In the Monlam Pavilion the night before the procession, the Gyalwang Karmapa, a consummate director who pays attention to the smallest detail, rehearsed the monks and nuns who would be carrying the Kangyur texts the next day. As they sat on the floor before him, he spoke to them about the significance of this event. “These texts hold the precious words of the Buddha, and you will carry them as you circumambulate the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment. This will make an auspicious connection for his teachings to flourish and spread throughout the world.” The sangha members then practiced walking with a paced dignity, passing out into the cool evening and coming back in the Pavilion as the Karmapa watched.
He advised them, ''Those in the procession should recite the mantra (Namo Shakyamunaye, “Homage to Shakyamuni Buddha”) and visualize that the Dharma is pervading the whole universe. You should carry yourselves in a way that inspires respect in those who see you.''
Early in the morning of the 17th, disciples holding pink lotuses, garlands of marigolds, and tall gladiolas lined the outer circumambulation path and the steps from the main gate, down the cental path, and into to the inner sanctum of the stupa. A sign on a slope says, “Karmapa Khyenno. Kagyu Sangha Monlam Chenmo. Prayers for World Peace.” Soon after 8am, the Karmapa and his entourage arrive and pass through the crowds into the main temple with its famous state of a radiant Buddha. After offering him robes, fruit, and prayers, the Karmapa emerged and walked around to the Bodhi Tree on the backside of the stupa where the four main rinpoches don their Gampopa hats, and the 103 volumes of the Kangyur are distrubuted among the sangha.
The procession is led by an incense bearer, followed by jalings (a Tibetan oboe), conch shells (symbolizing the spreading of the Dharma), and two more incense bearers. In the front of the procession in ascending order of hierarchy, is Shiwalha Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche, Zurmang Garwang Rinpoche, Gyaltsap Rinpoche, and finally His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa. They are followed by the precious teachers of the Dharma, the Kagyu khenpos, then the fully ordained monks, and selected nuns and other monks. Moving at a stately pace, they move up the stairs and circumambulate the stupa on its widest path. When the procession returns to the Bodhi Tree, the texts that have been carried in procession are covered in a bright layer of flower offerings.
For the entire morning at the Pavilion itself, the rest of the monks, nuns, and lay members of the sangha who know Tibetan have been engaged in another traditional practice related to texts—reading the Kangyur aloud. Pages have been distributed throughout the crowd, and it is wonderful to see how many people in addition to the ordained sangha know Tibetan—from the older generation of gray-haired Tibetans to the teenage Tibetan Dharmapalas helping to guard the place of practice plus western and eastern disciples of all ages. It is a clear visual reminder of what the Karmapa and the Dalai Lama have often said about the sangha. It is made up of four pillars—the ordained monks and nuns and the male and female lay practitioners. In the lambent sun of this peaceful morning, all of them have performed two traditional practices with the deep wish that the Dharma continue to flourish and bring its benefits to the modern world and beyond.
The lime green tabards of the Bhutanese Young Volunteers in Action (Y-VIA) are back in the Pavilion and grounds for the 34th Kagyu Mönlam. For the second year running, the Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF), an NGO under the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Mother of Bhutan, has brought a group of teenagers and young adults to the Mönlam as part of a programme designed to broaden their experience and develop their citizenship skills.
In this second year, the group has grown from 20 to 27 young volunteers. The youngest is just 15, and the oldest are in their early twenties, and studying for a university degree. All take pride in being representatives of their respective schools and colleges in this programme, and all of them are newbies to the Mönlam; in their own words, they are "a new batch." They are accompanied by two teachers and by the Director of the Y-VIA programme, Karma Phuntsho Wangmo.
The new responsibilities have generated extra work and even the director has been very much ‘hands on’ this year.
Their activities have expanded, too. As last year, they have been tirelessly active in the tea breaks at every session, serving lay practitioners; helping out whenever and wherever else needed, for instance, providing a cordon for the Procession of the Sixteen Arhats alongside the Dharmapalas. They have been remarkable throughout for their unfailing kindness and sweetness, and for how well they all look in their traditional Bhutanese dress. This time they are also operating a small stall opposite Tergar Monastery, selling bags, prayer wraps and other handicrafts in typical Bhutanese patterns and textiles. These are produced through yet another YDF programme, “Empowerment for Employment”, which works with unemployed youth and disadvantaged women in Bhutan. The sale of their products generates income for the programme. With such demanding responsibilities, one might expect the young people to make the most of any chance for a rest. Yet, although they can be seen sitting quietly on the sidelines in between sessions, a closer look reveals that they are in fact intently studying their Kagyu Mönlam books, or softly reciting prayers from bespoke texts. They do so because they readily acknowledge the unique opportunity that the Mönlam provides. As Sönam Chengjur, a young man of 18, explained:
"It is a privilege to be in the presence of His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa. We feel we are very lucky to be here."
His companions in the group of young Bhutanese - amongst them Karma Trinley, also 18; Sönam Dorje, 20; and Tsering Tashi, 16, one of the youngest present - all concurred. The journey from Bhutan was a long one, they said, yet it was nice all the same. Arriving here, they found that it could be a problem communicating with participants from so many different countries, but they took it up as a challenge:
"Helping people is the best part. We have to learn other languages, and when that doesn't work, we have to get other people who can speak the language to find out what they need, and that's a good experience. It means we are now better prepared to go anywhere else."
One cannot doubt that such committed young people will, indeed, be a positive force wherever they go.
The Garchen has expanded to 260 tents, erected in December in order to accommodate the thousands of monks from South India who stayed in the encampment during the Kalachakra Empowerment. Eighteen of the tents have been set aside for nuns. In addition, this year, His Holiness has reinstated the Garchen Riding Hat. This special hat was worn by Lamas and Khenpos in the Great Encampment in Tibet during the time of the 7th Karmapa Choedrak Gyatso. His Holiness designed the hats and had them made specially. He has gifted them personally to members of Tsurphu Labrang staff, to monks and nuns in the Kagyu Monlam Working Team, and to the Cotton-Clad retreat lamas who are taking part in the Six Yogas of Naropa sessions each evening.
The New Kitchen and Dining Facility
Though not yet completed, this three-storey addition to the Monlam facilities has been fully operational since the Kalachakra Empowerment in Bodhgaya. During that time, the kitchen provided food for thousands of monks and laypeople who were staying in the Garchen encampment or in specially constructed sleeping areas within the Monlam Pavillion.
Now, during the 34th Monlam, it is continuing to provide three meals a day for thousands of monks, nuns and laypeople. Food is served to everyone without question. The top floor will be used in future by Friends of Kagyu Monlam Members and the middle floor is reserved for Rinpoches, VIPs and high lamas.
All those approaching the Kagyu Monlam Pavillion along the road must first pass under the welcome gate. This year once more it is a simple structure of bamboo covered by cloth, bearing the message “Welcome to the Kagyu Monlam” and the Kagyu Monlam symbol. However, this year’s gate is painted blue, a colour chosen personally by the Karmapa, and each of the three columns is decorated front and back by a colourful painted scroll of thethunpa punshi. The story of these Four Harmonious Friends—the bird, the hare, the monkey and the elephant—is found in theVinaya Pitakaand is used as an example of the benefits of collaboration and unselfishness. One version explains how the huge tree was the result of the concerted effort of these four: the bird planted the seed, the hare watered it, the monkey fertilised it, and the elephant protected it – till it grew into a tall, strong tree heavy with fruit. Forming a pyramid the friends were able to reach the best fruit, and, sharing it between themselves, there was plenty for everyone to eat. Another version tells how at first there was just a bird. The bird would scratch around the sapling and find food. But the bird was unable to fly so as the sapling grew taller, he could no longer find enough to eat. Then the hare arrived and offered to help him. By standing on the hare’s back, the bird could reach food. As the tree grew higher, more help was needed and first a monkey and then an elephant joined to assist them.
