An Interview and Discussion with HH Gyalwang Karmapa on the Great Kagyu Monlam Aspiration
December 13, 2007: Interview with His Holiness
The Gyalwang Karmapa kindly gave the following interview at Tergar Monastery on 13th December, at the 25th Great Monlam Aspiration of the Glorious Unequaled Kagyu Sangha (Pal Nyammay Kagyupay Sangha Monlam Chenmo).
Q : Your Holiness, please could you explain the meaning of the word monlam?
GK : From the perspective of mind, the meaning of monlam can be explained in several ways. From the perspective of the individual it means having the profound wish [or aspiration] to bring happiness and well-being to others and simultaneously enhance our own root of virtue, dedicating that merit for the benefit of all sentient beings. That type of [wish-fulfilling] dream is monlam.
Q : What is its importance?
GK : Generally speaking, all major developments in human culture have come about as the result of hope and a clear vision. From the Buddhist point of view, our ultimate goal is to attain parinirvana; in this process, the role of aspiration is fundamental and threefold. At the beginning it is like the seed, in the middle it is like water and manure, and at the end it is the fruit. Without an aspiration the seed of Buddhahood will not germinate.
Q : Are there any special features of this year’s Monlam?
GK : Because we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of Kagyu Monlam this year, we are offering free medical treatment to help local people. In addition, because the Kagyu Monlam has become an international event, which aims to bring the peoples of the world together, this year the Monlam, recitation texts are available in five languages: Tibetan, Hindi, English, Chinese and Korean. I consider these two the most important special features.
Q : Sanskrit prayers are being used for the first time this Monlam. Please could you expand on this?
GK : Our Tibetan dharma is based on the Sanskrit canon. So, in times past, Tibetan Buddhist scholars considered Sanskrit to be very important; they studied the language and also studied Buddhist scriptures in the original Sanskrit. But,from the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama, about three hundred and fifty years ago, the ties between India and Tibet were broken. Afterwards, it became difficult to maintain the standard of our knowledge of Sanskrit and so things such as pure pronunciation were lost. However, now that we are in India, Tibetans have begun to study and research texts in Sanskrit once more, and are involved in discussion with Indian Sanskrit scholars too. This development is very important for the Indo-Tibetan relationship and, I feel, it is essential that it be maintained. Thus, we are reciting prayers in Sanskrit so that the relationship may continue forever. Furthermore, by reciting in Sanskrit, we can transcend time, generating a feeling of closeness with the Buddhism of the time of Lord Buddha. It is my aspiration that we can achieve this.
Q : This year monks and nuns have received special training in codes of conduct.What was the purpose?
GK : In the twenty-first century there are many external distractions, so we need a way to remain stable. If we are carried away by these distractions we will lose our self-restraint. In order to instill proper conduct and to bring well-being and peace of mind, we have this Monlam. Using ancient methods from the Vinaya, we are training the sangha members because they are the principal participants in the Monlam.
This code of conduct, based on ancient Buddhist traditions, is not intended to serve the interests of one religious tradition alone, but to bring stability and happiness to society at large. Recently, the misconduct of some members of the sangha, both inside and outside Tibet, has become a threat to the security and well-being of society. Thus, we have done this as a service to humanity.
Q : How does the Kagyu Monlam help the well-being of sentient beings and world peace?
GK : Over the years, Kagyu Monlam has become a great assembly of people, and as such, it is very powerful. If we can win people over by our example, then, gradually, through this assembly, we will benefit the whole of human society. For example, if we can change one bad person into a good person, we will have been successful in reducing the number of bad people in the world by one, and thus will have helped world peace.
There is no way that Kagyu Monlam on its own has the power to bring peace to all sentient beings, but we can use the Monlam as a way of broadcasting the message that the world is something that all sentient beings have the right to enjoy, a message of loving kindness, compassion and peace to the whole world.
Q : The Akshobhya Ritual plays an important part in this year’s Monlam. Is there any reason why this was chosen?
GK : When looking at the reason for the Akshobhya Ritual, we need to consider three different karmas. First, from time immemorial, there have been hunters and fishermen but nowadays they operate on such a vast scale that a whole species can be almost wiped out in a day. Although the world has the favorable conditions necessary to last for a long time, because of the extensive use of advanced technology, our power to accumulate karma has multiplied so much that we are now in the process of destroying the world itself.
