09 October, 2016

BAYLANGDRA NYE - A place where I found myself closer to heaven

Bayul Langdra Ney
More than 2 years ago, I undertook a pilgrimage to Beyul Langdra Nye, popularly known as Baylangdra. The sacred site lies at an elevation of about 2500m above sea level and at a distance of slightly more than 105km from Thimphu.
An hour and a half walk from the dead-end of feeder road takes one to the ney. Located in Kazhi, Wangdue district in Western Bhutan, Baylangdra is a sacred spot where Guru Rinpoche, in the form of Guru Ugyen Dorji Gur, subdued a demonic force and concealed many ter (spiritual treasures) in the last decade of 8thcentury. Later, many spiritual masters visited the place and attained rainbow body. Therefore, it is one of the most sacred holy places in Bhutan. Other equally sacred places are Taktsang in Paro, Kurjee in Bumthang, Singye Dzong in Lhuentse and Aja in Mongar.
I started the journey from Thimphu on the morning of January 2, 2014. After an uphill drive for about 45 minutes, I reached the Dochula Pass at an elevation of about 3100 metres above sea level. Since the sky was quite clear. I made a brief stop to have a glimpse of beautiful far- off mighty mountain range. Not every day, one passing by is lucky enough to see the splendid mountain range. The one hundred and eight stupas known as Druk Wangyel Khangzang Choeten adorn the entire crest. Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, had them built as a tribute to the fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck and the armed forces of Bhutan after successful military operation against Indian  insurgents in the south of the country a few years back. It was impossible not to fall in love with the view and slip into reverie.
A sad feeling overtook me when I reached Wangdue. Something significant was missing. The 376-year-old Wangdue Phodrang Dzong was in ruins. It was gutted by fire on the afternoon of June 24, 2012. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the founder of Bhutan built this Dzong in 1638.
I continued my journey and reached my destination, one of the many sacred places in the country blessed by Guru Rinpoche.  Baylangdra is today one of the few undefiled nyes in the country.
According to neyyig (portrayal about this scared spot), the mountain behind the ney resembles the throne of Guru Rinpoche and valley in the front resembles a golden mandala. Baylangdra Nye lies at the centre surrounded by the mountains that resemble pandits/adepts sitting in rows.
Guru Rinpoche visited this place to subdue the local deity named Terdak Langdra who had been terrorizing the people in the locality. Guru Rinpoche in the form Guru Ugyen Dorji Gur was meditating in the Cave. On the seventh day, Terdak Langdra appeared in the form of a fierce dark-red bull to distract and attack Guru Rinpoche. Tredak Langdrak vowed that he would no longer harm humans and animals but protect the dharma. Guru Rinpoche then made him a dharmapala and named him as  Gyenyen Langdrak.
Pilgrims visiting the nye receive the blessings to fulfill their aspirations. The neyyig says those who visits this ney, qualities such as compassion, generosity, and intelligence will spontaneously developed in them. And if one make offerings at the ney, it not only clear one’s obscurations in the present life but one will also be reborn either in the pure land realm of Guru Rinpoche or as a wealthy and powerful king on earth. If one meditates there, one will have a chance to see one’s yidam (tutelary deity). It is believed that those who spend their life in spiritual pursuit at this nye will attain bodhichitta and those who remember nye in their daily prayers can get rid of obstacles in their day to day life. 
The names of many places in Baylangdra are linked to the visit of Guru Rinpoche. For example: Goemsap kha (goem – guest, sap – new) is the place that people first saw Guru Rinpoche as a new guest in their place. Similarly, Omena is the place where people offered milk to Guru Rinpoche. When Guru Rinpoche was taking rest at the ney, the evil spirits of the region conspired to attack him but through his miraculous power a huge flame erupted from his body which burnt them all and liberated their souls. This place is known as Sekpaithang meaning a ground where spirits were burnt. Their remains can be seen there in the form of rock.
There is a cypress tree at the ney which is believed to have grown from Guru’s walking stick. Guru Rinpoche planted his walking stick, saying, “Let this stick grow if I can conceal ter at this place; let it die otherwise.” The stick grew into the giant cypress. Guru Rinpoche concealed many ters for the future revealers to discover. It is said that the ney has a door each in its four directions – the door of Bodhisattva Manjusri, the door of Bodhisattva Vajrapani, the door of JomoYuden and door of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. These doors are guarded by powerful deities Ekajati and Hayagriva.
To the left of the sacred cave drip holy water which is believed to be the nectar of immortality. Whosoever prays and tastes this water can live for at least 100 years. It is said that during the most auspicious time, gods and nagas visit this place and take bath to clean themselves of defilement. This is a place where dakas and dakinis continuously turn the wheel of dharma.
One can see Guru Rinpoche’s throne and foot print on a rock. Among other things, one can also see a divine sword, genitalia of a khandro, foot prints of 100,000 dakinis and the spot where Terton Dorji Lingpa (1346-1405) discovered ritual texts concealed by Guru Rinpoche.
According to a local account, there are 113 lakes. A lake named Kapali Dungtsho is said to be situated on the head of a devil. The lake’s water is milky and if one took bath in it all sins and obscurations will be cleansed. To the south, there is a triangular lake with blood-like water. The very sight of it is enough to make one’s mood dark and gloomy. One should neither drink this water nor let one’s shadow fall on this lake. To its left lies Sertsho - the golden lake. The lake grants good luck and longevity to those who are lucky/destined or to enlightened ones.
Although my stay at Baylangdra was brief, experiencing bliss of walking along a path where many saints and masters had trodden in the past gave me immense spiritual satisfaction. I felt closer to heaven.

