Our Intrinsic Ability to Make Aspirations for the World: 17th Karmapa’s Advice to the Guru Sevakas at the 34th Kagyu Monlam

Tergar Shrine Room, Bodhgaya

In a long, winding queue, over a thousand dedicated, hard-working volunteers slowly entered the Tergar temple. They followed the rows of people with whom they shared their working space, taking their seats in orderly fashion and waited in meditative silence.

Upon arrival the Gyalwang Karmapa expressed his warm greetings to all of the volunteers. Then, he expounded on the meaning of bodhicitta and Monlam.

He talked to them about our innate ability to make aspirations, regardless of whether one has faith in spiritual traditions or not. Ability to make aspirations is universal, he said.

His Holiness made clear that it doesn’t matter who makes the aspirations as long as prayers for the world are being made, and cautioned about being tempted to attach labels to our aspirations. For example: Nyingma Monlam or Kagyu Monlam. It might be making matters worse to judge the situation as our Monlam vs. their Monlam. That kind of attitude leads to a conflict in the mind which can interfere with our aspirations.

His Holiness suggested that regardless of being a part of a ceremony or not, you always have the ability to make aspirations. Most importantly, we have the ability to take responsibility. He elucidated this point by saying that from the moment we experience pain and the need to be happy, we have the capacity to extend compassion to all beings endowed with consciousness because they are all predisposed to having those same feelings. In its essence, that wish for the happiness of all beings is bodhicitta. All we need to do is shift our focus from ourselves to others. This is not hard to understand conceptually, but in actual application, somehow it becomes difficult for us.

Then he delineated how to develop bodhicitta and the relevance of Monlam in that regard. In our being we are endowed with that noble outlook, the seed of bodhicitta, he said. Monlam is held to bring about the necessary elements which will mature that seed. It is difficult to say if it will mature or not. Its growth depends on elements unique to each one’s personality.

He noted in sympathy that, in addition to travelling far from their homes and the harsh conditions they must endure, the guru sevaka also have to work, and that is not easy. Many people support in different capacities, he continued. While it is easy to evaluate the material offerings, it is much harder to measure the level of service, and so expressed his full appreciation of each and every action they offer.

The Karmapa closed the meeting by graciously offering everyone a token of his gratitude. As the long line of people gradually moved through the temple, he personally signed and handed to each of them a copy of his artwork: a calligraphy in red and gold which read: “Be joyful forever”.

20170214PM_Audience with Guru Sevaka


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Recorded during the 37th Kagyu Monlam, Bodhgaya, India. January 28-30, 2020.