December 30, 2009 – Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya
By inviting and embracing attendees from all over the world, providing translation into nine languages and sending out a live webcast viewed by people all over the globe, and by generating aspirations that encompass other worlds as well, the Kagyu Monlam has truly expanded to fill all space. On its seventh day, the scope of the Kagyu Monlam also stretched to fill time, with activities to protect the environment as well as to honor the Kagyur, or the canon of Buddha’s teachings. As such, the day’s focus spanned from 2,500 ago in India when the Buddha first taught, to a distant future that monlam participants actively seek to create, so that our heirs to this planet may still find it a viable and welcoming home.
As part of the morning’s focus on the Kagyur itself, Gyalwang Karmapa and the other Kagyu lineages holders led a solemn and stately procession of bhikshus and bhikshunis (gelongs and gelongmas) to carry the 108 volumes of the canonical collection on a circumambulation around the stupa. The procession path was lined with the reverential public, white scarves and flowers in their hands, and deep faith in their hearts, as the members of the sangha moved past with great dignity as each respectfully bore a single volume of the Buddha’s teachings on their shoulder.
The next session was devoted to a reading of the entire Kagyur by the monks and nuns present. Gyalwang Karmapa prefaced the activity with a talk about the precious Kagyur itself. He first described the history of the translation of Buddha’s teachings in Tibet and the formation of the Tibetan canon. This collection, he noted, is the single source for all the Buddhist traditions in Tibet. All the Dharma we need is contained within it, including personal instructions. It is excellent to prostrate and show reverence to it, but actually it is something to be read and put into practice. If it is read carefully, it can help us develop our devotion and gain clarity and certainty. With great joy, the reading then commenced.
The air of the stupa grounds then filled with the magnificent sound of the Dharma, as the many tens of thousands of page of the collection were distributed among the sangha and read aloud simultaneously.
At the end of this session, His Holiness swiftly proceeded from the reading of the Kagyur out to the Gaya Airport shortly after eleven o’clock. Inside the airport VIP lounge he was received by various Indian dignitaries including the ADM Uday Kumar and the Airport Controller Mr Prabhu Dev.
Under the auspices of the 27th International Kagyu Monlam, Rangjung Khoryug Sungkyob Tsokpa, the environmental organization for Kagyu monasteries and centers established by His Holiness, has begun a small reforestation project on scrubland within the grounds of Gaya Airport, with the blessing of the State Government of Bihar.
On Tuesday fifty monk and nun volunteers from Khoryug came out to the airport to clean the grounds as a gesture of friendship, and to prepare the holes for the saplings. During today’s inauguration ceremony, His Holiness was the first to plant one of ten young ashoka trees in a small garden area in front of the terminal entrance. The rest were planted by the ADM, the Airport Controller, Drupon Rinpoche and Lama Karma Choedrak, Chief Executive of the International Kagyu Monlam, and other guests. Tergar Monastery is taking the lead in this project and will have responsibility for nurturing and protecting the saplings.
Commenting on the work of the monks and nuns, Mr Prabhu Dev said how impressed he had been by their active leadership in protecting the holy and sacred sites of Bodhgaya, and he hoped that other members of the community would follow their example.
Because of the aridity of the environment, this is the wrong time of year to plant some species of native trees and a separate area of 15 000 square metres has been set aside for the second stage of the project, planting a greater variety of trees during the rainy season, June and July 2010.
The project has been dedicated as a long-life prayer for His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, and a commemorative stone has been erected bearing his words:
“Protect the Earth. Live simply. Act with compassion. Our future depends on it.”
At the same time, the day also saw a massive undertaking by monlam participants to clean the vast field where His Holiness the Dalai Lama will soon be conferring teaching— the Kalachakra grounds in Bodhgaya.
