You are on page 1of 506

Yogins ^ Ladakh

A Pilgrimage A m o n g th e H e rm its o f the Buddhist H im a la y a s

J o h n Cr o o k Jam es L o w

W hen J oh n Crook o f Bristol University began research in the Zangskar valley o f Ladakh in 1977 his prime intention was to investigate the social anthropology o f the area through studies o f village life. In 1986 Crook returned to Ladakh with T ibetologist Jam es Low to enquire fully in to th e so cia l o r g a n isa tio n , history, meditational practices and philosophy of the yogins who still lived and practiced in the remote parts o f the area. This book is a r e c o r d o f th e a u t h o r s a d v e n tu r o u s journeys to m eet some remarkable men. T h e y o g in s w ere o fte n g e n e r o u s , providing accounts o f their training, one o f them allowing Crook to photograph a previously unknown text instructions on Mahamudra by the em inent Tipun Padma Chosgal. James Lows brilliant translation o f this difficult work together with that o f a biography o f the great wom an yogin Machig Labdron provides the basis for extensive and original discussions o f the m ean in g o f Tibetan Buddhism and its significance in our time.

THE YOGINS OF LADAKH

Wall painting o f a Bodhisallva in the l l l h century temple o f Karsha Gompa, Zangskar. (p. 39)

THE YOGINS OF LADAKH


A Pilgrimage Among the Hermits of the Buddhist Himalayas

J o h n C ro o k a n d J am es L o w

M O TILA L BANARSIDASS PU BLISHERS PRIVATE LIM ITED D E L H I

Reprint: DeUii, 2006, 2007 First Edition: Delhi, 1997

OJOHN CROOK All Rights Reserved

ISBN: 978-81-208-1462-2 (Cloth) ISBN: 978-81-208-1479-0 (Paper)

M O T IL A L B A N A R S ID A SS
41 U.A. Bungalow Road, Jaw ahar Nagar, Delhi 110 007 8 Mahalaxmi Chamber, 22 Bhulabhai Desai Road, Mumbai 400 026 203 Royapeuah High Road, Mylapore, Chennai 600 004 236, 9th Main III Block, Jayanagar, Bangalore 560 011 Sanas Plaza, 1302 Baji Rao Road, Pune 411 002 8 Camac Street, Kolkata 700 017 Ashok Rajpath, Patna 800 004 Chowk, Varanasi 221 001

PRINTED IN INDIA BYJAINENDRA PRAKASH JAIN AT SH R IJAINENDRA PRESS, A-45 NARAINA, PHASE-l, NEW DELHI 110 028 AND PUBLISHED BYNARENDRA PRAKASH JAIN FOR M OTILAL BANARSIDASS PUBLISHERS PRIVATE LIMITED, BUNGALOW ROAD, DELHI 110 007

TO KHAMTAG RIMPOCHE
wherever he may be

CONTENTS
Introduction Preface: Hermits and Hermeneutics Part I. BACKGROUND 1.The Lineage of the Yogins Part II TRAVELOGUE 2. Maintaining the Revolutions of the Universe 3. Meetings with Rimpoches 4. Schools for Hermits 5. The City and the Hills 6. The Geshe of Saspola 7. Return to Sani 8. Light Rays of the Sun 9. A Home of Ancient Yogins 10. The Hill of the Tigress 11. The Precious Jewel of Pipcha vii x 1 3 31 33 54 82 104 132 142 154 177 194 207

ii

Contents

12. Crossing the Mountains 13. Manali PART III TEACHING AND PRACTICE 14. Teachings of the Yogins 15. Practising Chod in the cemeteries of Ladakh 16. Privacy and Public Knowledge of the Dharma 17. The Meditation Notebook of Tipun Padma Chogyal 18. End and Beginning Glossary Index.

LIST OF PLATES
FRONTISPIECE. Wall painting of a Bodhisattva in the l l t l i cen tury temple o f Karsha Gom pa, Zangskar. Plate 1.a b Portrait o f Shakyashri photographed at Gotsang Gompa. Photo of Tipun Padma Chogyal from Dukpa Kargyu monastery, Manali. Awo rimpoche from a photograph at Manali Dukpa Kargyu Monastery. Awo Rimpoche (left) and Shakyashri in old age from snapshots at Manali Dukpa Kargyu monastery. Statue of Ngawang Tsering of Dzongkul at Ter-GoTse near Sani, Zangskar. The lower glacier of the Umasi La pass looking south from a ridge where we camped overnight. Ascending the Umasi glacier on ice. 1977. The ice cliffs between the lower and upper Umasi glaciers looking north towards the summit o f the pass. View north from the summit of the Umasi la pass at over 18000ft. 1977. Monks in ceremony ht Karsha Gompa, Zangskar. Monks preparing tormas etc. Karsha Gompa. Monks with Khcnpo dancing to complete a ritual in the fields o f Karsha. 1977. Phugtal Gompa. Geshc Chopcl Yangtsen. Monks reading sulra at phugtal. The return trek from Phuglal 1981.John Crook (left), Tashi Rabgyas and Tsering Shakya at their meal in

Plate

2.

Plate

3.

Plate

4.

Plate

5.a b

Plate

6.a

Plate

7.a b 8.

Plate

Plate

9.a b

Plate 10.a b

IV

List of Plates

camp in the Lungnak gorge. Plate Plate Plate 11. 12. 13. Yogin Ngawang Norbu o f Shila. Khamtag Rimpoche at Urgyen Dzong. Khamtag Rimpoche and Tashi Rabgyas reading the text of Tipuns notebook. Urgyen Dzong. The first page o f Khamtags notebook o f Tipun's Mahamudra text. T h cca v eo fG u m Rimpoche at Urgyen Dzong. 1981. The temple at Urgyen Dzong. General view of Urgyen Dzong. Tashi Rabgyas, Aku-la, Tscring Shakya (back to camera) and Khamtag Rimpoche enjoying a nog gin on trek from Urgyen Dzong. Staglung Rimpoche at Tragthog Gompa. Hemis Gompa. Gotsang gompa. The valley o f Gotsang. Meditation cell built o f rocks against a vast boulder which providEs the roof for an inner chamber. Gotsang. Yogins at Gotsang Gompa. Lamayuru, a general view, Lamayuru Gompa. The large stupas at Lamayuru Gompa. The fierce protector in a dark chamber (gon-khang) near the statue o f Vairocana and attendants in the old building o f Lamayuru Gompa.

Plate

14.

Plate 15.a b Plate Plate 16. 17.

Plate

IS.

Plate 19.a b Plate 20.a b

Plate 21 .a and b Plate 22 a b Plate 23.

Plate 24 .a

List o f Piales

Ancient mural painting o f dancing skeleton in the old gon-khang at Lamayuru. Yogins at Lamayuru. 1981. A monastic library. The castle and city of Lch. Khaspang Gompa. Yogin Ngawang Dorje o f Khaspang. The Geshe Ngawang Jugne o f Saspola, with Tashi Rabgyas (left). The monk Ycshe Monlam in the little hotel at Zhulduk. The lakes on the top o f the Pentse La, Zangskar. The village and monastery compound at Sani. 1986. Sani village Sani Gompa with James on the balcony o f our room. The ancient stone statue (7-1 Oth century CE) at Sani smeared by butter offerings, Flag bearing islands as offerings to Guru Rimpoche at Sani. The yogin Sonam Ngodrup, Mcmc Gomchcn o f Sani. The Tibetan refugee practitioners o f tantra whom we met at Nyima O/xr. John and James joking with the Goba o f Sani. D/.ongkul Gompa. The cave of Naropa at Dzongkul. The yogin Sonam Konsum, Gonpo, at Stagrimo Gompa. 1986. The yogin Nochung Tse. Stagrimo. 1986.

Plate Plate Plate Plate Plate

25. 26. 27 .a b 28. 29.

Plate

30.

Plate

31 .a b 32.a b 33.a b

Plate

Plate

Plate

34.

Plate

35.

Plate 36.a and b Plate 37.a b

Plate 38.a b

vi

List o f Plates

Plate Plate

39. 40.

The yogin Sonam Dorje. 1986. James conversing with yogin Sonam Dorje in his room. View of Padum from Stagrimo Gompa. John viewing the rooftops of Padum from the house o f the Gyalpo, Puntzog Dawa. The Lungnak gorge. Burdan Gompa in the Lungnag Gorge. Pume farmhouse. 1986. Smithers and Snodgrass in full fig at Kargyak before attempting the Shingo La. Stone shelter on the southern side o f the Shingo La. Descending the Shingo La in snow. T he Dukpa Kargyu go m p a founded by Awo Rimpoche at Manali. 1986. The young Ser Rimpoche with his teacher Gcgen Khyentse. The yogen Drubten at Manali. Gegen Khyentse, the meditation teacher o f the Kargyu yogins. Manali. Ser Rimpoche, the current incarnation o f Tipun Padma Chogyal, Manali.

Plate

41.

Plate 42.a b Plate 4 3 .a b Plate 44.

Plate 4 5 .a b Plate 46.a b

Plate 4 7 .a b

Plate

48.

INTRODUCTION
This book explores Tibetan Buddhism from within the viewpoint of its most exemplary practitioners; the hermits of the Himalayas, particularly the yogins of Ladakh. We attempt to describe their values, way of life, meditational practices and philosophical understanding as we came to know them within the context of their daily lives. The exodus of Tibetan lamas to India and the West following the Chinese inspired holocaust in Tibet has produced an historical situation not unlike that in the Mediterranean world following the fall of Byzantium to the Turks. The arrival of refugee scholars and intellectuals in Italy did much to inspire the European Renaissance. Similarly, the arrival of the lamas has produced an extraordinary spread of Buddhism in the West with the creation of meditation centres in almost every city. The full impact of Buddhism in the West, let alone that of the specific teachings of the Tibetans, has yet to be realised but it is clearly of major cultural significance as we approach the millennium. Within Tibetan Buddhism there is a division between 'Teaching schools and 'Practice schools. The former, particularly the Gelugpa, excel in presenting Buddhist philosophy and ethics in an often very learned and subtle form which is relatively easily assimilated by Westerners whose high levels of education equip them to receive it. The latter schools, when most true to themselves, only wish to teach those already committed to an arduous way of life and meditative practice and consecrated to a yogic path. On such a path there are instructions to behave and to explore but often philosophical or psychological teachings, explanations and theory are set aside as misleading unless experience

viii

Introduction

through practice is already present. There is here a similarity with the scepticism of Zen masters concerning teaching through words. The Kargyupa and Nyingmapa are cagey about discussing their practices. They prefer to share their meditational explorations only with those dedicated to serious inner work. Even then they quickly set limits to what they feel they can say. An understanding of the yogic path is of course crucial to a heartfelt appreciation of Tibetan Buddhism but when I first attempted to explore this area I felt an absence of grounding in the presentation to Europeans of both the lamas' teachings and the meditations. The manner in which their time consuming practice could be meshed with a busy Western life needed further thought. I kept asking myself what they actually did with their often complex practices within the proper context of their own cultural world. When I first visited Ladakh and came across the yogins in the mountains I realised that, in relating to them, 1 would be able to fit teachings and practice which I had heard about from learned lamas back into the culture to which they belonged and thus deepen my understanding. Furthermore, I began to hope they might in some way clarify for me the nature of my own experiences in practice and in the mountains. Our book shows this to have been no easy task. To enter another culture, especially at the level of its deepest insights, required a certain delicacy that needed to be learnt as we went along. James Low and I undertook long journeys on foot in Ladakh to meet the yogins in their monasteries and 'caves'. Few of these men were teachers but they allowed us into their presence ahd showed us their manner of being. A landscape was set before us which we had to map as best we could. Our book is a map of the cultural landscape of these men. We hope and believe it will help Westerners both to

Introduction

ix

broaden and to deepen their insight into the Dharma. Come with us then in an exploration of these inner landscapes set among the highest mountains of the world. It is our belief that what we found there is of great significance in the suffering world of today. John Crook, PhD, DSc Psychology Department Bristol University

PREFACE

HERMITS AND HERMENEUTICS


When som eone from the Western world tries to write about some aspects o f India one o f his difficulties is that his habits o f thought and ways o f writing will not necessarily fit the subject he is describing.*

