Celebrating practitioners with the Kagyu lineage of songs

December 24, 2012

  2012.12.24 Celebrating practitioners with the Kagyu lineage of songs 勝樂金剛暨噶舉道歌海薈供>

On several occasions, the Gyalwang Karmapa spoke about what would happen on December 24thChristmas Eve

There will be a ceremony to celebrate those who have finished the preliminary practices (100,000 repetitions of four practices: prostrations with refuge and bodhicitta, Vajrasattva, mandala offering, and guru yoga.) I have done some prostrations and understand the tremendous effort it takes to complete 100,000, so I sincerely rejoice in their finishing all of them. We’re known as the practice lineage, so it’s good to live up to our reputation. The ceremony will be a ganachakra (an extensive offering puja) of Chakrasamvara. This practice frames a selection of songs of realization from The Ocean of Kagyu Songs (The Rain of Wisdom in English).

Three years ago in 2009, we celebrated a Milarepa ganachakra for meditators who had finished the preliminary practices (ngöndro). Then to inspire and encourage those to do the practice, we promised a special ceremony in three years for anyone who would complete the preliminaries. It takes real discipline and perseverance to work through the difficulties we encounter while accumulating the required numbers, so this sustained effort is worthy of being honored. It’s also true that practice is the best offering we can make to our lamas and the masters of the past who form our lineage.

Tonight after the puja, I will be making a special gift to people in three different groups who have finished their ngöndro: those who completed it in the past three years, those who completed it before that, and those who did these practices in other lineages. There are three precious pills: a white pill with traces from the jaw of Marpa; a red one with traces from the meditation belt and hair of Milarepa; and a blue one with traces from the meditation belt and blood of Gampopa. It is my hope that this event will inspire practice and foster virtuous attitudes in all the followers of the Practice Lineage and also those who practice in any of the lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.

It is said that when one becomes a buddha or bodhisattva, one is able to benefit others through seeing, hearing, remembering or touching them. These relics belong to the last category of touch or contact.

As one enters the shrine hall on the evening of the 24th, one can see a group of monks and disciples in the front preparing for the ceremony. As usual, the Karmapa is striding from place to place as he directs all the activity. The thrones should be placed on the floor of the shrine facing the Buddha. The large silver skull cup filled with amrita goes on a separate table in front of him. Next to the shrine should be large trays filled with blessed rilbu (pills) of barley flour, butter, and sugar to be given out at the end of the puja. On the top row of the shrine, there should be tormas ornamented with the eight auspicious syllables; on the middle, flowers and incense, and on the final row, offerings related to the five senses.

Sitting before a large and resplendent Buddha and then a life-like statue of the Sixteenth Karmapa is a cluster of five elaborately carved golden tables. The highest holds a gold-framed image of a statue of the First Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, known as the Silver Statue Resting in Space. It was made and consecrated by the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, who had many lamas, but Nyenpa Rinpoche was the most important. It is called “resting in space”because a thread can be pulled underneath without meeting any resistance. As a finishing touch to setting up the whole shrine, the Karmapa walked up to the table and with great reverence placed directly before the image of Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, a beautiful, covered cup filled with precious jewels.

Then the sangha began to enter the shrine hall. In the center section sat the fully ordained monks, on their right were the fully ordained nuns, and on the left, the novice monks. In total, the ordained sangha numbered over six hundred. The far left was filled with more than a hundred lay people, headed by an old Neshang couple, he in orange down jacket, and she in a navy chupa and warm red shawl.

The text for the evening, arranged by the Karmapa, was displayed on two screens for everyone to see. The title in Tibetan is Kagyu Gyurtso, where “gyur” refers to a spiritual song, and “tso” to ocean. The tradition of singing spiritual songs goes back to India and the great master Saraha. Marpa brought it back to Tibet where his main student Milarepa became Tibet’s undisputed master of song.

The custom of the sangha gathering to sing these songs began with Mikyö Dorje (1507-1554) and then spread to other Kagyu lineages, such as the Drikung, Drukpa, and Shangpa. When Sangye Nyenpa passed away, Mikyö Dorje gathered into a collection songs of realization by earlier masters.  As years and then centuries passed, the songs of other masters were added so that finally it took a whole day to chant the text.  Since there would not be enough time during the Kagyu Monlam, the Karmapa selected some of the most profound songs beginning with Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, and Milarepa.

This evening, following the tradition of the Ocean of Songs, the Karmapa read a prose introduction and then everyone sang the songs. The selected verses spoke of experience, realization, and the qualities of an awakened mind, all of which relate directly to practice. Tilopa, the Indian mahasiddha at the head of the Kagyu lineage, put this into verse:
Oil is the essence of a sesame seed.
Though the ignorant know it’s there,
They can’t extract it, as they do not see
The branches of dependent arising.
Though spontaneous, natural wisdom
Is present in everyone’s mind, it can’t be realized
'Til the lama points it out.
If you pound a seed to remove its husk,
The essential oil will emerge. Just so the lamas teach
That suchness as an object’s essential nature
Remains inseparable from it.
Kye ho! This meaning, deep and difficult to fathom
Became clear just now. That’s amazing!
Like this one, set to beautiful melodies, the songs are truly inspiring and just reciting them can deepen our understanding.

As the puja drew to a close, prayers were made that all be auspicious though the blessings of the lamas and yidam deities of the lineage. Then the Karmapa announced that it was time to come forward, and he would give the precious relics to each person. As the lines started to form, headed by those who had finished their ngöndro in the last three years, the Karmapa said in English, “Don’t bring katas. Don’t bring offerings.  It’s my turn to offer to you.”


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