before the unveiling. To print these books, the Karmapa commented later at the Kangyur rehearsal, is more expensive but more meaningful than to build a monastery. An empty monastery cannot be a place of learning. People can go there but they cannot learn anything. If we print books, then people can always learn from them.
Although the first edition of the Jiang Kangyur was printed 600 years ago, only on February 20, 2016 did it finally arrive at the Mahabodhi Stupa in Bodhgaya. And so began a very special occasion.
The red carpet was laid out on the steps leading to the inner sanctum of the Mahabodhi Temple in preparation and at 7:30 the music of gyalings and two whorled conch shells announced the Karmapa's arrival. He descended the steps to the Mahabodhi inner kora in procession with his heart sons, HE Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and HE Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche, followed by Mingyur Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku and the entourage of tulkus, khenpos, followed by the gelongs and gelongmas, who carried the sacred texts.
Each volume was wrapped in an outer layer of fire, water, and bug resistant soft-gold Chinese silk brocade; inside the wrapping was a blue brocade box in a muted floral design and inside that was a gold brocade hard cover enclosing 300 pages of text written in red ink. Each page measured 70x20 cm and one volume weighed in at about 9 kg. During rehearsals the older monks faltered under the weight when placing the Kangyur on the left shoulder, even with the support of the right hand. Another way to carry the text was immediately improvised by strapping it onto the back in order to distribute the weight more evenly. Seeing that the texts were still too heavy for the 13 Gelongmas to carry on their backs, the Karmapa arranged for them to each carry a copy of the 16th Karmapa’s newly published collected works.
As is customary, lay followers had gathered to watch the sacred procession with reverence, scattering petals on the path, holding offering scarves and incense as the monks walked past in a slow meditative pace, eyes downwards, reciting mantras.
This year, however, religious fervour overtook the crowd as the Karmapa neared the entrance of the inner sanctum sheltering the great golden Buddha, the most revered image in the Buddhist world. It was reminiscent of the fervour seen in Tibet where it is viewed as an expression of longing for the guru. When the Karmapa came out of the shrine, having made his offerings, the crowd surged towards him. He walked the inner kora unperturbed, eyes downwards, towards the sacred Bo Tree, in a calm procession with his monastic entourage. He made prayers and then walked slowly, up the stairs to start the outer kora. The crowds ran in hot pursuit gripped by one thought: to see the Karmapa's face, which is said to be an important attribute of his Buddha activity. At each corner of the kora hundreds of the devotees waited eagerly for him.
As the Karmapa's face became visible to the crowd, their frenzy calmed, their grasping abated and there was, in its stead, the presence of peace. Like the Buddha stopping the mad elephant in its tracks with a single gesture, the crowd quieted, just by seeing him and experiencing his powerful aura.
Behold the Buddha! It was Tongdrol: liberation through seeing.
The tradition of almsgiving dates back to the beginnings of Buddhism, 2500 years ago. At that time monks and nuns were not allowed to keep or prepare food and were therefore completely dependent onwhatever they were offered to eat by the local community. Each morning they would go from door to door and collect food. By offering food to the Sangha, laypeople not only showed their respect to the spiritual values that the Sangha symbolized, but were able to accumulate merit both by the action of generosity towards the Sangha and also by sharing in the merit which the monks and nuns generated through their spiritual practice.
In some Buddhist countries, the custom of the alms round has survived to this day, but in Tibet, because monasteries were supported by the local communities, it was no longer necessary for monastics to make a daily alms round. The Alms Procession at the Kagyu Monlam is therefore a symbolic act, and was introduced by the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa in 2004. Originally it was held at the Mahabodhi Stupa and people would make their offerings to the monastics after they left the temple grounds.
In 2014, the Alms Procession was moved to Tergar Monastery and the Monlam Pavilion. His Holiness used this opportunity to revive another Karma Kagyu tradition, that of the 16 Arhats Procession. As he explained this morning, during the Monlam prayer festivals at the time of the 7th Karmapa, there was a procession known as the chakkor, probably a procession around the entire area of the Great Encampment. It seems that monks dressed in costumes as the 16 Arhats with their retinue formed part of that procession. The 9th Karmapa added the Buddha and two of his disciples to the procession.
The 16 Arhats [Tib. Neten Chudruk], also known as the 16 Elders, were personally chosen by Shakyamuni Buddha from amongst his disciples. The Buddha asked them to remain in the world, protecting the Dharma for as long as beings were capable of benefitting from the teachings, and so, at the time of the Buddha’s parinirvana, the Arhats vowed to remain in the world and maintain the Dharma until the teachings came to an end at the appearance of the next World Buddha.
As His Holiness explained when he first combined the two processions in 2014,
We’re inviting the Arhats to join…mainly in order to help the Dharma flourish. The Dharma teachings are the sole medicine, the sole salve for all sentient beings. It’s the only medicine to eliminate the sufferings of sentient beings.
For the ceremony today, His Holiness sat on the second tier centre stage with his two heart sons, HE Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and HE Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche. Below them on the stage itself, sat the Rinpoches and Khenpos. To their left and right sat members of the sangha including both monks and nuns, including novices.
Because of the growing heat here in Bodhgaya, today’s procession had been modified into three stages. First, the alms procession of fully ordained monks and nuns bearing alms bowls walked from Tergar Monastery to the Pavillion, as the assembly chanted NAMO SHAKYA MUNIYE. Then, preceded by victory banners and auspicious symbols, the Arhats entered from both wings of the stage. Masked and wearing heavy costumes, their features and the style of their robes reflected the Chinese tradition of the Arhats which was introduced into Tibet in the 10th century and recorded in a great thangka.
