Rumtek Sangha

Monks' Community

From his seat-in-exile at Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre, His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa worked tirelessly to spread the dharma throughout the world, visiting countries not yet exposed to the Buddhist teachings and establishing centers to help keep this dharma activity alive. As he travelled, the Karmapa saw it would be necessary for highly trained tulkus and monks to carry on the teachings. To fulfill this role and insure that Buddhadharma would flourish, future generations of Kagyu teachers must be schooled in the highest levels of dharma study and practice.

His Holiness the 16th Karmapa at Rumtek in the 1970s

Part of His Holiness's original plan for Rumtek Monastery included the training of tulkus and monks in the ritual practices, arts, and philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism. Before he established the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute (KSNI), the Karmapa founded the Karma Jamyang Khang Primary School in 1978 as a preparatory school where students would begin their rigorous education as a foundation for later teaching.

Since KSNI was founded, Karma Jamyang Khang serves solely to educate young members of the monks' community in Tibetan grammar and poetry, English, the ritual arts, and instruction in Buddhist texts and sadhanas. This program of study continues for many years, and culminates with intensive training in an area of ritual practice.

Monks' Training

Life for those in the monks' community revolves around prayers and tantric practice rituals whose ultimate goal is the complete liberation of all sentient beings. Young monks begin their monastic training with a nine-year program of study of the ritual texts of the Karma Kagyu lineage. According to the Tsurphu tradition in which the monks are trained, there are thirty-six sets of texts that must be memorized, some quite long and difficult. Each student is tested on his mastery of the texts by his teacher and by the monks' leader, or scripture teacher, who confers a seal for each text that has been successfully memorized.

With this part of their monastic education complete, the monks embark on intensive training in all aspects of the tantric rites conducted at the monastery. Several years are spent learning each ritual skill, including shrine keeping, chanting, torma making, the playing of musical instruments, construction of sand mandalas, and sacred dance. Eventually, each monk specializes in one of these areas. Some who will go on to fill roles such as umdze (chant master) or chopen (ritual master) undertake a further period of study that spans several more years necessary to master the intricacies of their future positions.

It's a tradition at the monastery that when each monk completes his training, he sponsors a celebration, offering tea or a special meal for everyone in the monks' community.

Monks' Schedule

Students start their day at 5:00 a.m., devoting the early morning to text memorization and taking short tests on the previous day's material. Their work continues until breakfast at 7:30. After breakfast, and again after lunch, younger students study Tibetan, English, writing, and spelling. Older monks learn torma making and ritual instrument playing. Late afternoon is devoted to memorizing texts, and after dinner, the students return to their rooms where older monks perform practices such as Mahakala, and younger monks study.

Each month, in addition to daily study and classes, the monastic routine includes week-long practices, focused on specific buddhas, deities, protectors, or lineage masters, whose dates are established according to the Tsurphu astrological system. Some months, the practices span two weeks. One-day practices and prayer ceremonies are held on special days of the month. The monks also perform special pujas at the request of others.

Dharma Practice at Rumtek

One Day Practices

 

Every third day

Morning:White Tara
Afternoon:Five Dakinis

 

Every eighth day

Morning:Red Chenrezig
Afternoon: Milarepa guru yoga

 

Every tenth day Padmasambhava Day

Afternoon: Lion-faced male and female dharmapalas associated with Padmasambhava

 

Every thirteenth day

Fire puja

 

Every fifteenth day

3:00 a.m. Confession
Morning: Chakrasamvara
Afternoon: Thang lha (local deity in Tibet)

 

Every eighteenth day

One of the Four Guardian Kings, Namse rik sum, combined with Mahakala

 

Every twenty-third day

Morning: Green Tara (long-form)
Afternoon: Varjrayogini (short form)

 

Every twenty-fifth day

Morning: Guru Rinpoche
Afternoon: Vajrayogini (long form)

 

Every twenty-ninth day

All day: Mahakala

 

At the new moon

3:00 a.m.:Confession
Morning: Kunrik (purification practice)

 

Seven-day Practices at Rumtek (in Tibetan lunar months)

(Dates can vary depending on other activities taking place at Dharma Chakra Centre.)

 

1st lunar month

9th-15th day: Long-life practice for His Holiness Karmapa
23rd-27th day: Vajrayogini*
28th & 29th day: Green Tara

 

2nd lunar month

3rd-9th day:
Morning: White Tara
Afternoon: Five Dakinis

22nd-28th day:Hevajra*

 

3rd lunar month

9th-15th day: Kalachakra*
26th day (one-day practice): Parinirvana of the Fifteenth Karmapa

 

4th lunar month

(alternates each year):Padmasambhava or Vajrakilaya* with dances

For Padmasambhava
3rd-10th day: Tsechu: 8 aspects of Guru Rinpoche

For Vajrakilaya*
1st-3rd day: Various practices to prepare for Vajrakilaya
4th-10th day: Actual Vajrakilaya practice
11th day (morning): The practice concludes
15th day, until Saga Dawa, mantras are concluded

Dungdrup puja - 100 million mantra recitations (monks and lay sangha)

 

5th lunar month

9th-15th day: Chakrasamvara*
23rd-27th day (5 days): Cho

 

6th lunar month

15th day: Summer retreat begins and lasts for 90 days. It includes two seven-day practices.
23rd-29th day: Chos cho

 

7th lunar month

9th-15th day: Rain of Wisdom

 

8th lunar month

8th-14th day: Red Chenrezig*

(At the end of this practice the sand from this and all the previous sand mandalas is emptied into a nearby river)

 

9th lunar month

9th-13th day (5 days): Shi tro or Pema Benza (Guru Rinpoche), alternating each year

 

10th lunar month

23rd-27th day (5 days): Kunrik (purification)
30th-31st day: Mitrukpa (purification)

 

11th lunar month

7 days, at the winter solstice: Four-armed Mahakala

 

12th lunar month

23rd-29th day: Great Mahakala*; ends with sacred dances on the 29th, and is followed by Losar (the New Year)

 

*sand mandala associated with this practice

Rumtek Community

His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa took into account the needs of his lay devotees in planning Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre, and the following institutions were established in the Rumtek compound according to his wishes.

