Kagyu Monlam Hosts Children for Republic Day Celebration

Monlam Pavilion,
26 January, 2015

The children live in the Elizabeth Children’s Home, which is run by the Jesus Christ of Compassion Charitable Society. In what was a very special treat, they gathered with their teachers in the Monlam Pavilion, drank mango juice and munched biscuits. In addition each child received a new woollen blanket.  As part of Indian Republic Day celebrations, International Kagyu Monlam CEO Lama Chodrak organised a small party for thirty children from the local Christian orphanage.

The culmination of the celebration, however, was when the Gyalwang Karmapa himself came over to the pavilion especially to meet the children.


In Praise of Bhikshunis: A Ritual for the Nuns’ Dharma to Flourish

20 January 2015, Tergar Monastery

During the Second Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering, the Gyalwang Karmapa led a special ritual that he himself had composed, making powerful aspirations in support of all female practitioners and particularly for the flourishing of the nuns’ dharma.
Blending his voice with those of the female chantmasters, the Karmapa led the gathering through a recitation drawn from the ‘Sutra of Repaying Kindness, Great Skill in Means’, in praise of the qualities of nine exceptional Bhikshunis who were the direct disciples of the Buddha. “May we have the merit to uphold the teachings properly like the Buddha’s mother, the elder Bhikshuni Mahaprajapati Gautami,” the verse began.
    “May we be supreme among all with prajna and confidence like Bhikshuni Kshema,
    May we be supreme among all with miraculous powers like Bhikshuni Utpalavarna,
    May we be supreme among teachers like Bhikshuni Dharmadatta,
    May we be supreme among those who uphold the vinaya like Krsa Gautami,
    May we be supreme among those who discern the sutras like Bhikshuni Kachangala,
    May we be supreme among those who have memorized what they heard like Bhikshuni Soma,
    May we be supreme among those who generate merit like Bhikshuni Supriya,
    May we be supreme among those with restraint like Bhikshuni Yasodhara.”
The bhikshunis described in this verse each practiced and attained great accomplishment under the Buddha’s guidance, and all reached the level of Arhat (or ‘Arhantini’, as female Arhats are known in Sanskrit). Therefore, this beautiful verse serves as a powerful inspiration for nuns and female practitioners today, who may look up to these female Arhantinis as outstanding examples.
The three-hour-long ritual has now become a key event during the nuns’ Winter Dharma Gathering. Called ‘A Ritual for Women’s and Especially Nuns’ Dharma to Flourish, Based on the Inseparability of Noble Chenrezig and Noble Ananda’, it was specially composed by the Gyalwang Karmapa before the inaugural Arya Kshema gathering in 2014. It includes the Mahayana Sojong ritual, recitations from the ‘Bhikshunivibhanga’ and other vinaya scriptures, as well as supplications to Ananda and verses of auspiciousness.
At times spontaneously leading the puja, together with the female chantmasters, the Gyalwang Karmapa also led another recitation drawn from the same ‘Sutra of Repaying Kindness, Great Skill in Means’, which relates the story of how Mahaprajapati, the Buddha’s own step-mother, first requested the Buddha to allow women to go forth and ordain. After the Buddha’s initial refusal of her request, his attendant Ananda then interceded and requested the Buddha on their behalf, to which the Buddha finally agreed. It was due to Ananda’s kindness that women were allowed to ordain, the Buddha said, and therefore in the future both Bhikshunis and laywomen should think of Ananda with their whole hearts.
“They should respect him, serve him, call him by name, and continually be grateful to him. They should not forget him in the six periods of day and night, and remember him,” the sutra reads.
It then describes how if a woman takes the Mahayana Sojong precepts with full concentration and diligence on certain auspicious days, it is prophesied that Ananda will protect her and accomplish her wishes through miraculous powers.
The sutra continues that just as in the past Ananda requested the Buddha to allow women to go forth and enter the teachings, it was prophesied that in the future he would be the supreme guardian for all those women who have faith in the dharma.
“May every woman in the world’s physical and mental harms and sufferings be pacified, and may they gain independence and complete powers and abilities,” the sutra says. “May all women who go forth perfect the aggregate of discipline that pleases the Nobles, and complete their study and teaching of the three baskets of scriptures, and their meditation practice of the three trainings.”
During the puja an exquisite thangka of Avalokitesvara was prominently placed above the Gyalwang Karmapa’s throne. Avalokitesvara was depicted in Indian style: standing, clothed in a saffron-colored lower-garment, with the Bhikshu Ananda emanating from his open right-hand palm and resting in space. The image was a beautiful visual illustration of the inseparability of Avalokitesvara—the Buddha of compassion—and Ananda.
Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche also took part, seated on thrones to the Gyalwang Karmapa’s right and left, heading the first two rows of nuns. Throughout the puja, the gathering of nuns, monks and laypeople united in their aspirations for the nuns’ dharma to prosper, with supplications specifically for dispelling obstacles and unfavorable conditions as well as for protection.