Each walked under a golden parasol, held by a nun attendant. Once they were seated, the Umzes began chanting the prayer of Prostrations and Offerings to the 16 Elders, and representatives of the Gyalwang Karmapa’s Labrang came forward to place great bowls of fruit on the ornately carved wooden tables in front of each Arhat. They were followed by representatives making offerings from the other major Labrangs present.
Finally, the Arhats exited the stage, took off their heavy costumes and masks, and returned to receive further offerings from laypeople, monks and nuns. The line of people waiting to offer to the arhats zigzagged backwards and forwards across the road in front of the pavilion, back through the gate and then down the side of the pavillion, until eventually it reached the Monlam stage. Within the space of more than two hours, thousands of devotees had made offerings.
Following the Alms Procession the fully ordained Sangha ate lunch with His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa, HE Jamgon Kongtrul and HE Gyaltsab Rinpoche, on the stage at the Monlam Pavillion.
The Gyalwang Karmapa met with the members of the Kagyu Monlam today, shared his appreciation for their support, and offered a short teaching and gift.
The members began gathering on Tergar lawn shortly after lunch. Close to 1,400 people became members of the Monlam this year, so the lawn was filled with people eager for their audience with the Karmapa. Once inside the shrine room, everyone sat close together, waiting quietly for the Karmapa to arrive, meditating or reciting mantras. Some closed their eyes—a moment of quiet and rest after many days of prayers and activity.
At 3pm the Karmapa arrived. After taking his seat, he gave a short address to the members, which was translated into both English and Chinese. First, he expressed his view that the Monlam and all the events this year have gone extremely well, and thanked everyone for helping to support this activity. He also thanked everyone for bearing the hot weather this year, and any other challenges and difficulties of coming to the Monlam.
Next, the Karmapa explained there is an outer and an inner way to be a member of Monlam, and that the best way is to be both. Being an outer member means supporting the external needs and physical requirements of the Monlam. Among the three types of generosities, this is the offering of material things. To become an inner Kagyu Monlam member, “one needs to bring about positive change in one’s life,” the Karmapa said. In particular, the Karmapa said that being an inner Monlam member means asking yourself how you can be of service to the Buddhadharma and to sentient beings. He asked all those present to commit at least part of their lives to this service.
“The reason for saying this is that, being human beings, we often get carried away by selfish purposes,” the Karmapa said. As an example, the Karmapa said that someone could become a Monlam member just to get a better seat in the Pavilion, closer to the lama. “Looking for a selfish opportunity is not compatible with the two ways someone can be a Kagyu Monlam member,” he said.
Concluding, the Karmapa said that in Tibetan culture this first month of the year is considered especially auspicious, and that during this time he is making sincere prayers for everyone’s wellbeing. “May all of you be free from illnesses, and may all your wholesome and good wishes become fulfilled spontaneously,” he said.
Even though time was short and he needed to prepare for the Akshobhya Fire Puja starting at 5pm., the Karmapa made time to bless each member individually. With joy and energy in their step, they all filed past him to make their offerings and receive his blessing. The Karmapa handed each member a gift as they passed—a clear wrist mala with one red bead. After receiving their gift, the members filed out the door, until finally only the Karmapa and his attendants remained in the shrine, ready to prepare for the fire puja.
Many people have commented this year on the young people in Bhutanese dress who weave their way politely between the irregular rows of laypeople, carefully pouring tea and rice soup or distributing bread and soft drinks during the Monlam sessions. Always smiling and ready to help, they are there when somebody needs a chair or finds it difficult to climb up or down the steps.
Easily identifiable by the lime green tabards that they wear, these ten young women and ten young men, from different schools and colleges across Bhutan, have come to the International Kagyu Monlam specifically in order to serve. They are staying in tents, have only basic facilities, and share meals with the monks and nuns. Their working day starts at 6.00am and doesn’t finish until 5.00pm, but they maintain their cheerfulness and kind consideration of others throughout, and, even though the heat is rising here daily on the plains of India, they continue to wear their national dress with pride.
They represent the Young Volunteers in Action or Y-VIA for short, a division of the Bhutan Youth Development Fund, an NGO which works in partnership with the Bhutanese Government, UNICEF, NCWC, RENEW, DYS and other youth-related organisations. Its Chief Patron and President is Her Majesty the Queen Mother of Bhutan, Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck, who founded the BYDF in 2003 at the request of her husband His Majesty the Fourth Dragon King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. BYDF Director Aum Dorji Ohm heard about the Kagyu Monlam through vet Catherine Schuetze, organiser of the annual Kagyu Monlam Animal Medical Camp in Bodhgaya. Aum Dorji Ohm approached Her Majesty for special permission to run a volunteer programme at the Monlam and the Queen Mother was very enthusiastic and supportive of the project.
The Young Volunteers in Action programme is designed to develop the citizenship skills which are essential for the flourishing of any country and culture. The programme aims to inculcate a spirit of volunteerism and respect for cultural diversity, encourage active participation in the community and civics, empower the youth, promote spiritual and moral values, and create a network of communication between all young people in Bhutan. Y-VIA projects focus on service to the community. The projects include camps to clean the environment, adopting temples, voluntary service in old people’s homes, and taking care of those in hospital. Young volunteers also work as advocates in international programmes such as World Aids Day.
In charge of the BYDF Monlam programme are two teachers, Ms Joytshna Gurung from Thimphu and Mr Phuntsho Namgay from Phuntsholing. Both are BYDF-Y-VIA regional co-ordinators and were responsible for choosing the students who have come. The youngest student is a girl of 15 and the oldest is a young man of 21. The group includes undergraduates and trainee teachers as well as school students, and two of the young people were specially chosen because of their experience as trained peer counsellors from drop-in centres.
