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A Vajrayogini pilgrimage (part 2)

18 Feb

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                                   The narrow street leading to Tahithy Chowk 

Well, its been awhile and I am finally coming up with the second installment of the earlier post of the recent pilgrimage to Nepal. The pilgrimage was in December but fortunately, I have pictures and recall some interesting stories and did further research on further significance of these locations that would be interesting for any of you intrepid pilgrims who may want to venture off the beaten path.

The first is the Kathesimbhu Stupa that incidentally wasn’t really part of the itinerary but one that I brought some of the male pilgrims as the females were off shopping at a fabric shop at Tahithy Chowk.  The previous post were on Jana Bahal  and Itum Bahal, both of which were in the vicinity of Tahithy Chowk. This little 17th century stupa, tugged neatly in relatively tight courtyard off a narrow street is rather unique because it resembles Swayambhunath Stupa. I had discovered it by accident on one of my previous trips to Nepal and interestingly, it was built to resemble Swayambhunath and was actually believed to be built with the leftover raw materials used in constructing Swayambhunath.

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The pilgrims taking a break at a teahouse near the entrance of the Kathesimbhu Stupa

Actually, Kathesimbhu means “Kathmandu Swayambhu”. Perhaps, it was built for the old and lame so they would gained the same blessings as a pilgrimage to Swayambhunath hill. Although the present stupa dates  from the 17th century, the many votive chaityas (stupas) and sculptures of deities of the Mahayana pantheon reveal the site to be considerably older. A prominent figure of Avalokiteshvara is dated to the 9th century. A nearby Sigha Bahal is a Theravaden monastery while a nearby Tibetan-styled monastery caters to the Mahayana tradition with a rather beautiful 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara as a central icon in the main prayer hall.

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The Kathesimbhu Stupa loomed over the courtyard that unfolded from a narrow entrance off Tahithy Chowk 

However, there is another legend that gives a slightly different account of the stupa’s origin. This account tells of a stupa built in the Indian city of Benares (Varanasi) and the celebrated Reverend Vakvajra was persuaded to come from Nepal to bless the stupa with a few drops of water from the Ganges river. This simple ceremony failed to satisfy the people of Benares and they had little regard for it. Vakvajra therefore decided to move the stupa with the aid of an elephant but failed. Then, Vakvajra recited a mantra, whereupon the stupa moved of its own accord and followed him back to Sigha Bahal in Kathmandu.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take much pictures during this trip but I do recall taking more pictures on a previous trip. If I do find those pictures, I would blog them. Naturally, we did the customary circumambulations and mantra recitations around the stupa before moving on.

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                        Pilgrims gathering outside the gates of Pashupatinath 

Next stop is Naropa and Tilopa caves near the Pashupatinath Temple complex. This begins pilgrimage to a holy site associated with the yogin who revealed the practice of Vajrayogini practice that is practiced today – Naropa. Pashupati is one of the holiest Hindu sites on the Indian subcontinent. Pashupati is regarded as the most sacred temple of Hindu Lord Shiva and it dates back to 400 A.D. The richly-ornamented pagoda houses the sacred linga or phallic symbol of a special avatar (emanation) of Lord Shiva. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to pay homage to this temple, that is also known as ‘The Temple of Living Beings’. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the inner sanctum of the temple houses the most sacred phallus (lingam) of Pashupati that’s adorned with four faces.

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Pashupatinath is Nepal’s most renowned Hindu cremation site. In Hindu culture,the deceased is wrapped in cloth and placed on bamboo litter and bodies are delivered by barefoot pallbearers accompanied by the male relatives. The eldest son from the family performs the cremation ceremony and the dead body is burnt on the ghats (terrace steps) of Pashupati.

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A few hours later the ashes are collected and swept in the river which will join the Holy Ganges eventually. The pictures above reveals this process. We witnessed this while crossing the bridge and as I explained to the pilgrims, this is an excellent moment to contemplate on our mortality.

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While contemplating death, I snapped this picture of the inner sanctum of Pashupati with its 2-tiered roof. The holiest phallus of Pashupati is enshrined within. Naturally, only Hindus are allowed into the temple itself and I am sure only the temple priests are allowed into the sanctum to perform the pujas and stuff. We walked down the river towards Surya Ghat where Naropa and Tilopa’s caves were.

Here’s a neat description of the location of these caves by Keith Dowman :-

A hundred yard up river from Arje Ghat, accessible by paddling across the river or by a tortuous path down from Kailash, is Surje or Surya Ghat. Above this ghat are several caves carved from the living rock. This place of solitude has been the home of yogins down the centuries, and some of the caves are still inhabited by contemporary successors. Legend names two of these caves after the great Buddhist mahasiddhas Tilopa and Naropa, sadhu-yogins of the tenth century, and progenitors of a lineage of Buddhist tantra that became the Tibetan Kagyu school of the Karmapas.

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Naropa’s statue is all that remains of Naropa’s sacred presence in the cave. 

Found this story on the net that resembled the story that Rinpoche told us before during a pilgrimage:-

The son of a liquor merchant and the product of a mixed-caste union, Naropa grew up to become a wood gatherer. Unhappy with his life of gathering wood and selling at the market, Naropa heard word of the great teacher Tilopa and began to seek him. After many years of searching, Naropa finally met Tilopa by chance on a dusty road and immediately began to respectfully bow to him and inquire about his health. Tilopa angrily struck Naropa on the face and told him that he was not his teacher.

Naropa didn’t give up and continued to follow Tilopa, taking his abuse without complaint, the whole time never receiving one word of spiritual instruction. It continued in this manner for twelve years with Naropa’s faith never faltering. 

One day Naropa was begging for food at a wedding feast whose host was very generous. The host gave him eighty-four different types of food, one of which was a delicious and rare delicacy. Tilopa, in turn, was pleased with the special dish, and giving Naropa the smallest amount of praise he asked him to go get more. Having never before received any praise from Tilopa, Naropa was overjoyed and returned to the wedding to fetch more of the dish. He returned four times and each time was given the food without complaint. On his fifth trip he felt ashamed to continue but also could not bear the thought of displeasing his master. He decided to steal one more bowl. Tilopa was delighted with Naropa’s determination and perseverance and calling him ‘my diligent son’. He instructed Naropa in meditation and gave him initiations and blessings. After six months of practice, Naropa achieved supreme Mahamudra and became a respected Guru and educator, known throughout the world. After years of selfless work with thousands of students, Naropa rose to the Dakini’s paradise. 

Naropa figures prominently in many lineages of tantric practice – especially honoured in the early Marpa Kagyu lineage of teachers. The Tibetan Marpa Chokyi Lodro (1012-1099), founder of the Marpa Kagyu Tradition, having journeyed three times to India, studied extensively with Naropa. In the Sakya School Naropa is honoured as the originator of an important cycle of Vajrayogini practice counted as one of the very special teachings of Sakya. Lineages that include the name Naropa weave through all of the Sarma Schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Needless to say, pilgrims were taught to focus their aspirations at this holy spot for developing Naropa’s pure devotion to his Guru because it is his devotion to his Guru that led him to become fully awakened.

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No visit to Kathmandu is complete without a day trip to Pharping, a little hill that has several holy spots. Upon arrival, one reaches upon a little temple built into the side of the Pharping hill that seemingly enshrines a bare rock that smothered in red Sindhura powder. Upon closer inspection, one would perceive a large roughly carved image of Ganesha and a smaller image of Tara.

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However, this is not statues carved by artisans but spontaneous image that appear out of the rock. Noticed by pilgrims for over 3 decades now, Tibetan monks have built a chapel over it and monks regularly perform Tara pujas to it. Apparently, the image of Tara becomes steadily clearer over time. Tibetans calls this phenomena rangjung or ‘self-arisen’.

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The White Chenrezig statue in Thamel called Seto Macchendranath is believed to have appeared in this manner. According to Rinpoche, such phenomena occurs due to powerful meditators have lived in the area and the images are a result of their meditational practices.

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Frescoes of the famous 84 Mahasiddhas cover the wall of the adjoining room next to the shrine of the Self-arisen Tara.

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This is another fresco image of 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara rendered in the Tibetan style adorning the room next to the self-arisen Tara.

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The Tara temple was just the first stop and after making numerous offerings of butterlamps, mantras and aspirations, the pilgrims ascended a flight of steps. We were on the way up towards the Asura cave. Midway, we came across one of many little hermitages built by meditators in their quest to soak up the spiritual energy of the place and maintain their meditational practice.

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Prayer flags abound lending a tranquil spiritual energy to the Pharping hill. Thus, the pilgrims quietly shuffle up the stairs leading to the Asura cave. The cave is currently in the confines of a narrow monastery that was built by the hill that seemed equiped with a prayer hall, butterlamp house, retreat room and various amenities. It seemed to have raised more funds and there’s a gate now leading to the cave. Pilgrims would have to file pass the gate and stone steps leading to the cave.

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We have reached the Asura cave at last and just outside the cave is a handprint of Guru Rinpoche sealing the blessings of having attained Mahamudra siddhi or enlightenment in this cave. Thus, it is extremely popular with Tibetan Buddhists seeking the blessings of Guru Rinpoche. The cave is just a narrow chamber with darkened walls due to hundreds of butterlamps offered daily. There’s an image of Guru Rinpoche along with his yidam, Yangdak Heruka.

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After butterlamps, mantras and prayers at the Asura cave, we headed down a different flight of steps that led to a different side of the hill. We were heading towards the famous Pharping Vajravarahi (variant lineage of Vajrayogini) temple. Unfortunately, I was not able to snap a picture of the shrine of this Vajravarahi statue with a single leg up. However, a picture can be found in my Vajrayogini Coffee Table book. However, here are some really neat pictures of the pilgrims setting up very extensive offerings that Rinpoche used to prepare when worshipping Vajrayogini.