Early Scholars Modem understanding of Tibetan religion and culture owes much to the hard work of a few itinerant scholars who, leaving their studies and libraries, have undertaken long journeys on foot through the secretive 'land of snows'. The first European scholar of the Tibetan language, the Hungarian Csoma de Koros, travelled extensively in Ladakh in the early 19th century before producing his pioneering dictionary and conspectus of Tibetan literature in 1834.2 The Japanese Zen Buddhist monk, Ekai Kawaguchi, underwent extraordinary privation until disguised as a Chinese, he reached Lhasa in 1901 where the depth of his linguistic studies enabled him to enter one of the great monastic universities. He returned to Japan with an outstanding collection of texts.3 Alexandra David-Neel, the French Buddhist explorer, disguised as her lama's mother, succeeded in reaching Lhasa early this century at a time when other explorers were frustrated in their attempts to reach the capital. Her first hand accounts of the psychophysical yogas of meditating monks have fascinated scholars of Tibet ever since. Few have ever had such close contacts with the yogins.4 And we must not forget Sir Francis Younghusband whose idiosyncratic philosophy,

Preface

xi

prefiguring in many ways contemporary spiritual interests, owed much to personal experiences in Tibet.5 Since the 1930s learned travellers in the Himalayas and western Tibet have similarly made major contributions. The German scholar Lama Anagarika Govinda6, Guiseppi Tucci the chief interpreter of Tibetan religion7, and David Snellgrove8 of the London School of Oriental and African Studies have all written travelogues and provided detailed accounts and translations of monastic ceremonies, spiritual texts and ancient hagiographies. In Ladakh the British Buddhist scholar, Marco Pallis, combined accounts of mountaineering with a sympathetic study of local Buddhism .9 The work we present here arises therefore within a tradition where travel writing is balanced by schol arly reporting of religious and social life. We attempt a con temporary understanding of the practices of the hermits still living in the inner Himalayas not through textual enquiry alone but through travel and contact with these men in their remote retreats. Previous scholars have also made known the depth of philosophy and spiritual practice inherent in the Tibetan tradition. Recently the damage done to the planet by Western technology together with an alienation from their own religious traditions has led many educated persons in both East and West to an anguished search for new values and hence a deeper study of Eastern thought. Our work necessarily concerns the relevance to our times of often seemingly remote Tibetan ideas. The question is whether our Western preconceptions blind us to what they have to say. The Present Research My original interest in Ladakh, the Himalayan district of North West India bordering on Tibet, focussed on the social

xii

Preface

anthropology of the Buddhist population. The Ladakhis are a Tibetan people speaking a dialect of Tibetan retaining many ancient linguistic features. We chose a study location in the remote valley of Zangskar, in 1977 still cut off from the modem world and largely unaffected by monetisation of the economy. The valley had an ancient history. Originally a mountain locked kingdom eventually part of the larger independent state of Ladakh, it became part of the British Indian Raj in the last century, thus escaping the fate of Tibet at the hands of the Chinese in 1959. Our research team of 1980 investigated in considerable depth the agriculture, family life, relations between village and local monastery, and the lives and economics of the m o n k s .10 But I was not satisfied by this external examination of a culture strange to me. Stimulated by my own experiences, my personal search for meaning was provoked by the discovery of yogins in the sunlit hills who still practised profound yogas of self-transcendence. It was not enough to study the texts of their meditations in translation, nor to meet Tibetan lamas who were engaged in transmitting the Buddhist Dharma to the West, for they had necessarily to dilute their presentation if it was to be understood at all. I wanted to reach the heart of the matter as I had already tried to do in my training in Zen. The only way was to return to Ladakh several times to meet the yogins on their own ground. I first met James Low in 1985. A Scot from Glasgow with a mighty frame, quick reflexes and great vigour of body and mind, James had gone out to India in the late 1960s before studying social anthropology at Edinburgh University. During frequent return visits he penetrated deeply into Indian culture, not only associating with sadhus but becoming one of them. He also met Tibetan lamas

Preface

xiii

fleeing their homeland in increasing numbers and studied with them. After several years of basic practice he met Chimed Rigdzin Rimpoche, a Nyingma lama, and went to stay with him in Bengal. The lama was a professor at Visva Bharati University, the college created by Rabindranath Tagore at Santiniketan and James was soon engaged in an intensive study of Tibetan texts. For eight years he worked on translations of meditation manuals and philosophic works with his guru who also ensured that he practised the meditations. In the end he found the intensity of the relationship overwhelming and the contrasts in cultural expectations problematic. James left for the mountains and after reflection returned to the West. I had realised that to go deeply into the lives of the yogins I needed either to learn Tibetan or to have with me an interpreter who could enter the profound realms of thought and feeling the yogins knew. Although I spoke a little Tibetan, I did not command the language sufficiently for my purpose because, in conversing with yogins, fluency in both modern and classical Tibetan is essential. James, with his depth of experience and unrivalled grasp of the literature in exactly my field of interest, was obviously the man. Furthermore, on returning to the UK he had studied Western psychology. I was delighted when he agreed to become my colleague and travelling companion. After we had reached Ladakh, I began to realise that my own training, which was in the biological and social sciences, was inappropriate for the task I had set myself. What was needed was not an objective enquiry but an interpretative one based on a close empathic identification with individuals holding a world view very different from that of my education. This realisation came over me slowly as a form of discomfiture, for it is not easy for a trained

xiv

Preface

researcher to face up to the inadequacy of his mental equipment. Models of Mind Apart from looking into the ancient and modern history of the yogins, their practices and their social context, I wanted to understand their views on the nature of the mind, what it was and how it functioned - their so-called 'model of mind. This topic was in fact my prime interest, for I had come to believe that Buddhist psycho-philosophy had much to offer Western thought in some of its weakest areas: the study of consciousness and the understanding of happiness.1 1 The nearer we got to the yogins, however, the more I began to doubt the very premises from which I had started and this was becoming quite unnerving. The terms 'model of mind' and 'theory of mind' come from a recent interest among psychologists in the way in which children form concepts about self and other people. The infant comes only gradually to perceive his or her independent existence as a sentient being in relation to mother and other people. As language develops, this know ledge becomes encapsulated in ideas about what and who this being is. A child may then be said to have a theory or 'model' of its own mind. Such ideas become the root of the child's sense of its own identity. Anthropologists have found this viewpoint valuable in studying the way in which indigenous peoples12 account for their mental functions.13 All such cultures have ideas accounting for their own nature, their behaviour, their relations to nature and the gods. Such folk understandings of "self" play a crucial role in providing a basis for an individual's action within the norms of culture. Particularly intriguing issues arise when young persons

Preface

xv

of one culture become exposed to differing interpretations of self from another culture which, for one reason or another, has come to be influential in their lives. The encounter between traditional Tibetan Buddhism and Western thought is a case where well elaborated systems of thinking about the self are in collision. Furthermore, both cultures have needs for understanding the vision that the other holds: the traditional Buddhist needs to know how to develop attitudes that provide the material basis for living in the modern world, the Westerner needs to counter his own alienation from it. In the West, words like 'mind' and 'self have a lengthy philosophical history: indeed their use within psychological science is still highly dependent on particular philosophical usages. The western 'mind' or 'self is commonly discussed as if it were an entity that can be objectively analysed as a thing upon which experiments can be performed and about which inferences may then be made. It comes as a shock to Western psychologists to realise that in other traditions of thought the word 'mind' may not be translated without considerable difficulty. Not only may 'mind' not be seen as a 'thing' at all but there may be several terms of overlapping meaning. Similar problems arise with 'self and related ideas which, in everyday Western conversation, seem to pose no problem at all. The traditional Western view of minds as agents trans acting business, so called "action theory", has been chal lenged by those who see the mind not as a thing but as a process. The seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan envisaged a totally materialistic universe in which the behaviour of all apparent entities, in cluding selves, could be interpreted as an expression of laws of physics in endless process. Some contemporary social

xvi

Preface

psychologists see individual behaviour as occurring within a communication system that encompasses both self and others rather than as a result of isolated personal inten tions. 14 Such a view is called 'motion theory'. Individuals are seen as having a hallucinatory view of themselves as separate beings, perhaps because language both reifies and separates their concepts of themselves from ideas about others. The process of interconnectedness is not then perceived. Motion theory affirms that both self and other are set within a pervading process of interrelationship from which their separation is im possible15 and some contemporary social research cannot proceed without taking 'motion' rather than 'action' theory as a basis.16 This insight resembles the contemporary viewpoint in physics where an object of observation, an elementary particle, say, cannot be measured without considering the activity of the measurer. The observer has to be treated as part of the universal process being observed. These ideas also recall the ancient Buddhist Law of Interdependent Origination.17 In Buddhist philosophy this view can imply that 'mind' and 'matter' are interchangeable terms originating in contrasting perspectives on the same phenomena.18 If, while thinking of mind as a thing, we were to ask a yogin for his explanation of mind we would risk complete misunderstanding; for the yogins view of 'mind' may not include any notion of entity or agent. To translate any statements he may make into an 'entity' language would be a severe distortion of his view. Unfortunately, Western intellectuals often reveal a kind of ideational imperialism when trying to cope with ideas in cultures strange to them. There are several such examples in recent attempts to compare Buddhist thought with apparent Western equivalents. Jungian thinkers are especially prone to

Preface

xvii

imply that their interpretations of 'mind' have a sort of universal validity and seek to find in statements within other belief systems some confirmation or illustration of their own in sig h ts .19 Such scholarship can easily become an imposition. One Western scholar has attempted to compare Mahayana Buddhist ideas with those of Western thinkers. In his study of the great Japanese Zen philosopher Dogen, Steven Heine shows that none of the viewpoints of Freud, Heidegger, or Sartre were capable of conveying the full depth of Dogen's thought, even though in places they reflect some of his central ideas. He concluded that 'the mul tidimensionality of Dogen's view does suggest a fundamen tally more comprehensive and universalistic outlook than any of the Western thinkers'. To a Buddhist thinker the mind is essentially patholog ical, it gets everything wrong right from the beginning. The mind itself is seen to be no more than an ongoing representation of mental processes during which it mistakenly believes its interpretations to be 'real'.20 Only through careful training can an insight into the nature of the mind be gained and cognitions known to be valid distinguished from those that are as illusory as ideas occurring in dreams.21 Far from having a 'model of mind', the yogins appear to have a 'model of illusion'! How on earth does one study that? The Buddhist philosophy of illusion focusses on process, it is 'motion theory'. In this context the Western concept of 'Mind' as a thing is simply one of the ways in which we attempt to make sense of 'reality': we re-present our experience of being to ourselves as if we were entities. In modern terminology it is an 'attribution'. When, as children, we attribute boundaries to our experience we come

xviii

Preface

to believe that we are entities; we not only give ourselves names but we think that we have a 'mind', a 'self, as if it were a possession. As persons we think of ourselves as things with names. When we actually look into ourselves, we discover we are not so simple. Any term a yogin uses in a conversation about the mind refers to mental processes the boundaries between which are deliberately vague because all terms are interdependent. Terms in the jargon have no fixed validity and can be expressed in numerous overlapping and equally useful ways -- multidimensionally. In Buddhism, this is no mere intellectual assertion. A Buddhist thinker expects his ideas to be tested against the evidence of his experience and not to be accepted unless they pass the test. Yet, because there can be only one subject for a personal experience and because verbal reports from individual subjects are the only material under examination, it is not possible to set up a panel of observers to achieve 'objective' verification. Even so, the concurrence between re ports from separate individuals suggests a validity which in some contexts can be tested against other evidence; as in brain research using electroencephalography for example. There is a 'subjective empiricism' here that scientists can re spect.22 As soon as you look at a Buddhist meditation manual you can see what this means. It begins with a set of simple instructions but quickly the reader will come across terms the meanings of which are far from clear, for example the 'Clear Light of Bliss'. If you start at the beginning and follow with care the detailed instructions in the text other questions arise. How long should I give to each practice? When do I know that a particular state of mind has arisen? When should I move from one instruction to another? In any case

Preface

xix

what good will it do? How can I know that I know? None of these questions can be answered by following the text in the privacy of your own room. Understanding requires that you check your comprehension against that of someone who has trodden the path before and had his experiences acknowledged by his own teacher. The lama is essential for the transmission of the teaching through direct understanding. As you practise, you discover the meaning of the terms in the text by associating them with your own experiences which are validated by your teacher. You gradually come to master the approach yourself through learning the traditional associations between text and experience. The text itself is merely a sort of signpost, much greater richness, variety and mystery are uncovered in the actual exploration. You become a participant in a lineage of understanding which you may be asked to transmit to others in your turn. The teacher is likely to impress upon you that merely knowing the relations between the terms in the text is of no benefit unless the experience itself is known. For Westerners there is also another problem. Sitting at the feet of a master, you may take his attitudes into yourself to such an extent that your own mind is absorbed within the tradition of another culture. Is this then enlightenment or merely reconditioning? A limited number of Westerners have practised assiduously and received initiations. Yet, often, when asked about their new'life, they can only repeat the new terminology and say how splendid their experiences have become. Or else they rely totally on the assumed genius of the teacher - "Bhagvan says so!" Smiling beatifically, they convey nothing. They have simply passed from one culture into another without integrating the teachings successfully and risk a later lapse into confusion.

