A distinct feature of each Kagyu Monlam is the formal daily lunch in Tergar shrine room specially prepared and offered to fully ordained Sangha, those who hold the vows of gelong [bhikshu] or gelongma [bhikshuni]. All gelong and gelongma are expected to attend.
In the Tergar Shrine room, rows of carpet-covered cushions awaited with places already laid when the 300 monks and 11 nuns arrived directly from the morning’s prayer session. Each place setting had a large metal alms bowl, a small plate holding two papadums, a tea bowl, and a small carton of fruit juice.
Having put on their yellow chögü, the monks and nuns filed into the shrine room silently, and took their seats according to seniority. The eleven nuns sat in single file on the far right-hand side of the shrine room. The most senior monks occupied seats to both sides of the central aisle with Rinpoches and senior khenpos seated at small tables at the head of the assembly.
Immediately the servers set to work: laypeople dressed in Mahayana Sojong white and young monks traversed the rows of seated Sangha, distributing rice, dal and vegetables from stainless steel buckets, as much as anyone wanted. Rice was served first and each monk and nun carefully put aside some of this rice as an offering, pressing it with their right hand into a shape of five sections. After reciting The Sutra of Recollecting the Three Jewels, lunch began. The Sangha ate mindfully in silence.
As they ate, Khenpo Kelsang Nyima from Rumtek Monastery delivered a short address, reminding them that they should remember the kindness of the sponsors and of their special responsibility during the Monlam to set an example and uphold the Vinaya codes.
The staccato beating of a wooden bell signalled the end of lunch at 11.30am. In unison, the Sangha laid down their spoons and placed the lids on their alms bowls. While they recited the Heart Sutra, young monks collected the rice offerings and took them outside to be offered to the Queen of Pretas and her 500 hungry children. This custom is based on a story found in the Vinaya Pitaka. The rice offerings are a substitute for the human babies that the demoness used to kill in order to feed the 500.
Dedication prayers and prayers for auspiciousness concluded the meal. Maintaining their dignified silence, the monks and nuns took off their chögü, folded them carefully and placed them over their left shoulders, then filed outside. Lunch was finished and their daily fast had begun. They would not eat again until after daybreak the following day.