Saturday, January 21, 2017

India Adventure III: 28 Days in Bodhgaya with His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje

His Holiness the 17th Karmapa.
Photo from his website.

After two months traveling together in India, my mom flew back to the US on March 12, 2016. The following day I took an overnight train to Bodhgaya, arriving in the city where Buddha attained Enlightenment at about 6AM on February 14.

In the final post I published from India last year, I summarized why I had rushed back to Bodhgaya:

I was hoping I would get to spend another Losar season with Lama Zopa Rinpoche. But he did not come to Bodhgaya in 2016; instead he was benefiting sentient beings from Tso Pema and Nepal.

Through his absence, Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave me an unexpected gift: 28 Days in Bodhgaya with His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje.

Nearly a year later, those 28 days I got to spend observing and appreciating the social service work of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje (His Holiness the Karmapa) are still with me, but I am no better at understanding or articulating it. Instead, I thought to give a broader view of what it is like to spend 28 days withdrawn from the larger world, in the city where Buddha attained Enlightenment 2,500+ years ago.


Bodhgaya is a small city in the Indian state of Bihar. There is one main road that leads from the outskirts of Bodhgaya to the Mahabodhi Temple.

Walking to the Mahabhodi Temple.

Walking to the Mahabodhi Temple.

Passing by some of the always ongoing temple and hotel construction in
Bodhgaya. This is a Bangladesh temple.

Walking to the Mahabodhi Temple.

Roadside stalls on the way to the Mahabodhi Temple.

Buddha image shopping.

Hotels, restaurants, shops alongside the main road.

More roadside stalls just outside of the Mahabodhi Temple grounds.

Auto rickshaws, electric powered rickshaws, and bicycle powered rickshaws
serve as taxis in Bodhgaya.

The local market behind the Mahabodhi Temple.

Fruit and vegetables for sale in the local market.

The market out in front of the post office, just outside of the Mahabodhi Temple.

Shopping for food, clothes, and jewelry in the market.

The market.

Exiting the Mahabodhi Temple.

Horse drawn carts in Bodhgaya.

Buddha CDs and DVDs for sale outside of the Mahabodhi Temple.
Mahabodhi Temple

Bodhgaya is one of the holiest places in the world for followers of Buddhism. Pilgrims travel to Bodhgaya in tour groups and on solo journeys see the holy sites, make prayers and offerings, study, practice, meditate, and gain inspiration.

The center of it all is the Mahabodhi Temple. It is a walled and secured complex that contains stupas, temples, statues, and the place where Prince Siddhartha was sitting (underneath a Bodhi tree) when he attained enlightenment, or final peace, 100% happiness and 0% suffering.

I try to spend as much time as I can at the Mahabodhi Temple.

Entrance/Exit to the Mahabodhi Temple.

Entrance/Exit to the Mahabodhi Temple.

Entrance to the Mahabodhi Temple.

Entrance to the Mahabodhi Temple.

Entrance/Exit to the Mahabodhi Temple.

Entrance/Exit to the Mahabodhi Temple.

Entrance to the Mahabodhi Temple.

Making flower arrangements to sell to pilgrims, who will
offer them to the statues and other holy objects
inside of the Mahabodhi Temple.

Flower arrangements for sale on the street.
There are three paths within the Mahabodhi Temple grounds that encircle the main temple.

Mahabodhi Temple - main temple.

The first circumambulation path is the highest up, and is the longest. That path is partly lined with prayer wheels that contain countless Om Mani Padme Hum mantras. When the prayer wheels are spun it is like you are saying many, many mantras.

Mahabodhi Temple.

Mahabodhi Temple.

Mahabodhi Temple.

Mahabodhi Temple.

Mahabodhi Temple - prayer wheels.
One of a handful of plaques with quotes from Buddha's teachings
in Hindi, Tibetan, English. Paid for by Thai devotees.
I think they were erected in 2015.
The uppermost circumambulation path also passes one of my favorite sites - a smaller temple housing an Avalokitesvhara statue (the Buddha of Compassion), as well as many statues of Tara and the Buddha.

