Date: 15 January 2014
Venue: Mahabodhi Stupa, Bodhgaya, India
Q: Khenpo, can you tell me a bit about yourself?
A: Khenpo is from Tsopa Gompa in Tibet of the Barong Kagyu lineage in Nangchen, Kham. He came in 1997 to receive empowerment from Gyaltsap Rinpoche. He taught in Nalanda Institute in Sikkim from 1998. Now he works for Tsurphu Labrang. He started working for Kagyu Monlam since 2004/ 2005. He is the main supervisor of the dharma group. Mahakala ‘cham was organized by him too. Dharma group has 3 levels: shrine offering, umze (chant masters), discipline masters.
Q: Khenpola, Tashi Delek. Can you tell me the meaning of ‘cham?
A: ‘cham is related to dharma activities. We believe that usually Buddha himself has said that ‘cham has to be performed. Unlike other religious traditions, their spiritual heads have mainly taught on one canon/ textbook. In Buddhism, Buddha has taught innumerable teachings according to different faculties and dispositions of the disciples. 84,000 teachings. These can be divided into 2 categories: sutra and tantra/ mantra teachings. The main objective of the Buddhist teachings is for peace and wellbeing of mind and body. From the 2 categories, sutra mainly focuses on wellbeing and peace of mind while tantra focuses on wellbeing of body. It has been mentioned in the tantra teachings…actually the tantra teachings, the other name is secret mantra. It is practised mainly by the lama and the guru himself, not in public…and transmit the teachings and special lineages through disciples, one by one and not in public display. In reality it has to be carried on like that…because this lineage is called secret mantra, even though Buddha has talked about ‘cham or sacred performance, the public hasn’t witnessed it until recently. Even in India, ‘cham wasn’t performed in public after long time, only lately. In terms of Tibet, when Buddhism first came to Tibet, it wasn’t performed in public. Only the time of Marpa Lotsawa and the first lineage of Sakyapa, it started to be performed in public. The family was from Nyingma background. Karma Kagyu lineage of cham, it was first brought to Tibet from India by Palchen Galo who was the teacher of first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. We have older and newer tantra. This is according to the newer tantra. According to the records, Palchen Galo has brought to Tibet from India 3 types of cham: 4-armed Mahakala ‘cham, ‘cham with crow-faced with human body and sinjung ‘cham (lion-faced).
Q: Do you mean ‘cham is brought to Tibet from India?
A: Just like all the Buddhist teachings which are brought from India, they are from Indian Buddhism tradition. The root is in India. The time of 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, several ‘cham were created. they were not made up but according to tantra sadhana and according to his visions. he first created the goma ‘cham (performed in 2012). During the time of 5th Karmapa, he had a vision of the chakrasambhava feast vajra dance. this cham that he saw in his vision after chakrasambhava came to his vision, it’s a long cham lasting for couple of days. it was transmitted by 5th Karmapa to his disciple, named Surmang something…founder of the Surmang Kagyu lineage. This lineage of cham, is still continuously practised in the Surmang Kagyu lineage Sikkim monastery of Garwang Rinpoche…the main seat is in Kham and is still performed every year there.
During the time of 6th Karmapa, he had a vision of Mahakala. according to that vision, Black Hat dance started from that time, which is not the same as it is performed nowadays. This particular Black Hat dance was performed by people who were travelling with Karmapa as his encampment. There’s one monastery in Tibet, Teyak Drupon Monastery in Nangchen, Kham. The costume is similar but the dance is totally different- the text, visualisation etc. This is the ‘cham lineage of Karma Kamstang. For other Kagyu lineages, it is mainly based on ‘cham brought to Tibet by Palchen Galo. On top of this, specific lineage of Karma Kamstang, Kagyupas also perform Nyingmapa ‘cham lineages because Kagyu and Nyingma are very close and share similar practices. Nyingmapa ‘cham has 2 categories: one based on tantra Indian, the other based on terton, their vision. Sakyapa also has ‘cham. Root dance of vajrakilaya ‘cham is based on root tantra brought from India. The tsechu ‘cham was based on terton tradition.
Q: How did ‘cham become public?
A: Even though ‘cham was transmitted one to one, many people also have this one-to-one lineage and slowly it became public. There is no special reason why ‘cham became to be performed in public. Initially it was practised in a proper way, the effectiveness of the sacred mantra practice was very high, but later it degenerated, as it is made more public, many people have the knowledge, but someday this will flourish again. For the reason of benefit of all.
Q: Could you please tell me about the ‘cham performances of Karmapa?
A: Every individual has different power and capabilities. They are effective in whatever they perform…skilful methods in being beneficial for all sentient beings. Similarly, when somebody is giving a talk to somebody in same language, but whatever Khenpo is saying something as compared to the Karmapa, the level of benefit is very different. So therefore, the same ‘cham is performed in the same place, the person who is performing, the power and effectiveness of the person is very different between Karmapa and an ordinary person…more powerful. Similarly, if somebody say there will be cham by somebody, there won’t be much people attending. But if they say it is Karmapa performing, some people even if they cannot get holiday from their job, they will resign just to attend the event. That is the power and benefits of seeing Karmapa perform.
Q: Is it true that each Karmapa will only perform ‘cham for a few times in each lifetime?
A: There is not any specific number of times Karmapa will perform, it is just based on circumstances and resources. Lots of things to gather for one performance. Depends on Karmapa’s age. Karmapa himself said that this cham is very important so he would like to perform it. He chose himself. His holiness… in any dharma activity that is beneficial for sentient beings, he always want to take part in that. Only twice, he has got the opportunity to perform in India.
Q: Is there anything “special” that Khenpo notices in Karmapa’s performance?
A: Even though Khenpo knows the history, but not everything is put into practice. Karmapa first gave the task of working member of Kagyu Monlam. Khenpo’s task is organizing the ‘cham. He and Gyaltsen Sonam and Labrang staff collaborate in the task. It was a great opportunity. As a Buddhist, Bodhgaya is the most sacred site, for Karmapa to perform here is just amazing!!! Great amazement and great devotion!!!
Q: Khenpo, can you share with me your experience of organizing the ‘cham event this year?
A: This year, we want to perform particularly the garchen tsechu ‘cham. Rumtek, Ralang and Benchen, these 3 monasteries have performed garchen tsechu continuously. Bokar Rinpoche’s Gompa in Mirik- they performed gutor- mahakala cham, sinjung is performed in guto and tsechu. Usually, female roles in ‘cham (dakini cham) are also performed by monks in the monasteries. Since we are performing in a gathering where both monks and nuns are available, Karmapa said the female roles are to be performed by nuns from Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamso and Thrangu Rinpoche nunneries.