The Kagyu Monlam was originally instituted in the 15th century by the Seventh Gyalwang Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso, as a gathering for followers of the Kagyu lineage. Beginning with Kyabje Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche, who re-established the Monlam at Bodhgaya in 1983, and continuing under the guidance of the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the Monlam has come to include prayers from all Buddhist traditions—all four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism as well as both the Sutra and Tantra vehicles.
Since 1983, the number of Rinpoches, lamas, monks and nuns, lay practitioners, and pilgrims attending the Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya has grown every year. The 2016 Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya brought together close to six thousand monks and nuns and equal numbers of pilgrims to recite prayers from many different lineages of Buddhism.
In the Introduction to The Kagyu Monlam Prayer Book, His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa places particular emphasis on the importance of uniting Buddhist practitioners:
“In the past, most Tibetans considered the traditions of their own lineages and monasteries to be the most important and would adhere to their standard liturgies. This meant that each particular tradition had its own set of texts and so common liturgies are very rare. At this time, when the old and new begin to converge, many people are interested in a nonsectarian outlook, and since this accords with my own vision, I have drawn the majority of this text from the words of the Buddha. It also includes quotations from the Indian scholars respected by everyone and quotations from the earlier masters of Tibet. I hope that this genuine nonsectarian approach will purify the stains that come from regarding one’s own tradition as superior and also the stains that come from abandoning the Dharma.
The original nonsectarian (Rimé) movement in Tibet was founded by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and other teachers in the nineteenth century as a means of encouraging respect for all Buddhist traditions, and to preserve their prayers and practices for the future benefit of all beings.