A warm day dawned at Monlam today with more smiles, more chanting and definitely more people!
Today was the sacred "center" day for the 5-day event, the holy day known on the Tibetan calendar as Chokhor Duchen - "The Great Time (duchen) of the First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma (Chokhor)."
The day commemorates the first teaching given by Shakyamuni Buddha after his enlightenment - the teaching on The Four Noble Truths given to the Buddha's first five disciples at Deer Park in Varanasi.
The opening days of the Monlam saw about 300 people in attendance daily, but this morning, with the program featuring the empowerment of Akshobya Buddha, nearly 700 people filled the courtyard tent at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra.
Monastics surrounded the throne of the Very Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche before the event, and the rest of the crowd was perched in row after row of folding chairs. Four large monitors broadcast the webstreaming feed so even those in the back rows could get a close look at the empowerment.
During his opening remarks, Very Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche remarked about the significance of the empowerment.
"We are extremely fortunate to have this Kagyu Monlam at KTD," Thrangu Rinpoche said. Following the directions of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Rinpoche added, the Kagyu Monlam program includes the traditional purification empowerment of Akshobya.
Akshobya's blessing, Rinpoche said, helps remove afflictive states and karmic obscurations, obstacles and problems we may experience in our daily lives.
Obstacles and obscurations impede us in our lives, Rinpoche said, and if we recite the mantra of Akshobya, it has the power to purify our obstacles. If the mantra is recited for others, it will help them with the sufferings of illness and death.
Akshobya's blessing can even extend to our beloved pets, Rinpoche said. "If we recite the mantras for them we can help at death to protect them from falling into the lower realms."
At the conclusion of the empowerment, Rinpoche sat patiently at the front of the stage in a chair, blessing each person with the vase of water consecrated with the mandala of Akshobya.
One of the more interesting participants waiting in the line was a large white rabbit, carried by a loving friend in a small cardboard box. As the woman brought her rabbit to Rinpoche for blessing, he smiled, touched the vase right between the rabbit's ears, and trickled blessed saffron water on its head!
Following this, a group of children surprised Rinpoche with a performance of songs of Milarepa in English, translated by Jim Scott under the direction of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso.
Ironically, as the empowerment came to a close, garbage trucks rumbled onto the property near the empowerment tent. "It was actually inspiring," said one participant. "It was as though the garbageman was collecting our kleshas and obscurations and taking them away!"
During the afternoon session, the Rinpoches and sangha performed the blessing ritual of Akshobya for the living and the dead. Large sheets of paper - white for the deceased, and pink for the living - decorated the sides of the Shrine Room before the puja, which lasted most of the afternoon.
After the prayers began, monks and nuns took the name sheets off the walls and placed them in neat stacks on the shrine. Later in the sadhana, the stacks of names - and the beings they represented - were blessed by Thrangu Rinpoche.
The sadhana included torma offerings and a symbolic empowerment for the deceased, plus a long-life puja for the living. At the conclusion, both sets of names were burned in a purifying fire outside the KTD Shrine Building.
There was a moment on unexpected excitement early on in the puja, as the volunteer fire-makers performed their work were a little too well, and created enough purifying smoke to set off the monastery smoke alarms, even though the fire was outside!
Quick work by Shrinekeeper Michael Heaton and Technician Dan Curtis silenced the alarms, and the chanters never missed a beat.
As the pujas ended for the day, participants wended their way back to their hotels, filled with happy memories of a very holy day.
Photo credits: Stephanie Colvey