I like to stop at the Avalokiteshvara temple to say some prayers. One of my favorite memories from the Mahabodhi Temple was sitting in front of the doorway to the Avalokiteshvara temple in 2015 with friends, chanting Praises to the 21 Taras.

The path goes near, although not directly alongside a large bathing pool where it is said Buddha spent time, as well as two low buildings containing butter lamp offerings.

Nearing the Avalokiteshvara temple.

Approaching the Avalokiteshvara temple.

Avalokiteshvara surrounded by statues of Tara.

Avalokiteshvara surrounded by statues of Tara.

Avalokiteshvara surrounded by statues of Tara.

Avalokiteshvara surrounded by statues of Tara.

Avalokiteshvara surrounded by statues of Tara.
Sign out in front of the Avalokiteshvara temple.

Looking out in the direction of the Bodhi tree.
The second circumambulation path is on the ground level, and is a little shorter in length. It passes alongside mantras printed in Tibetan and carved into stones, as well as the main spots where people do prostrations using wood prostration boards and padded cushions.

Mahabodhi Temple. Light offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Mahabodhi Temple.

Mahabodhi Temple.

Mahabodhi Temple.
In 2015 I attempted to do a few sessions of prostrations using a borrowed board and cushions.

The long wood boards can be rented from a nearby monastery. The renter carries the board into the temple grounds, finds a spot for it, and then returns the board to the monastery when finished with their prostration practice.

Some people spend months in Bodhgaya, accumulating a certain number of prostrations as a part of their Buddhist practice. The boards and cushions are covered by sheets of colored plastic overnight to keep them clean and dry.
Mahabodhi Temple.

Mahabodhi Temple.

Mahabodhi Temple.

The third, and innermost circumambulation path goes right around the base of the largest temple in the Mahabodhi Temple complex, and right around the base of the Bodhi tree.

Mahabodhi Temple.
Mahabodhi Temple. View of the Bodhi tree.
I like to sit underneath of the Bodhi tree and recite prayers and (attempt to) meditate. It is a quiet spot, even given its popularity.
Mahabodhi Temple, beneath the Bodhi tree.

Mahabodi Temple, beneath the Bodhi tree.

Mahabodhi Temple, on the outskirts of the Bodhi tree.

The main temple and the Bodhi tree.
I also like to sit between the stupas and other holy objects on the ground near the base of the temple, and read prayers. I sit in a few places, but have grown fond of this one particular spot, a narrow alley running between some holy objects.

Mahabodhi Temple. Ground level.

Mahabodhi Temple. Looking at my favorite spot to sit and do my practice,
while facing the main temple.

The view of the main temple from my favorite spot.
When Lama Zopa Rinpoche was here in 2014 and 2015, we regularly visited the Mahabodhi Temple with him to circumambulate along the upper path, recite prayers, receive teachings from him, and make offerings to the holy objects.

Mahabodhi Temple. When we came to the Mahabodhi Temple with Lama
Zopa Rinpoche to do prayers, we frequently sat underneath that huge tree in the
background of this photo. I believe he said it is the oldest tree at the
Mahabodhi Temple. Those tents are used by meditators to protect them from the
many mosquitos that frequent the Mahabodhi Temple, especially after sunset.
Sometimes, especially when I am at the Mahabodhi temple at night, I wait in line to enter the main temple and see the main Buddha statue.

Pilgrims can offer lengths of fabric to the Buddha statute, and a monk who attends to the statute will do his best to dress the statute in as many offered robes as possible each day. Lama Zopa Rinpoche likes to be the last group to offer robes at the end of the day, so that the offered robes stay on the Buddha all night long. (The Mahabodhi Temple is open from 5AM - 9PM , 365 days a year.)

Mahabodhi Temple.

The main temple houses a large Buddha statute.

Mahabodhi Temple. Entrance to the main temple.

Green Tara room next to the main temple. The Green Tara image
carved into the wall is another holy object well visited by pilgrims.

Mahabodhi Temple.

Mahabodhi Temple. Entrance to main temple.
Mahabodhi Temple. Me standing in front of the entrance
to the main temple.
The Buddha image inside of the Mahabodhi Temple main temple.
These robes were offered through the FPMT Puja Fund, July 2015.
Photo by Andy Melnic.

