Significance of Lhabab Duechen

Lhabab Duechen, literally meaning “Most Auspicious Day of Descending God” and popularly rendered as Descending Day of Lord Buddha, is a very important religious festival that is celebrated in all Buddhist cultures, especially in Bhutan.

What is the background, though? Here it is – in street English.

So like, Buddha was enlightened, and Shiva* (Lha Chenpo in Bhutanese) found him to be more knowledgeable than his colleague-gods. A cool guy to hang out with or to listen to. He suggests to Brahma (Dz: ལྷ་ཚངས་པ་, Lha Tsangpa) and to the King of gods, Indra (Dz: ལྷའི་རྒྱལ་པོ་བརྒྱ་སྦྱིན་; Lhayi Gyalpo Gya Jin) to invite Buddha to Trayastrimsa heaven to give some talks and teachings.

Buddha accepted the offer and went up, as he could also meet his mother, Mayadevi**, who was on her way to hell from there. She also needed to receive the teaching that would liberate her.

After three months in the realm of thirty-three gods, his mortal disciples were missing him and messaged him to return to earth. Buddha, in the beginning, debated if he should come back. Ultimately he did after a week.

And on his descent from heaven they laid out a special ladder built by Viswakarma, the deity of metal artisans. This “descent” is celebrated as one of the Four Great Deeds (because no one has ever descended down from heaven), and as one of the 12 Great Deeds in Buddha’s life. Maybe because they thought they lost him to the Hindu gods.

After that trip, his disciples refused to let him go to other realms. Those realms were later served by his emanations such as Guru Padmasambhava, Ling Gesar, Milarepa and Nagarjuna (he taught the naga-serpent realm).

Lhabab Duechen is a very holy day and any sin you commit is multiplied by ten million times. On the other hand, any good you do multiplies by ten million times. It is big reason to accumulate good merits on this day.

Photo 1 – Brahma and Indra inviting the Buddha. Both of them appear as dharmapala (protector of dharma) in Buddhism

*Shiva is considered an emanation of Avalokiteshvara in Nyingma tradition and referred to as Lha Wangchuk Chenpo)

**Because he saves his mother, the Day is now declared as Mother’s Day in Bhutan by His Holiness Je Khenpo).

Bumthang – the authentic Bhutan


Had a terrific three-day stay in Bumthang showing off the true and authentic Bhutan to my friends.

They were totally blown away. From the hotel they stayed in (Mountain Resort) to drinking teas with the monks at Karchu Dratshang; from bumping into the deity proptiating rituals at Bebzur anim dratshang to the grandeurs of Ogyencholing Nagtsgang, Bumthang has so much to offer beyond the classic pilgrimage tours.

Bumthang is that humble and hospitable Bhutan – one thing that is slowly eroding in the much-urbanised Thimphu or Phuntsholing. There people invite random stangers to their houses, they feel blessed to have guests, and the service is genuine – from the heart.

At Kharchu Dratshang we stumbled upon monks doing sand mandala. We were so mesmerised that we stood around for, maybe, too long that they started preparing tea and snacks for us. My friends were shocked. In their countries, they said they would be kicked if you stay for far too long. 

In Bebzur anim dratshang, I used a contact in Thimphu to check if we were allowed to visit because monastic centers are conducting their annual exams and they could be closed for visitors.

Not only we we allowed, the nuns received us as if we were VIPs and hoped we would find the visit worthwhile. You bet! With the most exquisite clay works of Guru, Tara and Vajrasattva, I could not take my eyes off the statues and the mural paintings. (Check the photos).

As we talk about transformations and tourism rethinkings, I hope that people in Bhutan will always remember as to what makes Bhutan special. Visitors don’t come for anything but to see, feel, dive into the sense of humanity and hospitality they are missing in their societies. Driven by a broken economic model, westerners, especially, are longing for that authentic human connections and care. And see our culture abd customs.

Basic service standards have to be met for which regulators may throw the rule books at you. But if authentic Bhutanese hospitality and humanity are lost, no amount of stars ratings or rebranding will attract the visitors.

Bumthang is the birth place of Vajrayana Buddhism – the essence of Bhutan. I pray that Bumthang continues to be beacon of hope and humanity for eons to come

Getting there

Bumthang is connected by domestic flight from Paro. By road it takes 8 hours to get there.

Bebzur Anim Dratshang

The nunnery is just few minutes drive above the famed Mebar Tsho (Burning Lake). There is a signboard on the left. A must-visit.

The nunnery is under the patronage of His Holiness (only other lama to get this title in Bhutan) Gangteng Trulku Rimpoche of the Peling tradition.

https://bhutanmountainresort.com/ is a family-run 3/4-star hotel in the main Chankhar Valley. The mother heads the kitchen, the daughter is at the front desk, and the sons help being handymen wherever extra hands are needed. Truly a homely feeling one gets being there.