“I feel so proud that we are able to help all these people. We are very privileged to come here,” enthused one of the students 17year old Yoezer Lhamo Dorje fromThimphu. “We have been able to meet people from all over the world and make many new friends. I am especially grateful for the chance to serve the elderly, and I would like to thank Her Majesty the Queen Mother for giving me this opportunity.” Her fellow volunteer, Tshering Dendup, an 18 year old from Phuntsholing, agreed and spoke of his delight at the opportunity “to come to Bodhgaya, one of the most sacred places on earth. We have been able to serve so many people, and learn new languages; Tibetan and Chinese, Hindi…and we even got the chance for an audience with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. He was so happy that we came all this way to help him, and at the beginning he was quite concerned that we had to stay in tents. “
It then emerged that Ms Gurung had been stung by a scorpion, and His Holiness the 17th Karmapa had visited in the evening to check on how she was.
“Actually,” she admitted, “I’m usually terrified of snakes and scorpions but I knew that this is a sacred place because of His Holiness’ presence and I had full faith that I was in protective hands, so I knew that nothing bad was going to happen. I counted getting stung as a blessing, because His Holiness came to visit us in the camp. He came at 10.00pm at night after his heavy day.”
The volunteers reported that everyone felt very much at home at the Monlam, though they were surprised at how little people generally knew about Bhutan and Bhutanese culture. As they were all Buddhists, they were able to participate in the prayers and teachings when they were not on duty and some evenings they went as a group to circumambulate the Mahabodhi Stupa.
A week after they had arrived in Bodhgaya, they went on pilgrimage to Varanasi and Sarnath, and they will visit the ruins of the great Nalanda University on their way back to Bhutan.
They were unanimous in declaring that if the opportunity arises, they would love to come again next year.
On the evening of day six of the Monlam, the entrance to Tergar Monastery was transformed by a spectacular ritual of prayer and fire performed by the Gyalwang Karmapa and the Akshobhya retreat participants. The ritual was the concluding activity of an intensive two-month Akshobhya retreat, which began on December 24, 2015. A significant part of the ritual included the burning of names of the deceased and the living, as a means of prayer and purification. Over the past week, thousands of people made offerings and wrote names down on behalf of their friends and relatives.
In anticipation of the ritual, prayers to Akshobhya Buddha took place both at Tergar and in the Pavilion during the afternoon. In the Akshobhya Shrine Room, located on the top floor of Tergar, the retreatants gathered for a final time to perform two hours of preliminary prayers. Meanwhile, in the Pavilion, everyone joined together in chanting the dharani sutras of Akshobhya Buddha, which purify karmic obscurations and liberate beings from suffering.
On the veranda of the Tergar Shrine Room, preparations were also going on. A large square table filled with offerings was set up facing a thangkha of the blue Askhobhya Buddha. The table represented Akshobhya’s pure land, with its boundary around the edge symbolically delineated with a metal gate and colored string. A large metal bowl was placed in the center of the table for a small fire, which would be lit by the Karmapa. In front of this table was a beautifully carved high seat for the Karmapa, placed so that he could easily reach into the pure land during the ritual. To the right of his seat, a table with offerings for the fire was arranged, including the five grains, pomegranate, white and black sesame seeds, small balls of tsampa for long-life, grasses, and so forth. A second table held the eight auspicious symbols and the five auspicious substances.
Outside, a pacifying mandala had been placed within the hearth and firewood carefully stacked up around it. Boxes of the names of the living and the dead waited on the shrine steps to be burned, and the area was cordoned off to keep the crowd at a safe distance.
By mid-afternoon, hundreds of people had already started to gather and take their seats on the brick walkway and lawn in front of Tergar. Speakers were set up to project the chanting from the pavilion and the crowd was asked to maintain complete silence and not take any photographs during the ritual.
At 5pm, the retreatants arrived on the veranda, carrying their prayer books and puja tables. This year 36 people, including both monastic and lay practitioners from around the world, participated in the retreat. The monastics, wearing their yellow chögu robes and white khatas around their necks, took their seats facing the altar. The lay practitioners, wearing white shawls, sat on the right and left side.
Shortly thereafter, as dusk was approaching, the Gyalwang Karmapa emerged from the front doors of the shrine. He placed a white kata around his neck, made three prostrations, and took his seat facing Akshobhya. Around him, the four Dharma Kings painted on the walls of the veranda faced him as well, providing their regal protection..
During the three hours of the ritual, only the Karmapa’s voice was broadcast over the speakers. This provided a rare opportunity to hear His Holiness chanting prayers for an entire ritual, since normally we hear the chant master’s voice. The voices of the other retreatants—and the fire—could be heard in the background. Some of the most poignant moments in the ceremony were silent. Specifically, at several points the Karmapa turned off his microphone and sat in meditation posture, and a wave of stillness swept over the crowd.
The ritual itself was quite elaborate, with many different mudras, gestures, and actions performed with grace and precision by the Karmapa. About halfway through the ritual, while reciting the Mahamudra Lineage Prayer, the Karmapa put on his black activity hat. Shortly thereafter, he lit the fire in the center of Akshobhya’s pure land. Immediately afterwards, monks lit the fire outside. As the Karmapa made offerings to the fire in front of him, the fire in the courtyard became a blazing inferno, reaching over 10 feet in the air. For nearly half an hour, monks threw the papers with the names of living and deceased into the flames. At times, sparks, flames and burning papers reached as high as the Tergar shrine building, causing the crowd to point and marvel. The scene was breathtaking, set against the dark of night, with the celebratory fairy lights currently hanging from Tergar roof, and at the center the Karmapa.
Near the end of the ritual, Karmapa chanted a prayer to Amitabha, and everyone outside joined in. As the fire started to die down, the large torma was placed in it as the final offering. By 8:30pm, the prayers were complete. The Karmapa sat for several moments with his hands in prayer, then stood up and walked through the doors into the shrine room. Immediately, some spectators crowded onto the veranda where he had been sitting, while others made circumambulations around the fire outside, reveling in the blessing of what they had just witnessed.
