The History of Kagyu Monlam
We are now at Bodhgaya for Kagyu Monlam. Historically, during the Buddha's time, after He became enlightened, He taught many disciples. His entire teachings are categorized in three sermons that is also known as "Turning the Wheel of Dharma". These teachings impressed every walks of life.
There were times when many fanatics challenged the Buddha in performing miracles. Thus, the Buddha told everyone He will perform a great miracle. When every king and the general publics gathered at Shravasti, on the lunar 1st day of the 1st month until the 15th, the Buddha continuously performed miracles after miracles and at the same time, gave important teachings to make everyone understand the dharma. Many people attained arahathood. Most people, including those who challenged the Buddha, became devotees of the Buddha.
Since then, everyone make aspirations to attain enlightenment. Remembering the moment, everyone made aspirations and practiced diligently. This is how the monlam started. During the flourishing time of Dharma in India, this tradition reached Tibet.
It was in the very early times of Tibet during the beginning of the 8th century, King Muni Tsenpo started dodechopa (Sutra Offering) at Samye monastery. This is similar to monlam. Since then, monlam is observed albeit in different names though the concept is the same as during the Buddha's time.
Later, during Chogyal Phagpa's time (1235-1280), it was said a huge gathering of Sangha built of over twenty thousand monks convened at a place called Rong Chumig in Tsang. In Sakya hakhang Chenmo at Sakya, a set of Thangkas depiciting Choegyal Phagpa's unprecedented Dharma role in Tibet and Drogon Choegyal Phagpa's convention of the Monlam was designed and created.
Similarly, during the Tsongkapa's time, 1235-1280, the Grand Monlam Chenmo started at Lhasa, in front of the Jokhang Temple. Several thousands of Sangha gathered and this tradition continues anually until now.
The tradition of the Grand Kagyu Monlam started with the 7th Karmapa Chodrak Gyatso. According to Pawo Tsulak Trengwa, one of the great masters of Karma Kagyu described in his book: During the four most significant events of the Buddha's life (birth, enlightenment, turning the dharma wheel, and parinirvana) and especially during the first to the fifteenth days of the first Tibetan lunar month, the 7th Karmapa displayed all the precious historical Buddhist's statues. In front of these, he arranged numerous offerings. Amongst the offerings were the precious gem called limik. Many different colours and shapes of diamonds, crystals, gold, jewel, etc were offered. Multifold of exquisite and rare items were displayed and offered. In front of these holy objects and offerings, the 7th Karmapa sat in low cushions and together with all sangha, they started Monlam Chenmo prayers early in the morning. At the end of the Monlam, the 7th Karmapa was so deeply inspired that he made the grand dedication prayer not by memorizing or reading any text but altruistically from his heart and utter through his lips. The public witnessed this wondrous sights and sounds and were extremely moved. Every evening, the 7th Karmapa composed and created various dramas of the Jataka stories of the Buddhas, great Indian saints, universal monarchs, great deeds of Chinese and Mongolian kings, gods and demigods, Indras, the Four Heavenly Guardian Kings, and more. Many games and theatrical shows gave spiritual edutainment for the public.
In normal times of the year, the 7th Karmapa was hardly in public sight. He was often deep in meditation in his private room. So it was one of those rare times that the public could see His Holiness during Monlam. Many travelled far distances to participate in the Monlam just to have a glimpse of Karmapa.
This became a grand activity and called Tsulpur Gharpa Losar. After that, the 7th Karmapa extended the Monlam to central Tibet like Lhasa and Kharu Teng at Tsang province. He had set up an enormous marquee of a hundred poles that was able to hold the grand offerings. It was said that each time with these prayers, the skies were filled with rainbows and auspicious omens and heavenly flowers and fragrances trickled down from above. From then onwards, Kagyud Monlam's tradition continued with each following Karmapa.
After 1959, Kagyu Monlam could not continue in Tibet during the difficult times. Gradually, everyone felt that this is a very significant event of our tradition that must be upheld. Due to availability of place at Bodhgaya, distance and convenience of everyone, it can't be held at first month of Tibetan calendar every year. The earliest Kagyu Monlam was organized by Kalu Rinpoche together with Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche on November 1983, in Bodhgaya. Later, Dharthang Rinpoche sponsored while Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche organized and established Kagyud Monlam at Lumbini - the birth place of Lord Buddha. Hence, Monlam was spread to Lumbini in Nepal.
Subsequently, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje and the late 14th His Holiness Kunzig Sharmapa Mipham Chokyi Lodro Rinpoche annually conducted Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya, India. Through their great aspirations and initiation of the grand Kagyu Monlam, and with the support and participation of disciples from worldwide, Kagyu Monlam flourished immensely to benefit many sentient beings. During Monlam, it is likened to the Buddha Shakyamuni's good kalpa time of spiritual grandeur and abundances. It gives everyone a great opportunity to participate in meritorious activities. These acts will be continued as long as dharma exists in this world.
With the same motivation, if Monlam Chenmo can spread beyond Bodhgaya and be held internationally in many places, it would give precious opportunity for people all over the world to accumulate merits.
Thus, I humbly write this brief introduction of Monlam to share with all.
May all be auspicious.
16 December 2015