History of Kagyu Monlam - Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche




When we intend to listen to the teachings, we should generate the proper motivation, the altruistic mind of bodhichitta.
All the buddhas of the past, entering the path, expressed their motivation. Likewise, the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, when he entered the path, he uttered five hundred aspiration prayers. Thanks to the power of his prayers he was able to, in the times of Kali-Yuga, turn the Wheel of Dharma and manifest the Twelve Great Deeds. Similarly, all the buddhas manifest their activities as a result of the power of their previous prayers.
We gathered here in order to recite aspiration prayers known as the Kagyu Monlam. The practice of group prayers was held by all Karmapas, in all of their incarnations. The tradition flourished particularly during the times of the 7th Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso. When he was residing in the Pongpo area in Tibet he used to call prayer meetings during which not only prayers were recited but also performances of traditional Tibetan operas were organized, particularly those depicting the histories of great kings who were the incarnations of Bodhisattvas known as Kala Wangpo Kings.
His Holiness personally supervised these meetings and laid down the programme. During the Monlam ceremony, everyone could receive the Karmapa’s direct blessing. These kinds of events are described in detail in the "Life stories of the Karmapas."
Monlam prayers took place not only at the seat of the Karmapa, Tsurphu. In those times the Karmapa along with a huge entourage traveled from place to place. All the monks and lay people camped in tents like nomads. This peregrine camp was called dzam ling gar chen (literally "big camp of the world"). Kagyu Monlam was therefore held in tents, and moved from place to place and was held on various occasions, for example, during the first Tibetan month, which is called dawa bum gyur ("the month when everything is multiplied a hundred thousand times") and is the month in which the Buddha performed miracles, or in the fourth month saga dawa when Buddha’s birth, awakening and passing into Parinirvana are commemorated. Thus Kagyu Monlam was practiced in various places and at different times.
The scriptures say that during those prayers, monks and lamas should be wearing hats called in Tibetan tse sha, which literary means "pointed hat." This tradition began with Deshek Phagmo Drubpa, the great master of ceremony. The yellow hat was a traditional head cover in his monastery. You have certainly noticed that Tenga Rinpoche and Sangtrul Rinpoche wear different hats, red ones. They are traditional hats for the Kagyu school of Buddhism, called sha tra ("multicoloured hat") also used in other sub-schools like Drikung Kagyu and Drugpa Kagyu. Depending on the tradition they can differ a little but those are the proper meditation hats of the Kagyupa lineage.
The great Kagyu Monlam ceremonies have been organized for a long time. Nowadays, His Eminence Drubwang Kalu Rinpoche, a great master of Kagyu lineage considered to be a second Milarepa, who has achieved all experiences and realization, went through great hardships of practice for the benefit of others and gained extraordinary proficiency in leading students. Led by great love and compassion for his students, he put a lot of effort into establishing a tradition of carrying out the Kagyu Monlam prayer festival every year in Bodh Gaya or Vajrasana in India.
When Kalu Rinpoche left his body, one of his principal spiritual sons – Khyabje Bokar Rinpoche, continued to organize these prayers in Bodh Gaya for many years.
Recently, the embodiment of the activities of all buddhas,  Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Thinley Dorje arrived safely in India and manifested an activity that is the fulfillment of prayers and the fulfillment of aspirations of all the previous Karmapas. In his great compassion, for the benefit of sentient beings he carried on and greatly expanded the annual Monlam prayer ceremony in Bodh Gaya. Because these events are so special, I urge anyone who might have time and possibility to travel to India and take part in them.
Bodh Gaya is believed to have accumulated five exceptional excellent conditions. First of all, it is a perfect place. All among the thousand buddhas of our Good Kalpa will achieve enlightenment there. Those who manifested themselves up until now are: the first Buddha of our kalpa, Krakuchandra, the second Buddha Kanakamuni, then Buddha Kasyapa and the Buddha of our times, Shakyamuni - they all reached Awakening in Bodh Gaya.
Secondly, it is the perfect time. Kagyu Monlam always takes place during the eleventh Tibetan month, according to the lunar calendar, and the tenth day of this month is the last day of the Monlam. It is a very particular month when King Trisong Detsen invited Guru Padmasambhava to come from India to Tibet and asked him for a special teaching. Guru Rinpoche turned the Wheel of Dharma for twenty five disciples giving them empowerments and deep teachings known as Kagye Chökyi Gyatso. He gave this special transmission exactly on the tenth day of the eleventh month.