Tergar Monastery

In 2015, I also spent a lot of time walking along the second main road in Bodhgaya, Sujata Bypass Road. This road runs perpendicular to, and then almost parallel to the main road leading to the Mahabodhi Temple. Sujata Bypass Road takes you through green fields, past some new construction, and eventually to Tergar Monastery.

Tergar Monastery was built for Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and is used by His Holiness the Karmapa when he visits Bodhgaya. I spent a lot of time at Tergar in 2016 to attend teachings given by His Holiness the Karmapa, one teaching given by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, to watch the annual Karma Kagyu monks' and nuns' conferences organized by His Holiness the Karmapa, and to attend the 33rd Kagyu Monlam.

Sujata Bypass Road, approaching Tergar.

Fields next to Tergar.

Properties and animals near Tergar.

Sujata Bypass Road, leaving Tergar.

Sujata Bypass Road, leaving Tergar.

Sujata Bypass Road, leaving Tergar. Lots of people use motorbikes.

Homes and businesses near Tergar.

Fields across from Tergar.

Sujata Bypass Road, approaching Tergar.

Sujata Bypass Road, leaving Tergar.

Sujata Bypass Road, local truck transport.

Newly constructed Thai temple and fields on Sujata Bypass Road.

New temple under construction on Sujata Bypass Road.

Roadside shops just outside of Tergar Monastery.

His Holiness the Karmapa's face welcomes devotees
approaching Tergar Monastery.

The street outside of Tergar Monastery.

Side entrance to Tergar Monastery.

Walking through the gates of Tergar Monastery.

Exterior of the temple.

Temple grounds. When the temple reaches full occupancy, devotees sit outside
on this lawn and listen to the prayers and teachings.
Entrance to the temple. The paintings are of the four Dharma kings. (Only two visible here.)

Entrance to the temple.
Side of the temple, with prayer wheels
Exiting the temple.
Tergar Monastery has its own cafe serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The interior of the Tergar Monsatery temple is beautiful.

Two rows of appliqued thangkas leading up to the central Buddha image.
The central aisle is lined with two rows of large, beautiful appliqued thangkas. I saw thangkas like these being made in the applique thangka workshop at Norbulingka. I highly recommend a visit to Norbulinkga. (Just make sure you plan your visit for a day when the workshops are open so you can see the artists at work.)

The appliqued thangkas.
Appliqued thangka.

More sacred artwork in the Tergar temple.
The two large drums are used when prayers are recited in the temple.
The monks and nuns sit on those raised benches, facing the central aisle.
During His Holiness the Karmapa's teachings inside of the temple, lay people
(including me) sit on the light colored cushions pictured in the back of the room.
The front of the temple.

The main Buddha image inside of the Tergar Monastery temple.

Statue of the previous reincarnation of His Holiness the Karmapa,
His Holiness the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje.
View of the temple from the Buddha statue, looking down towards the main doors.

The back of the temple, viewed from the side.

Main entrance to the temple.

The back of the temple.

The ceiling and second drum.
When I was at Tergar in 2016, I got to see beautiful sculptures carved from butter. These were first on display during the 33rd Kagyu Monlam, and after the conclusion of the monlam were moved to the nearby Tergar temple. I was then able to get up close and take photos.

Butter scupltures are a sacred art practiced in Tibet and now in exile in India.

Butter sculptures to the left of the main Buddha image.

Butter sculptures.

Butter sculptures.

Butter sculptures.

Butter sculptures to the right of the main Buddha image.

Butter sculptures.

Butter sculptures.
Butter sculptures.

Butter sculptures.

Butter sculptures.

Butter sculptures.

Smaller butter sculptures.

When Tergar Monastery's temple is full to capacity (I think it can hold about 1,000 people) then students sit outside of the temple on the porch and grass. Those on the porch can watch through the open windows.
His Holiness the Karmapa and English language interpreter David
in the Tergar temple teaching on having confidence in
the power of confession - Jan 31, 2016. Photo from his website.
When the interior filled to capacity, students would sit on the porch that lines
the temple, and listen and watch through the open windows.

Shoes on the porch and a passing monk.

Outside of the temple entrance ... shoes scattered everywhere.

