About the Kagyu Gunchö
Each winter, monks from Kagyu shedras [monastic universities] across India and Nepal gather together under the guidance of the Gyalwang Karmapa to engage in a month of intensive study and vigorous debate. This annual event is called the Gunchö, a Tibetan word which means ‘winter dharma’.
As per the wishes of the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, beginning in December 2022, the Gunchö is being funded by the Gyalwang Karmapa’s Kun Kyong Charitable Trust. All previous Gunchös were funded by the Office of His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa.
Every year, the responsibility of organising the practicalities of the Gunchö rotates between the Kagyu shedras. For example, the 18th Kagyu Gunchö organiser was Karma Lekshey Ling Shedra, based in Swayambhu, Kathmandu, Nepal.
During the Gunchö, monks study and debate various Buddhist texts and philosophical topics. The program also includes the inter-shedra debate competition, which is adjudicated by specially invited scholars. Commonly, Gyalwang Karmapa himself takes overall responsibility for planning the programme for the Gunchö; consulting with leading khenpos and teachers, discussing, debating, and preparing for the event.
For the duration of the Gunchö, participants live in tents, replicating the life of the Garchen in Tibet, and eat from a communal kitchen. Class, group debates, and rounds of the debate competition are all held at the host monastery/shedra.
The Gyalwang Karmapa’s vision is that all Karma Kagyu shedras, for both nuns and monks, should attain the highest standards of rigorous study of Buddhist philosophy. The annual Gunchö plays an important role in raising the awareness of the monks and encouraging them to aim higher in their studies. Each day from 5.30am in the morning until 10.30pm at night, they follow a demanding schedule which includes private study sessions, group debates, class debates, teachings, and morning and evening prayers.
The first Kagyu Gunchö occurred in 1997, initiated by the Venerable Choje Lama Phuntsok, founder of Karma Lekshey Ling Shedra, based in Swayambhu, Kathmandu, Nepal. The different shedras were geographically remote from each other, and he envisioned an annual gathering as a means to facilitate exchanges between them and raise standards in Dharma study and debate. The Gunchö began with just a few participants but has grown to become a major event in the Kagyu monastic year.