XX

Preface

The reverse situation arises, for example, when a Ladakhi studies at an Indian university or in the West and comes to scom everything in his native culture. This problem can be avoided by learning what the textual instructions mean in relation to your pre-understanding. You then reconstruct your learning in a language that is not foreign to your friends and colleagues and yet which is sufficiently precise to carry the meaning of the masters. Furthermore, you will then be able to practise the methods of the teacher so that they come to life in your own world. Such a resolution requires an open sensitivity because subtleties of experience in one cultural tradition may be rare within another and adequate words may be difficult to find. This approach goes under the general term Hermeneutics.23 The word originally meant the decoding of secret or ancient documents but it has come to refer to any careful interpretation of the resources of one culture within the terms of reference of another. The role of a hermeneutic scholar is to be an interpreter who, in the task of interpretation, necessarily transposes himself into the world from which the text or practice derives its meaning. The German philosopher Jurgen Habermas has remarked that 'the world of traditional meaning discloses itself to the interpreter only to the extent that his own world becomes clarified at the same time. The subject of understanding establishes communication between both worlds.' 24 I realised I would have to be receptive to the yogins in a non-judgemental way: not so much to become one of them as to understand their way of life in sufficient depth to experience it within the mirror of my own history. In any case, there was no way by which I could gainsay my own past: only through previous understanding could the present become known and felt. W hatever was new would

Preface

xxi

inevitably be moulded by the karma within the mirror. It is within such interaction that comprehension and the words of interpretation arise.25 There can be no other way for this is what 'understanding' means. Yet the promise of Tibetan Buddhism is radical, for in meditation the past can be decontextualised leading to a renewed evaluation of one's life. Only afterwards can such understanding be passed on to another. The American scholar Melvyn Goldstein and his Tibetan colleague Paljor Tsarong have written: "Tibetan monasticism represents one of human history's most ambitious and radical social and psychological experiments precisely because it attempts to achieve the creation and perpetuation of a society in which basic ideals of non-attachment, non desire, material renunciation, and transcendental wisdom are institutionalised. (It) therefore attempts to socialise recruits into an alternative set of norms, values and standards for perceiving and evaluating the world: a cultural template in which desire and wealth are renounced as the source or misery and suffering. But are they successful?"26 Our book attempts to answer this question. A Note to our Readers We begin with an introduction to the practitioners of Tibetan meditational yoga who became the prime focus of our study. We then provide (Part 2) accounts of our journeys to visit them in Ladakh and the discussions we had with them together with (Part 3) an account of our findings in more systematic form including two major new translations from the Tibetan. The text of Tipun's Notebook, which concludes our book, is the pivot for our study because it was offered to John Crook by Khamtag Rimpoche on one of Johns early

xxii

Preface

journeys and intended for translation and use by Westerners. James Low's translation here is the fulfilment of a pledge. In discussing his own practice as a yogin in the mountains, James Low provides a translation of the wonderful story of Machig Labdron, perhaps the most accomplished woman yogin in the history of Tibet. At a time when the role of women in Buddhist monasticism is again under discussion the story is especially valuable. One problem has been to decide on the proper plural of the word 'yogin'. Should it have an s or not? The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives yogin as the Sanskrit form of the Hindi yogi, both words defined as "an Indian devotee practising yoga". In academic literature the Sanskrit form has become the word denoting a practitioner of Buddhist mental yoga, usually Tantric in style, whether Indian or Tibetan. W. Y. Evans Wentz in his "Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines" (Oxford) of 1935 uses yogins as the plural and a further search in three recent academic texts located the same word. In no case did we find yogin used as a plural form. In this book we therefore follow an established convention. In our text we render Ladakhi place names according to pronunciation in the Ladakhi dialect of Tibetan sounding the prefixed syllable. Thus sTong. sDe a village name, is written Stongde as a Ladakhi would say it. Where possible we have anglicised Tibetan names and terms, providing the Tibetan in footnotes. Chapters 15 and 17 were written by James Low and the first person singular here refers to him. In the remainder of the text it refers to John Crook. The epigraphic verses beginning chapters are either short poems originally written by John while travelling in Zangskar or brief quotations from Tibetan sources. For textual convenience we have used

Preface

x x iii

'he' to refer to a meditation practitioner in general. Such a practitioner may of course be female. Acknowledgements This work has only been achieved through the assistance given us by many people both in the West and in India. The friendship, companionship and critical appraisal of the yogins of Ladakh has of course been essential. Without their kind willingness to relate with us on our pilgrimage we would have nothing to say. Much that we learnt was indirect through their presence, manner and infectious energy. They were clearly men of attainment in the Dharma. In particular the trust shown by the late Khamtag Rimpoche in allowing me to photograph Tipun's notebook for translation remains with me as an inspiration. When I returned to Zangskar in 1993 I found, much to my regret, that several of these wonderful old men had died. In that they were the recipients of training untouched by outside influences this study is now unrepeatable. In Ladakh I was greatly aided by the scholarship of Tashi Rabgyas, his warm companionship on several journeys and his participation in much of my research since 1977. I owe to Tashi my introduction to many aspects of Tibetan philosophy and Ladakhi culture as well as the joy of many peripatetic conversations always rich in cross-cultural awareness. Tashi also provided us with an initial translation of Tipun's notebook and other translations which appear in our text. James and I also wish to acknowledge the help, advice and assistance received at various times from Chimed Rigdzin Rimpoche of Visva-Bharati University, Staglung Rimpoche, Stagna Rimpoche, Zhabdrung Rimpoche, Gegen Khyentse of Manali, Tsering Dorje of Lahoul, Dr Ngawang

xxiv

Preface

Tsering and Jamyang Gyaltsen of the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Choglamsar, Ngawang Tsering Shakspo and Gelong Thubstan Palden of the Academy of Arts and Languages, Leh, Puntzog Dawa the Gyalpo of Padum, Amchi Wanchuk of Karsha, Tsewang Choster the Goba of Sani, Tsering Shakya of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University, Professor Harjit Singh of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, Barbara Aziz, Mike Hookham, Henry Osmaston, James Crowden, Stamati Crook, Helena Norberg Hodge, John Page, Tim Malyon and the excellent staff of the Omasila Hotel, Leh. Ian Fenton, by his insistence on the preparation of a manuscript as suited to the general reader as to those of more specialist interests, helped us greatly to produce a more balanced text than would otherwise have been the case. The text of this book- required the preparation of a camera ready copy prior to publication. The word processing programme did not include diacritical marks for use in transliterating Sanskrit words and reluctantly these have been omitted. We trust scholars will excuse this lapse in academic accuracy. Most of the words concerned are however now commonly used in English and their meaning known. We are not intending to set a precedent here for we note other academic studies which have adopted the same course, sometimes made more permissible by providing the defining marks in glossaries or index. Apart from the epigraphs to chapters, brief quotations from other works are used only in the context of scholarly commentary or criticism. We are grateful to Dr Ngawang Tsering for permission to quote several passages from his work Buddhism in Ladakh , Sterling, New Delhi 1979 which appear in our Chapter One; to Mike Hookham for permission to use his summary of Dzogchen teachings

Preface

xxv

which appears on our pages 74-75; to Carol Publishing for permission to quote from Six Yogas o f Naropa by G.C.C.Chang (p29-30) copyright 1963 by the Oriental Studies Foundation and originally published as Teachings o f Tibetan Yoga by University Books, New Hyde Park, New' York.; to Snow Lion Publications for the stories of enlightenment ( pp 285-288 ) edited from Tulku Thondup Rinpoche , 1989. Buddha Mind An anthology o f Longchen Rabjam's writings on Dzogpa Chenpo; to Barbara Aziz for information concerning the life of Tipun Padma Chogyal and to Tashi Rabgyas for numerous short translations that add lustre to our text. The following sources have been approached for permission to use short quotes: University Books and the Oriental Studies Foundation for material from Garma C.C.Chang. 1962. The Hundred Thousand Songs o f Milarepa used as epigraphic material to chapters 4 ,7 and 16 and J.D Willis through Simon and Schuster for short passages from the Sadhana of Guru Padma Sambhava in The Diamond o f the Eastern Dawn 1972 used in our Chapters 3 and 8. For the initial financial assistance to my research in Ladakh I am indebted to the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, New York, Clemens Heller of the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, Paris, andBristol University. The research journeys for the present project were largely financed by the Nuffield Foundation, London. The small grant scheme of this foundation is especially valuable for projects such as this. To all these individuals and institutions we are profoundly grateful. John H Crook, PhD, DSc
REFERENCES 1 Radice. W, 1985. Rabindrinath Tagore. S elected Poems. P e n g u i n . Introduction, p i 7.

xxvi

Preface

^Terjek, J.1984. A lexander Csoma de Koros 1784-1842. A short biography. Akademiai Kaido. Budapest ^Kawaguchi, E. 1979 ( reprint). Three years in Tibet. Ratna Pustak Bhandar. Kathmandu. See also Scott Berry. 1990. A Stranger in Tibet: the adventures o f a Zen monk. Collins. London. ^David-Neel, A. 1956. Magic and Mystery in Tibet. University Books. New York. ^French, P. 1994. Younghusband: The last great imperial adventurer. Harper and Collins. London. ^Govinda. Lama Anagarika 1966. The Way o f the White Clouds. Hutchinson. London. Ibid. 1959. Foundations o f Tibetan Mysticism. Rider, London ^Tueci, G. 1989 (Original 1937) Sadhus et Brigands du Kailash Editions R. Chabaud. Paris. ^Snellgrove D.1957. Buddhist Himalaya: studies and travels in quest o f the origins and nature o f Tibetan religion. Cassirer. London. Also: 1981, H imalayan Pilgrimage: a study o f Tibetan religion by a traveller through Western Nepal. Prajna. Boulder. Also: 1967. Four Lamas o f Dolpo, Tibetan Biographies. Cassirer. London. ^Pallis, M. 1974. (Original 1939) Peaks and Lamas. Woburn Press. London. Also 1991. (Original 1960) The Way and the Mountain. Peter Owen. London. l^Crook. J. H. and H. Osmaston (eds). 1994. Himalayan Buddhist Villages. Motilal Banarsidass. Delhi and Bristol University. Crook, J. H. 1980. (The Evolution o f Human Consciousness. Oxford University Press. Also: Crook J. H. and D. Fontana (eds) 1990 Space in mind: East-West psychology and contemporary Buddhism. Element. Shaftesbury. 12This term refers to peoples of particular local, tribal or restricted cultures who have views of their world uninfluenced by modern ideas or education. O f course there arc very few populations in a purely uninfluenced state today, but ideas from pre-contact history often remain important. A striking example is the Columbian people known as the Kogi who retain highly sophisticated ideas about human destiny from a civilisation almost totally destroyed by the Spanish. See Ereira, A. 1990. The H eart o f the World. Jonathan Cape. London 1 ^Bretherton, I. and M. Beeghly, 1982. Talking about internal states; The acquisition of an explicit theory of mind. D evelopm ental p sych olo gy , 18: 906-921.

