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The Marmei Monlam Lights up the World

December 21, 2010 – Bodhgaya

Spheres of red and yellow lights descending from the outer path around the stupa enfold in their bright warmth all who’ve gathered this evening. In addition to the international sangha of ordained and lay people, there are also dignitaries who have come from afar to join in this celebration. The steps leading from the back gate down to the Bodhi Tree have been turned into a stage for the performances.

Tonight His Holiness is serving as the Master of Ceremonies, announcing each group and making brief comments. The first group is composed of Tibetan monks who stand with their palms together, filling the whole space of the stairs with the glowing presence of their yellow robes. His Holiness comments that te Sanskrit language comes first since India was the source of Dharma. In resonant tones, the monks chant the refuge, praise of the Buddha, and before the dedication, the epitome of the Buddha’s teachings, which the Karmapa cites often:

Do not do anything that is wrong.
Conduct yourself with utmost virtue.
Completely tame your own mind.
This is the teaching of the Buddha.

Following this is a short practice of the four-armed Chenrezik that includes chanting of Om Mani Padme Hum.

Second is a group of Chinese monks and nuns in bright orange and yellow robes, who chant a supplication to the buddhas of the ten directions. Recorded music gives amplitude to the chant and at the end, they toss bits of metallic paper that catch the light as they fall to the ground.

In gray and brown robes, the Korean monks and nuns chant a beautiful prayer recited when making offerings. One monk, who has a beautiful and moving voice, sings acapella for a while with the others bowing from time to time. Then they join in the singing with a close harmony that intensifies the feeling of devotion.

The fourth group is composed of Vietnamese monks in burnt gold robes and carrying various small instruments: a bell on a stick, a wooden fish drum, a hand bell, and a small drum on a long handle that is tapped with a curved stick. They offer a captivating chant as their voices seem to move round in circles. They end with a very fast chant spurred on by the wooden hand drum.

The Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts is represented by four women in front and four men in the back, all wearing the traditional Tibetan dress. His Holiness comments that they will sing a prayer that is an aspiration for the well-being of Tibet (Bo yul bde smon). In particular, it is dedicated for the well-being of those who suffered during this year’s disasters in Tibet.

The sixth group is a blend of lay disciples from several countries in the West. The Karmapa commented that we should “collectively make the aspiration that people of all nationalities come together and make aspiration prayers.” In English and German, the group sings “Silent Night” (a traditional Christmas carol, now being sung in the West during the holiday season). The final version is a new one that includes Om mani Padme Hung and the wish that “people’s minds rest silently” and ‘awake clearly in peace.”

The following group has eighteen of Khenpo Tsultrim Rinpoche’s students from Taiwan, who sing a vajra song in Chinese, accompanied by gestures and recorded music. His Holiness remarked that it is especially appropriate to celebrate him this evening as a long life mandala had been offered to him this morning. The fact that the song is in Chinese is a sign that “the great kindness of the lama can penetrate many languages.”

The next performer is Kelsang Burkhar, (daughter of the translator Ngodup Burkhar), who offers a song of gratitude to Bokar Rinpoche. His Holiness notes that this “shows that youth of the twenty-first century can feel gratitude to their lama.” She sings, “Thank you for teaching me still.”

Before the final singing of the Lamp Prayer, there is a fifteen-minute slide show presenting the life and activity of the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa. His Holiness mentioned that he had wanted it to be more extensive but time was short as there were so many events this year. “Yet,” he said, “I hope it will inspire you.” The photographs ranged from the early years of the Karmapa in Tibet through his building of Rumtek Monastery, his residence in India, and travels throughout the world. In some of the images, the resemblance between the Sixteenth and the Seventeenth Karmapas is remarkable. (If you have pictures to contribute to this project of archiving photographs of the Sixteenth Karmapa, please contact: Karmapapictureproject@gmail.com.)

For the last event, all the groups who performed come together on the stairs to face His Holiness who sits before the Bodhi Tree with the Vajra Asana beneath. First everyone repeats after the Karmapa the prayer composed by Lord Atisha:

Emaho!
I offer this amazing, wondrous bright lamp
To the one thousand buddhas of this fortunate eon.
Lamas, yidams, dakinis, dharma protectors,
And the gatherings of deities in the mandalas.

Of all the pure realms of the infinite ten directions,
My parents in the fore, may every sentient being
In this lifetime and all the places they take birth
See the pure realms of the perfect buddhas directly

And then become inseparable from Amitabha.
Out of the power of the truth of the Three Jewels
And the deities of the Three Roots I’ve made this prayer.
Please grant your blessings that it be quickly accomplished.

Then everyone lights their lamps: some are tea lamps in circular flower-petal holders made of simple pottery and other are flickering candles powered by batteries. Once these lights glow throughout the darkness of the night, the Lamp Song is sung in Tibetan, English, and Chinese. After a request to remember the environment and carefully dispose of the lamps, His Holiness closes with the aspiration prayer that everyone enjoy a happiness that is unceasing.

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