When destiny finds you

Athang Rukha, Wangdue. 25 December 2022.

I was born in a remote village in eastern Bhutan. My birth prophecy had a monastic life prescribed for me – unequivocally. From my mother’s side, I come from a long line of lamas and yogis. We can trace our family line to three important religious lineages and, like all eldest male members of our family, I was also brought up for a life of spirituality. However, fate took me elsewhere – to modern education in a Catholic school, higher studies in engineering in Italy, and awesome careers in the media, at the royal court, and finally in the academia.

A chance assignment took me to Athang Rukha in 2007. It was at a two-day walk from the nearest road back then. That trip followed a two-year voluntary work for a non-profit organisation. When that ended I stayed back to help the villagers build a temple on the spot, where what remains of the original structure was two pieces of mud wall, and three sacred relics that were left unattended in a hut.

15 years, three temples and many happy and historic moments later the resident lama, Ugyen Tshering, and I came up with an ambitious 5-day Tshobum-Rabney-Tshechu project. We wanted the Tshobum (literally meaning 108,000 Festive Offerings) to help the locals accumulate Tsho (prosperity merit) so that they do not return to being poor and destitute – and to offer gratitude to the divine and to those who held our hands. The Rabney, meaning “consecration”, was to sanctify the two additional temples I had built – one in Rukha and one in Lamga, during the the three pandemic years. Finally, the Tshechu was to put a final seal of Dharma in this virgin territory, which has mostly been practicing shamanism and animism.

In the days running up to the event, some people were worried if all the planned activities weren’t too ambitious. Even Gangtey Rimpoche, who was going to preside everything, kindly enquired if we needed anything – food offering (tshog), money, butter lamps, or mattresses and blankets for monks to stay. I assured everyone that I would provide all the necessary financial back up for this event, and in future too if so people wished or if the tradition required it.

Honestly, I didn’t know exactly the amount of hard work, both mundane and religious, that went on such occasions. I have rarely had the opportunity to be on the driving seat.

There were over several rituals and mantras, of varying length, that were chanted, accompanied by a full set of religious instruments, with some 50 monks. When one ended, another began, and they went for days and nights – and non-stop in both the old and the new temple. At various intervals, tea and broths had to be served, money offered and food (tsho) and ritual cakes (torma) cast away. Some at wee hours of the night. The cooks and attendees worked round-the-clock shifts. During the day there were more rituals and public celebrations and mask dances. In short, it was tough for everyone – from the Rimpoches to the young monks, and to the community.

I also didn’t know that this was a major religious undertaking. It was only when it was all over that we fully realised what we went through. We had just done what many affluent villages in the lower Sha region haven’t – and achieved what many can just dream of. After His Holiness and the Yangsey left the valley, I met the villagers and explained to them the significance – of what we just did, the history we created and our responsibility thereafter. I told them:

“First, the abode of Palden Lhamo, and the site where Terton Pema Lingpa meditated on his way from Bumthang to Gangtey, and which was later blessed by the Second Gangtey Trulku Tenzin Lekpai Dondrub in 1647, is your village. Although you are not the original inhabitants of this village, the destiny and the duty to be the patron now fall squarely on you.”

“Second, from now on you are no more the lowly hunters-gatherers or the outcast but a community that has hosted the Ninth Gantey Trulku Rimpoche and the 11th Thuksey Yangsey Rimpoche, together, and the village that has organised the first Tshechu (sacred mask dance festival) in the lower Sha region. Take pride and all the credits for this. You may not realise it now but when you reach my age you can claim that during your time, you hosted a Gangtey Trulku after close to 400 years.”

“Third, I am a Sharchop from eastern Bhutan. I accidentally landed here some 15 years ago. Now, forget about knowing every household, I also know the cows and dogs and to which family they belong. Our past karmic connections have brought us together. I was supposed to be a monk and fulfill my share of religious undertaking. I think this valley is where I was destined to fulfill them. So, please do not feel indebted to me because I had to put out so much resources. Instead celebrate that you are also well on your path to Dharma, and not going for another hunt.”

I am not sure if the people understood what I told them or what they achieved or witnessed, but over time I am sure they will. I am only glad that they believed in me, and laboured for over a month to prepare for the event.

As for me, they say, “one often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.”(Jean de La Fontaine). I say that is darn right. Fate has swayed me here and there. But destiny? It finds you ultimately. You got to fulfill it. Somehow.

The 5-day event was a culmination and consecration of my 15 years of service to the community, and to the Dharma, which I will always cherish, and try building on it.

Invitation to all readers

If you are driving from Wangdue to Tsirang, or vice versa, and you are not in a rush, make a detour to Rukha from Taksha Forest Range Office. The drive to Rukha is around one hour, and small Alto cars can ply too.

The abode of Palden Lhamo is at Rukha Neykhang. Visit it! You will be blessed with good health since Palden Lhamo has a black pouch to store your diseases and obstacles. The caretaker is a jolly man called Aap Kingka.

This was how we got to Lamga village back in 2015
First visit in 2007

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