38th Kagyu Monlam Program Announcement

38th Kagyu Monlam Program Announcement

38th Kagyu Monlam Chenmo
January 14–25, 2024

For many years, we have all hoped that Guru Vajradhara Chamgön Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche would be able to attend the Kagyu Monlam. Though he was invited several times, previously he was unable to come. 

This year, following the wishes of the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, a delegation including Lama Karma Choedrak, the executive director of the Monlam; Choeje Lama Phuntsok; and Gyaltsen Sonam, the administrator of the Tsurphu Ladrang, among others, visited Guru Vajradhara specifically to request him to preside over the Monlam. Guru Vajradhara accepted the invitation and moreover requested that during the 38th Monlam we should recite the King of Aspirations one million times, recite the Vajra Samaya mantra 100 million times, light at least 100,000 butter lamps, and read the Kangyur. 

The Gyalwang Karmapa has indicated that we should fulfill all of Guru Vajradhara’s wishes, and preparations to do so are underway.

The 38th Kagyu Monlam will be held over eleven days from January 14 to 25, 2024, in Bodhgaya. In particular, the first three days will feature a teaching by Chamgön Tai Situ Rinpoche on Maitreya’s Aspiration, a Maitreya Empowerment, and a Red Crown Ceremony.

Marme Monlam: Exuberance Overflows in the Starry Darkness

Marme Monlam: Exuberance Overflows in the Starry Darkness

Special Kagyu Monlam Day 8

5th February 2023

What might be one of the most aesthetically pleasing events of Kagyu Monlam - the Marme Monlam or the candle-light aspiration prayers - takes place at the very end, on the 8th day. It is a ritual of light where the participants each hold a candle in the darkness and sing auspicious prayers aspiring to dispel the darkness of ignorance.

This year the programme was simpler but still exhilarating for everyone present. It followed after the special address by His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa and a long Five-Deity Tara ritual which was a unique event as it was newly compiled by His Holiness and performed for the very first time.

All the participants had been given a candle in a small clay pot. As is traditional two prayers were key to the programme. The Marme Monlam began with the Avalokiteshvara practice known as Benefitting Beings Throughout Space, considered by many to be the greatest method for receiving Avalokiteshvara’s blessings and developing compassion. This includes recitation of his famous mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, and establishes a pure motivation for the evening.

Then, the expansive interior of Bokar Shedra‘s shrine hall was completely darkened,  and  a myriad of small lights shed a soft glow on everyone present, with the brilliant Tara shrine radiating from the centre. This was the prelude to the heart of the celebration— Jowo Je Atisha’s Lamp Prayer. The large tv-screens that had been showing the Gyalwang Karmapa delivering a talk earlier, now displayed the scene in 2017 when the Gyalwang Karmapa presided over the Marme Monlam at the Monlam Pavilion in Bodhgaya. In the video, he is seated in front of a colossal golden statue of the Buddha, his hands in dhyana (meditation) mudra. As he recites Jowo Je Atisha’s Lamp Prayer part by part, everyone repeats the words. The first recitation is in Tibetan, the second in English and finally a third in Chinese, followed by the mantra “Om Vajra Aloke Ah Hum”.

Everyone in the shrine hall at Bokar Shedra joined in.

Led by the Karmapa, the congregation in the Pavilion in Bodhgaya then sing the prayer in Tibetan. This is followed by a rendering in Chinese and finally in English. Once more, the congregation at Bokar Shedra joined in as much as they could. They sang the Tibetan enthusiastically and joyfully, holding their lamps aloft in offering, and, if they were unable to join in the Chinese or English, they listened respectfully.

With the mantra “Karmapa Khyenno”, the Special Kagyu Monlam of 2023 was brought to a close in very high spirits.

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2023.02.05 Day 8: Marme Monlam
The Gyalwang Karmapa’s Special Address

The Gyalwang Karmapa’s Special Address

Special Kagyu Monlam Day 8

5 February 2023

After an extensive mandala offering, headed by Bokar Rinpoche Yangsi and Khenpo Lodoe Dӧnyo Rinpoche, the Karmapa addressed all those who had attended the Monlam, plus monasteries, nunneries, dharma centres and students world-wide over a webcast ZOOM link.

