Preparing for the Monlam

Thrangu Monastery Canada, Richmond, BC
June 24, 2019

Thrangu Monastery Canada is the first traditional Tibetan monastery in the Pacific Northwest and the North American Seat of Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. From June 25 to June 30, it is hosting the tenth North American Kagyu Monlam. Founded under the guidance of the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, this year’s Monlam will be led by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, and more than eighty members of the ordained sangha plus lay followers, who have come from all over the world to participate in prayers and aspirations for world peace and well-being. As the 17th Karmapa has explained, “The power of positive aspirations is greatly magnified when many people perform them together with a one-pointed intention to benefit others.”

The preparations for this Kagyu Monlam have been taking place for weeks ahead of the event. Five monks arrived early from Thrangu Rinpoche’s Asian monasteries to make tormas, the sculpted offerings found on Tibetan shrines. The monks spent 25 days in one room creating the large white tormas—offerings of nourishment that are both part of the daily offerings as well as augmentations to larger ceremonies.

The monks also fashioned eight major tormas that are set up in front of the red and gold cabinets that enshrine the 1001 Buddhas of the Fortunate Era. Each one of the eight has a figure at the top representing a great teacher from India. Traditionally, they are known as the Six Ornaments, who were great scholars from India—Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Asanga, Dignaga, Vasubhandu, and Dharmakirti—and the two Supreme Ones, who were experts in the vinaya (the code of discipline for the ordained sangha)—Shakyaprabha and Gunaprabha. Their presence brings to mind the Indian origins of the Buddhism that came to Tibet and the continued relevance of these teachings.

On this day before the program begins, long rows of cushions cover the wide carpeted floor while local members of the monastery arrange formal bouquets to fill the sills of the six spacious windows opening to the landscape that surrounds the shrine. Next to them, volunteers light rows of red candles and flank them with smaller bowls of flowers, bedecked in glitter. Two photographers check the best places to set up their cameras, and a chair in the center of the front row is being prepared for Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche. There’s a sense of quiet dedication to the evolving space, a waiting for the voices of the sangha and the sounds of traditional music to fill this world.