On a chilly, misty morning, more than 6000 people—monks, nuns and laypeople—made their way through the dark streets of Bodhgaya to the Monlam Pavillion on the outskirts of this small town.
Shortly before 6.00am, HE Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche arrived to give the first set of Sojong vows of the 37th Kagyu Monlam. The sangha huddled in their heavy winter cloaks against the cold. Laypeople wore white as a sign that they were holding Mahayana Sojong vows for the day. As the sun rose, the mist dissipated and slowly it began to get warm.
1.Sojong vows must be taken before sunrise. Before first light, monks, nuns and laypeople gather in the Monlam Pavillion and prostrate three times to the Buddha.
2. Kyabje Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche faces the assembly to give the Sojong vows.
3. Those taking the vows kneel with heads bowed to recite the prayers.
4. Gyaltsab Rinpoche then turns around, to face the Buddha image and leads the first session of the 37th Kagyu Monlam. It’s a cold morning and he puts on his winter cloak – the dhagam.
5. The focus of the Twenty Branch Monlam is a shrine below the golden Buddha image.
6. It contains a golden image of Shakyamuni Buddha as an infant. He stands in a bowl of saffron water, which will be used to bathe him as part of the Twenty Branch Monlam.
7. Chöpon Ösel Nyingpo performs the rituals of the Twenty Branch Monlam at the shrine.
8. During the Branch of Invitation – inviting the buddhas of the ten directions, bodhisattvas and shravakas—the Rinpoches don the red ceremonial hat of the Kagyu, the sha-tra (the mixed-colour hat).
9. The chanting is led by a team of four umdzes—two monks and two nuns. This is the third year that nuns have been part of the team.
10. 25 Rinpoches and Tulkus have come this year.
11. There are 65 Khenpos.
12. 3609 members of the sangha from 57 different monasteries and nunneries have joined the Monlam.
13. Of these, 381 are gelongs who sit on the tiered seating either side of the main stage, and wear the yellow pandit’s hat, the tse-sha, for parts of the rituals.
14. 390 are nuns.
15. There are also sangha members from across the world.
16. There are more than 800 people from the Himalayan region.
17. And nearly 1100 international devotees.
18. Fresh bread rolls baked on site are served for breakfast.
19. And plentiful Tibetan butter tea brewed in the large kitchen.