Preface

xxvii

Heelas. P. 1981. Indigenous Psychologies. Academic Press. London. l^Birdwhistell, R.L. 1959. Contributions of linguistic-kinesic studies to the understanding of schizophrenia. In: Averbach, A. (ed) S ch izo p h ren ia : an integrated approach. Ronald Press.New York. Watzlawick, P. J. H. Beavan and D. D. Jackson 1967. Pragm atics o f human communication: a study o f interactional patterns, pathologies and paradoxes. Norton. New York. Tajfel, H. 1959. Experiments in a Vacuum. In: Israel, J. and H. Tajfel (Eds) The Context o f Social Psychology. Academic Press. London. l^ B a ile y , W. 1986 C on sciou sn ess and A ctio n /M o tio n theories o f communication. Western Journal o f Speech Communication. 50.1.74-86 ^R ea so n , P. and J. Rowan (Eds) 1981. Human enquiry: a sourcebook o f new paradigm research. Wiley. New York. ^ P ratify a samutpada ^ W h ite h e a d s philosophy and the ideas of the physicist David Bohm both point in this direction. For example: Paul. R.A. The Tibetan sym bolic world: Psychoanalytic explorations. University of Chicago Press. 2 0 lo w . J. 1990. Buddhist developmental psychology. In: Crook J. H. and D. Fontana. (Eds) Space in M ind ; East-W est Psychology and Contem porary Buddhism. Shaftesbury. Element. 21 Lati Rinbochay. 1980. M ind in Tibetan Buddhism. New York. Snow Lion. ^^See, Crook, J. H. 1980 The Evolution o f Human Consciousness. Oxford University Press. 2^F or useful discussions see: Taylor, E. 1988. Contemporary interest in Classical Eastern Psychology, pp 94-96 and Paranjpe A. C. Introduction pp 31-33 both in Paranjpe, A. C, D.Y. F. Ho and R. Riebcr. Asian Contributions to Psychology. New York. Praeger. ^H ab erm as. J. 1971. Knowledge and Human Interests. Boston. Beacon Press, pp 309-310. 25 Sec Peranjpc. A. C. 1988 Introduction. InrPeranjpe A. C, D.Y.F.Ho and R.W. Riebcr. Asian contributions to Psychology. New York. Praeger. p 13. ^ G o ld s te in , M. C and P. Tsarong. 1985. Tibetan Buddhist monasticism: social, psychological and cultural implications. The Tibetan Journal. 10.1:1431

PART ONE

BACKGROUND

CHAPTER ONE

THE LINEAGE OF THE YOGINS


In my heart I turn to the Three Jewels of refuge. May I save suffering creatures and place them in bliss. May the compassionate spirit of love grow within me so that I may complete the enlightening path.1

Origins Yogic practices were already developed in Dravidian India before the coming of the Aryans and were probably used by shamans to produce altered states of consciousness enabling them to perform their tasks as seers and healers. With the emergence of the caste system, yoga became a means of both self-transcendence and of social emancipa tion. It allowed an individual to attain release from the ob structions of the mind and freedom from the constraints of an oppressive society. It still performs these functions within a number of the distinct philosophical rationalisa tions that make up Hinduism. The caste system gradually emerged as the characteristic social structure of the majority of the people of India. Caste expressed the dominance of the Aryan conquerors over the indigenous peoples through creating a hierarchically organised relationship between the people and the noumenal power felt to govern the universe. Sacrificial rites produced specific effects manipulating individual and collective life in such a way that the projected cosmic order and hence the

The Yogins o f Ladakh

social system was maintained. Even the divine basis of the Universe was felt to be kept in place by rituals. The Brahmins were the priestly class responsible for sacrifices and only they knew the appropriate rituals handed down from generation to generation. Their control over ritual held the key to both the stability of society and its moral order. A prime injunction was that each individual should behave according to the rules of the level in society to which he/she had been bom for only this could ensure a beneficial rebirth, possibly in a higher caste. Needless to say such a belief imposed a strict constraint on individual behaviour and expression. A strongly racist theme expressing the Aryan sense of superiority was furthermore maintained by the fact that intermarriage between castes was unthinkable. Even the princely castes were beholden to the Brahmins who alone could perform the Vedic sacrifices correctly. The cause and effect relationship holding the ritualistically bound society together was known as karma and the social placing of individuals at birth was interpreted as the consequences of previous lifetimes' behaviour. There was little concern for the fate of individuals within such a view and personal identity was subordinate to the collective con sciousness of a person's natal caste. This social order was potentially threatened only by ideas outside its revelation. At some point this Vedic world began to be transformed by renouncers who opted out of the entrapping cycle of ritualistic acts to search directly for a personal liberation from the perpetual iteration of social form.Yet - "at the moment when a man separates himself from his group - he does so not to recognise his individuality but in order to abolish it, to free his Atman of any individualised feature and to merge it with Brahman."2 Within caste a person was so identified with social position that any attempt to

Lineage o f Yogins

claim freedom necessitated an abandonment of society and social identity rather than the creation of autonomous personhood within it. The notion of renunciation gained increasing strength and was based particularly in the texts of the Upanisads. The means on the path were yogic and became expressed in contrasting Indian philosophical systems.3 We can see here perhaps the older stratum of pre-caste society re-emerging and claiming a necessarily spiritual freedom because all that was material had become subject to the conquerors will. Even today it is sometimes thought that Upanisadic writings preceded the emergence of Buddhism. This is not so, their appearance over a very long period was largely contemporaneous and doubtless interactive. Within the caste system, the implicit opposition between Brahmins and Ksatriyas (the warrior classes) took the form of tension between the princely rulers, who could not hope for prosperity without the offering of sacrifice, and those empowered to make the offerings, priests ritualistically pure in their sacred lives but dependent upon the Ksatriya princes for their function in the world. But what if a man made his peace with the absolute through his own efforts and without the intervention of priests? This revolutionary conclusion lay at the root of the Buddha's Enlightenment. Availing himself of the powers of a fresh yogic insight,4 he had broken through to the understanding that not only his mind but the whole structure of the Brahminical view was merely a cognitive attribution empty of any objective reality. The Brahmins could only hold power therefore for as long as people believed them. Gautama himself had been a wanderer, a renunciant outside society, yet he was also a prince. Instead of remaining a solitary renouncer, he set about transforming

The Yogins o f Ladakh

society through the creation of an order of monks, the Sangha, and exercising social influence in the courts of kings. The early Sangha was fashioned on the model of the wandering yogic practitioner, casteless yet respected by all castes, earning his role through the radiant sanctity expressed through the power of his yoga. As years rolled by and numbers increased, the temporary encampments, used when travelling was impossible during the rainy season retreats, became.fixtures and the early monasteries were founded, receiving gifts and resources from the communities around them. Yet, even as monasticism grew, many still remained as wanderers, free from the tighter rules of the community, open to forest, sky, gorge and valley and to intercourse with the people. It was from within this lineage of wanderers, increasingly practitioners of a Buddhist yoga now strongly influenced by grass roots tendencies towards devotion to personalised deities, emotional expression and catharsis through chant and dance, that the Tantric yogin emerged upon the scene. While his view remained within the Mahayana rather than the Tantric Hinduism of the villagers, his path followed the same powerful methods, focussed no longer on emancipation through asceticism but on self transformation through deep, indeed exhaustive, participation in the passion of life. Indian practitioners such as these, dancing with their sexual consorts around the fires of the cemeteries in the dark of the night surrounded by the demons of the mind which they had the power to transform into their personal protectors, were the ancestors of the yogins we met in Ladakh.5

Lineage o f Y ogins

The relationship between these wild yogins and the scholarly monks of the orthodox Indian monasteries is beautifully revealed in the story of Naropa (1016-1100 CE).6 This is one of the great epics of Buddhist history. He had been the greatest scholar of his time, a sort of eleventh century Bertrand Russell, abbot of the great monastic university of Nalanda7 in north India near Patna, and a man of piety. One day, as he was reading, the shadow of an old woman fell over his books. She asked him whether he understood the words or the sense of what he was reading. Naropa said he understood the words. At this she danced with joy but became distressed when he added that he knew the meaning. She chided him with straying from the truth in his qualifying remark and suggested that, if he wanted to know the heart essence of the teachings, he should meet her brother, the yogin Tilopa. Naropa felt that his experiential understanding was not yet complete so, against much opposition from within the academy, he gave up his position and set off to find the guru. Tilopa (988-1069 CE) was an architypical yogin: elusive, solitary, mystical, learned, teaching by symbols which he expected Naropa to interpret and explain, and by setting tasks that confronted Naropa's egoism and affronted his sense of what was permissible to a monk. Gradually Naropa became free from his mental predispositions and finally Tilopa gave him his teachings. These included sets of psycho-pbysical yogas designed to alter the state of consciousness to facilitate intuitive understanding of the Dharma. In particular, such yogas enabled a practitioner to gain an insight into the nature of Emptiness (sunyata ) directly as personal experience rather than as merely a philosophical conception. These yogas, later to be known as the Six Yogas of Naropa, together with a full

The Yogins o f Ladakh

comprehension of the tantras, were taught by Naropa in his turn. At the root of the teachings lay Mahamudra, the direct apprehension of the nature of self and reality. Everything else, whether conceptual or experiential, was no more than an aid to or support for this personal comprehension of the truth.8 The tension between monk and yogin is also apparent in the story of how Buddhism came from India to Tibet. King Trisong Deutsan invited the scholar Santarakshita (750-802 CE) to establish the Dharma in the Land of Snows but his teaching could only reach those sophisticated enough to receive it. Worse, he was unable to complete the construction of the monastery of Samye because local demons destroyed whatever was built. The great yogin Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche) was therefore brought in. With his charisma and mental energies he was able to overwhelm the local religion. Taking on the collective mythology of each locality, he overpowered the spirits of mountain, cave and gorge and appointed them protectors of the Dharma under vow. This first transmission of Buddhism to Tibet established the practice and the teaching but, in the years that followed, struggles with the indige nous shamanic religion (Bon) and political strife ended with the collapse of the unified Tibetan state. Some members of the Royal Family took refuge in the west of the country, particularly in Guge south east of pre sent day Ladakh and established a new kingdom. The un derstanding of the Dharma had deteriorated and, in particular, the meaning of the Tantras had become confused. The devout king, Yeshe O, sent missions to India which resulted in the visit of Atisa Dipamkara (982 - 1054 CE) who restored the Dharma to a pure form and who created the celibate order of monks known as the Kadampa,

Lineage o f Y ogins

the first indigenous Tibetan order of Buddhism of disciplined purity.9 Monasteries spread and with them a great wave of translation and scholarship. Yet, not all religious virtuosi felt inclined to be celibate, to abstain from marriage, to eschew alcohol entirely, to hold no money and remain in one place. Tibetans are full blooded people and additional paths soon appeared. Marpa (1012-1096CE) was a married man yet, fired by religious enthusiasm, he made several lengthy journeys to India. In particular, he sought out Naropa who finally imparted to him the teachings for which he searched. Marpa returned to Tibet and taught small groups of followers who came and lived near his home. He was evidently an irascible man and a demanding teacher. One day Milarepa (1040-1123CE) came to join him searching for the Dharma. This young man had had a disturbed life and, using black magic, had committed serious crimes in revenge upon relatives who had wronged him and his mother. Marpa treated him with severity, making him do useless tasks and grinding down his egoism with sarcasm and wit. Several times Milarepa was on the point of quitting and only the kindness of Marpas wife kept the turbulent household together. Eventually Marpa recognised the genius of Milarepa's religious vocation and gave him the full teachings. Milarepa then went off to live for long periods in remote caves feeding on nettles and surviving severe winters through the power of his yoga. Whenever asked, he would teach by singing spontaneous songs which remain among the most loved works in Tibetan literature. Gampopa, a monk in the Kadampa tradition, fell under the influence of Milarepa and lived with him. Indeed Milarepa alone would probably not have developed the

10

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Dharrna in Tibet institutionally. Highly disciplined and scholarly, Gampopa formed a monastery, the first in the new Kargyu tradition, and wrote a synthesis of the Kadampa teachings with those of the yogic tradition. This became the Kargyu textbook .10 W ithout this history of zealous translation and transmission these teachings might now be lost to the world. India, the homeland of Buddhism, was soon to experience the Muslim holocaust that swept through northern India destroying much of the previous culture. Only in Bengal did Buddhism survive for some centuries though, without the support of kings, it became steadily infused with Hindu traditions and sentiment. In Ladakh, the Nyingmapa, the unreformed 'old ones, who retain the earliest form of the Tibetan tantric yogas, are represented by the influential dzogchen master Staglung Rimpoche of Trag thog gompa, while the lineage of teachers in the Kargyupa order descended from Marpa occupies a more pivotal position in the history of Ladakhi Buddhism. These are the partially reformed schools found in Ladakh today as the "red hats" of Hemis, Lamayuru and Stagna gompas. They still provide teachers to the Royal Family and control innumerable small temples around the country as well as a critical number of important monasteries. The later reformed school of Tsongkhapa, the Gelugpa, has its yogins too but they are few in number and usually take training from red hat yogins at some stage. The influence of the Gelugpa lies predominantly in teaching of philosophy and ethics of a high order, the maintenance of Buddhist scholarship and in their often high political profile.1 1 Within Buddhism, scholars make a distinction between a tradition of salvation through merit and a Nirvanic tradition.