Outside of the temple.
The 33rd Kagyu Monlam, which attracted 10,000+ participants was not held inside of the Tergar Monastery temple but at the neary Monlam Pavilion.

Walk from Tergar Monastery temple to the Monlam Pavilion.

Monlam Pavilion.
Thai Temple

One of the other larger and well known monastic centers in Bodhgaya is the Thai government's Thai temple. Built in 1957 by Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej on the main road leading to the Mahabodhi Temple, it is a beautiful and well used landmark.

Thai temple. Found on tourism website.
The temple's interior is beautiful, and very different from the Tibetan styled Tergar Monastery temple. This is one of the fun parts of touring Bodhgaya - so many traditions and countries are represented not by government buildings but by monasteries and temples.

Thai temple.

Thai temple.

Thai temple.

Thai temple.

Thai temple.

Thai temple.

Thai temple.

Thai temple.

Thai temple.

Thai temple.

Thai temple.

Thai temple.

Thai temple.

Thai temple.

Thai temple. That's a painted wood panel window covering that has been drawn back.
You can compare this sacred art to that of another temple in town - a Vietnamese temple that I entered for the first time in 2016.

Vietnamese temple.

Vietnamese temple.
Root Institute for Wisdom Culture

Each time I go to Bodhgaya, I stay in the same place - the Root Institute for Wisdom Culture (the Root). The Root is a Tibetan Buddhism retreat and study center established by Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. The two lamas also created the Tibetan Buddhist organization I am a part of, the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT).

Root Institute.

Root Institute.

Root Institute.

Root Institute. Light offerings for the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
I stay in one of the two women's dormitories. One is above the dining hall and the other is on the ground floor of a nearby building.

Rooms above the dining hall - exiting the dorm.

Rooms above the dining hall - looking at the dorm entrance.

A friendly visitor in the women's dorm.

Face to face.
The Root has resident animals including goats rescued from the local butcher, cows, dogs, and chickens. They have printed mantras on display in their living quarters, and are taken around the holy objects to receive blessings.

The Root's resident goats and caretaker.

Tongpa-nyi, a resident dog. Her name is the Tibetan word for Emptiness.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche has said it is good to give an animal a Dharma name
because then each time they hear their name, they are hearing Dharma.
The goat caretaker with two of the babies.
New resident pup, Tashi.
The majority of the teachings given at the Root are held inside of the main gompa (temple).

The Root's main gompa.

Inside the main gompa.

Inside the main gompa.

Inside the main gompa.

Inside the main gompa.

Inside the main gompa.
Other teachings are held inside of the small gompa, which is on the ground level of Lama Zopa Rinpoche's house. He stays in this house when he visits the Root.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche's house.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche's house.

Entrance to the small gompa.

Small gompa.

View of the Root upon exiting the small gompa.

Facing the entrance to the small gompa.

Inside the small gompa.

Inside the small gompa.
Portraits of Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
While I was at the Root the community welcomed new resident Geshe Ngawang Rabga. He joined the Root team to teach the Basic Program, which as of September 2016 is now being offered at the Root. I had the very good fortune to get to attend a few Buddhist philosophy classes taught in Tibetan by Geshe Ngawang Rabga and translated into English by western monks who happened to be visiting the Root.

Geshe Ngawang Rabga teaching in the big gompa, translated by Venerable Jampa Khedrup.
Bodhgaya Nonprofit Organizations (NGOs)

One day Australian monk Venerable Jampa Khedrup (seen translating in the above photo) and I hired a taxi to take us to visit the Alice Project Universal Education campus located in a village on the outskirts of Bodhgaya.

Venerable Jampa Khedrup and I riding through the villages
with our taxi driver.
The NGO was founded by Italian Valentino Giacomin to teach students how to transform their physical and mental suffering by working with their minds. Our tour guide was an employee of the Bodhgaya school.

The Alice Project school from the road.

Inside of the campus gates - that is our kind and generous tour guide in the middle.
Venerable Jampa Khedrup and I toured the campus; unfortunately school was not in session.

Poster hanging in the Alice Project school.

Alice Project school classroom.

Alice Project school classroom.

Alice Project campus.

Alice Project school classroom.

Poster hanging in the above classroom.