''I feel myself as one of the volunteers who has an interest to serve.'' HH Karmapa
Guru Sevaka is a Sanskrit word for ‘serving the Guru’. The gathering in the shrine room of Tergar Monastery of approximately 1000 volunteers, the vast majority from Asian countries, who came this year to serve the Guru, was so quiet that for the first time sweet birdsong could prevail over chanting monks and loudspeaker announcements. In orderly rows more than 20 teams covering everything from bread making to registration, cleaning, publicity and translation, waited for the Guru. An image of the 16th Karmapa was in the foreground with 3 Buddhas in different mudras behind him. The first sign of the Karmapa's arrival was when a modest sitting room chair was placed onstage, with a simple brocade cover, followed by an ornately carved small table. His Holiness arrived at 12 pm after holding private audiences for long queues of people.
I'd like to first extend warm greetings to all of you who have joined the volunteers for the 33rd Kagyu Monlam. I don't have much time to speak. As you all know, the Kagyu Monlam continues to flourish and this past year we have expanded the Monlam Pavilion. Even though it has expanded, somehow it seems that the number of people has increased and so the expansion is not very visible. Since the number of attendees is increasing and the interest in Kagyu Monlam activities is also growing, there is a greater need to attend to the details of serving the Monlam and a lot more for Guru Sevakas to do.
Over the years the Kagyu Monlam has grown in more ways than one. The attendance now covers people from over 40 countries. I see this as a result of the profound, noble aspirations of my predecessors, the previous Gyalwang Karmapas. For instance, the first great Monlam encampment goes back to the time of the 7th Karmapa, Choedrak Gyatso. At the time of the auspicious encampment, the 7th Karmapa spontaneously prophesied that on many auspicious occasions and in many auspicious places, people of different nationalities and languages would come together and engage in joint celebrations. That something with a centuries old history still continues to be celebrated is a result of the profound noble aspirations and meritorious accumulations of the great enlightened beings.
Therefore I don't regard this as the superficial result of a few years’ work. It is a spontaneous expression developed as a result of the powerful, noble aspirations that have been invested in it for a long time.
At the Garchen Monlam, the auspicious Monlam gathering at the time of the 10th Karmapa, and before on many occasions, there were nearly a hundred thousand people attending; as many as 10 or 20,000 monks. During that time, as a way of serving the gathering, the Karmapa himself joined the service of collecting and carrying water. In those days there were no water taps. You had to go a long way to get any water and bring it on your back in a container. In this way he participated in the Gurusevaka or service of the Monlam.
I don't regard myself as Karmapa or even as an ordinary Lama. I feel myself as one of the volunteers who has an interest to serve. In this way we are together, serving the Kagyu Monlam and since we are able to join forces together, maybe this gives our particular team special inspiration. It is my sincere aspiration that all of you, including me, that together we will have many such opportunities to serve in the future. In all future lives may we be able to have the same aspiration and to voice it, for the benefit of sentient beings without exception.
Many sevas were wiping away tears as they went to receive a wrist mala and beautiful photo of His Holiness in simple but regal attire. It happened to be the Day of Miracles when the Buddha conquered the Tirthikas by showing miracles at Shravasti. For many of us, just having the connection to be there and hear these words was the greatest miracle of all.
Six years ago, a simple stage of brick and sand was constructed for a performance of the Life of Milarepa, a drama with music written by the 17th Karmapa especially for the Karmapa 900 commemoration at the 27th Kagyu Monlam in January 2010. That performance took place on a chilly evening in a wind-swept field behind Tergar Monastery. At that time, the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo was held at the Mahabodhi Stupa and the Marme Monlam was a simple affair: groups from different countries stood on the steps which lead down to the Bodhi Tree and presented a song or a prayer. The Karmapa used a loudspeaker, everyone recited the lamp prayer, candles were lit, and then the Mahabodhi complex was magically transformed by flickering lights as several thousand people proclaiming Karmapa Khyenno completed a circumambulation of the outer kora.
Because of the way that the Tibetan lunar calendar falls, in 2010 there were two Monlams and no Monlam in 2011. For Monlam in December 2010, a simple tent of bamboo and cloth was constructed on the site of the stage for a showing of the film ofThe Life of Milarepa.
In 2012 the 29th Kagyu Monlam had to be held in March, when temperatures in Bodhgaya can reach 100F. The logistics of providing shade for everyone at the Mahabodhi Temple site proved impossible to resolve, so it was decided to erect a huge cloth tent on a bamboo frame in the field next to Tergar Monastery and hold the Monlam there.
After the Monlam finished, plans were drawn up for a stronger structure to be built, and by December 2012, when the 30th Kagyu Monlam began, the Monlam Pavillion of iron columns and girders with a corrugated iron roof was ready. Its construction coincided with a move to reinstate the tradition of the Karma Garchen—the Great Encampment— and a village of tents were erected to accommodate the monks and nuns.
Three years later, during the Amitayus empowerment of the Chiksey Kundrol in December 2015 at the 32nd Kagyu Monlam, it was obvious to all that the Monlam Pavillion had reached capacity. Approximately 12,000 people squeezed into the space to receive the blessing s of the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who bestowed the vase empowerment individually on everyone.
Because of the confined space, the only possible expansion of the pavillion was sideways. The architect and engineer, the Ven. Choekyi Gyamtso, drew up plans to enlarge the stage area width wise and work began on the renovation on April 1st 2015 supervised by Karma Lhundrup Neyratsang. By February 2016 the work had been completed in time for the 33rd Kagyu Monlam.