Ogyencholing is at an hour drive from Chamkhar, where the airport is. The drive has some spectacular views too.

#mountainresort #wangdichholing #moutainlodge #hospitality #bumthangvalley

The Wisdom Keepers Club

In the picture are half of the self-appointed wisdom keepers, a club of friends from five countries who believe in the importance of ancient and traditional wisdoms for the present and for future generations.

We just had an amazing first meeting in the wilderness of Zhemgang – in a 8th century temple complex. It was my idea to host it there and not in a 5-star hotel in Thimphu or in Paro.

Now we are absorbing the power, blessings and wisdoms of Bumthang. Of a nyeb (territorial deity) that stole the life force of a king, and of a stone pillar that served as a seal by Guru Rimpoche to subjucate a tshomen (lake deity). Or of speaking statues, fire burning inside lakes or temples built in one night. It is through the interest and curiosity of those who don’t have such rich stories and legends that we also learn to appreciate what we have.

Homo sapiens survived because they used stories to create shared beliefs, so claims Yuval Noah Harrari in Sapiens. The story of fairies building the statue of Guru in Tamshing, of Bhutanese forces defeating the Tibetan invaders in Batpalathang (mispronounced from Baep-lepthang, which means where “Tibetans were crushed”) are stories that united and defined us as Bhutanese communities.

Every story carries a theme, a moral or a wisdom from our ancestors – of cooperation, commitments and of compassion. Myths and legends encourage to find the balance between the good and bad, between the light and darkness, and between the Yin and Yang – and not the vanquishing of the what are perceived to be bad or evil. They make humans as interdependent and integral part of the six realms – and not as the undisputed masters or as unscrupulous exploiters. These wisdoms are something that we need to preserve and pass on to the next generation.

May the legends and the stories live on.

#ancientwisdom #traditions #storieswetell #identity #bumthang #guru

The wisdom keepers receiving blessings and Buddhist wisdoms from Dorje Phagmo Rimpoche
The Wisdom Keepers with Dorje Phagmo Rimpoche in Zhemgang

King’s Sacrifice

Sampa Lhendrup Lhakhang, which literally means “intentions fulfilling temple”, in Kurjey was built between 1894 and 1900 by the first King of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck. It contains the biggest statue of Guru Sampa Lhendrup – the wish fullfilling Guru Padmasambhava.

Story goes that at the time of consecration, King Ugyen Wangchuck, who was still Trongsa Penlop (Governor) then, conducted a special ritual that involved generosity and loving kindness practice.

During the 3-day ceremony all attendees, even ordinary farmers, were invited to enter their palace (read as residence), Thinley Rabten, and take away anything they liked from the house. One item per person, was the only rule.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, it is believed that the palace became empty, and everything was taken away. The King-to-be and the consort, Ashi Rinchen Pelmo, subsequently went without proper food for a couple of days. When the servants served a broth of some rice salvaged and collected from the floor of the store and the house, the defacto King and Queen of Bhutan are believed to have said that that was the best meal they had.

Thinley Rabten, that residence is also no more. Probably it got depleted and abandoned thereafter. It appears only in the oral history of the locals as having been connected by the first motorable road from there to Wangdicholing palace.

Stories of such sacrificed by the Kings of Bhutan are plenty, and the Bhutanese tend to take it for granted.

The Sampai Lhendrup temple, as the name would have it, is a wish-fullfilling one and prayers and moelams made here are believed to be answered. In fact there is also a large statue of Guru facing the door, and facing towards the North, which was commissioned by the Second King of Bhutan to ward off possible invasions from foreign forces during the Tibetan Uprisings of the 1950s.

Source: Late Dasho Karma Gelay to the author

(Picture – Monks returning from lunch break in Kurjey.)

Guru Sampai Lhendrup Temple is the one in the middle

Towards Kheng Rig Namsum

Beyond the golden ricefields and the last ridge is Khengrig Namsum.

Literally meaning The Three Mountains and Three Skies of Kheng the region is also called Zhemgang. While Zhemgang is the district centre, Kheng is still the name of the area, and the people are referred to as Khengpa.

The remoteness means that this region was slow to stay attuned to the modernation process that the rest of the country got into. This is, of course, a paradox because Zhemgang is centrally located but totally god-foresaken.

But maybe that’s a good thing. Afterall if development is creating a concrete out of the lush green forests or golden ricefields, I would prefer the latter. If modernisation means living in a house where you don’t know your neighbour, I would prefer a place that has nothing but at least a care and concern, and sharing.

