After three days of partly cloudy, cool skies, July heat settled over Monlam today, as people spent the morning seeking shade in any place possible -- under the eves of the New Wing at KTD, under the courtyard tent, and under colorful umbrellas.
Several participants remarked that they felt the heat was helping them were purify their karma. "I hope this is purifying my karma for being reborn in the hell realms!" one participant joked.
In spite of the heat, participants maintained a joyful, if wilted, mood.
"There's nothing like it," said one participant. "It's like being in a monastery," said another.
Yeshe Wangmo, a retreat lama who is making a film about the artwork of torma, says she's been enjoying the special atmosphere of fellowship and prayer that is Monlam.
"It's like a mini Bodhgaya," Wangmo said. "This event captures the feeling of the main Monlam in India. In fact the umdze (Sonam Paljor) remarked to me that leading the prayers here made him feel homesick for Bodhgaya."
In the morning teaching session, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche continued his series of descriptions of the activities of the Gyalwang Karmapas.
The 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje, was an artist and craftsman, who painted many inspiring depictions of the great masters of India and Tibet. Many of these paintings still exist, and can be seen in Asia, Rinpoche said.
Artwork has a special quality, Rinpoche said, in that it can inspire people to practice the dharma. "We know these statues are made of rock or metal, but it's not just any rock or any metal, " he said. "It's special rock and special metal that has a special power - the power to remind us of the Buddha and the Dharma … This is why it's important for us to supplicate and make offerings to these images."
The 10th Karmapa also created the very first woodblock print of the Kangyur, the compiled teachings of the Buddha, Rinpoche said. This was very important, as these teachings were rare and hard to find before the woodblocks were made.
The 11th Karmapa, Yeshe Dorje, recognized many incarnate teachers (tulkus), including Situ Chokyi Jungne, whom Karmapa recognized by letter before his death.
The 12th Karmapa, Jangchuk Dorje, was the guru of the 8th Tai Situ, who founded the Palpung monastery in Kham, Eastern Tibet, to firmly establish the Kagyu Dharma in Eastern Tibet.
The 13th Karmapa, Dudul Dorje, led a simple, uncomplicated life, teaching birds, animals, and mice the holy dharma. His life was so simple that it attracted criticism from a well-known teacher of the era, but Rinpoche said the criticism was actually a form of praise, extolling the virtues of Karmapa's simplified life and teachings. He mainly taught the dharmas of not returning insults for insults, not returning blows with blows, not returning anger with anger, and so forth.
The 14th Karmapa, Thekchok Dorje, was a contemporary of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Chokchur Dechen Lingpa. During his time, Situ Pema Nyingje founded the 3-year retreat facility at Tsurphu monastery, seat of the Karmapas. Karmapa himself did the retreat, acting as an ordinary monk, Rinpoche said.
The 15th Karmapa was a student of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, traveling twice to eastern Tibet to receive teachings from his master. Jamgon Kongtrul was famous for compiling the Five Treasuries, five works of great teachings, empowerments, and other sacred dharma works. Khakyap Dorje caused the Treasury of Precious Terma, the Rinchen Terdzod, to be published, and went on to write three important works that refuted criticisms of dharma teachings.
Planning Next NAKM
After lunch, planning on next year's Monlam began with a meeting called by Lama Chodrak, representative of the main Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya, who called a meeting of North American center lamas to discuss plans for the next Monlam.
Final plans are yet to be announced, but it's believed that the Second North American Kagyu Monlam will be in Vancouver, Canada in late spring, 2011.
At mid-afternoon, the Shrine Room was stifling in the 90+ degree heat and typical East Coast humidity, without a hint of a breeze to provide relief. Lydia Leung, a generous Monlam sponsor, took matters into her own hands and drove to the local home supply store and acquired 7 oscillating fans. Volunteers and lamas hastily assembled them during the afternoon break, bringing a welcome change to the final chanting sessions.
Each afternoon, chanted prayers include numerous recitations of King of Aspiration Prayers: The Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct. Earlier in the week, we reported on the use of English language for one recitation, in place of the traditional Tibetan text. Today, the Chinese language recitation debuted, led by Ani Lodro Lhamo. A substantial Chinese-speaking group of practitioners lifted the aspirations in a beautiful melody that filled the Shrine Room and the tent in the courtyard.
When the afternoon session of chanting began, Thrangu Rinpoche was absent from his seat, but with good reason - he was acting as a preceptor for two people - one man and one woman - who took monastic vows this afternoon.
Ngoc Bich Kim, a Khmer (Cambodian) Travinh woman from Vietnam who has lived in the United States since 1989, took nun's vows, and Michael Heaton, the shrinekeeper at KTD, took monk's vows.
As the newly minted monastic took her seat during the puja, her sister monastics greeted her with warm smiles and pats of the hand. During the break, the new "Ani" (sister) Lhamo was given a white scarf by a fellow nun, and shown how to arrange her many new robes. "It's a lot of fabric!" she remarked, trying the wrestle with the burgundy and yellow cloaks.
About an hour later, Michael Heaton bustled into the shrineroom in his new robes, going about his duties now as Choepel Zangpo. His appearance surprised some fellow KTD staffers, as some had not known of his decision to ordain.
But one person who did know was Lama Karma Drodhul, who was part of Choepel's ordination ceremony.
"It's wonderful," Lama Karma said. "It is somehow so appropriate that the person who is tending the shrine and helping to introduce people [and visitors] to the shrine here at KTD would be a monk."