The Great Examination of Monastic Forms

Tergar Monastery Shrine Room
19 December, 2014

An annual feature of the Kagyu Monlam is the examination of monks and nuns beforehand. His Holiness usually supervises this event personally, as part of his emphasis that the monks and nuns have a great responsibility to maintain the dignity of the Sangha. Because of preparations for the empowerment to be held the following day at the Pavilion, the test was relocated at the last moment to the shrine room at Tergar which created some difficulties. There were too many monks and nuns to squeeze into that space, so, initially, the nuns were forced to sit outside to wait their turn.  In the past, selected monks and nuns from participating monasteries and nunneries have been called up to be tested. This year the test was extended to include everyone.

A central space in the shrine room had been cleared and carpeted. Five stern-faced Khenpos sat at the head, their duty to examine each monastery and nunnery turn-by-turn and award percentage marks for performance.

At the beginning of the examination, the Gyalwang Karmapa arrived and gave a short talk on the importance of maintaining high standards of dress and behaviour. Many people would be watching the monks and nuns during the Monlam, he warned. To dress too casually, to behave inappropriately, or to wear the robes incorrectly gave a bad impression which reflected on the whole Sangha.

Then, one-by-one, the monasteries and nunneries were called up to face the judges. Standing in rows of six, the monks and nuns were asked to demonstrate that they knew how to wear all the robes properly, with the jacket tucked in, and the sen placed neatly covering the left arm and shoulder but angled over the right shoulder, leaving the right arm bare. They had to demonstrate how to put on the yellow prayer shawl, and how to perform prostrations from both standing and kneeling positions, wearing the prayer shawls. They also had to show that they could walk in a dignified way with hands folded in front of them, and recite the tea offering prayers

Gelongs had additional tasks. Because of their important roles in the Kangyur and Alms processions during the Monlam, they had to demonstrate that they could walk holding a sacred text correctly and alms bowl correctly.

The monks and nuns sat around nervously awaiting their turn, but then, as the day wore on, and no one failed the test, their anxiety faded.

The following day, in front of His Holiness the Sakya Trizin, all their training and the test were justified, as several thousand Sangha, bright yellow prayer shawls contrasting with their maroon robes, bowed and prostrated as one.

2014.12.19 The Great Examination of Monastic Forms 威儀大會考


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