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The woven tray has a bowl of tea, milk, red sindhura powder and powdered juniper incense. with a tea light in the middle. This is apparently what Rinpoche had recommended as an Indian/Nepali-styled offerings to Vajrayogini.

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The male pilgrims carried the trays of offerings up to the second floor, where the actual shrine in on the second floor of the main temple building. The image itself is in the inner sanctum and pilgrims get to circumambulate around her via a dark passageway. Fortunately, there’s a wider hall on the left side enabling the pilgrims to gather for prayer. We prayed for loved ones, develop pure Guru devotion, to receive Vajrayogini and master her practice. I did a bit of research online and found some exciting tidbits on the historical aspects of this temple:-

Keith Dowman writes about her image at this site:

… this image of Vajra Yogini is the embodiment of pure awareness, and is a speaking Yogini.  She is an image of the heart-vision of Pham-thing-pa and others….

Pham-thing Yogini, Uddhapada Yogini, Indra Yogini, or Nil Tara (to the Hindus), call her what you will, is red in color with one foot firmly planted upon Mahesvara on the ground, while the other is raised straight into the sky pulled up by her left arm which presents a skull=cup to her mouth; a katvanga ( a trident protruding from a skull o a stick) rests on her shoulder and in her right hands she holds a hooked knife slightly away from her side.  To her right and left are Baghini and Snighini, the Tiger and Lion-headed Yoginis. Another three images with identical iconography are found in the northeast corner of the same first floor of the Bahal.

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There is an image of Vajrasattva above the entrance on the Torana (decorative plaque hanging above the door) capped by Chephu and flanked by two manbirds.  The adjacent building’s upper floor is used for tantric rituals while the ground floor is used for storage.

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There are a number of reasons why Vajrayogini is worshipped in Pharping. The first is that Padmasambhava visualized her here when he stopped in Nepal on his way to Tibet and meditated in a number of caves for about 12 years. He ordered the construction of a shrine to his vision of her.  Then in the 11th C Phamthingpa, came from here. Pharping may be a corruption of his name. He was a Buddhist scholar and is mentioned in the Blue Annals, the primary source for Tibetan Buddhist history.  He was invited to Tibet to bring initiations for Vajrayogini, Kalachakra and Chakrasambhava mandalas.  He was Marpa’s teacher for three years and he initiated the famous translator and Milarepa’s teacher in the Chakrasambhava rites. He also started the Chakrasambhava initiations in the Kathmandu Valley. His Sanskrit name is Bagiswarkirti.

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Another reason is that this temple is in the Bahi style of monastery, which is associated with Vajrayogini. There are two monastic styles in the Kathmandu Valley, Bahi and Baha; the Bahi must have a temple to Vajrayogini, who is considered a wish-fulfilling goddess. In addition to the local people, Newari Bajchacharyas come to Pharping’s Vajrayogini to practice their mantras.

We stopped by this beautiful temple by what looks like an ancient stone-layered pond. We were told that this place has a powerful presence of a naga, a powerful serpentine being who control the weather and custodians of great subterranean wealth. Apparently, there’s an ancient temple to the naga king Sesh Narayan. Here’s what Keith Dowman says about Yanglesho :-

Yanglesho: Seg Narayana Sthan: on the road to Pharping is the great power place where the Second Buddha Mahaguru subdued gods, spirits and demons.

Yanglesho in the Kathmandu Valley is the power place of the Great Master Padma Jungney (Padma Sambhava), and the name of this place is blown on the wind to all, to the wise and the ignorant in the valley of Tibet, the Land of Snow Mountains. And since the Buddhists of Nepal accept this as the power place of the Uddiyana vajracarya Padmakara, they are in agreement with the Tibetans. The Hindus believe that this is the residence of Sesa Narayana, both the Naga ‘Remainder’ (kLu lhag-ma-can) and Visnu. However, the Gubarjus have only this legendary indication of the place which relates to the Buddhist ethos: When the Great Master Padma ‘Jungney himself was sitting at this place in samadhi, through the Naga’s magical devices a plethora of venomous snakes appeared, hanging down from above; disturbed by this temptation, the Guru, with a fixed gaze, struck the Naga on the crown of his head with a vajrakila (Dorje Phurba) and turned the menacing serpents into stone. Even today on the crag {overhanging the temple} many serpentine shapes are to be seen struggling downwards. From the trace of the kila on the crown of the head of the central snake, water emerges at certain auspicious moments. 

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The Great Master Padma Jungney having previously practised various ascetic yogas in cremation grounds, took to wandering, and at that time he received initiation from Vajra Varahi, attaining the Knowledge Holder of Spiritual Maturity (rnam-par-smin-pa’i rig-’dzin) and gaining victory over the ‘devil of corporeality’. At the cave of Maratika (Heileshe, east of Okoldunga and south of Mt. Everest) he attained the Knowledge Holder of Immortality (tshe-la dbang-ba’i rig-’dzin), gaining victory over the devil ‘Lord of Death’. At Yanglesho he attained the Mahamudra Knowledge Holder (phyag-chen rig-’dzin), gaining victory over the ‘devil of emotivity’. At Vajrasan (Bodha Gaya) he attained the Knowledge Holder of Spontaneity (lhun-gyi-grub-pa’i rig-’dzin), gaining victory over the ‘godling devil’. Amongst these four Knowledge Holder attainments the mastery of Mahamudra is the ultimate, unsurpassable, supreme attainment, and since the Guru achieved it in Yanglesho, this place is of equal significance to Vajrasana {where Sakyamuni attained enlightenment} for the Guhyamantra Nyingma school. [CN]

In Guru Padma’s biographical bKa’-thangs it is not made clear exactly how he divided his practice between the cave at Yanglesho and the Asura Cave; but it my be inferred that his mahamudra practice is associated with the former, and the practice of Yangdag and Phurba with the later. This is an adaptation of the 5th chapter of the bKa’-thang zangs-gling-ma, a revealed text (terma) of Nyang-ral Nyi-ma ‘Od-zer (1124-1192 A.D.), which describes Guru Padma’s accomplishment of the Mahamudra Knowledge Holder, by means of Yangdag and Phurba combined, at Yanglesho: Then the Guru thought to himself, ‘Although I have attained the Knowledge Holder of Immortality, there is no advantage unless I attain the Mahamudra Knowledge Holder.’ So he came to the meditation cave at Yanglesho between India and the Kathmandu Valley, to the Tree of Generosity that never withers in winter. Here he captivated a highly qualified yogini, called Sakya Devi (Sakya bDe-mo), and began his practice with the Mandala of Glorious Yangdag’s Nine Lamps. Obstacles immediately arose. The Nagas, Raksasas and Sky-Demons conspired to cause a three year drought and famine in Nepal, Tibet and Indian, and plague struck both men and cattle. The appearance of Death provoked Guru Padma to the realisation that he must destroy the power of those demons if he was to attain mahamudra, and giving an ounce of gold dust to his Nepali disciples Jila Jisad and Kun-la ku-bzhi, he sent a plea to his pandita Gurus in India to send the means to achieve the subjection of the obstructing spirits. He was instructed to apply to Prabhahasti, which he did, and he received the text of the Phurba Vitotama, which two men could barely carry. Immediately upon the appearance of the text in Yanglesho, the ocean threw up gifts, the earth was suddenly fertile and clouds gathered in the sky. Rain fell upon the parched soil and simultaneously shoots, levels, buds and fruit matured. By eating this fruit both men and cattle were cured of disease and the Kingdom was filled with happiness and laughter. At this time, Guru Padma had a vision of the retinues of both Yangdag and Phurba. Attaining identity with Yangdag he gained great siddhi, but obstacles arose too; then upon rDo-rje Phur-ba’s entourage’s manifestation all obstacles disappeared. Then practising their combined rites (Yang-dag phur-ba ‘brel-ba) he attained Supreme mahamudra-siddhi. Through that night, at evening, at midnight and before dawn, various spirits came to him offering their life-essence, and he bound them all to pledges to serve as Dorje Phurba’s Logos Protectors (bKa’-srung). The Four bSe-mo Sisters, the Four Sho-na-ma Sisters, the Four Remati Sisters and the families of the Four Bse-yi skyes-bu, the Four Iron Beings (lCags-kyi skyes-bu), and the Four Conch beings (Dung gi skyes bu) wer all bound in this way. Thus Guru Padma overwhelmed the arrogant spirits of the Mandala of Divine Form: he brought all sound and vibration of the Mandala of Mantra under his control; and every mental construct and thought, and all of the five poisons, were rendered void as they arose into the mandala of the True Nature of Mind, into the reality of indeterminate, non-conceptual purity. In the plenum of Innate purity he entered the Unchangeable Mind of Mahamudra.

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Another account tells of how Ting-lo-sman of the north, sTag-sman-zor-bar-gdong and Byang-phug bsTan-ma-bcu-gnyis sent a storm down upon Guru Rimpoche while he was staying at Yanglesho, paralysing his entourage with cold. The Guru pointed his fingers in mudra of threat and a firestorm emanating from his fingers raged around the snow and shale mountains where the gods dwelt. Then they all came to him offering him their lives. [Dudjom Rimpoche, Yid-kyi mun sel, p.44a]

If you look through the lattice at the side of the Hindu Temple (underneath the hanging serpentine forms) you can see the golden image of the Naga Sesa, Sesa Narayan. This temple is forbidden to non-Hindus and zealously guarded. Outside the door (to the right of the temple and to the left of the Guru Rimpoche Cave) is a stone image of Visnu’s avatar Balarama (Stobs-ldan). [CN]

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Since CN’s time the golden image of Sesa has disappeared and the temple is anything but well-guarded. The image of Sesa Narayan (Newari: Seg Narayan) is a wreath garlanded stone painted fire-engine red to the right of the central image of Narayan. Sesa is ‘The Remainder’ of the cosmic ocean after visnu has created the universe. He is identical to Visnu. Upon the dissolution of the universe he becomes Ananta, the Endless, upon which Visnu reclines at the end of his ‘day’. Here the Naga is elevated to symbolise all Life Force, or the element water in its cosmic context where as the source of life it is pre-eminent. To the right of the temple are two stone friezes of Visnu’s avatars, Balarama and Visnu Vikranta (Vamana). In Guru Rimpoche’s Cave the Guru’s hand holes and head print can be seen in the roof. This cave is usually occupied by a yogin associated with Guru Sangye Dorje’s retreat centre which is just to the north.