The story demonstrates the fundamental interdependence of all living things which inhabit this earth and teaches that if we work in harmony and prioritise the needs of others above our own we will succeed. In benefitting others we will also benefit ourselves because when we work for the happiness of others, we ourselves find happiness. It is a fitting message for those attending the International Kagyu Monlam, an event which brings together people from more than 50 countries and many different races and cultures.
As people pass under the gate, they are blessed by the mantra on the prayer flags. Traditionally, this particular mantra has the power to purify the negative karma of 1000 lifetimes each time they pass under it!
Today, His Holiness reflected on the part ofGeshe Potowa’s Long Soliloquy, which had virtue in monasteries as its focal point. He encouraged everyone to nurture enthusiasm and bodhicitta, the essence of which is the union of emptiness and compassion, to guide our efforts to benefit others. Following a short instruction, he concluded with a meditation session. Though he had completed this year’s Monlam teaching, he had not exhausted the content of the whole text and announced that the teaching on the text would extend for one or two more Monlams.
The Karmapa read Geshe Potowa’s accounts of visiting monasteries. When he inquired after fine individuals, he was often told that these fine individuals, the life-blood of the monastery, were the wealthy ones, with much gold, turquoise and cattle. Equating wealth with virtue meant they were immersed solely in the matters of this life. “You should leave that place” Geshe Potowa urges “just as a bird leaves a lake when it freezes.”
The text continues with a teaching on not expecting repayment for helping others:
Anyone who wants to practice should not even give food to their fellow practitioners with the strings of this life attached. If others give it to you, do not eat it. In the end, it will become a back and forth of food that will eventually cause you to lose the dharma.
The Karmapa explained that we should not expect even gratitude. Helping is done best in such a way that people are not aware we are helping them for, if they know, they might feel indebted. Likewise, we might be anticipating some positive reaction from them. Both these responses have a potential to become a basis for conflict.
Then His holiness talked about gathering wealth for old age. Though it is understandable to worry about old age, it also indicates not having certainty in dharma. We should take dharma as insurance. When faith in dharma is established, there will be no fear of old age.
The text further focuses on the ordained sangha: “Some say they lack the provisions for dharma practice and don’t practice, but they find the provisions for committing misdeeds and automatically do them. This is because rich monks don’t contemplate death and the suffering of samsara” and continues his critique “I say they are giving up the small household and taking up a larger one. What they do is dharma but their ego-clinging is even tighter than the householders.”
Clarifying these lines, His Holiness said that the act of going forth or leaving the householder’s life means to be emancipated from samsara. It means seeking freedom.
The text explains that the limitations for the ordained are much more subtle than those of a householder. By practising false dharma, their ego clinging and pride intensify to a point where they end up being worse than an ordinary householder.
But the Karmapa enheartened his audience: “To practice the dharma, we need to have a certain zeal, enthusiasm, power — strength of mind. We need to have a real belief in what we are doing. Our enthusiasm and fortitude should be stronger than anyone else’s.” He illustrated with the ever powerful example of Milarepa’s perseverance.
“Their dharma and their practice are in complete opposition,” His Holiness continued. “They say wealth and possessions have no meaning but they themselves are taking wealth as their own yidam deity.”
The Karmapa gave an interesting example depicting the modern-day advertising techniques used by some lamas abroad. “If you are worried about the university exams,” some slogans say, “then come and take this Manjushri empowerment.” Or: “If you are in financial difficulties, take this empowerment of Dzambala and you’ll be wealthy and prosperous!”
In contrast, sympathising with the troubles of lamas abroad, he recalled the story of a tulku who travelled to America for the first time. An empowerment was organised in a cinema but no one came. For the sake of auspiciousness, at least one person should receive an empowerment, so someone suggested they call the guard up. They told him how beneficial receiving the empowerment would be and he agreed to receive it. In a later conversation with him, they discovered that he was a Muslim.
In that context, His Holiness recalled the profound words of great Drukpa Kagyu Mahasiddha Lorepa: “If you gather crowds of thousands or tens of thousands of people, the benefit to others does not increase. If you only have one person in the crowd then it does not get any smaller.” He elucidated saying that when we meditate upon bodhicitta, which is in essence emptiness and compassion, it is fine to benefit only one being. However, if we don’t have it, even if we have crowds of thousands, we will not fruitfully benefit anyone.
For the end of the session, he imparted meditation instructions: “Don’t follow the tracks of the past, don’t anticipate the future. Think about the current situation. Catch that with mindfulness and relax.” Then he expounded on the essence of meditating on the breath. Taking it for granted, we neglect the fact that if we stop breathing we die. Plants produce oxygen and give us the riches which allow us to breathe. Remembering this should give us a feeling of contentment.
Since the sound from the singing bowl has a fluctuating quality, he compared meditation on the sound to impermanence. Being aware of it, does not mean we should fear death but see the opportunity to change things due to their impermanent nature. We have a chance to change our thinking. It is impermanence which allows a flute to give rise to beautiful music. Permanence, on the other hand, would mean only one note.
His Holiness personally led everyone in meditation by drawing out soothing but powerful meditative sounds from the rim of the singing bowl. As the waves of sound filled the space, he took the meditators into an open state of being. Perhaps this was to show that to meditate on the breath is to attune with the self-resounding sound of the universe.
A lively demonstration by monks from the 20th Kagyu Gunchoe of their debating skills on the topicTurning the Wheel of Dharma preceded the awards for the Gunchoe debate competition. This was followed by a long dedication monologue delivered by Lhagpa Yeshe, a monk from Benchen Shedra. This composition containing sections in both verse and prose is the traditional way to finish a debate and is known as the Noble Words [Tib.Tsig Zang].
Then came the awards themselves. The winners received a trophy, a certificate and a cheque to be spent by their shedra.
First prize for Collected Topics (Dudra) was awarded to Lava Shedra. They received a trophy depicting a pecha atop a lotus and stem, and a cheque for 100,000 Indian rupees.
Second Prize for Collected Topics went to Benchen Shedra. They received a trophy of Manjushri’s Sword of Wisdom and a check for 50,000 Indian rupees.
First Prize for Validity [Tib. Tsema] was awarded to Bokar Shedra. They received a trophy and a cheque for 100,000 Indian rupees.
Second Prize for Validity went to Sherabling Shedra. They received a trophy and a cheque for 50,000 Indian rupees.
First Prize Overall was won by Bokar Shedra, which received a Manjushri Sword of Wisdom trophy and 100,000 Indian rupees.
The ceremony continued with prizes for individual monks. With great humour, His Holiness pretended not to be able to read the names of those who had won the individual prizes, and let the tension mount, but eventually he announced
Best Presenter: Tsering Dorje, Sherabling Shedra.
Best Responder: Jamyang Sengye, Bokar Shedra
Best for Diligence: Lobsang Tsering, Sherabling Shedra
Each monk received a certificate and a personal prize of electronic equipment.
Awards for The Examination of Monastic Forms
The examination was conducted over two nights last week before the Monlam began. Twenty- four monasteries and nunneries competed against each other. The competition is organised into two categories : gelong [fully ordained] and getsul/getsulmas [novice].
At the moment there are no fully ordained nuns, so the prizes in the first category all went to monasteries. However, in the ultimate development of the trend seen last year, when nunneries won two of the three prizes, all the prizes in the novice category were won by nunneries this year. Karma Drubdey Nunnery from Thimpu in Bhutan won first prize for the second year in succession.
In 1407, the 5th Karmapa Dezhin Shekpa (1384–1415), arrived in the Imperial Chinese capital of Nanjing at the invitation of the Yongle Emperor Cheng Zu, who ruled from 1402 -1424 CE. The Emperor required religious ceremonies to be performed for his deceased parents, and to this end, he requested the 5th Karmapa to offer theRitual of Universal Salvation, at Linggu Monastery.