Poster hanging in another classroom.

Poster hanging in another classroom.

New construction on campus.
The Bodhgaya campus opened in 1999, and educates up to 300 children aged six to eighteen. Of those students, 45 live in the campus hostel. The students I got to meet who stay in the hostel are from the north eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Alice Project students from Arunachal Pradesh.
On the way back to the Root Institute where Venerable Jampa Khedrup and I were staying, our driver stopped off at another NGO he knows, Hope Haven. We got to peek in through the doorway on an after school dance class for local girls.

Hope Haven, Bodhgaya.
While in Bodhgaya in 2016, I tried to spend time at Tara Children's Project (TCP), a nonprofit organization (NGO) administered by FPMT and located across the street from the Root Institute for Wisdom Culture. TCP is the only orphanage in the Indian state of Bihar for children with HIV/AIDS. They are a lively bunch of kids.

I got to meet Makarand Dambhare, the filmmaker of this short film when I was at the Root in 2015:

My mom did an art project with the TCP kids when she was visiting earlier in 2016. Later, I enjoyed sitting outside in the late afternoon sun with the kids, drawing pictures on scrap paper using crayons and colored pencils.

At the time my friend Omar was volunteering at the Root, and helping out at TCP.

Roadside entrance to Maitreya Buddha School and Tara Children's Project.

Omar with some of the kids.
Omar with some of the kids.
Me with some of the kids outside of their rooms.

An afternoon at Tara Children's Project.

The kids share a few bikes and ride around the campus after school.
Vijay with the newest resident pup.

Caring for an abandoned baby squirrel the kids adopted.
Kagyu Monlam Highlights

Before leaving India on May 18 of last year I wrote a heartfelt post about my time at the Kagyu Monlam. I had intended to add some additional details at a later date:

10,000+ people from 55 countries attended the 2016 International Kagyu Monlam for world peace in Bodhgaya, including 6,100 lay people and 4,600 monks and nuns representing 55 monastic institutions.

His Holiness the Karmapa, final afternoon of Kagyu Monlam. Photo from his website.
In addition to the special afternoon we all spent with His Holiness the Karmapa on February 22, the final afternoon of the Kagyu Monlam (now available for viewing on YouTube), I also really enjoyed visiting the Mahabodhi Temple with His Holiness one early morning, making offerings to representations of the sixteen Ahrhats, and the Akshobya Fire Puja.

The day before, on February 21 Kagyu Monlam participants were permitted to make offerings to persons dressed as the sixteen Arhats while they were seated in a row on the stage inside of the Monlam Pavilion, where the Kagyu Monlam took place at Tergar Monastery.

The sixteen Arhats lined up at the Kagyu Monlam. Photo from His Holiness
the Karmapa's website.

Shakyamuni Buddha personally chose the sixteen Arhats (also known as the 16 Elders) from amongst his disciples and asked the sixteen to remain in the world, protecting his teachings for as long as beings were capable of benefiting from the teachings. When Buddha passed away, the sixteen Arhats vowed to remain in the world to preserve his teachings until the time when the next Buddha came into the world.

The sixteen Arhats filed down the central aisle and to the stage, then took their seats on the stage, and permitted us to approach them one at a time to make small offerings of food so that we could not only show our respect to the values they symbolize, but so that we could gather merit.

When I approached the row of sixteen Arhats, I noticed a name card stood on the table in front of each one, indicating the name of each Arhat. A young monk was seated cross legged in front of each Arhat, holding a big bag in their laps. I offered a brightly colored lollipop to each Arhat. Instead of handing it to the majestically masked Arhat, I placed the lollipop into the bag held by the young monk, stopping briefly (the line of people waiting to make offerings was very long and we had to move very quickly across the stage) to gaze at each Arhat with respect and reverence because it really did feel as if the sixteen Arhats were in front of me.

That same evening we gathered in front of the Tergar Monastery temple for an Akshobhya Fire Puja performed by His Holiness the Karmapa that began at 5PM just as the sun was beginning to set. I had the good fortune to get an excellent seat on the ground near the base of the steps, just a few rows back from the front. I could see a bit of His Holiness the Karmapa's activities, as well as the medium sized bonfire that had been set up around a pacifying mandala in the courtyard at the base of the steps.

