You can give your time

The people of the valley of Athang Rukha, until 15 years back, lived in extreme poverty and on dole from the neighbouring villages. Things took a drastic turn as they worked their way out of it since then. Today they are relatively doing very well. They have everything going for them.

“Now it is the time you give back. You have to help others,” I told them after we organised the first Tshechu and Tshobum in Rukha last December. They all looked perplexed and unconvinced.

“You can give your time”, I told them. “We all have it”.

Yes, in a world that is obsessed with money, as in living with the money-is-everything narrative, there is one priceless resource that nature has endowed equally to every human and sentient being. That is time. You don’t only have to have wealth or power to be able to do good things, or be of service to others. You can donate your time.

With this belief, I got 11 people accompanying me this time to do some pre-monsoon works at Dorje Phagmo Center in Zhemgang. More had actually signed up from Rukha but we only had three cars.

I agreed to put forward the money and materials, they agreed to give their time. Collaboration at best again. We are doing a massive 60 feet long, and a 20 feet tall wall, to prevent the feeder road from possibly sliding down next summer – or in future.

Whether you are rich or powerful, poor or powerless, time is also Great Equaliser. You may have the wealth, or power to buy anything, or do anything, but you cannot buy time.

Last, and the most important, our time is limited. And in the limited time we have in this life, use it meaningfully, while you can.

The Welcome Bowl

I have adapted this Newari copper container known as khadkalo, as a thro (large bowl in Dzongkha) for offering water and floating tsampaka (Oroxylum Indicum) flowers, as a sacred welcome offering.

Such displays of a bowl of water or milk, with floating flowers, are a traditional welcome to one’s house that signifies good luck, happiness, enlightenment and healing. You normally find them in front of temples but this cultural practice is in decline in Bhutan – and are done only when there are VIP visits, or during consecration and installation ceremonies.

However, I found among the Newaris in Kathmandu that they do this every day. So, I am taking a leaf out of their tradition and deciding to make a permanent display.

Culture can ba shared too.

#coppervase #welcomeflowers #bhutan #hospitality

Dechenphu Lhakhang

Many visitors visit Dechenphu Lhakhang but they actually visit only the Neykhang, and forgo or forget to visit the real Lhakhang (the one in the picture).

Lhakhang, which means, Place of Gods, is where divinities are believed to reside, and it is where you seek blessing for you to get a step closer to enlightenment.

In Dechenphu, the tall red structure is not a Lhakhang but a Neykhang, which literally means Place of Spirit, and the spirit here being the Genyen, Jakpa Melen.

Spirits, those tamed by Buddhist masters, help devotees to clear their obstacles that may stand on their paths to enlightenment. They fall under the class of worldly deities and are of not much use as far as your journey towards enlightenment is concerned.

The ultimate goal of Buddhism is enlightenment, and so one must always visit the Lhakhang, when you visit the Neykhang.

In the Lhakhang in the picture, the centerpiece is a speaking statue of Guru Padmasambhava.

May all be blessed

#guru #dechenphu #thimphu #bhutan #vajrayana #buddhism #spirits #mountaindeities #deities

The Sakya Artisans of Nepal

I bought two small statues – one of Vajravarahi (Dorje Phagmo) and the other of Buddha Shakyamuni, from an artisan in Patan. He is a descendent of the legendary Abhaya Raj Sakya, who built the Mahabuddha Temple (see picture) in Patan more than 500 years ago.

The Sakya artisans are bronze craftsmen par excellence since time unknown. I spent two full days visiting this metal town, listening to their stories, watching them at work, and admiring some of their marvelous creations – and reading what is available of their past.

A folk legend, which I heard many years back, tells the story of one of their ancestors, a Sakya artisan, who was taken to the realm of gods in his dreams by Vishwakarma, and was introduced to all the 33 deities there. He was told to memorise how each of the deities looked, and to craft them accordingly in bronze. This is the reason why, I was told, the Sakya artisans make the perfect replicas of Buddhist and Hindu divinities. 