The new stage itself is much larger and has expanded forwards as well as sideways, with tiered wings, and will seat up to 1000 Rinpoches, Khenpos, and fully-ordained monks and nuns, creating space on the floor area of the auditorium for up to 12,000 nuns, monks and laypeople. In addition, the extension of the stage has created more meeting rooms and office space on the second floor of the administration block, and new rooms below the wings. The suite of rooms to the left hosted the International Kagyupa Monlam’s Animal Medical Camp in December 2015; the room on the right provided a classroom for the torma makers’ training in January 2016.
To accommodate the enlarged stage, the roof had to be raised, making space for two huge, high definition monitors. Hanging either side of the stage, they provide everyone in the vast auditorium with a view of what’s happening. A new backdrop has replaced the previous view of Mount Kailash. Now the sun rises in a blue sky, with stylised clouds which reflect the growing light. The eight foot high Buddha statue, which was suddenly out of proportion to its new background, has also been replaced by one seventeen-foot high, mounted on a three-foot base, and, along the two walls which top the tiered wings, a complete set of thirty five Buddha statues stands, each three-foot high. Finally, in exquisite attention to detail, the sides of the wings and the lintels above doors and windows have been colourfully decorated in traditional Tibetan style.
The spaciousness of the new pavillion was obvious during the first few days of the 33rd Monlam, when more than 10,500 people fitted comfortably into the space. However, on the final day, when additional people arrived to join in the Lama Choepa commemoration for HE Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche and Kyabje Chatrel Sangye Dorje Rinpoche in the morning, and others came to celebrate the life and achievement of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche in the afternoon, the crowd spilled outside. If the International Kagyu Monlam continues to grow, who knows what the future will hold for the Monlam Pavillion?
With over 10,000 participants chanting dedications and waving white khatas, the 33rdKagyu Monlam came to a close today.
During his special address in the final session of the day, the Karmapa began by sharing the statistics of this year’s Monlam. Attendees included 4,600 members of the sangha and 6,100 lay people, representing 55 different countries. Of these, 1,600 served as volunteers. The Karmapa pointed out there were monastics from all four major lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, including 320 Nyingma, 33 Sakya, 26 Gelugpa, and 4 Rime (non-sectarian) practitioners.
“We call this the Kagyu Monlam, but during the Monlam we primarily recite the teachings of the Buddha and Indian masters, and the Tibetan masters from all traditions,” the Karmapa said. “This helps us create pure vision of all the lineages, and to help all the lineages flourish.”
The Karmapa also said we should recognize that the excellence of the Monlam today is the result of the aspirations of many great masters over hundreds of years, especially the aspirations of the 7th Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso. In his prayer for the Auspiciousness of the Great Encampment, the 7th Karmapa made the aspiration
May people from different lands with different languages,
And of different races,
Frequently assemble here in joy and ease.
The 17th Karmapa advised, “We should recognize the spontaneous manifestation of the Monlam each year as the result of their blessing, and rejoice in their lives and examples.”
Next, the Karmapa offered his thanks to his heart sons HE Jamgon Rinpoche and HE Gyaltsab Rinpoche and , and the 46 Tulkus, Rinpoches and masters who attended this year. He also thanked the 50 khenpos from various monasteries and nunneries, the sangha, and all those who have came from all across the world. Mentioning the sometimes difficult conditions and particularly the heat that everyone needed to endure this year, the Karmapa said, “You have not let it slow you down. You have been motivated by faith and devotion and I rejoice in your coming.”
The Karmapa also thanked all the 1,600 volunteers and especially Lama Karma Choedrak, CEO of Kagyu Monlam, for their dedication and hard work. “This is all the work of upholding the teachings,” he said.
Next, the Karmapa made a few announcements. First, he discussed the earthquakes in Nepal last year, and the need for the various monasteries and nunneries there to work together to raise funds for reconstruction and repairs. He asked that representatives of each group meet the following morning to discuss their various situations and come up with some ideas to share with him.
The next announcement was regarding the curriculum for nuns’ study and debate training. The Karmapa said he would be meeting with the khenpos from all the nunneries during upcoming Kagyu Gunchö to discuss this.
The third announcement was for all the sangha who received the Three Roots Combined empowerment that His Holiness offered during the pre-Monlam activities. He asked that everyone recite the Three Roots Combined mantra as much as possible between now and next year. Best would be 400,000 recitations, and a minimum of 100,000. The Karmapa said that those who complete the approach would be gathered to perform a long life offering for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, hopefully next year.
Next, the Karmapa turned the microphone over to the Khenpo Kelsang Nyima, who announced the winners of this year’s examination of monastic forms competition [link to monastic forms story]. He praised the performance of all the sangha, and said that there had been “astounding improvement” since last year’s competition. Since the Karmapa reformed the codes of conduct in 2004, based on the forms described by the Buddha in the Vinaya, “The conduct of the sangha at the Kagyu Monlam… has become something that instills faith in people across the world,” the Khenpo said.
Prizes were awarded for first, second and third place in two categories, novice monks and nuns (getsul), and fully ordained monks (gelong). The winning monasteries and nunneries received cash prizes of₹100,000, ₹50,000, and ₹25,000 respectively. Nunneries took all three prizes in the novice category. “It seems like in the future, when we have bhikshunis, the nuns will win everything,” Khenpo Kelsang Nyima said, with a smile.
Next, the Karmapa asked everyone to dedicate the merit of completing the Kagyu Monlam:
Please dedicate the roots of virtue of having completed it so that the teachings of Buddhism in general can flourish a long time. That the Crown Jewel, the sole hope of Tibet, the Dalai Lama may live long. That all the lamas and all the sanghas in the ten directions be harmonious and pure in the three trainings. On a larger scale, may the universe be filled with the excellent glory of peace and happiness—may we dedicate this virtue that it become the cause of this.”
