How to be diligent and attentive at Monlam Great Prayer Festival
I have a few reminders for all. As everyone knows, Monlam Festival is a very sacred, solemn and hard to come by festival. Throughout one’s life, how many times would one be able to attend this festival? Hence, it is very rare. I wish everyone of us will set our intentions right when we participate in the festival, because our intention for doing an action (karmic deed) is very important. We should also take note of our dedication. If we have a karmic reward as little as just one drop of water, how are we able to enjoy this karmic benefit in the many life times ahead? We must dedicate towards supreme enlightenment.
Our aspiration is to accomplish supreme enlightenment, and our dedication is also towards supreme enlightenment. Hence, during the Monlam Festival, for each session of hearing the teaching, or each sutra-recitation session, the aspiration and dedication are similar, therefore we will obtain the same fruition. This is extremely precise. Therefore, we must be very careful in our aspiration and dedication.
In addition, we have to be wary to avoid having a scattered mind, be affected by laxity/drowsiness, or indulge in our unrestrained mind, when we listen to the teachings. For example, thinking of things that are not according to the teaching, having disrespect, or letting the mind go into flights of fancy during the sessions, i.e. even though one is sitting in, the mind has gone astray. All these are the utmost unworthy things we do that let ourselves down. What preventive measures can be taken against a scattered and lax/drowsy mind? From the start, it is very important to continually practice knowing the benefits of hearing the teaching as taught in the Lamrim. This is because, if our preparation before hearing the teaching is not done properly, then the mind will not be prepared in the actual session. Some of us may gradually settle down only after one hour of hearing the teaching, or some may still not be able to settle down, as their mind is caught up in their busyness with worldly activities. As a result, they cannot switch and focus their mind at once to listen to Rinpoche’s teaching. Therefore, you have to contemplate the benefits of hearing, that Dharma is very precious and hard to come by, that it is a very rare opportunity that the Excellent Teacher has come to give the teachings. So when the thought of cherishing the above arises, then our scattered mind will be able to focus on the Dharma.
In fact, a joyful heart is able to overcome laxity/drowsiness. It is an extremely rare chance to listen to an Excellent Teacher narrate the merits of Buddha. Buddha is our greatest benefactor. From the beginning, in the middle and finally attaining supreme enlightenment, Buddha’s initial aspiration, accumulation of merits and attainment of perfect enlightenment —— all these were for saving all of us from our lives of suffering. Buddha’s heart of great compassion is one, which would move us to tears of gratitude and arouse an indescribable feeling of thankfulness, when we just slightly ponder over it. If we always recall the Buddha’s great compassion, it is impossible that we will not be moved by listening to the Buddha’s stories.
Upon hearing stories of the Buddha, let your heart be moved, wish to emulate, and arise within you a rare heartful of rejoice. As we are all aware, jealousy is an obstacle, an obstruction to the virtuous teachings; but we feel a sense of rejoice. The Buddha has the most good qualities, thus if we could rejoice the Buddha’s extremely excellent good qualities each time we listen wholeheartedly to the Dharma, then the amount of positive karma we have amassed during this Dharma session would be unthinkable/unimaginable.
As we have learnt, many had achieved attainments while listening to Buddha’s discourses during His time in this world; some attained the fruits at respective levels, some advanced to the bodhisattva grounds, while others attained the supreme, perfect enlightenment. This is such an excellent Dharma assembly. If we could view these Excellent Teachers just as we view the Buddha, regard the Dharma as the medicine and oneself as a sick person, as cited in the Lam Rim, and then earnestly listen to the Dharma, then I am confident that we will achieve the victory that the Lam Rim indicated.
Therefore, we spend the same time to attend this discourse, how much precious merits (I.e resources to walk the path) are we accumulating for our afterlife! Hence, we must be, must be very serious and earnest. In addition, when we listen to the Dharma earnestly and respectfully, we are practicing with our body and mind to request that the Buddhas stay in this world, to turn the Dharma wheel, and wish that the Dharma remain for a long time – this is what all Buddhists should do. This is because we know how precious the Dharma is, how rare it is to meet the Buddha and the Excellent Teacher. How then do we demonstrate that we cherish the Dharma? We do so by listening to the Dharma wholeheartedly according to the right method for listening, which will surely delight our Excellent Teachers. Our Teachers will then always delightfully lead us to learn and support us. We will then always steer away from bad friends/teachers with wrong views and remain close to our Excellent Teachers; we will always listen to the unparalleled wondrous Dharma at the base of the seat, where our Teachers give the teachings.
Thus, to all of you whom I care dearly, be sure to cherish your roots of virtues and practice with joyous diligence during the MonLam Festival. Life has much suffering and is short, and the time available to practice is very short. If you have such time and yet do not cherish it, then this will be just like what Santideva had commented “I do not know even this!”. I am sharing this with you, in the hope that all of you will cherish your roots of virtues and practice diligently during this Festival, so as to repay all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, thank all Excellent Teachers with gratitude and pray that the Dharma will remain for a long time to come.
Translation and review by: Shui Ching Jaw, Lim Siew Cheng and Adeline Tay