Activities of the Environmental Team during the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo



December 19, 2012



The seeds of the present day Environmental Team were planted many years ago when Drayang and Drolma Tsering joined forces to clean up the area around the Stupa during the Kagyu Monlam in 2003. According to Drayang, their job was to maintain the pure environment around the Bodhi  tree and minimize the damage to the Stupa and the ancient monuments surrounding it. At that time, a Thai Buddhist woman named A-wood made a lasting impression on Drayang when she pointed out that the Monlam participants were pouring the dregs of their salted butter tea and soft drinks on the grass under the Bodhi tree and she feared that this would have a deleterious effect on the longevity of the tree by seeping into the soil and damaging the tree’s roots. From that point on Drayang was committed to educating others about the importance of protecting the Bodhi tree as well as the Stupa environs.

From those humble beginnings, the Cleaning Team morphed into the present day Kagyu Monlam Environmental Team with  team leaders and approximately 36 dedicated annual helpers. Drolma Tsering, the original Cleaning Team leader for the Kagyu Monlam since the 1990s said, “We are lucky to have found this kind of job.”

Drayang and Drolma Tsering still take care of the Stupa area, but Drayang’s responsibilities have expanded to include supervising volunteers and Indian workers as well as overseeing the toilets and waste facilities at Tergar Monastery. Drolma’s responsibilities include organizing the light and flower offerings at the Stupa and Tergar, and caring for the Monlam Pavilion site that was established near Tergar in recent years.

Drayang said, “Our basic duty at Tergar is to pick up garbage wherever we see it and make sure the drainage system runs properly. It also involves seeing that the Indian workers clean the toilets on a daily basis and sweep the floors properly.” Although this may not sound like the most glamorous kind of work, it has made a huge difference in the experience of the thousands of people who attend the annual Kagyu Monlam.

Drayang recollected how he became inspired to address the public toilet issue when he was working at the Stupa with Drolma in the early years. “Besides helping to clean the entire puja assembly area, I spent a lot of efforts on keeping the public toilets tidy and efficient. Because huge numbers of the sangha needed access to the toilets during the breaks, I initiated a project to build extra temporary toilets exclusively for use during the Kagyu Monlam. I found sponsors for the construction of a curtained bathroom area for the monks to use so that they could have quick access without getting caught in the traffic jam near the regular toilets.” Impressed by Drayang’s efforts, Ven. Deenanand, the monk supervisor of Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee (BTMC), eventually took over funding and construction of the temporary toilets during subsequent Kagyu Monlams.

Drayang said that it took about six years to train the Indian workers to keep the toilet areas clean. “Now the local people work really hard and are truly part of our ongoing efforts in environmental protection. Recently I surprised them by showing up to spot check the toilets near the Stupa. They were quite clean and the floor was dry. I was so touched that tears ran down my face spontaneously. It took six arduous years of training but now they can work independently and one of the toilet cleaning staff was doing such a great job that he was recently promoted by the BTMC to work in the Temple Reception area.”

After the Gyalwang Karmapa took over supervision of the Kagyu Monlam in 2004, the Cleaning Team’s name was changed to the “Environmental Team” to reflect his burgeoning interest in environmental protection.

Drayang recalls how this name change came about. “Usually, once the Monlam was over, the staff would meet with the Karmapa to review that year and make plans for the future. During the meeting that year, I suggested that we change our team’s name from Cleaning Team to Environmental Protection Team.  The Karmapa wasn’t sure if this was a functional proposal or not, but after a few months of looking into it, he realized this concept of environmental protection was extremely important and timely and that there was great meaning behind the name change.” At the Monlam planning meeting  in March, the Karmapa announced that the Cleaning Team would henceforth be called the Environmental Team. Then, in September at another meeting, the Karmapa said to Drayang, “Set up your environmental protection team now.”

Drayang said, “The Karmapa felt that the Kagyu Monlam should slowly figure out how to put the concepts of environmental protection into practice. From that point on I started putting slogans around Bodhgaya urging people to protect the earth. With the help of the Lumbini Hotel’s manager I found a good local artist named Manish to make the signs. We made slogans in English and Hindi with beautiful illustrations reminding people to consume less water and electricity and asking them not to throw garbage on the ground or jam the toilets with paper.

Education is a big part of what we do. Incidentally, the very talented Indian artist Manish who made these signs for us was later asked by Chokyi Gyamtso to sculpt the large golden Buddha statue that was featured at last year’s Kagyu Monlam.”

Once the concern for environmental protection was firmly aroused the Karmapa initiated the startup of Khoryug in 2009 headed by Dekila Chungyalpa. She had been invited by Karmapa to serve as the Kagyu Monlam’s environmental advisor but then Khoryug spun off as an independent organization comprised of 36  monasteries with their own meetings and programs (www.khoryug.com). In addition to founding Khoryug, the Karmapa began holding annual conferences on environmental protection to educate all the Karma Kagyu monasteries and centers. He published a booklet calledOne Hundred and Eight Things You Can Do to Help the Environment that has been translated into several languages and distributed worldwide.

Last but not least, Karma Tseyang joined the Kagyu Monlam Environmental Team in 2007 and has worked on different projects such as establishing a roof-top  garden for the Gyalwang Karmapa's quarters,  removing  rubbish  from the   area surrounding the monastery. This year shewill be  supervising  the cleaning  of some areas within the Kagyu Monlam.

2012.12.19 Activities of the Environmental Team during the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo

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