Archive for December, 2008


at long last, our wish for a live webcasting of kagyu monlam has nearly been fulfilled thanks to “dabao” and “shaoneo” from seattle. they arrived loaded with cables and far too many miscellaneous wires and small tech gadgets to ever doubt their engineering feat. after tinkering for a day or two and sorting out the wires and cool gadgets, they were able to broadcast the first day’s teaching to the chinese students on december 31st live via web on www.karmapa-video.blogspot.com. because the teaching is mainly for the chinese students, his holiness taught in both chinese and tibetan, much to the chagrin of some of his other students. though 6 languages were represented, translations were not fully available during the entire teaching. not to worry. they are working on getting the english translation for the webcast and besides, there are plenty of teachings to come and more small hurdles to attempt, so stay tuned to this new and exciting webcasting site! if you’re in the EST zone, you should be able to view it between 10:30PM to 12:30PM and then again in the wee hours of the early morning… GMT is 11.5 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. (sorry east coast people.)

– analog girl

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On December 28 His Holiness Karmapa joined the Jonang Monlam here in Bodh Gaya, as he does every year. He was greeted by a full ceremonial procession of monks with the music of Tibetan trumpets heralding his presence. Chogtrul Ngawang Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche and Khen Choekyi Nangpa Chog Rinpoche, senior masters of the Jonang school, offered white scarves at the temple gates.

His Holiness first entered the temple where he made offerings to the great golden Buddha. A Theravadin monk in saffron robes stood on the platform beside the statue to perform the ritual offering of robes. Leaving the temple, His Holiness did a partial circumambulation of the inner kora entering the Monlam assembly through a small opening opposite the bodhi tree, to ascend a throne facing the tree. The two head Lamas offered a mandala and a Buddha. His Holiness remained on the throne making prayers for about an hour.

The sun warmed up the chill of morning, while prayer flags danced to the rhythm of the Buddha’s breath. (The combination of the bodhi tree, the stupa and Karmapa inspire this kind of poetic rapture.) Before leaving the site, His Holiness did an outer kora followed by the Jonang Lamas, monks and just about everybody else there who could walk.

A Note about the Jonang School radically edited from Wikipedia:

The Jonang are one of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism dating from the 12th century and became renowned with Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen. The Jonang school was widely thought to have become extinct in the late 17th century during religious wars. Recently, however, it was discovered that some remote Jonang monasteries escaped this fate and have continued practicing uninterrupted to this day. An estimated 5,000 monks and nuns in 40 monasteries of the Jonang tradition practice today, particularly in Amdo and Gyarong districts of Qinghai and the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The Jonang school has generated a number of renowned Buddhist scholars, like Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen (1292–1361), but the most famous was Jetsun Taranatha (1575–1634). Taranatha placed great emphasis on the Kalachakra system of tantra, which became an important part of Gelug teaching after the Gelugpa (i.e. followers of the Gelug) absorbed the Jonang monasteries. Taranatha’s influence on Gelugpa thinking continues even to this day in the teaching of the present 14th Dalai Lama, who actively promotes initiation into Kalachakra.

Interestingly, one of the primary supporters of the Jonang lineage in exile has been the 14th Dalai Lama of the Gelugpa. The Dalai Lama donated buildings in Himachal Pradesh state in Shimla, India for use as a Jonang monastery (now known as the Main Takten Phuntsok Choeling Monastery) and has visited during one of his recent teaching tours. The Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu lineage has visited there as well.

The Jonang tradition has recently officially registered with the Tibetan Government in exile to be recognized as the fifth living Buddhist tradition of Tibet. The 14th Dalai Lama assigned Khalkha Jetsun Dampa Rinpoche or the ‘Bogd Gegeen’ of Mongolia (who is considered to be an incarnation of Taranatha) as the leader of the Jonang tradition.

Norma Levine

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HHK arriving in Root Institute

HHK arriving in Root Institute

When His Holiness Karmapa walked into the packed shrine room of Root Institute (established by Lama Zopa) he went first to the statue of the Buddha on the shrine and offered a white scarf. Then he blessed it with a scattering of rice.


He sat barely raised from the ground on a low cushion and received offerings from Root Institute monks and lay people. The density of the crowd seemed to heat the room though at 2 pm, it was indeed the warmest part of a typically cold winter day.


He spoke softly in response to a request to teach on the Bodhisattva vows.

From my notes:

‘I’ve been here on a number of occasions and I’m happy to be back again. I extend warm greetings to the friends gathered here.

