On this page, a detailed summary of His Holiness’s activities is provided. At this website, we are also providing extensive reports on the activity of HIs Holiness at The 25th Great Kagyu Monlam on other pages:
- His Holiness’s Teachings at the 25th Great Kagyu Monlam
- Interview and Discussion with His Holiness about this year’s Great Kagyu Monlam Aspiration
- Photo galleries of His Holiness’s Annual Winter Tour
Great Kagyu Monlam Aspiration, 24th December
Mahabodhi Temple: The final day of the 25th International Kagyu Monlam began at 6.00am as the mist cleared and the sky lightened. Gyaltsab Rinpoche conferred the Sojong vows, and was the presiding lama for the morning prayers. As with every previous day, the western and southern sides of the Stupa and surrounding the Bodhi Tree were crowded with monks and nuns cloaked in their maroon and orange dagams, Sangha members of other Buddhist traditions, and laypeople wrapped in shawls and warm clothing against the north Indian morning chill.
Gyalwang Karmapa joined the assembly for the short second session during which the Heart Sutra and Prostrations and Offerings to the Sixteen Elders, among other brief prayers were chanted. The main event of the morning was the Alms Procession. The gelongs and gelongmas, wearing chogos and namjars, began assembling under the Bodhi Tree at 10am in their monastic order. Gyaltsab Rinpoche led the procession followed by Mingyur Rinpoche, Khenpo Lodro Donyo Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku and other senior Rinpoches and lamas. The first hundred or so gelongs carried in their right hands the traditional monk’s staff, which they tapped on the ground as they walked, making the metal rings sound. Behind the gelongs came the gelongmas, the first one of which also carried the traditional staff. A group of Korean bhikshunis followed. Each monk and nun also carried a large grey metal begging bowl in their left hands.
The procession made its way slowly around the outer circuit to the main entrance gate where the alms round began. From the gate, across the plaza and down the main road, the route was lined with people from different regions and countries, standing on the right-hand side, each offering fruit, nuts, biscuits, packs of namkeen and other edible food. Some people touched their malas and bunches of protection cords to the bowls in order to receive the blessings of the Sangha, as they made their way down to the Rose Park. The begging bowls had to be emptied every few meters because the donors were so generous and enthusiastic. All the food was collected and distributed in large bags to the Sangha after the noon meal. On the grass in the Rose Park the monks and nuns sat in silent ordered lines, overseen by the Gyalwang Karmapa, and were served by Chinese Buddhist volunteers.
For the ordained Sangha, the experience of making the alms round is very humbling. Gyalwang Karmapa’s revival of this ancient Buddhist tradition into the Kagyu lineage is historic, and a significant move for the continuation of the Sangha and the time-honored relationship between ordained and lay disciples.
In the afternoon’s final session, the assembly chanted the Lama Choepa ritual composed by Pal Gyalwang Karmapa in 2005. There was a tsog offering, with elaborate tormas offered to His Holiness and the Rinpoches, and hundreds of bags of food offerings handed out to every member of the assembly.
A special ceremony followed, to thank the sponsors who were placed in front of Gyalwang Karmapa’s throne, during which He expressed His gratitude and appreciation for their sponsorship and offered His blessings for their well-being in this and future lives. His Holiness then gave a brief talk on three topics: vegetarianism, protecting the environment, and dress codes for sangha and laypeople, especially emphasizing that the dress of monastic and non-monastic should be distinguishable from each other so that it should be clear who belongs to which group.
Finally, to the rousing chant of many tashi auspicious prayers, His Holiness Karmapa waved a white khata and the assembly returned the gesture waving thousands of white khatas in the air. His Holiness changed this tradition in 2004 so that participants no longer throw their khatas towards the throne, but hold onto them and wave them in the air. The reason for this is to keep the environment clean, and show proper respect.
Marme Monlam: After a short break, everyone returned to the Stupa at 7.00pm for the Lamp Offering ceremony, Marme Monlam, the closing session of the International Kagyu Monlam. Battery-operated candles were distributed to the lay people, while the gelongs and gelongmas carried small lotus lights. Gyalwang Karmapa, flanked by Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche sat facing the Bodhi Tree.
