The 29th Kagyu Monlam: Day One
1 March, 2012
photos taken by
Karma Lekcho, Filip Wolak, Liao
Mahayana Sojong Vows
Report by TseNam
The sounds of auto rickshaws reverberated through Bodhgaya
in the wee hours of March 1st, 2012 as monks,
nuns and laypeople made their way to Tergar Monastery to
attend the first day of the eight-day Kagyu Monlam prayer
festival, and to receive Mahayana Sojong vows.
Sojong vows taken for the benefit of all beings are called
Mahayana sojong vows.
In Sanskrit, sojong is called uposatha.
Mahayana sojong is characterized by unique
motivation, which is to benefit all sentient beings.
Ordinary uposatha vows are taken with the intention
to purify one's negative emotions and to attain liberation.
However, if the vows are taken with the intention of
benefiting all sentient beings, the results of maintaining
self-discipline are immeasurably bigger.
The sun was yet to rise but the sky was already luminous.
Hundreds of monks of all ages – adorned in their maroon
robes and yellow prayer robes resting on their left
shoulders – could be seen quietly walking by the side of the
road leading up to the monastery. The serenity of the moment
was occasionally disrupted by the auto-rickshaws whizzing
past them on the potholed roads.
After going through the security check at the gate, monks
and nuns were guided by chötrimpa (monks in charge of
discipline) as they made their way to their allocated
seats, designated based on monasteries and nunneries as
they had been in the previous three days of teachings by
Senior gelongs, or ordained monks, were seated on the stage
closer to Gyalwang Karmapa according to their seniority. His
Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and His Eminence Gyaltsap
Rinpoche, two senior lamas of the Karma Kagyu school
attended the session, and sat to the left and right of His
Holiness’ seat respectively.
At 5:30 am, Gyalwang Karmapa arrived at the Monlam Pavilion
to the accompaniment of the melody of gyaling (a Tibetan
religious instrument). After an elaborate Mandala offering,
he delivered an explanation on Mahayana sojong before
bestowing Mahayana Sojong vows on the monks, nuns and
laypeople in attendance.
Gyalwang Karmapa began by welcoming various monks and nuns
from around the world who had come to Bodhgaya to attend the
teachings. His Holiness spoke about the main purpose of the
gathering. He said that the world is full of suffering,
conflict and hatred while friendship and caring for others
is less and less. His Holiness said that negative forces far
outweigh the positive forces in the world. Therefore, he
said the collective aspiration of the Monlam is to develop
loving kindness and compassion towards others.
He said the future of the world is really in our hands. As a
human being, we have the ability to differentiate between
good and evil. We have to know we have to work not just for
short-term benefit but must have the wisdom to work towards
our long-term condition. However, we seem not to have used
the wisdom to work for the long-term benefit, and thus we
keep on focusing on the short term. We also tend to work
only for ourselves, for our own selfish objectives. We have
forgotten that we are all connected and we live in the same
world, and that our lives are interdependent.
However, if we keep focusing on our own selves, we will
never be free from conflicts and problems. Consequently, we
have to seriously face this problem and thus work and aspire
towards a better world through more wholesome activities.
For instance, we all know that we eat meat and we end up
killing so many animals. Therefore, I also hope that during
these eight days of prayers we reflect on these issues; I
also want all of us to open our hearts and think about the
wellbeing of all sentient beings.
We all know if we walk along this self-cantered path, we
will only end up creating more problems. In fact, he
continued, you might say that we are not going to get very
far. Therefore, I request everyone to think about it. All of
you have the Kagyu Monlam Prayer Book in which we have
prayers and aspirations from the great masters of the past.
In these texts, you will know how the previous masters made
aspirations and with such sincere motivation. As their
followers, we should learn to emulate their qualities as we
recite these texts.
In the past, we held the Monlam prayer gathering near the
Mahabodhi stupa. This year we have moved to the Monlam
Pavillion because we feared that it might be too hot. Even
though we are not able to hold the Monlam in front of the
Mahabodhi temple, we are still in the sacred place of
Bodhgaya. Now it is up to us as individuals how we wish to
practice and make aspirations. I hope everyone will make
great and noble aspirations.