The following is an edited transcript.

Now, normally during the Kagyu Monlam programme, I usually say a few words at this point. Actually, I should have spoken yesterday, but I was way too busy, so I even forgot that I was supposed to speak. It wasn’t until later, when I saw on the Internet that they were showing an event live, that I wondered what it was. I asked the organisers, “Why are you showing this event live?” and the reply was, “It's because we're waiting for you to give your talk.” Only then did I remember, and I thought, “It’s not going to work today, I'll do it tomorrow.” That's what I thought. I was so busy yesterday that I even forgot that I was supposed to speak.

This year at the Bokar Shedra, we first had the 23rd Kagyu Gunchoe, and then we had the Special Kagyu Monlam. So, we've had two large dharma activities happening one after the other. The people who primarily did all the preparations were the Bokar Shedra, and, needless to say, everyone has commended the really excellent preparations, and from everything I have seen, that's what I see too. Everyone says that the workers at Bokar Shedra and everyone involved worked very hard and did everything very well. Many people have told me this.

So, at this point, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Bokar Rinpoche and Khen Rinpoche, as well as the Bokar Shedra and the main monastery, all of the workers, the administrators, and all of the lay and monastic people.  I'd like to express my thanks and gratitude.

Now, in terms of the Kagyu Gunchoe, for the last few years, all of the expenses have been covered by Tsurphu Labrang, and the preparations have been done in rotation by the various shedras. This year was the turn of Bokar Shedra, which is why we held the Gunchoe at Bokar Shedra and Bokar Shedra took responsibility for organising it. This system has made it much easier to handle.

At the same time, since we normally have the Monlam right after the Kagyu Gunchoe and the sangha was already at Bokar Shedra, it seemed sensible to continue and hold the Monlam there as well, and everyone was in agreement. Regarding the sponsorship of the Monlam, Bokar Rinpoche and Khen Rinpoche said that they would sponsor it and they have taken great care and have been very generous in their sponsorship. When I read the list of offerings during the Special Monlam, I noted that all of the expenses were paid by Bokar Labrang, their office of administration, so I would like to thank them very much for sponsoring this.

The Bokar Changzӧ (General Secretary) is actually ill at the moment and was unable to attend because of his illness.  He's currently in Taiwan. He has a very pure motivation and is someone who can really provide good service and support to Bokar Rinpoche and Khen Rinpoche. So,  I'd like to ask everyone in the sangha to make vast aspirations that he may be swiftly cured and returned to good health.

Today, as you all know,  we had the practice of the Five-Deity Green Tara of the Acacia Forest. Wherever he went, the previous Bokar Rinpoche always carried a Tara statue with him. Everywhere he went, he had the statue with him. Tara was his special yidam deity. When I visited him at his monastery, it seemed as if there was a Tara statue in every shrine room.  There were peaceful, enriching and magnetising forms of Tara—but I don't think there were any wrathful ones.

Khen Rinpoche also has Tara as his special deity, his main source of hope and inspiration. During the Kagyu Gunchoe we had the ritual of the Five-Deity Hayagriva, and when I was discussing this with him beforehand, Khen Rinpoche suggested that it would be good to do the Five-Deity Tara practice as well. And so that is what we have done.   We decided then that it would be good to have the Five-Deity Hayagriva during the Gunchoe, and today we were able to do a very elaborate and lengthy Tara practice with the Five-Deity Tara ritual text. It’s not complete yet, but through the practice today, we have made a very good connection, and that’s a good sign.

These are the main things.

Because of these roots of virtue, may all the saints and masters of all the different sects and lineages live long, and may their activity flourish. May the members of the sangha all live in harmony. And then, in the world, in all this vast world, may there be no more illness, famine, war, and so forth. These are the reasons why we hold the Monlam.