The prayers began with The All Pervading Benefit of Beings, followed by the same Sanskrit prayers that have been chanted each morning by the assembly. The Korean bhiksuni choir then sonorously chanted The Five Fragrances and Seven Prostrations, and a group of Chinese bhiksus and bhiksunis chanted The Ten Direction Prayer. Everyone then joined together with a choir of western disciples to chant Ah World, a song composed by Gyalwang Karmapa in appreciation of the world and as a plea to those of us who inhabit the world to engender peace and happiness everywhere, and to treat the world carefully so she will not be destroyed.
The Aspiration for The Well-Being of Tibet, composed by Gyalwang Karmapa, was chanted next, led by Umze Ozer Rabten, to a beautiful melody, also composed by His Holiness.
Three sounds on the gong heralded the simultaneous switching on of the lotus lamps by gelongs and gelongmas who had been taught by His Holiness how to switch them on in unison the evening before. This was joined by a burst of candles. The Stupa Mandala resembled a Pure Land beneath the full moon. There was a great camaraderie and happiness between all the participants, and a swell of emotion rose.
As the lotus lamps changed colours, fading from red through blue, green, yellow and pink, His Holiness transmitted the Marme Monlam first in Tibetan, then in Chinese and finally in English, and the assembly joined in chanting the prayer in the three languages to an enchanting and uplifting orchestral arrangement, again composed by His Holiness Karmapa.
Closing prayers concluded the ceremony, and Gyalwang Karmapa, Jamgon Kongtrul and Gyaltsab Rinpoche left, followed by the Sangha members and lay disciples carrying their lights and candles high in the air. All participants circumambulated the Stupa chanting Karmapa Khyeno in rousing tones and the 25th International Kagyu Monlam came to a successful end.
Distribution of free food and blankets: Kagyu Monlam participants from Samye Ling Buddhist Centre in Scotland organized a distribution of bags of lentils for the poor and destitute. Women and children thronged noisily around the Mahayana Hotel from 6.00am in the morning waiting for the hand-out.
Canadian members from Toronto, accompanying Lama Tashi Dhondrup, one of the main sponsors of this year’s Monlam, organised an impromptu distribution of free blankets at the same time.
After a hard day working at the camp, the volunteers came to Tergar Monastery to have a group photo taken with Gyalwang Karmapa in the Great Hall. There was some confusion and much laughter when they were ordered to say “cheese” by one of the photographers.
Medical camp: This was the final day of the medical camp organized by Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps. – Tashi Paljor
Great Kagyu Monlam Aspiration, 23rd December
Mahabodhi Temple: Procession of the Kangyur
Just before dawn broke, Gyalwang Karmapa conferred the Sojong vows and gave a short teaching.
The main event of the morning was the Procession of the Kangyur; all 108 volumes of the Sutra and Vinaya were carried by monks in procession around the outer and inner circuits of the Mahabodhi temple. The procession began from the bodhi tree at 7.30am. At its head came the incense-bearing, yellow-hatted chostenpas, the discipline masters, behind them a solitary monk blew a large white conch, which represents the sound of the Noble Dharma. After that came two monks blowing gyalings. Master Hai Tao, a Taiwanese lama, in the ochre robes of the Chinese Mahayana tradition, and the Venerable Hye Neung, Tibet House, Korea, in the long grey robes of a Korean monk, led the next section. They were followed by Mingyur Rinpoche, Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and the Gyalwang Karmapa, in that order, wearing their red tsesha which signify high Rinpoches in the Kagyu tradition, and carrying posna (traditional Tibetan incense holders). They were followed by 104 gelongs and the 4 most senior gelongmas, each bearing a volume of the Kangyur, suspended between left shoulder and left palm. Slowly, gracefully, step-by-step, placing stockinged or bare feet mindfully on the stone pavement, the Sangha processed along the side of the Mahabodhi Stupa itself, up the steps and onto the outer circuit. There, thousands of people lined either side of the path, offering katags (Tibetan white ceremonial scarves), incense and flowers, particularly the long stemmed pink lotuses which can be bought from the urchins crowding round the entrance to the Mahabodhi site. In the background, from the area near the bodhi tree, came the sound of the chant master leading a slow chant of the refuge prayer in Sanskrit.
The morning sun shone down brightly on the processing monks and on the crowd, as the procession wound its way the complete length of the outer circuit before returning down the steps to the Mahabodhi temple itself and back to the bodhi tree.
The volumes of the Kangyur were then distributed to the different monasteries and sections of each volume, approximately ten pages, were allocated to individual monks, and the reading of the Kangyur began.
