The Revival of The Great Encampment (Garchen)
12th December – Bodhgaya.
An historic occasion.
In Bodhgaya on December 12, 2012, history was made: for the first time in four hundred years, the Karmapa’s Great Encampment, Ornament of the World, was established.(Follow link for a brief history.) Its form this time is serried waves of large forest and soft green tents pitched on the fields next to Tergar Monastery in Bodhgaya. The focal point of the whole area is the Gyalwang Karmapa’s quarters, fenced off by woven bamboo and containing the bright yellow tent that is his residence and shrine hall. It is flanked on either side by dark blue tents. One is a Protector Shrine for Mahakala with his gold and black banner rising high above it and the banners of Palden Lhamo and Damchen on either side. The other tent is a residence for Kyapje Jamgön Rinpoche and Kyapje Gyaltsap Rinpoche. In the four corners of the area are lighter blue tents for the guards and attendants. The grounds are ornamented with a profusion of red, orange, and yellow flowers backed by rows of long green-leaved plants and bushes.
The initial ceremonies
On the first morning, coming through a fresh, cool mist, the sound of reed horns pierced the air. It was soon followed by the golden robes of the musicians, leading the way for the Gyalwang Karmapa, who strode along a path with Jamgön Kongtrul close by. With great dignity, the Karmapa entered his tent, the color of sunshine, to reside on his throne next to the altar. Khyabje Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche followed immediately afterward, sitting on a throne opposite the Karmapa, as the two rows below them filled with senior monks.
Together the lamas performed the ceremony of purifying and offering (sang chö) known as Heaping Clouds of Nectar. Based on Tibetan and Chinese traditions, the ceremony’s purpose is to purify the outer world, the entire environment, and the inner world, all its inhabitants. The ceremony is also an offering to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha above, and a generous giving to those below in the lower realms. Special substances were offered in abundance—fragrant woods, such as juniper and sandalwood, plus nutritious grains, elegant fabrics, and many precious substances. They were carried to the twenty-six white sculpted kilns that arch in a semi-circle behind the Pavilion, their aromatic smoke blending with the misted air to perfume the grounds. The theme of the ceremony was also displayed in the seven radiant banners for sang chö that were created to encircle the Karmapa’s tent. A modern touch were the solar panels, set next to the tent to provide electricity, signaling again the Karmapa’s deft ability to blend tradition with the modern world.
Simultaneous with this first ceremony was another performed by Khyabje Gyaltsap Rinpoche, which he began within the Monlam Pavilion. For this second set of rituals, which had three aspects, Gyaltsap Rinpoche first performed the ceremony in the Pavilion and then walked through the Great Encampment, the sound of his bell growing softer and louder as he moved away and came close to pause at the Karmapa’s tent. Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s first round of the encampment was to expel negative spirits that could cause harm and as he walked he tossed great sprays of yellow mustard seed to send them away. The second round was for purification, and he carried a golden vase with consecrated water that he poured onto a brass plate as he recited prayers. The third was for auspiciousness, and in all directions Gyaltsap Rinpoche generously offered blessed rice and flowers into the air. This final time he wore the Gampopa brocade hat as he stood in front of the Karmapa’s tent and offered the auspiciousness that had been gathered throughout the morning. This then concluded the preparatory ceremonies for the afternoon’s official opening of the gate.
The Gate Opening ceremony
To create an auspicious occasion, it is not only the area of the Great Encampment, the space, that matters but also the time. The afternoon of this day of December 12, 2012 (12.12.12) was constellated in a very fortunate and profound way according to how Tibetans understand the disposition of the stars and planets. In the afternoon, the Karmapa walked to the Encampment’s impressive main gate, which had in large letters the official name for the Encampment in Sanskrit, Dzambudvipa Alankara Mahapandap, and in Tibetan, Garchen Dzamling Gyen, “The Great Encampment, Ornament of the World.” Khenpo Garwang explained that gar refers to a place where many tents are pitched, and since they cover a large area, it is called chen “great.” At its peak, the Encampment was home to an institute for higher Buddhist studies, to artists creating in the famous Karma Gardri (the tradition of the Karmapa’s Encampment) style, and to hundreds of individual retreatants as well as monks who performed the traditional ceremonies. Since it was such a rich environment, nourishing every aspect of Buddhist practice, the Tibetan people gave it the name dzamlingor “world” and gyan or “ornament.” And since it was the residence of the Gyalwang Karmapa, it was also known as The Karmapa’s Great Encampment, Ornament of the World.
