A Blessed Pilgrimage

by Dr. Yutang Lin | 1990 | 18,562 words

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Part 6 - Kathmandu

On the way from the airport to my friends place I felt as if I were visiting a small rural town of the Taiwan two decades ago. The common houses were small, shabby, brick buildings, but there were also some buildings with several stories which were equipped with a "small ear" (the Chinese nickname for a satellite TV antenna.) Mr. Tenzing was the house manager of an elder lama Guru Dewa Rinpoche. Mr. Tenzing used to be a lama himself and had served Rinpoche for more than 30 years. A few years ago he returned to the laity, married, and now had two sons.

Rinpoche was over 80 years old. Many years ago he founded the first Tibetan monastery in Kathmandu. A few years ago he offered that monastery of 70 monks to the Dalai Lama. His house was a three story marble building; on the second floor there was a magnificent altar room, and in the guest suite where I stayed there was a photo of Rinpoche and a thanka (Tibetan painting scroll) of the female Buddha Kurukula who is a transformation of Avalokitesvara. In the backyard there was a garage, and in the front yard there was a Tibetan furnace, which was used for daily smoke offerings to the local deities. A few small rooms by the gate served as the living quarters for the servants. There were a few Tibetan monasteries in the neighborhood.

The famous Boudha Stupa was only a five minute walk from there. While it was still dusk, I changed into my Chinese formal wear and went on a pilgrimage by myself to Boudha Stupa. I circumambulated the stupa clockwise, which was in accordance with the Buddhist tradition to show respect. A crowd of Buddhists would show up to circumambulate the stupa, once in the morning and once in the evening. They were a mixture of lamas and laity, males and females, old and young; most of them were Tibetan. While circling the stupa they chanted mantras and counted with rosaries or turned a hand held Dharma wheel. Some of them were chatting as they walked. On the wall enclosing the stupa there was a circle of Dharma wheels. Some people would turn them clockwise, one by one, as they passed by. I also turned the Dharma wheels around vigorously to pray for vigorous spreading of Dharma activities everywhere.

Quite often there was on the mouth of a Buddha statue a small chunk of butter offered by some devotee. Later it would be picked up and eaten by some beggar. Many Buddhist statues around the stupa were decorated with gold leaves which was one way for the pilgrims to show their reverence to the deity. Inside the stupa court a few Tibetan devotees, facing the stupa, were chanting, prostrating or sitting in meditation. I prostrated three times to the stupa, and then offered 10 U.S. dollars at the butter lamp offering room. Tibetans use butter to fuel their offering lamps in order to show their reverence for Buddhas and holy beings. On my way back, I bought five khatas with two U.S. dollars from a small shop to prepare for tomorrows interview with Rinpoche. (All the offerings made during this pilgrimage are recorded here in this article. Although the monetary amounts were small, nevertheless, serving as records of Dharma activities, they should be precise.)

Rinpoches servant, an old lama, was originally from Ching Hai and had been ordained for more than 40 years. He could still converse with me in Mandarin. He kindly prepared a nice dinner for me, but unfortunately, I was too tired from my traveling to enjoy much of it. That night, in my dream, I saw three bundles of hair spreading from the top of Rinpoches head, which I interpreted to mean that he would be succeeded by three lineages.

On the 5th of January, in front of the Kurukula thanka, I had my breakfast, which consisted of a flower roll, boiled egg and Tibetan butter tea. It was the first time that I had butter tea made by Tibetans. It tasted delicious but a bit too salty. The ingredients were black tea, butter, milk and salt. A teen age boy, who came not long ago from Lhasa and spoke a little Mandarin, carried a bowl of burning incense (including sandalwood powder, Tibetan red flower and borneol) to perfume every corner of the house.

Mr. Tenzing led me to the interview with Guru Dewa Rinpoche. I offered him a khata and a red envelope containing a twenty dollar bill. He gave me his blessing for a successful pilgrimage and kindly tied a red protection ribbon around my neck. He presented me with five packages of Mandala Incense, which was specially made from 25 kinds of ingredients in accordance with some sutra. Mr. Tenzing and Mr. Gonpo accompanied me to the Thai Embassy to apply for a transit visa, and the clerk agreed to accept the application for approval. Mr. Gonpo said that usually they did not issue visas to holders of passports of the Republic of China; over the years they granted only two visas to such applicants. This time they showed no reluctance; it must have been due to the blessing from Buddha.

