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All photos by our marvelous blog photographer Karma Norbu.
Copyright: Kagyu Monlam Chenmo International

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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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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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Akshobya board

(Photo: Sketch of Mitrugpa’s Pure Realm on wooden board.)

This year’s Monlam torma features the Buddha Akshobhya.

Maitripa head Maitripa body

(Photos: Sketch and torma sculpture of Buddha Akshobhya).

Akshobhya prayers will be recited daily during the 25th Kagyu Monlam. Please click on the Kagyu Monlam link for a complete schedule.

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Lama Chokyi tori colour

(Photo: Architect Lama Chokyi with the Shinto design.)

tori

(Photo: One of the four wooden pillars.)

A new design is planned for the main gate of the Mahabodhi Stupa. For years, the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo used a simple bamboo gate with auspicious symbols and banners, but this year, His Holiness chose the elegance and simplicity of the Japanese Shinto gate design. Thus far, only one of the four wooden pillars is nearly constructed.

Lama Chokyi Gyatso, previously an architectural engineer from Taiwan and who currently resides in Bokar Ngedon Choekorling Monastery in Mirik, designed the gate for approval by His Holiness.  Speaking in fluent Tibetan, Lama Chokyi is sought after as much for his engineering skills as for his humble presence.

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Watch videos on right.

Heading inside Hotel Mahayana

(Photo: His Holiness with Lamas from Zongkar Choede Monastery to inaugurate the 8th century Tibetan artifacts.)

Kora around the Bodhi Tree

(Photo: Circumambulating the Bodhi tree with Mahabodhi Temple management Monk in Charge.)

Making offerings

(Photo: His Holiness makes offerings inside the Main Stupa.)

Photos by permission from the Tsurphu Labrang and Kagyu Monlam photographers.

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Lama Gelek painting Torma monks painting

Torma monks painting

(Photos: Lama and artists in the process of painting small tormas.)

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