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Yeshe Tsogyal visited Sakya De-ma (Sakya Devi), Jilajipha (Jilaji-sad), and others at Yanglesho and Asura during her first visit to Nepal (ca. 780-90). Sakya Dema was Guru Padma’s mystic partner. Her mother died at childbirth and she was left at the cremation ground after the cremation of her mother. She was reared by monkeys until Guru Padma discovered her and took her from Sankhu to Yanglesho to practise the Yangdag and Phurba meditation rites.  When Tsogyal met her she was a fully matured yogini in her own right and passed on the precepts which she had received.

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We were totally oblivious to the spiritual significance to this site and just hung out around to feed the fishes and taking pictures. Unfortunately, we didn’t venture up to the temple or we would have discovered Guru Rinpoche’s cave there. The day trip ended and we were suppose to travel to Lumbini but December weather wouldn’t permit and so we remained in Kathmandu and ventured to Swayambhunath instead.

We were hungry and so we came to a rooftop cafe and savoured the view and rather cold wind. There were 3 main spots we were going to and one of them was naturally the Swayambhu Stupa. I did a bit of research and found a very interesting history surrounding this Stupa…

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Swayambhunath is an ancient religious complex atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley, west of Kathmandu city. It is also known as the Monkey Temple as there are holy monkeys living in the north-west parts of the temple. The Tibetan name for the site means ‘Sublime Trees’ (Wylie:Phags.pa Shing.kun), for the many varieties of trees found on the hill. However, Shing.kun may be a corruption of the local Newari name for the complex, Singgu, meaning ‘self-sprung’.[1] For the Buddhist Newars in whose mythological history and origin myth as well as day-to-day religious practice, Swayambhunath occupies a central position, it is probably the most sacred among Buddhist pilgrimage sites. For Tibetans and followers of Tibetan Buddhism, it is second only to Boudhanath.

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According to Swayambhu Purana, the entire valley was once filled with an enormous lake, out of which grew a lotus. The valley came to be known as Swayambhu, meaning “Self-Created.” The name comes from an eternal self-existent flame (svyaṃbhu) over which a stūpa was later built.

Swayambhunath is also known as the Monkey Temple as there are holy monkeys living in the north-west parts of the temple. They are holy because Manjushree, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning was raising the hill which the Swayambhunath Temple stands on. He was supposed to leave his hair short but he made it grow long and head lice grew. It is said that the head lice transformed into these monkeys.

The Bodhisattva Manjusri had a vision of the lotus at Swayambhu and traveled there to worship it. Seeing that the valley can be good settlement and to make the site more accessible to human pilgrims, Manjusree cut a gorge at Chovar. The water drained out of the lake, leaving the valley in which Kathmandu now lies. The lotus was transformed into a hill and the flower become the Swayambhunath stupa.

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Swayambhunath, is among the oldest religious sites in Nepal. According to the Gopālarājavaṃśāvalī Swayambhunath was founded by the great-grandfather of King Mānadeva (464-505 CE), King Vṛsadeva, about the beginning of the 5th century CE. This seems to be confirmed by a damaged stone inscription found at the site, which indicates that King Mānadeva ordered work done in 640 CE.

However, Emperor Ashoka is said to have visited the site in the third century BCE and built a temple on the hill which was later destroyed. Although the site is considered Buddhist, the place is revered by both Buddhists and Hindus. Numerous king Hindu followers are known to have paid their homage to the temple, including Pratap Malla, the powerful king of Kathmandu, who is responsible for the construction of the eastern stairway in the 17th century.

The stupa was completely renovated in May 2010, its first major renovation in 90 years[5] and its 15th in the nearly 1,500 years since it was built. The dome was re-gilded using 20 kg of gold. The renovation was funded by the Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center of California, and began in June 2008.

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As we walked down the stone path from the Swayambhunath Stupa, there is a path that leads to a simple building that we know was the temple of the doors or is also known as Shantipur. According to Rinpoche, this temple of the doors is literally, a doorway to an underground subterranean passageways and is believed to be where the 16 Arhats – Buddha’s arhat disciples are residing. Therefore, it is believed to be a good place to pray for longevity. Tibetan practice of propitiating the arhats is to prolong life.

However, Keith Dowman narrates a rather fantastic and colorful history of the place :-

‘Od-zer Go-cha (Amsuvarman): Santipuri: within the confines of the path which encircles the sacred area of Swayambhu are one hundred temples. In the {temple called Santipuri} Manjughosa’s emanation, the Dharmaraja Amsuvarman (‘Od-zer Go-cha), met Vajrasattva’s emanation, the Acarya Santikar, who had obtained the Body of Immortality. Herein is the mandala drawn in the heartblood of the Eight Great Nagas. Further, here is a temple-place of Mahadeva and Ganapati.

There was once a king of Gauda (in Bihar), an emanation of Vajrasattva called King Pracanda Deva, who decided to make pilgrimage, and leaving his kingdom in the hand of his son, Sakti Deva, having arrived at Swayambhu and taking ordination there, he began the ascetic practices of Vajrasattva. His religious name was Santi Sri (Zhi-ba’i dpal, Santikar). In order to protect the Dharmadhatu Vagisvara Swayambhu Stupa (Chos-bdyings gsung-gi dbang-phyug rang-byung mchod-rten) he covered it with earth and produced the form of a stupa. Also, as an indication of Manjudeva’s power, he build a stupa at the place where the Bodhisattva had sat for so long. Thereafter it was called Manjushri’s Stupa. Then he build the five shrines of Shantipuri (Akasapuri, Agnipuri, Nagapuri, Vasupuri and Vayupuri. In a year of great misfortune, after no rain had fallen for seven years, the King Gunakamadeva entered Santipur and met the Acarya Santi Sri, begging him to make rain. Santi Sri propitiated the Nagas, summoning them with mantra, and forced them to bring rain. Opposed to this Newar account is the false Tibetan belief that Nagarjuna was the siddha who propitiated the Nagas to make rain. [CN]

The Newar chronicles speak of a King Gunakamadeva who entered the inner sanctum of Santipur to meet Santikar to make rain. Gunakamadeva is said to have been a puppet of Amsuvarman, an interloper who seized power at the beginning of the 7th century and became the greatest of the Nepali Kings of the Licchavi ear [Regmi p.161ff.]. The Gunakamadeva of the chronicles is a king of the dvapara-yuga. An historical Gunakamadeva reigned between 987-990, but if Santikar was his contemporary the Acarya could not have established Tantra in the Valley; the 9th c. is the latest that Tantra arrived here.

There was another, later, king who entered Santipur to make rain. He was Jaya Pratap Malla (reigned 1641-1674), whose inscription upon a stele outside the inner door of Santipur proclaims that he entered in 1658 to bring out into the sunlight the Naga Mandala drawn in the blood of the Eight Naga Kings, together with the Mahamegha-sutra, in order to bring rain. The King caused a map to be drawn describing his peregrinations beneath Santipur. The map shows four levels to the temple. On the ground floor are six empty rooms into which His Majesty, King of Kings, Lord of Poets, Jaya Pratap Malla Deva entered with puja materials, a fish, black soya beans and cow’s milk.

There is no indication of a way down to the first subterranean level, and no way out of the room into which he entered on that level except a small niche in the wall. However, in the central room of the first floor he found the Mahasambaratantra, a painting in a copper cylinder, two swords and the Sunyakaru Yantra, and here he discovered the presence of Sri Sri Sri Mahasambara himself. All the other rooms on this level were empty. The King proceeded alone, since the gubarjus (priests) would not go further as they could not see the way, through a stone door and down into the second subterranean level. In the first room bats as large as kites or hawks came to kill the light. In the second room ghosts, flesh-eating spirits and hungry ghosts came to beg.

If you are unable to pacify them they clutch at you. In the third room: If you cannot pacify the snakes by pouring out milk they chase and bind You. Having pacified them you can walk on their bodies. In the central room, the King met Santikar Acarya, who had become a siddha, sitting in samadhi. He was alive with no flesh on his body. He gave the King instruction, and here the King found the mandala, written in the Naga King’s blood, which he took out to make rain.

In the next room he sat and meditated and all things were shown unto him. In the last room was a hole through which the water of a fathomless lake could be seen {at a third subterranean level}. The waters splash and ripple and the wind blows. The King was below for three hours, and his entourage waited impatiently and in fear for their King who dared to go where no priest dared. Tigers roared and the earth writhed, but finally the King returned and the rains came. The harvest of 1658 was plentiful. [The original map is in private hands.]

In Santapuri there is an entrance to three tunnels: a tunnel to Swayambhu Stupa; a tunnel to the Naga Realm; and a tunnel to the realm of obstructive spirits (bgegs). At present there is a six foot square stone covering the entrance. The sixteen volumes of the Prajnaparamitama written upon lapis lazuli paper with ink of gold from the Jumbu River brought from the Naga Realm by Nagarjuna is to be found in the Thang Baidhari of Kathmandu (Thamel Bahal). [SK] A volume of this ‘original’ Prajnaparamita-sutra is now to be found in the Thamel Bahal [q.v.].

