The Akshobhya Retreat Begins

Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya

November 9, 2014

The purpose of the International Kagyu Monlam is to generate peace and well-being in the world, and each year the Akshobhya Buddha ritual cycle, culminating in a purification fire ritual [Tib. Jang Sek] on the penultimate evening of the Monlam, plays an important role in this. The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa has commended this practice as particularly suitable during the 21st century because of the increase in negative forces worldwide, and integrated it into the Monlam.

Each year he gathers a group of dedicated practitioners to take part in a special, preparatory retreat, held in the small shrine room, opposite his living quarters on the roof of Tergar Monastery. The Karmapa joins in the retreat as much as his schedule allows, personally supervising the arrangements for the retreat and instructing the retreatants on the practice. Last year His Holiness extended  the Akshobhya retreat to forty days, and this year’s retreat also follows that pattern. The retreatants received the empowerments for the retreat on 8th November and the retreat proper began on the 9th November. It will finish on 18th December.  During this time, retreatants will complete six practice sessions daily, starting at 6.00 am each morning and extending until 8.30 pm, and recite the Akshobhya dharani mantra 100,000 times. They will also receive private teachings and instructions from the Gyalwang Karmapa each day.

The schedule for the retreat:

Session I      6:00–7:30 am

Session II 8:00–9:30 am

Session III        10:00–11:30 am

Session IV       1:30–3:00 pm

Session V 3:30–5:00 pm

Instructions    6:30–7:00 pm

Session VI       7:00–8:30 pm

This year’s  thirty-one retreatants – six nuns,  fifteen monks and ten laypeople –  are all required to keep strict Mahayana sojong vows during the retreat.  They stay together in a local guesthouse within walking distance of Tergar Monastery. Their meals, consisting of breakfast and lunch only, are prepared specially by a small team of cooks and eaten in the company of His Holiness.

Known as Mitrugpa in Tibetan [the one who never becomes disturbed by anger or aggression], Akshobhya Buddha is one of the five Dhyani Buddhas.  According to the story, there  was once a devout and sincere monk, who asked Lord Buddha, “What is the most important thing to do in order to attain enlightenment?” Lord Buddha answered, “Don’t get angry! Don’t let your mind be disturbed!” And so the monk made a vow: “From this moment on I will never get angry with anybody,” and henceforth he was known as Mitrugpa –and, eventually, attained buddhahood.

According to the Buddhist teachings the present age is one of degeneration when all beings in samsara – the cycle of existence – are in a state of continual suffering because of negative thoughts and actions. The Akshobhya  ritual is a very powerful purification practice done for the benefit of all sentient beings. It can liberate not only the practitioners themselves from the fear of an unfortunate rebirth, but other beings as well.  Akshobhya Buddha promised that the merit generated by reciting his long dharani mantra 100,000 times and making an image of him could be dedicated to both the living and the dead, assuring their release from lower states of existence and rebirth in spiritually fortunate circumstances.


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