16 September, 2016

Tamdrin Nye – A glimpse of Guru Padmasambhava’s (Guru Rinpoche) Nye in Thimphu

“More the hardship, the better it is to cleanse one’s sin” is what we normally hear from pilgrims. Although true, hardship alone is not always the prerequisite. Unwavering faith with pure perception and clear consciousness is something that truly matters. 
Therefore, a pilgrimage sites that does not demand hardship is no less important or scared. It is there to facilitate pilgrims who either have less time or cannot walk for long hours.  However, due to certain misconceptions, such a pilgrimage site continues to remain so near and yet so far. 
Tamdrin Nye in Thimphu (pronounced wrongly as Tandin Nye), situated at an elevation of about 2600 mtrs. is one such pilgrimage site that is connected by road and lies not far from the city.  It is one of the most sacred spots discovered by Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal as per the prophetic instruction of Guru Rinpoche. 
Nye Wogmin

 According to a local account, Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal spent 13 years in meditation at this place. Several imprints of Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal and other celestial beings seen on the rocks bear witness to this. Later, Guru Rinpoche blessed this place and concealed many ter (spiritual treasures). Some of these treasures had already been discovered by Terton Drukda Dorji in 17th century, and some are yet to be discovered. Thus, Tamdrin Nye is equally rich and sacred as any place of pilgrimage blessed by Guru Rinpoche and Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal. It is both holy and hilly countryside near the capital city.
It is a 20-minute drive from the heart of the city to Tamdrin Nye and it takes about an hour and a half to visit all sacred spots, including Guru Lhakhang, which is also known as the Nye wogma - the lower sacred spot. However, for those who still believe ‘more the hardships to reach the destination, the better it is’, they have an option to travel on foot either from Samazingkha(1) or through Yangchenphug Higher Secondary School premises. 
Both routes are equally exciting and physically strenuous.
During my recent visit to this Nye, I made my way up the trail from Samazingkha. It was a fulfilling experience to sweat through clothes in a hot sunny day. The first monastery to reach was the Guru Lhakhang, built on a rocky cliff like Taktsang in Paro. The serenity of this place is far beyond its actual distance from the city that has things whirling around with noise, speed and distractions. 
On my arrival there, I was completely taken aback by a pleasant appearance of an elderly monk at the entrance. He wore a smile that was both intense and welcoming. He was Lam Dorji, the Lam-In-charge of this monastery. I was then joined by a group of youth from Royal Institute of Health Sciences (RIHS) in Thimphu who were on their visit to offer prayers at Guru Lhakhang. Lam Dorji led us in and we followed him like a students into the class room.
With Lam Dorji and friends from RIHS
 Once inside, Lam Dorji explained us a detailed explanation of the objects of reverence and the scared spots around them. Among the many holy relics and sculptures, the statue of Guru Rinpoche which is also the main statue in that Lhakhang is more than stunning. 
“The head of this statue was offered by Guru Rinpoche himself ” said Lam Dorji pointing towards the central statue with respect. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche appeared in disguised as a Gomchen (lay monk) and gave the head of that statue to the sculptor who was not able to fit the head and complete the sculpturing. 
According to Lam Dorji, the statue was scluptured by Desi Tshewang Tenzin, a disciple of Lama Marpa. Lama Marpa - the great Buddhist master and the root guru of a famous yogi Milarepa. Legend has it that the statue of Guru Rinpoche did speak in the past and thus is known as Guru Seungjoenma meaning, the Guru who spoke.
For me, that moment with Lam Dorji was like being in meditation, to be in complete silence, doing nothing but listening to him. Within a short time, he covered a range of teachings from importance to nurture a good heart to the truth about impermanence. 
Finally, in a very polite tone, Lam Dorji advised the pilgrims from RIHS to be compassionate and caring health workers since they had already chosen their career as health workers.  “Please treat every patient with love and compassion irrespective of their status,” he said with folded hands.  
With Lam Dorji
We left Guru Lhakhang a piece of advice most to modern times. It was a mixture of teachings and advice by a very contented monk.