The Nuns Prove Themselves in Debate

January 24, 2015
 Tergar Monastery

For the final event of the Second Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering, the Tergar shrine hall has been set up with tables for the defenders, set across the center aisle in front of the Karmapa’s throne, and with a microphone for the challengers who will stand two thirds of the way back towards the shrine door. This is to keep the challengers, who can get quite enthusiastic as a group, at a certain distance from the defenders.

The young Druppön Dechen Rinpoche sits at the head of the first row of teachers and khenpos. In a previous lifetime, when he was the guide for the Karmapa’s seat at Tsurphu in Tibet, Druppön Dechen Rinpoche was very kind to a group of nuns who had no home. He generously gave them teachings and also a place to stay at Tsurphu; several of them came to live in the famous caves of the previous Karmapas, located on the middle circumambulation path. His tulku seems to be continuing his support of nuns in this next life, too.
This evening is the culmination of the daily debating that has happened since the nuns arrived. The three responders (those sitting on the ground) are nuns from Tara Abby (Thrangu Rinpoche), Karma Drubdey (Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso), and Samten Ling (Gyalpo Rinpoche). The challengers, who number up to sixteen, are from Tilokpur Nunnery (the Gyalwang Karmapa), Dongyu Gatsal Ling (Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo), and Ralang Nunnery (H.E. Gyaltsap Rinpoche).
To begin, at the back of the central aisle, the three nuns place their yellow cockade hats curved like crescent moons on the red carpet in front of them. After three bows, they walk up the aisle to offer a kata to the Karmapa’s table and then take their seats facing the challengers. As usual, the first challenger begins with a dialogue that establishes the definitions of the terms, in this initial case, it is the category of relationship, which actually deals with cause and effect.
After the nuns have been debating for a while, one of the khenpos on the side joins in the animated exchange to challenge the defending nun and then another teacher adds his voice. She, however, remains unflappable, responding to them both with aplomb and a smile. The debate moves through the classic territory of the reasoning on being one or many—the key analytical tool used in Chandrakirti’s Entering the Middle Way. “Do phenomena have a single essence or not?” “Is the essential nature of permanence and impermanence the same or separate?” “If it’s the same, then give me an example of something that is both impermanent and permanent!” And when the answer was slow in coming, the challenging nuns took up a chorus of Chir! Chir! Chir! Give your reason! The debate was energetic and, just as the monks do, one nun wraps her zen (stole) around her waist (the equivalent of rolling up your sleeves) and leans into her hand claps that punctuate her statements. A round of enthusiastic applause greets the end of the debate.
The next group of defenders comes forth, bows, and walks down the aisle to offer their katas to the Karmapa, who keeps them as a special sign of an auspicious connection. The topic now is universals and particulars. The nuns again start the discussion with definitions and then move into the substance of the debate: “If it’s a thing, it follows that it’s not a universal.” Again the debate is lively and the nuns again demonstrate that they are at home in this new form they have only been studying for two years. At the end, a single nun comes forth to close the debate. She mentions that Dharma is essential for happiness and joy, and that the benefit of debate is that it can help lead us all the way to the level of Buddhahood.
After a break, the Karmapa speaks, first showing a beautiful new logo for the Arya Kshema gathering. It shows three nuns, their curving robes shaped like individual lotus petals; underneath on the right and left are quick, pointed strokes indicating the leaves and grounding the image. After welcoming everyone, the Karmapa notes that there were many different activities and they all went well because people were working harmoniously together. We should all take joy in the fact that we could be here. The Karmapa also praises the nuns saying that this is only the second gathering of the nuns and the monks had gathered eighteen times; however, the nuns had improved at a much faster rate than the monks. All the nuns should rejoice in this and the Karmapa offered his thanks as well.



Dewachen (Sukhavati) Prayer Chanted by the 17th Karmapa

ÉMAHO! Wondrous Buddha of Boundless Light,

On your right, the Lord of Great Compassion,

And on your left, the Bodhisattva of Great Power,

All are surrounded by countless buddhas and bodhisattvas.