Nagarjuna was custodian and King Amsuvarman was patron ….. Santapuri was Nagarjuna’s place of meditation…. In each of the four cardinal directions of Swayambhu is a treasure trove. These treasure troves were hidden by Nagarjuna for the future restoration of the Stupa…. On the eastern flank of the {Vindhya Mountain} is Nagarjuna’s meditation cave and the spring he brought forth. [SK] Nagarjuna (‘Conqueror of the Nagas’) may have been an epithet of Santikar Acarya, who is not mentioned in the Swayambhu Chronicles; or Santikar Acarya may have been a title of Nagarjuna when he was custodian. The Nagarjuna associated with Santipur may or may not be the same siddha who died in his cave on the hill named after him.

Santapuri, or Zhi-ba’i grong, is so called because the Vajracarya Santi Deva (God of Peace) called down the god of space (akasa) and pacified him, and when he remained calm and quiet this place was known as Santapuri. The Santapuri temple was founded during the lifetime of the Acarya Ngag-dbang-grags-pa (Vagisvarakirti), this being the power place where the Acarya attained Rainbow Body and where the remains until this day. The temple has two lower levels, and I have heard that in the deepest of the levels is an image and mandala of Sri Kalacakra…. In the environs of Swayambhu many ordinary men and have seen what appears to be a stalking tiger who appears out of nowhere and who does no harm to any creature until it vanishes into nothingness; this is generally believed to be Acarya Ngag-dbang-grags-pa revealing his apparitional form….. It is said that in one of the Swayambhu Puranas, either the extensive one or the version of middle length, is Acarya Ngag-dbang-grags-pa’s biography and other fragments concerning his life. However, this Acarya is numbered amongst the Six Doorkeepers, the Sages of Magadha. Later, at the end of his life, he attained Rainbow Body and still remains here {in Santipur} until this day.

It is unfortunate that CN is poorly informed about Santipur, because we are led to doubt his information concerning Vagisvarakirti. Santipur is, of course, Akasapur, (Space-ville). CN is alone is believing that the deity of the secret shrine (the agama-che, usually located on the first floor of the pagoda temple of the viharas) is Kalacakra. This is one of the Valley’s principal residences of Cakrasambara. And Santi-deva is not mentioned in any other source as having visited Nepal. Vagisvarakirti’s identity is problematic. Pham-mthing-pa’s personal name was Vagisvarakirti, and his title was `Indian’, probably indicating that he spent much time on the Plains; he was a master of the Guhyasamaja-tantra and the Cakrasambara-tantra; he lived in the 11th century; his Gurus were Naropa and Savari dBang-phyug (amongst others). But did he live in Santipur? We agreed with ‘Gos Lotsawa that this second Vagisvarakirti was quite distinct from Pham-thing-pa. The Acarya of Santipur is the lineage holder of the Sadangayoga (sbyor drug) of the Guhyasamaja, the six rDzogs-rim practices which lead, not to the Rainbow Body of the rNying-ma-pas, but immortality in a state of suspended animation, all outflows extinct. His predecessor in the lineage was Sakyadhvaja, and his successor was Ratnakirti, also of the 11th century. The Newars believe that Santikar Acarya has remained immured in Santipur since earliest tantric times. Is it possible that Santikar Acarya was a title of the principal vajracarya of the oldest guthi (circle of initiates) in the valley?

There is no shrine of Mahadeva or Ganapati in the Swayambhu area, but some Hindus will worship the deity of Santipur as Mahadeva.

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Well, just a short walk from Swayambhunath hill to another peak is Manjushri’s Hill. This is a simple place and its believed to be where Manjushri descends from his abode in Wu Tai Shan, China in order to teach the Gods. Nepalese believe that this is where Manjushri had carved the Kathmandu valley in order to drain an ancient lake. The site is unassuming with just rows of prayer wheels and lots of prayer flags that’s tied to the surrounding trees. If you were psychic or have the third eye, you might perceive of the presence of ethereal beings. Unfortunately, I just saw a very cold mummy dog with her cubs trying to keep warm. Anyway, this is what Keith Dowman said about this location:-

‘Jam-dbyangs bzhugs-khri (Manjughosa’s Throne): Saraswasti Sthan: at the first, when the Kathmandu Valley was still a lake, Arya Manjusri and his two consorts arriving in the Valley and failing to see {how human beings could worship the Stupa in the middle of the lake}, drained the water in three days, and thereafter took their seat upon this spot. (This last line is hopelessly corrupt in the Tibetan) The relics of Manjughosa and his two consorts, which remained after their spiritual return to the Five Peaked Mountain in China, are enshrined in a magnificent stupa there. (This line is also a reconstruction).

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At the time of the Buddha Visvabhu (the third of the six Buddhas preceding Sakyamuni) Arya Manjusri’s emanation Vajracarya Manjudeva, who was endowed with the five extraordinary powers, came to Nepal from the Five Peaked Mountain in China together with Varada (mChog-sbyin-ma), an emanation of Kesini (sKra-can-ma), and Moksada (gZugs-thar-sbyin-ma), an emanation of Upakeshini (Nye-ba’i Skra-can-ma), in order to see the Swayambhu Dharmadhatu Stupa. Seeing that beings without supernormal powers were unable to worship the stupa in the middle of the lake, he cut a gorge and drained the waters in four days, only a small lake remaining. Then through the Great Master’s magical power the lotus, which was the sacred base of the attainment of the Swayambhu Stupa, was transformed into the stupa we know today. At the time of the Buddha Kanakamuni (gSer-thub, the fifth of the seven) the great scholar Dharma Sri Mitra (Chos-dpal bshes-gnyen), lacking knowledge of the Twelve Syllables (?) and on his way from Vikramasila to Manjusri’s Five Peaked Mountain for knowledge, found Manjushri himself in the form of Vajracarya Manjudeva and received initiation into the Mandala of Dharmadhatu Vagisvari as the Swayambhu Stupa itself. At the time of the Buddha Kasyapa (‘Od-srung, the sixth Buddha), Manjudeva, having accomplished his aim in the form of a vajracarya, took the body of a god and vanished into the sky like a flash of lighting, and returned to the Five Peaked Mountain. Santa Sri built a stupa to mark the spot where he had sat.

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The final Vajrayogini destination is pretty close to Thamel and is Rinpoche’s favourite Vajrayogini temple as it contains all 4 form of Vajrayogini from Vajravarahi, the flying yogini, one leg up and the Naro Kacho Vajaryogini. All Vajrayogini forms are within the inner sanctum of the temple. The temple itself is just next to a bridge and lies by the Bisnumati River. Needless to say, we performed really good prayers and offerings here as well. I personally made sure all the pilgrims make good aspirations of praying for a loved one, receive her initiation and master her meditations.

Anyway, below is good description by Keith Dowman of this important Vajrayogini temple :-

Dorje Neljorma (Vajra Yogini): Bijeswari Sthan (Vidhyesvari): on the banks of the river (Bisnumati) just below Swayambhu is a group of four Yoginis who spontaneously arose from Kacho.

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The Bahal of Bidjeswori (the Newari form of Vidhyesvari) is in the centre of the extremely powerful and power-bestowing Varahi cremation ground above which vultures hover during the day and in which jackals howl at night. The chief image in the temple of the Bahal is Devi Bhagawani Vidhyadhari Viramante (?) (rJe-btsun bcom-ldan-’das rig-pa-’dzin-ma rnam-par-rtsen-ma), the Divine Pleasure-Giving Knowledge Holder. She is in a flying position, her right leg bent up at the knee behind her, and her left leg pulled up high against her breast with her left arm, which presents a thousand petalled lotus to her nose. Her right arm is outflung behind her holding a vajra above the sole of her right foot. She holds a khatvanga (trident) in the crook of her arm while it rests on her left shoulder. The image is of vast power in bestowing blessings. She is the heart SAMAYA of Maitripa who carried this symbol of his samadhi is sunyata from India. On her right side is Uddhapada Varahi (Phag-mo gnam-zhabs-ma, Foot-in-the-Sky Varahi); one foot is extended to Brahmaloka (high in the sky), while the other treads furiously down upon a golden Mahesvara. She holds the same emblems as Vidhyesvari. On her left side is the Two Headed Vajra Varahi (rDo-rje Phag-mo Zhal-gnyis-ma); this is the well-known form of Vajra Varahi. These three images are eighteen inches high. To the left of these is Vajra Yogini Naro Khecari (rDo-rje rNal-`byor-ma Na-ro mKha’- spyod-ma) in the form of Cakresvari (`Khor-lo’i dbang-phyug-ma, the Consort of Mahasambara) as a twelve year old virgin.

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Chos-kyi Nyi-ma’s above description is precise but for the unaccountable description of Vidhyesvari’s emblems as thousand petalled lotus and vajra. In this temple and in the standard iconography she carries skull-cup (kapala) and curved-bladed knife (kartika, gri-gu); perhaps the Fourth Khams-sprul Rimpoche practised a unique sadhana that employs the symbols he describes. The Varahi cremation ground is none other than Ramadoli [vide Karnadip]. the four Dakinis are associated with the Cakrasambara-tantra, which is probably the tantra most commonly practised by the Newars, besides being the principal yi-dam of the Kagyupas.

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At some time several centuries ago, a separate tantra concerning these four Dakinis must have been revealed. However, this tantra is highly secret and little is known about it outside the caste initiates of Sambara guthis (the covens of tantrikas). Vidhyesvari is also known as Akas Yogini; Uddhapada Varahi is Pham-thing Yogini or Indra Yogini or the Indian Pham-thing’s Varahi Khecari’; Naro Khachoma is, of course, Naropa’s Dakini. mKha’-spyod is the Dakini’s Paradise, and synonymous with ‘Dakini’ is Khecari, meaning ‘Sky-Dancer’.

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No visit to Kathmandu is complete without a visit to the Bodhanath Stupa, the largest Stupa in Nepal and cultural convergence of the Tibetan community in Nepal. It is also where Kechara has presence here too and perhaps one the of the most famous Buddhist sites in the world. No visit to Kathmandu is complete without a visit to the Bodhanath Stupa, the largest Stupa in Nepal and cultural convergence of the Tibetan community in Nepal. It is also where Kechara has presence here too and perhaps one the of the most famous Buddhist sites in the world and a world heritage site. This is not the last stop but somehow, it ended up last on this random list.

