The Sangha's Formal Lunch
Tergar Monastery Shrine Hall
29 December, 2014
A yearly event at the Monlam is a traditional sangha lunch in the main Tergar shrine hall. All those who hold full ordination vows – gelong and gelongma–are invited to eat in the shrine hall at Tergar during Monlam. Next to the fourteen long rows of yellow carpets laid out between the vermillion pillars are long strips of rich red cloth. For hours ahead of time, volunteers have been setting on this fabric,the alms bowls that rest on circular stands, and their covers placed nearby with a wooden spoon laid crosswise next to portions of vegetable tempura and the half circle of a tofu patty. The triangle of a napkin, a silvery bowl for tea, and a small carton of lassi complete the set up.The servers wait at their stations around the shrine hall. The front doors are still closed, but the side door is open as outside on the veranda sits the supply of food: huge meter-wide pots of rice (a word for rice in Tibetan is the same as that for meal, khalag) plus large containers of the six other vegetarian dishes being offered.
Suddenly, the Karmapa comes through this side door and walks the perimeter of the hall, stopping at the main aisle to face the Buddha and perhaps bless the hall for the gathering. As quickly as he had come in,he exits the side door on the far side, near the stairs to his quarters.
The sharp sound of wooden clackers breaks the silence, and the almost three hundred and fifty monks and four gelongma who will partake of the meal quietly file into the hall and take their seats. Rice is first offered into the bowls, and as they chant The Sutra of Recollecting the Three Jewels, the monks take some of it to make an offering of the first part of their meal.The other courses are brought round and then young monks come down the rows, stopping in front of each monk to respectfully offer them their alms bowls.
As the meal draws to a close, the discipline master addresses the monks, reminding them to appreciate all the hard work that went into preparing the meal, and of their motivation of bringing benefit to all living beings. When he finishes, a few monks go up and down the rows with bowls to collect the first offerings of rice. Finally, tea is poured in to the silver bowls. Clackers resound again and with dignity the monks pick up their alms bowls and place them in front of themselves. In a pulsing rhythm the Heart Sutra is chanted with its famous lines: "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Form is none other than emptiness, emptiness is none other than form." A special dedication is made for the long life and health of the many sponsors of the meal and prayers for auspiciousness to pervade the universe fill the air. The monks stand to fold their golden yellow chögus and slowly leave the hall, walking into the mid-day sun.