Kathmandu, Nepal 2008

A Holy Pilgrimage with H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche

4 May 2009 - 2:41am Comments Off

The pilgrimage started off as a small trip for outlet staff to purchase stock for the Kechara Paradise Dharma outlets. However, as more people requested to join the trip and as Rinpoche himself personally invited people to go along, the group soon grew to 60 pilgrims!

We left KL in the wee hours of Oct 9, arriving early in the morning in Kathmandu – all ready to go on the adventure of a lifetime. The next five days would each be action-packed days filled with sacred sites, incredibly holy Buddha statues and lots and lots and lots of wonder. It was like being children again, discovering a whole other world of spirituality where Dharma truly is a way of life, not just a part-time practice.

OCT 9, DAY 1

Chenrezig Temple

This little old chapel hidden away behind some busy streets has as its centrepiece a beautiful two-armed Chenrezig statue, known in Tibetan as Jowa Samling Karmo. There are three identical Chenrezig statues which are often referred to as the Self-Arisen Three Brothers. One of them is in this chapel in Kathmandu; another in the main cathedral in Lhasa, Tibet and the last in Dharamsala.

Here, all pilgrims recited the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation together, and Chenrezig’s mantra, Om Mani Peme Hung.

Chenrezig Chapel in Thahity

Tara Chapel

A quaint, tiny chapel in the middle of a busy square houses three statues of Tara – Yellow Tara, White Tara and Green Tara – all of which are so alive, they look like they might just get up and give you a hug at any moment!

H.H. Trijang Rinpoche has said that the white Tara statue in this chapel flew in from Tibet to Nepal. We don’t know if this is literal or metaphorical, but as H.E. Tsem Rinpoche notes, this statue must be something special if Trjiang Rinpoche himself speaks of it as being so holy.

Magical Yellow, White and Green Taras, said to have flown from Tibet to Nepal

While there, everyone recited a prayer of incense offering to Tara before we each had the chance to have audience with the three magical Taras and offer our individual prayers to her.

Circumambulating the Tara Chapel in Thahity

Boudhanath Stupa

This most famous, iconic stupa in the heart of Kathmandu holds relics of Buddha Shakyamuni and is highly revered by all in Nepal. Hundreds of devotees gather at Boudhanath every day to circumambulate, recite prayers and turn the prayer wheels located at the base of the enormous stupa.

All the pilgrims circumambulated the stupa with Rinpoche. As we walked around, Rinpoche pointed out to us many of the other practitioners who had come after work to also circumambulate, make prostrations and meditate at the stupa. Here, Rinpoche noted, people use every opportunity they have to create merit and engage in spiritual practice – it really is a part of their daily lives.

The famous Boudhanath Stupa

OCT 10, DAY 2

The self-arising Tara @ Parphing

The self-arising Tara started off as nothing more than a rock! One day many years ago, a meditator in the area recognised that an image of Tara was forming on the rock. Devotees built a covering over it and as more and more people came to pay homage and give donations, enough was collected to build a chapel around the rock.

The image of Tara that spontaneously arose from the rock grows clearer and more defined every year. Pilgrims who went to Nepal three years ago saw for themselves how much clearer the outlines were this time round.

Quaint chapel with self-arisen images of Tara and Ganesha

Monks at the chapel do Tara pujas there all day. Devotees can also give donations for them to do Tara pujas on their behalf. The monks there further shared that eventually all 21 forms of Tara will arise on the rock. Slight protrusions of hands, feet or parts of faces are already appearing around the main form of Green Tara.

Next to the Tara, another very big image of the Hindu god, Ganesha, has also spontaneously arisen on the same rock. The chapel is dedicated to both Ganesha and Tara, marking the joyous harmony between the two religions in Nepal.

Close-up of the self-arising Tara

Guru Rinpoche’s Cave

Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism from India to Tibet, stopped in Nepal on his way to Tibet and meditated at this very cave that we visited. As he left, he left an imprint of his hand on the outside of the cave, which still carries many blessings with it today. Many pilgrims continue to visit this site to make butterlamp offerings and prayers within the cave, or to touch their heads on the handprint outside.