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Buddha images galore…

14 Feb

I love Buddha images!… particularly from the Indo-Tibetan tradition. I think I appreciate them both from an artistic as well as from a devotional standpoint. I guess I got this from Tsem Rinpoche’s passion for explaining, obtaining and giving out some of the most exquisite Buddha images. He said that as lay folks, we should place great importance when setting up a shrine because it would probably be our biggest source of purification and collection of merits.

Anyway, I recently rediscovered a whole treasury of high-res images on Rinpoche’s blog. It was meant for people to download, print and meant to be an object of veneration. I thought I put together a collection some of my favourite images here. All of these images I have collected here are from Rinpoche’s blog except for the pictures of the Zanabazar Tara statues at the end. Feast your eyes and be blessed…

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This is probably the earliest statue of Lord Buddha and according to Rinpoche, it is carved according to the description of a woman who had actually met the Buddha when he was alive. It is said to be the closest to the likeness of the Buddha. Over time, it was lost and rediscovered by the British archaeologists in Bodhgaya, India. It is actually carved out of a dark-colored stone but His Holiness the Dalai Lama had it layered in gold.

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I had always loved the Indian pandits… I guess because they had developed a powerful way to present the Buddha’s teachings in a logical and systematic manner especially against the onslaught of fierce opposition of the other Indian religions. This thangka depicts some of the more famous Indian pandits surrounding the Buddha. Traditionally, it is suppose to have the Two Supremes (Nagarjuna and Asanga) and 6 Ornaments (Aryadeva, Vasubandhu, Dignaga, Dharmakirti, Gunaprabha and Sakyaprabha). But this one include Atisha and some other pandits I am unfamiliar with.

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This simple thangka of the Buddha reminds me of the one used for a makeshift alter that was setup years ago before the renovations of Kechara House commenced. It reminds me of simpler times I guess.

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This bewildering image is a Gelug Refuge Tree. Each Tibetan Buddhist tradition have their own refuge tree and this one is the Gelug one centering around the incomparable Je Tsongkhapa, the founder and great elucidator of the Buddha’s teachings. Love it for its intricate detail and rendering that seems to give the impression that each Buddha is sticking out of the image… much like a 3D effect. Love it! Also, I believed to have seen it for the first time in Rinpoche’s ladrang before I even knew anything about Buddhism.

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Ahh! I love Manjushri! But this is not a particularly wonderful Manjushri but it is a copy of a Manjushri thangka I sold while I was working in Kechara Paradise and about to enter ladrang to assist Rinpoche. You see, I am not a particularly fantastic salesman and so I took this sale to be a good omen for my next step. What’s unique about it is that there are 108 Manjushri’s rendered in gold leaf while the large central figure is highlighted in color.

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Now, this beautiful painting of Manjushri was painted by a student of Rinpoche and it was based on an original picture of Manjushri that used to be a childhood favourite of Rinpoche’s. This painting is detailed and absolutely divine! Would love to have a huge print of this Manjushri on my wall.

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Vajrayogini is a powerful tantric practice advocated by Rinpoche and Kechara for everyone to eventually receive her initiation and master her meditations. Her meditations are embodied in her form and thus, her image is both sacred and powerful way to create merits in relations to achieving her meditations. Thus, i really like this  antique statue of Vajrayogini that’s believed to be made during the Chinese Qing Dynasty. It’s exquisite and extremely well-made although it is quite tiny. Rinpoche has one like this statue that was once part of the treasures of Tashi Lhumpo monastery and was given to him by his biological father.

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This is another antique thangka of Yamantaka that is extremely well painted and intricate in detail and seems to evoke the power and ferocity of this wisdom deity. As an emanation of Manjushri, Yamantaka is believed to be the Vajra (indestructible/divine) Terrifier that is part of a powerful meditational practice. Naturally, I am drawn to Yamantaka’s magnificence and power.

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This Zanabazar Green Tara statue is probably one of the most beautiful statue of Tara I have ever seen. She’s maternal, sensual and majestic. Zanabazar is not just a style but a Mongolian lama who had tremendous contributions of establishing monasteries, furthering the teachings and also in the realm of devotional art pieces like this one.

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Behold this Zanabazar White Tara statue. It’s hauntingly beautiful, proportionate and refined. Her face is painted and although faded, one could still appreciate her unearthly face. The lotus that she sits on is rendered in an almost modern and graphic manner. If money was no object, I would get a skilled artisan to recreate these antique statues.

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This is Kalarupa and his puja is something I perform pretty often to purify negative karma and avert great obstacles. An emanation of Manjushri, protector of the Yamantaka tantras and the protector of the whole of Gaden monastery, he must be pretty effective. Like Yamantaka, he is bull-faced and not a deity that’s considered appealing but somehow, there’s a draw to his unique form. This rendering looks like he is glowing and has an ‘electrifying’ appearance.

 

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Pelden Hlamo… is how rinpoche spells and pronounces this unique protectress. She’s the ferocious protectress of the Dalai Lama and also a unique emanation of the peaceful lute-bearing goddess Saraswati. To me, she has a dream-like quality. The first time I saw her in Rinpoche’s ladrang, I recalled an old dream I had. In my dream, I saw a picture of her hanging on my aunt’s altar. The thing is… I have never seen her before and my aunt does not have such an image. It’s was all very strange and surreal.

 

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This is an old nakthang rendering of Kechara’s Protector Setrap. Nakthang is a style of painting the outlines and highlights of the deity in black. Needless to say, this is an antique thangka and one that is done really well and leaves an impression of divine power upon the beholder. That’s why this is my most favourite image of Setrap. He is old, he is grand and he is incredibly protective and powerful.

That’s all folks. These are my favourite images and I am glad to share them. You can click on each picture and download it if you like or check out Tsem Rinpoche’s full collection here… http://www.tsemrinpoche.com/?cat=60

 

A Vajrayogini pilgrimage… (part 1)

15 Jan

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Happy 2014 guys and I know I have been 2 weeks late in blogging about this but better late then never… Over Christmas last year, I took 22 (including myself, Su Ming (the main organiser) and Nicholas Yu)  intrepid pilgrims seeking an intimate spiritual journey – a pilgrimage of sorts to Nepal. Needless to say, I was the tour guide since I had been the author of the Vajrayogini Power Places In Nepal coffee table book. The journey began on foot traversing the colorful and busy streets of Thamel in the midst of the wintery air. It was 16 degrees at midday and it dips below 10 after dinner time. Needless to say, I dread to leave the comfort of my heated hotel room after dinner. Fortunately, we were staying in the new and posh Siddhi Annex of Kathmandu Guest House where there was central heating.

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Thamel is a mecca for offbeat mountain trekkers, tourists, shoppers and pilgrims and it is also a great introduction to Kathmandu valley. The street is  a riot of color and shops hawking all manner of woolly jackets, pashminas, jewellery, statues and thangkas lending a festive atmosphere to the otherwise dusty streets. Malaysian pilgrims being Malaysians were mesmerised and tempted but all shopping instincts were put on hold as we were on pilgrimage and so we marched on through the streets crossing what seemed like a sea of trishaws, bikers, pedestrians and pedlars.

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After traversing what seemed like lifetimes through the sea of Samsara/Nepalese folks, we arrived at the shore of liberation – Itum Bahal. Bahal meaning a traditional Nepalese courtyard. We entered a narrow doorway and the sight of a simple shrine flooded through our senses. It was a simple little shrine to the goddess Drolkar (Tib), Seto Tara (Nepalese) or White Tara.  I guess the pilgrims were underwhelmed by the simplicity of the shrine. I had to tell them about the significance of the central image (flanked by newer statues of Yellow and Green Tara).  The White Tara image apparently is very old and according to Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, this image had flown in from Tibet to benefit the people of this region. She’s highly blessed and I just found out on the net that she is also a talking Tara – a magical experience that occurs to the faithful and the highly attained. In reverence, we offered garlands of marigold flowers, butterlamps, circumambulation, mantras and prayers.

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A local Nepalese woman came by to offer a platter of offerings to Tara.

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The unassumingly sacred image of White Tara is in the center of the shrine amidst garlands and various offerings.

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Pilgrims doing their rounds around the shrine to Tara. Told them to pray not for themselves but for their loved ones. I recall rinpoche telling us to think on a higher more altruistic level when going on a pilgrimage. When all was done, we filed out of the courtyard into the busy streets again and moved on to another nearby shrine… well, more like a temple in terms of size and grandeur. This is a temple to Seto Machindranath and it is decked out with various elaborate carvings of various emanations of the Buddha of Compassion all around it. Check out the wonderful pictures…

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According to Wikipedia…

Seto Machindranath,also known as White Machindranath, Aryavalokitesvara, Karunamaya and Jamaleswor is a deity worshiped by the Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal. The temple of Seto Machindranath is located in Jana Bahal(also known as Machhindra Bahal). A place located between Ason and Indra chowk,Kathmandu and is believed to have been established around the 10th century. Seto Machindranath is worshipped by the Hindus as the god of rain and the Buddhists worship the deity as an aspect of Avalokiteshvara.

Every year the deity is placed in a chariot(also known as Rath) and the chariot is paraded around Kathmandu. This festival is known as Jana Baha Dyah Jatra. The deity is bathed and repainted every year as a ritual that symbolizes the changes occurring throughout our lives.

It is believed that during the rule of King Yakshya Malla, in a place called Kantipuri people used to bathe in the holy river and visit Swayambhunath this led them to heaven after death. Once Yamraj(god of death) came to know the power of Swayambhunath and he visited the holy temple. During his return from the temple he was captured by King Yakshya Malla and his Tantric guru and demanded immortality and would not let Yamraj leave. So Yamraj prayed to Arya Awalokiteshwor(Seto Machindranath) to free him. The god heard his prayer and instantly appeared from the water. The god was white in color with eyes half closed. He then told the king to build a temple where Kalmati and Bagmati meet and to organize chariot procession so that the god could visit the people and bless them with happiness and long life.

