The Monlam Tradition
|The Monlam Butter Sculpture|
At the beginning of Lunar New Year, it is the tradition to make extensive offerings to large assemblies of Sangha performing powerful prayers and practices and to request them to dedicate for various purposes including removal of obstacles to our life, health, wealth and relationship; bestowing rainfalls of success in the year ahead with good health, long life and success in every aspect of our life; fulfillment of our wishes such as stable and successful career, relationship, business, harmony for oneself, all our family members as well as for the world.
The Great Prayer Festival was established by the Great Saint Lama Tsong Khapa (also known as Losang Drakpa) in 1409in Lhasa. All Tibet was invited to a two-week-long festival of prayer, auspicious rituals, teachings, and celebrations, from the first new moon until the full moon of the lunar New Year. Many hundreds of thousands, perhaps more than a million, came from near and far.
That time of the year was chosen because Lama Tsong Khapa firmly believed in the life story of the founder Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, told in the Indian Buddhist Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish called "Overcoming the Six Teachers: "Buddha was challenged by six rival teachers to a contest of miraculous performances. For many years, Buddha evaded their challenges, letting people believe that he was afraid of their magical powers, losing his royal patrons, and causing doubts and worries to grow among the people.
Finally, in the city of Shravasti, Buddha accepted the challenge and stood before a huge assembly of people from the entire central north Indian area. He proceeded to perform miracle after miracle during the first fortnight of the lunar New Year. The rival teachers were eclipsed almost immediately, as Buddha produced spectacular manifestations. He threw down a toothpick and grew a giant wish-granting gem tree. He rinsed his mouth with scented water, and celestial lakes with divine ducks and jewel lotuses appeared. He concentrated and emitted rays of light, and hosts of Buddhas, bodhisattvas and gods filled the skies.
Teachings of liberation and awakening, reverberating in every language known to man, illumined the minds of all assembled. He even manifested a vision of himself multiplying infinitely, his compassionate energy becoming clearly present to everyone's awareness.
It is said that during that first Great Prayer Festival in 1409, all the people who gathered in Lhasa had visions of Buddhas and divine beings filling the sky. Everyone got into their most religious mood and spent the whole time as if on a spiritual retreat, praying, studying, making offerings, teaching, learning, and debating meaningful philosophical topics.
The noble tradition is preserved and is practiced in the same way to this day in most of the Gelug monasteries. On the full moon, the Day of Miracles is the most special day of the festival, when thousands of people, lay and ordained alike, come to pray, view the big butter sculptures, and make offerings to the Sangha.
The main purpose of the Great Prayer Festival is to pray for the long life of all the holy Gurus of all traditions, for the survival and spreading of the Dharma in the minds of all sentient beings, and for world peace. The communal prayers, offered with strong faith and devotion, help to overcome obstacles to peace and generate conducive conditions for everyone to live in harmony.
The Prayer sessions During the Monlam
Many different kinds of prayers will be performed during the festival. Most prayers will be chanted in traditional monastic tunes, giving the whole day a very special feeling. These are the prayers and practices performed during the the five prayer sessions every day from Day 1 to Day 4:
Confession to 35 Buddhas, Maitreya’s Ornament for Clear Realization, Root text of Madaymaka, 100-syllable mantras, Prayer of the Benefits of making Maitreya Statues, Torma offering to Palden Lhamo and other protector, Torma offering to local deities, Migtsema prayer (Breakfast is served during this session).
Monks from Sera Monastery and Kopan debate on Valid Cognition, followed by teachings on the Life Story of Buddha by the Monlam Abbot the Most Venerable Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tenzin.
Lama Tsong Khapa Guru Yoga, Lam Rim Lines of Experience, Triple Grounds Glory, Prayers to 16 Arhats, Supplication to Lineage Gurus (Khensima), Names of Manjushri, The 8 Prayers Praises to 21 Taras, Namgyalma long mantra as well as other long life mantras; Torma offering to Palden Lhamo and other protectors, Torma offering to local deities (Lunch is served during this session).
(All the prayers will be chanted in traditional monastic tunes)
Debate on Madyamaka, the middle way philosophy.
Then the Monlam Abbot the Most Venerable Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tenzin leads comprehensive dedication prayers, followed by the assembly chanting the prayer “For As Long As...”. The actual Monlam session starts with the recitation of Lekdrima Ppraise to Tara), Kapsumpa (Praise of Buddha known as Jewel of Three Crowns), Supplication to Lineage Gurus (Losang Gyalkunam), Trusol (very extensive bath offering), Offerings of 8 auspicious signs, Long Mandala offering, Confession to 35 Buddhas, The secret biographical prayers of Lama Tsong Khapa, Prayers to Buddha Maitreya, Prayers forf success in the start, middle and end of practice.
Long White Umbrella prayer (Dukkar), long life mantras, Praises to 21 Taras, Torma offering to Palden Lhamo and other protectors, Torma offering to local deities. Migtsema Prayers are chanted while the sangha leave the hall. (Dinner is served in this session.)
In this way, the Great Prayer Festival continues for four full days.
Day 5 of the Festival, the day of Miracles, will begin with the usual morning session. Then the procession around the main gompa and the stupas at Kopan will commence, with the monks carrying the Buddha Maitreya statue. At the stupa, the Monlam Abbot the Most Venerable Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tenzin, and the assembly of Sangha will make offering to and consecrate the Great Stupa in all four directions. At that time also the butter sculptures made by the tantric monks will be consecrated. In the afternoon, the prayers continue with extensive offering and long dedication prayers will be made.
Join the Monlam
During Monlam, many, many types of offerings including light offerings will be made every day. The merit from making offerings during these special days will be multiplied by 100 million times!
All pujas, prayer ceremonies, food offering and cash offering for the Sangha during the five-day festival are open for sponsorship.
We are pleased to invite everyone to participate in this great occasion in person or by making offerings of food, tea, lights or money offering to the Sangha. Your names and dedications will be read to the assembly of Sangha in every prayer session over the five days. If you would like to accumulate extensive merits, this is a unique opportunity to make offerings to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha to collect ocean-like merit and to create the cause for prosperity by practicing generosity.