28th Kagyu Monlam Begins
December 15, 2010 – Bodhgaya
SESSION ONE: SOJONG
On the very first morning of the 28th Kagyu Monlam before dawn, after the Sangha of Rinpoches, Khenpos, Lamas, monks, nuns and lay devotees were seated, proceeded by a procession of monks and the sound of blaring trumpets, His Holiness arrived and took his seat below the Bodhi tree, where the previous Buddhas and all the thousand and two Buddhas of this fortunate eon will attain enlightenment.
His Holiness first met briefly with a group of Taiwanese devotees who made him offerings. Then he put on his black activity crown and, while standing before his seat, holding a white khata which was blowing gently in the wind he awaited the arrival of the precious statue of the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, which has been known to speak.
As His Holiness stood there, the sound of trumpets were heard in the distance, forewarning us of its arrival. The procession of monks wearing yellow hats, led by two monks blowing trumpets, ushered in the statue which was held very carefully on either side by two monks each with kata in hand. Passing by the congregation with bowed heads, they handed the speaking statue of Dusum Khyenpa to His Holiness who put it on the Shrine where it was visible to everyone.
For those who attended the 900 Year Celebration of Karmapa and the pre-Monlam teachings, it was yet another opportunity to see and be in the presence of this blessed statue. And for those who had just arrived for the Monlam it was their first opportunity to see the statue. So His Holiness is making sure that everyone who comes to Bodhgaya for this year’s festivities will get a chance to see this remarkable statue before it is taken to other parts of the world for the one year Karmapa 900 Year Celebration.
His Holiness then sat down in preparation for bestowing the twenty- four hour, Mahayana Sojourn precepts. His Holiness explained how it was first important to give rise to the proper motivation, that is, one’s purpose for taking the vows is the wish to benefit beings and to lead then to a state of enlightenment.
His Holiness then went on to explain each vow, not to kill, not to steal, not to sit on large precious beds. But he added that if you are staying in a hotel it’s alright to sleep in whatever bed there is in your room. His Holiness explained that although the monks and nuns already have these precepts of individual liberation, in this circumstance these vows are taken with the specific motivation of bodhicitta to eliminate the suffering of sentient beings.
We all kneeled to receive the vows, reciting after His Holiness three times. And during the third repetition His Holiness told us we should think we have received the vows.
Then we went on to the Sanskrit prayers which we say each morning at the very beginning of the first session, a reminder of our Sanskrit roots, Tibetan Buddhism having been translated from the Indian Sanskrit.
Then His Holiness rose to put on his Dagam, the crescent shaped cape that the ordained Sangha wears in the cool Bodhgaya mornings to keep warm.
He offered a bath to the Buddha statue on the shrine as the congregation recited prayers. Then he exited to the back of the main shrine area to circumambulate the stupa. After circumambulating he returned to his seat beneath the bodhi tree and joined the congregation in prayer.
Thus with the very first activity, on the very first day of the Kagyu Monlam, His Holiness paid homage to the Lord Buddha Sakyamuni at the spot where he attained enlightenment 2500 years ago, while the congregation of Rinpoches, Khenpos, Lamas, monks, nuns and lay devotees offered prayers of praise and prostrations and offerings, etc to the Lord Buddha.
SESSION TWO: TEACHING BY THE GYALWANG KARMAPA
The King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration to Excellent Conduct
Gathering the Accumulations and Purifying Obscurations
During a half hour break after the sojong vows, the Karmapa’s throne is turned around from the Bodhi Tree to face the monks, nuns, and lay practitioners who fill the space in front of him. His Holiness sits before a statue of the Buddha as a child and a softly-colored mural of the Buddha meditating underneath a spreading tree with disciples nearby. The speaking statue of Dusum Khyenpa is placed to his left, resting in the middle of a mandala thick with deep red rose petals.
After taking refuge, everyone chants the first twelve verses of “The King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct,” (also known as the Samantabhadra Prayer), which is the text the Karmapa will teach for five days. As usual, the mandala offering is followed by offerings for his long life, this time given by the main sponsors, the Tsurphu Administrative Office, and then others. His Holiness makes the aspiration that all living beings come to the state of enlightenment through the merit of the offering these sponsors are making to the sangha.
While servers move among the red and golden robed sangha to offer tea and large packets of crackers, the Karmapa gives a warm welcome to everyone who has come, beginning with the great teachers down to the newest practitioners. He said that is wonderful all of us could gather here in this sacred site of Bodhgaya and thanked everyone for coming.
Mentioning that this is the second session of the day and the first teaching session, he said that his responsibility is to give us an explanation of “The King of Aspirations.” This prayer is the seed Kalu Rinpoche planted years ago when he started the Kagyu Monlam with 100,000 repetitions of the prayer. Each time we have met here, we have continued to recite it 100,000 times. “This King of Aspirations” has become the symbol and the very heart of the Monlam, which is reason good enough for us to study it this year.
All of us have gathered here in Bodhgaya where 1002 buddhas are awakened: it is a great ocean of power, so we should all maintain an unmistaken, pure intention and pure actions while we participate in these teachings. As he has said many times, if we are not actually able to do this practice, even if we just listen, even if we are just a child of five or six years, it is helpful.