Another legend claims that the statues crafted by the artisans, who have descended from that Sakya artist, will eventually talk (sungjoen in Dzongkha). One example of such a person is the artistan Pintsa Deva, who was invited by Zhadrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 17th Century and whose works are still revered in dzongs and temples in Bhutan – the most famous being the Wish-fulfilling statue in Tango Monastery.

In more recent times, Kuber Singh Sakya, a member of the same clan built the 40-feet tall Maitrya Buddha in Trongsa Dzong between 1938-39. The statue was made in Nepal, dismantled, and then packed in boxes, and carried on mules to Bhutan, and finally assembled in Trongsa in the 1940s. One of his grandsons was the Late Raj Kumar Sakya who built the giant 173 feet tall Guru Nangsi Zillnoen at Takila in Lhuentse in 2015.

Some of these craftsmen also claim bloodline to Buddha Sakyamuni, who was born in the Sakya clan. 

Likewise, another myth or legend is that the gods wanted to be fair. So, they distributed the skills equally among the Sakyas, the Bhutanese and the Tibetans. Accordingly, while the Sakyas make the best bronze images, the Bhutanese make the best clay statues, and the Tibetans are best at thangka painting.

May these artisans, craftsmen and painters continue to create and inspire, and make this world more beautiful to live in, for eons to come. 

#newari #sakyastatues #buddhism #thangka #vajrayana

Buddha Maitrya in Trongsa Dzong that was made in 1938-39 in Nepal and reassembled in Bhutan
Mahabuddha Temple in Patan
Sudarshan Suwol is a great contemporary Newari artist
Mayadevi on the Golden Temple

Top 10 must-visit sacred sites in Kathmandu

What is now known as Kathmandu was historically Nepa Mandala, a Malla Kingdom with predominantly Newari communities, and which subsequently got divided into the three Buddhist kingdoms of Kantipur, Lalitpur (Patan) and Bhaktapur.

In Buddhist mythology the valley was the most important charnel ground known as Lhuendrup Tse, visited by Guru Padmasambhava many times over.

The valley was considered as an altar of offering for the higher Himalayan peaks that are believed to be the abodes of the gods – or gods themselves. Kathmandu is, therefore, a very sacred valley.

Here are the Top Ten Must-visit sacred sites and temples.

1. Asura Cave, Pharping. Known in Bhutanese as Yanglesho, it is where Guru attained enlightenment after practicing Yangdak Heruka and Vajrakilaya. The area also has a temple with Self-Arisen Tara and Self-Arisen Ganesh. There are two caves – one besides the main road, which is the lower Yanglesho cave, and the other is the upper Asura cave – above the Tara-Ganesh-Saraswati temple.

If time allows, you can visit the Kudrung Chorten of the Late Jadrel Rimpoche in Pharping.

Pundita of Yanglesho – Guru Mawe Sangye

2. Boudhanath Stupa, Boudha. The Wish-fulfilling Jarong Khashor is impressive, powerful and beautiful. It is perhaps one of the few monuments that has continuously been revered without going into decay, at any point of time in its history. So, billions of moelam prayers must have been uttered here making it the most sacred monument in Buddhism.

I suggest you do three things: First do 12 rounds (108 rounds is the best), and then light 108 butter lamps. Third, make a wish – any wish. It will be fulfilled.

3. Swayambhunath Stupa, Swayambhu. Back in time, Kathmandu valley was a huge lake and a butter lamp was seen flickering in the middle of it. Manjushri came over and struck one end of the valley and drained out the lake. And then rose the Swayambu hill over which a stupa was built to hold the eternal flickering butter lamp. Known as Phagpa Shingkun (Sublime Trees) in Bhutanese, it is believed to be one of the most sacred sites in Buddhism. A prayer here is believed to gather thirteen billion times more merit than other sacred places.

Don’t miss the Shantipur building, from where Nagarjuna retrieved the sacred Prajanaparamita.

4. Vajrayogini Temple, Pharping. The Newari-style temple has a “Talking” Vajrayogini statue called the Phamting Dorje Neljorma. The temple is associated to the Phamthingpa, a heart-son of Naropa (1016-1100) who engaged in Vajrayogini practices. Some sources attribute the red-faced Vajrayogini to have been placed there by Marpa Lhotsawa (10th Century). Whatever. It is a wish-fulfilling one.

