26th December – Bodhgaya.
Once more some of the teams who support the Monlam had to work late into the night and arrive at the stupa early in the morning so that the site was prepared. By the time the Gyalwang Karmapa arrived before daybreak, new altars and torma had been set out, all the equipment for audio and webcasting had been transferred, and the sangha were sitting in their newly allotted places.
The area under the Bodhi tree was festooned with fresh garlands of yellow and gold marigolds. Fairy lights lit up the banks around the outer kora—the route which pilgrims circumambulate—and a signboard proclaimed “The 30th Kagyu Monlam Chenmo. Sarva Mangalam”.
As soon as he arrived, Gyalwang Karmapa went to the shrine room and offered prayers in front of the precious Buddha statue. He then went to the Monlam site under the bodhi tree and conferred the Mahayana Sojong vows. Returning to the shrine room, he offered a set of golden silk robes, [Each day during the Monlam, a new set of silk robes will be offered.] and performed the hair-cutting ceremony for two Taiwanese disciples who wished to take ordination.
On December 25, the day before the Kangyur procession, the Gyalwang Karmapa met with a select group of nuns and monks in the Tergar Shrine room. After wishing them a Merry Christmas, he prepared them for the next day by demonstrating how to hold a sacred text—balanced on the left shoulder and supported by both hands—and how to pass it from one person to another. He also reminded them to stay equidistant and to move at the same pace. All this detailed training would be evident the following day at the stupa.
December 26 was the first day of the 30th Kagyu Monlam held at the Mahabodhi stupa. Early in the morning, the Karmapa gave the sojong vows and remained for the Kangyur procession. As he waited for it to start, the Karmapa stood in front of his throne, low and humbly set before a carved wooden pavilion sheltering a statue of the young Buddha, itself below a huge curving branch extending out from the center of the Bodhi Tree as its soft green leaves glistened with dew. Underneath, to the right of the Karmapa was Jamgön Rinpoche and on his left, Gyaltsap Rinpoche; behind them, the ninety-eight monks and five nuns with full ordination put on their yellow shawls, preparing to carry the one hundred and two texts of the Kangyur.
The long column of participants was led by a pair of monks wearing yellow cockade hats and playing reed horns followed by another pair playing white conch shells. After them came monks bearing incense and then Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Jamgön Rinpoche, and the Karmapa, all wearing the Gampopa hat. Following in their footsteps were the monks and nuns, each carrying a wrapped text of the Kangyur.
The procession started around the inner temple and went through the ancient gate, its pink-tinted stone covered with loops of bright orange and yellow marigolds. They climbed up the front stairs to circumambulate the outer path, which was lined with people from all over the world. They showed their respect for the Dharma by holding offerings of flower garlands, mandalas of marigolds, roses, white freesia, and large maroon dahlias in the middle. One woman held a plate with a small Buddha statue surrounded by flowers. Others held white scarves and some a single pink lotus. The procession was stately, moving at a slow pace. The khenpos and chant leaders stayed behind in their seats to chant “Namo Shakyamuniye,” “Homage to Shakyamuni,” and then the refuge in Sanskrit, which resonated throughout the park around the stupa. From a distance, it looked as if the monks were being moved along by the beautiful sound, their golden robes brilliant against the grey stone.
As the procession moved along, people fell in behind the monks and nuns, becoming a colorful crowd walking in the path of the Dharma. When the lamas had completed one circle around the stupa, they returned down the main steps, which led straight into the central shrine and the famous golden Buddha enthroned there. At the temple door, the leading musicians turned left to complete the circumambulation of the stupa and returned to their places near the Bodhi Tree. Once everyone had settled in, the Karmapa began a brief talk on the Kangyur and its importance:
Today at the stupa we will be reading aloud the Kangyur (the collection of the Buddha’s teachings). Usually, we go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and today we are celebrating the Dharma in its two aspects of scripture and realization. Our understanding of Buddhism comes from the words in the precious Kangyur. If we are studying, contemplating, or meditating on the Dharma, we must rely on the Kangyur since it is the source, or foundation, for them all. The Kangyur resembles the trunk of the tree of Dharma or its central channel. It gives us what we need to know, such as what we should take or give up.
