“Through the power of our imagination, may this place have the adornments, features, and excellent qualities of Buddha realms. In its center is a great palace, blazing greatly with the seven jewels. Their great light-rays utterly fill innumerable world-realms. The palace utterly transcends the world. It has arisen from supramundane roots of virtue. It is utterly pure and has the character of masterful awareness. It is the abode of the tathagatas. It has the sangha of bodhisattvas. It is founded on the joy and great bliss of the taste of dharma. It is a place where all beings’ benefit is perfectly accomplished. It is free from the stain of any harm by kleshas. All maras have been vanquished there. It is emancipation through great recollection, intelligence, and realization. It is the mount of shamatha and vipashyana. It is entered by the gates of liberation – emptiness, absence of attributes, and absence of wishes.” [Blessing the ground and place, extract from Monlam Prayer Book, pg 14]


My physical roots (in this lifetime) are in Africa, but my spiritual roots (for many lifetimes) are in India. For those who have been to India, you will know that it is not an easy country to visit, and for those who haven’t been, you will find it hard to imagine how difficult the conditions are: the crowds, the pollution, dirt, noise, the tuk-tuks with their non-stop hooting and all-pervasive petrol fumes, no hot water (you try a month of cold showers in the middle of winter), millions of mosquitoes (that being a good Buddhist you are not supposed to kill), the extreme poverty. Bodhgaya is in Bihar, the poorest province in India. You have to push your way through hundreds of beggars to get to the Bodhi tree: old ones, young ones, mothers with babies. Try not to look into their pleading eyes, for then you will have to say “no” with your eyes. Try not to notice the deformed ones crawling on the sidewalks. You can’t give to all of them, and you don’t want to encourage the children to grow up begging for a living. They have potential to become something better. They have Buddha nature.


Animal lovers try not to see the starving dogs, their ribs sticking out, their skin with big, bare, mangy patches, full of fleas. The little puppies full of hope and new life, looking for food scraps in the rubbish which lies in heaps on the side of the road, waiting to be burnt. You know what they will grow up to be. You want to put them in your bag and take them home. But you can’t. Fortunately the beggars are not allowed into the Temple complex. The monks handed out tea and Tibetan bread or buns every morning during the breakfast break. Once I left the Temple complex carrying some buns that I wanted to give to the dogs, but I was attacked by a bunch of small skinny kids who grabbed the food from my hands. It’s hard. It’s very hard. Last year I did a one-month silent Vipassana Retreat at Root Institute, a semi-monastic retreat center that is an oasis of peace on the outskirts Bodhgaya. This time I was in the thick of it.


There is the dirt and unhygienic conditions. The air is so polluted it makes you sick. Everyone came down with colds and chest infections. Even the Karmapa got a throat infection and said “Bihar has taken my throat!” Mingyur Rinpoche joked about it and said we had all received “Bodhgaya blessing!” Your lungs felt raw from trying to extract oxygen from the burnt air. The smell of plastic burning and you can’t breathe. Plastic, what a great invention! Oh, how we are polluting our planet. When you don’t have proper refuge removal systems to hide your waste away, you can't pretend it’s not us who is doing it. Us humans, polluting this planet? In India there is nowhere to hide. Life hits you in its full rawness, with nothing hidden away. You see all the things you don’t like to see, the things we are so good at hiding away in the West, pretending it’s not us. We are so clean and civilized and disconnected from the harsh realities of life.


When the Lamas first came to the West, they thought they had found Amitabha’s Western Paradise - it was so beautiful, like a Pure Land. But when they met the people they found that suffering was the same – it was just of a different kind – more psychological than physical: stress, anxiety, depression, and all kinds of emotional problems. Suffering pervades all realms of existence. In India you can’t sit in your comfortable and fashionably decorated living room, with a glass of something in your hands, switch on the TV, and stare at flat images. It’s in your face and it’s overwhelming. A lot of emotions come up for people: skip the denial and face the aversion, anger, sadness, depression, compassion that breaks your heart open.


Bodhgaya is a very powerful place. Conditions provoke that which is hidden within the muddy depths of your consciousness to surface, so that purification can happen. If you don’t encounter challenging conditions, it is easy for these emotions to lie dormant, fooling you to believe that you don’t have them. Like the story of the man who was peacefully meditating. A sage kept disturbing his meditation, asking him: “what is your main practice?” The man replied “patience”. A short while later, the sage interrupted him again, asking: “what is your main practice?” The man replied “patience”. After several such interruptions, the man replied: “You stupid xyz! How many times have I have told you that I am practicing patience.” The sage replied: “It looks like your practice is going well!” You are challenged here beyond limits, and yet you are also uplifted and inspired here beyond anything you have known or experienced.


