Celebrating the Arhats

Thrangu Monastery Canada, Richmond, BC
June 27, 2019

This morning’s practice was dedicated to the Sixteen Arhats, to whom the Buddha gave the task of preserving the teachings. Artists have depicted these sixteen elders in many different ways, from rather idiosyncratic characters living in remote areas to the aristocratic and elegant arhats (luohans) of the Golden Age of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Recently, the Karmapa has created finely drawn images of just their heads, focusing on their distinctive personalities.

Graceful images of the arhats, created by a painter from Tibet, cover the walls of the impressive shrine hall at Thrangu Rinpoche’s Vajra Vidya Institute in Sarnath, India where the Buddha first turned the wheel of Dharma. It is appropriate that at the place of the Buddha’s first teaching, we find images of the arhats, protectors of the truth that he discovered.


In the practice from this morning, these lines are addressed to the arhats:


The Dharma of the Lion of the Shakyas,
That protector of beings, rests in your hands.
All you arhats, the elders who open the treasury of the Buddha’s words,
I invite you in order to spread the genuine Dharma.
You protect the Dharma, particularly the Sugata’s words.
Sixteen arhats, you have cast aside your own welfare
And remain in the jungle of samsara for the benefit of others.


Every Kagyu Monlam gives the opportunity to make prayers and offerings dedicated to the benefit of the living and deceased. The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, explains: “It is said that dedicating the roots of virtue is extremely important… Think to yourself, ‘I shall make it so that I and all living beings achieve the state of the omniscient Buddha. For that purpose, I dedicate all the merit accumulated in the three times to unexcelled full awakening.’” Today these prayers were lead by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, who also read out the names of those for whom special offerings had been made.

The prayers after lunch focused in Guru Rinpoche and the two famous supplications, Clearing the Path of Obstacles and the Spontaneous Fulfillment of Wishes. These led into

extensive offerings of mandalas and representations of the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind. The first was made by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and presented to Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche for his long life. It was quite moving to see them touching foreheads and exchanging long white scarves. Afterward as the Twenty-One Praises to Tara were recited (which also promote the long life of the lamas), many disciples made offerings to the two lamas and the ordained sangha.