There is wonderful, immeasurable happiness and joy

In this realm called Sukhavati.

The moment I pass from this life,

Without taking another birth,

May I be born there and behold the face of Amitabha.

Having made this aspiration,

May all the buddhas and bodhisattvas of  the ten directions

Give their blessing that it be fulfilled without hindrances.


Victors and your children of the ten directions and three times, think of me.

I rejoice in the completion of the two accumulations.

All the virtue I have gathered throughout the three times, 

I offer to the Three Jewels.

May the teachings of the Victorious Ones flourish.

I dedicate virtue to all sentient beings.

May they all attain buddhahood.

May all roots of virtue, collected into one,

Ripen in my mental continuum.

May the two obscurations be purified and the accumulations be perfected.

May there be long life, no illness, and deepening experience and realization.

May I traverse the ten bodhisattva levels in this life.

At the moment of passing from this life,

May I immediately be born in Sukhavati.

Once born there, may the lotus open,

And may I attain buddhahood with that body.

Having attained awakening,

May I forever guide beings with emanations.


The Ceremony to Introduce and Recognize Bokar Rinpoche’s Reincarnation

21 January 2015, Tergar Monastery Bodhgaya.
A crescendo of anticipation has built up to this most special day when Bokar Rinpoche’s reincarnation (yangsi) will be presented to the world. The day before, the Gyalwang Karmapa had announced:
    Tomorrow is the first day of twelfth Tibetan month so we’ll recite the smoke offering (sang) puja, Billowing Clouds of Amrita. Also tomorrow morning—and we’ve waited for this a long time, more than ten years—finally at 10am Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche will be introduced. At that time, we’ll recite the Prostrations and Offerings to the Sixteen Elders. This ceremony will be broadcast over a live webcast so that many disciples of Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche will be able to see it and participate.
In preparation for this momentous event, the Karmapa spent hours the evening before in the shrine room making sure that everything was perfect. A small throne covered in bright brocades is set up between Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Khenpo Rinpoche Lodrö Donyö from Bokar Rinpoche’s monastery in Mirik, who has carried the responsibility of caring for the monastery and finding the reincarnation ever since Bokar Rinpoche passed away in 2004.
For hours, the Karmapa supervised the arranging of a richly laden altar and the adorning of the grand statue of the Buddha with new robes, their golden light a shimmering river in the center of the shrine. Every detail was considered again and again; even the offerings filling the Buddha’s alms bowl are renewed. The final touch is a twenty-five foot long white kata laid across the lap of the Buddha as the last offering.
On the twenty-first starting at 7am, the sang puja by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye is performed with nuns in the lead and taking up most of the shrine hall, which seems appropriate given the previous Bokar Rinpoche’s devotion to Tara. The puja visualization fills all of space with a multitude of offerings made to the buddhas down through all levels of beings; no one worthy is left out, nothing suitable to offer is not given. Afterward the Karmapa bestows a reading transmission for the beautiful long life prayer he wrote for the yangsi in three stanzas: one for his past life, one for the present, and one for the future. It is a prayer that will follow Bokar Rinpoche throughout this life and the numerous ones to follow.
After this preparation, the ceremony for Bokar Rinpoche begins a little after 10am with the entrance of the Karmapa, who walks to his throne with great dignity, regal like the king of Dharma that he is. The Karmapa is famous for recognizing tulkus, perhaps his most amazing ability. Since his coming to India, Bokar is the third reincarnate lama he has recognized, and perhaps the first tulku recognition and hair cutting ceremony to be webcast live. Over six thousand people from all over the world will connect through the web.
As a prelude to describing the search for him, comes an eloquent praise of Bokar Rinpoche, which is also a profound Dharma teaching. Three monks standing near the Karmapa give the words in Tibetan, English, and Chinese.
    Skilled in means, from compassion you took birth as a Shakyan;
    You vanquished Mara’s forces while others could not.
    Your body resplendent as a golden Mount Meru,
    O King of the Shakyas, grant us goodness.
The ultimate nature of all phenomena, the nature of our mind, the potential of buddha nature, is just the way it is described:
    Just as before, so is it later,
    The unchanging Dharma nature.
It is free of arising, ceasing, or changing. The bodhisattvas who dwell on the levels are free of birth, death, aging, or decline.
    The noble ones have abandoned completely