In return for performing ceremonies for the Emperor's family, the Emperor gifted the Karmapa with 700 measures of silver objects, gave him the title 'Precious Religious King, Great Loving One of the West, Mighty Buddha of Peace', and presented him with a material representation of the famous 'Vajra Crown‘. This was the crown which Dusum Khyenpa received from the dakinis, woven from their hair. It is said to be invisible to all except those pure in spirit. The Emperor’s version of the crown was woven in black brocade and studded with jewels and is one of the Karmapa lineage treasures still in existence.
The Karmapa Scroll was commissioned by the Emperor and records the events that occurred during Dezhin Shekpa’s visit. 50 metres long and painted on silk, the scroll depicts scenes of miraculous signs that took place over twenty-two days during the performance of the ritual. These are described in Chinese, Arabic, Uighur, Tibetan and Mongolian.
Unfortunately, the Emperor had ulterior motives. Having usurped power from his nephew the Jianwen Emperor, he intended the scroll as evidence of the legitimacy of his claim to be Emperor. In addition, he hoped to establish a Ming-Tibetan alliance in a similar fashion to that established between the Yuan Emperors and the Sakyas. The Fifth Karmapa, however, rejected the Yongle Emperor’s overtures and returned to Tibet.
An original of the scroll has been preserved in the Tibet Museum, Norbulingka Palace, and Lhasa.
Based on photographs of this scroll, an elderly Taiwanese monk, who tutored the 17th Karmapa in classical Chinese drawing and painting, was able to reproduce the original in collaboration with His Holiness. His Holiness himself painstakingly completed the Tibetan calligraphy on each panel. The reproduction does not include other languages in the original. This recreation of the scroll was then put on display in the Monlam Pavilion, but people commented that it was difficult to see the details. His Holiness responded by commissioning a high-quality photographic enlargement. It was made in Taiwan and is on display at the Kagyu Monlam this year.
Members of the Friends of the Kagyu Monlam started congregating on the lawn of Tergar Monastery early in the afternoon of the third day, in eager anticipation of their group audience with His Holiness the Karmapa. Very soon after, they were ushered into the shrine room and lined up in rows to await his arrival. With between 1,200 and 1,400 Members to fit in, that took some time and skill to arrange - testament to the effort and patience of the guru sevakas who had that responsibility, and who kept the atmosphere light with their good humour both in English and in Chinese.
There was hardly a buzz of nervous chatter amongst the waiting Members, their whispered exchanges softer even than the twittering of the Tergar shrine room's resident birds. Some took out their malas, some closed their eyes in meditation, all preparing as best they could for this longed-for moment. As had happened earlier in the day amongst the Mönlam Members waiting at lunchtime in the Mahayana Hotel, spontaneous chanting ofKarmapa Khyennorapidly spread through the rows and was sustained until, with none of the usual security to-ing and fro-ing, His Holiness walked in.
The Karmapa started by extending his warm greetings to the Members, commenting that in the years since the inception of the Kagyu Mönlam the number of participants had increased manifold. He shared his memories of the early days:
When I joined the Mönlam and started giving teachings, it was in a basement hall in the Mahayana Hotel, dark and windowless. It seemed a big venue at the time, as the Mönlam was only for foreigners. But that basement soon became too small, and we moved to the shrine room of Shechen Monastery. It was still only attended by students from abroad, but as more of them came they spilled out onto the veranda, they were opening windows and letting the mosquitos in. The Mönlam was extended to India-based participants with teachings in the Taiwan Temple, then Tergar was built.
The Karmapa observed how tight a fit the Members were in the Tergar shrine room, demonstrating the obvious need for the bigger Pavilion, and how even that was barely enough for the 10,000 people and more now taking part. He stressed, though, that drawing in a bigger and bigger crowd was not the most significant aspect of the Mönlam:
What is really important is the intended purpose which brings us together. This year, people from 50 different countries are here, united in aspiration and intent. That is what makes this gathering significant and important. We have this united purpose for peace in the world and for the well-being of all, without exception, so this is a sacred and precious gathering.
The Karmapa added that this kind of auspicious event had a tradition in the noble wishes and aspirations of previous Karmapas. He mentioned, especially, the 7th Karmapa, Chödrak Gyamtso, pointing out that prayers that were made during his time are done in the last day of the Kagyu Mönlam, and quoting an inspiring exhortation of his: "May we gather different languages and nationalities in joyous celebration. Let this happen again and again."
Continuing, the Karmapa said that when we gather together and make prayers for the benefit of all beings, we focus our attention and our attitude towards the flourishing of the profound teachings of the Buddha, and towards universal peace and harmony. He then related a recent personal experience that had made him appreciate how precious truly heartfelt aspirations can be:
A number of fellow Tibetans came to see me. Most were elderly, and told me that they had held their hopes within their minds for so long, and they now wanted to express them. They were wishing for these things, for peace and happiness for all the world, for the spread of the Dharma, and asking me to pray for them to come about, with tears in their eyes. It was more than mere words. Sometimes when things are memorised we don't experience them in depth, but this was from the core of their hearts, it was feeling articulated in words. This is not common, it is rare, so all the more precious. When people can make this kind of wholehearted aspiration, I think there is still hope for the world and for sentient beings.
The Karmapa then reminded everyone that as far as they were concerned, as Members, they couldn't be any closer to the Mönlam than they were already. That meant that they must have dreams in their life that were not limited to themselves, but were universal and global in their outlook, encompassing all sentient beings; this was a noble aspiration that they must embrace.
The Karmapa concluded the meeting by expressing his appreciation for the many ways in which Members supported the Kagyu Mönlam, and as a token of that appreciation, by handing out personally to each Member a calligraphy made by himself with the Tibetan wordsNam Yang De- 'completely happy'.
In a long, winding queue, over a thousand dedicated, hard-working volunteers slowly entered the Tergar temple. They followed the rows of people with whom they shared their working space, taking their seats in orderly fashion and waited in meditative silence.
Upon arrival the Gyalwang Karmapa expressed his warm greetings to all of the volunteers. Then, he expounded on the meaning of bodhicitta and Monlam.
He talked to them about our innate ability to make aspirations, regardless of whether one has faith in spiritual traditions or not. Ability to make aspirations is universal, he said.
His Holiness made clear that it doesn’t matter who makes the aspirations as long as prayers for the world are being made, and cautioned about being tempted to attach labels to our aspirations. For example: Nyingma Monlam or Kagyu Monlam. It might be making matters worse to judge the situation as our Monlam vs. their Monlam. That kind of attitude leads to a conflict in the mind which can interfere with our aspirations.
His Holiness suggested that regardless of being a part of a ceremony or not, you always have the ability to make aspirations. Most importantly, we have the ability to take responsibility. He elucidated this point by saying that from the moment we experience pain and the need to be happy, we have the capacity to extend compassion to all beings endowed with consciousness because they are all predisposed to having those same feelings. In its essence, that wish for the happiness of all beings is bodhicitta. All we need to do is shift our focus from ourselves to others. This is not hard to understand conceptually, but in actual application, somehow it becomes difficult for us.
Then he delineated how to develop bodhicitta and the relevance of Monlam in that regard. In our being we are endowed with that noble outlook, the seed of bodhicitta, he said. Monlam is held to bring about the necessary elements which will mature that seed. It is difficult to say if it will mature or not. Its growth depends on elements unique to each one’s personality.
He noted in sympathy that, in addition to travelling far from their homes and the harsh conditions they must endure, the guru sevaka also have to work, and that is not easy. Many people support in different capacities, he continued. While it is easy to evaluate the material offerings, it is much harder to measure the level of service, and so expressed his full appreciation of each and every action they offer.
The Karmapa closed the meeting by graciously offering everyone a token of his gratitude. As the long line of people gradually moved through the temple, he personally signed and handed to each of them a copy of his artwork: a calligraphy in red and gold which read: “Be joyful forever”.
For those who were used to seeing the Buddha flanked by the great tormas, Mount Kailash rising behind, and masses of flowers arranged on all tiers of the stage, this year’s design must have come as something of a surprise.
The stage and its backdrop are a magnificent fusion of classical Chinese elements and the uncluttered clear-cut lines of modern design. The arrangement is a co-production between His Holiness the Karmapa and a professional stage designer from Shanghai, who first met His Holiness at Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet in 1999.