Lineage o f Yogins

11

In the former, salvation is achieved after countless rebirths as a result of the accumulation of merit deriving from good actions. Such merit dissolves bad karma and ensures you are not reborn as an animal, a hungry ghost, a titan or a God subject to rebirth in lower realms. Only as a human being can one gain release through making the choices and behaving in ways that define the quest for enlightenment. That is why human life is considered so precious a possession. In Ladakh most lay Buddhists and monks are on the path of earning merit. They do not show the temerity of supposing they can become enlightened in a present lifetime. Only gradual movement towards that end is possible. Yet, if one chooses to become a monk, forswearing the life of a householder, then a vaster possibility comes into view. The path of salvation - the path of the Sutras,- as it is called, is the mainstream view of the Mahayana. Gradually the mind is cleared of bad karma, gradually one realises that the only way to escape the endless round of worldly rebirth with its impermanence and suffering is to generate the wish for enlightenment, a wish that must place the benefit of others above that for oneself. If such a motivation can be truly realised, then the conquest of self and liberation are in sight. Yet it is also recognised that the Buddha and the Arhats achieved liberation from the sufferings of worldly life within one lifetime. This then is at least theoretically possible. There are some monks and lay persons who believe this Nirvanic possibility to be realisable. It requires the practice of Tantra of the highest order in which the passions of daily life are transmuted to allow the realisation of a contrasting dimension of mind, the Buddha mind. It is these methods that are the basis for the yogins endeavour.

12

The Yogins o f Ladakh

The Kargyu tradition The song that Tilopa sang to Naropa when the latter at last attained to truth reveals the unflinching dedication of the yogin which, in his turn, Naropa passed to his descendants.12 Whoever clings to mind sees not the truth that lies beyond the mind. Whoever strives to practise Dharma finds not the truth beyond the practice,. To discover what lies beyond both mind and practice cut clearly through the root of mind. Stare naked so: break away from all distinctions and remain at ease. Neither give nor take but remain natural. Mahamudra is beyond all acceptance or rejection. The basis is not bom and no one can obstruct or soil it. If you stay unborn all appearances dissolve into that which is. Self will and pride then vanish into nought. Supreme understanding transcends all this and that. Supreme action embraces unattached great resourcefulness. Supreme accomplishment is to realise immanence without hope. At first the yogin feels his mind tumbling like a waterfall. In mid-course he is like the Ganges flowing slow. In the end there is a vast ocean wherein the lights of son and mother merge as one. (copyright 1963.see p.xxv)

Lineage o f Yogins

13

These verses define the basis of Mahamudra, the great symbol of the mind that is being sought, and the name for a whole method of practice. Gampopa, the first philosopher of the Kargyu, was more of a monk than a wandering yogin. His disciples founded no fewer than six important schools all based in the same teachings and varying only in the traditions of particular teachers and their tutelary divinities. Of these six, two sub branches, the Drugpa Kargyu and the Digungpa Kargyud are alive and well in Ladakh. One of the great disciples of Gampopa was Phagmodru (1110-1170 CE). When a future disciple of his, Lingrepa (bom 1129), first heard of him: "By the mere hearing of the name of Phagmodru my hair stood on end. I yearned for an audience with him and behold - the 'Lord of all Sentient Beings'! He was the Buddha himself; even the trees near him assumed an aura of sanctity. It was then that all my wrong views ceased and I awakened to absolute truth. I realised the unreality of all manifestations and my apparent defilements were all washed away. The world of phenomena became crystal clear and, with the opening of the Wisdom Eye, I grasped the teachings of the Buddhas."13 Such a passage reveals the great importance of the lama in the heart to heart transmission of the doctrine. Lingrepa at first told his teacher of his vow to spend seven years, months and days in retreat but after six days he had so clear a realisation of truth that to continue seemed pointless. When Phagmodru tackled him about this, Lingrepa said: "According to your instructions I have meditated on the meaning of ultimate reality and have now become one with truth. There is nothing more to be contemplated upon in retreat." Phagmodru was pleased and Lingrepa became a

14

The Yogins o f Ladakh

great teacher in his turn, originating his own school within the tradition. Lingrepa's chief disciple, Tsangpa Gy are, was responsi ble for the rapid expansion of the new sect. He founded a monastery named after a dragon seen thundering in the sky and by which the sect became known - the Drugpa.14 Tsangpa Gyare was a great organiser who allowed many cells for hermits to grow up around the gompa. Tradition says fifty thousand hermits gathered at the Dragon Monastery. He was alsq a great traveller spreading the Dharma and the practices of his sect far and wide. Gotsangpa15 was a follower of Tsangpa Gyare and, like his teacher, a formidable traveller meditating in caves all over western Tibet and establishing gompas on or near the sites of his retreats. In Ladakh, such caves are found at Gotsang Gompa above Hemis, at Igu near Sakti and at Mattro Gompa. In Lahoul, there is a cave near Khordong Gompa and another near the top of Mount Dril-bu-ri. Gotsangpa is a nick-name meaning vulture's or eagle's nest, derived from his first hermitage which was on a mountain where these great birds nested. After this great burst of activity in the twelfth century there was a period of calm expansion. In the sixteenth century a great scholar emerged. Padma Karpo (1526-1592 CE), said to be twenty fourth in the direct succession from Marpa and a reincarnation of Tsangpa Gyare, was a man of great erudition, a polymath who did much to raise the quality of teaching in his sect. He provided written renderings of yogic theory and practice which are the standard compilations still used today at Gotsang Gompa in Ladakh and at the training centre in Manali. At the request of a King of Padum, Padma Karpo wrote down two very important yogic works. The king was evidently a Gelugpa

Lineage o f Yogins

15

monk in Zangskar who, in the course of a pilgrimage, visited the Dragon Monastery. There both he and his queen became converted to the Drugpa. After several meetings the king said to Padma Karpo: "Because I have been a heroic and courageous man during my time in the ways of the world I have committed many sins." Padma Karpo commented in his autobiography: "On account of his great repentance he was able to avoid retreating from the religious path." The king was allowed to take refuge and he then asked the great scholar to prepare works for the benefit of all. He died probably from dropsy in his 37th year without being able to take teachings back to Zangskar.16 This may explain why it was that his Queen established the first Drugpa gompa in Zangskar dispossessing Phugtal Gompa of some of its land to do so. This was probably at Tharla above the great rock at Bardan some time before 1570. By 1577, the Drugpa had also gained ascendancy in the Indus valley and were influential at the Ladakhi court. King Jamyang Namgyal had invited a scholar saint from Bhutan17 to come as his teacher in Ladakh. He built the lama a new monastery on a hill said to resemble a jumping tiger. The building was known as the tigers nose, Stagna, which remains its name today. In the reign of Jamyang Namgyal's son, Sengye Namgyal, another great teacher, Stagtshang Repa,18 came to Ladakh as the king's lama and he too had several royal monasteries founded, including the largest of all, Hemis. The Kargyupa were thus in a powerful position especially since another lam a19 had founded or taken over both Lamayuru and Phyang as Digungpa Kargyu establishments. Even so problems were on the way when, in the early 17th century, a major dispute broke out among the Drugpa regarding the finding and naming of the reincarnation of

16

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Padma Karpo, himself the incarnation of the founder of the school. The princely family of Ralung, near the Dragon Monastery, chose Ngawang Namgyal who, in 1616, had been installed as abbot. A second group favoured a son of the house of Phyag.Gyas called dPag.bSam.dBang.po. Ngawang Namgyal had to flee to Bhutan where he led the southern school, the Lho. 'Brug, while, in Tibet, the follow ers of the other claimant became the northern school, Chang. 'Brug. Stagtshang Repa belonged to the northern branch and this school based in Hemis thus became pre eminent in Ladakh. Nevertheless, the king affirmed the Lho. 'Brug inheritance of Stagna gompa in Zangskar so that both branches continue to thrive together in Ladakh today. The latter part of the seventeenth century was dominated by a war between Tibet and Ladakh following an unwise decision by King Deleg Namgyal to support Bhutan in a dispute with Tibet. A three year siege by the Tibetans of the fortress at Basgo was lifted only when Ladakh asked the Nawab of Kashmir for aid. The economic disaster, loss of territory and revenue caused by these wars was a setback from which Ladakh never recovered. In the eighteenth century disorder continued under effete and badly advised rulers. An army from Nyungti (Kulu, just south of Manali) ransacked both Spiti and Zangskar even taking away domestic animals. In 1808 this army sacked Bardan gompa and took away the golden ornament from its roof, still to be seen above the old palace at Kulu. In spite of these troubles, the eighteenth century was to witness an extraordinary religious revival in Zangskar. A great yogin was to arise, a mahasiddha , whose star was to shine for many years.20

Lineage o f Yogins

17

The Yogins of Dzongkul The Drubchen Ngawang Tsering (1717-1794) was bom to a poor family in the village of Ating near the little gompa of Dzongkul in Zangskar. He at once showed a desire to become a monk and yogin and his father carefully trained the boy until he could enter the monastery at Bardan. At nineteen, the young monk, together with a company of his fellows, moved to Hemis to take higher ordination. Tired of monastic ritual and scholarly training, Ngawang Tsering sought to become trained in the yogas of Naropa who, according to tradition, had resided at one time at Dzongkul near his home. The head of the Drugpa order at that time was Lama Rangrig. Even though he lived far away in Tibet, the young man revered him as his teacher and dreamed of him as if he were present. When the lama visited Zangskar, he was able to resolve Ngawang Tsering's remaining doubts. Inspired by his teacher he began to meditate seriously. Disturbed conditions in the Himalayas prevented him from travelling on pilgrimage but his lama told him not to be regretful for the real journey was only in the heart. Ngawang Tsering undertook arduous retreats. At one time, finding his efforts slackening, he wrote a song: O you absent minded recluse -listen! Your outer appearance is that of a siddha yet you remain entangled in the fetters of doubt. All these solitary meditations are to no avail when under extreme circumstance they are put to the test. To meditate without insight proves fruitless in the time of need. You certainly have to repent.