It is this magnificent tradition that was revived today with the Gate Opening Ceremony. The gate was festooned with swags of marigolds and a braided sash of red, yellow, blue, and white scarves spanning the space between the gate’s pillars. Surrounded by a great gathering of monks, the Karmapa stood in front of the gate, flanked by Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche, all three of them wearing the gold and rose colored hat of Gampopa. They chanted prayers for auspiciousness, invoking eight each of the tathagatas, bodhisattvas, protectors, and offering goddesses, and aspiring that in this place, the Garchen tradition would again flourish to bring peace, well-being, and realization to all corners of the world.
Proceeding into the Garchen, the three lamas blessed the main tent area and then returned to the Karmapa’s yellow tent to complete the ceremonies. With the statue of the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, behind him, the Karmapa along with his two heart sons gave audience to the Akshobya retreatants, to the khenpos (professors) and senior monks, to the little monks from Tergar Monastery, and then all the other monks and nuns, each of them offering scarves and receiving a blessing from all three rinpoches on the thrones, and a blessed cord from the Karmapa. Finally, lay disciples could also offer a scarf to the Karmapa and receive his blessing. Thus ended the ceremonies of a day shaped by the far-reaching vision of the Karmapa, whose great compassion does not forget to reach out and touch all living beings.
On the evening of this first night, so the tents would not be left empty, specially chosen monks will sleep in them : two have been selected from each of the ten shedras attending the Winter Debates, plus two representatives each from the Karmapa’s administration, from the Kagyu Monlam’s administration, and from the five administrations of Situ Rinpoche, Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche, Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Pawo Rinpoche, and Treho Rinpoche. Zimpön Gelek Könchok would sleep in the Karmapa’s tent. The following nights, up to 15 monks will stay in each of the tents, bringing alive this ancient tradition.
The Seventeenth Karmapa and the Great Encampment
In the beginning, the Karmapa had no plans to recreate the Great Encampment. However, after the last Kagyu Monlam in March 2012, Lama Chodrak went to speak with the governing committee of Bodhgaya’s Mahabodhi Stupa, as he has done for many years. He discovered that the regular time for the Kagyu Monlam had already been reserved by another group and that they had also rented the usual places for the monks to stay. When the Karmapa heard of this, he reflected on the situation and then became very enthusiastic about setting up tents and holding the first days of the Monlam at the Pavilion next to Tergar. The engineer Chokyi Gyatso took the main responsibility for all the construction and Karma Yeshe was also there to help. The main financial support came from Lama Chodrak, who had been gathering funds to erect a permanent residence for the monks. He generously offered this money to the Karmapa to purchase tents and set up the camp.
Plans were made to pitch two hundred tents and create all the necessary facilities for the monks and nuns staying there. In addition to the solar panels on all the individual tents and in the Karmapa’s area, also on the agenda were solar powered strip lights along the walkways and the tall lights surrounding the Pavilion. An elaborate water recycling system was also planned, which included ponds filled with reeds, lotus flowers, and other local plants. (See the longer article on the environment). With all these aspects, the site naturally turned into an encampment. When asked if it could be named The Great Encampment, Ornament of the World, the Karmapa was delighted and also gave special names to three “continents” or areas of the camp. To the left and right of the Karmapa’s quarters (described above) is an area for monks known as Densely Arrayed (a name for the pure realm of Akanishta, also used for Tsurphu itself). Near the immense, kitchen tent with its two-tiered roof is another section for monks called The Array of Lotuses (related to the pure realm of Amitabha). And behind the Pavilion is the nuns’ area known as The Array of Turquoise Leaves (the name of Tara’s pure realm).
The way the revival of the Garchen came about can be seen from two perspectives. From the perspective of all the planning and labor that went into reviving the Great Encampment, many people with a variety of skills worked very long and hard to set it up. From another perspective, it happened spontaneously, arising without effort. It is hoped that the practice of all the monks and nuns residing in the Great Encampment will equal that of their forebears and also be spontaneously accomplished for the benefit of a