In an interview, the stage designer explained how, traditionally, Tibetan settings use rich, strong colours, are very elaborate, very expressive and powerful. They are stunning and have great visual impact. When the Karmapa first suggested that the two of them should collaborate on designing the stage for the 34th Kagyu Monlam, the designer focused on how to capture in a new way the grandeur and solemnity of the pujas offered during the Monlam. He wanted to emphasise those particular aspects, and, so the backdrop was originally designed in very stark black and white. Later it was changed to gold and white.
The backdrop is made of heavy white canvas in order to resonate with the colour of the marble flooring of the stage and its tiers, and is covered in a pattern of highly stylised, auspicious golden clouds, painted according to those found in classical Chinese texts. These clouds symbolise brightness, vastness and unhurriedness, and are intended to reflect the qualities of Lord Buddha. The motif is continued into each corner of the stage, either side of the huge screens, and a Tibetan-style frieze, unifies the whole.
The seed syllables of the five Buddha families hang in front of the backdrop, in accordance with special instructions from His Holiness. The colour red was chosen for them because it creates a focal point for our attention and also uplifts the spirit. [After the Monlam, during the Gutor, the backdrop will be changed into one which is mainly dark indigo with a drawing of the fire mudra which symbolises Mahakala.]
The tormas have been moved down from their previous position where they flanked the Buddha on to the main stage. This clears the area around the Buddha image, creating an additional sense of spaciousness and open-ness, but also brings more focus onto the tormas themselves.
Visual distractions have been reduced and flower displays kept to a minimum.
The tiers on the wings, where the gelong and gelongma sit, have been covered in red carpet and the risers have been painted red; changes intended to create an holistic harmony.
Above the Buddha, suspended from the girders, as if floating in mid-air, is a huge intricately designedchhatraor parasol. An ancient Indian symbol of kingship, it is depicted above the heads of Indian royalty, Hindu deities, Lord Buddha and the bodhisattvas. Thechhatrais in an ornate Chinese style and made from gilded copper. Inside, directly above the Buddha’s head, is a mandala of the Mani prayer, Om Mani Padme Hum, the sacred mantra of Avalokiteshvara.
The last afternoon of the 34th Kagyu Mönlam started slightly earlier than usual with a Medicine Buddha tsok practice according to the Concise Ritual of Offering to the Seven Tathagatas, compiled by the 6th Sharmapa. Tsok, in the form of small bags of fruit, was distributed to each and every participant, sangha and lay followers alike, and money offerings traditionally known in Tibet as 'kunki' were also given to the sangha.
At the end of the afternoon break, His Holiness Karmapa came onto the stage and the session on the Appreciation of the Sponsors opened with the procession for the mandala offering, led by the sponsors who then sat on the stage for the blessings that would follow. Appreciation of the Sponsors is an opportunity to share and dedicate virtue, and His Holiness spoke at some length on the importance of generosity as a means for generating virtue, and on the equal indispensability of the dedication of the virtue generated.
Reprising teachings by Chandrakirti in Entering the Middle Way, he pointed out that wealth and prosperity cannot come about through just any cause, but have their roots precisely in generosity. His Holiness also quoted the Sutra Requested by the Householder Draksulchen on the innumerable benefits of giving: "What I give away is mine, what is left in the house is not. What I give away has meaning, what I keep has no meaning."
That is, when we give things away the virtue generated subsists into the next life, whereas whatever we grasp we must leave behind when we die, he explained. However, virtue accumulated, if not dedicated, may be destroyed through unskillful responses such as anger, wrong views, regret, denigration, and pride and boastfulness about our own generosity. His Holiness used the simile of the drop in the ocean, which remains until the whole ocean dries up, to illustrate that virtue dedicated to bodhichitta is not wasted until enlightenment; and further quotes from Shantideva, Maitreya and the Kriya tantras, to argue that all virtue dedicated, whether ours or others', increases and becomes itself a cause for achieving Buddhahood: "Many rivers flow, each with its own flavour, yet when they reach the ocean, they all taste of ocean."
Recollecting that the scope of generosity depended on the greatness of the recipient, of the thing offered, and of the intention, His Holiness pointed out that the Kagyu Mönlam offered an unexcelled field of offering under all three aspects. Stressing the pure motivation of bodhichitta, he exhorted all Mönlam participants to avoid stains such as the wish for fame, expectations of a return or of riches in the next life, or giving out of envy or prideful conceit. He also said:
The greatest recipients of generosity are the Three Jewels, especially the noble sangha. In generosity to sangha there is virtue in offering and in accepting. Here in the Mönlam there is great virtue, here is gathered the virtue of the three times for us to dedicate.
His Holiness especially commended Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche for his sponsoring of the Mönlam, making it worthy of dedication. And certainly the attendance of Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and Yangsi Bokar Rinpoche in this last afternoon, as in the previous days of the Mönlam, heightened the participants' sense of the auspiciousness of the occasion.
The essential proceedings of the Appreciation of the Sponsors then got under way: in synch with the chanting of the Offering of the Eight Auspicious Substances, the Offering of the Seven Articles of Royalty, and the Offering of the Eight Marks of Auspiciousness, their representations were successively brought to His Holiness to be blessed, and taken round to the sponsors to bless them in turn. In conclusion, extolling once again the virtue of sharing in the benefits of the sponsors, His Holiness offered a statue of the Buddha to each of them, and gifts were also made to the sangha present on stage.
His Holiness, although suffering from a bad cold and lack of sleep, used the platform of his closing address to the 34th Kagyu Mönlam to speak honestly and openly about the situation arisen with Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche's resignation. He explained that he had learned about it shortly after it had happened, a few months before it became public; that himself and others around him and in the Jamgön Labrang who were aware of it tried to do all they could, until Rinpoche announced it himself on Facebook. He shared a particular feeling he'd had when celebrating Rinpoche's birthday:
"I thought that Rinpoche was separated from his parents and brought to India at a very young age—before the age of one. From the time he was very young, he had a lot of difficulties. I thought, 'How dreadful. The poor guy!' I’d never had that thought about him before, but I did last year.
He was given the title of a tulku, and of a high lama in particular, and because of that he probably has the same feelings about the difficulties he faces as I do. It has been many years since I was given the title of Karmapa, and I have experienced many difficulties myself."
His Holiness expressed his great regret that he had not been able to give greater support and advice:
"Often I was unable to show Rinpoche how I cared for him. So I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Rinpoche, the Jamgön Labrang, and all the students who are connected with him."
When the situation first arose, His Holiness acknowledged, he had many different feelings, he was angry and depressed. But he stressed that he had never given up on Rinpoche, nor on his love and care for him. He expressed his certainty that all who had faith in Rinpoche felt the same, and this was something he would like Rinpoche to understand. Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche's resignation was, nonetheless, a great setback for the Kagyu lineage:
The previous Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche's passing away at a young age created difficulties, this adds even more difficulties on top of that. I'm sure that the Jamgön Labrang did all they could with pure motivation, so I ask the Labrang and sangha not to get discouraged. I also ask the students, friends and sponsors of the Jamgön Labrang to continue with their support, so that the activity of the various Jamgön Kongtrul incarnations can increase.
Many people might be worried about what would happen in the future, but the important thing to remember for a tulku, His Holiness counselled, was to never give up on the teachings of the Buddha. Wrapping up his address, he reiterated that whether Rinpoche was a monk or not, he should not give up working for sentient beings, and that the same held true for the lamas and tulkus who were in the world, in whatever situation:
That’s about all there is to say. I have done everything I could up to now. I’m not someone who has abandoned all faults and developed all qualities. But no matter what happens, I continue to think I won’t give up on benefitting Buddhism and sentient beings. Please everyone keep that in mind.