18

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Yet eventually he achieved his goal: In his hermitage lives the yogin who has left behind all worldly affairs. In his vision of truth, serene and at peace, solitude has become his best companion. Whatever demoniacal apparitions are conjured up he fears them not. To be since long accustomed to live in retreat this is the heroic nature of the yogin. Ngawang Tsering became a great traveller mostly to places in the Western Himalayas. He liked to stay in cemeteries seeking to intensify his sense of renunciation and justified staying in retreats in the mountain fastnesses as being the highest kind of service. Most of his songs and preachings appear to have been written down at Dzongkul and other remote sites. He describes the great solitary yogins of the past as follows: "Nurtured as sons of mountain solitude they dressed in clouds and mist and wore as hats deserted caves. Totally unconcerned with the world's ways and mundane happiness they contemplated impermanence to create a sense of urgency and thus to make the best use of their life time. Meditation on the omnipresence of death served as a pillow and they wrapped themselves up in the cloth of mindfulness of karma. The mats which they spread were their awareness of the disadvantages of samsara which they likened to a whirlpool or a tapering flame. I sing my songs to induce kings to rule with the ten virtues, for the sake of the lowly so that each according to his capacity may rejoice in the Dharma, for the sake of the

Lineage o f Yogins

19

teachers pointing them to the tantras, sutras and teachings, for the sake of earnest meditators that they may realise equanimity and insight, for the sake of the yogins with clear perception that they may be endowed with supreme vision, action and fruition for the youngsters that they may overcome mental defilement, -- for young men and women unmindful of the Dharma frittering away their time in sensuality -- for the aged on the threshold of death, for children who will find the dreams and jugglery to their liking.--" 21 Ngawang Tsering was often critical of those monks who merely recited pujas in villages in the "routine parrotry" of rain making, curing diseases and other thaumaturgical activities. He felt pity for those who failed to appreciate the true taste of the Dharma: the nature of a man who has realised Mahamudra is cool, tranquil and serene. Whatever he does, walking, sitting, standing or lying, he always acts in accordance with the Dharma -- leading a life of humility, cultivating total awareness and ever aspiring to - final release. He stays in the wilderness of rock and snow, in the seclusion of forests or cemeteries eradicating his ego-clinging once and for all. Wishlessness has arisen in his heart, no vestige of attachment can be traced. Entanglements are cut off, illusions gone by themselves, worldly Dharmas becoming meaningless. He is more concerned with the welfare of others than with his own and is thus able to exchange his own happiness for the suffering of others. As the unity of Samsara and Nirvana reveals itself to him, he fully realises that all phenomena are nothing but the manifestations of his own mind." And again:

20

The Yogins o f Ladakh

"Mind itself, luminous and void, is the realm of the absolute. Compassion as means and wisdom are intrinsically one. The yogi, continually abiding at this level of reality, has accomplished the essence of meditation. Unperturbed and persevering he experiences without interruption the Clear Light in the oneness of Emptiness and Compassion. He has made his samadhi becom e omnipresent." In these yogic songs there is a passionate certainty and commitment that reveals the presence of a truly great mind however hidden it ma have been in the fastnesses of the mountains. Well aware of his personal attainment and expressing it with such undisguising fluency, it is not surprising that others soon became his intimate disciples. Ngawang Tsering had children and the abbotship of Dzongkul passed to his son, Zhapa Dorje,22w h o maintained his father's scholarship and was also a great painter whose works survive at many gompas in Ladakh. He was also a noted astrologer. His son, Lama Kunga Choleg23 became abbot in his turn; he carried out further construction of the monastery and developed other sites. Kunga Choleg travelled widely in Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal and came to Dzongkul only on the death of his father. His teachings were influenced by a Drugpa teacher from Kham, Lama Karmapa, who resided at Dzongkul and gave him instruction. Kunga was also a fine musician who would sing his own songs. He is said to have returned in several reincarnations in Ladakh, one of them being the contemporary Stagna Rimpoche.24 It was during the life of this lama that Csoma de Kdrbs, the first European scholar of Tibetan, came to Zangskar to study with another fine monk of that generation, Lama Sangye Phuntsog25 who, being related to the royal house of

Lineage o f Yogins

21

Zangla and the Chief Minister to the King of Padum, 26 had many connections throughout Ladakh and in Tibet. Csoma arrived in Zangla in June 1823 having walked there from Leh, crossing several passes in nine days to do so. Sangye Phuntsog was also an astrologer and an amchi (traditional physician), having a wide knowledge of his culture (see further Chapter 11). Because Sangye was a disciple of Lama Kunga Choleg it was inevitable that Csoma would eventually visit the gompa and ask the latter numerous questions. The written replies to the "Questions of Iskander" are possibly still at the gompa (see Chapter 9 ). Lama Kunga Choleg went on a long pilgrimage to India and when he returned he found that disaster had struck his family: a smallpox epidemic had ravaged Zangskar and killed both his sons. He placed their remains in a chorten (reliquary) at Stongde. and is then said to have returned to India.27 The lineage of transmission at Dzongkul thus came to a close. When Thomson (1852), a botanist and the first English writer to describe the place, came north over the Umasi la to Zanskar in 1848 he reached Dzongkul on June 23rd and recorded only one monk present in the tiny isolated monasteiy.28 There was a tiny patch of cultivation beside the stream below it, as indeed there is today. Shakyashri and his lineage in Western Tibet Towards the end of the nineteenth century a syncretic movement arose in eastern Tibet (Kham) led by Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798), Patrul ( 1808-?) and other remarkable scholars. A renaissance of Kargyu and Nyingmapa scholarship drawing particularly on the rich spirituality of the yogins produced a merging of themes into a non sectarian viewpoint known as Ri-me (Ris.Med) meaning impartial. The force behind this development was the need

22

The Yogins o f Ladakh

both to collect and preserve numerous disparate teachings and practices and to synthesize a system of doctrine to compete with the powerful and highly formalised viewpoint of the Gelugpa. In my view, it seems likely that rumours of the Ri-me masters reached India to stimulate th visions of Madame Blavatsky and her imaginary meetings with teachers from beyond the Himalayas, thus indirectly bringing about the birth of theosophy and the emergence of Krishnamurti as an independent thinker whose viewpoint is in many ways a radical Buddhism. The great collection of material was brought together by Jamyang Khentse Wangpo (1820-1892) and another scholar Jamgon Kongtrul (1813-1899) whose philosophical writings have become the basis for modern Kargyu scholarship.29 An important disciple of these teachers was Shakyashri from Kham who was to take a great interest in the revival of Buddhism in the Himalayas. Although the Ri-me movement developed primarily among eastern Tibetan scholars, it was a Ladakhi monk who became the main transmitter of this viewpoint from Shakyashri to the contemporary generation of practitioners. Ngawang Padma Chogyal was bom in 1877 at Chemre in the "house of the black rock", where today there is a small chorten commemorating him. At an early age he entered Tragthog Gompa 30 completing his preliminary studies by the age of fifteen and beginning training in monastic affairs. Bored by administration, Padma Chogyal returned to his home and announced that he and a friend were intending to go travelling in Tibet. The two of them journeyed to the holy place of Tsari where there was a Ladakhi lama for whom Padma Chogyal worked for some time as a servant. In Tsari lived a high authority of the Drugpa, the Drugpa Kyabgon who, not

Lineage o f Y ogins

23

being qualified to teach, wanted to invite to Tsari one of the great masters of the period, Shakyashri, then living in Kham and well trained in the new movement. A story about Shakyashri states that when some Gelugpa geshes (scholars) came to test out his powers they found him in a room surrounded by lamps. Not only could they see some of the lamps through his body but they later found out that he had no shadow!31 When Padma Chogyal's own lama died, he too was in need of a teacher so he undertook the hazardous journey to Kham. There were minor wars in the area at the time but the determined traveller succeeded in locating Shakyashri and persuading him to return to Tsari. Soon Shakyashri had so many disciples that he could no longer effectively teach them all and he appointed assistants to help him. Among these Padma Chogyal soon became pre-eminent as a teacher and was given the title of Tipun32 which means "Chief of Questions". The title remained with him for the rest of his life and he was soon the supreme authority on the teachings of his master. When Shakyashri died the demands on Tipun, as he was now known, grew excessive and he decided to go into retreat. He moved to Tsibri in Dingri in eastern Tibet where he lived alone in a cave for three years surviving on meagre rations and without an attendant. On completing the retreat he moved to a location associated with Milarepa called La.Phyi where he practised meditation for several years. Many pressed him to teach them and once again he sought solitude in mountain caves. Dingri was already associated with the ascetic practices of outstanding yogins. In particular the Indian known as P h a d a m p a 33 lived here in the eleventh century contemporaineously with the great Milarepa. He had

24

The Yogins o f Ladakh

brought to Tibet the Zhi.Byed system of meditation which he taught to a woman follower who became the great Yogini Machig Labdron.34 Phadampa and Machig jointly created the famous Chod practice wherein the yogin dances in a cemetery or wild place and donates his body to the spirits and other denizens of place to learn the nature of mental emptiness (See Chapter 15). Not surprisingly Tipun made use of their methods in his own meditations and also those of Yangongpa,35 a great Kargyu ascetic, who had lived in Dingri in the eleventh to twelfth centuries.36 Certain relics of Phadampa wdre rescued from Dingri after the Chinese invasion and are now kept secretly presumably in India or Nepal.37 Eventually Tipun agreed to give teachings but only to those resolute and determined enough to pursue a steadfast life. He built a number of small communities each composed of huts for solitary meditation. These communities were each occupied by eight to ten monks. One community for women held twenty one nuns while two others held eight and thirteen respectively. In all, over a hundred men and women trained in higher yogas with Tipun. In addition he had a great many lay disciples. Soon reincarnating lamas found their way to him and even the new incarnation of his original sponsor, the Drugpa Kyabgon, studied with him. Tipun Padma Chogyal assembled a great library on Tsibri mountain mainly concerned with the practice of meditation and comprising more than 10,000 carved blocks for printing. The manuscripts for carving onto printing blocks came from Ladakh, Sikkim and Bhutan as well as from Tibet.38 In addition he constructed and developed a number of small monasteries and meditation places around Tsibri mountain. Tipun died at the age of eighty-one in

Lineage o f Yogins

25

Tsibri. On the day of his death the sky was said to be absolutely clear until there was a great shower of flowers none of which reached the ground. A few days later there was an earthquake and many people felt great faith.39 At one time Shakyashri had become concerned for the state of Naropa's cave at Dzongkul after intruding vandals from the south had ravaged the area and he was anxious to recruit monks from Lahoul and Zangskar. He sent one of his disciples, Lama Karpo, to Khardong near Kyelong in Lahoul, where he met the monk Norbu and his friend Kunga, a villager, and invited them to travel back with him for training in Kham. Norbu made this arduous journey from Lahoul via India and Bhutan several times. Later he returned to Khardong to renovate and rebuild it, by 1912 creating there a major training centre. He then extended this work to Dzongkul. Today the main buildings in both places are a result of his efforts. Lama Norbu was a short man who used to wear his hair in a large pigtail tied around his head in the yogin style. When undone it was so long that it reached down to his feet. Like his Dzongkul predecessors, Norbu was a great traveller spending time especially in Padar and Punghey, remote districts immediately to the south of the main Himalayan range from Zangskar. In Punghey he lived in a cave near the small temple. Indeed he always preferred caves and finally died in the Naropa cave at Dzongkul40. The present healthy condition of the Drugpa establishments throughout Zangskar and Lahoul owes much to his piety, work and influence. Shakyashri had several children. His youngest son was Apho Ngawang who died as a monk at the age of twenty five to reincarnate as the son of one of his brothers. This boy was to grow into a disciple of Tipun and eventually

26

The Yogins o f Ladakh

became an important yogic transmitter himself. As Awo Rimpoche he was the prime teacher of nearly all the leading yogins we met. Tipun asked Awo Rimpoche to marry but he was at first reluctant to do so. However, after he had had a number of auspicious dreams, he changed his mind and did as his guru wished. Then, when Tipun passed away, his incarnation was born as Awo Rimpoche's son.41 Today, the administration of the Drugpa gompas in Zangskar rests with the Stagna Rimpoche but the training of yogins from these monasteries and from Hemis is entrusted to Gegen Khyentse at Manali. This little gompa and the revitalised centre at Khardong are thus the headquarters of advanced yogin training of this tradition in our time.

