Offering and Dana Activity
In 1999, in honor of the passing of his mother and great practitioner, Mayum Tsewang Paldon, Kongtrul Rinpoche initiated a program of traditional offerings, prayers, and dana ("generosity practice") in India. Known as the Offering and Dana Pilgrimage, this practice each year takes Rinpoche and other participants to Bodhgaya, Saranath, and other sacred sites in India, to present myriad offerings and carry out dana activities with the positive intention that they bring benefit to countless beings.
In addition to his own personal reasons, Rinpoche makes this an annual pilgrimage in order to ensure that all who have a connection to him and have asked for prayers -- whether for themselves, loved ones, or the world -- make a link to the Three Jewels and gain the merit of giving to others.
The approximately ten days of the Offering and Dana Pilgrimage follow a fairly regular routine. The pilgrims meet in the morning for meditation at the Mahabodhi Temple, the heart of Bodhgaya. We begin the day's activity with a traditional offering -- to the ancient statue of Shakyamuni Buddha inside the temple -- of over fifty bowls filled with rice, fruit, crackers and sweets, and flowers. These bowls symbolize the Buddha's own begging bowl. We remember his activity through this offering to the Three Jewels, which includes a set of monastic robes with which the temple caretakers clothe the Buddha. In addition, we make extensive flower and water offerings around the outside of the main temple. Then taking our seats with Rinpoche under the Bodhi Tree, we recite the seven-branch offering prayer and take the bodhisattva vow together, reading from the classic Mahayana text, The Bodhisattva's Way of Life, by Shantideva.
To make offerings on this scale in Bodhgaya, India, requires an artful coordination of people, resources, and finances. Part of the purpose of the Offering and Dana Pilgrimage has been to understand the workings of the local economy for offering supplies, and to promote fairness and sustainability in our relationships with vendors and the many local children who assist in gathering supplies. Every year is a bit different, but in this respect we strive to maintain consistency.
"Making offerings to the buddhas and bodhisattvas present in these holy places, and giving to those in need, forces us to step outside our habitual self-clinging. When that happens, our afflicting emotions also subside and we have an opportunity to develop an open love and care for others. If through the power of such merit we can shift the focus of our care from ourselves to others, even just a little bit, there is a good chance we can give birth to bodhicitta. If that happens then the aim of the pilgrimage has been accomplished."
-- Venerable Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
Dana is the Sanskrit word for generosity, and refers to the practice of giving to those in need. This aspect of the pilgrimage has taken place in various locations in Bodhgaya over the years, most recently at the Maitri Project compound, a short distance out of town. There is no experience more striking than working amidst a large crowd of poor and often crippled people. Both old and young receive the dana with such great appreciation showing on their faces. More than at any other moment, the face-to-face connection with another human being through the act of giving, makes the power of the dana program hit home. We are fortunate that the U.S. dollar still goes a long way in India, allowing us to serve many beings with even a modest budget.
The director of the Maitri Charitable Trust is Adriana Ferranti, an incredible woman who has been working in the service of villagers, beggars, lepers, and animals in Bihar for over twenty-five years. Her compound provides a most suitable environment for such giving. She herself is involved in myriad projects, all for the benefit of beings, serving both human and animal needs in the region. Adriana is an inspiring example and support for the dana program, as generosity is her daily practice.
The outreach of the Offering and Dana Program expands beyond this event to include monetary donations to various soup kitchens in Varanasi, one of India's holiest cities. When possible, we contribute to leper communities in Bodhgaya, Varanasi, and northern India, and we hand out cash donations to beggars on the streets of Bodhgaya and Varanasi. Rinpoche has great respect for the sadhus of India, the wandering renunciants who often gather on the banks of the Ganges, which flows along the southeastern edge of Varanasi. Whenever possible, we offer a large number of them monetary donations and food.
Bir Dana: Pema Gyurme's Intent
In the beginning of 2010, Kongtrul Rinpoche initiated a new endeavor as an extension of the Offering and Dana Program. In order to address the real need of the elderly poor within the Tibetan refugee settlement of Bir, located in northern India, we organized a program called Pema Gyurme’s Intent. Pema Gyurme was the name of Kongtrul Rinpoche’s father, a reincarnation of the great terton Chogyur Lingpa and the founder of this Tibetan settlement.
Rinpoche’s brother, Jamyang Gyaltsen, helped to identify a group of twenty-five elderly Tibetans and several elderly or handicapped Indians within the local community. The recipients are the most indigent of the village, those with virtually no income or support. In a moving exchange presided over jointly by Kongtrul Rinpoche, Jamyang Gyaltsen, and Dungse Jampal Norbu, redeemable food coupons are distributed to be used as credits at local shops, covering monthly staple food needs for a period of a year. Thus the legacy of Pema Gyurme, Neten Chokling Rinpoche, continues to flourish into its third generation with Dungse la's involvement in this endeavor. Providing the elderly or handicapped people of Bir, many whom have devoted their lives to the Buddhist path, with a year's worth of sustenance is now one of MSB's annual dana activities.
The flame of a butter lamp symbolizes the clearing away of ignorance and the unveiling of one's buddha nature, the enlightened capacity that resides within all beings. Each year we offer 100,000 butter lamps to the Three Jewels with the wish that all beings may clear away the obscurations that overshadow their buddha nature.
The largest numbers of lamps are lit on the grounds of Shechen Monastery in Bodhgaya or within the Mahabodhi Temple grounds. Many others are lit at the tables of local villagers alongside the Mahabodhi stupa. In Bhutan, we sponsor butter lamp offerings throughout the year at the sacred Kurje Monastery in Bhumtang and in front of His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche's stupa in Paro, as well at the great Jarung Kashor stupa in Boudhanath, Nepal.
How You Can Connect
By bringing these activities to your attention, we hope to share with you an opportunity to be part of something bigger than ourselves. If you are inspired to contribute, we ask you to take a moment to rejoice in your own generosity, for when we give, we don’t just benefit others. Our generosity becomes the foundation for an increasingly greater vision in our own lives as well. All contributions are used in their entirety to support Mangala Shri Bhuti's compassionate activities in Asia.