“Get out of Thimphu once in a while”, I tell just everyone since over 20 years, “That’s real Bhutan”. This advice is only getting wiser and current as modern ills such as traffic, pollution, road rage, materialism and hypocrisy catch up with the country that was once called the Last Eden, at the United Nations.

But the last Eden there is. Actually Bhutan minus Thimphu is still the last Eden. And Khengrig Namsum definitely is.

#Bhutan #LastEden #Zhemgang #Trongsa #Langthel #ricefields

Jowo Durshing – and the genesis of Bhutan

The imposing mountain that you see in central Bhutan, south of Trongsa, is called Durshingla. It is home to the powerful deity, Phola Jowo Durshing. So the peak itself is simply referred to as Jowo Durshing.

Jowo Durshing is invoked by the Monpas of Trongsa, Bertips (originally Monpas) of Zhemgang, Rietips of Sarpang, and Oleps of Wangdue – and other ethnic groups living in and around the Black Mountain area. Jowo Durshing is visible from these four districts of Bhutan.

Since the Oleps and Monpas are the earliest, or the orignal inhabitants of Bhutan, Jowo Durshing is probably a Bon/Animistic deity that was later inducted into the pantheon Vajrayana Buddhist protector deities.

According to Lhoi Choejung by Lopen Pema Tshewang, Durshingla emerged as the Indian tectonic plate collided with Asia, 50 million years ago. Our sacred country was subsequently formed around this peak. In fact, a lower peak, to the southwest of Durshingla, in Athang gewog, is Tsendaygang (Cypress Peak), which gave the country its medieval name, Lho Tsenden Jong (ལྷོ་ཙན་དན་ལྗ྄ོངས་), which was later named as Drukyul by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 17th century.

Durshingla is part of the Black Mountain range. The word, Black, is derived from black granite stones that makes up the whole mountain range. Granite stones were used as tools and implements during the Stone Age, which lasted until 3,300 BC. Does that mean that the earliest settlers lived around these area because of the availibility of the raw materials to make their implements? Probably yes.

Although no major archeological studies have been done in Bhutan, as far as I know, few neolithic stone implements and monoliths have been found in this region that evidence the area to be inhabitated as early as 2000 BCE. Some of these implements were on display in the National Museum, while some are in personal homes and possessions.

Many rural folks in Bhutan, however, confuse between the Stone Age implements and meteorites. The latter are considered sacred in local beliefs, as they are worshiped as weapons of the gods and demigods that fall on earth during their battles. They are called namcha (sky iron) in local languages.

Jowo Durshing, therefore, holds many untold stories and facts of our past. Hopefully one day someine can unearth them – literally and metaphorically.

#bhutan #jowodurshing #bhutan #trongsa #zhemgang #durshingla #monpa #olep #reiti #berti #sarpang #phobjikha #athang #wangdue

Palden Lhamo’s donkey and hoofmarks

Trongsa Dzong is associated with political figures such as Penlop Jigme Namgyel uniting the Bhutanese against the British and defeating them in the Duar Wars. It is also associated with his son, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, who became the first hereditary king of the current Wangchuck dynasty.

However, Trongsa Dzong is also a very important religious monument. It is considered as the abode Palden Lhamo (Sri Devi in Sanskrit), one of three supreme protector deities of Bhutan.

Legend has it that the first temple of Dzong, the Sangye Mithrupa (Buddha Akshobya) Lhakhang, was established by yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk (1517-1554), the great grandfather of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, who was guided here by the deity.

When he arrived at Willing village, a hamlet towards the north, overlooking the Trongsa Dzong, he saw a flickering light at night emitting from this place. He checked out the next day to find some hoofmarks, which he believed were of the donkey of Palden Lhamo. It was as he saw in his vision. He then established a retreat centre in 1543, out of which grew to what we see today. The hoofmarks are still visible today – right at the main east entrance.

Trongsa means “new village”, a term that was used to refer to the retreat centre that quickly grew into a village of meditators and yogi, under the guidance and patronage of Ngagi Wangchuk.

As usual, I had dropped by the Dzong to just visit the Nyekhang, but stumbled upon the most-sacred and annual propitiating rituals to the eight protector deities of Trongsa happening. The ritual requires the respective mounts of the deities to be brought to the dzong and filed in the courtyard. Palden Lhamo’s mount is a donkey (in the picture).

My point of contact there, Lam Dorji, was very pleased that I showed up on such an auspicious day without prior knowledge. “It is great tendrel, as we say, that you just dropped by and came across this being conducted,” he kept saying as he whisked me from one temple to another. “This time I also want to show you where Chojey Minjur Tempa lived,” he said. And he showed me a small chapel near the main prayer hall. And then the kuenra of the Buddhas of the Three Eras.

Trongsa Dzong has some 27 temples and it is impossible to visit all at one go, especially if I am just dropping by to pay respects at the temple of Palden Lhamo, and resume my journey.

