June 27, 2010

Where is Guru Rinpoche’s Bhutan?

source: kuenselonline.com

Part 2 of 4 Condensed from Dasho Karma Ura’s forthcoming booklet

PERSPECTIVES 27 June, 2010 - Mon Kings and Mon Consort
V ery little about economic and social conditions in Bhutan are recorded in the Hagiography of Sindharaza or old terma writings. There are, however, nuggets of other information. Gold dust was the high currency. Sindharaza sent escorts with pouches of gold dust to fetch Guru from India. Silk seems to have reached the court of Sindharaza.
Guru sat on a three-tiered silken (za ‘og) mattress and was served grain-drink (‘bras chang) as well as drink made out of date fruit (rgun ‘brum) in a golden cup in Bumthang. Yeshey Tshogyal was served honey and buffalo milk by Tashi Chidron in Singye Dzong during a brief break from her partial fasting and solitary meditation in the cave.

At the time of Guru’s visit, patchy information tells us that Bhutan had two kings: Sindharaza of Mon Bumthang, who worshipped Shiva until Guru converted him; and Mon King Hamray (Ham Ras) in the East, perhaps ruling some areas of Kurtoe often referred as Kurulung or Kurilung in old texts. King Hamray was the father of Khidren (khyi ‘dren), who was renamed by Jomo (lady) Yeshey Tshogyal as Tashi Chidron (Krashi sPyi sdron). I mention these facts categorically to correct the rampant errors about her origin and name repeated from secondary sources in almost all books. The Bhutanese born Tashi Chidron should have been a subject of debri portraiture and statue. She became a highly realized person. At one stage in her life, she enterred into an eleven year retreat with Yeshey Tshogyal at Shang Zabu. Tashi Chidren was present at the time of Yeshey Tshogyal’s passing away through ‘ja’ lus at Pama Gangphug. At 16, some three years after Yeshey Tshogyal first met her at Singye Dzong, Tashi Chidron played the role of supporting consort (gzungs ma) in the cycle of Vajrakila with Guru in Onphu Taktshang (See mKha’ ‘dro Yeshey Tsho rgyal gyi rNamthar KMT 2005: 120-122, hence abbreviated to KMT 2005). Guru selected her for this role because of her wisdom dakini attributes. Guru foretold that the diffusion of Vajrakila depended on her. She was regarded as one of the five emanations of Dorji Phagmo (Thunderbolt Sow). Besides Hamray and Sindharaza, there was an exiled Tibetan prince, Khikha Rathoed, living in Khenpajong, who had moved from place to place and was finally resettled by Guru in Choskhor Jalikhar.

Buddhist temples such as Tselung, Jambay and Genyen Lhakhangs and a fantastic palace of Sindharaza could be seen in Choskhor at the time of Guru’s travels. An oral tradition of the Monpas of Tongsa maintain that Guru came up from India through Nabji, Kubrag, Phrumzur and Jangbi and reached Bumthang via Ngangdagla. Their King Marapai (the one with long beard in Monpakha) played host to Guru. His modest palace foundation can be seen today at Kubrag on the Nabji Korphu tourist trial.

When Guru enterred Monyul, perhaps for the third recorded time, later through Singye Dzong (often known as Monkha Nerengphug in old texts), he came from Mangyul Gunthang and Lhodrag Karchu. Kyikha Rathoed invited Guru to Khenpajong. Although Bhutan figured strongly in the map of the tertons and other religious figures, not being explorers, they hardly mentioned routes in their writings. A few do vaguely. Terton Sherab Member, who lived before Pemalingpa; Pemalingpa; and Trulku Chogden Gonpo, a younger contemporary and disciple of Pemalingpa, visited Khenpajong (see Choden Gonpo’s and Sherab Member’s autobiographies). Sherab Member and Chogden Gonpo, the emanation of Terton Dorji Lingpa (1346-1405), who was in turn the emanation of Bairotsana (750-835) (see Jamgon Kongtrul’s autobiography) mentioned that they went to Khenpajong via Khoma Pangkhar village crossing Zela. In all likelihood, Guru travelled from Lhodrag to Khenpajong along the route connecting Lhodrag, Boedla, Gangla, Singye Dzong, Denchung, Khomakang, Khoma Pangkhar and Khenpajong.