After the reading of the Great Aspiration and of the Dedication for the Living and Deceased—and a reminder that it was through the sponsoring of these prayers that the Mönlam was made possible—His Holiness took the time to extensively thank all those whose contribution had ensured a successful 34th Kagyu Mönlam: Lama Chodrak, and all the tulkus who had worked very hard alongside everyone else; Tergar Monastery, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and all the workers there who had offered 100% support; the Kagyu Gunchoe, whose workers had become Mönlam workers too; and the workers from the Tsurphu Labrang who, whether operating in ordinary circumstances or in the whirlwind of the Mönlam, made everything possible for it to go well.
His Holiness also expressly mentioned the representatives of the Tibetan and Indian governments, pointing out that they travelled with him all the time, and that it was appropriate to take this opportunity to thank them. He again thanked the Mönlam Members and the guru sevakas; for the latter, in particular, His Holiness appreciated the hardships they faced making their way to the Mönlam, and how very hard they worked, throughout, once there. He thanked the students from Suja School in Bir who had come to work as the dharmapalas, and the Indian workers who were there every day. And he left some special thanks for last:
Thank you, Gyaltsab Rinpoche, for coming and presiding over ceremonies. Thank you, Mingyur Rinpoche, for your hospitality and your blessings. Thank you, Bokar Rinpoche, for being here, your predecessor was a life force of the Mönlam.
I would like to thank all the tulkus, all the teachers, and all the sangha from our monasteries and nunneries and from other lineages. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Over 50 countries are represented here and I thank you all for coming. We are realising the noble wish of the 7th Karmapa by coming together to pray. Every one of you, I thank you all.
The 34th Kagyu Mönlam ended with images of beauty and unity in aspiration that could not but make a deep and lingering impression in the minds of all present. At every refrain in Lord Marpa's Song of Auspicioness, in the Auspiciousness of the Great Encampment, and in the final Prayers to Accomplish the Truth, Mönlam participants waved their katas in ripples of unison, firstly accompanied by the Karmapa's throwing of rice in blessing, and then led by the unfurling of his own white kata. At a last sustained call of jalings and dungchens, His Holiness left the Mönlam stage, and the curtain fell on the intensity of this unique week.
The Kagyu Mönlam is an auspicious gathering that generates immense devotion in its participants, and amongst its events, none does it more than the Procession of the Sixteen Arhats, which took place in the morning on the sixth day. Anticipation began the evening before, with the announcement that Mönlam Members were to line up to frame the procession, and that all participants would have the opportunity to make an offering.
In the morning, Mönlam participants arrived to find the Pavilion transformed. The central aisle had become a beautifully elaborate carpet of flowers, leading up to a giant golden bowl overflowing with piled fruits. Precious seats for the Sixteen Arhats were laid out on the main stage, where a black pagoda shrine occupied the centre ground.
More transformation was in store. In the short space of time for Sojong vows and the first morning prayers, a red carpet walkway strewn with orange and yellow petals had appeared outside. Mönlam Members lining up along it, some still finishing their breakfast, all with their katas at the ready, quickly filled the short stretch from Tergar Monastery to the Pavilion.
With the sun rising out of the early morning haze, the opening prayers from theProstrations and Offerings to the Sixteen Elderswere heard from the Pavilion, and simultaneously the sound of jalings rang out from Tergar. Victory banners and parasols emerged, signalling the start of the procession, which slowly came into view. Under each parasol was one of the Sixteen Arhats in a mask and costume, faithfully represented with the attributes described in theProstrations and Offerings to the Sixteen Elders.Each arhat was accompanied by an attendant, similarly in character, carrying the parasol. Behind the Arhats came groups of monks with alms bowls. The head of the procession entered the Pavilion to the sound of music succeeding the prayers inside, their soft measured steps barely disturbing the carpet of flowers as their solemn progress neared the stage, where His Holiness Karmapa waited.
With self-possessed precision the Sixteen Arhats, their attendants and the accompanying monks proceeded up onto the stage and fell into position. Closing the procession, a spectacular golden statue of the Buddha was wheeled in and placed inside the pagoda shrine, flanked by two more masked and costumed Elders with ringing staff and bowl, representing the Buddha's main disciples, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana. The final group of monks escorting the statue and taking their places on the tiered seats either side of the stage could well be described as 'innumerable', and must have given Mönlam participants a small taste of what the Buddha's wanderings with his company of bhikshus over these very lands may have been like.
The Twenty-Branch Monlam prayers resumed, and the stage was made ready for the offerings. A laden basket was placed at the feet of each of the Sixteen Arhats, and katas were draped around the giant golden bowl. When the prayers ended, the Arhats under their parasols and the Elders exited the stage, and their places were taken by their monk attendants.
The last and longest part of the event, which lasted the remainder of the morning session, began: monks and nuns and lay followers, Tibetan and foreign, came up with their individual offerings in a long but orderly line which ran the length of the Pavilion. The mantra changed back and forth fromNamo ShakyamunayetoKarmapa Khyenno. Bags of fruits, tubs of sweets, cartons of biscuits filled sack after sack and, most importantly, the generousness of the offerings swelled the hearts of all those who shared this moment.
“This is probably a very rare opportunity for us from the Tibetan tradition to invite so many Bikkhus and I think that it is historically significant”
With those words the Gyalwang Karmapa marked the day of the memorial service for His Majesty the late King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Prior to this unique event, meant to embody the unity of the sanghas, His Holiness had, as a true protector of beings would, with great diligence and kindness, personally tended to every detail. In efforts to accommodate the proper customs of Thailand, he collaborated with the Thai sangha and created the elegant setting: on the stage, at the far end of the corridor between the monks’ benches and below the pyramidal tiers of the stage, gold and silver ritual implements were placed in front of a translucent jade statue of the Buddha and a painted portrait of His Majesty.
In perfect serenity typical of Thai monastic and forest traditions, monks from the Thai Temple accompanied by Thai devotees arrived.
They sat on the left of the stage. Facing them, the Gyalwang Karmapa, rinpoches and tulkus were seated on the right. It was a sign of respect which would bring joy to the heart of any Buddhist.
Radiant shades of red, yellow and orange robes pervaded the front of the Pavilion in vivid portrayal of the subtleties and nuanced nature of the Buddha’s teachings. Their varied appearances showed the vastness of Buddhism—encompassing all types of mind and inclination, where everyone can find a place on the path to liberation.
“The King of Thailand was not only a great protector and patron of the Thai people, he was also respected all over the world and, I think, he was one of the great figures of Buddhism in general” said the Karmapa.
He spoke of the four great kings in the ancient past, who helped spread the Buddha-dharma. Similarly, the King of Thailand had not only helped the prosperity of the land of Thailand and served his people but helped greatly in spreading all traditions of the dharma. The Karmapa invited everyone to draw from this event the confidence and the courage to continue the activities that came from the power of the King’s loving-kindness, compassion and wisdom. He ended by expressing his gratitude and appreciation for this rare opportunity to invite so many Bikkhus and noted its historical significance.
In the first part of the service, the Thai monks offered their prayers in Pali invoking an atmosphere of clarity and calm. When their chanting subsided, His Holiness, rinpoches and tulkus led everyone in the prayers to Akshobhya. The assembly composed of thousands of people from more than 50 countries and the elders from different sanghas on the stage seemed to mirror each other’s sentiments of interconnectedness.
The extensive Ritual of Offerings to the Gurus, always performed on the last day of the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, was composed in 2005 by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. It is a compilation drawn from many famous Buddhist texts. The puja often serves as a memorial to a particular Lama who has passed away, and this year a large portrait photograph of the Eighth Kyabje Dorzong Rinpoche was placed centrally below the shrine.
The stage had been rearranged following the Sixteen Arhat and Alms Procession the previous day. Four of the victory banners from that procession remained on the top tier of the stage, and the others were arrayed in the wings. Below them, three tiers of heavily laden offering tables stood to left and right of the pagoda shrine containing the infant Buddha. The bottom tier was replete with pyramids of fruit— black and green grapes, oranges, melons, and different types of apple. The middle tier held the seven symbols of royalty and the eight symbols of auspiciousness, and the top tier held the eight auspicious substances. These were to be used in the afternoon.