If we have a Dharma text, we might wrap it in brocade, put it on a shrine, and make offerings to it. This is not enough however: we have to look into the texts and come to understand them. Even if we understand, we might not pay them much attention. Our attitude here depends on whether we practice or not, and on whether we know the value of these texts or not. When we recite the Seven Branch Prayer, we ask the Buddha to turn the wheel of Dharma, and this he has done, giving extensive teachings, but we do not consider them. This is due to our arrogance or stupidity. We should study, contemplate, and meditate upon what the Buddha has already taught. If we don’t, then it’s very strange to ask the Buddha to give new teachings, which we do every day as we say the Seven Branch Prayer. So please keep in mind the importance of working with the teachings, of studying and practicing them.
Most of the texts from the Kangyur were brought from India; however a number of them were translated from Chinese, (which has a larger Kangyur than the Tibetan), and also from other countries like Shinjang. Then all of these had to be translated. Ignoring the difficulties and taking up their task with joy, the translators brought these texts into Tibetan. These scriptures became the basis for commentaries and explanations of the major treatises, and for oral instructions given by Tibetan scholars and masters of meditation. There is nothing written about the Dharma that did not ultimately rely on the Kangyur, so we can rest assured that these texts are a trustworthy source of the stainless Dharma. In brief, we can say that the Kangyur is the source for all Dharma.
If we look at the etymology of the word Kangyur, we can see that ka (bka’) refers to the words of the Buddha and gyur (‘gyur) refers to the texts that were translated (the “n” comes from putting these two syllables together). There is a long history of translating into Tibetan, beginning with the seventh century when the Dharma King Songtsen Gampo was living at Yambu Lhakhang and encouraged Thunmi Sambhota to begin translating texts. In the eighth century, the Dharma king Trisong Deutsen established a center for translators at Samye Ling where one hundred panditas (scholars) from India and one hundred translators from Tibet worked together for many years translating, editing, and clarifying the texts. They were not puffed up with a little knowledge, but highly learned, gifted in language, and rich in experience of the practice.
From my own experience, I understand a little bit about translating. I worked on the translation of a Chinese text into Tibetan and learned how great the kindness of the translators was and how significant their efforts were.
To return to the history, through to the end of the reign of King Tri Ralpachen, new texts were translated and the old translations were corrected and edited. With the advent of Langdarma, who sought to destroy the teachings, translation came to an end. In the tenth century, the Kings of Western Tibet Yeshe Ö and Changchup Ö encouraged translators, such as Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo, so the process of translating began again, especially of the tantras, which now form the latter part of the Kangyur. In the eleventh century, Atisha also made a great contribution to the process of bringing texts into Tibetan. For almost two hundred years, from the early eleventh to the late twelfth centuries during the new transmission of Dharma in Tibet, a succession of great scholars translated texts mainly related to view and logic.
The first assembling of all these texts had to wait until the twelfth century and the great scholar Chin Jampay Yang, who assembled the first Kangyur in Tibet. As the years passed and the Dharma continued to spread, many editions of the Kangyur ere put together: the Tselpa, Litang, Beijing, Chone, Dege, and Jang, to name a few. The first wood-block print was made during the Ming dynasty in China and known as the Narthang Kangyur. In Tibet, the first wood-block print was sponsored by the King of Jang, (hence the Jang Kangyur), and redacted by the Sixth Shamar, Chokyi Wangchuk in the seventeenth century.
Due to the great kindness of the Buddha and the Dharma Kings of Tibet, all these texts of the Kangyur remain today as a support for our accumulation of merit and wisdom. For those who understand, the Kangyur has all the flawless methods for attaining in one life the level of ultimate union or full awakening. In contrast to other teachings, the Dharma found in Tibet has all five vehicles present, and so it’s possible to practice them all. The Kangyur also contains the key instructions of the great masters and the various lineages as well. Reading it inspires our conviction and faith in the Dharma, which then grows, enabling us to see that the Kangyur is like a rare jewel. Please keep this in mind as you read the texts.
When the Karmapa finished his talk, the chant masters began the reading of the Kangyur with the famous verse from The Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct:
May I teach the Dharma in every single language—
The parlance of the gods, the speech of nagas,
The idioms of the yakshas, kumbhandhas, and humans—
In all the languages that beings may speak.
The texts, wrapped in yellow cloth with a bright red square in one corner, were passed out one by one, as each monk took responsibility for dividing the pages of a volume among the sangha members, collecting it afterwards, and making sure that all the pages were complete and in their proper order before they bound up the text again in its yellow cloth. As the reading began, a maroon sea of monks and nuns, each a wave curved over their texts, began to recite the words of the Buddha. They rose into the morning light, moving through the air like the fragrant incense an old woman swung from her censer as she made her way around the stupa.