Bodhgaya is the place where the Buddha got enlightened, and there has been an unbroken stream of enlightened energy carried by the awakened Masters for the last 2 500 years. This is why we go there. This is what draws thousands of pilgrims there. This is where we receive the highest teachings and inspiration from holy beings. This is why we stay there - although I must admit that I tried to change my airtickets to come home early several times, when it really got to me! I witnessed this inner battle going on between the part of me that is still heavily attached to physical comfort, and the part of me that is beyond such unimportant concerns.


On the day I decided to be strong and stay, remembering that the hardship was impermanent - a peacock landed on the wall outside my bedroom window and looked at me. Peacocks are symbols of transforming poison into nectar. It was as if this large bird with its pretty blue and green feathers was giving me a message: that physical barriers and obstacles are like guardians to the gates – we have to go through them before we can receive the nectar of blessings. Because the blessings do come - in abundance - and when you leave India, gratitude is welling up inside you like a river for all that you have received. Even now as I think of it, tears come to my eyes and I feel so blessed. So now I will try and share some of these blessings with you.




“The Kagyu Monlam is an expression of our love for the world and all living beings. I think this Monlam text can move many people’s hearts. I make the aspiration that when you recite this during the Monlam, each word may first arise in your heart and then emerge from your mouth. I pray that every letter and syllable become a golden image and that every word fill the entire world. May all the sounds of lament and war as well as the poisonous winds in the environment be dispelled. May these words of love and compassion blend with the innate goodness of every single being and coalesce into one powerful force. Like the light of the sun, moon, and stars, may love, compassion, and wisdom shine forth. May they strike every single living being and dispel the darkness of ignorance, attachment, and hatred that has lurked for ages in their being. When any living being meets with another, may it be like the reunion of a mother and child who have long been separated. In a harmonious world such as this, may I see everyone sleep peacefully to the music on non-violence. This is my dream.” [Extract from Foreword in Monlam Prayer Book, written by the 17th KARMAPA Ogyen Trinley Dorje in 2007 C.E. Buddhist year 2551]


A group of South African pilgrims met in Bodhgaya, India, to attend the 25th annual Kagyu Buddhist Monlams. [Thank you to Erika from Cape Town for organizing this auspicious pilgrimage that enabled us to purify oceans of karma and accumulate oceans of merit.] We joined a great gathering of thousands of monastics and lay persons from around the world who come every year to celebrate and practice together. The Monlams is held every December / January for 10 days at the Mahabodhi Temple complex, which surrounds the magnificent Stupa and Bodhi tree. His Holiness the Karmapa presides over the event, so it is also an opportunity to sit in his presence and receive teachings and an empowerment from him.


The purpose of the Monlams is to pray for world peace, and to make aspiration prayers for enlightenment and for a more enlightened world. Everyone wants peace (even though some may seek it in strange ways). Individual prayers help, but the power of prayer is magnified when many people gather together in a unified energy field, especially if this is done in an energetically charged and holy place such as Bodhgaya, place of the Buddha’s enlightenment. This is so important today when the world is in such a mess and many people have lost faith in a positive future.


“We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to practice Dharma. This makes life meaningful and purposeful. There are lots of difficulties, pressures and problems in life. We cannot eradicate all the problems in the world as this is the nature of samsara. You must face the problems and continue to live in a positive way. Don’t loose faith. Your mind must be strong and stable and you must have some wisdom and skillful means. The way we think and act, our attitude makes a lot of difference. We can transform the world into light and hope. If your mind is dark all you will see is darkness. The world outside is not all bad. You must find even a little light and focus on that. We can change this world. We can change our being. We can transform ourselves and the world in positive ways. Have courage and hope. This is important.” [My notes taken at Medicine Buddha Empowerment by HH KARMAPA]


Monlam is a Tibetan word that means “wishing path”. The purpose of reciting prayers is to create positive imprints, and to direct the mind in a virtuous path. Reciting prayers focuses the mind in a positive and virtuous direction. It redirects our mind from normal, mundane, limiting, self-absorbed thinking towards a more enlightened way of thinking. Reciting aspiration prayers creates a wishing path in our minds, and this influences our future actions. If you don’t have the wish, you will never have the action that follows from that wish. We spend most of our time and energy following worldly desires, which are endless and you never get to the point of enough. Rather than spending our energy chasing worldly happiness, we can spend this same energy following a spiritual path and training the mind in positive directions that will result in perfect and complete happiness. The prayers are poetic and very beautiful, and the aspirations contained in them are very noble.


When circling in all my existences

May I develop inexhaustible merit and wisdom,

And become an inexhaustible treasury of methods,

Knowledge, samadhi, liberation, and virtues.


May I purify the power of karma,

Conquer the power of kleshas,

Render the power of maras powerless

And perfect the power of excellent conduct.