Gyalwang Karmapa visits the Nyingma Monastery: A fter the morning session at the Mahabodhi Temple, the Gyalwang Karmapa visited the Nyingma Monastery which is hosting getsuls and getsulmas (novice monks and nuns) for the midday meal. Gyalwang Karmapa watched as the monks and nuns formed orderly lines as they queued for their lunch. He inspected that day’s meal ¨C rice and lentils. He also visited the small clinic, offering Tibetan and allopathic medicine, and talked with the staff. The clinic is being run by Kagyu Monlam medical team: Dr Subatom from Nepal, and a Tibetan doctor Amchi Drubgyu Tendar from Rumtek, Sikkim.
Gyalwang Karmapa eats lunch with the gelongs and gelongmas: During Kagyu Monlam the gelongs and gelongmas have been keeping the Sojong vows, so they do not eat after midday; lunch, their main meal, is served at Tergar Monastery. After the morning session at the Mahabodhi temple, buses transfer the nuns and monks to Tergar Monastery where they gather in the Main Hall, sit in long rows, and observe the new codes of conduct for sitting and eating. A team of Chinese Buddhist volunteers prepares cooks and serves the food each day as an offering and service to the sangha. Today Gyalwang Karmapa joined them for lunch: rice, vegetable tempura, mixed vegetables, French fries, paneer, yoghurt and fruit.
After a hard day working at the camp, the volunteers came to Tergar Monastery to have a group photo taken with Gyalwang Karmapa in the Great Hall. There was some confusion and much laughter when they were ordered to say “cheese” by one of the photographers.
Medical camp: Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps moved back to Birla Mandir in Bodhgaya to conduct a further two days of free treatment.
Akshobhya Fire Puja: This was the conclusion of a week of the Akshobhya Ritual, a powerful purification practice, which Gyalwang Karmapa had been leading each afternoon at the Mahabodhi Temple.
The final ritual ¨C the fire puja ¨C was held in the main hall at Tergar Monastery shortly after 9.00pm, and did not end until 12.30am. Gyalwang Karmapa was Vajra Master. As part of the ritual, the names of the deceased, written on paper, were burnt in a ritual fire. Only a few lamas were allowed to participate in the ceremony, those who had completed the retreat and kept Sojong; other monks and the general public gathered outside and watched through the windows.
Great Kagyu Monlam Aspiration, 22nd December
Mahabodhi Temple: Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche gave the Sojong Vows. Gyalwang Karmapa attended the sessions before and immediately after lunch.
Press Conference: At 11.30am Gyalwang Karmapa held a press conference on the 25th International Kagyu Monlam at Tergar Monastery. Twenty eight reporters, photographers and film crew, representing fourteen different agencies and seven countries, attended the conference. They received a pack of information about the Kagyu Monlam in either English or Chinese. Gyalwang Karmapa welcomed them and extended prayers and good wishes to all on behalf of Kagyu Monlam.
Medical Camp: This was the second day that the free camp staffed by Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps was held in the village of Vinobapuri. The camp was set up in a local private school. On the first day 731 patients arrived. On the second day there were 826, and when the clinic finally closed in the evening, there were still about two hundred patients who had not been seen. Most of the patients were women and children; there were very few old people. Many of the children were suffering from conditions such as clubfoot and hernia which could easily be corrected by surgery. Many had distended bellies and bleached hair, both signs of malnutrition. Coughs, colds, earache and worms were the most common complaints, and there were probable cases of tuberculosis. Sadly, several of the children had been severely disabled by polio. India has a major nationwide polio immunization drive each year, but it hasn’t yet reached Vinobapuri.
After a hard day working at the camp, the volunteers came to Tergar Monastery to have a group photo taken with Gyalwang Karmapa in the Great Hall. There was some confusion and much laughter when they were ordered to say “cheese” by one of the photographers!
Rehearsals for the Marme Monlam: This year’s Marme Monlam will be even more elaborate than before. Candles have been replaced by electric lights, and the sangha will be issued with special lotus- shaped lights which change through pink, blue, green. The driving force behind these changes is Gyalwang Karmapa, and at 8.00pm he came down to the Main Hall of Tergar Monastery, where the gelongs and gelongmas had assembled, and personally conducted a rehearsal. First, the new lotus lamp lights were distributed and everyone had to practise a synchronized switching on and off. Then groups representing the different languages – Tibetan, English, Chinese and Korean – performed their set pieces, which they will sing during the Marme Monlam on Monday. Finally, everyone practised the Marme Monlam Prayer to a new melody composed by His Holiness.