“It is good you do that, though. While there are other places in Bhutan where Palden Lhamo is also believed to reside, or invoked, Trongsa Dzong is more sacred for two reasons,” says Lama Dorji. “First, there is separate chamber for Palden Lhamo unlike anywhere else. Second, since the time of Ngagi Wangchuk, the soelka has been offered without interruption for over 500 years.”

And, of course, without doubt it is one of the most visually stunning dzongs of Bhutan, built like a castle in the air.

#paldenlhamo #mahakali #deity #trongsa #bhutan #vajrayana

The hoofmarks of the donkey
Trongsa Dzong

The Story Behind The Sacred Springs of Tsheringma

Right on the Wangdue-Trongsa highway before you hit the village of Tshangkha in Trongsa is this Tsheringma Drubchu (holy water of Tseringma).

The site was revealed to a tsipem (lead singer) from Tangsebji village singing group when she was preparing to journey to Kuenga Rabten, having been summoned, to sing for the Second King, Jigme Wangchuck. She was obviously terrified by the royal summon.

However, in the dream, the story goes, a lady dressed in white instructed her to visit the source of the spring called Ba-Khey-Thong-Sa, literally meaning “place where the cows drink water”. There she was told to wash her head with the water, and drink few sips before starting her journey to the palace. She did as she was instructed in the dream and set off on the one-day journey to Kunga Rabten with her troupe.

At the palace when they performed the Tongsebjibi Zhyem her melodious voice is believed to have pleased the King and the courtiers, and even made them tear up. As a reward for her melodious voice, she and her troupe were given lavish gifts. The tsipem herself was gifted with ricefields, which was big in those days.

In the months that followed the whole story became legendary, which caught the attention of lama Pedseling Trulku, who was visiting the village from Bumthang.

He listened to the story of the lady, visited the source of the spring, and after meditating for few minutes concluded that the lady in white from her dream was Tashi Tsheringma – a wish-fulfilling worldly deity.

Wordly-deities, unlike the Wisdom Protectors, also assist the people with mundane requests and desires, such as charm, success and wealth, to lead a peaceful and even prosperous life, so that ultimately when one’s basic needs are taken care people can practice dharma. Tashi Tsheringma is one such deity.

Coincidentally the villages of Trongsa, which was known as Mangde Tsho Zhi, produced some of the best contemporary folk singers, such as Aum Nimchu Pem of Bji village, which many attribute to this Tsheringma Drubchu.

During the tunneling works of Tangseji Hydropower Project, the source was destroyed, which rightfully irked the locals. It was later restored by the project authorities.

Sacred places, from my research, are sources of not only power and blessings but also are social spaces that bring people together. They are important unifying forces, which should not be underrrated or underplayed.

Ultimately these places and the stories, irrespective of whether they are true or not, whether there are any scientific evidences, construct our identity, and who we are as individuals.

holywater #sacredspring #tsheringma #trongsa #mangdeyzhey

The legends of Ratsawog

Ratsawog, Wangdue
When you drive along the Wangdue-Trongsa highway,  just before Nobding, if you stop your car and look down you will see this small hamlet. It is called Ratsawog (mispronounced from Raja wog where Raja means King, and Wog means lower village)

The place is believed to be associated to King Sindhu Raja, the eighth century king of Bumthang who invited Guru Padmasambhava. Not much is known or wriiten about it except that the king remained there hiding from his enemy, King Nawoche.

Another important fact about this hamlet, is that the little stupa behind that tall house comtained one of the Buddha statues which was crafted by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651). Zhabdrung had made and commissioned one million tiny statues of Buddha Shakyamuni in the memory of all those killed during a series of Tibetan invasions between 1616 and 1644.

One of those statues was believed to been placed inside that stupa on the orders of Zhabdrung.

Sources say that the mini statue is in Wangdue Dzong. It is the main relic placed inside the Thousand Zhabdrung statues, which were commissioned by contemporary lama Tshampa Sangye Tenzin, and consecrated inside the recently-rebuilt Wangdue Dzong.

(Source: Sonam Dorji, a native of the village)

Power of prayers and faith

A friend of mine from the US sent me another message for help. Another, because it was not the first time. This time a brother of our colleague has been diagonised with stage 3 cancer. He requested me to commission prayers, rituals, and get him some blessings. He is only 45.

My friends have been to Bhutan many times and they know that if there is a place where magic and miracles do exist, it is here. Over the years they have developed more faith than, if I may say, many Bhutanese I know.

So, I rallied my network. I requested my lama, Khandro Dorje Phagmo, to bless him so that he can recover. I commissioned the life-extension prayers at Dodedra. I invoked deity Palden Lhamo in Rukha temple.

Continue reading “Power of prayers and faith”