All the victorious ones who appear in the three times

Awaken into enlightenment through the excellent conduct

Of various aspiration prayers for awakened conduct –

May I perfect all of these.


They will soon go before the bodhi tree,

And having gone there, they will sit to benefit beings,

Awaken into enlightenment, turn the dharma wheel,

And subdue all maras and their hordes.


The full ripening for those who are involved with, teach or recite

This Aspiration Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Is known only by the Buddhas;

Without any doubt, it is supreme enlightenment.



the Aspiration for Noble Excellent Conduct]


Everything happens in accordance with the Law of Karma - the law of cause and effect. This means that if you do not create the causes, the effects will not come. If you do not plant the seed, the fruit will not grow. On the other hand, if you do create the causes, the effects will definitely come. One gains confidence that engaging in spiritual practices will result in liberation and enlightenment without any doubt. This confidence is a strong motivating force. It gives one direction and purpose in life:  just like the Buddhas and bodhisattvas before me have done it, so too can I do it. Here we were “having gone before” the Bodhi tree. We were part of the living stream leading to Buddhahood.


“Central to the Monlam – what gives it power and plants the seeds of future results – is the recitation of aspirations and prayers. Recitation is considered one of the ten dharma practices (along with copying scriptures, making offerings, giving alms, listening to discourses, memorizing, reading, teaching the Dharma, reflecting upon, and training in the meaning of the Dharma). Recitation is a deeply cherished Tibetan tradition, for it is believed that reciting words of the Dharma has the power to refine one’s visualization and train one’s mind. This is why in most Tibetan monasteries the monks practice chanting and reciting all day long.” [Extract from Foreword by HH KARMAPA in Monlam Prayer Book]


The Monlam Prayer Book was compiled by the Karmapa as a common liturgy that can be used by all traditions, in accordance with his vision for a non-sectarian outlook. The texts were composed from words of the Buddha, and include quotations from great Indian scholars and Tibetan masters. The prayers were translated into English, so we could understand the beautiful Tibetan chanting and simultaneously read the prayers. Sitting there for hours every morning, with the sound of thousands of monks melodic chanting reverberating through your body and mind is a powerful experience, which surely made lots of positive imprints on our mind-streams.




At the end of the Monlams, there was a special closing ceremony, which was the most beautiful climax to the whole event. It happened on Christmas eve, and for an added touch of auspiciousness, it was also full moon. It was just starting to get dark as I arrived at the Temple complex, and as I walked in, they switched the lights on. There were hundreds of little fairy lights in the trees and spread all over the surrounding grassed areas. Strong spotlights lit up the tall elegant Stupa, which extends high into the sky like a pyramid. It glowed against the dark sky, which was pierced with diamond-like stars, and the round luminous white disk of the full moon hung suspended in space next to the Stupa. A truly beautiful setting.


We did a special Lamp Offering Ceremony and Dedication to world peace. Prayers for world peace were chanted or sung in several different languages including Tibetan, English, Chinese and Korean. Everyone was given a lamp in the shape of a lotus flower or red candle with yellow flame (it would have been too dangerous for so many thousands of people to have a real flame in their hands). We were told not to switch them on until the Karmapa gave the signal to do so. He spoke about bringing the light of peace and wisdom into the world, and may this light extend into and illuminate the darkest reaches of ignorance. We were told to visualize this and then switch our lamp on.


Everyone waved their light in the air to the rhythm of the chanting. It felt like one was immersed in an ocean of sound and light that spread over and bathed the whole planet in love and light. It was incredibly moving to be part of this symbolic giving of light to remove the darkness of ignorance from the world. We want to do something positive and beneficial with our lives. Taking part in the Monlams made one feel this way – we were part of bringing more light into this world. What more can I say, at this point words are inadequate. Let there be light.



Ah, world! It’s in your lap we do our lives and deaths –

It’s on you we play out our pleasures and pains.

You are such a very old home of ours;

We treasure and hold you dear forever.


We wish to transform you into the pure realm of our dreams,

Into an unprejudiced land where all creatures are equal.

We wish to transform you into a loving, warm, gentle goddess.

We wish so very firmly to embrace you.


To that end, be the ground which sustains us all.

Do not show us the storms of your nature’s dark side,

And we, too, will transform you, all your corners,

Into fertile fields of peace and happiness.


May the harvest of joyfulness and freedom’s million sweet scents

Fulfill our limitless, infinite wishes, so we pray.


[Dedication Poem by HH KARMAPA]


Newsletter by LEELA VERITY. Pilgrimage to India to be continued in next newsletter.


SAT CHIT ANAND BUDDHIST CENTRE re-opens in February 2008. There will be weekly teachings and meditation every Thursday evening from 7 – 9 pm as usual. All are welcome to attend. 2008 programme description will be available later.



SAT CHIT ANAND namaste to you Buddha-to-be! 

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