Great Kagyu Monlam Aspiration, 20-21, December
Mahabodhi Temple: Gyalwang Karmapa arrived at 6.00am and conferred the Sojong vows.
Before beginning the morning prayers, he spoke to the assembly. He began with a short description of the history of Kagyu Monlam and explained that the Kagyu Monlam was able to happen because of the coming together of causes and conditions including merit; even being fortunate enough to attend the Monlam was rare, a testimony to the merit every one there had accumulated. He told everyone how fortunate they were to have attained a precious human life, to have heard the Dharma, and now to have the opportunity to visit a holy site. He talked about the value of attending Kagyu Monlam at Bodhgaya, the great opportunity it offered to all practitioners because of the sacredness of Bodhgaya itself.
Further, as Monlam coincided with the year drawing to its close, it provided an ideal opportunity to carefully examine and reflect on positive actions and wrong-doing committed over the year. Because of the sacredness of Bodhgaya, powerful purification was possible if faults were confessed sincerely.
By the same token, the power of merit accumulated at Bodhgaya was amplified and it was an ideal place and time to accumulate merit from different activities. For example, the great gathering of the Sangha made it possible to make offerings, the number of beggars and poor people made it possible to practise generosity, and it was important to dedicate that merit for the well being of all sentient beings.
He told the Sangha specifically to reflect on why they were there and to always remember the teachings of the Buddha and the lineage masters and make the aspiration to follow their teachings to the best of their ability .He reminded them that the purpose of the Codes of Conduct was not mere observance, but to feel their importance and internalize the attitudes that the behaviour was designed to cultivate.
He reminded everyone that advanced knowledge of Dharma was of little value without the development of loving kindness and compassion.
He then gave a short overview of The Heart Sutra before leading the first session of the Monlam prayers.
In the second session, Gyalwang Karmapa continued the transmission of The Life of Milarepa and gave a commentary on the Green Tara practice before leading the chanting of The Twenty One Praises to Tara to a melody he himself composed.
After lunch he led the Akshobhya Ritual, and then returned to Tergar Monastery for a hectic schedule of private audiences.
Medical Camp: The medical camp was held in the village of Vinobapuri, forty minutes from Bodhgaya. More than seven hundred people came. Several of those treated were suffering from serious illnesses, but, once more, the majority of patients who presented themselves were suffering from diseases linked with poverty and malnutrition.
Evening Teaching at Tergar Monastery: The 25ht was the third and final evening of Gyalwang Karmapa’s teaching on The Fivefold Mahumudra. Verse four reads:
If, in the vast sky of the nature of mind,
The clouds of concepts do not disperse,
The stars of the two wisdoms will not brightly shine.
So, earnestly focus on cultivating this non-conceptuality.
Gyalwang Karmapa explained the metaphor. . . . (For a continuation of this extended summary of the Wednesday teachings, go to His Holiness’s Teachings at the 25th Great Kagyu Monlam)
After the teaching on the fifth and final verse, the Gyalwang Karmapa first gave the transmission in Tibetan of the Ngondro he himself had written, explaining that, as the compiler of the text, he was the only one who could give this particular transmission.
He then gave the transmission of the Mahamudra Aspiration Prayer, composed by the Third Karmapa, followed by the transmission of several mantras.
Finally he gave the transmission of The Fivefold Mahamudra in Tibetan, English, Chinese and Korean. The audience really appreciated his efforts in doing this and each transmission was applauded enthusiastically.
In conclusion he thanked everyone for coming, and apologized that pressure of time had meant only three days were available for the teaching. He explained how happy he had been every night to see so many people with joy on their faces and smiling eyes; it was a sight he would never forget. He rose, stepped gracefully down from the throne, and left the hall, smiling shyly and blessing everyone as he went.
[A full transcript of this teaching should be available early in 2008.]
Great Kagyu Monlam Aspiration, Wednesday 19th December
Mahabodhi Temple: Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche gave the Sojong Vows and led the first part of the Monlam prayers. There was a change in the schedule and Pal Gyalwang Karmapa arrived at 7.00am for the conclusion of a special Tsedrub Ritual for him, sponsored by The Kagyu Monlam Working Team. The Tsedrub began at Tergar Monastery on December 13th and concluded at the Mahabodhi Temple this morning, with the offering of a Tenshug (usually referred to as a ‘Long Life Prayer’). Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche was the Vajra Master.