Walking further uphill towards the upper Nye was an exhilarating experience and I felt a lot more like a pilgrim. In an atmosphere that was charged with spiritual power, things have their message to convey. For instance, a tattered prayer flags that still fluttering was a reminder of the fragility of life  and the importance to accept impermanence. The beauty of every spot surpassed the one just saw before it.  Standing at a point with tranquil hermitages above and a busy city below, I felt perched somewhere in between heaven and earth.
The view from the upper Ney offers a good vantage point over the city below. The place there is so calm and serene that many would wish life to be like this. Tshampa Ugyen takes care of the Nye. Both of Tshampa Ugyen and Lam Dorji seem to have found salvation of samsara and lived there with inner happiness. According to them, this Nye bear resemblance to Yalung Sheri Drak in Tibet. It is known as Tamdrin Nye because when Terton Drukda Dorji visited this place, he appeared in the form of Tamdrin. Tamdrin refers to Hayagriva who is the wrathful manifestation of Avalokiteshvara. It is usually depicted in red with a horse's head protruding from his crown. 
Some of the several imprints on the rocks seen distinctly are head and body prints of Guru Rinpoche, hoofmarks of  Taachog Balhaha (a divine horse) a footprint of Khandroma (Celestial maidens or Dakini in Sanskrit). There are several caves where Guru Rinpoche, Goddess Tara (Jetsuen Dolma), Dakani Vajravarahi (Dorje Phagmo), Buddha Amitayus (Tsepamey), Diety Hayagriva (Yidam Tamdrin) and others meditated. Their seats and imprints are seen in their respective caves as if they were there just a while ago. 
Some of the many spirituals treasures that are yet to be discovered from this holy spot are Tsebum or Tseyibumpa (longevity vase) and Sergi Legbalm (golden scriptures). The key to unlock the door to these treasures are seen protruding out from the surface in the form of rock at the entrance to the upper ney
At upper Nye-with my Japanese friends
Among the many relics, one can see a ceremonial hat of Guru Rinpoche, Reldri (divine sword), Baga (female genitalia) of one hundred thousand dakinis, and teeth of Tamdrin’s riding horse, all these are seen on the face of the rock. As in sacred spots like Baylangdra, Kurjee and others, Tamdrin Nye also has a sacred passage that determines the goodness and evil in person.   
There is also a huge rock that resembles a mythical bird garuda. In Buddhist mythology, garuda or jachung is the king of birds and is known as one of the incarnations of Lord Buddha. The presence of garuda in any form symbolizes all kinds of substantial attainments and further protects the beings from ill effects of nagas.
There is a drupchhu (holy water) that can cure ailments if one takes it with absolute faith. This drupchhu is said to have sprung right from Dorje Phagmo. There is an old cypress tree which is believed to have grown from Guru Rinpoche’s walking stick. From the upper nye one can also see a statue of the largest sitting Buddha in the world at the other side of the valley.  
This place has a perfect setting to pause and reflect on life. The only occasional sound heard is that of damaru (a small hand-held drum) and trumpet from the isolated hermitages.
There is no best season to visit this nye. However, it is greener during spring. Blessings and merits aside, it is a joy to drive up to the hills and enjoy the scenic beauty of the capital city of Bhutan which is truly breathtaking.
Once at this nye, there is nothing to be disliked, all that comes to one’s mind is a feeling of peace and happiness. I am sure this sacred spot will beckon many visitors in future. Today, although tthe ney is no near, it remains so far for many. For me, it was a unique excursion to visit the maximum holy spots in a minimal time.   
Samazingkha(1)  - The midpoint between Lungtenzampa and Lungtenphu along Thimphu – Semtokha highway.


29 August, 2016


Once upon a time, after the creation of human beings, a meeting was convened to discuss on how best to accommodate the new creature (human beings). The meeting was attended by all creatures that existed before the creation of humans. After long deliberations, the house unanimously arrived at the conclusion that unlike other creatures human beings have limited capability to sustain themselves. Therefore, the chair of the council affirmed and declared thus, “Our new comers are not capable enough to toil for their own food. They like to relax and love good-looking fellow beings. So, they shall have only one meal a day and wash their face thrice.”   

