The 25th Great Kagyu Monlam Begins in Bodhgaya (December 17, 2007)




At 5.15a.m of the 17th, the dark streets of this small town, little more than a village, were already alive with hundreds of people making their way through the pre-dawn gloom to the Mahabodhi Temple. Monks and nuns and laypeople, both Tibetans and foreigners, thronged through the massive red Torii gates. Designed by Gyalwang Karmapa and engineered by Choekyi Gyatso, they were built by eight carpenters brought in specially, and took three months to complete. For two whole days and nights, the carpenters worked non-stop to erect them at the entrance to the Mahabodhi site.
These massive gates represent the entrance to sanctuary. Inside, the grounds of this ancient site was transformed by a hundred thousand tiny lights, hanging from the trees and walls surrounding the sanctuary. The multitude of small stupas around the Mahabodhi Temple had been garlanded with yellow and orange marigolds, and small water pots containing marigold heads had been placed along the tops of the walls. Beneath the spreading branches of the bodhi tree was an array of magnificent butter sculptures. Behind the Gyalwang Karmapa's throne was a glorious Mandala of the palace of Akshobya; all the beings contained within are bodhisattvas and the palace is created from precious stones.
By 5.30am most of the sangha, more then 4000, were seated and waiting, huddled in their cloaks against the morning cold. Gelongs (fully ordained monks) sat at the front and gelongmas (fully ordained nuns) sat behind them Then came the getsuls (novice monks) and behind them the getsulmas (novice nuns). Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Khenchen Yongzin Thrangu Rinpoche were seated to left and right of the Gyalwang Karmapa's throne. Approximately 2000 laypeople sat in designated areas, and on the walls and grass banks surrounding the main temple.
The sound of a police siren heralded the arrival of Gyalwang Karmapa. The sangha participants stood, donned their yellow robes and waited under the Bodhi Tree as His Holiness entered the site to the ceremonial sound of gyalings. He circumambulated the Stupa and took his place at the head of the assembly, a powerful presence, unshakeable and grounded in stability. He immediately presided over the 24-hour Sojong vows, a practice which accumulates merit and removes negative karma, so that the ceremony could be finished before the sun rose. In the context of Sojong, he explained that the important goal was to try to do positive deeds and to examine all our thoughts and actions.
Then, following His Holiness's new additions to the Monlam prayers, the assembly chanted the refuge and Bodhichitta prayers, the Heart Sutra and other verses from the Sutras in Sanskrit. The ancient chants floated on the chilly morning air, connecting all those in attendance here in 2007 to the dawn of Buddhism almost three thousand years ago. Again, His Holiness honored the crowd by giving a short commentary on Refuge and on Bodhichitta, explaining the importance of pure motivation: "the motivation in taking refuge should extend beyond a wish for well-being in this life; it needs to be seen as an aspiration for future lives, and should include the aspiration for liberation from samsara and ultimate enlightenment." HH Karmapa advised people who could not yet keep the bodhisattva vows to make an aspiration to be able to take them and keep them in the future.
His Holiness led the prayers from the Kagyu Monlam Prayer Book, the Twenty-Branch Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, originally composed by the Seventh Karmapa, Choedrak Gyatso, and racently re-formulated by the Seventeenth Karmapa, Thus His Holiness introduced the example of that earlier time in the Kagyu lineage of some six centuries ago, further reviving this tradition. After the Three Daily Observances of Prostration, Reciting Sutras and Dedication, the assembly chanted the assembly chanted Samantabhadra's King of Aspiration Prayer, the Aspiration for Noble Conduct, and Maitreya's Aspiration, from the Branch of Aspiration.
During the second morning session, Gyalwang Karmapa resumed his transmission of The Life of Milarepa begun at the previous Monlam. The theme was purification of negative deeds. The Karmapa's recounting of Milarepa's life reached the point the narrative when Milarepa's life changed direction completely and Milarepa was desperate to study the Dharma, which the Karmapa described as like someone who was very thirsty and longed for a glass of water. His Holiness analogized the Buddha to a doctor, his students, ourselves, as the patients, and the Dharma as the medicine. He emphasized that this analogy expresses the correct attitude for listening to dharma teachings. Our motivation should never be tainted by the eight worldly concerns. The second session concluded, as it always does, with The Great Aspiration: Monlam Chenmo, and Dedications for the Living and the Deceased.
Roots of virtue of the three times were dedicated so that they will not be lost or used up. They are dedicated for the attainment of unsurpassable perfect enlightenment for oneself and others, in the presence of His Holiness Gyalwang Karmapa as the dedicator. These prayers were followed by the Dharani for the fulfilment of aspiration prayers. The session having concluded, the gelongs and gelongmas filed out to board buses to take them to Tergar Monastery where they were served lunch by the Chinese Buddhist community.
In the third session, after lunch, the Gyalwang Karmapa performed the Ritual of Vajra-Akshobhya, the Buddha with whom the Karmapa lineage holds a special connection. This ritual powerfully purifies negative karma in the world, hence promoting the security and well-being of all sentient beings, harmony and peace, and the preservation of the world environment.
A short fourth session, which included long-life prayers for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa and other important Kagyu lamas, and a prayer for the reincarnation of Bokar Rinpoche, concluded the day's prayers, along with the Dharma Blaze Aspiration for the flourishing of the Dharma, and Protector Prayers. Finally, as His Holiness stood to leave the Bodhi Tree, the entire assembly slowly chanted the Descent of Sacred Auspiciousness that Transforms One, composed by the Gyalwang Karmapa himself:
Auspicious blessings blaze and ornament the world
Shining upon the vast kingdom
At the north of the Land of Snows
Lineage of Dharma practice flourishes
May blessings and auspiciousness fill the world
May happiness and joy increase in the world.
- Tashi Paljor

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