Winter Debates End with an Historic Announcement and Great Gratitude

10 March, 2016 -Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, India

This year the Winter Debates lasted for fifteen days and encompassed a wonderful variety of ways to train the mind and deepen understanding. In addition to daily meditation, there were traditional debates on the philosophical positions of the Vaibhashika and Sautrantika Schools as well as the yearly debates on Collected Topics, Types of Evidence, and Types of Minds. Papers were presented on Gampopa’s Ornament of Precious Liberation covering the second chapter on the spiritual friend up to the eighth chapter on refuge, and western-style discussions on two topics: 1) Can blind faith be considered faith? and 2) Are the Dharma and the secular world opposed or not?

Starting at 8 p.m. on March 9, the final debate went into late hours and began with the topic of what it means to be contaminated or not. Since there was no competition between the shedras this year, the two teams on either side of the debate were taken from different shedras. Despite their various teachers and training, the monks quickly developed their responses and moved as one body, clapping their hands to drive their points home. The debate was enlivened further when two of the khenpos joined in from their tables on the sidelines.

The next morning, HH the Gyalwang Karmapa opened the final session of the Gunchö with an historic discussion of the curriculum for the Kamtsang Kagyu shedras (monastic colleges). The Karmapa explained, “Since we have not had continuous transmission of our commentarial tradition, in the past we were not able to determine a special course of study for the Karma Kamtsang. The curriculum for the Kagyu shedras was mixed with studies taken from other traditions.” Last year, the Karmapa remarked, while in the U.S., he received a text in which the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje (1556-1603) described the special tradition of the Kamtsang Kagyu shedras, which were flourishing during his time. The Karmapa has taken this text as a basis for designing a new curriculum. With a quote from Rabgye Kunga Lingpa, found in the 9th Karmapa’s text, His Holiness laid out the approach he would use to organize study in the shedras:

    While explaining the commentaries, we should look at those from India and those from our lineage holders. As a basis for study, we should use those texts that accord with (1) an overview, (2) with what has been clearly resolved through reasonings, and (3) with important commentaries. The texts we study should be composed by authentic lamas from our own tradition and accord with its philosophical positions.

The Karmapa commented that this concise presentation of how to study was excellent. In brief, he said, it means that the analysis and overall discussion of philosophy should be based on texts written by lineage holders, mainly focusing on the previous Karmapas. In the Gelukpa tradition, for example, the focus is on texts by Je Tsongkapa and his disciples as well as synopses of these texts written by scholars in the Gelukpa tradition. For the Kagyu followers, it fair to say that only the Kamtsang Kagyu and the Drukpa Kagyu have commentaries on all five main philosophical texts, which are major Indian works on Prajna Paramita, the Middle Way, Validity, Dharmakirti’s Commentary on Validity, Vinaya, and the Abhidharma. In the Kamtsang, these commentaries are more complete and extensive—thorough and well-edited commentaries that provide an excellent basis to uphold and propagate the tradition.

To decide the actual way and course of study, the Karmapa met with the professors, teachers, teaching assistants, and discipline masters present during the Gunchö to discuss the curriculum. Focusing on the nuns’ shedras, they decided the path of study for both nuns and monks.

Many circumstances have brought about this new chapter in the history of the Karma Kamtsang: the discovery and publishing of the 8th Karmapa’s texts; the surfacing of Manjushri’s Laughter: An Overview of Validity, and the 9th Karmapa’s book on the Kamtsang shedra studies; and especially the present Karmapa’s courageous and unwavering commitment to reviving the brilliant tradition of study and practice in his Kamtsang lineage. With this renewed curriculum, the Kagyu shedras are on their way to restoring their past glory when the shedras were flourishing during time of the 7th, 8th, and 9th Karmapas, all of whom were great scholars and authors as well as realized masters.

Following the remarkable announcement about the curriculum, Karmapa laid out the schedule for the Dharma activities in Bodh Gaya for next year, including the monks’ Gunchö, the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, Tibetan New Year (Losar), and the nuns’ Arya Kshema Winter Gathering. In a surprise turn, the Karmapa appointed khenpos, who are usually focused on the studies in the shedras, to fill the positions in the shrine hall of Chant Master, Shrine Master, and Discipline Master. The Karmapa said he was encouraging them to be proficient both in study and practice.

Attention then focused on evaluating this year’s programs. It was noted that the monks who presented papers were well prepared from their work at Gyuto, where not only did they ask many subtle questions to deepen their understanding, but also learned how to do research at an international level. They compared various editions of the text and noted the differences, found the sources for the quotations in the text, and looked for other sources to support or refute Gampopa’s statements in the Ornament of Precious Liberation.

