Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya
All those approaching the Kagyu Monlam Pavillion along the road must first pass under the welcome gate. This year once more it is a simple structure of bamboo covered by cloth, bearing the message “Welcome to the Kagyu Monlam” and the Kagyu Monlam symbol. However, this year’s gate is painted blue, a colour chosen personally by the Karmapa, and each of the three columns is decorated front and back by a colourful painted scroll of the thunpa punshi. The story of these Four Harmonious Friends—the bird, the hare, the monkey and the elephant—is found in the Vinaya Pitaka and is used as an example of the benefits of collaboration and unselfishness. One version explains how the huge tree was the result of the concerted effort of these four: the bird planted the seed, the hare watered it, the monkey fertilised it, and the elephant protected it – till it grew into a tall, strong tree heavy with fruit. Forming a pyramid the friends were able to reach the best fruit, and, sharing it between themselves, there was plenty for everyone to eat. Another version tells how at first there was just a bird. The bird would scratch around the sapling and find food. But the bird was unable to fly so as the sapling grew taller, he could no longer find enough to eat. Then the hare arrived and offered to help him. By standing on the hare’s back, the bird could reach food. As the tree grew higher, more help was needed and first a monkey and then an elephant joined to assist them.
The story demonstrates the fundamental interdependence of all living things which inhabit this earth and teaches that if we work in harmony and prioritise the needs of others above our own we will succeed. In benefitting others we will also benefit ourselves because when we work for the happiness of others, we ourselves find happiness. It is a fitting message for those attending the International Kagyu Monlam, an event which brings together people from more than 50 countries and many different races and cultures.
As people pass under the gate, they are blessed by the mantra on the prayer flags. Traditionally, this particular mantra has the power to purify the negative karma of 1000 lifetimes each time they pass under it!