His Holiness Karmapa tests the monastic Sangha
2009, Tergar Monastery,
by Karma Palmo and Michele Martin, photos taken by
Karma Norbu, Pema Orser Dorje
Early on the morning of
December 23, gelongs and gelongmas, (fully ordained monks and
nuns) getsuls and getsulmas (novice monks and nuns) began
arriving at Tergar Monastery, their yellow robes neatly folded
over their left shoulders, to participate in the testing of
proficiency in wearing the monastic robes according to His
Holiness Karmapa’s new and still evolving guidelines.
As they filed into the
Shrine Hall, they took their seats in their monastery groupings
and waited somewhat nervously for His Holiness to arrive. Soon,
to the sound of gyalings, His Holiness entered the Shrine
Hall to fulfill his role as the main judge. This year four other
prominent teachers sat in front of the shrine on chairs that
flanked His Holiness: HE Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, HE Goshir
Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Surmang Garwang Rinpoche, and Khenpo Lodro
Donyo. Behind them a towering Buddha Statue seemed to oversee
the whole event.
Khenpo Kelsang, the
chief Khenpo and disciplinarian, explained the procedure of the
test, telling the gathering that His Holiness would put his hand
into a jar containing the names of all the monasteries and
nunneries participating in the Kagyu Monlam, and draw out names
one by one, to indicate the order of testing. Three were chosen
to be tested this year: Shedrup Chokhorling in Rumtek, Vajra
Vidya Institute in Sarnath, and Rigpe Dorje Institute in Nepal.
From each one chosen, four or five members would stand in a
cleared space in the middle of the Shrine Hall and go through
the entire routine of donning and taking off the zen (the
cloth that is draped over the shoulder and round the upper body),
the chogo (the yellow cloth that novice nuns and monks
wear during prayers, dharma teachings etc) and the namja r
(the yellow cloth that fully ordained monks and nuns wear),
and opening, folding and using the dingwa (the special
square cloth that monks and nuns sit on) for different
The test also covered
prostrations, sitting properly, and wearing the tsesha,
the yellow pointed hat that is curved and fringed. They were
further tested on the proper way to receive and drink tea,
including reciting a prayer beforehand. The next exam looked at
how they received a begging bowl from a young monk and then how
they walked when carrying a text of the Kangyur (the
teachings of the Buddha) on their shoulder. And finally they
were tested on how to receive alms.
His Holiness spoke to
the gathered sangha:
Without having to do
anything, we nuns and monks receive food and lodging. We should
remember this kindness of the sponsors. We should display good
comportment and be very careful about how we behave. As the
sangha, we are a support for all people, and if we do not carry
ourselves well, if we do not maintain a proper physical
demeanor, there’s a danger that people will disrespect us and we
will then harm ourselves and others.
"However it is not just
our outer expression that is important, but we must tame our
minds as well, because there is a deep connection between our
inner mind and our outer behavior.
"People come from all
over the world to the Kagyu Monlam. Some have no money and so
they sell their house to help support the Monlam. Some have
employers who will not give them time off, so they resign from
their work, and then must find a new job when they return home.
They have great enthusiasm, sincerity, and interest in the
Monlam and we should take them as an example.
"Why is it that so many major prayer festivals
Nyingma, Sakya, Geluk, as well as Kagyu meet in Bodhgaya? It is to
show our gratitude to the Buddha, who attained full awakening in
Bodhgaya and also for peace and well-being in the world.
"The purpose of the Kagyu Monlam is to benefit
all living beings. There is not one of them who has not been our
mother or father. They all want happiness but create suffering for
themselves so we generate great compassion for them and dedicate our
prayers for their benefit. The Monlam also benefits those of us who
have come, for it plants the seed of full awakening within us. Given
such great benefits, the ordained sangha should be most attentive in
everything that they do.
"This past month, we tested form each monastery
two discipline masters and two people working in registration and
this went well, which makes me very happy. As the ordained sangha,
we are responsible for the spread and preservation of the genuine
Dharma, so we have to be especially careful. And not only during
the Monlam, but also when we return home to our monasteries.”
With this advice His Holiness finished his talk
to the ordained sangha.
After the tests and talk were concluded, everyone offered a kata to
His Holiness and received his blessing along with a red blessing