5. Chumik Jangchub, Rikeshwor. Translated as the “spring water of enlightenment” it is where Guru manifested as Kheychok Tsulzang, and appears in Barchel Lamsel mantras.

The area was partly discovered, and popularised, by a Bhutanese wandering yogi, whose children continue to hold the place. Look out for them and make generous donations if you can.

6. Tham Bahil, Thamel. One of the oldest viharas in Kathmandu valley, believed to have been established in First Century BC, it played host to several great figures such as Nargarjuna, Atisha Dipankar and Tshongpon Norbu Zangpo (Manidhara in Sanskrit).

The temple’s priced possession is the most sacred Prajanaparamita, known as Ser Bum, which was written by Manjushri and kept in custody with the subterranean naga king. It was retrieved from the nagas by Nagarjuna in the First Century CE.

You need a prior appointment to see the Ser Bum. As a Mahayana Buddhist, you must get a glimpse of it.

7. Jana Bahil, Thamel. The temple is a popular temple as the sacred Self-arisen Chenrizig, known as Seto Machidranath, sits there. It is considered as the protector deity of Kathmandu with its annual public festival . The statue was blessed by Guru Padmasambhava, and thus makes it more special for Vajrayana Buddhists.

8. Itum Bahil, Thamel. The family-owned temple has a Talking White Tara that is believed to have flown down from Lhasa Potala. This is the centre piece, and she is flanked by the Green Tara and the Yellow Prajanaparamita Devi. With the blessings from the three Taras, your peace, prosperity and enlightenment are guaranteed.

For me it was one of the most powerful statues in the whole of Kathmandu.

9. Namo Buddha. At the south-east end of Kathmandu, some 40 kilometers away, is Tagmo Lue-jin (meaning ‘Body sacrifice to Tigress’) and it is where Buddha in his previous life sacrificed himself to a starving tigress and her cubs. A stupa stands on the same spot, and is considered the three most sacred stupas in Kathmandu – along with Boudhanath and Swayambunath.

A trip to Namo Buddha should also give your lungs and nose a respite from the polluted air of Kathmandu.

10. Flying Vajrayogini, Patan. Located inside the Mahabuddha Statue complex this Akasha Vajrayogini is over 500 years old and was commissioned after an old lady visiting the Mahabuddha statue mentioned that the house was also an abode of Vajrayogini.

Of course, don’t miss the 700-years plus Mahabuddha statue with thousand Buddha statues adorning it.


I am a Vajrayana Buddhist from the Kagyu-Nyingma traditions, and a fan of Guru and Vajrayogini. Choices here may reflect my beliefs.

Tham Bahil and Tshongpon Norbu Zangpo

I started my pilgrimage from here from Tham Bahil – one of the oldest viharas (Buddhist learning centres) in Kathmandu Valley. I close it with a visit there with a prayer and moelam to be back again.

Tham Bahil, also known Vikramshila Vihar, appears in the records of Nalanda as established as early as in the first century BC. It was later expanded and repaired by Atisha Dipankara (Dzongkha: Jowo Pelden Atisha), n the 11th century. He is believed to have stayed here for 2 years, while on his way from India to Tibet. He later revived Buddhism in Tibet and is regarded by many as the founder of the Sarma tradition, from where the Kagyu, Gelug and Sakya schools emerged.

Since ancient time, Kathmandu was a mandatory stop for all Buddhist masters travelling between Tibet and India, and of all places in the Valley, this temple played the host. Prominent figures include Nagarjuna, Atisha and Manidhara Tshongpon Norbu Zangpo (known here as Manidhara). Tshongpon Norbu Zangpo is referred to as Jewel Trader here. In Tibetan Buddhism he is considered as one of the mahasiddhas.

The most important relic at Tham Bahil is a set of 108,000-line Prajnaparamita sutra (known as Ser Bum in Dzongkha and Newari), and the original copies Mulamadyamika sutras. Tham Bahil also also has Medicine Buddha, which is believed to possess miracles with health issues. The main temple is dedicated to Dipankara Buddha (Sangye Marmezay), which is one of the favorite deities in Newari Buddhism.