The situation these days is that Bokar Yangsi Rinpoche is quite young and Khenpo Lodoe Dӧnyo Rinpoche has reached the age of 80. During his 80th birthday celebrations, I had the opportunity to speak to him, so I told him that he should make the determination to remain in this world and live for another ten or twenty years, so that he can support the Buddhadharma and, in particular, the teachings of the Kagyu, in order to preserve the foundations laid by the previous Bokar Rinpoche.

The previous Bokar Rinpoche and Khen Rinpoche had a very deep connection. Wherever they went, they were always together. This was a really good example for everyone to see. The Dalai Lama praised them highly. Everyone in all the different monasteries said that Bokar Rinpoche and Khenpo Lodoe were inseparable and always such good upholders of the Vinaya. This is praised highly. Many Geshes whom I know have also told me about this:  everyone respected them very highly.

Because Khenpo Rinpoche had such a strong connection with the previous Bokar Rinpoche, if he can continue to remain in this world, he will be able to teach Bokar Rinpoche, give him advice and guide him. Rinpoche needs someone like that.  I, myself, when I was young, didn't have anyone like that. There were people who told me what to do and gave me orders but no one who really treated me well or gave me guidance. I didn't really have anyone like that.  I think while Rinpoche is still young, to have someone who shows affection and takes such care of him, as opposed to having someone saying, “You have to do this” and “Don't do that”, is really important.  Rather than having someone who acts like a god, someone who is just giving you orders, to actually have someone who really has love and affection for you from the depths of their heart is really important. There's no one who's better at that than Khenpo Rinpoche, so it would be really beneficial if Rinpoche could live for at least another ten years. If he lived for as long as possible, he should live for thousands of years! But, as I said the other day, I make the aspiration that he can live for a further ten or twenty years, and I request him to also make such aspirations, please make such prayers, and everyone in the sangha, please make such prayers.

This year we have been able to hold an actual Kagyu Winter Teaching, an actual Kagyu Monlam, and there will be an actual Spring Teaching for the nuns. Because many people gather from abroad for the Kagyu Monlam, I suggested that it was better to postpone holding the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo in Bodhgaya for another year. I think, however,  that next year we will definitely be able to hold the Monlam in Bodhgaya.

For myself personally, what should I say? I haven't been able to come to India for several years, five or six years, and so I would like to return.  It is my hope to return to India, and I think that there are quite a few people both inside and outside India who are wishing for this. I do have the wish to return. There is no need to mention the reasons I want to come back—you all know.

However, as you all know, during those 18 years I was in India, although I had a few chances to go abroad, I spent most of that time in India. Not just that, but different things happened, difficult situations, and many problems. That experience and the imprints of that experience are still there, so it's not so easy for me to come back immediately. If I came back and the situation was the same, if I were to experience all the difficulties like before and not have much freedom, if that were the case, there wouldn't be any point in coming back. If I had to return to the situation as it was before, and spend another decade or so in that situation, there would be no point. I'm in my thirties now, so if I had to spend another twenty or thirty years under those conditions, I’d be an old man, and it would be pointless. For these reasons, this is something that needs to be thought through carefully.  

As I've said before, the Noble Land of India and Tibet have had various connections in terms of the Dharma and samaya for thousands of years. In particular, fifty or sixty years have passed since the time that His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama came to India, and during that time, there has been a really deep connection between Tibetans and Indians. If we think in terms of the Kagyu tradition, we have established many monasteries. We have a lot of monks, lamas and nuns, and many great beings who have come, so it goes without saying, that this connection, this relationship is extremely important, and I consider it very priceless and valuable

This is basically what our attitude should be, but in terms of what we need to do and how to do it, we have to employ skilful means, Without the right methods, just having pure motivation is not sufficient. I have been carefully considering this, so, please, I'd like to ask you to bear this in mind. I think it’s important for everyone to understand.

In any case, when our karma and our aspirations come together, and I can return to India, we will be able to meet each other again. I'm looking forward to that. In the past, I was not able to visit Nepal or Bhutan, but in the future I hope to be able to come not just to India but also to Nepal and Bhutan.

I'd like to be able to see you all in person, and hope that we will be able to gather together in one place, so please put your minds at rest and don't worry about this.