Before beginning the dedications, the Karmapa also asked everyone to keep three auspicious blessings in mind. The first was that Mingyur Rinpoche had returned from his four-year retreat, and had become one of the leaders of the Kagyu Monlam. The second was that the reincarnation of Bokar Rinpoche had been able to attend the Monlam this year. Third, the Karmapa announced that during the Tseringma puja conducted at the Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering, he felt great devotion for Tenga Rinpoche and had a “thought or minor vision of where he might be.” He said he would keep these details until he was able to share them with HE Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, but that he hoped Tenga Rinpoche would be able to return soon.
The final dedication prayers began, and with each aspiration thousands of people waved their khatas, filling the Pavilion with a sense of joy and festivity. The long horns and giant conches joined the gyalingsfor the final crescendo as our aspirations resounded throughout the universe.
"The International Nyingmapa Rigdzin Community has great joy to announce that His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, one of the most important figures of Tibetan Buddhism, has agreed to come and give an exceptional series of teachings and empowerments in Geneva (on 21 and 22 May 2016) and in Bülach - near Zürich (on 28 and 29 May 2016)." information and reservation @ www.karmapa2016.ch
On the first day of the Well-Being Free Medical Camp 2016, sponsored by the Kagyu International Monlam Trust, the Gyalwang Karmapa came to bless the undertaking. Moving through the three rooms of the doctors’ offices, he paused to talk with them and also inspected the pharmacy before walking across the street to the soup kitchen, which especially served the people coming for the clinic. Medical care was offered for four days in Bodh Gaya and also for one day each in three outlying villages.
The camp was coordinated by Changchup and Lhakpa Tsering, who started working far ahead of the camp to organize the staff and flow of events. Each year they try to improve the camp, following the Karmapa’s directive: “When we do something for people, we have to do it genuinely as if we are doing it for ourselves.” This year there was a special effort to professionalize the camp: the medicines were branded and top quality, and doctors and nurses were certified professionals. They also had to apply 3 months ahead of time, and the applications were vetted based on the individual’s abilities and motivation. Looking at the needs from the previous year, this year the coordinators newly added in 24/7 emergency care and two physiotherapists.
Another aspect of health care that was emphasized this year was the educational component. At four steps along the way, patients are informed about the condition of their basic health and what they need to do to stay healthy. From the long-term perspective, this is perhaps the most important feature of the medical clinics.
Serving as allopathic doctors were Dr. Tsundue, a western-trained Tibetan who works at Delek Hospital in Dharamsala, and who also handled the emergency care, and five doctors from Magadh Medical College in nearby Gaya, who understand the local dialect and the special needs of the population. Among the doctors were two gynecologists to serve the female patients. In addition six nurses from Sikkim and six more Tibetan nurses who work in top hospitals in Delhi also came to offer their assistance.
Tibetan medicine was also covered by four doctors who staffed a clinic officially headed by Dr. Dawa. Offering their services were Dr. Namgyal from Norbu Lingka, and Dr. Kalchoe and his wife, Dr. Qusar, who also know acupuncture. This clinic was set up in three tents near the Pavilion where the Monlam takes place. Coming to the Monlam and Bodh Gaya in general are numerous pilgrims from the Himalayan regions of Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Arunachal Pradesh, and Ladakh. They turn more to Tibetan medicine, and when they return home, they can continue their treatment, which is important as Tibetan medicine works over time. Over 400 people took advantage of this opportunity each day.
The two coordinators further reached out to three local villages of poor people, two of which were return visits. Sometimes it is difficult for the people to afford the bus ride to Bodh Gaya, and so the camp went out to them. The two coordinators visited the new village ahead of time to offer an explanation of the medical camps and asked if they would like them to visit.
In an effort to better serve the people’s needs, this year the camp in association with Rokpa Trust is providing a water purifier for a girls’ hostel in the village of Baseri. The girls attend a government school and stay close by since they cannot afford the bus fees to come daily from 10 to 15 kilometers away. The medical camp visited this village last year and the coordinator went to the hostel to determine their needs. Charwaha Vidyalaya is the other village that was a return visit. Here one of the teachers said the students like sports but have no equipment, so this year the medical camp also brought them cricket sets, soccer balls, jumping ropes, badminton rackets, along with notebooks, paper, and pencils. The Monlam Trust is establishing a longer term relationship with these villages in an effort to make a real difference in their lives overall.
In brief, the medical camp had a staff of 35 doctors, nurses, and administrative aids, who served over 600 patients a day in Bodh Gaya and the three villages. In the future, the Kagyupa International Monlam Trust will continue to develop its care for the local people and also for the pilgrims from all over who come to this most sacred Buddhist site.
Continuing in March, a special medical camp will be sponsored by the Karmapa’s Kunkyong Trust, Max Foundation from Delhi, and the prosthetic company, Jaipur Foot (BMVSS) to provide prosthetic devices to the local population of Bodh Gaya. In this way the medical treatment provided by the Karmapa will extend his compassionate care beyond the actual period of the Monlam itself.
On this very special morning of the full moon in the Miracle Month, the first of the Tibetan New Year, the Gyalwang Karmapa visited the Mahabodhi Stupa in the early morning to offer a lucent, golden set of robes to the Buddha and ten alms bowls filled with a variety of fruits and jars of honey. Creating an auspicious connection, he gave ordination to some twenty-one people in the inner shrine chamber of the stupa. Walking back out the central aisle, lined with people offering katas and flowers, the Karmapa circled around the stupa to the backside where lamas were performing a puja under the Bodhi Tree. He sat on a throne under its spreading canopy to join in the chanting, dedicated for the spread of the Buddha’s teachings throughout the world.
The Karmapa then returned to the Pavilion to lead the practice of Offering to the Gurus—a fitting conclusion to the seven days of practice at the Kagyu Monlam. Appropriate to the text, which enumerates one generous offering after another that pervade all of space to its farthest limit, the shrine was filled with rows of bountiful offerings—colorful fruits, the eight auspicious symbols and the seven royal possessions all in silver and, at the top on either side, two wide pyramids of texts wrapped in maroon and yellow.
