Praying for help

Lam Sangay

Yesterday, at the opening ceremony of ECB’s annual conference, I sat near Lam Sangay Dawa and his student-monks from Semtokha shedra. They were there, beside the choesham, microphone in hand, ready to preside over the sacred marchang ceremony.

The marchang, which was composed and popularized by Zhabdung Ngawang Namgyal, is an offering of wine – an oblation – to the lama, yidam, pawo, khandrum, choechong sungma, neydag and zhidag to secure their blessings for the removal of obstacles, and for the successful outcome of the endeavour being inaugurated.

Naturally, the sacred ceremony is important. And Lam Sangay and his monks were at hand, happy to provide the spiritual and psychological support needed to ensure the success of the new endeavour.

And what was the endeavour? It was the Election Commission of Bhutan’s Second Annual Conference. But Lam Sangay Dawa, who would lead the prayers, did not know it. He hadn’t been told.

So after exchanging a few pleasantries, he turned to me and asked, “What are we inaugurating today?” He explained that he needed to visualize the purpose of the marchang ceremony. And that he wished to offer his own prayers for the successful outcome of whatever it was that we were launching.

We had asked Lam Sangay and his monks for their help. And they had obliged. But somehow, we had forgotten to explain why we needed their help – why we wished to invoke our guardian deities.

And it’s not just the ECB. Lam Sangay Dawa, who is 56 years old and has already spent 46 of those years in the monk body, confided that he’s hardly ever told why he’s asked to perform the sacred marchang ceremony.


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  1. I don’t know if was true,a friend of mine told me this. Je Khenpo Geshe Gendun Rinchen was informed by his attendent that there was a fire going on in Punakha Dzong,and that they need to leave for Punakha right away,as even HM was already there in the scene. Je Khenpo,and a retinue of monks left right away in a huff,but when they reach Dochula,Je Khenpo asked his monk attendent, where they were heading for. Some high Lams can be so forgetful,which I think is kinda cute and funny:))

  2. if they were/are not told what they are performing for.. they could ask. i thought the whole process of education either spiritual or whatever modern you call it was to ask questions… either way there is a gap i guess….

  3. Yes, Mr “drups”, it’s kinda “cute and funny”. Just on the lighter side of life…here is a joke.
    It was a beautiful day along the coast, quiet, sunny and warm. The Pope, Sai Baba and the Dalai Lama had decided to take a day off from their various opinions and duties, rented a boat, and went fishing.
    A couple hours pass, at the expense of several ocean-creatures. Then Sai Baba spots a McDonalds at the beach. “Hey, I’m dead hungry. I’m off for a Big Mac”. He jumps from the boat and quickly steps across the water. The Dalai Lama goes: “Great, I’m in.” Jumps from the boat, runs across the water to land, where Sai Baba is already ordering. The Pope stands a little behind, having never walked on water. But if those two non-Christians can do that, it should be no problem for him. He jumps the boat, goes “plop”, and disappears. Sai Baba and the Dalai Lama, enjoying their freshly materialized burgers, watch the scene.
    Dalai Lama: “That didn’t look good.”
    Sai Baba: “No, we really should have told him about those underwater stepping stones.”
    Dalai Lama: “Stepping stones??”

  4. Dremten Drukpa says

    Do you know this lama is not informed of the purpose? It is beacuse in Bhutan it is always the “appearance” over “substance”. It was this way and it is this way. We might go gaga over how certain leader can talk in such loud voice even mentioning the content of the talk.

    This is it in Bhutan:
    Appearance >> Substance

  5. Increasingly, the these prayers and rituals are looked upon as purely ceremonial. People are more skeptical; more are losing thier beliefs and more are starting not to believe in those very prayers that they are soliciting

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