The teachings of the Buddha are the ultimate "grass roots" peace movement. He taught that peaceful minds lead to peaceful speech and peaceful actions. The very basis of the Mahayana, in which Nyingma finds its roots, is compassion. It is the simple realization that all beings are essentially members of our family and that harm to one is harm to all.
Om Mani Padme Hum Hri, the mantra of compassion, is the primary mantra that was used in Prayer Wheels in Tibet since the 7th Century. As a result, Prayer Wheels were known as Mani Wheels. Not only was this mantra used in prayer wheels, it was chanted continuously as a kind of national slogan, carved in rocks at the sides of the roads and paths through the Himalayas, and incorporated into the mindscape of the people as a fundamental principle of life.
While Buddhist study and practice goes far beyond simple social awareness, the focus and results are clearly aimed to benefit everyone. This is emphasized in the famous refuge/bodhisattva prayer of Atisha:
To the excellent ones, the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha
Until enlightenment I go for refuge.
Through the merit of my acts of giving and the other perfections
For the sake of all beings, may I become a Buddha
Buddhism has the power to affect great changes. Historically, one of the most dramatic and consequential events related to Buddhist practice and conversion occurred in the period 268 to 232 B.C.E. This was the reign of the great Dharma King Asoka in India a few hundred years after the Buddha lived. Asoka ruled over an empire which today encompasses most of India, Pakistan and Afganistan. This empire was won thru the military conquests of his father and grandfather and Asoka himself fought a particularly awful battle. A rock edict erected after the war confirms that "150,000 were captured, 100,000 were slain, and many times as many died". Observing the suffering during and after his conquest, Asoka came to believe that war was wrong and that the only real conquest was one based on the peaceful truths of Buddhist teaching. Under his guidance, a golden age of Buddhism ensued.
The World Peace Ceremony
The site of Bodh Gaya, India stands, both physically and historically, as an embodiment of enlightened energy, timeless in its power to illumine the human heart and mind. It is here that the Buddha found complete enlightenment. At some point in the fifth century, the majestic Mahabodhi stupa replaced the open shrine erected here by King Asoka. Monasteries built here developed into major Buddhist centers that attracted scholars and siddhas from all over India as well as pilgrims from all Buddhist lands.
For Buddhists today, the Mahabodhi Temple is a beacon of light shining through the darkness of chaos and confusion. As negative forces increase in intensity all over the world, there is a great need to touch the energy of enlightenment that radiates from this holy place.
The Nyingma Monlam Chenmo, "World Peace Ceremony", grew from a vision inspired by Bodh Gaya shortly after the Chinese incursions into Tibet drove a hundred thousand Tibetans into exile. Struggling for survival in a new land, the lamas held fast to their practice and tirelessly worked to establish centers where they could maintain their religioius tradition. These refugee Tibetans began to turn to Bodh Gaya for inspiration and renewal, to pay homage to the enlightened ones, and to offer prayers for parents, family, and teachers still in Tibet, where their destiny was uncertain. Among them was Ven. Tarthang Rinpoche, who made his first pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya in 1959.
In the following years, Tarthang Rinpoche sponsored a series of prayer ceremonies at various locations including Bodh Gaya with the idea of fostering cohesive Buddhist development as well as focusing spiritual energy for harmony and world peace. In December, 1989, tulkus, abbots, lamas, monks and nuns from six countries and from twelve different locations in India made their way to Bodh Gaya to join Tarthang Rinpoche in celebrating the first Ngagyur Nyingma Monlam Chenmo, Prayers for World Harmony and Peace. Not even in Tibet had the Nyingma Sangha ever come together in so large a group.
In the course of the first ceremony, hundreds of thousands of mantras were recited, as well as offerings made of butterlamps, incense, fruit, flowers, tormas, and other precious items. Participants received a total of 800 books; an essestial for maintaining spiritual practices at a time when whole monasteries and libraries had been reduced to ashes.
Since 1989, The World Peace Ceremony has become an annual event drawing up to 7,000 practitioners and 5,000 lay people each year. Last year, 500,000 books and 10,000 prayer wheels were distributed; bringing the grand total distribution to 1,000,000 books and 100,000 prayer wheels - as well as hundreds of thousands of thanka reproductions, monetary support for the practitioners and monasteries, restorations of facilities at the Bodh Gaya Stupa, and installation of a very large bronze bell.
In recent years, through inspiration and support from Tarthang Rinpoche the other three major Tibetan Buddhist sects, Kagyud, Sakya, and Gelug, have also begun Peace Ceremonies of their own.