Mönlam Practice

Mönlam is intrinsically an aspiration or wish. Since Buddhism deals with mind as a primary factor in the pursuit of wellbeing and enlightenment, it is important to have the right kind of aspiration or intention. Words and texts which help us generate good aspiration and motivation are also referred to as mönlam.

Buddhist mönlam are mainly mental aspirations rather than just prayers or supplications to a powerful or superior being. When one does mönlam, one aspires, intends or wishes to do something, be someone or reach somewhere. So Buddhist mönlam involves having a strong and earnest wish.

The most common theme of Buddhist mönlam is to wish to reach enlightenment, which the supreme goal of all endeavours, and also to obtain happiness and wellbeing before reaching enlightenment. So Buddhist prayers are aimed at the dual goal of reaching enlightenment ultimately and of attaining happiness and minimizing suffering in the interim.

Prayers Bhutan Cultural Library Bhutan
How does mönlam work?

The efficacy of mönlam or aspirations is based on the belief in the power of the mind. In Buddhism, mind has even greater power than matter in shaping our existential experience. In the most basic sense, when one wishes to do something intensely and repeatedly, such mental aspirations gradually translate into physical and verbal action, which then bring about the result. If one makes strong mönlam or mental wishes to go to Bodh Gaya, such thoughts eventually unfold into a real journey to Bodh Gaya. All good projects start with a good intention. So, it is important to make a good mönlam in Buddhism.

Then, on a more subtle level, even if our mental wishes do not directly translate into physical or verbal action, they are said to have outcomes. Buddhists believe that even purely mental actions reap results. Because our existential experience is largely a reflection of our inner thoughts and creation of our mind, when one persistently wishes and thinks about something, that thing gradually unfolds as life experience. Thus, an earnest mönlam can bring about results in the form of experience in this or future lifetimes. For example, if a person makes strong and earnest mönlam to take a certain birth and they are said to be able to take that birth through the force of their mönlam.

Based on such theory, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are said to have made and continue make many prayers for sentient beings. The Medicine Buddha is said to have made mönlam to cure the diseases of the world whereas Amitabha is said to have prayed to rescue from suffering anyone who hears his name. The historical Buddha Śākyamuni is said to have made mönlam to help the most unruly beings in the degenerate age. So, he is said to have come to the world in degenerate times. Because they have invested unlimited power of mönlam into such objectives, the sentient beings are said to have benefit from their mönlam. Although they have long reached fully enlightenment, their mönlam are believed to have continuous impact just as the wheels go round and round long after the person who has turned it has left. So, in order to reach Buddhahood, a person is required to make many benevolent mönlam which will later benefit the sentient beings for perpetuity.

The tradition of mönlam is also based on the belief in the flow of spiritual vibes and energies, which are not restricted by time or space. Amitabha’s mönlam are said to be effective because a devotee can receive the spiritual vibes or energies of his mönlam and connect to him spiritually, even when a person lives in a different world and era.

How do we make mönlam?

In Bhutan, one of the most common mönlam is the aspirational prayer to be reborn in the realm of Amitabha, called Sukhavāti or Dewachen. As one wishes earnestly, one’s wish and mental powers will gradually translate into virtuous actions which will bring about rebirth in Dewachen. Another one commonly said in Bhutan is Zangchoe Mönlam, a prayer for benevolent conduct. In this prayer, one basically aspires to be Bodhisattva who engages in noble deeds. There are also specific prayers associated with various Buddhist schools, such as the mönlam for the Drukpa Kagyü and Nyingma traditions to prosper in the world.

One can say one’s mönlam in one’s own words to express one’s aspiration or wish. However, it is better to use standard mönlam texts because these texts are considered to be blessed and thus invested with mental powers of the holy figures who composed it. They also properly capture the high ideals and principles and can also refrain an individual from making improper or negative prayers. If one does not know how to make mönlam, the simplest is to wish whatever the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have wished for sentient beings to come true. For positive and effective results, it is of out utmost importance to make positive and benevolent mönlam with pure minds.

Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, founder of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel in a series called Why We Do What We Do.

 

 

About

Buddhist moenlams are mainly mental aspirations rather than just prayers or supplications to a powerful or superior being. When one does moenlam, one aspires, intends or wishes to do something, be someone or reach somewhere. So Buddhist moenlam involves having a strong and earnest wish.

This piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel in a series called "Why we do what we do".

Collection Bhutan Cultural Library
Visibility Public - accessible to all site users (default)
Author Karma Phuntsho
Editor Bradley Aaron
Year published 2015
Original year published 2014
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