Thrangu Monastery Canada, Richmond, BC
June 28, 2019
On this penultimate day of the North American Kagyu Monlam, the focus of the first practice in the morning was the Medicine Buddha. Blue in color and surrounded by seven tathagatas, he embodies a compassion that heals both physical and mental problems. As the famous verse of praise states, he cures ignorance, hatred, and excessive desire as well as physical pain:
Bhagavan, equally compassionate to all,
Just hearing your name protects from the lower realms’ sufferings.
We prostrate to you who cure the disease of the three poisons,
Medicine Buddha of radiant blue light.
Here in Thrangu Monastery, the Medicine Buddha is placed in one of the four directions of the shrine hall’s mandala; he is also found in the golden cabinets that fill the side walls.
According to the tradition of his practice promoted by Karma Chagme and followed today, one should chant the Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct after the Medicine Buddha practice. It is not surprising that this aspiration is found in so many places. As its verses move through the seven branch offerings in various forms, the huge numbers of figures and offerings continually expand the mind to encompass increasingly inconceivable images that proliferate to the point where the mind is stretched so far and thin that it can turn transparent to the experience of emptiness. This focus then points to the very beginning of the practice and the well-known verse on emptiness:
I prostrate to the perfect Buddha,
The one of authentic speech, who taught that
Whatever arises interdependently
Has no cessation and no arising,
No annihilation and no permanence,
No coming and no going,
Is neither different or the same,
And is free of all elaboration.
The afternoon practice was devoted to another blue Buddha, Akshobhya, known as the Immovable One since he made and kept the vow never to become angry for the duration of his path to enlightenment. This practice is often performed for those who have passed away. During the previous days of the Monlam, people had the opportunity to write the names of the deceased on yellow slips of paper making the aspiration that they would be benefited in their next life. These papers were taped together in long rows and affixed to the outside of two five-foot cylinders that spin like prayer wheels.
When the practice came to the point of blessing the deceased, these two cylinders were moved in front of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche to slowly turn as he performed the purifications and blessings for everyone. Afterward, the two cylinders were taken out to the courtyard behind the shrine and the papers were offered to the fire. This ceremony recalls the long fire puja the Gyalwang Karmapa performs during the Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya. It is the culmination of a longer retreat that starts before Monlam and finishes during it with elaborate offerings and a bonfire of the names in front of the temple.
For the last session of the day, Thrangu Rinpoche came to sit in front of the Buddha and be present for the numerous mandala offerings that were made. As participants chanted in a lilting melody the long Aspiration for Birth in the Pure Real of Sukhavati and the Indestructible Garland of Vajras, lamas and lay disciples made offerings and received the blessing of the two Rinpoches and then for a long time, they moved through the maroon and gold rows of the ordained sangha, making offerings to each member.