The Great Examination of Monastic Forms
Tergar Monastery Shrine Room
19 December, 2014
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.