Highlights of 7th Australian Kagyu Monlam

The 7th Australian Kagyu Monlam was held over the long weekend (from 23rd-25th September 2017) at the Grand Ballroom, Bankstown, in NSW, Australia. The city of Bankstown was chosen as it is known to be one of the most multicultural suburbs in Sydney, consisting of ethnic communities which are culturally rich and religiously diverse. For these reasons, celebrating the “Interconnectedness” of all sentient beings was the heart of the Monlam Festival message, together with the notion of peacefulness and harmony among all. With this in mind, the organising committee together with the Monlam volunteers shared and transmitted His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa’s aspirations, with its main emphasis on benefiting beings through love, compassion and wisdom. By uniting everyone in chants and collectively gathering together to make aspiration prayers for the wellbeing of our global and local community was a way to plant the wisdom seeds in the heart and minds of visitors and participants to the festival.

We were very fortunate, as many Buddhist organisations in New South Wales and other states together with their lay communities participated in the Kagyu Monlam Festival, each sharing their deep history, great cultural heritage and wisdom traditions with the public. Their presence further bestowed the venue and environment a most sacred and wonderful atmosphere. Monastics and lay communities from the Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions who attended, proudly represented their temples from Tibet, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma and Bangladesh during this aspiration prayer festival.

On this auspicious occasion, Ven. Dekhung Gyaltsey Tulku Rinpoche presided over the 7th Australian Kagyu Monlam. In addition, 11 monastics from the Himalayan regions especially came to Australia in early August to assist with the Monlam preparations, meticulously creating extremely beautiful and sacred butter sculptures (Tormas) to offer on the altar. Our visiting monks came from several different monasteries of Sikkim (in India) and all were well-versed and fully trained under the three main monasteries of Rumtek, Phodong and Ralang which were founded by the 9th Karmapa (Wangchuk Dorje). The Chant Master, Lama Tsering Tamang (Umze-la) was from Nepal, had especially travelled from Kathmandu to share his wonderful voice during the prayer sessions, thus imparting the spirit of Kagyu Monlam by transmitting the Dharma in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

On the very first day of Monlam, our duo MCs (Dr Catherine Schuetze and Mr Walton Chu) greeted everyone at the Opening Ceremony. Aboriginal Elder, Aunty Lyn Martin, was the first guest speaker from the Dharug community (the original custodian and owner of this land) provided us a traditional “Welcome to the Country” and spoke about the strong commitment and relationship that Aboriginal people have towards the land and its culture. Aunty Lyn is an advocate for the preservation and revival of the Dharug language for future generations.

Our next guest speaker, the Director of the Buddhist Council of New South Wales, Mr Les Tscherne, reiterated in his speech the importance of “interconnectedness” amongst the Buddhist communities and our multicultural society. Pertinent, as the Buddhist Council facilitates, connects and guides the entire Buddhist community in NSW in fostering the spirit of “togetherness” and “harmony” among our Australian society via interfaith dialogues and gatherings.

The third guest speaker, Rev. Bill Crews (Founder and Chairman of the Exodus Foundation and Minister of the Ashfield Uniting Church) kindly found time during his busy schedules to share with us not only a Christian perspective of “interconnectedness” but also a global perspective of our united link. Kadri Bodhi Monastery Inc. recognised the importance and the impact of the works and programs carried out by Rev. Bill Crew’s organisation at a grass root and global level. Ms Katy Cai (President of Kadri Bodhi Monastery Inc.) also took the opportunity to formally present a donation of $1000 to Rev. Bill Crews to support his work with the poor, disadvantaged & homeless people in Australia. Ven. Dekhung Gyaltsey Rinpoche conclusively wrapped up the Opening Ceremony and also spoke about the significance of Kagyu Monlams where its main role is to benefit society and sentient beings. Khatas and a token gift were officially presented to all the guest speakers in appreciation for their kind presence and attendance to this festival event.

The Aspiration prayer festival was blessed with the sounds from the Sutras and Mantras which were chanted by monastics of the Three Vehicles. Rinpoche, Umze and our group of lamas from Sikkim commenced the chants followed by the monastics from the Theravada tradition who all respectfully joined their palms together to offer in their turn calming prayers, setting the tone for the Monlam program to be all-encompassing. Wonderful prayers were also offered in the Vietnamese tradition to express the precious teachings. “The King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct” was equally read and chanted in English, Mandarin and Tibetan as monastics and lay devotees transmitted the words of the Buddha each according to their traditions and lineage thus allowing the Dharma to be expressed and venerated in its different forms and languages.

The start of the second day saw representatives from each of the five centres associated with the Australian Kagyu Monlams, offering mandala to Ven. Dekhung Gyaltsey Tulku Rinpoche prior to the commencement of his Dharma Talk which participants and dharma students were privileged to hear Rinpoche elucidate on the teachings of the Buddha. The session followed on with the Amitabha Empowerment which Rinpoche bestowed to every individual in the audience, thus granting attendees the permission to practice and connect with the deity. The empowerment was then ensued by recitations of “An Aspiration for Birth in the Pure Realm of Sukhavati”.

During intermissions, participants and visitors were able to personally offer flowers and make prostrations in front of the precious Buddhist relics enabling individuals to make their karmic connections with the Triple Gem and the Kagyu lineage through veneration. Film screening of (Torma: the ancient art of Tibetan butter sculpture) was shown during the lunch breaks for people to further appreciate Tibetan Buddhist art. Everyone was also given the opportunity to practice generosity which many joyfully contributed at the Tsok offering. After the Ritual Offerings to the Gurus, donors gathered on stage for the Sponsors Appreciation Ceremony and finally the program culminated with everyone chanting the verses of the Lamp Prayer in the Marme Monlam!

The Multicultural Show (supported by volunteer artists/performers) provided many unique highlights to the Kagyu Monlam Festival. The Australian Chinese Teo-Chew Association Lion Dance Team wowed the audience with their 8 colourful Chinese Lions at their opening number. Youth from the Tibetan Community of Australia NSW Inc. and children from the Karmapa Australia Inc. provided us with melodious songs and joyous dancing. A Korean solo janggu performance showed the intricacy of pitch and timber that a talented musician is able to produce! The mystery of the Sichuan Chinese Face Opera intrigued the young and old alike… while the beautiful voices of Chinese singers produced some lovely ballads. The Chinese Lions returned to stage and finished the show on a high note!

The Organising Committee is extremely grateful for the support of all volunteers and monastics at the 7th Australian Kagyu Monlam. The spirit of Monlam is well alive in the collaboration and cooperation of each and every one who have contributed to the success of the 7th Australian Kagyu Monlam Festival!

7th Australian Kagyu Monlam