Medical Camp: On the second day of the medical camp, the staff worked through from 8.30am until 5.00pm in order to meet a growing need. Word had spread through the community and more than 900 patients arrived, including many of the local children who were very eager to collect free pencil cases and lollipops but rather reluctant to take their medicine!
Evening Teaching at Tergar Monastery: In the evening Gyalwang Karmapa began a special three day teaching for foreign students. In all, nearly 2000 people were there to listen to His Holiness teach on the text The Fivefold Mahamudra by Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon.
The teaching was scheduled to begin at 7.00pm but by 5.00pm queues had begun to form, and by 6.15pm the great hall at Tergar Monastery was chock-a-block; those arriving later were forced to sit outside on the veranda in the chilly night air.
It was clear that the teaching had been carefully planned to reflect the needs of an international audience. As people arrived, they received a free copy of The Fivefold Mahamudra containing the text in Chinese, Korean, Tibetan and English, and a leaflet of the opening prayers, which were recited in Sanskrit, English and Chinese. The teaching itself was translated into Chinese, English, Korean and Russian.
Five minutes before Gyalwang Karmapa appeared; the chant master came and began to lead the Karmapa Khyenno (Karmapa, think of me). Everyone joined in and the sound of the mantra rose to fill the vast space. His Holiness arrived promptly, walked briskly across the dais, prostrated gracefully three times, and greeted the audience warmly with folded palms before mounting the throne.
The first verse of The Fivefold Mahamudra reads:
If the stallion of love and compassion
Does not win the race of altruism
He will not earn the praise of the crowd of gods and humans,
So, earnestly focus your mind on this preliminary practice.
Gyalwang Karmapa explained that this was a metaphor based on a Tibetan-style horse race, linking it with a Tibetan saying which tells people to study and practice Dharma with such speed that a hundred dogs will be unable to catch them. . . . (For a continuation of this extended summary of the Wednesday teachings, go to His Holiness’s Teachings at the 25th Great Kagyu Monlam)
Gyalwang Karmapa concluded the evening by conferring the Refuge Vows, emphasising that in future no one should take refuge in worldly things. True refuge is in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. He emphasised that, having taken refuge, the important thing was to do no harm, but work for the benefit of all sentient beings.
As he left the platform, the congregation applauded loudly. He acknowledged this with a shy smile and a blessing, before disappearing into the wings and back upstairs to his private quarters on the roof. – Tashi Paljor
Great Kagyu Monlam Aspiration, Thursday 20th December
Mahabodhi Temple: Before dawn broke, Choje Gyaltsab Rinpoche conferred the Sojong vows at the Mahabodhi Temple and led the first session of the Monlam from 6.00am until 9.00am.
Gyalwang Karmapa joined the assembly at 9.30 am, resuming his transmission of The Life of Milarepa. He then gave a commentary on the Prayer of Samantabhadra: The King of Aspiration Prayers before leading the chanting of it. After lunch, he returned to the Mahabodhi Temple to lead the Akshobhya Ritual in the third session.
Medical Camp: More than a thousand people arrived for medical treatment at the camp. Staff reported that the majority of local patients were suffering from diseases associated with poverty; the result of sub-standard living conditions, lack of clean water, and especially malnutrition. Indeed, most of the patients were malnourished; the children especially were underweight and undersized for their age.
Evening Teaching at Tergar Monastery: In the second part of a three-part series, Gyalwang Karmapa continued his exposition of Kyobpa’s The Fivefold Mahamudra. He concentrated on verses two and three:
If your body, the king of the enlightened form,
Does not hold the throne of the unchanging basis,
Mother dakinis, the citizens, will not appear,
So, earnestly focus on seeing your body as the yidam deity.
If, on the snow mountain, the lama of the four kayas,
The sun of devotion does not shine,
Streams of blessing will not flow.
So, earnestly focus on cultivating this devotion.
Gyalwang Karmapa referred to the Tibetan idea that if something helps it’s of use. . . . (For a continuation of this extended summary of the Thursday teachings, go to His Holiness’s Teachings at the 25th Great Kagyu Monlam)
The evening concluded with Gyalwang Karmapa conferring the Bodhisattva Vows. – Tashi Paljor
His Holiness Blesses the Medical Camp in Bodhgaya (December 18, 2007)
18th December, 2007. After attending the second session of the Kagyu Monlam at the Mahabodhi Stupa, the Gyalwang Karmapa went to Birla Mandir in Bodhgaya to bless the activity of the Medical Camp there. This camp is one of the special events offered this year in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Kagyu Monlam. It aims to alleviate the suffering of the local community by providing free medicine and treatment for local people. In spite of the development of tourism in Bodhgaya, the holiest site of Buddhism in the world, many people who in Bodhgaya today are in desparate straits, too poor to afford even the most basic medical treatment or medicine. Poverty, disease and deformity haunt the streets of this small town.