As part of
this year’s Monlam the Gyalwang Karmapa will give a
commentary on some of the prayers which are recited. He
began with a short explanation of the Sutra in Three
Sections which is part of the 20 Branch Monlam and thus is
recited daily during the Monlam.
A short teaching by Gyalwang Karmapa: An explanation of the
Sutra in Three Sections
Report by Mary Young
The Sutra in Three Sections
is also called The Confession of Downfalls to the
Thirty-five Buddhas. For countless eons we have taken
many different bodies and have taken births in innumerable
realms. And we have so much karma and obscurations
accumulated from those lifetimes, that if we were to gather
them all together in a bunch the entire space would not be
large enough to hold it.
Now among these karmas, some will definitely ripen and some
will not definitely ripen. There are various types.
According to the tradition of the foundation vehicle, they
say that with those karmas that will definitely ripen there
is no way to purify them if we do not confess them. So
unless we confess them, they will definitely ripen upon us,
just like a death that we have to pay back. Since we would
definitely have to experience the result of that karma, we
must make confession in order to repay those debts.
According to the Mahayana, between the karma that is
definitely experienced and the karma that is not definitely
experienced, that which is definitely experienced is the one
that we have committed intentionally. The karma that will
not be definitely experienced is the one we have not
intentionally performed. In other words, since that seed has
not flowered much, then it will not definitely ripen into
But if we have done great and terrible misdeeds then we need
to have a very strong and powerful confession to serve as an
antidote. If we have accomplished a great misdeed and we
have merely a small antidote, then we will not be able to
purify that obscuration.
For example, there is the story of the king who made
confession to the buddhas for an entire eon and still he
ended up in the incessant hell realm. If he had not made
confession, he would have spent an even longer time in the
incessant hell realm, so this illustrates the power of
confession–it reduced his time there. In any case, now that
we have entered the gate of the dharma, we may think that we
have pure vows and have kept pure samaya commitments, but
there are many misdeeds that we continually accrue. Atisha
said that he had never been stained by a downfall of the
Vinaya though he had had a few downfalls of the Bodhisattva
vow, but the downfalls of the Secret Mantra fell down like
rain. Thus, many downfalls occur all the time, even without
us knowing it. If we do not properly confess them we will
fall down into the lower realms. That is why the misdeeds
are called "downfalls."
So even if we do not have downfalls, but only minor
infractions, if we have enough infractions it is the same as
committing a downfall. And so if we do not confess our
downfalls and infractions every day, then they will bring us
bad karma. Even if we only commit small misdeeds, if we do
not know how to confess them, they gradually accumulate and
eventually become like a great misdeed. However, if we
confess them, even if they are not completely purified, they
are diminished. So it is said that for the wise, even a
great misdeed is very light because since they know how to
make confession, their misdeeds do not affect them very
When we make confession, we need to rely on the four
antidotes. If we do not rely on the four antidotes when
confessing then we will not be able to purify our misdeeds.
The antidotes are: the power of remorse, the power of
reliance, the power of remedial action and the power of the
promise not to repeat the misdeeds.
The Sutra in Three Sections
was taught by the Buddha himself. Before Trisong Detsen, the
King of Tibet became king, he had committed many misdeeds.
And since 108 wise men said that there was nothing better
than this sutra for purifying misdeeds he started the
practice of reciting this every day. This is how the
tradition began in Tibet.
In India there was no tradition of reciting this every day,
but in Tibet there is such a tradition. Because of this
tradition, when visitors from India came to Tibet, they
criticized the Tibetans, saying, "Everyone in Tibet must
have very great misdeeds!" In any case, the benefits of
reciting the names of each of the 35 buddhas and thinking of
their qualities is described in the Compendium of the
Disciplines written by Shantideva.