On a personal level, the monks said that they felt tremendous gratitude to His Holiness for providing this opportunity to delve into a text at such a deep level, and they hope to be able to do so at their monasteries in the future. Another participant mentioned that the real way the teachings will stay relevant and last is through these kinds of exchanges and research. A younger monk said that he had thought the Kagyu tradition was focused on meditation and had not been aware that there were such scholarly treasures in the lineage.

One Khenpo noted that the Western-style discussions helped to clarify a more general picture of the text—its landscape came into view—while the debates helped to clarify specific points and develop certainty as well as a readiness to respond to questions. Sharing meals, tents, and talk, the monks from different monasteries all said they had the sense of becoming a family. The Karmapa nurtured these connections by coming to the discussions and participating himself in very lively exchanges. One memorable event was when he left his chair to stand among the monks and engage in a heated debate for over forty minutes on whether buddha nature could be considered permanent or not.

The Nineteenth Winter Debates were brought to a close with the Karmapa individually thanking the numerous people from the cook to the khenpos whose hard work had made these fifteen days possible. Prayers for auspiciousness sent the benefits and the blessings of this special time out into the entire world.

Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche Offers Reading Transmission to Monastics

27-29 February, 2016 -Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya, India

With impeccable concentration and speed, Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche offered an important reading transmission this week to the monastics gathered for the Kagyu Gunchö Winter Dharma Teachings and Debates for Kagyu Shedras, including HE Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. The transmission was offered over three mornings in the Tergar Shrine.

The text, called Mandala of the Sun, is a commentary on the vinaya written by the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje. It includes the root text of the vinaya and an annotation on this root text by Tshonawa Chenpo. The text has not yet been translated into English. Since the vinaya is the Buddha’s teachings on monastic vows, the reading transmission was offered only to ordained monks and nuns.

There were many auspicious connections evident in Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche offering the transmission of this text. The first was that the 1st Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche was the root guru of the author, the 8th Karmapa. The present, 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, explained that he received the transmission of the text from the 16th Karmapa at Rumtek when he was very young. It was therefore fitting that a life-like statue of the 16th Karmapa sat on the throne above Rinpoche during the transmission. Rinpoche also explained that the 17th Karmapa requested that he give this reading transmission.

Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche offered an introduction in Tibetan to the monks and nuns. He expressed his happiness that he could offer the transmission, and that there were so many monastics present from all the Kagyu Shedras to receive it. He also said that the flourishing of the dharma is not just due to a few teachers, but the entire monastic community and their holding of the vows. Therefore, he asked the monastics to put the text into practice and to pass it to future generations.

During the transmission, Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche read with great speed as well as a sense of ease. He is known as one of the best and most proficient readers in the Karma Kamtsang lineage. It was a phenomenal to listen to his precise pronunciation of the syllables and also to see his eyes scanning quickly across the pages. At times, the Gyalwang Karmapa was quietly present listening as well. On two mornings, the Karmapa walked around the shrine as the discipline master normally does. His presence alone caused everyone present to straighten their backs and their robes.

At the end of the transmission, Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche offered some words of advice for the monks about implementing the practice of the text. A group of monks, nuns and lay people offered him a mandala, and many monastics came up with katas to make offerings. With humility, Rinpoche came down from his throne to receive an offering from HE Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, and then quietly departed. Afterwards many other monastics went to the throne to make further offerings and to touch their heads to the throne. There was a palpable sense of joy amongst the monastics from having been able to receive the transmission of this precious text.

The Winter Debates Begin in Bodh Gaya

February 26, 2016-Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, India

The four tall tormas with the figures of the sixteen Karmapas have been transferred from the Pavilion to the Tergar shrine hall marking a shift in events from the Kagyu Monlam to the Winter Debates for Monks (Gunchӧ). It is here in the shrine hall that the main discussions and teachings will take place from February 26th to March 10th. The event is well attended this year with eight tulkus, twenty-nine khenpos (professors), nineteen lopons (teachers), ten discipline masters, and 926 students from nine different shedras (monastic colleges).

The opening talk was given by the Gyalwang Karmapa on two topics. The first on the discards and antidotes in the paramitas from the One Hundred Short Instructions by the Eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje. The Karmapa then spoke eloquently on the origins of the classification of tenets into four schools and the history of how mainly the Great Exposition School developed and commented on the Sutra School as well.