As the Lama Choepa began, in a symmetry of action, the Gyalwang Karmapa assumed the role of ritual master. Standing in front of the shrine to the infant Buddha, he made the offerings on behalf of everyone, as he had on the first morning. In an innovative ceremony, the reception of the Cotton-Clad monks was incorporated into this part of the ritual. (See report: Reviving the Tradition of the Cotton-Clad Yogis.)
Having completed making the offerings, His Holiness lit candles in front of the photo of Kyabje Dorzong Rinpoche and sat in meditation for a while.
The Eighth Kyabje Dorzong Rinpoche established the Dorzong Monastic Institute Jangchub Jong at Gopalpur H.P., and also maintained Dorzong Monastery in Tibet. Dorzong Rinpoche, a devoted student of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa Rigpe Dorje, had been very supportive and shown great kindness to the 17th Karmapa and his sister after they came to India. When His Holiness the Dalai Lama inaugurated the Dzongsar Monastic Institute in September 2010, Rinpoche invited the 17th Karmapa as the guest of honour. Kyabje Dorzong Rinpoche was the tutor of the Ninth Khamtrul Rinpoche and both attended the two-month- long transmission of the Kangyur given by HE Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche in the Karmapa’s private quarters in Autumn 2011. Further, in October 2012, when the Karmapa gave a Chöd empowerment and teaching, it was hosted by Rinpoche at the Dorzong Monastic Institute. At that time, Rinpoche declared:
“Along with the previous and present Kyabje Khamtrul Rinpoche of Tashi Jong, His Holiness the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa was one of my outstanding root gurus. I am extremely pleased to be able to host His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who is also my root guru.”
Dorzong Rinpoche had been ill with cancer for some time. At first, it had seemed he was recovering but in October 2016 his condition began to deteriorate and steadily worsened. At the end of January, the Karmapa spoke with Rinpoche in Delhi and arranged for his medical evacuation to a famous hospital in Taiwan, where he was treated with both Chinese and allopathic medicine. Once more his health began to improve, but on 15th February 2017, when further complications arose, Rinpoche asked to be transferred to the local Thrangu Dharma Centre, where, on 16th February, to the chanting of the Mahamudra Prayer, he assumed the bodhisattva posture and entered the meditative state of thugdam. On February 19th, while his great contribution to the Dharma and to the benefit of sentient beings was being commemorated at the Kagyu Monlam, he was still in thugdam.
His Holiness slipped away during the morning session to visit the Mahabodhi Temple in order to make further offerings for auspiciousness on the final day of the Monlam. He returned later to conclude the session.
In the afternoon, during the closing session of the Monlam, everyone joined in chanting three times a special prayer which the Karmapa had written and dedicated to Dorzong Rinpoche.
“Dorzong Rinpoche passed away,“ he said. “I have tried to compose a prayer. Perhaps it is not so beautiful but the words have come from my heart.”
The source for all practices and traditions that are followed at the Kagyu Monlam is the Seventh Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso (1454-1506). In a letter to Minyak Gang Monastery in Kham, Chödrak Gyatso described how to combine the practices of the Six Yogas with the Monlam they were practicing. The letter detailed what to do, which texts to chant, and the practice of wearing the white cloth (ras bud byed pa). Usually the termcotton-clad(ras pa) refers to the followers of Milarepa (Mi la ras pa) who were mountain yogis and yoginis clad in white cloth. The other Kagyu tradition of Gampopa is for ordained monks who wear burgundy robes.
Evoking the tradition of Milarepa, a particular practice of wearing white cloth occurs at the end of a three-year retreat, and also in some monasteries on special days, such as the combined death anniversary of Marpa (the fourteenth of the first Tibetan month) and Milarepa (the fifteenth of that month). During the traditional three-year retreat, meditators practice tummo—one of the Six Yogas of Naropa and a special practice of Milarepa. It involves generating body heat to overcome the experience of cold. When they end their three-year retreat, the retreatants wear a wet, white cotton cloth, which they should dry with their body heat to demonstrate their success in tummo.
Up until now, this element had been lacking in the Kagyu Monlam performed in Bodh Gaya, so the Karmapa decided that it should be revived this year and continue as a part of the yearly gathering. Prior to tummo practice, the retreatants must engage in vigorous yogic exercises, usually for a month but there was not enough time in the program this year, so they practiced for a week from February 12 to 19 in the main shrine hall of Tergar Monastery. These yogic practices are always done in secret, because spectators could disturb the meditators, leading to broken bones, and for those who look, obstacles could come. All the windows of the hall, therefore, were covered with thick cloth, and sentries were posted around it.
Inside the hall, thick mats, a meter and a half square, were laid out in a spacious formality for the 110 meditators. There were many candidates for the practice, and to make it easy, this year it was decided that it would be for monks who had completed a three-year retreat in the tradition of the Six Yogas of Naropa. They should also be under sixty years old, since above that, the yogas do not turn out so well. To teach and remind the older retreatants of the practices, the retreat masters also participated.
In his letter to Minyak Gang Monastery, the Seventh Karmapa had also noted: “Even though there is no difference in the wearing of the white cotton cloth as it is practiced in the traditions of Naropa or Niguma, we should follow Naropa’s tradition since it has special qualities.” The Six Yogas of Niguma is practiced in the Shangpa Kagyu tradition, and since the Karmapa wished to include these yogis in the Monlam, a special area for them was curtained off in the shrine hall, because the practitioners of these two traditions should not see each other’s yogic exercises.
Having stayed up the whole night practicing, on February 19 in the early morning of the last day of the Monlam, the lamas wore a long white cloth wrapped around their bodies, the red Kagyu hat, a yoga belt, and short pants when they exited the main shrine hall of Tergar Monastery. With their arms on their hips and slowly turning side to side, they walked to the Monlam Pavilion between long rows of disciples with khatas to honor their efforts in practice. The lamas came down the central aisle and sat on the stage to the Karmapa’s left while the ordained monks sat on his right. As part of the Offerings to the Guru, the retreatants sang Milarepa’s song, theEssence of Dependent Arising, and received a specially blessed gift from the Karmapa. It was an auspicious beginning to the revival of another key element in the Kamtsang Kagyu lineage, famous for being a lineage of great practitioners.
For over three hundred years, from the time of the Fourth to Tenth Karmapa, the Karmapas traveled extensively in what was known as the Great Encampment. This allowed them to reach disciples all over Tibet with great flexibility and spontaneity. From the time of the Seventh Karmapa (1454-1506), the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo as well took place wherever the Karmapa happened to be on the date for the event. Following in this tradition, the Monlam Pavilion in Bodh Gaya is a flexible, open space that transforms into whatever is needed at the time.
Its latest reincarnation is as a protector shrine or gönkhang, which can be found at most Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, though they are often off limits to the uninitiated. The Pavilion has been magnificently arranged for the rituals of Gutor—six days of extensive Mahakala practices performed at the end of the Tibetan year. Their purpose is to make vast offering to the protectors and to clear away obstacles for the teachings and all living beings in the year to come.
A team guided by the Karmapa has been working long hours to transform the Pavilion. Over night the background of the white and gold wall behind the main Buddha has shifted to a dark black sky filled with golden flames of wisdom, curling into the night’s space. These dynamic images are repeated in the brocade for a new set of thangka paintings, made in Dharamsala, depicting the protectors of the ten directions. They have been hung behind the Buddha, above the entrance gate and in two pairs at either end of the rows of paintings lining the central aisle. Black brocade with spirited red and gold flames forms four long pendants hanging from the lower end of these images. This unusual touch gives the impression that the fires are rising from below and encompassing the central figures traced in gold on black.
