The Way of the White Clouds

by Anāgarika Lāma Govinda | 123,888 words

The Way of the White Clouds as an eye-witness account and the description of a pilgrimage in Tibet during the last decenniums of its independence and unbroken cultural tradition, is the attempt to do justice to the above-mentioned task, as far as this is possible within the frame of personal experiences and impressions. This work is licensed under...

Chapter 13 - An Awakening and a Glimpse into the Future

The next morning, I was awakened by brilliant sunshine. My things had been packed in the evening, so that we could start without delay. Everything around me seemed to be transformed by the morning sun.

I would have liked to take leave of the friendly Lamas and to thank them for their hospitality. But no living soul was to be seen or heard anywhere. I decided to wait a little, and in order to pass the time, I made a sketch of the courtyard. But even after I had finished, no sign of life emerged. It was as if the monastery was under a magic spell, due to which time had stopped a thousand years ago and life had gone to sleep, while nature around went on in its own way and rocks were growing into strange shapes, assuming an unusual vitality, ever encroaching on the works of man.

Was it perhaps one of those haunted places, where a long-buried past comes to life again and again, and where the lonely traveller sees and hears all sorts of strange things, which after some time disappear like a fata morgana? `Well', I thought to myself, `the monastery at any rate is still here, and if it should disappear, I have at least my sketch!'

Slowly I descended through the narrow lanes between rocks and walls, lost in thought about all that had happened during my short stay here. My syce, who had come for the luggage, saw my pensive mood and said:

`Was Kushog Rimpoché not satisfied with this place?'

`Indeed,' I said, `I never liked any place better than this'.

`No wonder,' he replied, `if one sleeps in a consecrated room.'

`What do you mean?' I enquired with surprise.

`Don't you remember, Kushog-la, that the old Lama, who led you into the room, mentioned that never had anybody dwelt in it before?'

`Yes, I remember'.

Then, I will tell you the reason. While you were in the cave, temple the monks consulted each other whether they should give you that room for the night, because it had been dedicated to Chamba, the Buddha Maitréya'.

Suddenly a strange idea struck me.

What gave them the idea to build a Lhakhang to Buddha Maitréya?' I asked.

`Oh', said my man, `don't you know that all over Tibet, sanctuaries are being built to Chamba, the Great Coming One through the power of a great Lama from the southern part of Tibet?'

`Do you know his name?' I asked, almost quivering with excitement.

He don't know his name, but I was told that people call him `Tomo Géshé'.

`He is my own Guru!' I exclaimed. `Did I not tell you?' I then remembered that he had asked me about my `Tsawai-Lama' and that, very casually, I had replied: `My Gurus place is more than a thousand miles away, you wouldn't know him anyway.

Now my experience of the previous evening took on a new significance, and suddenly it dawned upon me: This was my second initiation!

Whether it was due to the Guru's direct influence (as in the events of Chorten Nyima and other, similar cases, of which I came to know later on), or due to the ripening of the seeds which he had sown into my mind, one thing was sure, namely that it was no mere coincidence.

For the first time I now realised what the Guru had meant when he spoke to me of the `kerim' the creative state of meditation, `One day you will be able to see the transcendental bodies [Tibetan: long-ku; Sanskrit: sambhoga-kāya] of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which are the powers of light within you, but which now only exist as faint ideas in your mind. When they have become to you as real as what you now believe to be the material world around you, then you will understand that the reality of the inner and the outer world are interchangeable, and that it depends on you in which of the two you want to live: whether you want to be a slave of the one or the inheritor and master of the other'.

More than ever I felt the nearness of the Guru, and I was so elated that I did not even feel the exertion while climbing that formidable pass, which I had dreaded so much the previous day. My thoughts went on in a steady flow, as if an inner voice was speaking to me and revealing bit by bit the solutions of many problems which had troubled my mind for a long time.

I now realised what I had dimly felt during my first stay at Yi-Gah chö-ling, namely that the images and frescoes around me were not merely beautiful decorations of aesthetic value but representations of a higher reality, born from visions and inner experience. They were put into as precise a language of forms as is contained in a geographical map or a scientific formula, while being as natural in expression and as direct in appeal as a flower or a sunset.

Was it not this language of forms which opened the gates to the mystery of the human soul and its hidden forces, a language that would be understood by all who were honestly knocking at this innermost gate, if only a little guidance was given?

Since my Guru had opened my eyes to this mystery, was it not my duty to pass on to others what I had received?

Indeed, I now saw clearly the message which he had communicated to me through this vision; and out of the wish to convey to others what I had seen and experienced the idea was born in me to follow the way of the Lama-artists of yore and faithfully to reproduce in line and colour the traditions of a great past, which had been treasured in the temples and mountain fastnesses of Tibet.

It was from this very journey that I brought back my first simple tracings of the stone engravings of the `Eighty-Four Siddhas', or medieval Buddhist Mystics, which later on were housed in a special hall, dedicated to my work in the Municipal Museum of Allahabad.

And as if some invisible hand had guided me and had made come to pass everything necessary for the fulfilment of this desire, on my way I hit upon one of the ancient temples, founded by Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo, in which for the first time I saw some of the magnificent frescoes and statues of the early eleventh century AD.

I was so deeply impressed by this unique art that I lost no time in collecting whatever information I could get concerning the history of Western Tibet. Thus, I learned that Rinchen Zangpo was one of the greatest torch-bearers of Buddhism in Tibet, equally great as scholar, builder, artist, and saint. A substantial part of the sacred scriptures of Tibet (Kanjur and Tanjur) was translated by him from Sanskrit in collaboration with Indian scholars, a work which earned him the highly prized title Lotsava (the Translator). While spreading the Buddhas teachings in word and script, he built monasteries, temples, and shrines wherever he went. His main activities were in and around Tholing and Tsaparang (see the Historical Appendix). Tholing was the most important monastery and seat of learning in Western Tibet and remained so until the recent Chinese invasion, while Tsaparang was abandoned centuries ago.

The last-mentioned fact aroused my interest, because in a climate like that of Tibet, I had good reason to believe that a considerable part of the earliest works of art could still be found among the ruins, and that the very remoteness and solitude of the place would make it possible to investigate and explore undisturbed whatever had survived the ravages of man and time. All the information that I could gather convinced me that this was the very place where I could study in peace, and retrieve some of the glories of the past. Thus the idea of an expedition to Tsaparang was born, though many years had still to pass before my dream could become reality.

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