Boudha stupa – of myths and legends

Why it is called Be-bou Chorten in Dzongkha

There are many theories on the origin about the name “Nepal”. There is one I agree with.

In Newari, ‘Ne’ means ‘middle’ and ‘pa’ means ‘country’. So Nepal is a country situated in the middle. This probably got transliterated in Choekay as ‘Pe-bou’ (as referenced by European sources from the mediaeval period), which later became as “Bae-bou”, which either means “Bae-yul-Bou”, or just mispronounced from Pe-Bou.

Boudha, thus, became to be known as Be-bou Chorten in Dzongkha.

Lesser known legends about Be-bou Chorten.

1. The stupa contains the physical remains of Buddha Kashypa (Sangye Yoesung) – the Buddha prior to Buddha Sakyamuni.

2. During consecration 100 million Buddhas descended and dissolved into it. Thus it is the most sacred monument in all three strands of Buddhism.

3. Boudha is the biggest stupa in the World. It has inspired several statues built in Bhutan, such as Chorten Kora, Chendepji, Kurizam, and Tama.

Guru Rimpoche in Kathmandu

Kathmandu valley, as a spiritual realm is known as Lhuendrup Tse, and was the most important charnel grounds frequented by Guru Rimpoche. Boudha was the centre of this Lhuendrup Tse.

However, in Newari Buddhism, Guru is just regarded as a great magician, who put an end to a terrible drought and disease in the Valley. The sacred places like Yanglasho, Chumik Jangchu and Maratika were discovered by Tibetan and Bhutanese lamas and traders in the late mediaeval period.

The Wish-fulfilling Stupa

There are many legends, myths, history and stories around this magnificient chorten that it is left to the devotee as to what to believe. As a Bhutanese, and thus a Guru Rimpoche fan, I choose to believe it as a wish-fulfilling stupa.

Story goes that the four sons of the Poultry Keeper made some aspirations during the consecration of the stupa. The eldest aspired to be reborn as a Dharma King. The second wished to be a great scholar monk. The third aspired to be a powerful tantric yogi. And the fourth to be a minister to coordinate all religious activities of his elder brothers.

All their wishes were fulfilled. The eldest brother was reborn as Tibetan Emperor Trisong Deutsen, the second as great scholar Shantarakshita, the third as Guru Padmasambhava, and the youngest as minister Ba Trisher.

Interestingly bad wishes are also granted if made at this Stupa. The donkey, who believed that he did all the hard work, was upset that he was not invited to the consecration. So he made a wish that he be the one to destroy all the religious legacies of the four brothers. The donkey was later reborn as anti-dharma King Langdarma.

However, as the donkey was making that bad wish, a crow witnessed it and aspired to be the one to put an end to any anti-dharma elements. He would be reborn as Lalung Pelgyi Dorji and he would be the one to assassinate the anti-Buddhist Langdarma.

The Boudha chorten would, therefore, become known around the Tibetan Buddhist world as a wish-fulfilling stupa. And “the most sacred monument in Buddhism” according to my lama.

Because the stupa is so big, your wishes can also be as vast, and as crazy as you can possibly think.

#stupa #boudha #nepal #kathmandu #guru #chorten #padmasambhava

Significance of Yanglesho Caves

I have finally made it to Yanglesho after a good 20 years since I first heard about it. In these 20 years, of course, my spirituality has matured too, for me to fully appreciate the significance of this place. So, let me share here, for the benefit of all sentient beings. As they say, I think my Moelam (destiny) has matured to be here, at this time. 🙂 🙂 🙂

As an adherent of #Vajrayana Buddhism, nothing compares to a pilgrimage to the Asura caves at Yanglesho, where Guru #Padmasambhava attained, to put it simplistically, enlightenment. To be more precise, it was here that he achieved Yangdak (ཡང་དག་), corresponding to the Enlightened Mind, after practicing the Yangdak Heruka (ཡང་དག་ཧེ་རུ་ཀ་). Yangdak Heruka is a wrathful manifestation of #Vajrasattva (Dorji Sempa) and is similar to the deity Chakrasamvara (Demchok).