“The King of Aspirations” comes from the Gandhavyuha Sutra, one of the greatest mahayana sutras. It is said that the Buddha taught it over twenty-one days, quite a short time. According to some explanations, the Gandavyuha is the most extensive and longest of the mahayana sutras. There are numerous versions of the sutra in widely differing lengths. The longest one has eighty-one volumes and exists in Chinese but not in Tibetan. Even this very long version, however, is not complete, for it has only 45,000 volumes and the full version has 100,000. It is also said that the sutra was taught in nine places, including the Radiant Palace, and various god realms, such as Tushita and Having Power Over Appearances to Others.
Before the Dharma spread in Tibet, the mahayana spread in China, and this sutra was one that took hold there. Especially popular was a three chapter version, which contained this prayer, a chapter on Gandavyuha, and a chapter on pure conduct. Since the Gandavyuha is one of the most important mahayana sutras, I thought I’d give you a short introduction. If I tell you too much now, there’ll be no time to talk about the aspiration itself.
Since we recite this “King of Aspirations” all the time, it would be good to combine the words with the meaning. If we always recite this but cannot explain the meaning to ourselves, to say nothing of others, that’s not good. So I’m hoping to spark your interest. There are many Indian commentaries, for example, by Dignaga and Shakyamitra. There are also many in Tibetan including Mendong Tsampa’s, which is short and easy to understand. The most famous one in Chinese is by Ching Yang, who was said to be an emanation of Samantabhadra.
Of all the categories, the first one is prostrations. The text reads:
I prostrate to all lions among humans
As many as appear, excepting none,
In the three times in worlds of ten directions
Sincerely with my body, speech, and mind.
With the power of this prayer for excellent conduct
I fully prostrate to all victors with
As many bodies as atoms in all realms
With all the victors right before my mind.
Upon one atom are as many buddhas
As atoms in the midst of bodhisattvas.
I thus imagine that victorious ones
Completely fill the entire dharma expanse.
With sounds from oceans of melodious traits
I extol the qualities of all the victors,
Whose oceans of praiseworthiness will never
Run dry, and praise all of the Sugatas.
Here, at the beginning, what we basically have is the Seven-Branch prayer. In its first category of prostrations, we find physical prostrations, mental prostrations, and in the Chinese, the praises of the fourth verse are considered as verbal prostrations.
In general, this aspiration teaches us how to enter the path of liberation and omniscience as well as how to practice this path. However, this is not a path what we can point to with our finger: The path is actually the causes and conditions that lead to buddhahood, and these are present within ourselves. To develop along the path, we need to focus our minds and change our way of thinking, which allows us to gather merit and purify ourselves of obstacles. The best way to do this is through the Seven-Branch Prayer as both processes are included within it.
For some of us, the Seven-Branch Prayer is so familiar that we think it’s easy and not so important. We should consider, however, that many sutras speak of huge numbers of realms in which the buddhas are surrounded by hosts of bodhisattvas. What practices are these bodhisattvas doing? The Seven-Branch Prayer. So it is one of the most important practices we can do.
At the beginning of the aspiration are the prostrations. It is said that one excellent prostration includes all the other six branches. If we have faith and respect expressed through our body, speech, and mind, this is the second branch of offering, which pleases the buddhas. Making offerings does not always mean that you are arranging things on a shrine. This prostration can also be a confession of our faults. Once we have purified these, we naturally rejoice. By gathering accumulations and undergoing purification, we are making ourselves into an appropriate vessel for the Dharma, into a person who can hear all the teachings. So even if we are not actually asking the buddhas to turn the wheel of Dharma, because we have become this fine vessel, they naturally teach. The buddhas have realized the nature of all phenomena and become fully awakened, so they do not need the teachings: it is the students who need them. If there is no one who listens, the buddhas will not turn the Dharma wheel. So becoming able to receive the teachings is like asking the buddhas to teach.
Becoming a vessel also relates to asking the buddhas to remain and not pass into nirvana. If they have nothing purposeful to do, the buddhas will not stay, so just the fact that we become a recipient of their teachings encourages the buddhas to remain. If just a few people could gather the accumulations and purify themselves in this way, the buddhas will not depart. So the benefits of doing prostrations are inconceivably vast.
Generally, when we place our palms together in reverence, it is said that the empty space between them represents the dharmata or no self. If we cannot understand this deeply, we can at least have a feeling of it. If we do not have this sense, then we might as well hold up a mobile phone and say it is the dharmakaya. However, if we do have a feeling, through which we can transform our mind, this has real benefit.
It is also taught that the right and left hands joined together represent the union of skillful means and wisdom. We seek to develop this path: if it has not arisen, we give rise to it and if it has arisen, we evolve it further. From the vajrayana perspective, placing our two hands together brings all the root and secondary winds into the central channel.
