Thursday, December 3, 2009

Karma Kagyu and the Golden Rosary

"After I pass away And my pure doctrine is absent, You will appear as an ordinary being, Performing the deeds of a Buddha And establishing the Joyful Land, the great Protector, In the Land of the Snows." -- from the Root Tantra of Manjushri

The term Golden Rosary refers, surprisingly to some, not to any western notion, but to a Buddhist tradition emphasizing the transmission of dharma instruction primarily by oral, non written means. Thus the forefathers of the Karma Kagyu sect are referred to as the Golden Rosary. The sect is thought to have been founded first in about the 12th century C.E. in the Eastern regions of Tibet, or Mongolia. Later the sect established monasteries both in India, Japan and in the central regions of Tibet. Briefly describing the practice, it is founded in Mahayana practices and is both tantric and vajrayanic; it is monastic and its members include llamas, nuns, monks, and the laity. Its teachings are firmly rooted in the teachings of the Shakymuni Buddha; the practice of "Mahamudra" is a strong feature of Karma Kagyu practice.

Mahamudra can be briefly described as a symbol which points to that which cannot be undone or broken, it is reality in the absolute dimension, in the now experience. There is, within the practice, an extensive use of symbols, visual elements as part of worship, a distinctive feature of what is commonly referred to in the West as Tibetan Buddhism, Kagyu being one of the sects encompassing this traditional use of symbols. Kagyu however, perhaps uniquely, employs both Sutra and Tantra mahamudras. As a heavily oral tradition, an association with a teacher or a monastery is thoroughly stressed for both instruction and practice.

The Tibetan Llama today best known for this practice is Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Llama from within the closely related school known as Gelug, a form most nearly associated with Mongol history. In fact the term "dalai llama" is Mongolian in origin, having no meaning in the language most spoken by the Tibetans. These Llamas have, in history, traditionally functioned as spiritual guides for those in the Western regions of geographic China, Mongolia and other Himalayan kingdoms. The history of the Gyatso forms a fascinating element of world history, in general and Mongolian history in particular, with respect to the development of the inter-relationship of various Khans and Llamas from the 13th century C.E. into the modern period.

Here in the United States, the recent introduction of a Mongolian-Tibetan Buddhist cultural center in Bloomington, Indiana in the tradition of the Kumbum Champtse Ling monastery, Tibet, has recently come into being with the support of the 14th Dalai Llama.Its establishment is with a mind to the perpetuation of the lineage, traditions and culture of Mongolian-Tibetan Buddhism; to foster understanding, harmony and interfaith exchange between those of the Buddhist and other faith traditions.

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