21st December – Bodhgaya.
Early morning at Tergar and the Monlam Pavilion By 5:15 am long lines of people, nuns, monks and laypeople, had formed along the road from the pavilion as far back as the main gates of Tergar monastery. The morning was dark and chill but they waited patiently to pass through the stringent security checks. Although it now has a greater capacity than last year, the vast space of the Monlam Pavilion filled steadily. Seats to left and right of the central aisle were allocated to nuns and monks respectively. The rinpoches, tulkus, khenpos, and some gelongs were seated on the stage. A space near the front was reserved for international sangha, and other designated areas were allocated to members of Kagyu Monlam, VIPs, and special guests. Clad in their distinctive yellow panelled waistcoats, disciplinarians patrolled the rows of monks and nuns.
At 6:00 am promptly, the gyalings sounded, and led by an incense bearer and monks playing the gyalings, Gyalwang Karmapa arrived on the stage and the 30th Kagyu Monlam Chenmo began.
Opening remarks by the Gyalwang Karmapa
Facing the congregation of monks, nuns and laypeople, Gyalwang Karmapa gave the Mahayana Sojong vows before making some opening remarks.
He emphasised the great opportunity that everyone gathered for the Monlam had been given to pray on behalf of all sentient beings. “We should treasure this opportunity and not waste it,” he warned.
It was our great good fortune that we had come together in the sacred place of Bodhgaya with those who upheld the Kagyu lineage: Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, many other rinpoches, lamas, khenpos and so forth.
“Now that we have come to this sacred place and have the conditions to accumulate great merit we should be diligent, have great aspirations and generate bodhichitta,” he explained. Finally, he thanked everyone who had come, especially those who had come from far away.
The Twenty-Branch Monlam
The first session each morning is the recitation of the Twenty Branch Monlam, compiled by the Gyalwang Karmapa in 2006. Sitting on a low throne at the head of the congregation, he faced the Buddha images and the altars to lead the opening Sanskrit prayers; Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche sat on his right, Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche on his left. After the initial prayers, Refuge and Bodhichitta, the Gyalwang Karmapa rose and walked up the steps to the shrine of the small golden Buddha statue.
This year six video screens have been placed around the pavilion, enabling everyone to see what is happening in greater detail than ever before. Thus, for the first time, everyone was able to see the Gyalwang Karmapa assuming the role of chöpön and performing the rituals which accompany the first nine stages of the Twenty-Branch Monlam such as offering incense and pouring perfumed water over the golden Buddha. His task finished, Gyalwang Karmapa resumed his seat at the head of the assembly to lead the rest of the Twenty-Branch Monlam prayers.
Gyalwang Karmapa gave two special short commentaries on the prayers:
Session One: A short commentary on the Sutra in Three Sections
This sutra was translated into Tibetan during the time of King Trisong Detsen because it was judged to be one of ten sutras which the king should practise in order to purify his negative actions.
The Karmapa emphasised the importance of this sutra for its use in purifying the negative deeds accumulated by all of us from beginningless time, as we go from life to life, trapped in samsara, like water from the well. We have lived so many times, that we have lived in every place, and during that time we have accumulated so many negative actions lifetime after lifetime that the whole universe is too small to contain them. Unless they can be purified, they will ripen and cause us great suffering in the future. This is especially true for those of us who continue to commit negative actions even though we hold vows and have made promises to practice the dharma. Sometimes we may not know that what we are doing is wrong, but sometimes we commit misdeeds in spite of knowing. These negative deeds or downfalls, if they are not purified, can lead us to rebirth in the lower realms. As even the effects of a small negative deed can grow steadily stronger and negate our positive actions, it is essential to purify our negative actions daily.
In order to purify, we practice using the four powers or antidotes. The first antidote is the power of the object of support or reliance. In this sutra that support is the 35 Buddhas; even to hear their names, and to make offerings or prostrations will generate powerful purification. In order to do this we should visualise all 35 Buddhas in front of us, with Buddha Shakyamuni in the centre, surrounded by the others, seated in vajra posture, and visualise them as not separate from our own root guru. The second antidote is the power of regret. We need to develop deep regret for all our negative actions, as if we have eaten poison. The third antidote is the power of reparation. In this case we can recite or read the sutra. Finally, there is the power of resolution, resolving never to commit the deed again.
We cannot remember all our misdeeds, including the five heinous ones, but we can have the motivation to purify them. In the same way, we can have the motivation to purify all our negative actions of this lifetime, since childhood, those we remember and those we can’t remember.
It is impossible to help others when we are influenced by negative deeds, so we need to purify ourselves.
Session Three: Explanation of the Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct
During the third session, the Gyalwang Karmapa gave a brief teaching on the prayer titled, “The King of Aspirations: the Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct.” This is the aspiration prayer made by Samantabhadra, one of the eight bodhisattvas, and it is also known as a prayer made by all buddhas and bodhisattvas. The Karmapa taught:
The first section of the prayer encompasses the Seven Branch Prayer: prostrations and praise, offerings, confession, rejoicing, request to turn the wheel of Dharma, supplication not to pass into nirvana, and dedication. The purpose of the Seven Branches is to purify our mind streams, so it is very important. It is said that there are ten aspects to aspiration prayers, such as vowing to bring conduct to completion, to mature all living beings, and to wish that they all attain full awakening.
Since there was not enough time to explain all the verses, the Karmapa picked out a few key ones to focus on. The first:
May I always associate with those
Who act in harmony with my own conduct.
In body, speech, and mind may we behave
As one in conduct and in aspirations.
This verse is important for those who have taken vows. It is important that our thoughts and conduct be harmonious and that we rejoice in each other’s positive behavior. This is especially necessary these days when people take sides and are attached to their own positions.
The second verse he mentioned is:
In that fine, joyous mandala of the Victor,
I’ll take birth in a beautiful, great lotus.
I also will receive a prophecy
Directly from the Victor Amitabha.
This is a prayer everyone one can make, women and men, the lay and ordained. We make the wish to be reborn in the pure realm of Amitabha, which is possible if we continually make prayers and accumulate merit. Once we are born there, Amitabha will make a prophecy about when we will become a buddha.
Finally he felt that this famous verse of dedication is very important:
The brave Manjushri knows things as they are
As does, in the same way, Samantabhadra.
I fully dedicate all of these virtues
That I might train and follow in their example.
Even if we are good at making aspiration prayers, we should take the previous bodhisattvas as an example and follow after them. They are the model to show us how to dedicate merit. Since we are not yet realized, it is difficult to make a perfect dedication. What would this be? There is no concept of a person making the dedication, the dedication itself, and the act of making it.
It is also key that we relate these prayers to the depths of our hearts and minds, so they are not just words we are saying and lovely tunes we are chanting. We must blend their meaning together with our mind and then dedicate the merit wholeheartedly for the benefit of the teachings and all living beings. This is true for all prayers we make at Kagyu Monlam.
The Gyalwang Karmapa spent the whole day at the Monlam Pavilion and attended all four sessions of the prayers.