Generating the mind of awakening is precious. If it were to have a form, the entire space of the universe would be too small to accommodate it. If one generates bodhicitta, virtue builds up even when sleeping or distracted.
What is the essential characteristic of bodhicitta? Sometimes I get the feeling when talking to Westerners, that whenever one gets a kind thought, that is bodhicitta. But it is much more. It is the sense of the suffering of beings together with the wish to bring about their benefit – and that of oneself – these two join to generate bodhicitta.
As far as the process of generating it is concerned, that depends on individual capacity. Those who have a more spacious view want to take on the suffering of others. Otherwise we can train in seeing other beings as our mothers (and other methods), using the reasoning of cause and effect to cultivate bodhicitta. The result should be the same. One method is not superior to the other.

Exchanging self for others is very profound and important. In cultivating the mind of awakening, it is better to practise from the ground up, otherwise we may practise with fervour at the beginning and then develop obstacles.

There are different attitudes in practising bodhicitta: the king first attains buddhahood, then brings others to that state; the captain of the boat works together with others and the shepherd liberates beings before himself.

Those of us who practise the three vehicles have a responsibility to embrace the three yanas and incorporate it into our practise. Just as the aspiration to go to Bodh Gaya is not enough to get here, we have to take practical steps to get closer to it. Similarly, it’s not enough to have the aspiration; it has to be consistently applied.

The essential training on the bodhisattva path is the six paramitas. The essence is the training in morality or the discipline of embracing all virtuous activities: the ethical morality of cherishing others, and abstaining from harming them. That is the essence of morality in the training of bodhicitta. Embracing virtuous activities corresponds to samadi. Cherishing others corresponds to generosity. Patience corresponds to both. Perseverence has to be applied with all of these.

We live in a time when there are tremendous upheavals of emotion in our own lives, and drastic changes in our environment. The challenge is both within us and in the environment. It’s clear that people are more and more self involved. This has to do with self cherishing. In our dependent and inter-active environment, cherishing of others must become a living experience. We cannot leave it to an intellectual understanding, or as an inscription in a museum. We have to translate it into practical experience. We have to probe into what’s wrong with cherishing ourselves, what is right in cherishing others. All experience of suffering comes from cherishing ourselves; all happiness from cherishing others.

The Buddha was a revolutionary in his time, in this very place. He stepped out of his culture and religion. He made a statement of walking out of the prevailing norms and gave the gift of new consciousness to beings. He shared with people his experience of awakening and made it universal.
Similarly at Root Institute, activities are happening for all people from all over the world breaking down national boundaries, as did the Buddha 2500 years ago.

Whether one cherishes Buddhism as a faith or not, we still have to recognize the humanity in it, and that it uplifts the quality of life. So share this gift with others and share the good here without exception. When I think of a garden of peace, I think of this.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come here. I wish you a very good New Year. If you cannot make it better, at least don’t make it worse.’

Norma Levine

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From his rooftop apartment at Tergar Monastery, His Holiness Karmapa made a statement about the theme of this year’s Monlam.

Smile from the roof

smile for ALL

‘Last year’s Monlam was mainly about the environment, he said. ‘This year it is to remember kindness for others all over the world, to appreciate all without distinction of race, colour, religion or language. ALL’- he emphasized.

To symbolize that goal, His Holiness said he will take stones from each country in the world, (which have been collected over the past year) and make a mandala to unite the world.

As well, there are prayers which have been composed by ordinary people from different countries, he said. These will be put onto prayer flags so that all of us can see the different wishes of each country. A Prayer Gate will be made to hang them on. Some of the most inspiring prayers will be posted on pillars around the stupa.

As I left, I noticed the newly planted rooftop garden, carefully planned by environmentalist, Lillian Sum. The barren cement expanse of last year was now covered in many varieties of indigenous plants contained in pots. An archway demarcating another area of the garden leads to a bonsai bodhi tree. There are even tomatoes and green salad herbs in a raised bed. The climate here is extreme, varying from cold and windy in the winter to boiling hot in May and June with heavy monsoon rains in July and August. His Holiness is often visible on the rooftop looking down at devotees gathered on the lawn below, blessing all with his powerful presence.

Norma Levine

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Bodh Gaya is one of the most vibrant few kilometres of sacred space on the planet. Since 1871 when excavations revealed the architectural wonder built by King Ashoka in the 3rd century BC, Bodh Gaya has become the Mecca for every Buddhist in the world. Prostrations, chanting, circumambulating, offerings, rituals, – every kind of meritorious practice goes on here from early morning darkness into the night. Last year while the Monlam was in full swing, we all watched a Tibetan in leather apron and knee pads prostrate the last few metres on his journey from Kham in Tibet to Bodh Gaya – a distance of thousands of kilometres taking several years – and offer a white scarf to His Holiness under the bodhi tree. His face was glowing with light.