Several past and contemporary masters, chief among them the Late Jadrel Rimpoche and Chokyi Nima Rimpoche, consider Yanglasho as important as Bodh Gaya for practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, especially the #Nyingma school.

Yanglasho, also appears in the history of #Bhutan as the place where the envoys of King Sindhu Raja of #Bumthang found him when they came looking for him. (In fact I first heard about Yanglasho when I did a documentary, In the Footsteps of Guru, for BBS in the 2004) 

After he was exiled from his kingdom, he lived as a wandering yogi, visiting mainly the charnel grounds. When he visited the Parushakavana charnel ground, he came across the wrathful Vajravarahi (Dorje Phagmo), who agreed to initiate him, and help him attain the Knowledge-Holder of Spiritual Maturity. In Pema Kathang, Guru says Dorje Phagmo is his (adopted) mother. Guru, then, moved to Maratika Caves in eastern Nepal where he attained the Knowledge-Holder of Immorality – gaining victory over the Lord of Death. In Bodhgaya (Dorje-Dhen in Dzongkha), he achieved the Knowledge-Holder of Spontaneity. And finally in Yanglasho, he became the Knowledge-Holder of #Mahamudra. 

Of these four knowledge-holder attainments, the Knowledge-Holder of Mahamudra is supreme.

May everyone make it, or be blessed.

The Talking Tara of Thamel

#Nepal #Neykor #Series

The temple complex of Itum Bahal in Thamel hosts one of the most sacred Tara statues in the world. The Mahashanta Shweta Tara is a large bronze statue of White Tara. It is more sacred than the rest because it is believed to have given teachings. In fact is also known as “The Great White Tara Who Turned the Wheel of Dharma”.

“According to what my father and my grandfather told me, it is believed that she flew to Kathmandu from Potala in Tibet,” says Bupendra Bahadur Sakya, the 8th generation caretaker of the temple. “Many masters and meditators even today have shared powerful experiences after praying and meditating here,” he adds. The statue is said to have to have flown to other parts of Nepal to be of benefit to other sentient beings.

I prostrated three times and made an offering of Rs. 1,000. “It feels very peaceful and powerful at the same time,” I tell him.

Bupendra was very pleased to hear that, and also to know that I am a Bhutanese. He shared that during the long Pandemic shutdown he really missed Bhutanese pilgrims. “You guys show great respect to Tara that my community finds very inspiring”.

Still, while Tara may not be the most favourite deity of the Newari Buddhists, this Tara is highly revered and there are special rituals observed by the Newari community.

The White Tara is in the middle. To her right is Prajnaparamita Tara (Yum Chenmo in Tibetan) in yellow color, and on its left is Green Tara (Dron Jang).

The small caged temple is in the courtyard to the north of Itumbahal.

#kathmandu #itumbahal #tara #vihara #whitetara #greentara

Tracing the oldest copy of Prajanaparamita

Satasahasrika Prajnaparamita, which means “Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in One Hundred Thousand Lines” (Dzongkha: ཤེར་ཕྱིན་སྟོང་ཕྲག་བརྒྱ་པ།, sher-chin tong-thra gya-pa) or simply referred to as bum (འབུམ་; meaning Hundred Thousand) is the most sacred set of sutras in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. It is this and the subsequent treatise by the Second Century scholar, Nagarjuna, that set the fundaments, and a divergence from, the older Theravada tradition. Nagarjuna can be referred to as the “founder” of Mahayana Buddhism.

A popular religious legend claims that the sacred texts were retrieved by Nagarjuna, from the Naga world and from the bottom of the sea. The texts were believed to have been kept for safekeeping by the divinity Manjushri (Jetsun Jamyang). The sacred manuscript is attributed to Jinashri Jnana, a disciple of Manjushri, with Manjushri himself, the legend goes, writing the first three pages with his own index finger, and dictating the rest.

I had heard that the manuscripts were in a family temple in Kathmandu and that it was possible to see them. Or at least that was what my Nepali friends told me. Having written the essence of the Prajanaparamita in my PhD dissertation, I was fascinated by the prospects of even getting a glimpse of the Original copy. 