After the Gyalwang Karmapa decided that the Kagyu Monlam should offer a medical camp, his sister, Chamsing Ngodrup Palzom, oversaw the preparations and Dr Liu Chi-Chun, from Taiwan, the founder and president of the Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps, rose to the challenge of providing a medical team, medicine and equipment. He is very experienced in leading teams of doctors and nurses on mercy missions to different parts of Asia. He is already well-known in the Tibetan community for his medical camp every year in Dharamsala, which he organises in conjunction with Ngari Rinpoche, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s younger brother. Dr Liu Chi-Chun delivered a team of 50 medical personnel, doctors, pharmacists and nurses from Taiwan to conduct the camp. The camp offers allopathic medicine for a wide range of conditions, medical check-ups, and dentistry. A supporting team of Indian students from Fo Guang Shan Buddhist College are working voluntarily as translators for the medical team.
At the Birla Mandir, the medical staff and various guests assembled to greet the Gyalwang Karmapa: Mingyur Rinpoche, Gyaltong Rinpoche , Gen Tenzin of Namgyal Branch Monastery and Lamas representing the variousTibetan monasteries in Bodhgaya, Lama Choedrak, CEO of Kagyu Monlam, Tibetan lay officials, and a small group of local Indian officials. After a brief inspection of the camp, during which the Gyalwang Karmapa met medical staff and some of the patients, he greeted the guests. Then the guests left for a special lunch at the Royal Residency Hotel, hosted by the Kagyu Monlam Organising Committee. The chief guests were Dr Liu Chi-Chun, Master Hai Tao of Life TV, Taiwan, and the Venerable Hye Neung, Tibet House, Korea. In spite of an extremely demanding schedule, Pal Gyalwang Karmapa made the time to attend the lunch, and distributed small souvenirs to all the guests personally. The staff at the medical camp treated 488 patients on the first day. Additionally, they decided to forgo their lunchbreak so that the camp could be open throughout the day, in order for the monks and nuns, who are usually at the Mahabodhi Stupa at other times, to be able to attend more easily. – Tashi Paljor
The 25th Great Kagyu Monlam Begins in Bodhgaya (December 17, 2007)
At 5.15a.m of the 17th, the dark streets of this small town, little more than a village, were already alive with hundreds of people making their way through the pre-dawn gloom to the Mahabodhi Temple. Monks and nuns and laypeople, both Tibetans and foreigners, thronged through the massive red Torii gates. Designed by Gyalwang Karmapa and engineered by Choekyi Gyatso, they were built by eight carpenters brought in specially, and took three months to complete. For two whole days and nights, the carpenters worked non-stop to erect them at the entrance to the Mahabodhi site.
These massive gates represent the entrance to sanctuary. Inside, the grounds of this ancient site was transformed by a hundred thousand tiny lights, hanging from the trees and walls surrounding the sanctuary. The multitude of small stupas around the Mahabodhi Temple had been garlanded with yellow and orange marigolds, and small water pots containing marigold heads had been placed along the tops of the walls. Beneath the spreading branches of the bodhi tree was an array of magnificent butter sculptures. Behind the Gyalwang Karmapa’s throne was a glorious Mandala of the palace of Akshobya; all the beings contained within are bodhisattvas and the palace is created from precious stones.
By 5.30am most of the sangha, more then 4000, were seated and waiting, huddled in their cloaks against the morning cold. Gelongs (fully ordained monks) sat at the front and gelongmas (fully ordained nuns) sat behind them Then came the getsuls (novice monks) and behind them the getsulmas (novice nuns). Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Khenchen Yongzin Thrangu Rinpoche were seated to left and right of the Gyalwang Karmapa’s throne. Approximately 2000 laypeople sat in designated areas, and on the walls and grass banks surrounding the main temple.