Now there are different ways in which the 35 buddhas are
described, but in any case, we visualize a lotus flower in
the sky in front of us. In the center of the lotus is Buddha
Shakyamuni. Sitting on the petals surrounding him are the
other 34 buddhas. They are all similar to the Buddha in
their qualities and in their traits, such as sitting in the
vajra posture, being golden, wearing the three dharma robes
and so forth. We should imagine this in front of us and then
we visualize that in their presence we recite the three
sections: the confession, the prostration and the
dedication. We imagine that we emanate many different bodies
and with great remorse and shame we regret our downfalls in
front of them as though a poison arrow had struck our
hearts. We confess the misdeeds we have committed in this
In order to purify our misdeeds, we go for refuge to these
buddhas. We describe their qualities, and we prostrate to
them. Then after we prostrate we follow the power of the
antidote. After that we think that we will never again do
these deeds, not even once. We need that strong mind of
commitment that we will never, ever do them again. If we do
an authentic confession in this way then we will be able to
purify all of our misdeeds. And so it is necessary to think
in a vast way about this.
Gyalwang Karmapa left the Monlam Pavilion and went to the
Mahabodhi Stupa at about 8.00am, to make offerings to the
Buddha image and perform a haircutting ceremony, before
returning for the second Session (See separate feature story
For the first four days of the Monlam this year, the second
session is devoted to teachings by the Gyalwang Karmapa on
the eastern and western pure realms, followed by meditation
Gyalwang Karmapa’s teachings
on the pure
realms to the East and West
Report by Mary Young
The teachings this week will be about the Eastern and
Western Buddhafields and on the fifth day, there will be
empowerments of Akshobhya and Amitabha. To begin with, all
of us have the great fortune to be gathered together in the
most sacred place of Bodhgaya and the most important thing
is to make our motivation correct. For a teacher the
motivation should not be worldly, but rather it should be a
sincere wish to help others become liberated from samsara.
And as for the people who listen to the teachings, they
should not do so out of the eight worldly dharmas, but in
order to bring about long-term benefits. If people receive
teachings just to fulfill worldly concerns, then it will not
become true dharma. Therefore both the teacher and the
students need to purify their motivation and make sure it is
in accord with the dharma.
The Buddha Realms of the East and the West
in the east, and Dewachen or Sukhavati in the
west, are known as the Eastern and Western Buddhafields.
Generally, in these degenerate times there are very few
conditions to practice dharma and, even when we have some
opportunities, there will be a lot of obstacles. In
particular, the basis for both worldly and spiritual
accomplishment is the practice of shamatha and
nowadays it is very difficult to accomplish this because
there is so much distraction and technical and material
progress, especially in big cities. If there is no real
foundation of shamatha, it's difficult to practice
vipassana. Of course, some people will understand but it
is difficult for the majority to advance even in a worldly
sense without shamatha. Therefore, it goes without
saying that to make progress in the stages of meditation you
need a stable practice of shamatha.
In order that we have the opportunity to practice dharma
without obstacles in our future lives, we must pray and
dedicate our positive actions towards that end. And if we do
so, there is a possibility that we will be born in the pure
realms where we can make continuous progress and never fall
In China there are certain schools of Buddhism dedicated to
being born in the western pure realm of Dewachen. In Tibet,
there is no particular school dedicated to this, but all of
the lineages engage in practices and prayers to be born in
In order to reach Amitabha’s pure land, we need to create
the causes and conditions for it. What are the things that
will bring about those conditions? Whether a person is a
human or non-human samsaric being, as long as one has a mind
that can be made more virtuous, one has the potential to be
reborn in Dewachen. The Buddha said that if we make
aspirations and we dedicate our merit and do positive
actions, then unless we have committed the five most heinous
deeds or have completely given up the dharma, we can develop
the potential to be reborn in Dewachen. Furthermore,
anybody, man or woman, who has devotion and respect towards
the sutra of Dewachen, or towards Amitabha or his heart
sons, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani, has the potential to be
reborn there. According to Karma Chakme, since Chenrezig is
the heart son of Amitabha, if you recite Karmapa Khyenno,
then it is also easy to be born into Amitabha's pure realm.