The effort to render the space spotless for the teachings ahead is only one of several projects to work for the local environment. Earlier, the area surrounding Tergar monastery, including marshland, was restored to a healthy state of cleanliness. A separate day was devoted to cleaning the market square outside the Mahabodhi Temple itself. Each of the 36 Kagyu monasteries and nunneries delegated 5 of their monks or nuns, and many lay volunteers offered their time as well. Volunteers reported that the clean-up brigades worked with great enthusiasm as they filled bag after bag with garbage. These projects were undertaken in partnership with Sacred Earth Trust.
The issue of cleaning the area around Bodhgaya is intimately connected to the overall purpose of the Kagyu Monlam. As His Holiness explained last year during his commentary on the King of Prayers, the Aspiration for Excellent Conduct. This prayer involves three main activities, including purifying.
We are praying for the impure realms to become pure, and in the Kagyu Monlam we have begun working towards the actual purification of the environment of our world. This is our short-term aim, and our long-term goal is to transform this all into a Buddha realm, so these two aims are conducive to purifying the realms.
As monlam attendees have witnessed, the vastness of His Holiness’ vision is matched by an aptitude for finding supremely practical steps to actualize that vision. Under the guidance of this exceptional master, there is little doubt that even the most vast of aims to benefit beings can indeed be achieved.
For many days before this special ceremony people have been giving the names of their close relative and friends, living or deceased, to monks who are sitting at tables in a large tent next to the Mahabodhi Society. The donors are seeking to benefit their loved ones through the ceremony that His Holiness will perform this evening. Akshobya (in Tibetan, Mitrukpa, “The Immovable One”) is considered to have a special ability to help those who have died and are in the intermediate state of the bardo. His Holiness will perform this fire ritual with a small group of fully ordained monks and select attendants; no one else is allowed in the shrine hall. For the ceremony, the names that have been collected will be placed in two boxes, from which His Holiness will select seven or eight to be read aloud. The rest he will bless and offer to the ritual fire.
Before the ceremony begins at eight o’clock at night, the white marble veranda around the shrine room, especially in front of the windows, has been filling up with people who wish to witness the ceremony and send their prayers to all living beings, headed by those they especially care for. There is quite a chill in the evening air and everyone is bundled up for the three hours the ceremony will take.
Inside the temple, elaborate preparations have been made to set out all the offering substances and symbols. The same rectangular alter that was present for the Milarepa feast offering, is now placed in the middle of the hall. In front, facing the main shrine, is a throne for His Holiness, the same height as the alter. The image of Milarepa has been replaced with one of Akshobya in the Chinese style. He is indigo blue with his left hand in the earth touching gesture and his right in the meditation mudra. As if descended from the sky and barely resting on his palm is a shimmering golden vajra.
At eight o’clock, His Holiness enters the shrine hall and first speaks to the assembled monks. Taking his seat in front of the alter, he asked that all but a few central lights be turned off and this gives a soft and warm wash of color to him and the alter. He then performs the self-empowerment and places a white kata around his shoulders. Opening prayers, such as the Seven-Branch Prayer, are recited. The microphone is placed in front of His Holiness; with a slight echo in the almost empty space, his strong, resonant voice fills the hall and flows out to those sitting outside and beyond into the night.
After the fire in the center of the alter is lit, the vajracharya (shrine master) and his assistants bring to His Holiness the various substances to be offered. He also offers ghee from a long-handled spoon. As he reaches forward in rhythm with the chanting, the light from the fire flickers across his face. Occasionally, additional sticks of wood are offered to keep the fire burning well and finally all the substances have been given for the benefit of all.
Then His Holiness descends from his throne and walks out the front door of the shrine to a place next to the reflecting pool where thick branches have been arranged in an open, circular structure about five feet in diameter. It is into the middle of this blessed circle that His Holiness will offer the names. The two boxes are brought outside and placed next to him, and he begins to offer the myriad pieces of paper to the fire. It blazes higher and higher and some of the names float up into the sky as they turn to ashes and fall back down. Surrounding His Holiness and the fire is the crowd of people who had been sitting on the veranda. His Holiness empties one box and then the other. He finishes and returns to the shrine for the closing prayers while many remain around the fire to chant Om mani padme hum and with hearts warmed by the fire, remember their friends and relatives.