The ox was assigned to convey the outcome of their meeting to human beings. However, the ox, in the state of confusion, conveyed otherwise. He said “You humans are required to wash your face once and have three meals a day.” The humans followed the command. We still abide by what the ox conveyed, though at times it is difficult for us to make the ends meet.

Later, when it came to the notice of the council, the council was upset by the blunder made by ox. Their good intent to keep everyone in close harmony was defeated due to the miscommunication by their messenger. The council met again but the message already conveyed cannot be revoked. Therefore, since the ox was responsible for this, the council decided that ox shall now help the humans to plough their farming field in order to meet the two third of their food demand. The ox had no choice. So, he accepted and left the hall after handing his normal duties to pig as decided by the council. After seeing the ox leaving with heavy heart, the council felt it was quite unfortunate for the ox and revisited their decision to check for any consideration but there was hardly anything they could do. Finally, they decided that the ox shall be given a special power so that he need not carry a heavy yoke and suffer the pain of farmers’ whip. This special power was meant to place it on his horns so that, he can dig and plough the field with his horns independently.

Then, it was the duty of a pig to deliver the special power to ox and convey the message of the council. This time, the council was more careful and not wanting to see a similar blunder again; they briefed repeatedly and reminded the pig on the importance to carry out this task successfully. The pig left the house with the special power properly packed. However, while on the way he grew increasingly curious and wanted to see how that power would work.   

So, he unpacked it and put it on his nose. He tried digging the earth with nose and found that, he could do it with much ease but realized afterwards that he cannot lift the power back from his nose. It was all over then.  The pig returned to the council and confessed what happened. The council was very upset with an unexpected happening despite their repeated briefings and felt the pig deserves even harder punishment. Therefore, the council decided that, the pig shall be reared by humans but at the end they will be slaughtered for meat.

Today, we wash our face at least once in a day and we take three meals a day. Had it not been for the ox, we would be relaxing with just one meal a day thereby reducing our effort to work for another two third: we would be working only ten days in a month and lazing off for twenty days. Poor oxen cannot be blamed anymore because they have to work tirelessly for us. Pigs and boar can easily furrow ground with their nose but are slaughtered for meat. All happened because of miscommunication by one ox. Therefore, effective communication is very vital in every sphere of life. Our carelessness has impact on the wellbeing of others but at the end we always have to pay ourselves for the mistakes we make.
Source: As narrated by my father.

09 April, 2016

Book Review - One Hundred Years of Development

Title: One Hundred Years of Development
Author: Damchu Lhendup
Translation: Needrup Zangpo
Pages: 226
Publisher: KMT Publishing House, 2008.
MRP Nu. 350
This book talks about the achievements of the successive monarchs who brought to Bhutan and the Bhutanese unprecedented peace and happiness. It answers the question of what it was like to live in the long-ago Bhutan. It takes the reader to a different age and time.
The book opens with Bhutan’s pre-monarchy era. Bhutan was, of course, vastly different from what now it is. There were unending internal conflicts, as well as external threats, including outbreak of epidemics, famine and other calamities small and big. That we enjoy unprecedented peace and tranquility is not by chance. It took extraordinary courage, strength and efforts of our kings.
Kings, particularly the Bhutanese kings, are born according to the prophecies of the divine and the collective merits of the Bhutanese people. They all have reigned wisely through love and compassion to achieve peace and prosperity of the nation and its people. Our kings, therefore, are the true Bodhisattvas.
One Hundred Years of Development is the story of the blessed country’s extraordinary monarchs and their godly deeds that shaped the nation that is Drukyul, our home.
This book will serve as an excellent reference for those who wish to enquire into the process of nation building. It is an important source of information for researchers, academics and young people alike, for making of Bhutan that it is today took love and labour immense of kings selfless and visionary.
The book paints the true picture of Bhutan that was and is. In many ways, it proffers great lessons – cultural, social and historical…The author has put together information from written sources and the experience of individuals who served the kings.  Research employed by the author is commendable. It shows. From the closing lines from blurb: “The book manages to capture Bhutan’s transformation in the 20th century in a fresh narrative punctuated with intimate anecdotes of former courtiers.” Indeed!
Needrup Zangpo, former editor of Bhutan Observer who now heads a consulting firm, Druk Lot─ôr, deserves special commendation for excellent translation of the book.
This book that celebrates the development that it has seen since 1907, was published to celebrate one hundred years of monarchy and to commemorate the coronation of The Fifth Druk Gyalpo.
Title: One Hundred Years of Development   Author: Damchu Lhendup Translation: Needrup Zangpo Pages: 226 Publisher: KMT Publishing House, 2008. MRP Nu. 350   Nonfiction/History