You Play an Important Role: Kagyu Monlam Members’ Audience with the Gyalwang Karmapa
Tergar Shrine Hall
30 December, 2014
An hour before the scheduled audience time of 4.30pm, during the final session on Day 2 of the Kagyu Monlam, the queue of Kagyu Monlam Members already wraps itself entirely around the Tergar gompa like a human kora chain, past the side gate and part way down the road.
Once inside the gompa, the rows of members are tightly packed together; when all the available space is filled, yet more impromptu seats are created. As the crowd waits for the Gyalwang Karmapa to arrive, a spontaneous chant of Karmapa Khyenno breaks out in one corner of the room. Within moments the familiar chant swirls and eddies around the room like a wave, sweeping up all those present, and the Tergar shrine resounds with the sound of all the Kagyu Monlam Members calling their guru from afar.
The Gyalwang Karmapa is a half-hour late; a few floors above the waiting crowd, in his audience room on the roof of Tergar Monastery, he is still busily greeting, blessing, and guiding the endless stream of individuals and smaller groups who have a private audience with him. There are many, many people from all corners of the world waiting to see him, and time doesn’t seem to stretch far enough.
While waiting for the Gyalwang Karmapa to arrive, Lama Chödrak, the CEO of the Kagyu Monlam, addresses the waiting Members. “I want to thank you all very much for supporting the Kagyu Monlam as Members,” he tells them, before reminding them that an ‘annual membership’ is also available as a skillful way to continuously connect with and support the Kagyu Monlam, regardless of whether or not they can physically attend in person each year.
This year there are 12,000 participants at the Kagyu Monlam—the largest number ever—and of those, 1,400 are Members. Membership costs Rs9,500 ($150 or €120) and benefits include: dedicated seating inside the Monlam Pavilion; 3 meals daily, offered at the Mahayana Hotel close to the Mahabodhi Stupa; chartered private busses between the Mahayana Hotel and Tergar Pavilion throughout the day; and of course the much-anticipated private Members’ group audience with Gyalwang Karmapa. But the biggest benefit of membership is the satisfaction and merit of helping to support the Kagyu Monlam.
An expectant hush fills the room as the Gyalwang Karmapa finally arrives—without fanfare, he enters quietly through a side door and strides over to the throne.
He greets all the gathered Members and reflects on how greatly the Monlam has grown over the years. “Now with people from so many different nationalities and languages joining the Kagyu Monlam, it has become a very important spiritual event,” he tells them.
Even though the name is Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, in essence it is a Rime or non-sectarian prayer gathering. It includes prayers done in all Tibetan Buddhist traditions. People of all nationalities and many languages are gathered together. When people collectively put out their pure intentions, this is bound to bear consistent and very powerful results.
Another important part of the Monlam is even though we come from different countries or live in different parts of the world, when it comes to participating in the Kagyu Monlam we express unity. There is unanimity in our intentions—we realize that the common wish of all sentient beings is to be free from suffering and to experience happiness. We realize that the hopes and aspirations of all people are the same, regardless of where they come from.
I understand that you faced many difficulties in coming here. But still you came, and I’m very happy about that. The principal focus of the Kagyu Monlam is to bring about peace in the world, as well as remembering the inconceivable kindness of the Buddha. You’re an integral part in accomplishing these two. You have an important role to play.
Speaking directly in English, His Holiness then sets the audience laughing when he suddenly reminds everyone that he too is a Kagyu Monlam Member. “This time I made sure that they didn’t forget to give me a card. But I didn’t pay any sort of membership fee and I’m not a good example, so don’t look at me okay!”
After spending a beautiful and joyous half-hour with the Members His Holiness then departs, already well behind schedule for his next appointment. Each Member receives a gift as they make their way out of the Tergar shrine – an exquisite colourimage of Gesar of Ling, painted by His Holiness.On their way to the door many devotees spontaneously stop at his throne, some bowing to touch their heads reverently to his seat, and many leaving their khatas and offerings, so that within moments the entire throne disappears under a sea of auspicious white silken scarves. Others mingle in the gompa long after the Gyalwang Karmapa has left, basking in the radiance of his blessings, reluctant to step back into the rest of the world outside.