Now, I really don't have anything else to say today.  As I said before, we are working on getting me to India. We are holding discussions with the Indian government, and trying to do what we can, but it's not something that I could just do on the spur of the moment. It's something I have to think about, since I had so many difficulties previously. If they were still there, it would be very difficult. It’s not something I want to think about, but I have no choice but to consider them.

This affects not only coming to India but also Nepal. I did spend a few hours crossing through Nepal on the way to India, but I’ve not been able to visit Nepal since.  I have great hopes that I will be able to visit Nepal in the future. Likewise with Bhutan. During the time of the previous Choegyals (Dharma Kings), the Karmapas had a close connection with them. I think there was even a connection dating back to the time of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje; there’s a history of his visit to Paro Taktsang, [Tiger’s Nest Monastery]. So, I really hope to be able to visit Bhutan.

The Karmapa concluded by asking everyone to keep in mind what he had said, and then, in the absence of a Chinese translator, he gave a summary in Chinese.

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2023.02.05 Day 8: Gyalwang Karmapa’s Special Address
Five-Deity Green Tara of the Acacia Forest

Five-Deity Green Tara of the Acacia Forest


Special Kagyu Monlam Day 8

5 February 2023

This was the second of the five sets of five-deity mandala practices that the Gyalwang Karmapa has reintroduced this year. It follows the Five-Deity Hayagriva practice offered during the Kagyu Gunchoe. In total, there are five rituals, and the Karma Kagyu tradition of performing these rituals originated with First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. Each set features a principal deity with four other deities represented in the mandala; the five principal deities are Hayagriva, Chakrasamvara, Vajravarahi, Hevajra, and Tara.

A new shrine had been set up in the shrine hall for the ritual. A thangka of Green Tara of the Acacia Forest hung above it. On the top tier of the shrine were five mandala offerings, four for the other deities and Tara's mandala offering placed centrally. Vases of flowers decorated each corner. On the lower tiers were one large elaborate torma, many rows of shalse [small tormas], a large butter lamp and bowls for the seven traditional offerings. A separate table held small butter lamps. These all formed part of the thousand-fold offering.

Before the ritual began, the Gyalwang Karmapa gave a short introduction. He explained that the Five-Deity Tara practice comes from the tradition of Nagarjuna. It was passed down from Nagarjuna in an unbroken transmission to First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa. The Five-Deity Hayagriva ritual, which was performed at the Kagyu Gunchoe, may well have been practised up to the time of the Tenth Karmapa, but not from that time, the Karmapa explained, and the Kagyu Gunchoe was probably the first time it had been practised since then by a large gathering of the sangha together. Two of the five-deity rituals survive and are still practised within the Karma Kamtsang: the Five-Deity Chakrasamvara and the Five-Deity Vajravarahi. However, the practice of the Five-Deity Hevajra, the Five-Deity Tara, and the Five-Deity Hayagriva had been more or less lost. They had declined significantly. "It's probably even difficult to hear the words, or any mention of them," he observed, and then explained how crucial it was to revive them. Otherwise, when questioned by other lineages about Dusum Khyenpa's Five Sets of Five-Deity Practices, Karma Kamtsang monks would be unable to answer.

The Karmapa noted that the full text for the ritual to be performed today was not yet complete because it required further annotations and a commentary. Other work demands had prevented him from completing these. However, the ritual text itself was fully prepared and could be recited. This would be auspicious and make a good connection with the practice for the future. Then, at the Arya Kshema Spring Teachings, it might be possible to recite it with the nuns, and so in that way, the entire practice would be restored. He also promised to give the oral transmission for the practice at that point.

He informed everyone that the Five-Deity Tara ritual to be performed was based on the practice of the Green Tara of the Acacia Forest in the Chig Shes Kun Drol (Knowing One Frees All) of Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje.