His Holiness the Karmapa performing the puja before the blue Akshobhya Buddha
on a table representing the Akshobhya Buddha's pure land.
Photo from his website.
In the days prior to the fire puja all Kagyu Monlam participants were invited to put the names of deceased and those in need of support on slips of paper, and drop them into treasure chest looking boxes that had been set up on a table at the back of the Kagyu Monlam pavilion. I put a list into each of the two boxes but did not know what would happen next. I was about to be amazed.

Prior to the puja and ritual fire, attendees chanted the dharani sutras of Akshobhya Buddha inside of the Kagyu Monlam Pavilion, which purifies karmic obscurations and liberate beings from suffering. At the puja and fire ritual grounds, we were all instructed to remain silent and no photos could be taken.

When His Holiness the Karmapa reached forward to the table and lit the fire in Akshobya Buddha's pure land on the table, monks lit the bonfire on the ground at His Holiness the Karmapa's back. Then they broke open the treasure chests and began adding the slips of paper with names on it to the fire that had become a ten foot high blazing inferno. This went on for almost half an hour in the dark night.

The papers whirled up into the air, spun, and some suspended in space before flittering off into the air. (At no point was there a concern that they would fall in an inappropriate place. They somehow just flittered off into the cool night air.) There were times when the silent crowd of observers let out gasps in unison. The motions of the papers suspended in the air was completely otherworldly. I really can't explain it.

His Holiness the Karmapa (far back in darkened glasses)
in procession around the Mahabodhi Temple on Feb 26, 2016.
Photo from his website.
On the early morning of February 26, I stood along the outermost circumambulation path of the Mahabodhi Temple and watched as a procession of monks and nuns filed by carrying sacred texts and holy objects, followed by His Holiness the Karmapa.

Of one of the sacred printed texts the Jiang Kangyur, His Holiness said, "It is an important and precious edition that will help to revive teachings in danger of being lost. To print these books is more expensive but more meaningful than to build a monastery. An empty monastery cannot be a place of learning. People can go there but they cannot learn anything. If we print books, then people can always learn from them."

At the Mahabodhi Temple that morning, he passed right between the two rows of devotees who lined both sides of the uppermost circumambulation path, each person bent over at the waist, silk khatas (scarves) in their hands, and heads bent low. I was standing on the side of the path at the back of the main temple, in sight of the Bodhi tree. It was a special moment, to see all of this and His Holiness the Karmapa in my field of vision at the same time.

Free Medical Clinic press conference. From His Holiness the Karmapa's website.

At the conclusion of the Kagyu Monlam I went to the Mahabodhi Temple one day, and found huge banners (one in Hindi, one in English) hanging at the entrance advertising a free Polio and Artificial Limb Clinic to be held at the Kagyu Monlam Pavilion, organized by His Holiness' office with support from some partner organizations.

Sign at Tergar monastery.
I went over to see the clinic - just missing the press conference - and was so happy to see so many people taking advantage of the opportunity to receive care. I learned the artificial limbs being provided for free were even better than the limbs available elsewhere. They can be worn when climbing trees, and can be fitted about six months after the person has lost their original limb.

The Health Camp at Kagyu Monlam Pavilion.

Inside of the Health Camp.
I was happy because on all of the mornings of the Kagyu Monlam, we would get to the front of the Kagyu Monlam Pavilion in the dark, and stand in line to go through the through security checkpoint while people missing limbs and with deformities lay prostrate on the ground nearby the lines, with metal begging bowls.

Spotted along the roadside, Sujata Bypass Road leading from Tergar Monastery.
His Holiness the Karmapa's activities are limitless indeed. (You can read about the soup kitchen he set up and visited during the 2016 Kagyu Monlam, where he helped cut vegetables and more on his blog.)

Tergar Teachings

In addition to the Kagyu Monlam, I spent a lot of time in the Tergar Monastery temple over the course of the 28 days I was in Bodhgaya watching the annual monks' conference, the annual nuns' conference, teachings by His Holiness the Karmapa, and even got to attend a one day teaching on meditation taught by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, for whom Tergar Monastery was built.