Thirdly, the perfect teacher is there. Who is he? His story began many kalpas ago, when King Rashtrapati (sanskr.) was ruling. He had many sons. The youngest one, Dharmapati was very special. He had so much love and compassion that seeing suffering of sentient beings, he wanted to liberate them, leading them to the state of buddhahood. He went for a retreat to the peak of Mount Meru where he remained in deep samadhi for many years. Through this practice over time he reached full stability in samadhi, purified all the defilements and obscurations of his mind and realized the ultimate truth, the nature of Dharmadhatu. Then, all the buddhas of ten directions came from their Pure Lands, appeared in front of him and said: "Full of devotion son of our heart, from now on you will perform the activity of all the buddhas." Saying that, they gave him the name Karmapa (karma means "activity" or "to act"), or "the one who is the embodiment of the activity of all the buddhas." Then one hundred thousand Dakinis from three worlds appeared before the Karmapa and said unanimously: "You are the one who performs the activity of a Buddha. As a sign of that you will be crowned" and each of them gave him a single hair from her head and they wove a crown out of those hair. Then they put the crown on his head. From this time on, the Karmapa has the crown above his head, but it can be seen only by those who have purified their minds and removed obscurations and significantly diminished negative karma. We ourselves, if we have enough belief and devotion we will be able to see the Karmapa as a real Buddha. So, talking about perfect teacher, I mean His Holiness the Karmapa himself.
Fourth, we have the excellent retinue. The most important person among those who accompany His Holiness the Karmapa is Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, who every year participates in Kagyu Monlam. He is a very special person: his incarnation will be the last of the thousand buddhas of our kalpa named Ruchika (tib. Möpa Nangdze).
Bodhisattva Vajrapani is the embodiment of the power of all the buddhas. Gyaltsab Rinpoche, another teacher who comes every year to the celebrations in Bodh Gaya is the incarnation of Vajrapani.
Along with these two precious masters, the Kagyu Monlam is always attended by many lamas, tulkus, khenpos and fully ordained monks and nuns – in total 6-7,000 people accompany His Holiness. They make this perfect retinue.
The last, fifth perfection is the perfect Dharma. The set of prayers recited during this gathering was personally selected by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. The main one is the Zang Chö Monlam prayer ("The Aspiration for Noble Excellent Conduct") taken from a sutra, which are the words of Buddha Shakyamuni himself. Many other sutras are recited like the "King of Glorious Sutras, the Sublime Golden Light." Apart from sutras taught by the Buddha himself, this collection includes also many other sutras and prayers written by many who have achieved realization: a prayer by Maitreya, Avalokiteshvara, prayers of the great Indian Masters like Nagarjuna, Dharmakirti and Asanga.

Moreover, His Holiness the Karmapa placed in this collection prayers written by great masters of the past, who were fathers of all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. We will find texts from the Nyingmapa tradition, texts of the great master Longchenpa. From the Sakyapa tradition, there is a prayer by Sakya Pandita - Sachen Kunga Nyingpo. From the Kagyu tradition there are prayers written by the 1st Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa and the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje. From Gelukpa tradition there are prayers by Je Tsongkhapa.


To sum up briefly, what is the message of all the Monlam prayers, it should be said that it is above all the wish to bring great benefit to all sentient beings, for all beings to purify their contaminations and obscurations, negative emotions and stop creating seeds of future suffering. There are also prayers for all good to flourish, in particular to achieve the two kayas: the formless Dharmakaya for our own benefit and form kayas for the benefit for others.
So, if we can take part in the full Kagyu Monlam ceremony, that is truly wonderful, we are very lucky. If it is not possible, let's try to go there for a day or few days at least, to participate in prayers and listen to the deep teachings. Let's remember, that we have that precious body, we have good conditions and we should use them well, for doing good. Let's do not forget about it.

 Speech by Tenga Rinpoche given at the first Kagyu Monlam in Grabnik in 2010.

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