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The 26th Kagyu Monlam Begins

Saturday January 04, 2009

His Holiness dedicated the first day of Kagyu Monlam Puja to the victims of recent Mumbai attack.

26th Kagyu Monlam Chenmo began with a quiet thick, damp fog blanketed all over Bodh Gaya. At 5 am the participants proceeded to the Mahabodhi Stupa, only gradually did their forms emerge from the silent mist. The closer to the Stupa they came, the greater were their numbers, until monks, nuns and laypeople from all parts of the world came streaming through the great gates of the Stupa complex and began their circumambulation of the ancient site, murmuring mantras and prayers. An electricity cut made the early morning seem even more mystical, and the reduced lighting caused the Stupa to appear floating in space and insubstantial.

Beneath the Bodhi Tree, devotees found their way to their seats and sat waiting expectantly for the arrival of His Holiness Gyalwang Karmapa, Jamgon Rinpoche, Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche and other high lamas. Fragrant incense wafted in the air, every stupa, wall and railing was decorated with strings of marigolds, and the Kagyu Monlam Shrine stretched resplendently across the front of the assembly against a background of draping yellow and blue cloth. Monks and nuns donned their yellow robes and sat quietly, the disciplinarians guided people and organized proceedings, the laypeople found their way to their designated seating.
Finally, the police siren heralded the imminent arrival of His Holiness, who made his way to the inner circuit and took his place beneath the Bodhi Tree at a small brocaded table to bestow the Sojong Vows. He spoke about motivation and the purpose of the Kagyu Monlam, and about the need to keep clearly in mind the suffering beings of the whole world, including animals, and to generate a pure wish to liberate them from suffering and bring peace to the world. He said that to participate in the Kagyu Monlam with such a great intention would really be a useful endeavour.

Morning prayers then began with the sonorous chanting of the Refuge Prayer in Sanskrit, followed by the Heart Sutra and verses of the Buddha’s words:

Do not do even one misdeed;
Conduct yourself with utmost virtue.
Tame your own mind completely, too.
This is the teaching of the Buddha.

Like stars, or seeing spots, or candles,
Or like illusions, dewdrops, bubbles,
Like dreams or lightning or else clouds,
View all composites in this way.

By this merit may omniscience be attained,
Defeating the enemy, wrongdoing.
May all be liberated from the ocean of samsara,
Turbulent with the waves of birth, aging, sickness and death.

Then began the chanting of the Twenty Branches of the Monlam, composed by the Seventh Gyalwang Karmapa, Chodrak Gyatso, and revised by His Holiness. As the voices of the participants rose into the dawn sky, birds began to sing in the Bodhi Tree, and a great wave of energy filled the space. Steaming pots of Tibetan tea and sweet saffron rice were served to celebrate the auspicious occasion. The 26th Kagyu Monlam had begun.

During the second session of the first day of the 26th Kagyu Monlam, Gyalwang Karmapa resumed his transmission of The Songs of Milarepa. He began by reading the third chapter which tells how, after years of difficulties and hardships, Marpa finally accepted Milarepa as his student. Milarepa prostrated and wept with joy. Marpa gave him the Refuge Vows, cut his hair, gave him the Bodhisattva Vow, and promised to instruct him.

His Holiness drew on this story to talk about the lama-student relationship. The first lesson from the story was that through all those hardships imposed on him by Marpa, Milarepa had never given up on his teacher. As followers of the Kagyu lineage, we should follow the example of the great lineage masters.

Pointing out the six great tormas to his left and right, His Holiness explained that this year there was a break with tradition. The tormas on his right were representations of the great Kagyu lineage masters Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa, but the ones on his left represented the other great lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, Nyingmapa, Sakyapa, and the Gadenpa (founders of the Gelukpa tradition). His Holiness gave a potted history of the development of the different lineages in Tibetan Buddhism and then reminded everybody that although there were differences between these traditions, with slight differences in instructions and emphasis, we should remember that basically they were interlinked, and often mixed up together. The tormas were a reminder of the width of the Buddhist lineage, not just decorations.

Referring back again to the story, he said that Marpa had no personal motive in giving Mila such a hard time. His actions could be misunderstood, but were in fact buddha activities, not something wrong or unskilfull. As to our own lamas, apart from our own teacher we had many different lamas – our root lama, lineage lamas, and so forth, therefore, even if guru yoga was part of our practice, we should also recite the lineage prayer because it referred to many lamas from different schools with whom we had a connection. Remembering this would prevent disunity and fragmentation. We enter into the Buddhist path to work for the benefit of beings without partisanship.

The first requirement of a student was devotion and confidence in their root lama and the lineage lamas. The second requirement was study and practice. The life of Milarepa was more than a story. We needed to study it, understand it, and then put the lessons from it into action. We read the story in order to understand how the dharma was actualized in Milarepa’s life.

His Holiness then moved on to other special features of this year’s Monlam. The mandala containing stones from all over the world was very appropriate when the purpose of the Monlam was to pray for world peace and the welfare of the peoples of the world.


First Day of 26th Kagyu Monlam Chenmo

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