Honouring the Words of the Buddha:The Kangyur Procession and Reading




Monlam Pavilion and Mahabodhi Stupa, Bodhgaya,
2 January, 2015


[This year, because of heavy rain, the morning’s programme was rearranged and the Kangyur reading ceremony was held at the Pavilion prior to the Kangyur Procession at the Mahabodhi Stupa.Pages from the Kangyur were distributed amongst the congregation to all, monks, nuns and laypeople, who were able to read Tibetan. Then an announcement called the gelongs to assemble and they were bussed to the Mahabodhi stupa for the Kangyur Procession.]

The Kangyur procession is the only part of the Monlam that takes place at the Mahabodhi stupa and not in the Pavilion at Tergar Monastery. For that special event we go from a cathedral-like space where every program is planned like a theatre performance, out into the street life of Bodhgaya.

But ever since the bombs on the Mahabodhi stupa site a few years ago, the sprawling street life has been confined to the street. The lengthy stretch of plaza leading to the stupa is now enclosed by a high wall and cleared of beggars, tea stalls and shops.  A security scanner with police checks blocks the open avenue to the main gate.

In the misty early morning just after dawn, queues start to form in spite of heavy rainfall, in front of the new security lane.  After it was declared a World Heritage site in 2002 the diamond seat of enlightenment at the bodhi tree began to attract tourists as well as pilgrims of all religions including Hindus, and even Muslims.

Child flower sellers are awake this morning and ready for the Buddhists. They load platefuls of delectable lotus blossoms framed by rose petals and marigolds into eager hands stretched out across the dividing wall.  By mid morning the outer kora is lined three deep with a live mandala of joyful offering goddesses from distant lands, holding silk katags and plates of flowers. Tibetans, Chinese, Westerners - all have radiant faces as they wait for blessings from the Buddha, dharma and sangha.

The Kangyur procession is a traditional way to honour the words of the Buddha.  Earlier that morning, in the first session at the Monlam Pavilion, the Karmapa talked about the significance of the Buddha's words.

Generally we say we go for refuge to the buddha, dharma and sangha. We don't really know what the word  buddha means. We think the statue is the buddha. Of course the statue is not the genuine or authentic buddha. When we say true dharma, we point to the texts, the translated treatises. So we don't understand what the true dharma is. When we talk about dharma, it is really the truth of the cessation and path. However for us beginners, or ordinary beings, the collection of words of the Buddha written in ink on paper is beneficial and because of this we can achieve the truth of cessation and path. If we didn't have these words we would be blind and wouldn't know what to do and what not to do. We would have no direction. We'd have no tourist guide or map. We would not know where we're supposed to go. For us beginners the Buddha is the only protector and refuge that we have.
The Kangyur and Tengyur are books that we leave on the shelves to gather dust. We don't think they're the source, the foundation of what we do. In the past the Dalai Lama gave advice on this. We recite the 7 branch prayers. We ask to turn the wheel of dharma. There are 84, 000 wheels of dharma and over 100 sutras, yet we don't read them or practice them. It's boastful to ask them to turn the wheel of dharma again. You should have some feeling when you read it, I think.
The sound of sirens in the distance heralds the approach of the Karmapa.

When the procession begins at 10:30 the sky clears, and the sun dissolves winter into summer at a stroke. The ritual begins with the sound of gyalins and the blowing of two whorled conch shells, so massive and otherworldly they could have fallen from the sky. A sweeper clears the ground in front of every step. Gyaltsap Rinpoche, and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche walk in rising hierarchical order in front of the Karmapa in a procession of one hundred and three gelongs, including five gelongma who pace themselves at a short distance from each other and look straight ahead as they carry the precious volumes on the left shoulder supported by the right hand. The three flaps at the end of the text where the title is written are visible. Their lips move in barely audible mantras. The procession moves in one body, down the steps circling the inner kora, then upwards to the outer kora, slow, dignified, and respectful.

''Those in the procession'', instructed the Karmapa during rehearsal, '' should recite mantra and visualize that the Dharma is pervading the whole universe. They should carry themselves in a way that inspires respect in those who see them.''

In the footsteps of the Buddha. That is the feeling it inspired.

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