The focus of the discussions this year is Chapters Three to Ten of Gampopa’s Ornament of Precious Liberation. The first three days featured specially invited teachers, including Khenwang Yangton Tulku from HH the Dalai Lama’s Private Office, Khenwang Gen Wangchuk Dorje from the Central University of Tibetan Studies, and Khenwang Khenchen Trinle Dorje from Darjeeling, who had just published a book called, A Clear Mirror Illuminating the Words and Their Meaning to Cut Through Doubts about the Ornament of Precious Liberation, a Graduated Path for the Mahayana. The topics covered by the six speakers included the Four Dharmas of Gampopa, the status of physical embodiment, death and impermanence, love and compassion, the outline verse for Chapter Six, and aspiring bodhichitta.

Simultaneous with these teachings, during three mornings, Khyabje Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche gave the reading transmission the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s commentary on the Vinaya, the Mandala of the Sun. Traditional debates on tenets are taking place, and for debates on the Collected Topics, Lorig, and Tarig, the participants have been divided into upper and lower classes. From afar, the monks’ voices can be heard from as they challenge each other in the vast space of the Pavilion. Two Western-style debates take place in the Tergar shrine hall focused on the topics: Can blind faith be considered faith or not? and Are the Dharma and the secular world opposed or not? This new format is designed to train the monks to dialogue with the modern world using its mode of intellectual exchange.

The Winter Debates are thus providing the monks with a special opportunity to refine and deepen their knowledge of traditional Buddhist topics while they are introduced to new ways of presenting Buddhist ideas.

The Gyalwang Karmapa Releases the Digital Jiang Kangyur

23 February, 2016 -The Monlam Pavilion

In December of 2014, the Gyalwang Karmapa discussed a project by his organization, Dharma Treasure, to digitize a wide range of Tibetan texts beginning with the Jiang Kangyur. He explained that Dharma Treasure is concerned with “Preserving and sustaining with modern technology numerous scriptures and texts, mainly focusing on the Kangyur (the words of the Buddha) and the Tengyur (the commentarial treatises).” He continued, “In the past, scriptures were kept between two boards, wrapped in brocade, and placed in cabinets. Nowadays, when people want to read a particular text, they do not have to go to a library. They can find a text instantly by searching for it on their computers or mobile phones.”

Making texts easily available is vital, the Karmapa stated: “If we do not keep up with the times, in the future it will be difficult for us to spread the Dharma. We must meet the current needs of today’s generations, who are no longer interested in the traditional way of reading scriptures. If we do not provide modern ways of accessing texts, then gradually the people who read, study, and research

These precious Buddhist books will lose interest and their numbers will dwindle.”

The project of digitizing the Jiang Kangyur began over three years ago. Most of the input was done by Nitartha International in Seattle, Washington, and some was also done at Lekshey Ling Shedra in Kathmandu. The texts were checked and rechecked over three years by representatives of the Karma Kagyu shedras (monastic colleges), while the master woodblock prints were scanned without any changes. The extensive and complex software development, and the sizing and cleaning of the texts were all done in Taiwan. Thus the project of making this precious version of the Kangyur available worldwide was also an international effort.

This evening as the first event of the Marmei Monlam, the Karmapa officially released the initial version of Adarsha. He began with reciting the famous four lines:

      The unsurpassable teacher is the Buddha.

The unsurpassable protector is the Dharma.

The unsurpassable guide is the Sangha.

May all be auspicious through the Three Jewels?

“I would like to introduce to you,” he continued, “the project we have been working on to digitize the Jiang Kangyur. This endeavor has been given the name Adarsha, which means “mirror” in English. The reason for the name is that in the future, we would like it to become a program that allows everyone to view and read not just the words of the Buddha, but also of the great Indian scholars of the past and all of the scriptures in Tibetan. [On the large screens on either side of the stage, appeared “Adarsha Reflecting Ancient Texts in New Ways.”]

“Adarsha’s home page opens to [a brocade-covered box holding the Karmapa’s edition of the Jiang Kangyur is opened to show] images of the Buddha Shakyamuni in the middle, flanked on the left by the 9th Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje, and on the right, by the 6th Shamar, Chokyi Wangchuk. If you click on the dark line above the image, three different sections will appear: the Kangyur, the Tengyur, and texts by Tibetan scholars. For the Kangyur tab, all the sections have been input; the Tengyur has just one for now; and the works by Tibetan scholars has just one, but in the future, we hope to include them all. When you click on the Kangyur tab, what comes up on one side is a list of the different sections and on the other side appears the content. On each page of the Kangyur, a number appears and clicking on that will bring up the original scan.