Round Sitting Peace Conference
During another of Guru’s visits, most likely the second one, the purpose was to restore peace between the warring kings, Sindharaza of Bumthang and Nauche of India. Both were summoned by Guru at the border of India and Mon as Bhutan was known then (rja mon gyi mtshams su ‘bod par byao).

Sindharaza and his 50 ministers, and Indian king Nauche with his entourage of 80 met at the wide treeless plain that was named Nathang (Oath Ground) after they pledged not to fight anymore. The two embattled kings and Guru erected the Immortal Stone Pillar of Peace (‘chi med zhi wai rdoring btsugs), placed their hands on it, and swore that their forces will not cross over this point. Future archeological investigations into the intact stone pillar will settle the question of when Guru visited Bhutan precisely. Due to lack of official attention, the temple of Nabji which contains the Immortal Stone Pillar of Peace, is not widely known. This hardly noticed site is of monumental importance to Bhutan.

The successful ‘roundtable’ peace conference (dbyen zlum zhing ‘cham par bya ste) was concluded by Guru giving empowerment of Druba Kagyed or the Eight Great Herukas (sgrub pa bka brgyad), and making the two kings become friends in this life, and enabling them to meet in heavens in the afterlife. Druba Kagyed consists of gshin rje gshed, rta mgrin, yang dag, che mchog, phur pa, ma mo rbod gtong, dmod pa drag sngags, and ‘jig rten mchod bstod. Empowerment of the Druba Kagyed would mean the initiation of those present at Nathang into the practice of these eight deities. The teachings of Druba Kagyed is considered to be one of the main teachings of Guru and the texts on Druba Kagyed (titled bKa brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa’i chos skor) were discovered later as terma by Nyangrel.

Pioneering Longevity Extension Technique
Guru also first came to Bumthang to heal King Sindharaza whose his bLa and life force (bla srog) had been robbed by the spirit, Sogdag Shelging Karpo. bLa and srog has no appropriate words in English (see Cornu P.1997: 85-87). The bla of an individual, which cannot reincarnate, resides normally in the person but it can wander off and live in other parts of our physical environment. Srog (life force or biologically heart condition) is located in the heart and lasts as long as life does. The idea that bla is separable from the body by means of theft by evil forces is considered a pre-Buddhist idea. Guru returned the lost bla and life force to Sindharaza, healing him. The spirits who attacked Sindharaza were turned into positive agents. The widespread narrative of conversion of various kinds of spirits from harmful to helpful dispositions demonstrates the classic role of Guru as the moral and psychological teacher. It is also symbolic of the view that there is no absolute evil. However, to me, local deities of mountains, forests and rivers are personification of these complex ecologies, having spirits and life of their own. It has a parallel, in my opinion, to Giai hypothesis (Lovelock J. 1979), though at a micro level. What I conclude from terma text of ‘chimed srog thig is the important view that causation of illnesses can lie in wider environment. For people to have a fuller wellbeing involves the concepts of bla, life force (vitality), lus (energy level of the body), wangthang (dbang thang), which is capability and empowerment to achieve goals.

At the recovery celebration, Guru gave the entourage empowerment of Chana Dorji (Vajrapani). The whole episode about healing is very short: the Hagiography assumes a greater understanding about healing rituals by Guru on the part of readers. For readers unfamiliar with corpus of life extension technique, the act of restoring life force must seem mystical and irrelevant to health practices. Blaming displeased deities, malevolent spirits for illness is part of a personalist medical system, while the naturalist system traces the cause of illness to virus, weather, pollution etc (Samuel G. 2009: 7-10). If the spirit approach works, it is assumed to work on the psychological level rather than organic level. However, spirit approach also works on the body level because psychological changes affect physiological processes. The question is how the mysterious placebo effect arises. The issue is relevant in Bhutan where the performance of healing and protective rituals to block the threat of illnesses caused by spirits and other malicious causes are widespread. It is also important to demystify how Guru healed Sindharaza from a spirit attack.