The sound of a police siren heralded the arrival of Gyalwang Karmapa. The sangha participants stood, donned their yellow robes and waited under the Bodhi Tree as His Holiness entered the site to the ceremonial sound of gyalings. He circumambulated the Stupa and took his place at the head of the assembly, a powerful presence, unshakeable and grounded in stability. He immediately presided over the 24-hour Sojong vows, a practice which accumulates merit and removes negative karma, so that the ceremony could be finished before the sun rose. In the context of Sojong, he explained that the important goal was to try to do positive deeds and to examine all our thoughts and actions.
Then, following His Holiness’s new additions to the Monlam prayers, the assembly chanted the refuge and Bodhichitta prayers, the Heart Sutra and other verses from the Sutras in Sanskrit. The ancient chants floated on the chilly morning air, connecting all those in attendance here in 2007 to the dawn of Buddhism almost three thousand years ago. Again, His Holiness honored the crowd by giving a short commentary on Refuge and on Bodhichitta, explaining the importance of pure motivation: “the motivation in taking refuge should extend beyond a wish for well-being in this life; it needs to be seen as an aspiration for future lives, and should include the aspiration for liberation from samsara and ultimate enlightenment.” HH Karmapa advised people who could not yet keep the bodhisattva vows to make an aspiration to be able to take them and keep them in the future.
His Holiness led the prayers from the Kagyu Monlam Prayer Book, the Twenty-Branch Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, originally composed by the Seventh Karmapa, Choedrak Gyatso, and racently re-formulated by the Seventeenth Karmapa, Thus His Holiness introduced the example of that earlier time in the Kagyu lineage of some six centuries ago, further reviving this tradition. After the Three Daily Observances of Prostration, Reciting Sutras and Dedication, the assembly chanted the assembly chanted Samantabhadra’s King of Aspiration Prayer, the Aspiration for Noble Conduct, and Maitreya’s Aspiration, from the Branch of Aspiration.
During the second morning session, Gyalwang Karmapa resumed his transmission of The Life of Milarepa begun at the previous Monlam. The theme was purification of negative deeds. The Karmapa’s recounting of Milarepa’s life reached the point the narrative when Milarepa’s life changed direction completely and Milarepa was desperate to study the Dharma, which the Karmapa described as like someone who was very thirsty and longed for a glass of water. His Holiness analogized the Buddha to a doctor, his students, ourselves, as the patients, and the Dharma as the medicine. He emphasized that this analogy expresses the correct attitude for listening to dharma teachings. Our motivation should never be tainted by the eight worldly concerns. The second session concluded, as it always does, with The Great Aspiration: Monlam Chenmo, and Dedications for the Living and the Deceased.
Roots of virtue of the three times were dedicated so that they will not be lost or used up. They are dedicated for the attainment of unsurpassable perfect enlightenment for oneself and others, in the presence of His Holiness Gyalwang Karmapa as the dedicator. These prayers were followed by the Dharani for the fulfilment of aspiration prayers. The session having concluded, the gelongs and gelongmas filed out to board buses to take them to Tergar Monastery where they were served lunch by the Chinese Buddhist community.
In the third session, after lunch, the Gyalwang Karmapa performed the Ritual of Vajra-Akshobhya, the Buddha with whom the Karmapa lineage holds a special connection. This ritual powerfully purifies negative karma in the world, hence promoting the security and well-being of all sentient beings, harmony and peace, and the preservation of the world environment.
A short fourth session, which included long-life prayers for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa and other important Kagyu lamas, and a prayer for the reincarnation of Bokar Rinpoche, concluded the day’s prayers, along with the Dharma Blaze Aspiration for the flourishing of the Dharma, and Protector Prayers. Finally, as His Holiness stood to leave the Bodhi Tree, the entire assembly slowly chanted the Descent of Sacred Auspiciousness that Transforms One, composed by the Gyalwang Karmapa himself:
Auspicious blessings blaze and ornament the world
Shining upon the vast kingdom
At the north of the Land of Snows
Lineage of Dharma practice flourishes
May blessings and auspiciousness fill the world
May happiness and joy increase in the world.
– Tashi Paljor
An Interview with The Gyalwang Karmapa on the Aspirations of the Great Kagyu Monlam (December 13, 2007)
His Holiness Karmapa explains the new initiatives and vast and profound intentions of this year’s Great Kagyu Monlam, which commenced on December 17, 2007, in Bodhgaya, India. The Monlam takes place each year at the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Bodhgaya, which marks the spot where the Buddha attained enlightenment. Interview with the Gyalwang Karmapa