REFERENCES 1Verse from a Six Session Yoga prayer. ^Biardieu, M. 1989. Hinduism: The anthropology o f a civilisation. Oxford University Press. Delhi, p 24. Understanding o f the earliest history, origins o f society and religious practice in India remains insecure. A number o f conflicting viewpoints are offered by scholars. In these paragraphs I take Biardieu and the follow ing works as especially helpful: Collins, S. 1982. Selfless Persons. Cambridge University Press: Snellgrove, D.1959. The Hevajra Tantra. London. Dutt, S. 1988 Buddhist Monks and Monasteries o f India. Motilal Banarsidass. Delhi: Ling, T. The Buddha. Penguin. In this essay I have endeavoured to produce an integrated view leading to a more specific treatment o f the Buddhist yogins. ^For example the contrasting usage and explication o f yoga in the Samkhya and Vedantic philosophical system s. See Peranjpe. A. 1984, Theoretical psychology; the meeting o f East and West. N e w York. Plenum, who gives a detailed account o f the main psycho philosophies o f classical India. 4 The meditational originality o f the Buddha lay in his rejection o f traditional yog ic metaphysics through the application o f a new

Lineage o f Yogins

27

method o f yogic self examination, vipassana. Rather than a quest for an absolute condition o f entranced quietude, the flux o f experience (pratityasam utpada ) was itself perceived as the basis o f mental life. This is often described as the Law o f Interdependent Origination. ^D. Snellgrove. Ref, note 2 above. ^Guenther, H. V. 1963 The Life and Teaching o f Naropa. Oxford University Press. ^The fascinating archaeological site gives a good impression o f this ancient Oxbridge ^Guenther. H. V. 1963. The Life and Teaching o f Naropa. O xford University Press. ^C hattopadhyaya. A. 1967. Atisa and Tibet. D elh i. M otilal Banarsidass. 1 0 Guenther, H. V. 1959. gG ampopa: The Jew el Ornament o f Liberation. London. Rider ^ T h e r e is an extensive modern literature on the Gelugpa teachings; see for example: Dharghey N. 1974. The Tibetan Tradition o f Mental Development. Library o f Tibetan Works and A rchives. Dharamsala: Wallace. B. A. 1980. The life and teaching o f Geshe R a b te n . Allen and Unwin: Hopkins J. 1983. M editation on Emptiness. Wisdom. London: Pabongka Rimpoche 1991. Liberation in the Palm o f your Hand, Wisdom. London, and the many books o f Geshe Kelsang Gyatso etc. 12 Edited text from G.C.C.Chang. 1963. Six Yogas o f Naropa and teachings on Mahamudra. Snow Lion. Ithaca, pp 29-30 ^ E d ite d text from Nawang Tsering. 1979. Buddhism i# Ladakh. A study o f the life and works of the eighteenth century Laaakhi saint scholar. Sterling. New Delhi.
l^ g T z a n g .P a . .rGya. Ras. 1161-1211

15mGon. Bo. dPal.. rDo. rJe. 1189-1258 l ^ S c h u h , D. 1983. Zu den Hintergrund der Parteinahme Ladakh's fur Bhutan im Kreig gegen Lhasa. In: Kantowsky, D. and R. Sander. Recent research on Ladakh. S ch rifte n r eih e In tern a tio n a les Asienforum. Band 1. Weltforum Verlag. Mnchen. See further Crook, J. H. 1994. The History o f Zangskar. In: Crook J. H. and H.

28

The Yogins o f Ladakh

O sm a sto n . ed s. H im a la y a n B u d d h ist Banarsidass,Dellhi and Bristol University.

V illa g e s.

M o tila l

^ C o m p a r e T. Paldan 1882. A b rie f guide to the Buddhist Monasteries and Royal Castles o f Ladakh. Golden Printers. N ew Delhi with N.T. Shakspo 1988. A history o f Buddhism in Ladakh. Ladakh Buddha Vihara. Delhi. ^sTag.T san g. Ras. Pa l^Chos. rJe. gDan. Ma. Kun. dGa. 'Grags. Pa ^ F u r th er discussion in Crook, J.H. 1993. The History o f Zangskar. In: Crook, J.H. and H. Osmaston (eds) Himalayan Buddhist Villages. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi and Bristol University. 21 Passages edited from Ngawang Tsering 1979. Buddhism in Ladakh. Sterling N ew Delhi. 2^bZad. Pa. rDo. rJe ^ K u n . dGa. Chos. Legs. ^Inform an t Amchi Wanchuk o f Karsh. ^ S a n g s . rGyas. Phun. Tsogs ^ Inform ant: Amchi Wanchuk o f Karsha who tells me he is related to the lamas family. See Chapter 11 ^Informant: Amchi Wanchuk o f Karsha.
^T hom son,

T. 1978 (original 1852). Western Himalayas and Tibet. Cosmo. N ew Delhi.

29 Another great contributer to the movement was Mipham Gyatso (1846-1917). See discussions in Hookham, S. K. 1991. The Buddha within. State University o f N ew York. 3 0 Babara Aziz's notes show Tegchog Gonpa ( Theg. mChog ) as
Padma Chosgyal's first monastery. However there is no such named Gompa in the Sakti valley. Trak-thog ( Brag, thog ), the Nyingma gompa close to his home, is the most likely place. The only other gompa nearby is Chemre ( ICe. bDe) with which name confusion seem s unlikely to have arisen. 31 Henry Osmaston has remarked to me drily that if you are surrounded by lamps indeed you probably cast no perceptible shadow! 3 2 Khrid. Pon.

Lineage o f Yogins

29

3 3 Pha. Dam. Pa. Sangs. rGyas. ^Ma. Chig. Lab. Kyi. sGron. Ma. 3 3Yang.dGongs. Pa 3^Aziz. B. 1978. Tibetan Frontier Families. Vikas. Delhi. 37 Aziz, B. 1980 The work o f Pha. dam. pa sangs. rgyas as revealed in Ding.ri folklore. In: Aris.M and Aung San Suu Kyi ( eds) Tibetan studies in honour o f Hugh Richardson . Aris and Philips.Warminster. to A ziz (1978), Gene Smith is undertaking a study o f known sources concerning this library. 3 9 This account o f the life o f Tipun Padma C hogyal I o w e to Barbara A ziz who found the details for me among field notes made for her book Tibetan Frontier Families ( 1978 ). She had collected this information in interviews with the former Kogno Shega Lingba o f Dingri, Japyang Tempa. He had spent his early life in Lhasa returning home to Dingri when he was 27. His parents were lay devotees o f Tipun and he received teachings from him working as his secretary while remaining married and living with his family. He was 37 when his teacher died. Three years later he had to flee with other refugees from Dingri because o f Chinese invasion and came to Nepal. He became a monk in a meditation centre (Churung Kharka) in Solu founded by one o f Tipuns disciples and later m oved to Kathmandu to serve another teacher in the same tradition.
^ A c c o rd in g

^Informant: Tsering Dorje o f Lahoul, an uncle o f the then Queen o f Ladakh who told us he was related to Lama Norbu. A number o f noted teachers received instruction from Tipun. Thuksey Rimpoche becam e the acting abbot o f H em is, Stagna Rimpoche governs the Lo-Drug monasteries o f Ladakh and Lahoul, Gegen Khyentse is the foremost teacher o f Mahamudra and the Yogas o f Naropa and the teacher o f Ser R im poche, the present incarnation o f Tipun. A w o Rim poche was a fellow student with Khyentse who established the monastery at Manali as a training centre and also taught for a time at Hemis after leaving Tibet. Khamtag R im poche, the wanderer, was based at H em is, re established the little gompa at Urgyen D zon g and allowed Tashi Rabgyas and I to photocopy the meditation notebook o f Tipun. Sentra R im poche teaches at the Parkhang G om pa near the

30

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Nepalese border with Tibet south o f Ding.ri. There was also Nedun Puntsog w ho taught Stagtsang Rimpoche and Kenpo Nornang o f Darjeeling on whom we have no information but whose photo in company with the Dalai Lama and Thuksey Rimpoche is extant at Khaspang. Finally there is Drubten who lives with Gegen Khyentse at Manali. Only Gegen Khyentse, Drubten, Stagna Rimpoche and Sentra remain alive at the time o f writing (1992).

PART TWO

TRAVELOGUE

CHAPTER TWO

MAINTAINING THE REVOLUTIONS OF THE UNIVERSE


In the wilderness suddenly - butterflies and among the barren rocks flowers, willow herb and daisies and, yes, water, making this dry waste green. So it is sometimes in the mind when unannounced tranquillity sets in and a curious beauty blooms

First acquaintances One evening in July 1980 the Precious Jewel of Stagna monastery, the Stagna Rimpoche, was taking tea with his attendants on the balcony of Sani Gompa deep in the mountains of the western Himalayas. Suddenly, from the direction of the road, which terminated in the village, there came the raucous sound of an approaching lorry. It grew louder until a large vehicle filled with dirt smothered Europeans plunged into the monastery's courtyard filling the air with noise and dust. The "Bristol University Expedition to Zangskar" had arrived. Shamefaced, I clambered down to apologise. The Sikh driver had simply ignored my instructions to park outside the building. I found the Rimpoche gazing benignly upon me

34

The Yogins o f Ladakh

with a whimsically puzzled expression. "No it is no matter. Please set up your tents. Beware of the afternoon winds; they are very strong. Please come and have tea with me later." I felt our first indiscretion had been accepted with a well mannered if mildly inscrutable good will. The following evening, dressed in our best, we all gathered in the Rimpoche's apartment for tea. He was in residence at Sani Gompa, one of his subsidiary institutions, to supervise its redecoration. His Holiness the Dalai Lama would be visiting Zangskar later in the summer and almost everything needed renewing. The walls full of bee holes were being replastered, the paintings cleaned, the cloths and covers remodelled. In front of him was an ancient sewing machine which was whirring away busily as we came in. The brocades were his self appointed task and he was making some splendid hangings. The Rimpoche took a polite interest in our plans and activities. There were eight highly qualified scientists in my party together with interpreters and helpers. Working in collaboration with Indian colleagues from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, we wanted to study the life of the villagers to see how they managed in such a cold climate, with so short a growing season. How did the agriculture work? How was the food stored? Was the nutrition adequate? How was their health? Did the irrigation system work well and how was it controlled? What kind of family life did the people enjoy and how many husbands did the wives have? How many monks were there in the monasteries? Did they come from local families or outside? What were the relations between monks and villagers? Near the end

Revolutions o f the Universe

35

of our urbane discussion I tried to turn the talk in the direction of my hidden ambition - to meet the yogins. I said; "Rimpoche la,1 I have heard that Milarepa, the great yogin, once said that in the vast empty spaces of the high mountains there existed a strange market where one might exchange the vortex of worldly life for boundless bliss. Where might I find such a place?" Still whirring away on his sewing machine, Rimpoche looked at me. "There are a great many books on such matters," he remarked. "It might be wise to begin there." It was clear that he had no intention of letting on. Our research went well. We based our activities in the village of Stongde and, as the weeks went gradually past, gained the confidence of many of the villagers. Tashi Rabgyas, one of the most knowledgeable men in Ladakh, a philosopher and historian who was at that time Government of India Information Officer in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, had agreed to join our party. Together with Tsering Shaky a, a young Tibetan graduate in anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University, we were to study monastic life. I had met Tashi previously, we had gotten on well together and our collaboration was to prove invaluable over several years.2 My question to the Rimpoche was however no whim of the moment. On an earlier visit, my first to the Tibetan world, I had had several experiences which had left me puzzled, as if a door had been opened and then abruptly closed. Beyond my objective studies there was a subjective theme in play. I needed to explore a world that was of quite another order.

36

The Yogins o f Ladakh

The Monastery of Dzongkul When I had first entered the Zangskar Mountains that run parallel to the river Indus between the Karakoram and the Great Himalayan ranges, I had had no intention of studying or even meeting yogins, the mystical hermits of the Himalayan caves. My concerns were social science and anthropology but walking at high altitudes and visiting monasteries can open the mind to unusual experiences and these increasingly demanded my attention. We had spent several days slowly climbing up and over the mammoth glaciers of the Umasi La pass from Kashmir into this southernmost region of Ladakh. We had also passed from the Islamic world into the sunlit uplands of Tibetan Buddhism, from the dark it seemed to us into the light. The mountains were huge and exhilarating but the journey on foot exhausting and the route on the ice split by narrow crevasses so deep as to be lethal if we fell into one. We were moving in a world of vast spaces and huge skies, a landscape of rock, snow and ice. The Himalayas are an awesome experience; humans are like ants in this landscape, the powers of nature capricious and quite capable of overwhelming the traveller. It concentrates the mind wonderfully. The southern slopes of the Himalayas are verdant; great cedar trees give way slowly to thin fir woods and finally to rock and snow. The northern slopes, largely beyond the influence of the monsoon, are by contrast unforested and severe, the smaller valleys resembling a Scottish glen. On our descent into Zangskar it seemed a forbidding place.