“There is a regular search engine for the site and also an advanced one, which you can use to search, for example, all the texts that were taught in one place, such as Vulture Peak in Rajgir. It is also possible to search in an easy way more detailed information about a text, such as which turning of the wheel of Dharma it belongs to, the name of the translator, the name of the editor, and other characteristics.

“All of this is available on the website, and for those who do not have Internet access, the program is also available on a USB. [The Karmapa took out a USB from maroon pouch.] Not only will you be able to search the Kangyur on your computer, but also on portable devices, such as iPhones and iPads. The app is now available through the Apple Store. After it is downloaded, the screen looks like this [opening screen displayed]. The internal structure is the same as the website so you can read the entire Kangyur. For example, if you wanted to look at the sutra section, you could browse each of the different volumes, which are labeled with the letters of the Tibetan alphabet, ka, kha, ga, nga, and so forth. The app also has the regular and advance search engines.” The Karmapa then showed the address for the website:

In closing he made the aspiration: “Digitizing the Kangyur and putting it on the Internet is a way of bringing the Buddha’s teachings into the 21st century, so that these precious texts will not just sit on our shrines, but will be read, studied, and researched, allowing our intelligence, faith, and devotion to develop.”

The Gyalwang Karmapa Begins His Winter Activity in Bodhgaya

January 1, 2016 – Bodhgaya,Bihar.

His Holiness left Tergar Monastery in the early morning to begin the western New Year by offering his homage at the Mahabodhi Temple, marking the place where the Buddha attained full awakening. The Gyalwang Karmapa was welcomed to the sacred site by Mr. N.T. Dorje, Secretary of the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee, and the Head Monk-in-Charge the Venerable Bande.

The Gyalwang Karmapa passed under the first gate, covered in beautiful flowers, and descended the long steps on the path to the main temple. Along both sides stood disciples holding white offering scarves and colorful blossoms to brighten his passage and receive his blessing. Once inside the shrine, His Holiness offered to the radiant Buddha statue, golden robes along with heaping bowls of fruit and generous arrangements of flowers. After three prostrations, the Gyalwang Karmapa began the prayers in praise of the Buddha:

      Through compassion and skill you took birth in the Shakya family.


      As no one else could, you conquered the host of maras.


      Your physical presence, radiant like a mountain of gold,


    I bow to you, King of the Shakyas.

These verses were followed by prayers for peace and well-being to spread throughout the world and into the hearts of all living beings.

Earlier, the Gyalwang Karmapa departed from New Delhi on December 22th and arrived in the afternoon at Tergar Monastery in Bodhgaya, his residence during the winter months. This year was a special occasion as Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, who has been on solitary retreat in the Himalayas for four years, was there at the gate to welcome His Holiness. The reception was accompanied by a traditional golden procession of colorful banners and resonant drums and horns. Crowds of ordained and lay disciples filled the area, delighted to see the Gyalwang Karmapa again as they held out their flowing white scarves.

Tergar Monastery is also the site of the yearly Akshobhya retreat, which started on December 24th and will last for forty days. Following the wishes of His Holiness, this special retreat, focused on the phase of approach, takes place in Bodhgaya as part of Kagyu Monlam Chenmo. This year thirty-six participants have come from all over the world and include monks and nuns as well as female and male lay disciples. For preliminaries of the practice, the Gyalwang Karmapa bestowed the empowerment of Akshobhya in the morning and in the afternoon, gave commentary on the practice along with his guidance and advice. As it will throughout the retreat, the daily practice began at 6am and finished at 8:30pm, encompassing six individual sessions. Continuing to give his counsel, the Gyalwang Karmapa will lead the retreat, and afterward perform the ritual of the fire puja related to Akshobhya.

While present in Bodhgaya, His Holiness will preside over two months’ of activities, which begin with the Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering for nuns, taking place from January 12, 2016 to February 3, 2016. As a prelude to the Tibetan New Year, the Four-Armed Mahakala Torma Offering ritual will be performed from February 4 to 7, 2016. Celebrations for the Tibetan Year of the Male Fire Monkey will be held from February 9 to 11, 2016.

The Gyalwang Karmapa will teach the chapter on mandala offerings from The Torch of True Meaning on February 12 and 13. February 14 will see a celebration of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, and on February 16, the thirty-third Kagyu Monlam will begin, continuing through February 22. The Monlam will draw to a close with the celebration of the Marmey Monlam on the evening of February 23, 2016. Finally, the Gyalwang Karmapa will oversee the Nineteenth Kagyu Gunchö Winter Dharma Teachings and Debates for Kagyu Shedras from February 26 to March 10, 2016, which concludes the Gyalwang Karmapa’s winter activities in Bodhgaya.