H.E. Tsem Rinpoche explains the significance of Guru Rinpoche's cave

Guru Rinpoche's handprint can still be seen on the rock today

Inside Guru Rinpoche's cave

Many nuns and monks also live around the area – all 60 of us had the good fortune to individually receive blessings and prayers from an old meditator, who had been in retreat in a small room just around the corner from the cave.

Receiving blessings from an old monk

Vajrayogini Chapel @ Parphing

Like many of the chapels in Kathmandu, this most special Vajrayogini chapel began as a family’s personal place of worship. It was handed down and maintained through the generations, garnering greater and greater reverence from practitioners who soon came to pay homage and worship.

We all gathered at the sunny courtyard below, before going up to the chapel itself. There, Rinpoche led us through several very powerful prayers, including a powa meditation that he had never done with students before (this was just an exception, and pilgrims were advised never to repeat this practice on their own again).

Vajrayogini chapel in Parphing

The chapel is very small and quite old, but the sacredness of the place is well preserved. The central image is a Vajrayogini statue with one leg up, over which countless offerings from over the years have been made. Little butterlamp offerings and garlands of flowers surround Vajrayogini, and all of us, in groups of five, also had the chance to made a butterlamp offering to her with our wishes.

Rinpoche leads the pilgrims through a series of prayers and powa meditation

Vajrayogini Chapel @ Mahaboddhi Stupa, Patan

Patan, a little artists’ colony is better known for its craftsmanship and the highly intricate, detailed and beautiful statues that are produced there. However, right in the middle of a busy row of shops, another special secret lies.

Through a little alley, we found the Mahaboddhi Stupa, recreated to look just like the original one in Bodhgaya, which commemorates the place that Lord Buddha gained Enlightenment. Because many people were unable to make the sacred pilgrimage to Bodhgaya itself, this was created so the locals could still pay homage.

Above the stupa, in one of the surrounding buildings, is a tiny Vajrayogini Chapel, with a blessed statue of a flying Vajrayogini. Usually closed off to the public, this chapel is highly guarded and considered extremely sacred and special to the local Nepalese. However, we were granted special permission to have audience with this holy Vajrayogini and to offer butterlamps.

Barely three people could go up at a time, so while we waited our turn, everyone jointly recited Vajrayogini prayers. These were not usually to be read by people without initiation, but Rinpoche had given a special exception during these few days for pilgrims to create a connection with Vajrayogini.

At the Mahaboddhi Stupa in Patan

Vajrayogini Chapel @ Sangkhu Monastery

It was sundown by the time we arrived at Sangkhu Monastery. Thanks to the many kind efforts of our “guide” Jamyang Lama (the assistant of Tsem Rinpoche’s Guru), the monks at the monastery had stayed up and kept the monastery open just for us.

But there was also work to be done on our part – 480 steps worth of work to be climbed in the dark!

It was well worth the climb. There, we got to visit meditation caves of Naropa and Tilopa (from which our lineage of Vajrayogini practice originates) as well as of the Phamtingpa brothers, famous for carrying on the Vajrayogini lineage of Naropa.

Further atop was the Vajrayogini Chapel itself, the most famous site of the monastery to which pilgrims always flocked to visit. This chapel was especially famous because of the legendary mahasiddha that is associated with it. It is said that many, many years ago a local Nepalese lady received the Vajrayogini practice from her Guru, went into retreat, practised, gained attainments and gained the very same state as Vajrayogini within that lifetime. It is said, in fact, that she was an emanation of Vajrayogini here on earth. When she passed away, her body was cremated, and her relics placed within this particular statue. The statue itself was carved to resemble the yogini and carries the most amazing, vibrant energies, like she was really there.

At the foot of Sangku temple, Rinpoche performs prayers for this cow which had taken ill

OCT 11, DAY 3

Vijashwari Vajrayogini Chapel

This Vajrayogini Chapel, just a short walk away from Swayambunath is special for the four forms of Vajrayogini that it contains – flying Vajrayogini, Vajravarahi, Vajrayogini with one leg up, and Naro Kacho, the form that we practise today.

Vijashwari Vajrayogini temple

Though the chapel itself is quite small, and only about three people can fit in at a time, the surrounding courtyard is spacious and beautiful, with many surrounding images of Vajrayogini and other deities. We all had the chance to have individual audiences with the four Vajrayoginis, with Rinpoche standing beside each of us to guide us through prayers as we offered up butterlamps.

