• "There are many religions in the world, each with its own view and distinct tenet system. While it is important to understand and hold the view of one’s own tradition, just holding or grasping onto one’s view brings neither religious experiences to oneself nor benefit to others."

    His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje

  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is the Monlam?
    In Tibetan “mon” means aspiration and “lam” means path. Together, the word “monlam” can be translated as "the path of aspiration". The Buddha taught that this kind of prayer is beneficial not only to the person reciting it, but it may also have an impact on the world by influencing the course of events. It has been said that "just as a drop of water that falls into the ocean is not used up until the entire ocean is used up," our merit will not be wasted. Just as a driver steers a car, aspirations can transform the merit we have accumulated into the cause of unexcelled enlightenment. Just as a small seed can produce bountiful fruit when good, favorable conditions are present, even small virtue can grow greater and greater if joined with good aspirations. As such, positive transformation can take place within ourselves and in the world when we come together to recite aspiration prayers.
  • What motivation should one have when praying?
    In general, the extent of the intention determines the extent of the result. Therefore, our aspirations should be as strong and vast as possible, such as, "May I benefit all sentient beings!" If we only aspire to minor purposes or our own benefit, the prayer is limited. If we pray for vast benefit for ourselves and others, unexcelled enlightenment, benefit for beings and Dharma, world peace, and so forth, the prayer is extremely vast. In brief, our prayers must not be bound by our own selfish, temporary intentions, but with the altruistic wish to help others.
  • What is the difference between praying on our own and praying in groups?
    Buddhists believe that the force of a prayer is multiplied when recited in groups and that each participant of the group collects the amount of merit equal to the merit gathered by all participants. It is said that when men and women recite prayers together, good wishes will ripen faster, because both the skillful means (male element) and wisdom (female element) are present. It is also said that when a fourfold assembly of ordained monks and nuns, as well as lay men and women keeping pure ethical vows gather, all aspiration prayers expressed by them will undoubtedly be fulfilled. Therefore, taking the Mahayana Sojong Vows during the Kagyu Monlam is especially auspicious.
  • What is the importance of reciting prayers in Tibetan?
    The Kagyu Monlam is attended by practitioners of different nationalities. Reciting the prayers in one language, such as Tibetan, creates a greater sense of unity as well as ease in performing the prayers. In addition, the majority of Mahayana texts were originally written in Sanskrit which is considered the sacred language of the dharma. The Tibetan alphabet, inspired by Sanskrit letters, was created especially to translate dharma texts. The Tibetan language was formed and enriched with many new terms crafted to precisely convey Buddhist ideas. Buddhism took root in Tibet owing to the activity of many Bodhisattvas filled with compassion. Many of the prayers recited during the Monlam were written by Tibetan masters who were the embodiment of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Reciting the original texts as they arose in the awakened minds brings great blessings. Following the suggestion of His Holiness, some of the prayers like taking refuge and the Prajnaparamita Sutra are recited in Sanskrit.
  • What are the Mahayana Sojong Vows?
    During the North American Kagyu Monlam, you will have the opportunity to take the Mahayana sojong vows every morning. Taking the vows is not required, but you may take them if you wish. It is said that following these precepts has an effect of intensifying all recited prayers. As a result, they will be fulfilled sooner. The merit accumulated from spiritual practice on that day is said to be multiplied.

    The Tibetan word ‘Sojong’ is the equivalent of ‘Uposatha’ (Sanskrit: Upavasatha). The tradition of following the eight Uposatha precepts on holy days is very common in all Buddhist schools. It is especially strong in Theravada Buddhism. The reason why the vows taken in our tradition are called the Mahayana sojong vows is the unique motivation. Ordinary uposatha precepts are usually taken with the intention to purify one’s negativities and to attain one’s liberation. However, if we take these vows with the intention of benefiting all beings, then, owing to the great power of motivation, the results of maintaining self-discipline are immeasurably more vast, and are thus called Mahayana sojong vows
  • Sojong is the act of refraining from eight kinds of activities, from the time the vows are taken until the next morning, at dawn. The eight precepts of Mahayana sojong are:
  • Not killing
  • Not stealing
  • Not engaging in sexual activity
  • Not lying
  • Not consuming intoxicants
  • Not sitting or lying on high seats or beds
  • Not eating at inappropriate times
  • Not wearing perfume, jewelry, or ornaments, and not singing or dancing
  • No sitting or lying on high seats or beds means not sitting on seats or beds that are fancy, expensive, large, or higher than one cubit (about 15 inches). As these are associated with high social status, using them could evoke a sense of pride in us. Using ordinary chairs and standard beds is not an infringement of this vow. One may be exempted from this if there is no place to sleep except on a bed that is high.
  • Not eating at inappropriate times means not to consume any food from noon until sunrise the next day. Drinking liquids such as tea in which one can see one's own reflection is allowed. Please note that you may eat if you are sick, and you may take medicine. The Mahayana sojong vows come from the kriya tantra. Because of this, cleanliness and purity are of utmost importance. You should therefore abstain from eating meat of any kind, eggs, onions, or garlic during the period you have taken the vows.
  • Not wearing jewelry or ornaments means not wearing jewelry or ornaments that you do not normally wear. If you normally wear a ring, pendant, or other piece of jewelry, you may continue to wear it while observing the vow.

  • What should I wear to the Monlam?
    The Kagyu Monlam is a sacred occasion attended by ordained monastics, so please plan to observe a dress code of modesty. Loose fitting clothes that cover the body are best for decency and comfort.

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