The Beginning

Thrangu Monastery Canada, Richmond, BC
June 15, 2019

On this first, bright morning of the North American Kagyu Monlam, a long line of participants curved through Thrangu Monastery’s courtyard and climbed the long flight of steps up to the bright red doors of the shrine hall. Before crossing the threshold, each person was given a copy of the 632-page Kagyu Monlam Book in English or Chinese, two of the thirteen languages into which it has been translated. The volume contains all the aspirations, praises, offerings, long-life prayers, mantras, and dedications needed during the Monlam gatherings wherever they might take place from Asia to Europe or North America.

The book begins with a Preface from the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, who succinctly stated, “the Kagyu Monlam is an expression of our love for the world and all living beings.” Explaining that chanting is one of the ten main Dharma practices, he said, “Recitation is a deeply cherished Tibetan tradition, for it is believed that reciting words of the Dharma has the power to refine one’s visualization and train one’s mind.” In assembling the texts for this volume, the Karmapa also noted that he had followed a genuine nonsectarian approach, relying mainly on the words of the Buddha and also including texts from other traditions.

The Karmapa concluded his Preface with the aspiration: “May these words of love and compassion blend with the innate goodness of every single being and coalesce into one powerful force. Like the light of the sun, moon, and stars, may love, compassion, and wisdom shine forth.”

With their books in hand, participants settled into their places, and then the high-pitched sounds of jalings and the lower reverberations of the radung horns could be heard outside. A procession of offerings, musical instruments, and colorful banners lead an elegant photograph of the Karmapa, as it circled around the monastery and up the front steps to proceed down the central aisle. Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and Khenpo Karthar waited in front to receive it, and the image was placed on the Karmapa’s throne.

For all the Kagyu Monlams around the world, it is traditional, though not mandatory, to take sojong or healing and purification vows, which involve keeping eight precepts and fasting after the noon meal until sunrise the next morning. In the Mahayana tradition, these vows are taken with the motivation to benefit all beings. On this first day of the

Monlam, participants were most fortunate to receive these vows directly from Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. Afterward, Khenpo Karthar made the traditional mandala offering in which everyone participated.

As people enjoyed tea and sweet rice, the head resident lama of Thrangu Monastery Canada, Dungse Lama Pema, gave a warm welcome to all the visitors. In addition to honoring the Karmapa, he greeted Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche, Lama Chodrak, and the many lamas from Dharma centers as well as the ordained and lay sangha. Lama Pema also gave a brief history of the Kagyu Monlam and detailed some of the Karmapa’ achievements in relation to it: through an annual exam of monastic forms, the conduct of the ordained sangha has improved; their studies were encouraged through awards during Winter debates; the chant masters have made progress and learned new melodies created by the Karmapa; artistry of the tormas (sculpted offerings) has flourished; and traditional performing arts from different areas of Tibet have been showcased.

This first day of the Monlam was sponsored by Thrangu Rinpoche and his Labrang (administration). The discipline master read out the classic elaborate praises to the Karmapa and the lineage masters and concluded with a verse from the Way of the Bodhisattva:

As long as space endures,
As long as there are beings,
I will remain to eliminate
The suffering of beings.

After a lunch break, practice began again with several recitations of the well-known King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct. This evoked the origins of the Kagyu Monlam, which was begun by Kalu Rinpoche in 1983 and focused uniquely on the repetition of this prayer. Today it was first recited in the traditional fashion and then with a lovely melody composed by the Karmapa.