Flyer hanging on the bulletin board at Tergar Monastery.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche had returned to his students after a four year wandering retreat in the Himalayas in late 2015, so the opportunity to receive teachings from him drew students to Tergar Monastery from around the world.

Here, he tells us about a near death experience and what we can learn from it:

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche teaching at Tergar.
Photo from Tergar e-newsletter.
I was fortunate to get to sit in the center aisle, just a few rows back from Yongey Mingur Rinpoche. He taught us how to bring our monkey minds into meditation by focusing on sounds, bodily sensations, smells, and tastes. It was really helpful.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche teaching at Tergar.
Photo from Tergar e-newsletter.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche outside of Tergar temple, near the prayer wheels.
Photo from Tergar e-newsletter.
I also enjoyed his teaching style. He taught in English, beamed many big smiles in our direction, and would take polls by asking the audience to raise their hands in response to his questions.

The greatest teaching I received from him - and one of the most memorable of my time in India in 2016 - was actually not spoken words, but actions.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche's teachings were being amplified inside of the temple using a sound system. At one point the speakers let out a high pitched screeching noise. Several of the students around me threw their arms up in the air, and clasped their hands over their ears. I happened to be watching Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche at the time. The sound appeared to have no effect on him: he remained seated cross legged on his seat at the front of the room, smiling and serene.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche in front of Tergar temple.
Photo from Tergar e-newsletter.
Another memorable experience in the Tergar Monastery temple took place one morning after the annual monks' conference had ended. I was unsure of what would be taking place, but thought I would just go see for myself.

I found His Holiness the Karmapa on his feet, pacing around the temple floor, animatedly debating with and correcting some of his monks. I could not understand the Tibetan, but enjoyed sitting in the back of the temple, watching the debates.

His Holiness the Karmapa teaching the monks in the Tergar temple.
Photo taken December 11, 2014. Photo from his website.
Another memorable morning, Australian friend Venerable Jampa Khedrup who I visited the Alice Project school with, came to Tergar with me. Again, we had no plan other than to see what was happening.

We found His Holiness the Karmapa giving a teaching to the monks. His Holiness was speaking in Tibetan and there was no translation. Normally, I would just sit and watch. But this time I was very lucky - Venerable Jampa Khedrup, seated beside me at the back of the temple, kindly translated the Tibetan into English for me. Two western women drew near us to hear and ask questions of Venerable Jampa Khedrup, too.

I also learned from Venerable Jampa Khedrup that His Holiness the Karmapa must be very well read; he was quoting from more obscure texts.

His Holiness the Karpama visits Root Institute for Wisdom Culture

Towards the end of my stay my friend Venerable Lobsang Thaye, the resident monk from Kopan Monastery in Nepal was busy preparing the Root for a visit by His Holiness the Karmapa. Unfortunately I had to leave Bodhgaya before His Holiness the Karmapa's visit to the Root.

Earlier photo of His Holiness the Karmapa and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Photographer unknown.
Sign on the sliding glass door entrance to the main gompa.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche had recommended these auspicious signs be added to the gompa's ceiling.
Venerable Lobsang Thaye managed the project.

Venerable Lobsang Thaye with one of the new paintings.

The installation of mandalas upon Lama Zopa Rinpoche's advice.

Preparing flower arrangements for His Holiness the Karmapa's visit.
His Holiness the Karmapa on the throne in the Root main gompa,
March 15, 2016. Photo from his website.
You can read about his visit here and listen to a recording of the teaching he gave at the Root here.

I left Bodhgaya for Dharamsala by way of Delhi on March 12, my 28th consecutive day in Bodhgaya after my mom left for the US. I was rushing up to Tushita Meditation Centre for the first day of a Bodhicitta Retreat led by Geshe Dorji Damdul, which ran from March 14 - 25, 2016.

The day I was to leave Bodhgaya, I went by Tergar Monastery. I was standing outside of Tergar Monastery's temple saying goodbye to friends when His Holiness the Karmapa unexpectedly emerged from the rooms above the temple, and circumambulated the temple several times. I rushed to the side of the path, folded over at the waist with my hands folded in prayer at my chest, and beamed as His Holiness walked by.

Perfect Bodhgaya 2016 farewell.

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