Mönlam Chenmo (Tibetan: 'Great Prayer') is the most important Tibetan Buddhist celebration of the year, held annually as part of the New Year festivities. The Great Prayer Festival was established by Lama Tsongkhapa in 1409, when the first Great Prayer Festival was held in Lhasa. Lama Tsongkhapa invited all the people of Tibet to a two-week-long festival of prayer, auspicious rituals, teachings, and celebrations from the first new moon until the full moon of the lunar New Year. Many hundreds of thousands, perhaps more than one million, people came from near and far. This first full moon of the year is celebrated in the Vajrayana tradition as the Day of Miracles (Tibetan: 'Chotrul Duchen') to commemorate the final day of miraculous display by the Buddha which lasted 15 days.
That time of the year was chosen because Lama Tsongkhapa firmly believed in the life story of the founder Guru Shakyamuni Buddha told in the Indian Buddhist Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish called 'Overcoming the Six Teachers':
"Buddha was challenged by six rival teachers to a contest of miraculous performances. For many years, Buddha evaded their challenges, letting people believe that he was afraid of their magical powers, losing his royal patrons, and causing doubts and worries to grow among the people.
Finally, in the city of Shravasti, Buddha accepted the challenge and stood before a huge assembly of people from the entire central north Indian area. He proceeded to perform miracle after miracle during the first fortnight of the lunar New Year. The rival teachers were eclipsed almost immediately, as Buddha produced spectacular manifestations. He threw down a toothpick and grew a giant wish-granting gem tree. He rinsed his mouth with scented water, and celestial lakes with divine ducks and jewel lotuses appeared. He concentrated and emitted rays of light, and hosts of Buddhas, bodhisattvas and gods filled the skies.
Teachings of liberation and awakening, reverberating in every language known to man, illumined the minds of all assembled. He even manifested a vision of himself multiplying infinitely, his compassionate energy becoming clearly present to everyone's awareness."
It is said that during that first Great Prayer Festival in 1409, all the people who gathered in Lhasa had visions of Buddhas and divine beings filling the sky. Everyone got into their most religious mood and spent the whole time as if on a spiritual retreat, praying, studying, making offerings, teaching, learning, and debating meaningful philosophical topics.
This noble tradition is preserved and is practiced in the same way to this day in most of the Gelug monasteries. On the full moon, the Day of Miracles is the most special day of the Festival where thousands of people, lay and ordained alike, come to pray, view the big butter sculptures, and make offerings to the Sangha.
The main purpose of the Great Prayer Festival is to pray for the long life of all the holy Gurus of all traditions, for the survival and spreading of the Dharma in the minds of all sentient beings, and for world peace. The communal prayers, offered with strong faith and devotion, help to overcome obstacles to peace and generate conducive conditions for everyone to live in harmony.
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