I asked Mr. Tenzing to take me to the Swayambhunath Stupa, which stood on top of a small hill in the suburbs. There was a driveway for cars winding all the way to the top of the hill. There was also a stone paved stairway of hundreds of steps leading straight up to the stupa. Alongside the stairs, there were a few huge Buddha statues and many rocks engraved with mantras or short passages from sutras in Tibetan. Among them, the most popular engraving was the six syllable heart mantra of Avalokitesvara - Om Ma Ni Pe Mi Hum. There were some stone carvers doing their work and selling Mani stones (small stones with the engraving of Om Ma Ni Pe Mi Hum) to tourists. Some women, children and sick people were there begging for money. I gave a little money to a disabled leper; to the rest, I chanted in silence the six syllable mantra of Avalokitesvara.

There were many pigeons and monkeys on the hill. The highest section of the stairway was rather steep, with two parallel handrails set up in the middle of the stairs. Some monkeys held the handrails loosely with all four limbs and glided down swiftly. They seemed to enjoy the ride very much. I circumambulated the stupa and turned the Dharma wheels on the wall into motion. On one side of the stupa there was a Kagyu Monastery of His Holiness Karmapa. There I offered 100 butter lamps with 11 U.S. dollars. Mr. Tenzing bought some yellow corns and we threw them all over the ground to feed the pigeons and the monkeys.

We then drove to the Hotel Vajra so I could join my pilgrimage group. This group was organized by Insight Travel, a travel agency led by Professor Pryor. All 13 members were U.S. residents. I invited Mr. Tenzing to have lunch with me in the rooftop garden of the hotel. Before lunch was served, he pointed out a distant mountain where Shakyamuni Buddha, in one of his past lives, and out of his great compassion, offered his body to a hungry tiger. I stood up facing that mountain, and bowed down in reverence.

On the morning of the 6th of January, our group walked up to the Swayambhunath Stupa. At first, I circumambulated the stupa while chanting mantras, then, in H.H. Karmapas monastery, I offered 50 butter lamps with 100 rupees. Outside the monastery I saw an old lama relaxing in the sun and went up to offer him 50 rupees. (The official rate of exchange was one U.S. dollar to 28.5 Nepali rupees.) A decent wage is from 50 to 100 rupees a day. On the other side of the stupa there was a Drukpa Kagyu monastery. I went in to pay my respects and offered 100 rupees. There I also offered two lamas a total of 75 rupees, and offered 50 butter lamps with 75 rupees.

I bought 16 cups of yellow corn with 20 rupees from the small grocery store by the stupa, then scattered them on the ground and watched the monkeys and pigeons eat them. Professor Pryor said, that according to legend, there was a crystal stupa containing the light of Adi Buddha at the center of the Swayambhunath Stupa. On one side of the stupa were a few shops; behind them was a small temple, and inside this temple there was a locked door. People said that there were six more locked doors behind it, and Shahti (meaning peace) Acarya had been in retreat therein for more than 1,000 years. Local people believed that he was still living and their prayers to him often got answered through inspirations. I went inside the temple and prostrated to him in front of the locked door.

In the afternoon, Professor Pryor invited an archaeologist, Professor Mukunda Raj Aryal of the Tribhuvan University, to come and give us a brief introduction to the local history and then guide us on a tour of the historical sites in the city. Professor Aryal said the Tantra of India and Nepal believed that important knowledge should be taught to specially chosen persons, and should not be readily revealed to the public. This helped reduce the risk of abuses. Nowadays, terrorists are on the loose, and the world lives in the shadow of the threat of nuclear war. These are the consequences of public transmission of high tech knowledge. In order to keep secrets they used figures to code their alphabet, thus, the paintings and carvings in their temples all contained hidden teachings; quite often a sequence of figures coded a secret formula. The key to unravel these codes had been passed down through the generations only by word of mouth from the teacher to the chosen disciple. Since his childhood, Professor Aryal was taught tantric yogi practices by his father. When he turned 18 he was a college student and had Western friends. His father would not teach him Tantra anymore for fear that the sacred secrets would inadvertently fall into the wrong hands.

