History of Monlam

History of Sakya Monlam

Whoever knows, teaches, or recites
this Aspiration to Noble Deeds
Shall ultimately attain perfect Buddhahood.
May none despair of the ultimateenlightenment.”
-Samantabhadra’s Aspiration to Noble Deeds

Throughout history, scholars have learnt religious and secular studies of their own and other societies, and recorded and passed down this knowledge for future generations. Through such stewardship, they have helped preserve ancient traditions, restored some traditions that declined over time, and evolved new ones appropriate to the times.

The following is a brief introduction of the Great Sakya Monlam Prayer Festival. After the political changes in Tibet in the 1950s, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness the Sakya Trizin and the other leaders of the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism worked to re-establish temples, monasteries, nunneries, and colleges outside of Tibet. Under their leadership, the Buddha’s doctrine began to flourish once again in India, and most of the Tibetan traditions were successfully re-established, including the performance of annual Monlam Prayer festival. Venerable TarthangTulku, primarily belonging to the Nyingma tradition, also assisted this revival by generously sponsoring Monlam Prayer Festival of all the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

After the revival of Monlam Prayer Festival, two important considerations were as to what prayers are recited and the annual venue of the Monlam Prayer Festival. The prayers to be recited at the Sakya Monlam were determined by His Holiness the Sakya Trizin in consultation with other senior Sakyapa Lamas and monks and chose 100,000 recitations of the Samantabhadra prayer as the main recitation. As for the venue, Lumbini, which was the place of Lord Buddha’s birth, is currently the annual venue for the Monlam Prayer Festival.

The first Sakya Monlam Prayer Festival outside of Tibet took place in Lumbini from 1st March to 15thMarch, 1993, and was organized by the Tsarpa temple, JamchenLhakang (Great Maitreya Shrine). His Holiness the Sakya Trizin, His Eminence RatnaVajra Rinpoche and His Eminence GyanaVajra Rinpoche presided over, and in attendance were His Eminence ChogyeTrichen Rinpoche, His Eminence LudingKhenchen Rinpoche, ShabdrungRinpoches, GonkarDorjeDhenpa, and over a thousand lamas, tulkus, monks and nuns. For three days prior to the main ceremonies, the entire assembly practiced White Tara with Six Rays of Light and then made an elaborate long-life offering to His Holiness the Sakya Trizin. During the long-life offering, His Eminence RatnaVajra Rinpoche gave a detailed explanation of the mandala offering, the clarity and precision of which were widely acclaimed. The minister of Religious Affairs from the Tibetan Government in Exile attended the long-life offerings to His Holiness. On the first day of the main ceremonies, His Eminence ChogyeTrichen Rinpoche introduced the Venerable TarthangTulku, who delighted the assembly with a rousing speech. Following the preliminaries, the main ceremony began. Each day the assembly chanted prayers to the lineage of Indian and Tibetan masters, the Sixteen Arhat Ritual, the ManjushriNamasamgita, and especially Samantabhadra’s Aspiration to Noble Deeds. During the recitations, many people came to solicit additional prayers and made offerings. All offerings were recorded and announced each afternoon, and then allocated to worthwhile causes. Students from the three major Sakya colleges spent time between chanting sessions practicing debate in the traditional style. Concluding each day, the assembly chanted the Door of Happiness, a prayer for the happiness of all living beings.

On March 8, 1993, His Eminence GyanaVajra Rinpoche took novice ordination at TashiRabten Ling monastery. The learned and highly realized masters, His Eminence ChogyeTrichen Rinpoche, NgawangKhenrabLeksheGyatso, and His Eminence LudingKhenchen Rinpoche, JamyangTenpeiNyima, served as abbot and master. KhenpoKungaWangchuk served as timekeeper.

LudingShabdrungJamyangChokyiGyaltsen served as assistant. The two masters NgorThartseShabdrung, Ngawang Sonam Choden, and TharigTulku Rinpoche, JamyangDamchoeNyima, were among many other lamas present for the occasion. At that time His Eminence GyanaVajra Rinpoche received the name ChampaKunga Rinchen KhyentseDorje. Following the ordination, there was a procession of thousands of monks and nuns celebrating the occasion. At other times during the Monlam Prayer Festival, His Holiness the Sakya Trizin gave a reading transmission of the Dom Sum Rabye and the TsemaRigter, His Eminence ChogyeTrichen Rinpoche gave reading transmissions of many of the 18 classical texts studied in Sakya colleges and His Eminence LudingKhenchen Rinpoche gave a reading transmission of the root verses of AbidharmaKosha. On an auspicious day, the assembly made a long-life offering to His Eminence ChogyeTrichen Rinpoche. Toward the end of the event, His Holiness the Sakya Trizin gave a long-life empowerment initiation for the public. In that way, the first Sakya Monlam Prayer Festival in Exile was successfully concluded. The second Monlam Prayer Festival began on March 7, 1994 and hosted by Tharlam Monastery in Boudhanath, Nepal instead of Lumbini because at that time His Holiness Sakya Trizin was in the midst of bestowing the Collection of All Sadhanas at Tharlam. Once the associated initiations and reading transmissions concluded, the Monlam began with more than 2000 monks, nuns and lay people in participation. During this time, it was decided that the management of future Monlam Prayer Festivals be rotated amongst the various sub-lineages of the Sakya Order of Tibetan Buddhism.