In the Introduction to the Offering to the Gurus, the essence of this practice is laid out:
The ground of all excellence in this and future lives, the root of all paths, the best means of progress, the guide to higher rebirth and liberation, and the source of all instruction is the guru, the spiritual friend. If you know the reasons why this is so and have appropriate devotion, you will see the meaning of the dharmata.
The Karmapa’s Guru Yoga in Four Sessions states the same meaning with different words: “The essence of the path is the mahamudra of devotion.”
In a touching gesture of open-hearted devotion to another lineage, the Karmapa focused this morning’s practice on the two great Nyingma masters who recently passed away: Khyabje Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche and Khyabje Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche. Their images were placed in the center of the wide shrine and the Karmapa made deeply respectful offerings to them.
Khyabje Chatral Rinpoche was a scholar and special master of Dzogchen, who realized the supreme yoga of the four appearances. The previous HH Dudjom Rinpoche called him, “The Vajracarya, the All-pervading Lord.” He had disciples from all over the world—in every area of Tibet as well as in other parts of the East and the West—in whom he planted the seed of liberation. Khyabje Chatral Rinpoche encouraged everyone not to kill animals and to be vegetarian; he was famous for the practice of saving lives and passed away at the age of 105.
Kyabje Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche was the sixth supreme head of the Nyingma tradition. The previous HH Dudjom Rinpoche said of him, “He is the great chariot of an ocean of the Buddha’s teachings in both the sutra and secret mantrayana traditions.” Khyabje Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche held and spread the Nyingma tradition of the Northern Terma. In Simla, Himachal Pradesh, India, he founded a monastery called Thubten Dorje Drak Evam Chokgargi Chode, which has been of great service and an inspiration to the people of Tibet, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, and Ladakh. Both lamas will be greatly missed, and one prays that they will return swiftly to continue their enlightened activity.
After a break for lunch on this day dedicated to remembering and appreciating teachers, the setting of the stage has been shifted again. Below the great Buddha is the statue of 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, and beneath him is the 17th Karmapa’s throne, in front of which sits an elegant wood chair. It is for Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche from Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in New York, to whom the Karmapa will give a long life blessing.
When the Karmapa returned to his throne, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and his many students made an extensive mandala offering to him. The Karmapa gave a warm welcome to those who had come from Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (the Karmapa’s seat or Dharma center in the United States) to participate in the commemoration of the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, and in conjunction with this, to attend the celebration of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche. The Karmapa spoke warmly of Khenpo Rinpoche’s long life, pervaded with service to the Dharma and living beings:
“Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche fulfilled the 16th Karmapa’s wishes by moving to the United States; setting a peerless example, he spent decades taking on great responsibilities and making tireless efforts for the sake of others. Today I’d like to take the opportunity to express from the depths of my heart my gratitude to him and also to rejoice in all his activity.
“Khenpo Rinpoche is now in his 90s and, from a Tibetan perspective, this is considered the age of a fulfilled life, so it feels a bit uncomfortable to make long life offerings to him. It is true, however, that those who have donned the armor of powerful aspiration prayers and bodhichitta for the sake of the teachings and living beings, even if they remain for only a few hours, create an immense benefit for the world. I make the aspiration prayer that for the universal glory of the teachings and living beings, that all of Khenpo Rinpoche’s aspirations without exception be naturally accomplished.
“For Khenpo Rinpoche’s long life, I have spontaneously composed a verse, which we can all chant together seven times.
Through his pure intentions to bring benefit and happiness to beings
And to the teachings, he has shown the example of being learned,
Venerable, and good, and accomplished the wishes of the Karmapa.
“Actually there is nothing that would truly suffice to offer Rinpoche in commemoration, or as a way of showing our gratitude for his compassionate activity, so I would like to simply offer him a ceremonial Gampopa Hat and a full set of Dharma robes which he can wear all the time. Finally, through the blessings of the compassion of an ocean of the Three Roots and the Three Jewels, I pray that Rinpoche will always be with us, and that in all his lifetimes, he will accomplish great benefits for the teachings and living beings.”
Khenpo Rinpoche came up to the Karmapa’s throne and His Holiness bestowed on him the Gampopa hat and three robes with a graceful and powerful gesture, and concluded by blessing three times the top of Khenpo Rinpoche’s head with his hand, perhaps the best gift of all.
Those who would like to know more about the wonderful life of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, can find his life story in the Amrita of Excellence, published by KTD Publications and available from www.namsebangdzo.com. Email: email@example.com.
The timing of the Kagyu Gunchö has changed and the 19th Kagyu Gunchö will be held after the 33rdKagyu Monlam, from 26th February to 10th March, 2016. During the Gunchö, the Gyalwang Karmapa will continue his teachings from the Eighth Karmapa’s One Hundred Short Instructions with the chapter on the Six Paramitas.
Kagyupa International Monlam Trust in partnership with Rokpa Foundation initiated a new project during this year’s Monlam to improve the facilities at a girls’ school in a nearby village.
The Kagyu Monlam Well-Being Medical Camp and the Rokpa Foundation Akong Tulku Memorial Soup Kitchen have continued to work together during the 33rd Kagyu Monlam putting compassion into action in order to play their part in the vast vision of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. In addition to their joint projects in Bodhgaya, this year their teams engaged in an outreach project to the local villages providing food and medicine to some of the poorest people in India. Concerned that the Medical Camp and Soup Kitchen brought only short term relief in the face of limitless suffering and need, they wanted to explore what more could be done to improve the situation of the local people who constantly have to live with hunger, heat, ill health, lack of clean water and minimal opportunities for education.