In the middle of these two sets of four are other paintings. Six in black and gold on either side were created in Nepal and represent some of the protector practices performed during the pujas, such as Tseringma, Shingkyong, Namthöse, Singön, and Dorje Lekpa. The remaining three in full color on either side are yidams important to the Kagyu lineage, including Vajra Varahi, Chakrasamvara, Gyalwa Gyatso, Hevajra, and Mahamaya. These paintings were also displayed during the Kagyu Monlam. Also new this year and recalling the gönkhang of old Tibet is a frieze of animal pelts set next to each other in lively, natural colors. Running above all the images on both sides, the figures are so vigorous and powerful in their dynamic flow that they still seem alive.
Moving down this central aisle to look again at the stage, we can see things familiar from previous years and also splendid additions. Below the central Buddha is a statue of the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, sitting on a brocade throne. In front of him is small shrine with an upswept roof, which shelters an ornately carved silver pavilion holding a powerful statue of Bernakchen, the main deity for the Gutor practices. In front of him is the Karmapa’s black and gold throne. To the Karmapa’s right is a golden folding screen with white cranes, forming the background for an impressive black and gold set of ancient armor. Below on either side are new sets of weaponry, including fierce blades of all shapes plus a bow with an elegant quiver of arrows.
Just behind the folding screen rises a three-meter tall statue of Bernakchen, his face veiled by khatas of five colors so that only his flaming hair is visible. Also covered in silks are Mahakali riding her blue mule to Bernakchen’s right and to his left is Dorje Lekpa. These three statues were newly created by Gyaltsap Rinpoche as he consulted texts and his experience while working closely with a sculptor.
To the right of the Karmapa is a special altar for the Gutor torma (sculpted offerings). They are over a meter tall and made in the Karmapa’s encampment style, which means that the shading of the flower ornaments is subtle and the colors are not bright but pastels. A new touch for the tormas this year are small pieces of gold leaf placed randomly on the petals to catch the light of the sun. The main torma in the center of the top layer is called nyingzuk (literally, “form of the heart/mind”), which represents the central deity, Bernakchen. Just like a statue, the torma is filled with mantra and precious substances. On either side of this main torma are two smaller ones: the kangwa or fulfillment torma for repairing broken samaya and replenishing any deficits, and the solkha or supplication torma for making requests. Many smaller tormas fill the layers of this impressive altar.
To the right of the torma altar is the elaborate thread palace for Bernakchen, which shelters an awe-inspiring torma likeness of his head, known as the Mouth Opened-Wide with Ha (Ha zhal). It belongs to the general category of a torma offered to the fire (rgyag gtor). The torma is surmounted by two tiers of intricately interwoven thread-crosses in the shape of umbrellas, which are known as the palace of Bernakchen. Underneath everything are one visualizes mandalas of the elements.
As noted earlier, the purpose of the Gutor practice is to benefit living beings and the teachings, so Bernakchen consumes all that is negative, all adverse conditions, all who make obstacles for the Dharma or for those practicing a true path. Everything that is adverse is eliminated. The Hazhal torma will be offered to a bonfire on the last day of the practice.
The first practice of this year’s Gutor began in the afternoon of February 21 with the Grand Seating Ceremony. The head monk gave a long speech (by memory) in a very formal style accenting every two or three syllables with his powerful voice and turning slowly to the right and left. He spoke of the purpose of these next days of practice, which are for peace in the world, for the spreading and preservation of the teachings, and for developing our bodhichitta. He then read out the names of each monk and nun participating in the Gutor practice and they filed in through the opening between the two great drums in their new gold and black pavilions.
When everyone was seated, the nine disciplinarians left to escort the Karmapa into the shrine hall. He entered in a formal procession of jalings and incense bearers, and after three deep bows, took his place in the very center of the stage, wearing his Black Hat and a beautiful brocade cape (dagam). Thus began the Gutor rituals with short practice of Mahakala in a spectacular setting, worthy of the highest aspirations.
A Brief History of Protector Practice in General and the Kamtsang Kagyu Tradition in Particular
[With thanks to Khenpo Garwang for his teachings]
Protectors of the genuine Dharma can be found in the sutras; for example, in the Samadhiraja Sutra(the King of Samadhis Sutra), taught at Rajgriha on the Mountain Resembling a Flock of Vultures. At that time, the Buddha asked, “Who will protect this sutra so that its lineage remains?” On the human level, Chandraprabhava (a previous incarnation of Gampopa) said he would do so. On the non-human level, numerous deities who were present also vowed to protect it. Speaking in general about protectors, the Kadampa Geshe Sharawa (Yönten Drak, 1070-1141) said that those who protect the teachings are the dharmapalas and the sangha. We do not need to supplicate them as this is their responsibility, and in turn, it is our responsibility to offer them tormas or gifts that sustain them.
In a few places, the sutras also mention making offerings to protectors, and with the vajrayana these practices became extensive including numerous Dharma protectors and many kinds of tormas. Such rituals composed long ago by Nagarjuna were found in China; however these practices, which originated in India, spread much more extensively in Tibet, so we find numerous, fierce black deities, such as the Black-Cloaked One (Bernakchen, the Two-Armed Mahakala), the Four-Armed Mahakala, and many others. Their lineages of practice remain alive to this present day. Through Marpa the Translator came the lineage that is practiced in the Karma Kamtsang tradition, which preserves special key instructions, known as the Practice of the Body and Mind Inseparable from the Protector.
Originally the practice of Bernakchen was so secret that only a few close disciples knew that it even existed. Drogön Rechen, a disciple of the First Karmapa, taught it to a few; then the Second Karmapa taught it to a greater number of disciples; the Second Shamar, Khachö Wangpo, (1358-1405) spread it more widely, and finally the Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Donden (1416-1453), made it extensively available. The first statue of Bernakchen was created by the Seventh Karmapa. From his time, this tradition of practice has expanded and continued to the present day.
If we turn to the history of the ritual itself, the first one was composed by the Second Shamar, and then the Sixth Karmapa expanded the practice, making it so long that it was known as the Boring Mahakala, though its actual name is Burning Up Hostility (sDang ba rnam sreg). (This practice was revived by the Karmapa in 2012 and another new edition was printed for this year’s Gutor.) The Eighth Karmapa (1507-1554) asked the Fifth Shamar, Könchok Yenlak (1526-1583), to condense the text, so he created a shorter practice, called the Abridged Burning Up Hostility (sDang ba rnam sreg las btus pa), which is known these days as the Ritual of Mending and Supplication (bsKang gsol), practiced widely in Kagyu monasteries and centers. This text is also called the Golden One because the first words to be chanted of the parts from Burning Up Hostility were marked in gold.
Finally there is a short version of Burning Up Hostility, known as the Tsalma (mTshal ma), which means the Cinnabar Text, since in this case the first parts to be chanted that were selected from the longer text are marked in vivid red. All three lengths of the ritual will be chanted during Gutor this year: the first and last days are for the short practice; the second and third day, for the long version; and the fourth and fifth days for the middle length text. On the fourth day the practice will begin at 2 am in the morning.
To give the complete picture, there is still another version of the Mahakala practice, written by the Fifteenth Karmapa, who felt that it was inauspicious to have such a short practice, so he composed one that was even more extensive than the text of Burning Up Hostility by the Sixth Karmapa.
Almost overnight the Kagyu Monlam Pavilion had transitioned from a cool, elegant space appropriate for sutric-based prayers for world peace into a fiery, dramatic hall dedicated to the wrathful practices of those fierce deities who protect the dharma, and in particular the lineage of the Gyalwang Karmapa. The first day of the Great Encampment Mahakala Main Puja began at 4 am today. And although the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa did not personally attend, esteemed rinpoches, khenpos, monks, and nuns, led by His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, impressed lay devotees with their powerful melodious chanting accompanied by cymbals, horns, drums, and occasional bouts of eerie, rhythmically-timed guttural utterances.