The linga yoni symbol of Hinduism was generally recognized as phallicism; Professor Aryal said it indeed signified the harmony of fire (linga) and water (yoni). Hinduism was commonly classified as polytheism, however, professor Aryal said that it was really monotheism with one God transforming into many deities. He said that many famous Western scholars held the above mentioned misconceptions and yet Indian scholars had never pointed this out to them. Because Indian scholars believed that only those who humbly asked for teachings were worthy of the transmission of true knowledge, those who were arrogant could not be helped, but were left alone within the boundary of their ignorance. His talk made us reflect upon ourselves.

We then rode in cars to Patan to visit ancient temples and palaces. Inside the temples, shoes are not allowed. Nepali woodcarvings were refined and lively. Each piece was well documented as to its date, artist and donor, thus, it later facilitated archaeological studies.

There was a stupa, which was a scaled down model of the Mahabodhi Stupa at Bodhgaya. The founder of this stupa passed away when only the foundation had been laid, and his son carried on his wish and continued to build the stupa. Unfortunately, his son did not live to see the completion of this project. When his grandson grew up the project was again carried on until its completion. Thus, it took 60 years of the efforts of three generations as well as the single minded devotion and perseverance of his family to accomplish the building of such an immortal monument. We immediately felt deep respect.

This stupa was ruined by an earthquake at one time. The government wanted to rebuild it, but lacked the knowledge of how to make the special brick used for this stupa. Fortunately, at a later date one brick and a stone plate engraved with a detailed description of how to make the brick were unearthed from a spot right outside the courtyard of the stupa; thus, the government was able to rebuild it.

In front of the main entrance of some temple stood a large pillar. On its top, a statue of the protector deity of this temple was kneeling and facing the temple with palms folded in reverence. Such an arrangement showed the spirit of revered protection. Outside the main gate of some huge temple sat stone lions, one on each side, facing outward as though on guard. These lions were shackled on one foot by chains to prevent them from haunting the neighborhood after their invocation. In one courtyard there were several empty niches. Originally, the archaeologists suspected that the statues were stolen. But later, they realized that those niches were meant to represent the vowels and the consonants whose sounds could not be depicted, hence their niches were left empty. Downtown, there was one low courtyard with three dragonheads. Underground water had been pouring out continuously from their mouths for over 1,500 years. Modern hydraulic engineers could not figure out how the ancients achieved such amazing results.

Early in the morning, on the 7th of January, I dreamt of a yogi sitting in meditation. He raised his right hand and issued forth a ray of white light upon my body. I felt a slight vibration as the light fell on me. I believe that he was the Shahti Acarya whom I paid respect to the day before, and that he was giving me his blessing in this dream.

In the morning, Professor Pryor took us for an interview with Choky Nyima Rinpoche, and we listened to Rinpoches teachings. I offered him a khata and 10 U.S. dollars. He kindly blessed each one of us by giving us some nectar pills and tying a red protection cord around our necks.

I heard that Thrangu Rinpoche had been giving lectures recently to Westerners in his monastery; hence, I stopped by to pay him my respects. It happened to be shortly after the lecture and he was resting in the abbatial quarters by himself. I offered him a khata and 100 rupees, and I bade him farewell after a short interview.

Our group went to visit the Boudha Stupa. The protector deity of this stupa was a Hindu deity; his small temple was on one side of the stupa compound, and I offered one rupee there as a token of respect. In the afternoon, Professor Pryor gave us a brief introduction to the history of Nepal and Kathmandu. Afterwards, I walked up to the Swayambhunath Stupa by myself. There were two huge bells, one on each side of the stupa; I rang them five times each to spread the sound of the Dharma. I circumambulated the stupa while chanting mantras, and then offered 50 and 30 butter lamps in the two Kagyu monasteries respectively. I bought 10 rupees of yellow corn to feed the pigeons and the monkeys, and finally went to the temple of Shahti Acarya to thank him for his blessing. There I made prostrations and offered 30 rupees.

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