Since monks are meant to dedicate their lives to learning, contemplation and social work, the monks of Gyuto Tantric Monastery live according to the rules of the Vinaya under the guidance of their three teachers from the time they first enter the monastery. They concentrate on learning and practice, beginning with the basics and gradually progressing to the highest esoteric teachings. Although they study the whole Buddhist canon, their main focus is tantra.
For the first nine years the monks do not have individual rooms. They attend prayers, do major practices, eat and sleep in the assembly, received teaching and attended debate and discussion sessions in the Dharma courtyard. Each monk had his own particular spot for studying, contemplating and doing his practices in this uncovered area. Under the present circumstances, because of the limited space available, they must carry out all these activities in the assembly hall or in their living quarters.
Junior monks study language, memorize basic tantric texts, recite these texts, receive instruction on them, acquire skill in drawing mandalas, preparing colored sand mandalas and ritual musical instruments.
Eventually monks perform the retreats of various deities, including the three great deities, Guhayasamaja, Chakrasamvara and Vajrabhairava. Such practices are preceded by intensive mental purification and the accumulation of merit.
To help them overcome attachment to the place where they live, regular and frequent convocation where held in different places in which all monks had to participate. Since coming to India it has not been possible to hold these convocations, but at the time and season when each was traditionally held the respective practices and activities are still performed.
There were three major convocations concentrating on different kinds of activity: the Ganden winter convocation which focused on listening to and thinking about teachings, the Chuda spring convocation which focused on meditation and the Drayerpa summer convocation which focused on creative work. Six minor convocations were also held which fell into the three above mentioned categories: the Drepung, Kyormoling and Tagtse convocations, the Ganden summer convocation and the Sera and Potala convocations.
During such convocations regular and special ceremonies took place. The practices of different deities, consecration ceremonies, major and minor liturgical services and ritual cake offerings were performed. Teachings were given and tantric debates and examinations were held.
Now too, in the second, fifth, sixth, and ninth Tibetan months, the mandala, creation and offering rites of Chakrasamvara are performed. This is done in conjunction with a colored sand mandala. The self-initiation of Guhyasamaja is performed twice and that of Vajrabhairava is performed with a fire offering.
During the sixth and ninth Tibetan months two major consecrations are performed. The first is that of one of the three great deities, performed in rotation year after year. The other is that of Vajrabhairava, performed in conjunction with a colored sand mandala and fire offering.
For the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eleventh Tibetan months the self-generation of Vajrabhairava and the grand liturgical services of the two Dharma protectors, Mahakala and Yamaraja are performed each month with chanting according to the older and newer classical traditions.
In the first, second, tenth and eleventh Tibetan months the grand ritual cake offerings of for Sitapatra, Mahakala and two other deities associated with fierce activity are performed. During any of these months two other grand ritual cake offerings for Sinhavaktra Kshetrapala also take place.
Thirteen self-initiations of the three great deities with mandalas painted on canvas, a special three day practice of classical chanting with rosaries used instead of musical instruments and eight major and minor ritual cake offerings of the “Sixty part” practice are also held during the year.
Before and after every teaching, prayers to the spiritual masters of the lineage are recited and between the convocations two “commentary” Geshes recite around forty folios with an introduction to the subject outlines of Jetsun Kunga Dondrub’s great commentary. This is followed by a grand debate and an eight day examination for the qualification of Geshe Ngagrampa. Training is given in the drawing of mandala and stupa, in the design of colored sand mandalas, in the construction of the three dimensional mandalas of various deities, chanting, harmonics and in the preparation, design and decoration of offering substances and objects.
In Tibet at Drayerpa there were retreat houses where monks could perform the practices of the various deities for a prolonged period in seclusion. There were also retreat houses at Ramoche and now at Tenzin Gang in India such retreat facilities are available for the monks.
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