Also it is said that Amitabha made this promise, "Unless all
beings become enlightened, I will never become Buddha."
Because of the power of Amitabha's aspiration, anybody who
prays to be reborn in Dewachen, generates bodhichitta, and
creates all the right conditions prescribed in the sutra,
can actually be born in Amitabha's pure realm.
Now the second point: what is the need or purpose to be born
there? This will be discussed tomorrow.
The third point is related with Abhirati, Akshobhya's pure
realm. In the last few years I have taken some interest in
Akshobhya and we have offered the fire puja of Akshobhya at
the Kagyu Monlams. I have also created some Akshobhya
retreats here with Lamas from different countries and tried
to explain what I knew about this practice. One reason I did
this is because technical and material progress in the 21st
century means that the activity of human beings is very
powerful and has a great effect, unlike in ancient times. We
harm other beings and the environment very much. Thus it is
an age when we are creating very strong negative karma.
Therefore if we practice Akshobhya, I think it will help a
lot because Akshobhya is a Buddha especially meant to purify
For example, there is no comparison between hunters and
fishermen in ancient times and the
today. The hunters of ancient times had primitive weapons of
stone, and then later on, simple iron weapons. Now they have
guns and all kinds of poison, and killing is much swifter
and more convenient. Likewise, fishermen these days have big
nets and using technology can locate the largest shoals of
fish. In one net they can catch thousands of fish. So this
is a time when many negative actions thrive.
However, when we accumulate very strong negative karma, the
power and blessings of the buddhas become that much stronger
also. Their force, their blessing, and their positive
influence become more powerful. Because of that, the Buddha
Shakyamuni said, "During degenerate times you should do
Akshobhya’s practices." Mitrukpa, or Akshobhya,
means “unmoving” or “unmoved.” His mind has never been
disturbed by hatred or anger.
In the present time, there is a lot of anger, conflict, and
violent minds that create negative deeds. Even though there
are strong negative deeds there are also strong antidotes.
The great masters of the Kagyu lineage in the past belonged
to the Akshobhya family. For instance, when Milarepa
received the empowerment of Gyepa Dorje, his flower fell in
the east. Therefore he was called “Gyepa Dorje” and it was
clear that he belonged to the Akshobhya family. And the
Karmapa also belongs to the Akshobhya family. To signify
this, he wears the Black Hat. Actually, the color of the
Karmapa's hat is dark blue, like the changeless nature.
Changelessness is signified by dark blue because people
think that the sky does not change. Everything else changes,
but the sky is empty. In the same way, the true nature does
not change and since in that way it is similar to the sky,
the color blue signifies the changeless nature. Therefore
the Karmapa's Black Hat originally was dark blue.
Finally, even though we have the blessings of the lineage
with us, we still have to practice diligently and joyfully.
It is very important to practice with joy. Many people feel
they have to acquire things that they do not have and they
try hard to practice dharma as if it were something from the
outside that we do not have within us. That is not the
correct way to approach it. We need to comprehend what
naturally abides within us and to look deeply within
ourselves at the kindness and love that is already there
rather than disregard the positive qualities we have.
From tomorrow onwards, we will talk about the Akshobhya
The Gyalwang Karmapa returned to the Monlam Pavilion after
lunch for Session Three, and gave a short teaching on The
King of Aspirations: The Aspiration for Noble Conduct.
He then returned to his quarters at Tergar Monastery to
conduct audiences during Session Four.
And finally some statistics about the 29th Kagyu
This year there are:
35 Rinpoches in attendance
3600 monks and
The monks and
nuns come from 88 different monasteries, nunneries and
3500 laypeople registered
The laypeople come from 50 different countries
The Monlam Translation team is offering translation into
twelve languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi,
Indonesian, Italian, Korean, Polish, Spanish, Russian, and
There are more than 700 Friends of Kagyu Monlam and people
There are nearly 500 volunteers supporting Monlam
There are almost 100 people in the Working Team.