The second karma to consider is the antidote. In order to counteract this powerful karma we need a stronger counter-measure. There are many methods, both known and unknown. However, the Lord Buddha taught that the Akshobhya Ritual is the most powerful for purifying strong karma; therefore Lord Akshobhya is the power and the activity.
The third karma is this. For a powerful karma there must be a powerful antidote. But, like a piece of wood and an axe, there has to be a link, a connecting factor; simply having the two together has no effect. There has to be someone to make the necessary karmic connection between the two. Because so many people at the Kagyu Monlam have made vast aspirations, there is great power. Primarily the participants are from Khamtsang Kagyu and have a very strong connection with the Karmapa, and Karmapa is a being who has been blessed by Vajra Akshobhya and therefore is a member of Akshobyha’s family. It is possible that one particular Buddha such as Lord Shakyamuni might be unable to tame a given individual, but there is no individual who cannot be tamed by one of the Buddhas. The Karmapa is the embodiment of the activity of all the Buddhas, is he not? So that is the reason for having this ritual; it is my aspiration that everyone will receive the threefold siddhis of Akshobyha’s power, compassion and blessing.
11 December, 2007: His Holiness Re-envisions Kagyu Monlam
At one of the last meetings with the Kagyu Monlam Committee members before the 25th Annual Monlam ceremony commenced, the Gyalwang Karmapa shared a clear and moving vision of how to realize the Kagyu Monlam most effectively:
HH Karmapa began his talk by clarifying the origins of the reasons and conditions for Monlam, explaining that Monlam means “aspirations”, giving as an example Shakyamuni Buddha. When the Buddha made the aspiration to attain the mind of enlightenment, he offered a simple bowl of soup. A bowl of soup seems a small thing, but he offered it with pure motivation of the ultimate aspiration for enlightenment. So, although small, its blessings pervaded the whole of space and benefited all beings.
Similarly, the power and blessings generated by the Kagyu Monlam depend on the pure motivation and aspirations of each individual participant involved. This may seem easy but in fact is not. Pure motivation requires one to put aside individual concerns and work solely for the benefit of all sentient beings, whose numbers are as limitless as space. Participants need to firmly establish this mindset before the Monlam starts. In order to accomplish this, we need a firm, stable foundation and strong motivation. Without this, when we are confronted with difficulties and stress, we will find ourselves prey to the afflictive emotions such as anger, pride or ego-grasping. Without this, it becomes extremely difficult to maintain both our motivation and aspirations, and without that, we will have lost the whole purpose of the Monlam gathering.
If pure, strong motivation extends from the very beginning to the very end, so all will be good in the beginning, good in the middle and good at the end. The purpose and fundamental root of the Kagyu Monlam is to remember the kindness of our Teacher, Buddha Shakyamuni, and to pray for the peace and happiness of all beings with whom we share this world. We are continuing and preserving a pure lineage which we must not blemish.
His Holiness warned that taking his remarks simply as “fine words” is not enough, and asked the Monlam participants to accept the great challenge to put the pure aspiration into practice. We need to integrate these words into our mind stream – developing loving kindness and compassion. In the end it all comes down to our own individual intention, whether it is vast and deep or shallow. Respect and co-operation are also essential so that we can become friends and develop harmony and peace, which can then extend throughout the world. If we become annoyed or angry or speak harshly or walk around with black expressions, we defeat the object of Monlam. Transforming the mind is difficult for beginners; it is easier to modify our speech and behavior. But if we are able to do just this, the purpose of Monlam will be achieved.
His Holiness recalled that he began working for the Kagyu Monlam after Bokar Rinpoche had passed away in 2004, stating: “At that time there was a question whether the Monlam would continue or not. I had already been preparing myself for the Monlam. Even though I had no organizational experience, I took up the challenge, out of a feeling that I had a close relationship with Bokar Rinpoche, and because I have so much support. When I look back over the past few Kagyu Monlams in which I participated, I feel we still have a lot to accomplish and a long way to go. It would be disappointing if yet another year of our lives were to go by without bearing fruit. So, while remembering the kindness of Lord Shakyamuni Buddha, and holding the benefit of all sentient beings firmly in our minds, let us dedicate ourselves to the root cause of the Monlam gathering for world peace, harmony and happiness for all.” – Tashi Paljor