Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya
Echoes of enlightenment
The morning dawns grey and foggy on the third day of the Monlam, as all gather at the Monlam Pavilion where the Gyalwang Karmapa once more gives the day’s Sojong Vows.
Shortly afterwards he leaves the stage to prepare for the Kangyur Procession, the only major activity of the 31st Kagyu Monlam scheduled to take place at the Mahabodhi Stupa.
2500 years after Shakyamuni Buddha attained awakening beneath the branches of the sacred Bodhi Tree, today the Gyalwang Karmapa returns a complete copy of all the Buddha’s words—known in Tibetan as the Kangyur—to the place of origin, the centre of the Buddhist universe.
These are words born of an enlightened mind that have since spread out in all directions, like golden threads weaving through time and space, and that still linger thousands of years after they were uttered.
Yet the Buddha’s words themselves are merely an imprint, a captured representation of the enlightened wisdom behind them; they are echoes of an ineffable realisation that is beyond language, beyond words, which is still tangible to this day at the holy site of awakening.
These echoes of enlightenment, the Buddha’s words, have the power to liberate those who hear and understand them. So it is with supreme reverence that the Gyalwang Karmapa today leads the entire collection of the Buddha’s words in procession, to circumambulate the very seat of awakening.
A walking meditation
Crowds greet the Gyalwang Karmapa as he arrives at the Mahabodhi Stupa at 7am—an hour earlier than scheduled—where he first stops briefly at the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee Office. He then descends the main stairway into the heart of the stupa and heads directly for the inner sanctum.
The Gyalwang Karmapa personally carries a set of new golden silk robes to offer and adorn the sacred Buddha statue inside the inner sanctum, where he is joined by the two heart sons, Kyabje Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche.
Meanwhile, 98 fully ordained monks, or gelongs, and 5 fully ordained nuns, or gelongmas, assemble beneath the Bodhi Tree. Each sangha member wears the yellow chugu or outer robe; most walk barefoot, without even socks, despite the cold stones underneath.
The Gyalwang Karmapa emerges from the inner sanctum and begins to circumambulate the inner kora path, pausing near the Bodhi Tree, where the 103 volumes of the Kangyur are distributed amongst the sangha, and the procession begins.
Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche takes the lead, followed by Kyabje Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, the two heart sons ushering the way. The Gyalwang Karmapa follows next, holding a simple incense stick as he walks, his face an expression of the Buddha’s calm serenity.
One by one the monks and nuns fall into procession behind the Gyalwang Karmapa, each reverently bearing a text filled with the Buddha’s words carefully balanced on their shoulder, supported by both hands. Their gazes are gently fixed in front of them, their gait slow and measured. They walk slowly and mindfully around the stupa, as if in walking meditation, some quietly chanting mantras as they go.
Led by the Gyalwang Karmapa and the two heart sons, the procession of the Kangyur, or entire corpus of the Buddha’s words, is led slowly and carefully on a circumambulation of the Mahabodhi Stupa—an act of utmost veneration towards the liberating power of the Buddha’s pure speech.
Devotees line the paths as the Kangyur passes by, some carrying white khatas, others holding fresh lotus flowers. The crowds are noticeably smaller than in previous years—most people still over at the Monlam Pavilion—making for a calmer, more serene and meditative circumambulation.
After two days of wet and gloomy weather, it is only during the Kangyur procession that the sky clears into a cloudless blue, the sun finally shining through without obstruction.
Speaking the Buddha’s words
After the outer and inner circuits are completed, the Gyalwang Karmapa and Gyaltsab Rinpoche pause once more in the office at the top of the stairs. There they wait until the last gelong and gelongma have filed out of the stupa, and the last text has been carefully carried out, before they too finally depart around 8am.
Back at the Monlam Pavilion, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche presides over the assembly as a complete set of the Kangyur texts is distributed amongst the assembled sangha, each person receiving a page or two. Over the next 90 minutes those gathered will recite aloud the entirety of the Buddha’s precious words that were translated into Tibetan, putting into speech the echoes of a fully enlightened mind.