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Hello Friends,

This year on the monlam blog we are highlighting the 900th anniversary of the Karmapas. We would really appreciate receiving your memorable story of the 16th Karmapa to post on the blog. Something unusual, inspiring and life-changing to share with all of us would be a great contribution to the event. Please send it to

in dharma,

NL

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When we, as analog girl and digital boy, first started the Kagyu Monlam blog in 2007, writing about chai wallas and toilets, we did so, hopeful that a day would come when live webcasting would provide a much more direct experience of the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo. Little did we know that not only was Kagyu Monlam webcasting wildly successful, but that the Kagyu Monlam website reports and blogs by other reporters such as Naomi Levine and Goosebumps(4all) on our very own blogsite would enrich that experience.

This year, the Kagyu Monlam branched out around the world, covering several continents. We met people who had never been to the Monlam in India but were so happy to be able to attend the International Monlams in Malayasia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Nepal, Poland and North America. Neither digital boy nor I were able to attend the pan-Asian Monlams nor the Monlam in Poland. But, from the comfort of home (and occasionally at work), I watched parts of the North American Kagyu Monlam by webcast and followed parts of the journey on the delightfully written blog by Lama Kathy Wesley and felt so connected. What an experience to be able to follow this wonderful event. Our hats off to the new media eyes and ears. Thank you for expanding the realm of vision!

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Standing at the very back on a raised bank you can get a panoramic view of the vast amphitheatre constructed by Lama Chokyi Gyaltsen under the direction of HH Karmapa. Three screens flank each side of a gigantic stage on two levels with a fantasy tree like a delicate Japanese cherry in blossom. As the lights focus on it, the colours change dramatically. (Is this the tree of enlightenment?) An enormous white seven petal lotus creates a breathtakingly beautiful minimalist background to this most extraordinary production of the life story of Milarepa, directed, produced and written by HH Karmapa, with actors from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala.

Seated on the stage on either side are five hundred monks and nuns who chant prayers in haunting melodies composed by Karmapa, almost like a Greek chorus, while the screens project pages of the text and impressive views of the icy peaks of the Himalayas where Milarepa meditated. This is both epic spectacle and close up, intimate drama.

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In his closing remarks at the Monlam, with the entire assembly present, His Holiness Karmapa reminded us of the power of prayers.

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Several outstanding events occurred this year which indicate to all of us here that His Holiness’ activity has begun in earnest. December 29th and 30th were dedicated to cleaning up this most polluted of holy places. Yes, the earth here is sacred but it would be better without the plastic graveyards, the open sewers and the rotting corpses. I actually picked up two dogs lying in the middle of the road, one killed, the other mortally wounded by passing cars.

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On the concluding few days of the Milarepa sessions, His Holiness Karmapa emphasized that we have to integrate view, meditation and action; they cannot be separated.

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Karmapa was in a jovial mood when he delivered his annual greetings to members of the Kagyu Monlam. ‘Actually’, he said, ‘I am also a member of the Kagyy Monlam. Lama Chodrak brought me a card, but I’m the worst member because I didn’t pay’. He praised Lama Chodrak, the driving force behind the Monlam.

‘The tradition of the Kagyu Monlam’, he continued, ‘began five hundred years ago during the time of the 7th and 8th Karmapas. In India it came into existence through the efforts of Kalu Rinpoche. The Kagyu Monlam has now become international. Many people of all cultures come together and bathe in the prayers.

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I would like to share the teachings and meditations HH Karmapa is giving under the bodhi tree at mid morning after reading sections of Milarepa’s life story. Many of these points are reminders taught in a startlingly vivid way.

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Prayer wheels looking like paper lanterns hang suspended from the main gate leading to the stupa. In the early morning and at night they glow with coloured lights (when electricity permits). Made from wood and covered in white cloth they are painted with the mantra OM PEMO KHA BEMA LE HUNG PHAT. This mantra has powers of purification so that all who pass through the gate will receive some spiritual benefit.

Inside the grounds there is a noticeable improvement in the level of organisation and discipline Young Tibetans (dharmapalas) in dark uniforms remind you to take off your shoes and point out the appropriate areas to sit. The paths are immaculate; the mats laid out generously indicating seating areas. There’s even leg room for stretching prostration bruised knees. Volunteers in special jackets (designed by His Holiness) move deftly bearing huge teapots.

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Letter to a friend

Letter to a Friend – Nagarjuna

The shrine room at Tergar Monastery in Bodh Gaya was packed with 1500 people from 52 countries. The seating was organised deftly to give every group a chance to sit at the front and gaze at the powerfully expressive face of the Karmapa. The throne, the shrine, the gigantic Buddha, the face of Karmapa – all seemed washed with gold. Chyamsin-la, the Karmapa’s sister, offered the mandala to request the teachings.

From my notes which have been edited.

The reason we chose this text, His Holiness Karmapa informed the international assembly, is that it is primarily an instruction for householders on how to practise the dharma. Nagarjuna wrote it to his friend, the King of South India. It includes the five vows and the practice of the 6 paramitas.

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This year, we have a dedicated webcasting site for His Holiness’s teachings and the Milarepa performance on January 1st.

I visited the site of the performance recently and agreed with everyone who had remarked: the stage is HUGE! Rounded with an inner step of bricks, cement and dry red earth and the background, a field of dry grass and a long horizon, the stage is perfectly set to stand out. We are so excited about this event so look for further developments in this story.

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His Holiness in Bodhgaya

Waiting to greet His Holiness Karmapa on his arrival at Tergar monastery in Bodh Gaya. HH Karmapa talks to the 60 monks and nuns who will sing on January 1st for the Milarepa performance.

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