The third Monlam Prayer festival was hosted by Ngor Monastery, from 13th March to 22th March 1995 in Lumbini. During the festival, officials from Ngor Monastery announced the Rules & Regulations to be observed while participating in the Monlam Prayer Festival. At the conclusion, the merits of prayers were dedicated for the achievement of world peace. Remaining offerings were designated for the Monlam Prayer Festival of the following year. The fourth Monlam was hosted by His Holiness the Sakya Trizin’s main monastery, known as Sakya Chogar (Sakya Centre) 5th March to 15th March 1996. The arrangements and programs were the same as in previous years.

The sangha of JamchenLhakang hosted the fifth Sakya Monlam Prayer Festival, which was conducted from 20th December 1996 to 1st January 1997. In addition to the programs of the previous years, during this Monlam Prayer Festival, His Eminence GyanaVajra Rinpoche received full ordination. The ceremony took place on 23rd December, on the auspicious occasion of the anniversary of Sakya Pandita. His Eminence ChogyeTrichen Rinpoche and His Eminence LudingKhenchen Rinpoche served as abbot and master of ceremonies. TharigTulku Rinpoche served as master of secret instruction. Venerable KhenpoKungaWangchuk served as time keeper. NgorLudingShabdrung Rinpoche and NgorThartseShabdrung Rinpoche, as well as many other abbots served as supplementary sangha. During the ordination, His Eminence was offered the name ChampaKunga Rinchen KhyentseDorjeTenpaiGyaltsen. Following the ordination, all the gathered sangha joined in a celebratory procession. His Eminence then offered mandalas of appreciation to His Eminence ChogyeTrichen Rinpoche and His Eminence LudingKhenchen Rinpoche. Many offerings were made that day, including numerous offerings from temples and sangha to His Eminence GyanaVajra Rinpoche. The DrolmaPhodrang made bountiful offerings to the entire sangha in celebration of His Eminence’s acceptance of full ordination.

The sixth Monlam Prayer Festival was hosted by Ngor Monastery, and occurred from 19th January to 28th January 1998. His Holiness the Sakya Trizin’s monastery, known as Sakya Chogar hosted the seventh Monlam Prayer Festival from 15th December to 23rd December 1998.

JamchenLhakang hosted the eighth Monlam Prayer Festival from 29th December 1999 to 9th January 2000. The programs for this event were the same as in the past. Ngor Monastery hosted the ninth Monlam Prayer Festival from 6th February to 14th February 2001. At that time, His Holiness advised GongkarChoede Monastery, the seat of what was long ago a major sub-sect of the Sakya Order, to organize the following year’s Monlam Prayer Festival.

The following year, the sangha from GongkarChoede Monastery hosted the tenth Monlam Prayer Festival from 5th January to 14th January 2002. Although it was their first time organizing a Monlam Prayer Festival, the event went very smoothly. Sakya Chogar hosted the eleventh Monlam Prayer Festival, held from 24th January to 2nd February 2003.JamchenLhakang hosted the twelfth Monlam Prayer Festival from 5th January to 15th January 2004. Prior to the Monlam Prayer Festival, on the auspicious occasion of the anniversary of Lopon Sonam Tsemo, His Holiness the Sakya Trizin led the inaugural ceremonies for the newly constructed TashiRabten Ling Monastery. The main purpose for the performance of the annual Monlam Prayer Festival is to prolong the lives of the upholders of the Buddha’s doctrine, such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness the Sakya Trizin and other masters, and to pray that their intentions for the benefit of all beings be realized; that the Buddhist Sangha may continue to live together harmoniously, to possess pure conduct, and to increase their practice of the Dharma through explication and practice; and that through the blessings of the holy ones, epidemics, famine and warfare be dispelled and happiness and peace spread to every corners of the world. For this purpose, the assembly chants over 100,000 recitations of Samantabhadra’s Aspiration to Noble Deeds, and other prayers for World Peace.