The chariot procession festival of Seto Machindranath is celebrated during the month of Chaitra. This is a three days long festival. The chariot of Seto Machindranath is pulled from place to place during these three days. Each day when the chariot has reached its destination a group of soldiers fire their rifles into the air.
On the first day the deity is brought to Jamal by the priests. Then it is pulled to Asan, Kathmandu via Ratna Park and Bhotahity. The next day it is pulled from Asan Kathmandu to Hanumandokha. Finally it is pulled to Lagantole via Maruhity and Jaisideval. During all three days people come and pay their respect to the god.

In the month of Poush every year the deity is bathed and repainted. In this event the deity is brought into the courtyard of the temple. All of the ornaments and clothes of the deity are taken off. Then the deity is bathed with several containers of water both cold and hot,milk, ghee and honey. All of the actions are carried out by the priests of the temple. Main highlight of this event is that the living goddess Kumari attends this ritual.

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But according to Rinpoche, this Chenrezig/Avalokiteshvara image is a self-arisen statue meaning it arose naturally and is believed to have ‘arisen’ from sandalwood. This image is known as Jowo Samling Karmo by the Tibetans and is believed to be part of a set of 3 similar statues known as the The Three Self-Arisen Brothers.  The other statue is believed to be in Jokhang cathedral in Lhasa Tibet and another in the possession of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. Some of the pilgrims were staring at the statues on the poles (as depicted in the picture above) just outside the temple and I explained to them that they were all various statues of Chenrezig.

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The pilgrims did their rounds and were reciting mantras, offering prayers, aspirations in front of the sacred image here. All Nepalese shrines had little bells hung over the window that peer into the inner sanctum of the shrine. Pilgrims ring these little bells as if calling the Gods to attention but I told the pilgrims that they were an offering of sound to the Buddha.

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Halfway as the pilgrims slowly filed in to make their prayers, Su Ming grabbed my hand and we went into the inner sanctum and knelt down  just a feet away from the image and we did our prayers there. Su Ming told me to pray for Rinpoche, which I did and uttered an additional prayer I recalled that Rinpoche told me to recite at holy places. I am glad I memorized that prayer. After the prayers, the photographers in our group went trigger happy with the camera as almost every angle is a National Geographic moment. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of this ancient temple and felt a deep sense of serenity and I even noticed that my achy feeling of flu (that I felt coming on to me) subsided somewhat.

That’s all for now… more to come… Keep your eyes and ears peeled, folks!

The Meaning Behind An Altar

10 Nov

Dining Hall and Living Room

Here a picture of my altar to Lama Tsongkhapa in the living room of my apartment. 

Due to a request, I am going to share a thing or two about altars today. I think most Chinese families here in Malaysia have that little “Sun Toi” or ‘Altar to the Gods’ at home. That ubiquitous red altar to Kuan Yin, Buddha or Kwan Gong with glowing red lights and a porcelain incense urn containing burnt and half burnt joss sticks that’s placed right under the nose of the deity is pretty much a standard affair. I guess it’s pretty much a Chinese thing to blur the lines between Taoism, Buddhism and folk beliefs here if you know what I mean but I am not going to go there.

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Absolutely love this beautiful altar with the Buddha, Lama Tsongkhapa and Kuan Yin. 

I am just going to talk about the Buddhist practice of setting up an altar. Yes, it is the focal point of the little bit of spiritual practice (mantras, offerings, prayers and meditation) that we do and it is also the place where we can collect spiritual merits. What are merits? They are causes towards achieving enlightenment. In the meantime, these causes helps us along the way to transform our minds towards virtue and towards becoming better people. Ultimately, all of us want to improve on our lives and merits helps us to do that. With merits, we  improve our careers, relationships, transforming nasty habits to better ones, gain spiritual attainments, contentment, happiness, harmony  and so forth. The reason for this effect is because the focal point on the altar is to an image of a fully enlightened being – a Buddha.

That’s the power of a fully enlightened Buddha. The reason the Buddha is able to do this is because he has become fully perfected and has overcome all limitations and possesses infinite wisdom and virtue. Therefore, any image of the Buddha can and will bless us in this most special of ways and whether we know it or not. When we make offerings and prayers, we are doing it towards the realizations that is in their physical form. That is why the image of the Buddha is one of the most popular interior decor item that seems to bring a sense of tranquility to a room. That shows that one doesn’t need to a be a Buddhist to experience the effects of the Buddha.

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A modern altar with a statue of Lama Tsongkhapa in the center, a Dharma text on the left and a clear acrylic stupa on the right. 

On top of that, we are actually using money that would otherwise be used to feed our attachments and self gratifications and that would ultimately not help us in the long run. However, setting up an altar and presenting offering on it to the Buddha has far reaching effects especially when we do it with the right aspiration and prayer. It takes a special type of merit and wisdom to understand the immense benefits of setting up an altar. Also, if we plan to engage in a life-changing endeavour like a career change, starting a business, expanding one’s business or engaging in large projects, it would be good to make lots of offerings to create the merits and good karma to sustain such an endeavour. The same goes if we want to do charity or engage in more Dharma works, making consistent offerings creates many causes for our works to be successful.

The object of our offerings and prayers on the altar is not just a Buddha but also a Dharma text and a representation of a Stupa. Respectively, they represent the body, speech and mind of the Buddha. These are what they call the 3 doors from which we develop the thought resulting in the creation of karma and its repercussion. Hence, we make offerings the body, speech and mind of the Buddha, we are creating causes to develop the Buddha’s body, speech and mind. That means, we are literally creating causes to be enlightened and purify a lot of negative karma as well.

That’s basically it and what I have explained is just the tip of the iceberg but I decided not to write too long of an essay to bore the readers. There is much more to an altar which I will talk about in future postings but for now, this would suffice. For me, I have always loved setting up an altar even before becoming a Buddhist and I never knew why. Perhaps, I had done this before in previous lives or I am just a born idolater. Whatever it is, I know its immense benefits and so it has become more meaningful and beneficial.

Below are some of the significance of the different types of traditional offerings -

Candles/tealights/lamps ~  In the way light dispels darkness, offering of candles to enlightened beings enable us to open our minds towards wisdom and clarity of mind. It is through wisdom that opens the door for the Buddha to enter and clear our obstacles and grant our temporary and ultimate wishes.

Fruits/Food ~ Just like food is sustenance for our body, Dharma is sustenance for our mind. Food offered to enlightened beings enables us to sustained our Dharma practice on our journey towards finding ultimate liberation. Fruit offerings are particularly auspicious to symbolize the ‘fruitioning’ of our Dharma practice. Offering of food also creates causes for Lord Setrap to clear obstacles towards acquiring  livelihood, clothes and shelter.

Flowers ~ Flowers are objects of fleeting beauty, which are offered to enlightened beings so we may come to realize the impermanence of our existence. It also beautify the altar and our environment and thus create the cause to be reborn in pleasant rebirths where our environment is clean, pleasant and conducive towards spiritual practice.

Incense ~ Incense invoke upon the pure morality of the enlightened ones. Those who uphold morality purely have a charismatic presence and emit a fragrant scent. Offering of incense creates the causes for us to hold our promises and vows perfectly. The Buddhas are very pleased with those who hold their promises and vows because it allows him to help them even more.

Water ~ The purity of water evokes the immeasurable qualities of an enlightened mind. Just like how water quenches thirst, offering water creates causes towards fulfillment of our necessities of livelihood. Offering of water is the closest we can get towards making an offering with completely no attachment. (An ideal offering). Thus, when coupled with powerful prayers, it allows the Buddha to fulfill our wishes quickly and easily.

Pearl/Jewels ~ Pearls/jewels are popular jewels that symbolize wealth in abundance. The causes towards real wealth are created through having a generous heart. Offering of pearls creates the cause for us to be generous and for the Buddha to bless us with immense riches in this and future lives.

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A Khata is placed in Manjushri’s hand symbolic of offering our wishes and aspirations to him. 

Khata ~ Khata is a white silk scarf offered to the enlightened ones as symbols of our earnest prayers. It is also  offered  as a mark of respect and veneration towards an elder or someone higher in rank. Towards our lamas and enlightened Buddhas, we offer onto their hands and not over their head to denote humility and submission. Offering of khatas to the Buddha creates a bond with him and allows him to fulfill our wishes.

New Buddhist Pastors in the making…

21 Oct

Kechara recently celebrated the ordination of new Buddhist Pastors and the renewal of existing Pastors in our very own Wisdom Hall at Kechara Forest Retreat. I couldn’t make it…. Boohoo! Anyway, I heard that it was a simple affair but steeped in the Buddhist tradition of taking upasaka vows or layman vows. This is the 3rd Pastor ordination for Kechara and one that reflects the growing spiritual needs of Kecharians.

The Pastors are the ones to conduct the education of Kecharians and the ones that would go out to perform blessings, pujas, rituals, funerals, counseling and such. They are meant to be Buddha’s/ Rinpoche’s little helpers and the power to bless is invested in them and is based upon the vows they uphold and the pure devotion they have for their Guru. The Pastors are also a stepping stone for these young students (most of them. Hehe!) of Rinpoche to becoming Kechara’s very first Sangha members. I wasn’t there but received these wonderful pictures as you will see below…

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This year, we have 6 new Pastors and 5 existing Pastors who are renewing their vows. And they are…

(L to R) Adeline Woon, Jean Ai, Shin Tan, Moh Mei, Martin Chow, Jay Jae, Pastor Chia, Pastor Choi, Pastor Han Nee, Pastor Yek Yee and Pastor Lance.