    The suffering of death, disease, and aging.
    Birth is due to karma and afflictions.
    Since they are free of those, they are free of that.
Yet for the buddhas and bodhisattvas to accomplish limitless benefit for living beings:
    Those whose character is compassion
    Display birth, death, aging, and illness.
As this shows, they display the inconceivable illusion of birth. This is the nature of buddhas and bodhisattvas, and thus is it now with the reincarnation of Bokar Rinpoche, the glory of Buddhism and of sentient beings.
After this, Khenpo Rinpoche Lodro Donyo is invited to relate the essential facts of the search for the reincarnation of Bokar Rinpoche. [add in link to the official report] After this was translated into English and Chinese, the three monks continued to relate in three languages: “Gyalwang Karmapa is the embodiment of the activity of all the buddhas of the past, present, and future, Avalokiteshvara in human form. The nature and manifestations of all phenomena appear clearly in the mirror of his wisdom. So we would ask him to speak about the reincarnation of Bokar Rinpoche.”
In response, the Gyalwang Karmapa reads his letter of recognition which is included in the account of the search. He then dons his black and gold activity hat, and the practice of the Sixteen Elders (or Arhats) begins. These elders are known as the protectors of the Dharma, and the words of the text are particularly appropriate for this occasion:
    Sixteen Elders, you have cast aside your own welfare
    And remain in the jungle of samsara for the benefit of others.
    Come here through your commitment and compassion….
    I invite you to this garden of precious merit.
    I pray that you come since my offerings are for beings’ benefit.
At this point in the text, the chanting stops, and the sound of reed horns is heard coming from the back of the Pavilion. Preceded by monks wearing yellow cockade hats, the yangsi in a golden yellow, full length chupa walks down the main aisle to stand in front of the Karmapa. Here, he performs three bows on a square of yellow brocade framed in red. With these the traditional hair cutting ceremony begins. The yangsi offers the Karmapa a long white kata and receives one back. He makes the traditional offering of a mandala, and the representations of body (a statue), speech (a text), and mind (a stupa) to the Karmapa.
Afterward, the young Bokar Rinpoche sits on the square of brocade in front of the Karmapa to receive refuge vows and the precepts from him. After three more bows, he stands near the throne while the Karmapa cuts a piece of his hair, blesses him with water from an ornate vase, and reads out the formal proclamation of young tulku’s recognition and new name:
    I hereby recognize Karma Palden Lodrö Chökyi Gyaltsen Chok Tamche Le Nampar Gyalway Lha, whose father is named Tensang and whose mother, known as Jama Ama, is actually named Yardren, from the village of Dilkhyim in the North Sikkim District of India, as the Third Bokar Rinpoche.
    Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje
    in the Wood Horse Year, 21 January 2015
The inspiring name translates as Karma Glorious Intellect, Victory Banner of the Dharma, Divine One Utterly Victorious Over All. The yangsi now receives a kata and red blessing cord from the Karmapa, which completes this first major ceremony in a tulku’s life. The yangsi then turns to offer a kata to Gyaltsap Rinpoche, who gives him a wrapped present, and to Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, next to whom the newly recognized Bokar Rinpoche takes his seat on the throne that waits for him.
As the puja starts again, its refrain takes on added meaning after the recognition:
    Grant your blessing that the gurus live long,
    And that the Dharma flourish.
Khenpo Rinpoche Lodro Donyo leads the representatives from Mirik Monastery in offering a mandala and representations of body, speech, and mind to his new student and old teacher. The longer the young reincarnation sits on his throne the more comfortable he seems, as if he is settling into a familiar world; he touches foreheads with some of the monks and blesses other fully with his child’s hand, old and young at once. Actually, it is Khenpo Rinpoche at his side who seems younger, almost childlike in his great delight and joy to be sitting next to his beloved teacher at last.
Before the end, the puja is paused for a festive offering of tea and rice. During the silence, the discipline master of the nuns reads out the names of the donors on this auspicious day and elaborate praises of the new yangsi. Streams of offerings continue and the ceremony ends with long life prayers for the Gyalwang Karmapa, whose brilliant and inconceivable wisdom has made this day possible.


Bokar Rinpoche Yangsi Pays Homage at the Mahabodhi Stupa

Mahabodhi Stupa, Bodhgaya,
22 January, 2015

The morning following his recognition ceremony at Tergar, the 3rd Bokar Rinpoche Yangsi,   dressed in the traditional golden brocade chuba of a Rinpoche, visited the Mahabodhi Stupa for the very first time.

