Jangchub Lam Rim Teachings 2012: travel impressions

From November 30 to December 13, Gaden Jangtse monastery and neighboring Drepung Loseling monastery hosted thousands of monks, nuns and visitors from around the world. All came to attend His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings on the lam rim. His Holiness had a slight cold, but despite that, he pushed himself very hard to complete the oral transmission of the entire lam rim chenmo, middle length lam rim and path to bliss (de lam).

I flew from the Washington D.C. area to Bangalore where a friend met me at the airport at 1:00 am. The airport was modern and clean.  After an 8+ hour train ride through the country side, we arrived in Hubli. We dodged taxis, buses, trucks, auto rickshaws and many other motor vehicles (not to mention cows, stray dogs, and people), and made it to a modest restaurant that said “veg & non-veg” on its sign. After a delicious dinner, we piled into a taxi with friends and drove about 45 minutes to Mungod.

Gaden Jangtse was very quiet by the time we arrived around 10 pm. We dropped Geshe Tashi off at the house where he stayed with Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche Losang Jampa.

I stayed a few blocks away at Khensur Rinpoche Losang Tsephel’s khangtsen, Dhora Khangtsen along with about 90 guests. The other guests were mostly devoted middle aged Chinese ladies from the West coast and Far East.  There were several FPMT nuns from Thomsaling as well as Chinese sangha.  A Taiwanese nun from the nearby Jangchub Choeling nunnery joined us, she had been living there for 14 years. The khangtsen is home to probably several hundred monks.

The teachings at Gaden were held across the street from Dhora Khangtsen in the main temple. The first few days the line to enter was very long and slow because of the security check. People who did not have their PAP (Protected Area Permit) were not allowed to enter. Some sat across the street in the debate courtyard under the trees and listened on their radios. Rumor has it that several hundred foreigners were eventually deported for not having a PAP.

Inside the gate, volunteers were distributing copies of the texts for the teachings — a beautiful five volume set of books. A set of translations in English was also available.  In front of the temple, a large awning had been set up. Several thousand monks sat on pieces of cardboard, and small carpets. There were a lot of very young monks smiling and joking around. Inside the temple, there were two levels. The upper level had a big veranda, so I sat outside in the warm sunshine. I could see His Holiness on the TV screen.

Following some unbelievable chanting, the teaching started at 9 am. On the first day, His Holiness said that Ling Rinpoche had been seriously injured in a serious car accident when he was on his way to meet him. The driver had been killed. Later we learned that Ling Rinpoche was recovering well.

Hot butter tea and large pieces of bread were distributed around 10:30 by teams of monks who ran extremely fast up and down the crowded aisles with big metal kettles and plastic crates for the bread.

His Holiness ended the morning sessions around 12:00 pm. For lunch, we stood in line outside or followed the monks who were distributing food — naan, yogurt, rice and dal, or vegetables. 17,000 monks and nuns are reported to have attended the teachings, it’s amazing that the monastery was able to feed so many people every day.

By 1:00 pm or so, His Holiness resumed his teaching. He covered several topics using the Lam Rim Chenmo and then covered them again using the middle length and/or de lam. It was amazing how effortlessly he could move between the texts. He mentioned that the copy of the Lam Rim Chenmo that he was using was very precious to him because it was one of the few texts that he carried during his his escape from Tibet.

One of the themes that His Holiness wove into the lam rim teaching the first week was the importance of meditation and retreat. He cautioned the monks not to become too involved with building bigger, more luxurious facilities and not to waste time hanging around in the tea shops.

After dinner when the weather cooled down, I went to listen to the monks debating in the dark illuminated by a few lights. Many people circumambulated the teaching hall, and some did prostrations outside. On Lama Tsongkhapa Day, the monks offered Lama Chopa with tsok in the evening, many local Tibetans came, and hundreds of burning candles were placed outside the prayer hall. There was a beautiful, moving long life ceremony for His Holiness on the last day at Gaden.

I caught up with Geshe Losang Tenzin who toured the U.S. in 2012 with a group of monks from Gajang Tsawa khangtsen of Gaden Jangtse. For those of you who met the group, I also ran into Nyima, Kunchok and Jeff Beam. They were all well and the monks were very happy to be back at Gaden. Geshe Tenzin was really busy — a long line of patients waited for him outside his clinic door until late at night. The new temple has finally been completed after several years and will be consecrated in early March 2013.

I also saw Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Ven. Roger along with Khandro la. Many IMI sangha attended.

During the second week, the teachings were held at Drepung Loseling. It was a 20 minute bus ride along a narrow, extremely dusty road. The mid-point was Camp 3, a small village bustling with shops and restaurants.  Nearby is the Jangchub Choeling nunnery, a Kagyud monastery, a Tibetan high school, and a small monastery that contains many incredible relics including some of Lama Atisha and other holy objects. It was a common sight to see a taxi with several monks sitting on the top, hanging out the back, and squished inside. Everyone was having a great time. Anything to get to the teachings! I was surprised to see groups of young monks (8 – 10 years old) walking along the road without any adult supervision. In the mornings, I walked with a friend to Camp 3 and then we joined the fun and squeezed into an auto rickshaw or taxi and rode to Drepung.

The main prayer hall at Drepung Loseling was enormous with a lot of windows, a very tall ceiling, and many traditional banners and wall hangings. The temple was filled with the most magnificent chanting.

His Holiness completed his teaching a day or two earlier than expected so that he could visit some of the neighboring monasteries and for other activities. Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche attended the debates that were held in the presence of His Holiness. Only the top monks debated and they came from all around India. A special event commemorating His Holiness’s Nobel Peace Prize was held on December 10th.

On the last day despite his busy schedule, he very kindly met with several hundred non-Tibetans. He spoke about the importance of upholding moral values and what it means to be a 21st century Buddhist. He encouraged us to read and meditate on the lam rim every day and said that only by doing can we progress on the path to Enlightenment. A webcast of the meeting is available here.

On the 13th, Drepung Gomang offered a long life puja for His Holiness. Many people threw long white khatas in the air at the end. His Holiness didn’t say too much, but I think he encouraged all the abbots and former abbots to learn English! In the afternoon, I travelled with Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche and his students back to Sera Mey monastery (an 11 hour bus ride filled with loud Hindi pop music) and spent a few days at his khangtsen. The lovely new prayer hall is coming along well and Rinpoche consecrated it. It should be completed by the time His Holiness gives the Jangchub lamrim teachings at Sera in 2013. If you are considering attending, I’d suggest that you apply for the PAP now.

For spectacular photos of the teachings, please visit the photo gallery on http://www.dalailama.com/.

The Jangchub Lamrim organizing committee website has a lot of information including links to translations of the lam rim texts and important travel information including how to apply for a PAP.

Bookmark it for the 2013 teachings! I sincerely hope you can attend.


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