The Kagyu Monlam is a major international prayer festival held annually in Bodhgaya, India, one of the most sacred sites for Buddhists worldwide. Thousands of people gather together in order to listen to Buddhist teachings and to pray for peace and harmony on earth and the well-being and happiness of all the world. His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, presides over the festival.
History: Though the Kagyu Monlam belongs fully to the contemporary world, its roots lie in 15th-century Tibet, where the 7th Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso, established the tradition of great prayer gatherings. People from all over Tibet assembled annually to pray for the benefit of all sentient beings. In India, the Monlam tradition began in 1983, when two great lamas in the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Kalu Rinpoche and Bokar Rinpoche, began holding annual prayer gatherings at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya.
After the 17th Karmapa assumed responsibility for the festival in 2004, he brought in many innovations, creating the international festival that exists today. Under his leadership, the size and scope of the event have increased greatly. Recent Monlams have been attended by approximately 7,000 monks and nuns, supported by more than 3,000 lay followers. Many special events such as empowerments draw crowds of more than 12,000 Buddhists.
From its humble beginnings, the Monlam has become a truly international prayer festival, meeting the needs of an international Buddhist community. Followers travel to Bodhgaya to join the Monlam not only from across India, Nepal and the Himalayan region, but from more than 50 different countries in South Asia, North America and South America, Africa and Europe. In addition, thousands of devotees worldwide watch the webcast of the festival live via Internet. The special book of prayers, compiled by the Karmapa, is available in 13 languages— in the original Tibetan, and in Hindi, Nepali, English, Spanish, Chinese, French, German, Polish, Russian, Indonesian, Korean, and Vietnamese. Oral translation into these languages is available over FM radio at the events themselves and on the webcast. In recognition of the origins of Buddhism in India and its connection with ancient Indian culture, the Karmapa has re-instated the use of Sanskrit and traditional Indian liturgical settings for core prayers.
His Holiness has also introduced charitable activities in the local area during the Monlam. These have included cleaning the area and planting trees to protect the natural environment, providing a source of safe drinking water near the Mahabodhi Temple, free medical care for local people, and a veterinary camp with an outreach program for their animals. During the Monlam, monks and nuns follow the ancient tradition of the Karmapa’s Great Encampment (Garchen) in Tibet, living in tents and sharing vegetarian meals from a huge communal kitchen.
The 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s Aspiration for the Kagyu Monlam
I make this aspiration that when you recite these prayers during the Monlam, each word may first arise in your heart, and then emerge from your mouth. I pray that every letter and syllable becomes a golden image and that every word fills 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 another, may it be like the reunion of a mother and child after a long separation. In a harmonious world such as this, may I see everyone sleep peacefully to the music of non-violence. This is my dream.