This year His Holiness Karmapa arrived in Bodh Gaya on December 10th. He circumambulated the stupa and bodhi tree on the morning of the full moon a few days later and made offerings inside the main temple.(see www.kagyuoffice.org for full coverage)
On December 15th he began the teachings on the Madhyamika at Tergar Monastery to a selection of monks and Khenpos from all the Kagyu monasteries in India. Lay people – both Asians and Westerners – sat at the back of the assembly, listening to the lectures which were partially translated simultaneously into Chinese, English and Spanish.

The Madhyamika is the analytical arguments of the Middle Way explaining in painstaking logic the view of emptiness. As he neared the end of the sixth day, His Holiness joked that when he taught shentong (emptiness of other) and rangtong (emptiness of self) at Gyuto everybody goes away.’The child of the Buddha’, he said heaving a big sigh and sipping his tea, ‘should stay without speaking.’

I wrote down what made sense to me and what I thought would interest other practitioners. When we’re trying to reach comprehension through study, it’s a practice, His Holiness said. There’s some sort of instruction there. There is not a single word that does not apply to your own practice. We have to take an interest in this. Otherwise if we read all the words of the Buddha and we don’t know how to think about it properly, it’s difficult to find the instruction that will bring us to awakening. Whatever scriptures there are, they’re really talking about practice.

Madhyamaka is the path of profound emptiness. The commentary on valid cognition teaches the reasons for going for refuge. We have to practice the words to reach awakening. For example, at first we think the aggregates are a thing, but when we analyse it, it’s just a collection that’s been put together. If we look at afflictions, we can analyse them and then we have the key to this door. What we need as Buddhists is genuine wisdom. We need to have faith and wisdom. Both help our practice to develop. We have to dispel misconceptions about what we’re practicing. By analysing and debating we really find the answer. Even when we’re practicing, we need to use our study to develop our practice. If we say study is not practice, that’s not the right understanding. Success in practice, he concluded, depends on study.

On the final day of his teaching HH Karmapa read the remaining pages of the text and summarised the four yogas and 10 bhumis. Then he addressed “those who have blonde hair and speak English. It was quite difficult to teach this,” he said in English. Thank you for coming every day. I am happy to see you all. Have a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. Thank you.”

Norma Levine


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chant masters

chant masters from each kagyu monastery gather in a lawn to practice melodies. khenpo gawang, the administrative supervisor, looks on.

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bhutanese national day

bhutanese national day

on december 17th, the bhutanese temple celebrated its national day. breakfast was a quiet affair where a few bhutanese lamas pulled the flag up on a staff that unfurled dozens of fluttering red rose petals. thus, the opening ceremony commenced. lunch was a larger gathering of torma lamas, bhutanese staff, monlam organizers…etc. featuring the staple, red bhutanese rice.

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peacock on the watch

on the rooftop

on the rooftop

a peacock perches on tergar’s rooftop waiting for His Holiness.

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December 10, 2008 5:30PM

two long lines of brick colored robes lay on the sides of the narrow path to Tergar. on the rightside, the yougest monks shift about with white katas in their small hands. approaching Tergar, the line gradually grows taller and culminates in a celebration of color at the open junction. lay and monastic sangha cluster around awaiting the Karmapa’s arrival.

it had been nearly 2 hours since his announced arrival time and still no news of the actual moment reached those of us along the road. at 4:45PM, the sun turned orange just above the far guesthouse and we knew we had been waiting for quite some time. yet the fatigue didn’t spoil the excitement. Instead, we caught the second wind with the sinking sun. dusk brought us a whispered energy and in quiet mode, a new set of sounds emerged. suddenly, the Gyaling horns resounded from the rooftop announcing the arrival of HH Karmapa. A cavalcade of headlights suddenly occupied the quiet junction and we again stood on tiptoes trying to stay above the din to catch a glimpse of the great bright eyed one.

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from the kagyu office website.

12th Annual Karmae Gunchoe Debate Session from December 11th to 29th, 2008:
His Holiness will preside over the upcoming 12th Annual Karmae Gunchoe Winter Debate and Logical studies.  During the Session His Holiness will give teachings.

Teaching in Bodhgaya from December 31st to January 2nd, 2009:
His Holiness will give a public teaching at Tergar Monastery.

26th Kagyu Monlam Chenmo from January 4th to 11th, 2009:
His Holiness Gyalwang Karmapa will preside over the 26th Kagyu Monlam Chenmo prayers for world peace which will be held at Bodhgaya.

Teaching in Bodhgaya from January 12th to 14th, 2009:
His Holiness will give public teaching at Tergar Monastery.

From January 19th to March 5th, 2009:
His Holiness will reside at Vajra Vidhya Institute where he will study Buddhist Philosophy from Khenchen Yongzin Thrangu Rinpoche and will celebrate Tibetan Losar which is on February 25th.

please visit kagyu office website for detailed information.

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