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Amazing Pastor Yek Yee is tremendously busy benefiting people 24-7 and nurturing a lot of volunteers for Kechara as well as initiating so many people into the Dharma. And because of such pure devotion and hard work, Rinpoche has instructed her to bestow the Upasaka/upasika vows upon the new Pastors. She sets a wonderful example to the new Pastors and has become an inspiration for many new people who enter the doors of Kechara House.

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Some of the Pastors would be wearing all white to prepare them for the time they would take on the monastic maroon robes. These boxes contain sets of white uniform for these Pastors.

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As befitting their spiritual role and the vows they are taking, the new Pastors are wearing their new white uniform and sitting on cushions and special puja tables. Lovely respect for the vows they have just received and the spiritual work they are about to embrace.

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Kechara House President, Datuk May Phng presents each new Pastor with their new sets of robes. Lovely reminder of their future destiny – maroon robes. For now, they look like hospital orderlies but later, they will be real monks and nuns… Great!

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For the Pastors, receiving respect and offerings begins here. But real respect as all monastics know is earned through hard work, perseverance and taking in criticism and slack that the public would  hurl. However, they would return all that with patience, kindness and the Dharma.

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Pastor Han Nee, a senior Pastor receiving an offering from a family. Delightful picture of a lady devoted to teaching the Dharma in her silver years. She’s one passionate teacher if you ever sat in her class and this year, she’s renewing her pastorship.

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Pastor Moh Mei is smiling sweetly. Taking on the pastorship is an occasion to celebrate, a sort of spiritual homecoming shared with the other Pastors. Lovely sight of devotion. I am sure she would smile even broader when she takes puts on the maroon robes…

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Pastor Martin folds his hands and looks down in humility. For these Pastors, the vows and spiritual responsibility calms the mind and alleviates all the negativities that lay folks normally experience because their lives are lived for others instead of just for oneself alone.

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See… Pastor Moh Mei as Anila (Nun) Moh Mei and she looks so comfortable in her robes. Well, she’s not even ordained yet. These robes belong to Rinpoche and he offered it to her without alteration and she look so good in it. (There is no difference between robes of a monk and nun except nun upper monastic shirt is thicker for modesty) This is the destiny for Pastor JJ, Chia, Jean Ai, Shin, Anila Choi (called Anila before she’s even ordained), Adeline Woon, Martin and Moh Mei of course. All of them received robes as a special blessing and reminder to hold their vows well.

We are about to have our very own Kechara Sangha. Splendid! The Dharma has taken root with these young men and women. Congratulations to all the new and renewed Pastors.

While writing this, Pastor Jean Ai had written her own account with wonderful pictures. Do check it out:- http://www.elenakhong.com/2013/10/21/pastor-ordination-and-all-that-comes-with-it/

Pictures were taken by various Kecharians attending the event. 

A Talk About Engaging In A Je Tsongkhapa Retreat

15 Oct

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Recently, I was requested by H. E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche to share my experience and knowledge of engaging in a Je Tsongkhapa retreat to people who would be interested to engage in it. This is fantastic despite the fact that the last time I performed a Tsongkhapa retreat was many years back. At that time, I was very green about all things Buddhist and the thought of going into retreat was pretty exciting and frightening at the same time.

However, I went through it and although it was only a 10,000 Migtsema retreat, it took a month because I was working on the outside and did my retreat right after. I cut down on my entertainment, clubbing, hangouts with friends and shopping. It was rather difficult for me at that time but very rewarding. Later, I did perform other retreats but this experience made it easier.

The actual talk was recorded and uploaded onto YouTube, which is available below. I have also accompanied some interesting pictures from the talk, which was held in Kechara House along with the actual slides that was presented during the talk. These basically form the main body of presentation during my talk. Enjoy and I hope my little presentation would inspire you to engage in a retreat yourself.

What is a Retreat?

  • Retreat is a period or place of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation.
  • But, what are we retreating from?
  • Worldly life of pleasures, attachments and self-gratification.
  • What’s that? TV time, kids, meat, clubbing, sports, Internet, movies, friends, parties, shopping, beer, boyfriends, girlfriends and the things boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives do, so on and so on…
  • Ultimately, we are retreating from the ‘me, me me…’
  • Why do we need to do that?
  • It has not brought any sense of fulfillment or lasting happiness. If it did, the more we have, the happier we should be. Think about it.

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What are we retreating to?

  • From ‘me, me, me’, we retreat into the sacred practice of Je Tsongkhapa. In Tantra, it is called relating ourselves to the Yidam/Buddha.
  • Retreats traditionally involves all of our body, speech and mind.
  • Retreats in the past are mostly closed retreats but due to time and circumstances, open retreats are more popular these days.
  • Retreats accumulates a lot of merits and purify a lot negative karma.
  • You will feel tremendous peace, develop tremendous understanding of the Dharma and spiritual transformation.
  • You will also encounter difficulties, obstacles and its basically spiritual detox. Hence, it is important that Setrap is propitiated during retreat.

 

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Benefits of Je Tsongkhapa’s Practice

  • We can pacify all our negative karma and obstacles in dependence on the 7-Limbed Practices in Guru Yoga:-

         • Praise of Body, Speech & Mind
         • Offerings
         • Confession
         • Rejoice
         • Requesting teachings
         • Asking our teachers to remain
         • Dedication
• Can increase your life – there’s a meditation toward the end on the Lord of Death
• As he is mainly the embodiment of Manjushri, we will increase our wisdom quickly – which is important as it’s the antidote toward ignorance, the root of all sufferings. The best way to protect ourself from suffering is to increase wisdom.
• As we practice we purify negativities of the Body, therefore health will improve.
•  We will make a connection with Maitreya Buddha (when Je Rinpoche passed away, he took rebirth as the Bodhisattva disciple of Maitreya called “Essence of Manjushri” of Jampal Nyingpo. From the Space of Maitreya’s truth body – clouds of his compassion for the beings of this world arise and as a result a rain of Dharma teachings descends upon beings through Je Tsongkhapa – as he descends from Maitreya’s heart.
•  One will gain connection to be born as a disciple of the future Buddha Maitreya by this practice.
•  Powa practice need not be practiced separately. One can take rebirth in Tushita or make a strong link to be born there eventually.
•  On the basis of pacifying our negativity and obstacles and increasing our lifespan, merit, compassion, wisdom and spiritual power, if we rely upon this practice we shall gain all the realizations of Sutra and Tantra easily. Eventually attain the states of Union of no more learning or Buddhahood.

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•  If we follow the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa, we will be able to understand his commentaries on the Buddha’s teachings easily.
•  A class of spirits such as Behar cannot harm us. Yamantaka or Shinje She means “opponent of outer, inner and secret obstacles”. This practice of Gaden Hlagyema and Migtsema are powerful methods for pacifying the three types of obstacles.
•  Outer obstacles includes harm from human or non-humans, changes from the outer elements such as fire and water, different kinds of accidents, lacking necessary conditions for spiritual practice.
•  Inner obstacles include sickness, strong delusions, and negative thoughts that arise within our mind.
•  Secret obstacles are ordinary appearance, ordinary conceptions and subtle dualistic appearance.
•  One will have harmony as Je Rinpoche is the Bodhisattva Vajrapani who pacifies the disharmonies from the outer and inner aspects of our lives if we rely upon him.
•  Four separate practices of Riksum Gonpo and Maitreya will be accomplished at once.
•  One will be able to make merit all day long and night in between the meditation sessions when in the practice. Je Rinpoche has dissolved into oneself.
•  Purifies impurities – very important to break negative habits, change laziness, avoid diseases, anger & repercussions.
•  Two parts – 7 wisdoms and * attaining realizations on the stages of the path.
*attaining realizations – recite Yonten Zhigyurma before dissolution & after migtsema. This will help us understand Dharma, Lamrim & realize it easier.
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Altar setup based on the Tsongkhapa Retreat Instructions on Tsem Rinpoche’s blog
 7 wisdoms:-
•  Great Wisdom. Understand what to abandon easily
•  Clear Wisdom – Understand subtle teachings such as emptiness.
•  Quick Wisdom – Dispells doubts, wrong conceptions & unknowns in our minds. We understand the actual nature of these objects
• Profound wisdom – understand scriptures easily
• Wisdom  of expounding the Dharma.
         •  Special Wisdom to understand the listeners aptitude
         •  Speak orderly
         •  Analogies/conclusive reasons
         •  Helps us to become good teachers
•Wisdom of Spiritual Debate to eradicate ignorance through skill of words
•Wisdom of Composing Dharma books – Understanding of subject matter, confidence to write books to reach many & bless them.
Actual Tsongkhapa Retreat instructions:-
For instructions on how to engage in Gaden Lhagyama/Guru Yoga:-
For other articles on Lama Tsongkhapa:-
For a complete explanation on Lama Tsongkhapa’s practice:-

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Temple in the Mall

9 Oct

When Tsem Rinpoche first started the Kechara Paradise outlets, he noticed that some people would come to the outlets to leave simple offerings in front of the main image there. Hence, Rinpoche brought his personal statues to be placed in these outlets precisely for these people to make offerings. These statues are very holy because they were procured with money that were offered by faithful and poor Tibetan devotees in dedication of those who are very sick or deceased. It is a Tibetan tradition to make such offerings to the Rinpoches in order to collect merit. Rinpoche would never use such money for himself and instead uses it to buy Buddha statues and the jewel and silk ornaments on them.

Some of these statues are quite old and have been consecrated by the late Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche. Kensur means ex-abbot and in the monastery, this grand old lama had a reputation of being very kind, hardworking and a great monk. Many lamas in the monastery considered him not just a lama but a living Bodhisattva.Tsem Rinpoche had a wonderful connection with this lama as a student and even served as his attendant during his tenureship as the abbot of the monastery.

