The Lama Chöpa: Kagyu Monlam Celebrates the Gurus
4 January, 2015
Unseen by most of those who attend the Monlam, the Karmapa had worked into the early hours of the morning supervising preparations for the final day of Monlam prayers. Satisfied, that everything met his high standards, he had finally left the Monlam Pavilion at 2.00am.
When people arrived for Mahayana Sojong at 5.45am, the stage had been transformed yet again, into a multicultural, visually stunning celebration of the Buddhist Dharma, the Kagyu tradition and the Monlam itself.
The sixteen Chinese-style auspicious banners of the Arhats which had headed the Alms Procession the day before now lined the wings either side of the main stage, and the lowest tiers were brightened by bouquets of fresh flowers, huge chrysanthemum blooms in deep purples, whites and yellows. On the second tier, three low thrones had been placed, for the Gyalwang Karmapa and his two heart sons, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche. The rows of gelongs sitting on the steps had been reduced from three to two, and between the second and third tier, to left and right, a new array of offerings in three rows had been arranged for the Offering to the Gurus. The first two rows comprised pyramids of persimmons, green grapes, red apples, and oranges, heaped onto silver and golden stands. Above them on the third row were two long tables. To the left were the eight auspicious symbols: the white conch; the precious umbrella; the victory banner; the golden fish; the Dharma wheel; the sacred knot; the lotus; and the treasure vase. On the right were the seven articles of royalty: the precious wheel, the precious jewel, the precious queen, the precious minister, the precious elephant, the precious horse and the precious general.
The morning session began with Mahayana Sojong given by Gyaltsab Rinpoche; a fitting end to this Monlam in which he has played a greater role than previously. His Holiness came for the second session, the first part of the Offering to the Gurus.
The offerings are made at the wooden pagoda shrine on the third tier, inside which a golden image of the baby Buddha stands. This image reflects the story of the Buddha’s birth at Lumbini. According to the traditional account, the Buddha was born from the right side of his mother, as she leant against a tree. When he landed on the ground, he took seven steps in each of the four cardinal directions, and lotus flowers opened beneath his feet. Pointing his right hand towards the sky, and his left towards the earth, he declared: “In all of heaven and earth, I am the most venerated one.” He was referring not to himself personally but to the Buddha nature which exists in every one.
There was a special surprise for everyone this year, linking the Monlam with the Kagyu Monks’ Winter Debate. Twelve monks, drawn from all nine shedras that participated in the Kagyu Gunchoe, held a fifteen minute Tibetan-style philosophical debate. The topic was whether the view of emptiness should be rangtong or shentong. Is it empty of other or empty of itself? There were four responders, who sat wearing traditional yellowtsesha and the yellow chögu, and eight presenters. Drawing on both quotations from scripture and logic to make their points, the monks hotly contested the topic. As the debate grew fiercer, the presenters' actions became more vigorous, clapping their hands, stamping their feet, and shoving and pushing each other. Tibetan debate may seem combatative but actually in essence it is cooperative, as the two sides work together to help each other reach a deeper understanding of the topic.
The Lama Chöpa puja continued after lunch.
This year’s Kagyu Monlam at Bodhgaya has been the largest ever, with approximately 5000 monastics, 4000 international laypeople, and 3000 Himalayan people, the final tally approaching 12,000 people.