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