Monday, May 16, 2016

India Adventure III: It's time to go ...

It’s funny. The post I published before I left the US for India six months ago ended with a photo of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa (the Karmapa). Now this, my final post from India begins with a photo of the same beloved Tibetan Buddhist monk, one of the most revered figures in Tibet.

Spending time in his presence, observing and hearing about his charitable work was the highlight of my time in India.

Me with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa at Gyuto Monastery this month.
Photo by Karmapa staff.
When Lama Zopa Rinpoche, another Tibetan monk and teacher whose charitable work is endless, did not come to the Root Institute in Bodhgaya this year as he had in the past, I found myself nearly a month of free time (Feb 14 – March 12) before the start of Geshe Dorji Damdul’s Bodhicitta Retreat at Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamsala.

So on February 16 I made my way over to nearby Tergar Monastery where the Karmapa was temporarily in residence for the first day of the 33rd annual Karmapa Khenno Kagyu Sangha Monlam Chennmo Prayers for World Peace (Kagyu Monlam).

Tergar Monastery with photo of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa.
Tergar Monastery.
Tergar Monastery gompa.
This massive seven day production organized and carried out by the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism drew 10,000+ monks, nuns, as well as students from around the world Bodhgaya, India. Too numerous to fit inside of the Mahabodhi Temple grounds as had been done in years past, we gathered together in the Kagyu Monlam Pavilion next to Tergar Monastery.

Kagyu Monlam Pavilion.
One of the side entrances at Kagyu Monlam Pavilion.
There, we did daily recitation of prayers in unison, in tune, in the Tibetan language. The Kagyu Monlam Prayer Book we recited from was printed in a large variety of languages; it seemed the two most popular editions were the Chinese and Tibetan language texts, with English probably falling in third place.

My prayer book.
The production of the entire text – including the selection of prayers – was overseen by the Karmapa. He wrote the Preface to the text in May 2007, when he was in his twenties. This is the last paragraph:

I make the aspiration that when you recite this during the Monlam, each word may first arise in your heart and then emerge from your mouth. I pray that every letter and syllable become a golden image and that every word fill the entire world. May all the sounds of lament and war as well as the poisonous winds in the environment be dispelled. May these words of love and compassion blend with the innate goodness of every single being and coalesce into one powerful force. Like the light of the sun, moon, and stars, may love, compassion, and wisdom shine forth. May they strike every single living being and dispel the darkness of ignorance, attachment, and hatred that has lurked for ages in their being. When any living being meets with another, may it be like the reunion of a mother and child who have long been separated. In a harmonious world such as this, may I see everyone sleep peacefully to the music of nonviolence. This is my dream.

My days began at 4:45AM. I took a walk along the dark, dusty roads that lead from the Root Institute to the Kagyu Monlam Pavilion, usually dressed entirely in borrowed white clothing at the request of the Karmapa. This was for the purpose of taking the 24 hour Sojong Vows from one of the senior Kagyu monks before sunrise, with the white signifying the student’s purity. We would then recite prayers all day, with a long break for lunch, served for free to all 10,000+ Kagyu Monlam participants, finishing the day’s activities at about 5PM each day.

Kagyu Monlam with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa on the throne.
Photo from
Kagyu Monlam. Photo from Kagyu Official website.
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa at the Kagyu Monlam.
Photo from Kagyu Official website.
One of my most memorable times in India this year was the last afternoon of the Kagyu Monlam, February 22. That morning, as usual I had listened to the English translation of the Tibetan language announcements, using my FM radio. My FM radio battery ran out in the very early afternoon. Since I don’t really speak Tibetan, and since I was surrounded by students using the Chinese language edition of the text whose page numbers are different from the page numbers in the English language text, I couldn’t follow along by looking over a neighbor’s shoulder. I let it go, and simply sat and watched the activity in the room, enjoying listening to the Karmapa speak to us and join us in the recitation of the prayers in his native language, Tibetan.

His Holiness the 17th Karmapa at the Kagyu Monlam.
Photo from Kagyu Official website.
The room would occasionally erupt in color, as thousands of students joyfully and lovingly waved their white and brightly colored khatas (long scarves) above their heads in the direction of the Karmapa, who was sitting, facing us on his throne at the head of the gathering. He would wave his white khata back in our direction. I imagined he was sending his love out to us, too. (I later learned rice is traditionally tossed into the air; the Karmapa replaced rice with the more environmentally, socially, and bird friendly khatas.)

His Holiness the 17th Karmapa at the Kagyu Monlam.
Photo from
It was a beautiful and touching final prayer session.

That night, I went to the nearby Mahabodhi Stupa where Buddha attained enlightenment while sitting underneath a Bodhi tree. It was the last auspicious day of the Fourteen Days of Miracles that follow the Tibetan New Year, Losar when the merit accumulated by the performance of good deeds is multiplied.

Since it was nearly closing time (9PM) the stupa grounds were quiet, with the stupa and Bodhi tree standing out from the dark underneath soft artificial lighting and moonlight.

Mahabodhi Temple stupa at night.
I sat in a spot I had grown fond of, on a high grassy lawn to the left of the entrance to the temple and Bodhi tree with the Kagyu Monlam Prayer Book open before me.