Let me briefly weave the role of longevity ritual into the narrative of restoring the health of Sindharaza. The longevity ritual is known as tshe drup (or bla ma tshe dpag med kyi sdrup pa in full). The question ultimately is about validity and efficacy of tshe drup or tshewang because restoring bla and life force is part of it. The longevity rite originated with Guru and Madarava who practiced it in the Maratika cave, and was practiced later by disciples of Guru. Singye Dzong and Takstshang were important sites where Yeshey Tshogyal and other disciples practiced and witnessed the mandala of Guru Amitayus Yab-Yum. The central diety for visualization was Guru Amitayus, also known as Guru Pema Thodthrengtsal, and his consort (blama tshe dpag med yab yum). The origin and transmission of the tersar text of longevity practice ‘chimed rsog thig’ (Immortal Life’s Creative Seed) is a subject of illuminating joint article by Cathy Cantwell and Robert Mayer (Cantwell G and Mayer Robert, 2009). The terma hidden by Yeshey Tshogyal was revealed in 1908 at the cave of Singye Dzong by Zilnon Namkhai Dorji (1874-), the root lama of the late Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-87) and Karmapa Khachap Dorji. The deduction of terma text of ‘chimed srog thig from dakini script was carried out most likely when Zilnon lived in Bumthang with the patronage of King Ugyen Wangchuck, because its colophon mentions the palace and king of Lhomon. The terma titled ‘chimed rsog thig corpus was incorporated by Dudjom Rinpoche in his gsung ‘bum dam chos rin chen nor bu’i mzodm, Vol pha :193-554. ‘Chimed rsog thig corpus suggests that longevity is affected not only by theft and attack on life force by various powerful spirits such as driza, shinje, luwang, nodjin, firegod, cannibal, wind god, and four kinds of demons. There are other credible factors: (1) the decline of life force and breath, (2) the loss of body and mood, (3) the interruption in the subtle neurological, respiratory and libido processes (rtsa-rlung-thigle) (Dudjom 1999: pp. 110-122). Accordingly, a comphrehensive method of recovering longevity encompasses five elements: (1) ritual seeking jinlab from the assembly of Amitayus Buddhas and protector deities: (2) burnt offerings to the fire gods of wisdom (yeshey kyi me lha); (3) casting away of effigies of scapegoat as substitutes for meat, blood and life force to repurchase bla and life force (sha rin khrag tsab srog gi glud, see Dudjom 1999: 354); (4) consumption of herbal pharma products and other essences such as that of minerals (Dudjom 1999: 449-450); (5) the ultra secret practice of union following sbyor dnyos rje gsum (Dudjom 1999: 492-506); (6) longevity blessing (tse dbang), and (7) psycho-physical yogic exercise to work on subtle parts of neurological, respiratory and libido systems; and, more importantly, (8) visualisation and meditation that activates perceptional mechanism in a different way and reorients consciousness (see Part 1 of this article). In the case of longevity blessings with longevity nectar (‘chimed rdud tsi), longevity arrow-silk (tse dhar) and longevity pill (tse ril), the recipient visualizes Amitayus blessing the recipient with healing power and energy through the performing lama. One of the key assumptions behind the longevity practice is the body as an open system influenced by the environment (psychological, sociological, nutritional, spiritual etc.) in the widest sense of the term. If the body is an open system, then a mix of naturalist and personalist approaches to health is more comprehensive.

This broader context was drawn to provide an understanding that Guru’s healing of Sindharaza by returning his life force stems from a more complex longevity technique Guru developed. This explanation is also applicable to the content of longevity practice of Guru Amitayus that Yeshey Tshogyal took at Paro Taktshang that I will elaborate later.

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