Karmae Choekhor Tashi Ling Lhakhang

A young boy outside the community lhakhang next to the Rumtek monastery complex.

Just outside the perimeter of the monastery complex is a small temple where the lay community practices. Construction of Karmae Choekhor Tashi Ling lhakhang was sponsored by Shri Ladhakhi Sardar, a local contractor. Here, amidst a pair of large prayer wheels filled with Buddhist texts and many other holy objects, the lay sangha chants deity mantras, makes offerings, and recites prayers on the four great days of the Tibetan Buddhist liturgical calendar. Other dharma activities take place throughout the year. Smaller prayer wheels line the outer walls of the lhakhang and the path up to the monastery, and followers turn the wheels clockwise to accumulate virtue, merit, and purify unholy deeds.

Sungrab Nyamso Printing House

Each pecha page is printed by hand at the Sungrab Nyamso Printing House

Five thousand wooden blocks, each with individually, hand-carved sacred text, are stored in the printing house at Rumtek Monastery, a repository for the rare Buddhist texts of the Karma Kagyu lineage. Used for printing leaf-form books (pechas), the blocks were made by devotees of His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, at his direction. There are printing blocks for about 150 books. Carving of the blocks began in the 1960s to provide the sangha community with more than one copy of the sacred texts, since in many instances only a few copies could be carried from Tibet when the Karmapa fled in 1959. To print, black ink is spread over each block and a leaf of paper is placed atop. Then a dry roller is pressed over the paper to produce a perfect text. The printing house also provides texts for various monasteries around the world.

 

The Karmae Dharma Chakra School

The lower primary school situated on the road to the monastery was established in 1984, in accordance with the wishes of His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa. The school offers a free education to all poor children of the Rumtek lay community and villagers around the monastery compound. There are approximately 300 students who study up to Class VIII (eight grade). The government of Sikkim also provides assistance to the school.

 

Kunga Delek Hotel of Dharma Chakra Centre

With modern amenities and a stunning view of Gangtok and the great Himalayas beyond, Hotel Kunga Delek was established by Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre to offer travellers a comfortable place to stay and dine while visiting the monastery. All proceeds from the hotel are used to help maintain the monastery. 

Special Activities

Each month at Rumtek there is at least one, week-long puja (usually devoted to a specific deity); some months the pujas last for two weeks. There are also prayer ceremonies on special days of the month. All activities, except the birthday of the Seventeenth Karmapa, are noted in terms of the Tibetan Tsurphu calendar. Some of the activities are also detailed in the page on "Practices at Rumtek."

 Losar

On Losar, the Tibetan New Year's Day, lamas, monks, and lay followers of the Gyalwa Karmapa make offerings to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, and high tulkus. Festivities continue on the second and third day of the New Year with performances of lhamo, a traditional Tibetan opera depicting tales of the Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava, and the Gyalwa Karmapa's previous lives. (February or March of the Gregorian calendar)

 Dubchen and Tsechu

A week-long Vajrakilaya (dubchen) or Guru Padmasambhava tsechu puja is performed every other year in the fourth month, along with chams (ritual dances) on the ninth and tenth day of the puja. (May or June of the Gregorian calendar)

Dungdrub Puja

One hundred million mantras are recited by the monks' community and lay devotees from Rumtek and other parts of Sikkim who gather at the monastery at Saga Dawa, the anniversary of the Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana, when the benefit of all dharma activity is multiplied manyfold. Empowerments and teachings are also given. The dungdrub puja is organized by the Karmapa's Satu Dungdrub Committee (Pal Karmapae Jesden Tsokpa), the lay sangha of Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre, especially for world peace and to help people develop tranquility and compassion by following the path of the Buddha's teachings. (May or June of the Gregorian calendar)

Birthday of His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa

A long-life ceremony is offered on June 26 in honor of the birthday of Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the Seventeenth Karmapa, along with cultural programs throughout the day including sacred dances by the monks, and folk songs and dances by the lay community.

Summer Retreat

For forty-five days each summer, the monks observe yarnay, a retreat that begins on the fifteenth day of the sixth month. The monks perform basic ritual practices such as sojong, a confession of faults and renewal of vows that occurs bi-monthly, observe rules and regulations in addition to their daily routine, and do not venture beyond the marked bounds of the monastery. The retreat concludes with gakye, the ceremony lifting the restrictions. The Dharma Chakra Centre celebrates the end of the retreat with a lhamo performance. (July-August of the Gregorian calendar)

 Gutor

One of the giant masks used in the great Mahakala dance

At the end of the year, the monks perform a week-long Mahakala puja, along with ritual dances held for two days before the eve of Losar, the Tibetan New Year. In 1999, the great Mahakala lama dance, where monks perform chams in the courtyard admidst three life-sized statues of Mahakala, Mahakali, and Thamchen Dorje Legpa, was performed for public view for the first time in the history of the monastery. This revival of a Tsurphu tradition now takes place annually to end the year. (February or March in the Gregorian calendar)

 

Visit "Practices at Rumtek" for more detail on some of the activities listed above.