By Ven. Lekshay Sangpo
(above: H.E. Avikrita Rinpoche at the 2019 Bhadracarya Festival in Lumbini)
Bhadracarya Festival is in Lumbini, Nepal. Not only is it the birthplace of the Buddha, it is also one of my favorite places in the Buddhist world. It’s a rural area where pilgrims joyfully swarm among local Nepalis who are just living their daily lives. Two very focused groups woven together in a robust fabric of now.
Bhadracarya Festival was begun by a group of Nepali Buddhists. They missed having a large Buddhist festival in Lumbini after Sakya Monlam moved to Bodh Gaya. They also chose to hold this Festival in conjunction with the birthday of H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche, after his parinirvana in 2016.
This was my second Bhadracarya Festival. And the feelings of connection and community seemed to build upon last year’s Festival for me.
This year it was held in the old Sakya monastery next to the Maya Devi temple in the Lumbini Gardens. From the moment I entered the monastery’s grounds on the first morning, I felt the embrace of fellowship. Breakfast was being served and hundreds of monastics and lay people were eating. It was wonderful! A huge breakfast fellowship before the day’s program even began.
This food fellowship continued every day, 3 times a day. It was pretty astonishing to see everybody being fed. And fed not just once a day but three times a day! This is a rare and precious event for an American to witness. Literally hundreds of people being fed. This astonished me and astonishes me!
Another great thing about the Bhadracarya Festival is they give out prayer books in four languages: Tibetan, Nepali, Chinese and English! It is a rare treat to actually be able to follow along with the prayers. I think this added to the sense of community among the attendees. Everybody was able to participate!
The Bhadracarya Festival in 2019 was different for me because there were many more Nepali monks than the previous year. I’m used to the Nepali monks from the main Sakya monasteries in Nepal. This year, however, many of those monks were in India for a Ten-shug for H.E. Luding Khenchen Rinpoche. There were monks from a few Sakya gonpas, including Ghoom, Phuntsok Phodrang in Delhi, Pema Tsal in Nepal and other centers but the majority of monks were Nepali monks I’d never seen before. That added a new and different atmosphere which I enjoyed. I assume these monks were from Central and Western Nepal.
The daily schedule was similar to the 2018 Bhadracarya Festival: morning pujas followed by a teaching and meditation session led by Avikrita Rinpoche. I love the meditation sessions. Imagine, sitting and meditating with hundreds of others along with Avi Rinpoche! Amazing. Then there was a lunch break followed by afternoon teachings and pujas.
I have to add something about the food. These type of events, at least in Nepal, offer a combination of traditional Nepali and Tibetan foods. I LOVE Nepali food so it was a treat for me every day. Tasty, hearty and healthy food. I couldn’t have been happier with the meals.
Every teaching that Rinpoche gave was also perfect! It was especially interesting that each of his teachings seemed like it was specifically meant for me. Whenever that happens, I know I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.
The monastery was probably two-thirds to 3/4 full of monastics. Lay people filled the rest of the inside and outside, there were hundreds of lay people, mostly Nepalis which was, again, was wonderful. I’m used to primarily Himalayan and Tibetan lay people so again, this was a new experience for me. It’s a joy for me to witness the resurgence of Nepali Buddhists.
Although each day was wonderful, perhaps the last day was the most profound for me. Rinpoche gave a Guru Rinpoche initiation in the morning. And it just happened to be Guru Rinpoche’s monthly day!
After the initiation, when people filed through to receive their blessing and make an offering, I became aware of just how many people were outside the gonpa. There were hundreds of people. And they were literally beaming they were so happy. Many of them made offerings to the monks as well. These people were kind, generous and full of faith. I haven’t witnessed a crowd like this in a long time. It was humbling and moving. Seeing them filled me with a humbleness at my good fortune to be able to attend this Festival a second time.
Nepal has a rich history of Buddhism which I rarely see. I know there are a lot of Nepali Buddhists but the ones I am used to seeing are primarily Himalayan peoples. This was a new and different group of Nepali Buddhists for me.
I also witnessed a great generosity and a deep faith. The lay people attending were overflowing with excitement and joy! They were so happy! I think part of it was being able to attend an event like this. It was truly wonderful. Their faith and joy was infectious and could be felt throughout the six-day Festival.
Since the Festival was held at one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites, there was a constant flow of Buddhist pilgrims in the area. This adds to the sense of importance of what Bhadracarya is all about. Some of these pilgrims came into the temple, did prostrations and made offerings to Rinpoche. There was such an air happiness throughout the Festival.
A lot of the pilgrims were caught by surprise to see a big Buddhist program happening in the monastery. They were happy to be able to witness it and receive blessings from Rinpoche.
The day programs ended around 5pm. And in the evenings, there were other Dharma activities ranging from candlelit vigils, group prostrations and kora (circumambulations) all led by Avikrita Rinpoche. People seemed to be really enjoying themselves throughout the Festival. I don’t believe I’ve attended anything like this before.
And the sharing of Dharma and community is my favorite thing. Day after day of Dharma and community is the best! The feeling of community and purpose was very strong for me. People there were focused and yet light. There was a very strong sense of connection and belonging throughout the Festival. I cannot recommend it enough. Make plans to attend next year now!