Saturday, December 22, 2007

that type of dream is monlam

two of the people i am reading my text with here in sarnath left peremptorily on personal matters this week. but the unforeseen interruption to my studies coincided perfectly with three days of teachings by his holiness the karmapa especially for his foreign students in nearby bodhgaya. so off i went.

the teachings were on mahamudra, and they were concise and fully charged with the fresh spontaneity and intense presence that seem to be distinguishing marks of his holiness the karmapa's teaching style. his holiness the karmapa taught in a clear tibetan (happily for me!), and gave refuge and bodhicitta vows, as well as oral transmissions in tibetan, english, chinese and korean. these teachings took place during the annual kagyu monlam, a two-week long extravaganza of prayers by a gathering of the kagyu tradition of tibetan buddhism.

for those who do not know who the karmapa is, he is a young but already highly influential spiritual leader who escaped from tibet in 2000.

as his holiness the karmapa explained, "the purpose and fundamental root of the Kagyu Monlam is to remember the kindness of our Teacher, Buddha Shakyamuni, and to pray for the peace and happiness of all beings with whom we share this world." for more on this event, read below) this year's prayer festival displays the karmapa's spirit of inspired reworking of tradition, as his holiness has been redesigning the book of prayers used during this group's annual prayer festival, and this year includes prayers from all the major schools of tibetan buddhism - prayers by lama tsongkhapa, by sakya, nyingma and even jonang lamas. it would take a bit of explaining to show just how remarkable that is given the usual sectarian divisions within tibetan i'll just say: this is major.

and if i may add, this year's prayer celebration includes prayers in sanskrit and also added emphasis on vinaya... (and as you know, i am working on the vinaya in sanskrit, so you can imagine my delight.)

these photos do not begin to capture the beauty or the energy of the event. i include a brief video from a previous monlam that does a far better job of evoking some of the feel of the event .

the following is excerpted from an interview his holiness gave several days before the start of the prayer festival. many, many thanks to namdrol's mom louise for sending it to me!

Interviewer: Your Holiness, please could you explain the meaning of the word monlam?

His Holiness the Karmapa: From the perspective of mind, the meaning of monlam can be explained in several ways. From the perspective of the individual it means having the profound wish to bring happiness and well-being to others and simultaneously enhance our own root of virtue, dedicating that merit for the benefit of all sentient beings. That type of dream is monlam.

Interviewer: What is its importance?

His Holiness the Karmapa : Generally speaking, all major developments in human culture have come about as the result of hope and a clear vision. From the Buddhist point of view, our ultimate goal is to attain parinirvana; in this process, the role of aspiration is fundamental and threefold. At the beginning it is like the seed, in the middle it is like water and manure, and at the end it is the fruit. Without an aspiration the seed of Buddhahood will not germinate.

Interviewer: Are there any special features of this year’s Monlam?

His Holiness the Karmapa: Because we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of Kagyu Monlam this year, we are offering free medical treatment to help local people. In addition, because the Kagyu Monlam has become an international event, which aims to bring the peoples of the world together, this year the Monlam, recitation texts are available in five languages: Tibetan, Hindi, English, Chinese and Korean. I consider these two the most important special features.

Interviewer: Sanskrit prayers are being used for the first time this Monlam. Please could you expand on this?

His Holiness the Karmapa: Our Tibetan dharma is based on the Sanskrit canon. So, in times past, Tibetan Buddhist scholars considered Sanskrit to be very important; they studied the language and also studied Buddhist scriptures in the original Sanskrit. But, from the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama, about three hundred and fifty years ago, the ties between India and Tibet were broken. Afterwards, it became difficult to maintain the standard of our knowledge of Sanskrit and so things such as pure pronunciation were lost. However, now that we are in India, Tibetans have begun to study and research texts in Sanskrit once more, and are involved in discussion with Indian Sanskrit scholars too. This development is very important for the Indo-Tibetan relationship and, I feel, it is essential that it be maintained. Thus, we are reciting prayers in Sanskrit so that the relationship may continue forever. Furthermore, by reciting in Sanskrit, we can transcend time, generating a feeling of closeness with the Buddhism of the time of Lord Buddha. It is my aspiration that we can achieve this.

Interviewer: This year monks and nuns have received special training in codes of conduct. What was the purpose?

His Holiness the Karmapa: In the twenty-first century there are many external distractions, so we need a way to remain stable. If we are carried away by these distractions we will lose our self-restraint. In order to instill proper conduct and to bring well-being and peace of mind, we have this Monlam. Using ancient methods from the Vinaya, we are training the sangha members because they are the principal participants in the Monlam.

This code of conduct, based on ancient Buddhist traditions, is not intended to serve the interests of one religious tradition alone, but to bring stability and happiness to society at large. Recently, the misconduct of some members of the sangha, both inside and outside Tibet, has become a threat to the security and well-being of society. Thus, we have done this as a service to humanity.

Interviewer: How does the Kagyu Monlam help the well-being of sentient beings and world peace?

His Holiness the Karmapa: Over the years, Kagyu Monlam has become a great assembly of people, and as such, it is very powerful. If we can win people over by our example, then, gradually, through this assembly, we will benefit the whole of human society. For example, if we can change one bad person into a good person, we will have been successful in reducing the number of bad people in the world by one, and thus will have helped world peace.

There is no way that Kagyu Monlam on its own has the power to bring peace to all sentient beings, but we can use the Monlam as a way of broadcasting the message that the world is something that all sentient beings have the right to enjoy, a message of loving kindness, compassion and peace to the whole world." [end interview]

for more on monlam, read here.

i return to sarnath today deeply, deeply renewed by the days i spent near the tree where buddha was enlightened, witnessing the massive gathering of thousands of monks and nuns coming together in its shade to join their voices and hearts again and again in prayers for the happiness of others.

this 68-second video is from the 2005 monlam

satellite image of the temple complex in bodhgaya that marks the spor where buddha sat under the bodhi tree and attained his final insights... and where the fesitval takes place.

Mahabodhi Stupa map - Tagzania


Gyalten said...

So wonderful! Thanks Damcho! I especially love the pictures of the Medicine Buddha and Milarepa. Were those butter sculptures?

How wonderful - all of it! HH Karmapa is SO cool! Sanskrit, prayers from all traditions, vinaya. I hope to see Him in person sometime...

Thanks for posting this and have a wonderful time back in Sarnath!


damchö said...

thanks mindrol-la! yes, they appeared to be butter sculptures, unless some clever innovators figured a way to reproduce that look and feel with something a bit less meltable!

HH was also doing some very interesting things for nuns. i'll write about that once i get a little work done here.

in all, an immensely inspiring being.


damchö said...

recently met someone who had been there when the sculptures were made, and they use a combination of some special kind of butter and wax so they hold up better in the sun. so yes, they can be called butter sculptures!

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