7th Thimphu Moenlam Chenmo begins at Kuensel Phodrang

My teacher from Bhutan, His Eminence Sangay Dorji, is holding the 7th annual Moenlam Chenmo of Thimphu at the great site of Kuensel Phodrang, which overlooks Thimphu Valley. The tremendous statue of Buddha Shakyamuni overlooking the valley, and now this Great Prayer Ceremony for the next week, is an awe-inspiring sight.

Kuensel Phodrang, Thimphu. From Facebook

As the head of the five monastic leaders (lopon) of the Central Monastic Body (his official title is Laytshog Lopen), it is Sangay Dorji’s duty to serve at the head of this important national event, where around 650 monks have been reciting prayers since 18 May, which will lead up to the Bhutanese festive day of Vesak or Saga Dawa on 23 May.

In his felicitation for the Full Moon Saga Dawa (Vesak), Sangay Dorji stated:

“As I preside over the Great Prayer ceremony at the Buddha Dordenma, Kuenselphodrang, Thimphu, coinciding the Parinirvana of Lord Buddha which is known as Dhuechen Ngazom in Bhutan, I wish and pray for the peace and prosperity in the world and may each and every individual of you have abundance of wellbeing and happiness. May Buddha and Bodhisattvas witness and confirm our merit on this auspicious occasion!”

Video courtesy of Sangay Dorje

More than 2,000 devotees have gathered to attend this dazzling prayer ceremony, and the lively yet serious and dignified atmosphere befitting a national Moenlam Chenmo is typical of many Bhutanese Buddhist events. I find the organization, scale, and devotion of the laypeople (who come from all over the local area and beyond) to be so inspiring and compelling. 

Moenlam Chenmos are week-long prayer ceremonies performed by monks of the Drukpa Kagyu school, Bhutan’s official state Buddhist school, for world peace and prosperity. They are also blessing rituals for the royal family. 

Moenlam Chenmos have been happening all over the Himalayan kingdom for close to a century. Bhutan’s first Moenlam Chenmo was conducted at Tharpaling monastery under Chummig Gewog in Bumthang, in 1937, under the royal patronage of the second king of Bhutan.

But in 2000 His Holiness the Je Khenpo, who I took refuge under last year, instituted the practice of the Moenlam Chenmo in all 20 dzongkhags (townships) of the country. This was part of an overall drive to modernize and standardize the civic and religious practices of the Buddhist nation, including a transition to a constitutional monarchy in 2008.

Video courtesy of Sangay Dorje

Some areas therefore have had a longer tradition of the festival than others. For example, Chorten Kora in east Bhutan has underwent more than 20 Moenlam Chenmos, while Sangay Dorji presided over the dzongkhag of Punakha’s 7th Moenlam Chenmo, same as Thimphu’s number, in January. Sangay Dorji is therefore extremely busy throughout the Bhutanese year as he has to officiate many Moenlam Chenmos around the country, in close coordination with the Central Monastic Body and the government.

I hope you enjoy this footage sent to me from my teacher, and join me in wishing him, the nation of Bhutan, and all sentient beings a joyful 7th Moenlam Chenmo in Thimphu and beyond.

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