His Holiness gave the initiations for the peaceful deities of this cycle during the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo in 2014, and Green Tara of the Acacia Forest with Five Deities was one of those initiations. At that time, His Holiness described how Tara arose from the tears of the noble Avalokiteshvara who was distraught at the suffering of sentient beings because, however many activities he performed, the number of beings in samsara was never reduced. As two of these tears fell on the ground, one became White Tara and one became Green Tara. The two Taras promised to help him perform his activities to benefit sentient beings. The tradition of Green Tara of the Acacia Forest comes from Nagarjuna, who was meditating in an acacia forest when Tara appeared to him. He requested Tara to benefit sentient beings and she agreed. He built a temple for her there, which she herself blessed and consecrated. Consequently, all those who practised there could achieve the ordinary siddhis very quickly. Out of compassion for people who lived far away from the sacred place, Nagarjuna composed the sadhana of Green Tara of the Acacia Forest. Later this tradition was passed down to Dusum Khyenpa, and became one of his five sets of five meditational deities. It became part of the Kamtsang lineage of realisation at the time of Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje.

So, the Karmapa clarified, the basis for the ritual to be performed today was the sadhana included in the Ninth Karmapa's Chig Shes Kun Drol. He mentioned other forms of the practice, including several pieces from the Indian tradition to be found in the complete works of Dusum Khyenpa. However, there was no complete ritual, and the Karmapa's intention had been to compile one. This involved not just preparing the  ritual but adding aspects such as offering four mandalas, instructions on how to recite the Homage to the Twenty-One Taras, and the thousand-fold offering. He explained that such rituals as this were relatively rare, although a few existed in the Gelugpa tradition.

Today’s ritual was the extensive practice, but as a usual practice, it was optional to offer all four mandalas or make the thousand-fold offering. Those who wished to do this as a daily practice need only do the self-visualisation. If they wished to have a more extended practice, they should add the four mandala practice. Finally, the Karmapa suggested that, in future, it would be good for those practising the four mandala Tara practice to do it with the five-deity Tara. Should they want to add the thousand-fold offering, they could.

The details of the four mandala offerings and the thousand-fold offering became more apparent during the puja. Each of the mandala offerings included a set of seven prostrations, the seven branch offerings, the mandala, and the request for one's wishes. To accumulate the thousand-fold offering, in addition to the offerings on the shrine, the ritual includes a passage with offerings of water and the five enjoyments plus music, repeated 21 times at the beginning of the third session. Performed by an assembly of more than a thousand monks, nuns and laypeople, the offerings far exceeded the required number.

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2023.02.05 Day 8: Five-Deity Tara
Kindling Tummo: the Cotton-Clad Procession

Kindling Tummo: the Cotton-Clad Procession

Special Kagyu Monlam Day 7

4 February 2023

In keeping with the tradition of Kagyu Monlam, on the last day the lamas who have completed the three-year retreat walked in a procession, clad in a white cotton cloth in the tradition of Milarepa, demonstrating their ability to raise their body heat.

Daily, from the very first day of Monlam, hidden from the eyes of spectators, these yogins have been performing the secret practice of tummo (inner heat) and on the seventh day, they practiced from 4-7 am. Meanwhile, starting from 6 a.m. inside the main shrine hall, the Monlam participants chanted the Offerings to the Gurus after completing the Mahayana sojong vows and prayers in Sanskrit.

Behind the residence building, still hidden from the eyes of spectators, the cotton-clad monks emerged at 7 a.m. and dipped their white cotton cloths into a large cauldron of cold water. They then draped the wet cloths around themselves in order to demonstrate  their ability to perform ‘tummo’, by producing  inner heat to dry them. Steadily, they walked out into the pale morning sun and general view, chanting the Offering to the Gurus.Their path to the temple was lined on both sides by spectators holding white katags. As the white clad monks made their way, they stopped every few steps, and turned to both left and right to face the spectators. and share the blessings. The procession was inspiring in practice for all present, monastic and lay alike.

The procession slowly circumambulated the Bokar Shedra temple and, as they were completing the kora, they passed by the devotees once again on their way into the shrine hall - this time their white cloths were already partially dry.

Once everyone had returned into the shrine hall, the cotton-clad monks were seated in front, and the vast gathering of practitioners continued chanting the Offering to the Gurus. The morning session concluded with a demonstration of debate by the Gunchoe debate winners.

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2023.02.04 Day 7: Special Kagyu Monlam 2023