Accompanied by Khenpo Lodrö Dönyo Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche Yangsi arrived at the stupa mid-morning, and was welcomed at the entrance by a representative of the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee. Also in the entourage were Kagyu Monlam CEO Lama Chodrak, monks from his monastery at Mirik near Darjeeling, and lay disciples of the previous Bokar Rinpoche from overseas dharma centres.


Nuns Train to be Health Workers

Second Arya Kshema Winter Gathering Bodhgaya,
12-19 January, 2015

During the Second Arya Kshema Winter Gathering, instead of attending the teachings and debates, a group of 28 nuns have been following   a special programme. Drawn from seven nunneries–Ralang and Tilokpur in India, Karma Leksheyling, Tara Abbey, Osel Karma Thekchöling and  Samten Ling in Nepal  and Drubde Palmo Chökyi Dingkhang in Bhutan– the nuns spent eight days studying basic heaIthcare and how to respond to medical emergencies.

The programme was born out of a meeting between the Gyalwang Karmapa and Dr. Jeffrey Chen, CEO of the Taiwanese NGO Taiwan Health Corps. The Gyalwang Karmapa had been considering initiatives for improving both the health and healthcare of nuns and Dr. Chen was interested in developing a programme of rural health worker training in monasteries and nunneries.

The team of ten health professionals from Taiwan Health Corps, who came especially to Bodhgaya to give the training, included a surgeon, a   gynaecologist, a family physician, a dentist, a doctor trained in traditional Chinese medicine and two senior nurses.  Dr. Dawa from the Kagyu Monlam health team acted as adviser and translator.  

To correct any misunderstandings the nuns might have, the course opened with a session on anatomy. This was followed by an overview of minor ailments such as constipation, colds and flu, fevers, stomach upsets, headaches, parasites, and anaemia, and  suggestions about primary interventions which might be sufficient, such as commonly  available medicines and supplements.  The nuns found this session particularly valuable.

 "Now we know what to do," explained one nun. "If someone has a minor illness, there is no need to send them to the doctor immediately.  For example, if they have diarrhoea, we can use rehydration and monitor what happens."  A session on pharmacology ensured that they knew how to administer medicines, their side effects, allergic reactions and dangers.

The bulk of the course, however, comprised very practical "hands on" sessions, where the nuns learned basic first aid and what to do in medical emergencies: resuscitation, how to stop or reduce bleeding, using splints to immobilise broken bones, bandaging wounds, checking head injuries and assessing burns.

They practised CPR on specially designed dummies– a green light it up when they managed to do chest compressions correctly–and were surprised at the degree of force necessary.  "You do have to break ribs sometimes," a doctor warned them.  When it came to splinting a broken leg, they devised a way to preserve a monk or nun’s modesty by immobilising both legs with a splint tied on the outside of the robes. While learning to do the Heimlich Manoeuvre  [used when people choke],   they burst into laughter every time someone succeeded in popping the cork forcefully from the mock chest bag they were using to practise the technique.

"We can help many people by learning this," commented a young nun from Nepal, "Not just in the nunnery, but outside in the community too."

Another session that the nuns found particularly helpful was on women’s health. In order for the nuns to feel comfortable and able to talk openly, only the gynaecologist attended, and one of the nuns translated from English to Tibetan. After a general introduction, the nuns were free to ask whatever they wanted, and they did, raising a wide range of issues from their own personal experience and that of family and friends. Everyone agreed that this was a major source of health problems and worry in their nunneries, and that their new knowledge would be of immediate benefit when helping and advising other nuns.

A brief description of traditional Chinese medicine was included in the course too.

On the penultimate day there were further practical sessions, revising all the techniques which the nuns had been taught and an informal assessment of their skills. Both students and teachers felt that everyone had learnt a lot and had a lot of fun in the process; all the nuns were keen to learn more about health care and requested further training.  Finally, on the last morning, the nuns, with their trainers, had a surprise audience with the Gyalwang Karmapa, who presented every nun with a certificate of course completion.

NGO Taiwan Health Corps, whose motto is We do it for love, have worked previously with the Root Institute in Bodhgaya, a Buddhist monastery in Bangladesh, and have run projects in Nepal, Turkestan and West Africa. This was their first time working with nuns and everyone was impressed by how much enthusiasm and effort the nuns put into the course. They hope to continue the programme over three years, across nunneries and monasteries in the Himalayan region specifically, with the aim of supporting essential healthcare in remote areas and small communities.