38th Kagyu Monlam Begins - Day One

38th Kagyu Monlam Begins - Day One

Monlam Pavillion


18 January 2024

The Kagyu Monlam in India began in 1983 under the guidance of Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche and Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche. The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje first attended the Monlam in 2001, and then took charge in 2004. Since then, it has undergone significant changes and become much more elaborate and complex, with its own prayer book and certain rituals such as the 16 Arhat procession, revived from the Garchen tradition [the Great Kagyu Encampment which flourished from the time of the 4th Karmapa until it was destroyed by the Mongol Gushri Khan at the time of the 10th Karmapa].

The Kagyu Monlam in India was initially held at the Mahabodhi Stupa in Bodhgaya but now has its own dedicated grounds next to Tergar Monastery. It was held each year until January 2020. Then came the Covid 19 epidemic and lockdown. For two years there was no Monlam, though Gyalwang Karmapa led special prayers over the internet. Then, last year monks, nuns and laypeople were able to gather to celebrate Monlam once again at Bokar Shedra near Siliguri in West Bengal. Finally, in 2024, it has been possible to hold the Monlam in Bodhgaya once more.

The 17th Karmapa was unable to be here but he has overseen the organisation of the 38th Kagyu Monlam, and it was according to his wishes that Jamgon Kenting Tai Situpa Rinpoche was invited to preside. The Gyalwang Karmapa requested Rinpoche to perform the Red Crown ceremony and to teach on Maitreya’s Aspiration and acceded to Tai Situpa’s own requests that during the Monlam there should be one million recitations of the Sangchӧ Monlam [The King of Aspirations: The Aspiration for Noble Conduct], one hundred million recitations of the Vajra Samaya mantra, and the reading of the Kangyur. At 5.30am on the first day, the gong sounded in the garchen and the monks and nuns woke up, washed and dressed. At the second gong, they made their way through the chilly morning fog to the pavilion. At 6.00am, a procession brought the portrait of Gyalwang Karmapa into the Monlam pavilion and it was placed on the golden lion throne in the centre of the main stage. The Monlam began with the blessing of the ground, followed by the first recitation of the King of Aspirations.

Jamgon Kenting Tai Situpa Rinpoche was welcomed to the second session and offered an extensive ku-sung-thug mandala. The plan is for him to attend every second session during the Monlam.

At the end of the session, he gave the lung for the Vajra Samaya.

The pavillion has been transformed. On the Monlam stage top tier, two mandalas and two huge golden vases of flowers flank the golden image of Shakyamuni Buddha. Below the Buddha, a wax image of Dusum Khyenpa sits on a throne, and below that on the main stage is the Gyalwang Karmapa’s throne. Flickering butter lamps are arranged on seven tiers of the stage. 100,000 lamps in total will be offered during the Monlam. Below them eight great tormas depict eight of the twelve deeds of the Buddha Shakyamuni and the Karmapa lineage from Dusum Khyenpa through to Karmapa Mikyӧ Dorje. They are placed on altars bearing great bowls overflowing with dragon fruit, pineapples, grapefruit, apples and oranges, and bowls of saffron water. Many more flower arrangements decorate the edge of the stage, as well as potted plants. The smaller tormas are decorated with the Buddhist auspicious symbols.

About 7000 people, monastics and lay, are registered to attend, and are engaging enthusiastically in the recitation of the aspiration and the mantras. It looks like the goal of one million of each will be achieved.
2024.01.18 38th Kagyu Monlam Begins • Day One