So, I decided to make a trip to Nepal.

The Family Temple and the Ser Bum:

After asking around, and based on a book by Keith Dowman, I traced the family temple to Vikramshila Mahavihar (aka Bhagwan Bahal or Tham Bahil) in Thamel. The local Newari people refer to the volumes as Ser Bum (Golden Hundred Thousand), while the proper Sanskrit name is Satasahasrika prajnaparamita.

Getting to see it:

The Volume is taken out only on certain days – as deemed auspicious by the Newari calendar. There are no fixed days.

As instructed by another informant, I went to the office to introduce myself and make a request. Having a local reference helps but in my case, I was able to convince them that I was a serious scholar (maybe I looked very trustworthy) and, most importantly, I had to convince them that I was a devout Buddhist – and not part of any sinister groups. You have to make the appointment at least a day in advance for them to probably do some background-checks on us. 

The Scriptures Appear:

I got back to Tham Bahil on the day of the appointment and was led to a closed room, where I joined some 20 Ladakhi monks, lamas and pilgrims, who had probably made the same request. After some 30 minutes of waiting, the four volumes of the scriptures were brought in, and then solemnly opened by the Chief Custodian from behind a glass wall. He spoke and explained everything in Hindi since he assumed that we were all from Ladakh. He showed the first three pages, written by Manjushri with his own finger, and the rest of the pages written by his disciple, Jinashri Jnana. The noise from the Courtyard outside was muffling his voice, and I felt sorry for the Ladakhis since they were mostly illiterate pilgrims, and probably don’t know much of the legend that was shared.

Tracing the Entrance to the Subterranean World:

According to another legend, Kathmandu was a huge lake surrounded by mountains. Eons before Shakyamuni Buddha, the Bodhisattva Kanakmuni is believed to have thrown a lotus seed in the lake. A big lotus with a thousand leaves and flowers blossomed out of that seed. On one of the flowers, a self-arising butter lamp burned miraculously. 

Manjushri is believed to have visited the place and after meditating in Phulchoki mountain, he struck one end of the valley with his divine sword and drained the water from the lake. And as for that Eternal Butter Lamp, a hill rose on which now stands Soyambhunath (Phagpa Shinkun) Chorten. Just below the summit of Soyambhunath, I was told by the Chief Custodian of Tham Bahil, there is a place called Shantipur, where Nagarjuna is supposed to have entered, and returned from, the Subterranean world of the Nagas with the scriptures.

I thanked him for this piece of information, got out of the temple and to the street where I stopped a taxi. “Monkey temple, my friend,” I told the driver in Nepali. We dribbled through the traffic of Kathmandu and got to Soyambhu in 15 minutes. 

After a tough climb up the long stairs to Soyambhu Chroten, I asked around and found the place called Shantipur. Here Nagarjuna (in the Second Century) is supposed to have entered the Subterranean World on the invitation of the Naga King to come a teach the nagas the Buddha Dharma. And to reciprocate for the precious teaching, the Naga King offered the four volumes containing the Satasahasrika Prajnaparamita (the Ser Bum) to Nagarjuna.

What stands there today is one storied building with a large dark ornamented door. That door is supposed to lead to another golden door, one priest told me, and to another door, with a total of Five Golden Doors. That is the entrance to the World of the Nagas.

According to the same legend, the Naga King is still holding on to one more Volume and waiting for Nagarjuna to come and give more teachings, and offer him that last volume.

Leaving Soyambhu with a prayer:

I made a small offering through the door, rang the bell thrice as per the tradition and made a silent prayer and a Moelam: That this story and the legend, whether true or not, never dies and instead inspires thousands more like me, seeking both the knowledge and enlightenment – and that everyone who seeks them work towards the goodness of humanity and for the benefit of all sentient beings.

I climbed back to the Chorten and made 13 rounds of the Phagpa Shingkun (Soyambhu) and thanked the divinities, especially Manjushri, for this beautiful journey that I have undertaken – and requested him that I never get to my destination – and that may there be more of this wonderful mission.