The text being used this year for the main puja is the longest ritual of Mahakala Bernakchan in the Karma Kagyu Lineage and has an interesting history. It is calledIncinerating the Hostile( Tib. sDang ba rnam sreg), and was written by the Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Dönden (1416-1453), at the request of the First Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Paljor Dönden (1427-1489). The monks, however, named it “The Boring Mahakala” because it took so long to chant, and eventually it was replaced by an abridged version composed by the Fifth Shamar, Konchok Yenlak, at the request of his teacher, the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje. These days, this abridged text is known asThe Ritual of Mending and Supplication(Tib. bsKang gsol), and it is practiced widely in Kagyu monasteries and centers.
The longer version of the ritual,Incinerating the Hostileby the Sixth Karmapa had fallen out of practice for so many years that it was very difficult to find a copy. The Seventeenth Karmapa had looked everywhere for an original and no one, inside or outside of Tibet, had ever seen or heard of it. But the present Gyaltsap Rinpoche happened to obtain a photocopy of a hand-written version, and he lent it to His Holiness in time to make 500 copies for the grand Mahakala event in Bodhgaya in 2012.
This long Mahakala ritual,Incinerating the Hostilemakes an auspicious connection with all that is excellent. It is said that chanting it will cause the Dharma to flourish widely and bring benefit to immeasurable numbers of beings. In addition, Mahakala Bernakchan consumes all that is negative, all adverse conditions, and all those who make obstacles for the Dharma. Everything that is adverse, especially from the previous year, is eliminated.
The actual puja is broken up into six sessions (from 4 am to 9:30 pm), punctuated with several short breaks, with a longer break for lunch.
However, even during the breaks, a small group of young monks sitting off to the side of the main stage must keep up a continuous harmony of mantras, thus their sonorous recital assures that the puja will continue in an unbroken stream throughout the day.
A mysterious, almost otherworldly atmosphere has been created and sustained by a powerful combination of chanting, music, incense, and visual elements strongly reminiscent of thegönkhang(protector shrine rooms) usually hidden away deep in the recesses of most Tibetan monasteries. As master set designer and director, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa has distilled the essence and transformed the Monlam Pavilion into a contemporary version of a Tibetan monastic setting perfectly suitable for this traditional Gutor puja.
After only a few hours of sleep, rinpoches, lamas, khenpos, monks, and nuns reassembled in the Pavilion in the middle of the night to begin the third day of the Great Encampment Mahakala pujas. There was a surprising chill in the air at 2 am as they started the medium-length text, the Abridged Incinerating the Hostile. For the previous two days, the longer version of this text had been used by the main assembly, while relay teams of young monks did something else: one group chanted Mahakala’s mantra in an unbroken stream, while another sang his kangwa (prayer for fulfillment of impaired samaya) over and over. Chanting continuously in this way throughout the breaks and overnight, the two teams of young monks performed the task assigned to them by the dorje lopon(vajra master). Incidentally, the Mahakala text used today is more commonly known as The Ritual of Mending and Supplication (bsKang gsol), and is one of three ritual Mahakala texts being chanted this week.
His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa, His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche, and Yangsi Bokar Rinpoche, did not attend the morning sessions today.
However, as soon as the puja ended at 10 am, and monks started clearing the stage, His Holiness, the Gyalwang Karmapa suddenly appeared out of nowhere and began directing the activity with great panache. Pecha tables, cushions, and thrones were quickly whisked away as sweepers arrived with brooms and pails to clean the ground for the afternoon dance performances. Finally the stage was completely clear and His Holiness thoughtfully paced the empty space giving last minute commands before leaving the site at 11:10 am.
At 12:30 pm, everyone returned for the “Cham without Masks” also known as the “Costumeless Dance,” one of which was performed by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje in a special surprise performance. Although the Karmapa’s plan to perform the dance had not been previously announced or written in the schedule, participants were strongly encouraged to attend the “Costumeless Dance” in two enigmatic announcements made last night and this morning.
This dance is usually just a dress rehearsal, but this year it has a different purpose; it is not merely a dress rehearsal, but an event in itself. More importantly, it is considered to be a form of meditation and an offering to Mahakala Bernakchen. Also known as a dance of simple clothes, or a dance of subdued colors, at Palpung it is called the “Dance without Masks.” As to the origin of Cham in general, some say that the dances were transmitted to Buddhist masters in highly detailed visions or dreams. So this year there will be two sets of Cham dances performed, one without costumes, and one with, and both are very significant.
At around 1 pm, His Holiness took his seat on the top left of the stage. Gyaltsab Rinpoche and Yangsi Bokar Rinpoche were seated to his left.
As the music began, two flanking columns of dancers came out. These dancers were from Mirik Monastery in Darjeeling and performed the Cham called “Cutting the Borders.”
Next, young Tulku Ngotsar Wangpo led a group of dancers from Palchen Chokling Monastery in performing the ritual dance of “Four-Armed Mahakala.”
Afterwards, monks from Rumtek Monastery, the Gyalwang Karmapa’s seat outside of Tibet, energetically began the dance called “Maraya.” After some time, His Holiness the Karmapa was ceremonially led onto the stage by four monks holding incense. Since his performance had not been previously announced, a wave of surprised delight rippled through the audience. For those fortunate enough to attend, this was a very special blessing. All eyes were on His Holiness as his powerful form twirled in step with the others, occasionally going down on one knee with hands waving in the air and brocade sleeves flashing. After some time, his part completed, the Karmapa exited the dance while the other dancers carried on. Then Drupon Dechen Rinpoche and several other dancers stayed on for “The Dongyema” dance that followed.
Finally, from Benchen Monastery two sets of dancers performed the ritual dances of “Shingkyong” and the “Black Hat Drum Dance.”
After the dances were finished, the assembly, led by Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, gathered once again for the fourth and final session of Day 3 of the main Mahakala puja, which concluded with a Mahakala tsok.
Monlam Pavilion — January 22nd - February 19th, 2017
Last year 17 nuns from different Kagyu nunneries were the first cohort to join a special workshop in which they learned how to make high-quality Chinese incense. This year the focus changed to producing high-quality Tibetan incense using traditional methods, and the training period, previously three weeks, was extended to four. Ten nuns from last year’s training and five new students came to study this skill with Tibetan Doctor Dr Dawa, assisted by Ru-Ruei Chung, a professional Chinese incense maker from Taiwan who taught the course last year.
The project was based in a large airy room at the back of the Monlam Pavilion, and the nuns wore overalls, facemasks and gloves for protection against the dust and to keep the environment in which the incense is being made as clean as possible.
The first part of the process was the hardest. All the ingredients had to be ground by hand using traditional methods. For the first nine days of the project, the nuns ground the ingredients using a large, round stone on a stone working surface. Ani Janchup Drolma, the Chinese –Tibetan translator, commented,
"This was very hard work. The nuns got blisters which broke and then they had very sore hands.”
However, the Gyalwang Karmapa visited the project nearly every day to speak with the nuns and assist them in the work. Not only did he encourage them by saying how well they were doing, but he even helped them grind the ingredients by hand himself. The nuns explained that His Holiness’s involvement and support gave them the enthusiasm and determination to keep going when the work was difficult or they felt tired.
Next, the ground ingredients had to be mixed together. Then they were rolled by hand, cut to size, packed in boxes and dried in the sun.
Two qualities of incense were made this year. The less expensive one was made from just two ingredients: cedar and white Himalayan rhododendron. The more expensive one contains thirteen medicinal herbs and substances including nagi, cloves, cardamom, Kashmiri saffron, white sala and bdellium, and is based on an old recipe recorded in theSorig Patraby Deumar Geshe Tenzin Phuntsok, a highly-respected physician in 18th century Tibet.
Both incenses have been made using the highest quality, pure ingredients gathered from the Himalayan regions of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.
This year the nuns made four different products in total. As well as the incense, they made a quality chilli spice powder from ground red chilli, black pepper and cumin, and they also made an incense powder which can be used in smoke offerings.
In total, the nuns produced 1600 boxes of incense and 133 small jars of chilli spice powder. All the proceeds from the sales of these products will go towards education for Karma Kagyu nuns, and, because this year’s project was scheduled differently, an added bonus for the nuns themselves is that this year they will be able to join the Arya Kshema teachings and debates in March 2017.