I began to read, for the first time, the prayers the Karmapa had done with us that afternoon: The Great Aspiration and Dedications, Milarepa’s Aspiration, Aspiration for the Well-Being of Tibet, Lord Marpa’s Song of Auspiciousness, Auspicious Prayers from the Vinaya Topics, The Auspiciousness of the Great Encampment, and “The one who taught the truth …”

I was so moved by what I read – particularly this prayer, which I knew, just like the other prayers, had been chosen for us to read by the Karmapa himself.

As I read I recalled how he had waved his khata at us, and felt as if this prayer was coming to us not from Milarepa, the founder of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism, but from the Karmapa:

Milarepa’s Aspiration

Father of perfected aspirations, protector of beings,
Marpa the Translator: I bow to your feet.
All you disciples gathered here, listen!
You have been very kind to me,
And I have been very kind to you.
May we, master and disciples, equally kind,
Meet in the realm of Abhirati.
All you patrons present here,
May you have good health, long lives, and merit.
May you have no wrong intentions.
May your wishes be fulfilled in accord with Dharma.
May this area be auspicious.
May people be free from sickness and fighting.
May there be good harvests, bountiful grain, joy, and comfort.
May all practice Dharma at all times.
May all who see my face, hear my speech,
Recollect my life,
Or hear my name
Meet me in Abhirati.
May anyone who acts upon
And practices my life story
And those who prostrate or make offerings
Toward reading and listening to it
Meet me in Abhirati.
To all people of the future:
If you are able to meditate,
May you, through my austerities,
Have no obstacles or pitfalls.
There is immeasurable merit
In engaging in austerity for Dharma.
There is immeasurable kindness
In facilitating and encouraging it.
There is immeasurable blessing
In hearing my life story.
Through the blessing of these three immeasurables,
May beings be liberated just by hearing it.
May all be accomplished just by thinking it.
May my places, the places I’ve stayed,
And the places my belongings are brought
Be filled with joy and well-being.
Wherever the elements of earth, water
Fire, wind, and space are present,
May I be present too.
May gods, nagas, and the rest of the eight classes;
Local gods; and bhutas not cause
Harm for even an instant.
May their wishes be in accord with Dharma.
Without not even one animal, insect,
Or other being falling into samsara,
May I lead each and every one to liberation.

Reading this even now deeply moves me. And so it goes … the Karmapa and his constant activities, performed for the welfare of all sentient beings.

I am now in the mountains of north India at Sherabling Monastery, the seat of Tai Situ Rinpoche, another senior monk from the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Sherabling Monastery.
Sherabling Monastery hotel where teachings are being held.
Today is the last day of a five day Mahamudra meditation retreat with Mingyur Rinpoche, who lives at Sherabling Monastery and is one of Tai Situ Rinpoche’s students. I first saw Mingyur Rinpoche in person at the Kagyu Monlam, which was held at his monastery, Tergar Monastery. There are about 300 people from around the world here at Sherabling Monastery for Mingyur Rinpoche’s teachings. He teaches in English; Chinese and Russian speakers are listening to simultaneous translation using FM radios. Mingyur Rinpoche leaves India for a US teaching tour in a few days.

Me with Mingyur Rinpoche at Sherabling Monastery. Photo by Mingyur Rinpoche's staff.
I leave Sherabling Monastery in Himachal Pradesh tonight on an overnight bus bound for Delhi, and then leave India for the US on May 18. I will spend the summer traveling the US as a volunteer for HeadCount, registering Americans to vote in the November elections. I have every intention of writing more about India before the year is up – including the time my mom and I got to meet the Karmapa, and the morning I spoke with him at Gyuto Monastery, his home in Dharamsala, north India. So this is not really “farewell India …”


  1. Thank you for sharing your story. It is so amazing. I imagine myself walking the same streets and chanting the same prayers you did. How lucky that you could meet Karmapa and Mingyur Rinpoche ! It's like a dream to me. I hope very soon I will be able to do that. Wish you a great year in the US. Hope the elections in the US can be a truly democratic one. Look forward to hearing your stories again.

    1. Thank you for your beautiful message, Jessica. I am really so touched by your words. I hope we cross paths in India:)

    2. Thank you Nicole. Your path seems so interesting to me. How did you begin your journey in Tibetan Buddhism? I guess that is not the mainstream in the US. I will be doing the Kagyu Molam in Hong Kong this September for the first time.
      I have never been to India, and it is my dream. Hopefully next year. Are students allowed to meet Mingyur Rinpoche in private? Do we need to make an appointment? That is so amazing. I have been following the US election everyday on FB. It seems lots are going on. Hope there will be more transparency. Yes hope our paths will cross in the future! :)

    3. Hi Jessica, I am sorry I did not reply sooner. I was lucky - His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave a teaching in the basketball stadium at my university in 2008. That was my introduction to Buddhism. Congratulations on attending the Kagyu Monlam in Hong Kong. I am sure it was an amazing experience. I hope you were able to speak with Mingyur Rinpoche. Thank you for the well wishes regarding the US election. I am sure our paths will cross at some point - hopefully in India:)

    4. PS - feel free to email me anytime, Jessica. My email address is under the "contact" tab.


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