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An old picture of Kensur Jampa Yeshe Rinpoche and Tsem Rinpoche

On top of that, Rinpoche did everything he could to heal this lama of his serious diabetic condition. In the monastery, especially amongst the elders, Rinpoche is well-known for his devotion and one of his great deeds during this period was to save the life of Kensur Rinpoche. Many Geshes and lamas are very grateful towards Tsem Rinpoche because it allowed Kensur Rinpoche to teach and share his wisdom. Hence, Tsem Rinpoche has a great relationship (samaya) with Kensur Rinpoche and thus, the rituals that Kensur Rinpoche performed to consecrate these statues has made these statues very much alive. They are now available to all visitors of the Kechara Paradise outlets to make offerings and prayers. The following are some pictures I have taken of these temples:-

Kechara Paradise SS2 with Mother Tara

No. 19 (Ground Floor) Jalan SS2/67,
47300, Petaling Jaya,
Malaysia.
Tel: 603-7877 0071
Fax: 603-7877 0061

Opening hours: 
11am-7pm daily
Closed on Selected Public Holidays

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Kechara Paradise 1 Utama with Arya Maitreya

S328F, 2nd Floor (Oval),
One Utama Shopping Centre,
1, Lebuh Bandar Utama,
47800, Petaling Jaya,
Malaysia.
Tel: 603-7710 4435
Fax: 603-7710 6141

Opening hours: 
10am-10pm daily

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Kechara Paradise Sunway Pyramid with the Conqueror Buddha Shakyamuni

LG2.70
Sunway Pyramid Shopping Mall
46150, Petaling Jaya,
Malaysia.
Tel: 603-5632 6575
Fax: 603-5632 6576

Opening hours:
10am-10pm daily

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Kechara Paradise Viva Mall with the Bodhisattva of Compassion 4-armed Chenrezig

No. 1-43a-17, 18 & 19,
First Floor, Viva Home,
85, Jalan Loke Yew,
55200 Kuala Lumpur,
Wilayah Persekutuan,
Malaysia.
Tel : 603-2727 2818
Fax : 603-2727 2819

Opening hours: 
10am-10pm daily

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Kechara Paradise Penang Times Square with the Dharma Protector Setrap

77-G-83, Penang Times Square
Jalan Dato Keramat
10150 Penang
Tel : 04 2270295
Fax : 04 2278869

Opening hours:

Opening Hours : 11am to 8pm
Closed on Selected Public Holidays

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Childhood Buddhas

20 Sep

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Just a few days ago, I was with Rinpoche sitting in front of his Manjushri altar. As the picture above shows, the dominating icon is this large wooden statue of Manjushri with a thousand arms fanning out around him in a complete circle. There were of course various other smaller forms of Manjushri and exotic Tantric imagery sitting amidst neatly arranged silver bowls and electric candles on crystal stands. The altar is always replete with flowers and various other offerings by many devoted students from across Kechara and the world over.

It was just Bryan, Joy, myself and Seng Piow in the room with Rinpoche. Rinpoche was in the midst of rearranging the offerings so everything is perfectly symmetrical. He told us that he wanted his altar perfect for Manjushri. Somehow, the conversation drifted to iconography and he asked us what we thought were his most favourite aspect of iconography. It was really late and I remember saying, “Something between Yamantaka and Heruka.” In the end, it was Seng Piow who nailed it when he said Manjushri’s sword. He said Manjushri’s sword and book was once the emblem of Rinpoche’s previous centre. With that, Rinpoche replied that it was indeed an old logo that Rinpoche had Irene register with the ROS for the old centre that Rinpoche used to managed in Malaysia prior to the formation of Kechara.

Then, Rinpoche turned to look at Manjushri and said that when he was young living in America, every Kalmyk family in New Jersey had a shrine. They would have various Buddhist icons on it. At home, he was not allowed to display any signs of devotion at his family shine but when his mother (foster) took him to his aunt’s for a visit, she would be too busy to mind him. So, he was able to spend quite a bit of time praying and admiring a beautiful 4-armed Chenrezig picture on the shrine. That image of Chenrezig was the most beautiful to Rinpoche but he has not seen it since. When he was young, he loved Chenrezig/ Avalokitehsvara a lot and would do a lot of meditations and rather complex visualisations on Chenrezig to invoke his compassion.

However, Rinpoche explained that he always had Manjushri in a very special place in his heart. He would recite Manjushri’s Gangloma praise daily and he would recite thousands of Manjushri’s mantras every day for practice. In the local temple that he went, he would make the normal beeline beginning with the Dalai Lama’s throne, the various Buddhas and he would make an extended prostration to Manjushri. At that time, he kept a beautiful picture of Manjushri with him all the time. This Manjushri was from a Dharma center in England that he had a student reproduce on canvas recently. The following picture of Manjushri is a faithful reproduction of this original one that he kept in his childhood.

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Rinpoche loved this picture of Manjushri so much that he would sleep with the picture. He placed the picture on his heart and he covered it with his blanket. At that time, his foster parents had deep issues that was affecting his mother’s sanity. Although an affectionate and generous woman, she quickly degenerated into schizophrenia with many bouts of violent abuse and destructive behaviour particularly directed at him. This coupled with his parents disapproval of his innate spirituality that left him to languish in despair. He had prayed to Manjushri and with Manjushri by his heart, he downed pills. Fortunate for all us, Rinpoche didn’t die. So it seems that Manjushri was the main object of refuge and prayer in times of despair and difficulty. Since childhood, he had always kept an image of Manjushri near him till this day.

I have various other such childhood stories of Tsem Rinpoche  in Tales My Lama Told Me.~  http://vajrasecrets.com/books/english-books/tales-from-my-lama.html

 

The Goddess of the White Parasol

19 Aug

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This is the Sitatapatra statue that just arrived in Kechara Forest Retreat. Photo courtesy of Martin Chow.

This magnificent 8-feet wood-carved statue of White Umbrella or Dukkar has recently just arrived at Kechara Forest Retreat. She is placed at the Dukkar apartments (aptly named Dukkar after this grand deity) within KFR where volunteers and those working in KFR reside. She provides powerful protection against negative entities and interferences and that’s why I recite her powerful mantra daily. Her image would gather her sacred energy to provide power protection for those living in the apartment and beyond. I found a writeup that I wrote a while ago on her and I would like to share it here in celebration of her arrival at KFR…

Sitatapatra (Sanskrit) or Dukkar (Tibetan) is regarded as the female counterpart of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion. Just like him, Sitatapatra appears in many forms but her more common emanations are the one with two arms and the one with thousand arms.

Her name translates to ‘White Victory Parasol’, which is a reflection of the powerful protection that she offers to practitioners. According to the Sitatapatra Sutra, she emerged from the sacred crown protrusion of Buddha Shakyamuni’s head while he was at Trayastrimsa heaven. The Buddha pronounced her role to “completely cut asunder all malignant demons and all spells of others and to turn aside all enemies, dangers and hatred.“ Her benign and beautiful form belies her ferocious protective nature, as she is a “fierce, terrifying goddess, garlanded by flames, a pulverizer of enemies and demons.“ She emanated from the Buddha’s crown protrusion called the Ushnisha, which is a direct manifestation of his Enlightenment.

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Sitatapatra’s more elaborate form with a thousand faces, hands and legs.

Her elaborate form with a thousand arms, has skin that is white in colour like the moon. This form does not have just a thousand arms but a thousand faces and legs too. On each palm and sole of each foot, Sitatapatra has eyes that watches and protects all sentient beings. She holds onto an assortment of implements like Dharma wheels, vajras, jewels, lotuses, double vajras, bows, swords, lassos and vajra hooks. But her principle implement is a white parasol that symbolizes victory over death, demons and negativities. Her thousand feet trample upon gods, demigods, ghosts, demons, humans, animals and all manner of obstructive beings.

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Sitatapatra’s simplified form with only two arms. 

Sitatapatra’s simplified form is white in colour and is depicted with two arms. Her left hand holds a white parasol to her heart while her right hand extends downwards, holding a Dharma wheel. Like many other Buddhist deities, she is crowned and decked with the six ornaments of a Bodhisattva.

Dukkar’s special protection is the pacification of black spells. Her practice brings great blessings and protection. It cures illnesses and pacifies harmful spirits and black magic. It stops all evil forces, and is very effective for purifying the karma of being wrongly accused such as in arguments or legal cases. All these threats are eliminated by her power, which is like a sharp diamond sword. Dukkar protects practitioners and helps them avoid obstacles.

Her short sacred mantra is OM SITA TAPA TREY HUM PHET.

Mental Note to be Grateful Always

6 Aug

gratitudeIt’s been awhile since I last posted on this blog and I just received a wonderful sharing by Rinpoche just the other day. Rinpoche had been sharing a lot lately about gratitude on social media and he explained what dawned on him recently. He noticed that friends and students who transform and take on more responsibilities for others always do it because they have a sense of gratitude either for themselves or for the Dharma. This is in sharp contrast to some students who rarely profess gratitude and hence, their minds go up and down and always have doubts about the Dharma and often have thoughts of leaving the Dharma.

Rinpoche further explained that this does not just apply to the Dharma as it also applies to the secular world. You will always hear people who have succeeded always attributing it to a supporting loved one, parent or teacher. Whatever it is, this does not take away from the fact that gratitude is one of the cornerstone practices of Mahayana Buddhism. Rinpoche explained that one would need to develop a deep sense of gratitude for all mother sentient beings in order to develop real compassion. Rinpoche revealed that one of the greatest Buddhist classics that affected him deeply when he was younger was the Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life or Bodhicharyavatara by Shantideva. The author Shantideva based his entire treatise on developing the highest wisdoms and realisations based upon the foundation of developing deep gratitude for all beings for having been our mothers before one lifetime or another.

I went to be bed thinking and realising how blessed my life is for having everything I really needed to be a deep practitioner (although I am not one yet). I have good parents, good friends and a great spiritual friend like Rinpoche. There were close to no real obstacles except self-created ones. There’s just a lot to be thanked for and I just regret not being able to share this with some people who have decided that they needed to walk away. Gratitude is indeed a powerful way to develop spiritually.