The temple at Vijashwari contains four forms of Vajrayogini - Vajravarahi, Maitri Kacho Vajrayogini and Indra Kacho Vajrayogini

It was an extra auspicious visit at this holy chapel too for many new beginnings were announced here. Two of our Dharma friends decided to seal their relationship by getting married and exchanging rings inside the chapel, in front of all Vajrayoginis!

Naro Kacho Vajrayogini at Vijashwari Temple

It was also announced that two new friends would be joining two very big departments in the organisation – our retreat centre committee and Kechara Media and Publications. The pilgrimage had truly inspired these two wonderful ladies to step up their involvement in spiritual work, to be a part of bringing Dharma to the world! In the heart of Vajrayogini’s chapel, three of Rinpoche’s close students also requested for a Vajrayogini practice; in receiving a wonderful selfless practice, they each also offered up individual commitments to Dharma practice and work.

It was sunny, the skies were blue and energies were on top form. A most marvellous, auspicious day for everything enlightened!

Prayers outside Vijashwari temple

At the entrance to the temple

Swayambunath Stupa

The second largest stupa of Nepal, which also houses Buddha’s relics. Surrounding this stupa are many, many other little small stupas which people, pigeons and stray dogs circumambulate all day long. Many other Buddha images can also be found all along the sides of the stupa – half the fun is circumambulating the stupa and looking through the carved niches to identify which Buddha might be sitting inside!

Swayambunath Stupa

Circumambulating the stupa

Manjushri’s Teaching Site

Just a short walk away from Swayambunath Stupa is a famed courtyard, where it is said that the Buddha of Wisdom, Manjushri, gives Dharma teachings once a year to celestial beings. The place itself is just a simple bare courtyard with not much more than a few prayer wheels, but the energy is vibrant there and it is a most auspicious place to connect with the wisdom energies of Manjushri.

There, all the pilgrims were very fortunate to receive the lhung (oral transmission) of Manjushri’s mantra from Rinpoche. We then all recited Gangloma, Praise to Manjushri and his mantra right in the middle of Manjushri’s most blessed and sacred site.

Reciting Manjushri's prayer at Manjushri's teaching site

Temple of Doors

The doors to this underground labyrinth and temple remains closed all the time, except for one day every seven years when it is opened to the public. Through the doors, an underground passage runs throughout the whole of Kathmandu city, and, it is believed, is home to arhats, who will abide there until the time that Maitreya Buddha appears. They would then also re-appear in the world to help Maitreya to teach the Dharma.

Several years ago, students of Rinpoche’s Guru happened to be there when the doors were opened and had the chance to walk through the passages. Many of them reported seeing passing glimpses of somebody’s foot, another being’s hand, or a mala.

Unfortunately, when we were there, the doors remained closed, but it was very auspicious to recite prayers there and to make a connection with the arhats, even from afar.

Outside the Temple of Doors

Naropa and Tilopa Caves @ Pashupati

Naropa is said to have diligently followed his Guru, Tilopa for 12 years, serving him quietly and anonymously from afar without receiving even a word of recognition and not a single Dharma teaching. After 12 years, when Tilopa finally recognised all his effort and immense devotion, Naropa began receiving teachings from Tilopa.

Naropa received the Vajrayogini teachings, began practice and received direct visions of her within six months. The form of Vajrayogini that we practise today originates from Naropa himself.

This caves that we had the great merit to visit was where Naropa engaged in Vajrayogini retreat and gained visions of her – from here, the teachings were passed down to local Nepalese disciples, and from there, through the generations, it has gone all over the world. Tilopa, his Guru, also meditated in the cave just next to it.

As Rinpoche recited prayers within Naropa’s cave, the pilgrims each had the chance to look into each cave, recite their individual prayers and make butterlamp offerings around the area. There, we were all encouraged to pray that we too may be able to develop the same Guru devotion as Naropa had and to gain the same practice and attainments of Vajrayogini, in the lineage that he began. Later, Rinpoche even kindly posed for a photograph with every one of us within the cave, next to a holy, energised and beautiful statue of the great mahasiddha Naropa.

An image of Naropa in the Naropa caves

Typical night scene in Thamel

Enjoying breakfast at the Kathmandu Guest House

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