Youthful Protectors of the Teachings

Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya, Bihar, India
January 2, 2014

On New Year's Day, seventy students and their eight teachers arrived from TCV Suja School, located in northern India, not far from the Gyalwang Karmapa's residence. The thirty-five young men and women came to participate in the Kagyu Monlam as Dharmapalas, or Dharma protectors. During their two-month winter vacation, they will work as assistants to the Karmapa's security team in rotating groups of ten.  Trinley-la, one of the Karmapa's bodyguards, has been like a father tothem, giving the group instructions and advice on how to stay aware, calm, and firm in handling the diverse situations that can arise when thousands of people gather.

This year as last, the Dharmapalas will be taking part in the Great Encampment tradition by living in tents. Set in the field between Tergar Monastery and the Monlam Pavilion is a large, new bamboo structure covered in pink and green striped cloth, where the Dharmapalas will stay. Inside, it is divided into three sections: one where tents have been set up for the eight teachers, while the two other sections for the students house seventy stand-alone tents of white net, a type often used by devotees who spend the night at the stupa or meditators who wish to practice free of Bodhgaya's buzzing mosquitoes.

In general, almost all the students at Suja School are from Tibet, and many of them have lived in India for a large part of their young lives. The school director, Sonam Sicho, explained that during vacation time, many of the students have no place to go as their whole family is still in Tibet. Other Dharmapalas were chosen because they are in their final year at the school and this would be their last chance to come and serve at the Monlam.

The students of Suja School have a special relationship with the Karmapa, who visited them during the first year he was allowed to travel and he has returned frequently since then. Perhaps this particular connection is due to the fact that like them, the Karmapa had to leave his family and homeland behind at a young age; to date, he has spent more than half of his life in India, far away from the world he knew as a child.

Today, January 2, in the main shrine hall at Tergar Monastery, the Karmapa met with the Suja students and their teachers to greet them and give advice. The students are dressed in the new clothes they have been given to wear while on duty here: the young women wear a black chupa with its long wrap-around skirt and top, a bright turquoise blouse, and plum-colored jacket. The young men sport blue pants, a white shirt with a high round collar, and a black men's chupa with the right arm free of its sleeve.  

The Karmapa sat in front of them, speaking without a mike and learning forward like a friend to rest his arms on a round white cushion. He reminded the young Tibetans that for Buddhists, Bodhgaya is the site of the Buddha's enlightenment, the most important place in the world. Here, people somehow feel closer to the clear mind of awakening.

For the Suja students themselves, the Karmapa said that their motivation is essential: everything they do should come from the aspiration to benefit others ̶ a motivation that can transform us. Remembering that this is where the Buddha became enlightened and that we are participating in the Kagyu Monlam for world peace can give us new inspiration. The Karmapa also explained thatDharmapala means "a Dharma protector," or "a guardian of the teachings," whose activity is needed by the ordained and lay sangha in these degenerate times. In this way, the Karmapa underlined the importance of the work these young students will be doing to sustain the mandala of practice at the Kagyu Monlam.

The way they function here in Bodhgaya is also very much in tune with the education they are receiving. The Suja School's motto is "Others before Self," reflecting the generation of bodhicitta (the intention to become enlightened for the sake of others), which is like that of shepherds, who follow after their flock and only rest when it is safely home. At Suja, the students give service to their community by helping patients in the hospital, doing construction work (both the girls and boys), and by naturally helping each other. Especially, new arrivals are surrounded with care as they arrive from all over Tibet--Tö in the west, Kham in the east, Amdo in the northeast, and Lhasa in the center. The language and accents can be so different, that the newcomer needs a translator into the more standard Tibetan language.

The school also reflects the Karmapa's interest in sustaining Tibetan culture by holding a one month intensive called Tibet Our Country. During this time, the students study topics such as Tibetan opera, dance, and music as well as the government in exile, the environmental issues world-wide and in Tibet. This latter study again echoes the Karmapa's great interest in protecting and preserving the world around us.

This year, to show their appreciation to the Karmapa for his generous and loving support, the students wrote pieces in English, Tibetan, and Chinese for a book called Gratitude. Tsering Choetso expresses the feeling of many when she writes in her poem, "My Star!"

            My most respected lama Rinpoche.
            When we close our eyes,
            We see only you.
            When we miss our parents,
            We think of you.
            You replace our missing feeling
            And fill our heart with lots
            Of energy to learn.
You are loving and caring
Lama to all.
Without you we could be in difficulties.
You are our star!
We love you a lot!
            We are very grateful to you.
            We always remember you.
            Karmapa khen!

2014.1.2 Youthful Protectors of the Teachings


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