What is the Kagyu Monlam
The Kagyu Monlam is an annual prayer assembly in India whose purpose is to gather together practitioners in the Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism to create universal aspirations of goodwill and harmony.
This tradition originated five hundred years ago, in fifteenth-century Tibet, when the Seventh Gyalwang Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso, established an annual prayer festival in order to restore monastic discipline, to make offerings to the Three Jewels, and to inspire sincere faith among participants and witnesses. Held during the first lunar month, the month of the Buddha Shakyamuni's miracles, great gatherings of over ten thousand members of the Sangha assembled under the guidance of the Seventh Karmapa and performed the liturgy of The Twenty-Branch Monlam that he himself had compiled. They prayed to dispel obstacles and unfavorable circumstances, for all beings to be free from suffering and misfortune and to complete the accumulation of merit, and for peace and harmony in the world. The Kagyu Monlam was held every year without interruption until this venerable tradition was temporarily brought to a halt by the political upheavals of the 1950s.
In 1983, Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche and the Very Venerable Bokar Rinpoche instituted a Monlam to recite The Aspiration for Excellent Conduct one hundred thousand times in Bodhgaya, at the spot where Shakyamuni Buddha awakened to complete and perfect Buddhahood. This planted the seed for holding the Kagyu Monlam in the Noble Land of India, and this renewed tradition has continued every winter in Bodhgaya for the past 32 years. Following the parinirvana of Kalu Rinpoche in 1989 and of Bokar Rinpoche in 2004, the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa assumed responsibility for maintaining and revitalizing the Monlam.
As stated by His Holiness Karmapa, “Kagyu Monlam is an avenue whereby we can spread, at times of great need, the genuine spirit of love and compassion to all the people of the world, like a great ripple, first in Bodhgaya, then in Bihar, and so on. As we continuously offer these prayers for world peace, it is our intention and our wish that peace and happiness extend to all.”
His Holiness Karmapa has also said, “The sentient beings living on the earth and the elements of the natural world need to join their hands together—the earth must not give up on sentient beings, and sentient beings must not give up on the earth. Each needs to grasp the other’s hand….We hold the Kagyu Monlam for the benefit of the entire world. We will not give up on the earth! May there be peace on earth! May the earth be sustained for many thousands of years! These are the prayers we make at the Kagyu Monlam.”
What is the North American Kagyu Monlam
Modeled on the traditional Kagyu Monlam in India, the North American Kagyu Monlam was created under the auspices of His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa as an extensive prayer assembly and teaching event for monastic and lay sangha in this part of the world. His Holiness Karmapa personally developed and has continued to refine and update the prayers and programs for the North American Kagyu Monlam.
The first North American Kagyu Monlam was hosted by Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York, in 2010. It was co-sponsored by Karma Triyana Dharmachakra; Kagyu Thubten Chöling in Wappingers Falls, NY; and Karma Thegsum Chöling in New Jersey. The second North American Kagyu Monlam was held in Vancouver, Canada, the following year, the third in California in 2012, and the fourth in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 2013. The 2014 Kagyu Monlam, held in Hawaii, was the fifth in the series of Kagyu Monlams in North America. Vancouver, Canada, again hosted in 2015, and now in 2016 Kagyu Thubten Chöling in Wappinger’s Falls, NY, will fulfill its longtime aspiration as the presiding host for this auspicious event.
Lama Norlha Rinpoche, the abbot of Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery and Retreat Center since its inception in 1978, spoke about the significance of the North American Kagyu Monlam in 2010, as one of the co-sponsors of the inaugural Monlam. “The Kagyu Monlam has been held in countries around the world, allowing practitioners to come together as a sangha and join voices and intention in unified aspiration. His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, has now given his blessing for the first Kagyu Monlam in North America. Together we will pray for the balance of the four elements during these difficult times, for world peace, and for the happiness of all beings. Our aspirations become the ground of our future experience. This is a rare and precious opportunity to magnify the power of our pure intentions.”