One of the three villages the group visited this year was Kasturba Gandhi Vidyalaya, Baseri. In particular, the group worked with a girls’ hostel there. The hostel includes 107 girls from age 6 to 14, who live together and attend the local school. All of the girls are from families in the area who live below the national poverty line. Although the facilities at the hostel are very basic, it provides a wonderful opportunity for the girls to live and learn together. The Rokpa Soup Kitchen team had visited this hostel the year before, and had been impressed by the enthusiasm of the girls and the kind motivation of the House Mother and staff including one teacher who teaches sign language to 7 of the girls who are deaf and dumb. Last year’s visit and further meetings led to a wish to strengthen their connection with the hostel and do more to support this worthwhile project.
Lama Choedrak, the CEO of Kagyupa International Monlam Trust, took time out from all of his many duties at the Monlam Pavillion to give his support to the new initiative at the girls’ hostel. He was accompanied by representatives of the Medical Camp and Rokpa Foundation Soup Kitchen. The most urgent need was for clean water to prevent water-borne illnesses and so a drinking water purification system has been installed this year. In addition, eight washbasins have been installed to provide washing facilities in the bathrooms, and seventeen much needed ceiling fans have been fitted in the bedrooms to provide some relief during the scorching Bihar summer. These improvements will make a big difference to the quality of the lives of the girls in the hostel. Amidst great excitement, each girl was given a personal kit of mirror, comb, toothbrush, soap, scissors and a drinking-water bottle. The nursing team also delivered a short training session on personal health and hygiene. This is a pilot scheme, and the hope is that giving help to some of the most disadvantaged will make a lasting difference. The long-term aim is to continue to support the work of this hostel.
Vin Harris, the director of the Akong Tulku Memorial Soup Kitchen, encouraged the girls to look after each other so that they could continue to establish kindness in the community they share. He quoted the wisdom of Akong Tulku :
Education for girls is particularly important because one day you will become mothers of the next generation and then you can pass on what you have learned to your children – this is perhaps the most direct way to bring about positive change in our world.
In December of 2014, the Gyalwang Karmapa discussed a project by his organization, Dharma Treasure, to digitize a wide range of Tibetan texts beginning with the Jiang Kangyur. He explained that Dharma Treasure is concerned with “Preserving and sustaining with modern technology numerous scriptures and texts, mainly focusing on the Kangyur (the words of the Buddha) and the Tengyur (the commentarial treatises).” He continued, “In the past, scriptures were kept between two boards, wrapped in brocade, and placed in cabinets. Nowadays, when people want to read a particular text, they do not have to go to a library. They can find a text instantly by searching for it on their computers or mobile phones.”
Making texts easily available is vital, the Karmapa stated: “If we do not keep up with the times, in the future it will be difficult for us to spread the Dharma. We must meet the current needs of today's generations, who are no longer interested in the traditional way of reading scriptures. If we do not provide modern ways of accessing texts, then gradually the people who read, study, and research
These precious Buddhist books will lose interest and their numbers will dwindle.”
The project of digitizing the Jiang Kangyur began over three years ago. Most of the input was done by Nitartha International in Seattle, Washington, and some was also done at Lekshey Ling Shedra in Kathmandu. The texts were checked and rechecked over three years by representatives of the Karma Kagyu shedras (monastic colleges), while the master woodblock prints were scanned without any changes. The extensive and complex software development, and the sizing and cleaning of the texts were all done in Taiwan. Thus the project of making this precious version of the Kangyur available worldwide was also an international effort.
This evening as the first event of the Marmei Monlam, the Karmapa officially released the initial version of Adarsha. He began with reciting the famous four lines:
The unsurpassable teacher is the Buddha.
The unsurpassable protector is the Dharma.
The unsurpassable guide is the Sangha.
May all be auspicious through the Three Jewels?
“I would like to introduce to you,” he continued, “the project we have been working on to digitize the Jiang Kangyur. This endeavor has been given the name Adarsha, which means “mirror” in English. The reason for the name is that in the future, we would like it to become a program that allows everyone to view and read not just the words of the Buddha, but also of the great Indian scholars of the past and all of the scriptures in Tibetan. [On the large screens on either side of the stage, appeared “Adarsha Reflecting Ancient Texts in New Ways.”]
“Adarsha’s home page opens to [a brocade-covered box holding the Karmapa’s edition of the Jiang Kangyur is opened to show] images of the Buddha Shakyamuni in the middle, flanked on the left by the 9th Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje, and on the right, by the 6th Shamar, Chokyi Wangchuk. If you click on the dark line above the image, three different sections will appear: the Kangyur, the Tengyur, and texts by Tibetan scholars. For the Kangyur tab, all the sections have been input; the Tengyur has just one for now; and the works by Tibetan scholars has just one, but in the future, we hope to include them all. When you click on the Kangyur tab, what comes up on one side is a list of the different sections and on the other side appears the content. On each page of the Kangyur, a number appears and clicking on that will bring up the original scan.
“There is a regular search engine for the site and also an advanced one, which you can use to search, for example, all the texts that were taught in one place, such as Vulture Peak in Rajgir. It is also possible to search in an easy way more detailed information about a text, such as which turning of the wheel of Dharma it belongs to, the name of the translator, the name of the editor, and other characteristics.
“All of this is available on the website, and for those who do not have Internet access, the program is also available on a USB. [The Karmapa took out a USB from maroon pouch.] Not only will you be able to search the Kangyur on your computer, but also on portable devices, such as iPhones and iPads. The app is now available through the Apple Store. After it is downloaded, the screen looks like this [opening screen displayed]. The internal structure is the same as the website so you can read the entire Kangyur. For example, if you wanted to look at the sutra section, you could browse each of the different volumes, which are labeled with the letters of the Tibetan alphabet, ka, kha, ga, nga, and so forth. The app also has the regular and advance search engines.” The Karmapa then showed the address for the website: http://Adarsha/dharma_treasure.org.