The final day of the 25th International Kagyu
Monlam began at 6.00am as the mist cleared and the sky lightened.
Gyaltsab Rinpoche conferred the Sojong vows, and was the presiding
lama for the morning prayers. As with every previous day, the
western and southern sides of the Stupa and surrounding the Bodhi
Tree were crowded with monks and nuns cloaked in their maroon and
orange dagams, Sangha members of other Buddhist traditions, and
laypeople wrapped in shawls and warm clothing against the north
Indian morning chill.
Gyalwang Karmapa joined the assembly for the short second session
during which the Heart Sutra and Prostrations and Offerings to the
Sixteen Elders, among other brief prayers were chanted. The main
event of the morning was the Alms Procession. The gelongs and
gelongmas, wearing chogos and namjars, began assembling under the
Bodhi Tree at 10am in their monastic order. Gyaltsab Rinpoche led
the procession followed by Mingyur Rinpoche, Khenpo Lodro Donyo
Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku and other senior Rinpoches and lamas. The
first hundred or so gelongs carried in their right hands the
traditional monk’s staff, which they tapped on the ground as they
walked, making the metal rings sound. Behind the gelongs came the
gelongmas, the first one of which also carried the traditional
staff. A group of Korean bhikshunis followed. Each monk and nun also
carried a large grey metal begging bowl in their left hands.
The procession made its way slowly around the outer circuit to the
main entrance gate where the alms round began. From the gate, across
the plaza and down the main road, the route was lined with people
from different regions and countries, standing on the right-hand
side, each offering fruit, nuts, biscuits, packs of namkeen and
other edible food. Some people touched their malas and bunches of
protection cords to the bowls in order to receive the blessings of
the Sangha, as they made their way down to the Rose Park. The
begging bowls had to be emptied every few metres because the donors
were so generous and enthusiastic. All the food was collected and
distributed in large bags to the Sangha after the noon meal. On the
grass in the Rose Park the monks and nuns sat in silent ordered
lines, overseen by the Gyalwang Karmapa, and were served by Chinese
For the ordained Sangha, the experience of making the alms round is
very humbling. Gyalwang Karmapa’s revival of this ancient Buddhist
tradition into the Kagyu lineage is historic, and a significant move
for the continuation of the Sangha and the time-honoured
relationship between ordained and lay disciples.
In the afternoon’s final session, the assembly chanted the Lama
Choepa ritual composed by Pal Gyalwang Karmapa in 2005. There was a
tsog offering, with elaborate tormas offered to His Holiness and the
Rinpoches, and hundreds of bags of food offerings handed out to
every member of the assembly.
A special ceremony followed, to thank the
sponsors who were placed in front of Gyalwang Karmapa’s throne,
during which He expressed His gratitude and appreciation for their
sponsorship and offered His blessings for their well-being in this
and future lives. His Holiness then gave a brief talk on three
protecting the environment, and
for sangha and laypeople, especially emphasizing that the dress of
monastics and non-monastics should be distinguishable from each
other so that it should be clear who belongs to which group.
Finally, to the rousing chant of many tashi auspicious prayers, His
Holiness Karmapa waved a white khata and the assembly returned the
gesture waving thousands of white khatas in the air. His Holiness
changed this tradition in 2004 so that participants no longer throw
their khatas towards the throne, but hold onto them and wave them in
the air. The reason for this is to keep the environment clean, and
show proper respect.
After a short break, everyone returned to the Stupa at 7.00pm for
the Lamp Offering ceremony, Marme Monlam, the closing session of the
International Kagyu Monlam. Battery-operated candles were
distributed to the lay people, while the gelongs and gelongmas
carried small lotus lights. Gyalwang Karmapa, flanked by Jamgon
Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche sat facing the Bodhi Tree.
The prayers began with The All Pervading Benefit of Beings, followed
by the same Sanskrit prayers that have been chanted each morning by
the assembly. The Korean bhiksuni choir then sonorously chanted The
Five Fragrances and Seven Prostrations, and a group of Chinese
bhiksus and bhiksunis chanted The Ten Direction Prayer. Everyone
then joined together with a choir of western disciples to chant Ah
World, a song composed by Gyalwang Karmapa in appreciation of the
world and as a plea to those of us who inhabit the world to engender
peace and happiness everywhere, and to treat the world carefully so
she will not be destroyed.
The Aspiration for The Well-Being of Tibet, composed by Gyalwang
Karmapa, was chanted next, led by Umze Ozer Rabten, to a beautiful
melody, also composed by His Holiness.
Three sounds on the gong heralded the simultaneous switching on of
the lotus lamps by gelongs and gelongmas who had been taught by His
Holiness how to switch them on in unison the evening before. This
was joined by a burst of candles. The Stupa Mandala resembled a Pure
Land beneath the full moon. There was a great camaraderie and
happiness between all the participants, and a swell of emotion rose.
As the lotus lamps changed colours, fading from red through blue,
green, yellow and pink, His Holiness transmitted the Marme Monlam
first in Tibetan, then in Chinese and finally in English, and the
assembly joined in chanting the prayer in the three languages to an
enchanting and uplifting orchestral arrangement, again composed by
His Holiness Karmapa.
Closing prayers concluded the ceremony, and Gyalwang Karmapa, Jamgon
Kongtrul and Gyaltsab Rinpoche left, followed by the Sangha members
and lay disciples carrying their lights and candles high in the air.
All participants circumambulated the Stupa chanting Karmapa Khyeno
in rousing tones and the 25th International Kagyu Monlam came to a
Distribution of free food and blankets:
Kagyu Monlam participants from Samye Ling
Buddhist Centre in Scotland organized a distribution of bags of
lentils for the poor and destitute. Women and children thronged
noisily around the Mahayana Hotel from 6.00am in the morning waiting
for the hand-out.
Canadian members from Toronto, accompanying Lama Tashi Dhondrup, one
of the main sponsors of this year’s Monlam, organised an impromptu
distribution of free blankets at the same time.
After a hard day working at the camp, the volunteers came to Tergar
Monastery to have a group photo taken with Gyalwang Karmapa in the
Great Hall. There was some confusion and much laughter when they
were ordered to say “cheese” by one of the photographers!
This was the final day of the medical camp
organized by Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps.