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Mar 03
Community Articles, Scene and Heard
Journey to the Kagyu Monlam

By Corey Kohn

Bodhgaya is a dusty little one-horse town, replete with limbless beggars and tattered-looking street children, just as we had been told. And in the middle of this unlikely place is the Mahabodhi temple, commemorating the site where the Buddha attained enlightenment 2,500 years ago. The temple is enclosed by a wall but open to most anyone – as long as your remove your caked and dirty shoes to walk the marble paths around the temple.

The first morning we made our way to the grassy slope where most of the foreigners seemed to be gathered, above the sea of monks and nuns perfectly arranged around the temple and giant tree sheltering the His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa’s giant throne.

Each day began with three clacker-synchronized prostrations, a series of chants, an efficiently orchestrated distribution of tea and bread rolls, and then an hour or two of the Karmapa teaching from Milarepa’s life. His Holiness exuded a sense of both formality and light, admonishing humor.

The Kagyu Monlam was a feat of attention to detail and practicality. This was apparent in the shoe bags handed out to Westerners, emblazoned with Kagyu Monlam emblem. And in so may other ways – the abundant and unharried service of milk tea and rolls, the ubiquitous garlands of fresh marigolds festooning the entire grounds, and the gentle but firm service of the many young “kasung” easily identifiable in the elegant, black overcoats. We heard that these teams of security people were volunteers from a high school in Dharamsala.

The scene felt completely familiar and totally fantastical at the same time. There we were sitting amongst Westerners, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese and Bhutanese, all listening to the simultaneous translation through ear phones to our FM radios (translations provided in a dozen or so languages).

As the hands of beggar children reached through the openings in the wall around the temple grounds, I wondered what I was doing. How improbable to spend our days circumambulating a old stone monument and listening to this handsome, young Tibetan lama teach from an ancient life story.

It took a while to realize how ordinary it all was. Exotic in some sense, yes! But the Kagyu Monlam was a good example of what this pilgrimage continued to remind me again and again: that the Buddha was a ordinary man who saw the nature of his own mind and was able to share that with others.

We stayed in Bodhgaya for the Karmapa’s teaching to Westerners at Tergar, which is Mingyur RInpoche’s monastery. The teachings were attended by people from over 50 countries around the world. His Holiness was joyful and often beaming despite the cold he had caught and often tried out his English on the crowd.

We also got another great taste of exotic ordinariness by going to the ruins of Nalanda in Rajgir and the now Indian tourist and pilgrim destination of Vulture Peak Mountain.

Bodhgaya is indeed a dusty and ragged little town, but as the Karmapa said in his teachings there: If you are going for picnic, it’s probably the wrong place to choose, but if you are going for spiritual reasons then you’ve made it to the right place.

The Kagyu Monlam was the first stop on our pilgrimage of the sites of the Buddha’s life, and Michael Rich and I were hell bent on making it to see the Karmapa teach to the assembled Kagyu monks from under the Bodhi Tree.

More descriptions of our pilgrimage and adventures at http://michaelandcorey.blogspot.com.

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1 response to “ Journey to the Kagyu Monlam ”
  1. This is so cool!!! Thanks!

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