Next, in doing a prostration, we put our hands in three places. If we explain this according to the vajrayana, placing our hands at our crown releases what binds the crown chakra so the invisible ushnisha appears. Placing our hands before the creases near our throat releases the sixty branches of speech. Placing our hands at the heart (considered to be in the middle of our chest), fosters the conditions for developing the omniscience of the buddhas. This is an explanation by means of assertion. If we explain by means of negation, then we are releasing the negative aspects of body, speech, and mind.
In the Tibetan tradition, and that of the Chinese mahayana, we stand in between each prostration. However, it is said that this was not the way centuries ago at Nalanda in India. The Chinese monks who spent time there, some staying as long as twenty years, do not report standing up between prostrations. They kneeled and touched their head to the ground three times. There are indeed many different explanations of prostrations. Some say we need to touch all parts of our body to the ground while others say we have to hold our breath in a certain way. The purpose of a prostration is to show our respect.
The verse states, “I prostrate to all victors with /As many bodies as atoms in all realms.” How can we explain these inconceivable things? Due to their miraculous powers, all the buddhas could fit on the head of a pin. When we talk of the smallest particles that scientists research, we have to imagine that all the buddhas of the three times and all realms are there.
Think about how many stars there are. There are more than the grains of sands on our earth. We don’t really know how many there are so it’s difficult to wrap our minds around this. We’re talking about the infinite infinite. There is no way for us to understand this intellectually.
In a single atom, there are as many buddhas as there are atoms, and not just buddhas but bodhisattvas, hearers, and solitary realizers. In all directions, the whole expanse of dharma is filled. This is the mental prostration.
Then come the oceans of praises and these, too, can be understood in different ways. Some say that one being has innumerable heads and minds, and each head has infinite mouths. It’ s not too easy to comprehend this and I prefer to think of it as innumerable bodies, each of which proclaims the qualities of the buddhas. And not just once, but myriad times, and not in one place but in a vast number of them. One way to make the praises vast would be to put them up on the website.
The reason we make extensive prostrations and praises is that our resolve to develop bodhicitta needs to be as vast as the expanse of all phenomena, and we need a way to make this understandable to our minds. We should have the feeling that our compassion reaches out to all beings and down to the very smallest atoms. The light of our compassion brightens all the atoms of all the beings in the universe.
It is important to understand that we are making a prostration with our body and at the same time, our mind should be focused on the prostration. If it is not, then we are not doing a real prostration. From the Buddha’s perspective, there’s no need to prostrate. The prostration is for our own benefit so that we can gather the accumulations and purify ourselves. It does not change the Buddha, but we do it to develop our own qualities. The bees take what is best from a flower and we need to take what is best from our mind by seeing its positive qualities. We should praise the slightest virtuous action or thought. Otherwise, it is as if we were worshipping a god instead of practicing Dharma. In the same way, we need to respect the virtues, even the slightest one, of all living beings. So when we are prostrating, it is not only showing respect to the buddhas and the bodhisattvas of all directions: we are prostrating to all the virtue in the world.
Now we will meditate for a while. We belong to the practice lineage, so we know how to meditate. Today we will focus on bodhicitta. When we fly in a plane, we can look out the window and see the different roofs of all the houses below and think about all the people who live in them. They have had many problems, even coming close to death, and still they have not found ultimate happiness. They are still dissatisfied and this is due to their mistaken intentions.
It is not that the food they eat or the clothes they wear are wrong. Nor is it their speech. Primarily, it is their minds: they do not know what brings suffering and what brings happiness, and so they engage in a cause that brings the opposite of what they want. Basically, it all comes down to our mind: if we can eliminate our mistaken understanding, we can free ourselves. We should see that everyone wants happiness and freedom from suffering, which they do not have now. Therefore we feel sad for them and want to use our body, speech, and mind to free them from their suffering and bring them to true happiness. Now we will rest in meditation for three minutes.
Afterwards, His Holiness puts on the Activity Hat and opens a maroon colored folder with the Great Aspiration placed inside. For the living and then the deceased, this is an extensive prayer, vast and detailed wishing for every possible goodness to come to all living beings, and for every possible protection to shield them from any danger or difficulty. It is also a prayer for the environment and those who govern, for the great teachers to live long and the Dharma to last. The Karmapa reads up to the last words of the line, which are “May it be so!” and these are repeated by everyone together.
His Holiness then reads the names of the living and deceased for whom prayers have been requested. This is followed by the “Dharani for the Fulfillment of Aspiration Prayers,” which concludes the first morning of the Kagyu Monlam with the wish that whatever aspirations have been made will find their manifestation within our world.
SESSION THREE: ASPIRATION PRAYERS
After lunch at Tergar Monastery, His Holiness attended the Third Session at the Mahabodhi Stupa which included the recitation of the “The King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct,” and Maitreya’s Aspiration.
EVENING: THE ADDITIONAL AKSHOBHYA RITUALS BEGIN
His Holiness then returned to Tergar Monastery where he gave audiences until well after 6.00pm. Later he attended the first of the additional Akshobhya Rituals scheduled for this year’s Monlam in the small shrine room on the roof of Tergar Monastery. The Akshobhya Ritual will be performed for six consecutive evenings before the final Fire Ritual and burning of the names of the dead on the seventh day of Monlam in the evening.
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