Revolutions o f the Universe

37

Lobsang, the self appointed leader of our team of porters, a group of young men and boys whom we had recruited in the last village before the pass, began telling us about the valley. He was a warm, friendly man older then the others, who had been a monk in Lhasa. Through some accident or, we wondered, possibly some punishment, he had entirely lost his nose. We were entering a holy place, he said. In ancient times great meditators had practised here. Bleak it might be, but in the vastness of the hills peace could be found. It was said too that the great Indian teacher, Naropa, had meditated here in the eleventh century. Lobsang pointed to a ledge far up a steep hillside where a leafless tree trunk could be seen: that was the site of one of Naropa's meditation caves and the tree had been his staff long ago. The valley opened out a little and a few uncultivated fields appeared. High above them, embedded into a large cave, we saw the facade of a small monastic building. Several windows looked down upon us from the white washed front and a door at the top of a flight of irregular stone steps was open. Under the eaves of the cave we could see the red painted line of the monastery roof, upon which a monk in a long robe was moving about. Dzongkul was my first glimpse of a Tibetan monastery or 'gompa'. We set up tents in the failing light below it. Next morning, I lay in the first light of the sun and gazed through binoculars at the little building. As I watched the door opened and a straggling procession of monks emerged. They proceeded downhill, their maroon robes making vivid splashes of colour on the earthen shades of the rock strewn hillside. Among them a short rounded figure hurrying along radiated a central presence. This was the Stagna Rimpoche, I was told. Every

38

The Yogins o f Ladakh

summer he journeyed from his gompa of that name in the Indus valley to visit his subsidiary establishments in Zangskar. He was the functional head of the Drugpa Kargyu sect which had four gompas in the valley. Suddenly he stopped, moved a yard or so off the track, squatted down and, slightly raising the bottom of his robe, proceeded to relieve himself. The porters were busy preening themselves; they washed and combed their hair and made ready for a visit. Calling on the monks was an occasion. I too was excited, the little cavern and the building placed within its depth under an enormous cliff created an atmosphere that transformed the harshness of the valley. I had watched the monks and searched the monastery through the glasses with increasing absorption. Before me was a gateway to the Tibetan mind. Thinking of the place in winter, freezing, isolated, hidden among the forbidding cliffs and the snow covered boulders I felt awe at its austere strength of purpose. We climbed up the slope to the cave. The building was three storeys high and filled the cavern's entrance. Some monks welcomed us and led us through the door into a dark passageway and up a lightless flight of steps to an upper chamber. We sat on cushions in a row and were offered tea. The lads went around the building with great reverence paying respects to the images painted on the walls. A heavy stillness which seemed ageless hung about the room. We talked little, responding to simple questions about our homeland and the crossing of the pass. Butter tea, warm, comforting and with a novel not unpleasant taste, was served by an old, attentive monk. After a while

Revolutions o f the Universe

39

I turned and gazed out of the window. The consequence was extraordinary. The window looked out into a space so enormous that the mind reeled. The valley fell away below the building, immediately opposite rose sheer cliffs with the great sky arched above. A torrent of water was pouring over a ledge and huge boulders, swept down from some glacier above, came crashing over the edge. The sun's heat of the last week had unfrozen the power of the ice and, where the boulders hit the hillside, the earth was being torn away, swept down in a mud-laden tumult of rushing sand, stones and water. As it poured into the stream below, it set up a standing wave which reached across to the bank below us which was steadily falling away into the flood. The whole landscape seemed to be coming apart and the sound of its dissolution hung in the allincluding silence of the air. As I watched it, all my thoughts disappeared, my mind seemed to be drawn out into the landscape, leaving behind an inner stillness like a mirror. A meditative absorption possessed me, filling me with a peace of mind such as I have rarely known. Into an ever widening stillness came the atmosphere of the room in which a curious silence slowly spread. I seemed released from all the cares of the expedition and the excitement of arrival. I felt an inner emptiness in which the silence of the room now merged with the vastness of the outer space. I no longer felt myself to be a separate entity observing it. I sat astonished with wonder. I could hear the voices of my friends talking, I knew what they said but had no response. Looking around the room I saw the old monk standing in the shadow of a pillar. Out of the darkness his bright eyes gazed with a crystalline intensity into mine.

40

The Yogins o f Ladakh

For a moment our eyes held, and then he looked away. I felt he understood. After a while I got away from the others and found myself on the roof. The experience persisted. It was as if there was no one there: my experience was the landscape, the landscape itself was my experience. It went on for about half an hour as I gazed around. Slowly T returned and the observer once more looked at the observed. The others were already descending the hillside, going back for a rest in camp. After some time I followed them. This was not the first time I had had such an experience but the intensity and suddenness of it suggested that for me there was something to be discovered here in the great mountains, something about the very nature of experience. It seemed to be pointing not at the contents but at the basis of mind itself.3 When I got back to camp I was in a reflective mood and I asked my companions how they felt. Everyone had been impressed by the monastery but no one reported any unusual awareness. Although I tried to say something about the experience it did not meet with any response, so after a while I left it. It remained a private memory, but one which I was to be made to recall several times as we proceeded deeper into the mountains. Offerings to the Gods Later on during that first journey, Stagrimo, the 'hill of the tigress', delighted us. A little rill ran between the monastery buildings providing water for poplar trees which gave a shade and through which the wind whispered. In the courtyard we met a wild eyed person who told us he had not left the monastery for fifteen years, devoting himself to meditation in a chamber which

Revolutions o f the Universe

41

looked out over the valley. Before we could ask more he excused himself and disappeared. This was the Drugpa yogin, Nochung Tse, whom I was to meet again in 1986 with James Low. We crossed the rapidly flowing Zangskar river to explore the monastery of Karsha. The village seemed to hang suspended in the warm summer air filled by the chirping of innumerable sparrows, the drone of bees and the gurgle of the stream. In the early morning the sound of great horns and the shrill skirl of wind instruments drifted down from the gompa, an almost diaphanous collection of white buildings climbing the rust-brown slopes above the village. A group of monks was repairing a building, women washed by the brook, others worked fields now readying for harvest. Little impromptu processions of lamas came and went, moving in single file up the steep paths to the monastery. Smoke from the vast tea boiler rose from somewhere near the lha-khang, the main assembly hall.4 During our stay a series of liturgies was in progress. 5 One morning I climbed up to the gompa to observe the service. Monks were doing odd jobs in the monastic courtyard and repainting the wooden facade of a building. Dogs were lying about, some tethered, some not, they were said to be reincarnations of the less than holy monks of former years. The meaning of dll the preparatory activity became clear one afternoon. The monks were assembled in the main hall chanting and making music with great gusto; loud whistles and the roar of trumpets showing that powerful incantations were in progress. Suddenly the great door was thrown open and a young monk rushed out bearing hot smoking ashes which he placed on the

42

The Yogins o f Ladakh

veranda. Out marched the long horns, each held in a curving arc between two bearers, the whole monk orchestra followed in procession down the steep steps sounding off magnificently. Behind them came three masked figures representing the monastery's protectors and then the senior lamas, one of them carrying a threefoot high butter and flour construction, a torma,6 in the form of a flaming triangle. They assembled by the prayer flag in the courtyard and, while the masked figures danced, attentive dogs were driven off with stones. Then they were off again: out of the monastery and into a headlong rush down the steep and twisting track, zigzagging this way and that, horns blowing, drums beating, robes flapping and dust from the rising wind swirling around them. They passed through the village to a small field where the monks fanned into a wide circle around the abbot.7 Still holding the torma, he began a slow rhythmic dance; round and round he went until, in a sudden movement, he flung the whole thing on the ground amid a tremendous burst of sound from the orchestra. He spun round turning his back on it and stood still. The dogs fell upon the torma, a ravening pack, and in a moment it was gone. The music stopped and rapidly the company strode away. After the ritual was over 1 returned to the gompa and walked around the great hall alone. The richly decorated room was full of interest. In the comer was the board on which a splendid mandala for the ceremony had been made with coloured sands. As I moved over towards the abbot's high seat the heavy silence of the room invaded me displacing my analytical awareness. A deep and fascinating inner stillness prevailed which increased in strength as I moved towards the throne and faded as I
0

Revolutions o f the Universe

43

moved away. It felt like a field of force. Puzzled by this phenomenon, I repeated the movements several times before the awareness faded as thought intruded too much upon it. Much later a monk told me that the abbot, in the course of the several days initiation, had generated deep meditative states in the form of visualised divinities. The monk was of the opinion that these powers had physical presence and that it was the field of power around the throne that it had been my privilege to experience. In Karsha lives a scholar of considerable repute. Amchi Wangchuk8 was a teacher of Tibetan deeply knowledgeable about local traditions. He told us how the villagers viewed this striking ritual. They say that when the lamas have prepared the strikingly modelled offering made of barley flour and butter (the torma), they summon up all the evils of the valley and place them within it. These evils are then purified by the burning of tsampa (barley flour), which is also represented by the flames modelled on the torma. The torma, guarded by monks dressed as protecting deities, is then taken out of the monastery, the god of death is summoned and the torma cast down as an offering to him. It was a ceremony to be read on the cosmic rather than on a personal plane, Amchi Wanchuk told us. It ensures a good harvest. While this interpretation is considerably at variance with that of the texts,9 it illustrates very well the role the monks play in village life. Certainly the ceremony had a marked effect on the weather! No sooner was it over, than a great sandstorm blew down the valley, filling the whole place with flying dust. Dark clouds loomed over the Himalayas. It was easy to see this as the departure of the god of death after the presentation of the offering. No wonder then that when I asked about the function of a

44

The Yogins o f Ladakh

ceremony the monks were performing at a gompa, a villager told me: "They are maintaining the revolutions of the universe"; a notion that predates Buddhism itself in India. Trance walking One evening when we were trekking I found that one of our party was so far ahead of us that we could not call to him. In order to catch up with him I began walking faster. After a while, as rpy feet swept through the dust, I attained a flowing rhythm which, with breath and pace integrated, became curiously effortless in spite of the altitude. After three quarters of an hour I reached him and we arranged to stop for the night. AS the tents were set up and I rested, my mind felt as light as a feather and filled with the spaces of the mountains. I could understand something of the practice of trance walking,10 reported originally by Alexandra David-Neel,1 1 whereby certain monks train in a walking meditation that enables them to cover vast distances at extraordinary speeds. It no longer seemed to me to be such an improbable feat and the experience deepened my interest in such practices. That was another experience that I wanted to discuss with the monks in the mountains. After all, they were supposed to be the specialists. Yet, as I came into contact with them I was not at first impressed: one wanted to buy my watch, another tried to sell what looked like a monastic treasure. It seemed we were only meeting the more worldly representatives. However, Lobsang kept telling me that there were yogins in the hills. Who were the yogins? Meditators with years of training behind them, I was told; monks who specialised in living in remote caves all alone for years at a time;

Revolutions o f the Universe

45

people credited with more or less magical abilities. Perhaps only the yogins would be qualified to help me understand my unusual experiences. A determination to find them grew. But how, when, and where were they? Indeed, where were the yogins? Were there any of them actually left in the Himalayas? After all the disasters in Tibet and encroaching modernisation did they still exist? Did they still practice their remarkable yogas? Could one understand these yogas from a Western viewpoint? Did their knowledge perhaps have relevance to all of us in the West in these troubled times? These questions refused to go away. The Dalai Lama and the yogins The summer of the Bristol Expedition wore on and the yogins did not appear. I was busy investigating the social organisation of the village, polyandry in the marriage system and attempting to audit the annual accounts of the gompa, which were held only in the memories of the monk bursars.12 Yet, one day, near the end of our time, they came out of the hills. We had moved our camp to be close to the site where His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of all Tibetans, was to give teachings. An especially designed building, a small palace, had been put up on the plains near Padum, the small capital of Zangskar, by a combined effort of all the monasteries of Zangskar. Every morning during his visit crowds of villagers and monks would walk across the plain to sit near the building. There was also a great tent market, a regular country fair. One monjing, I noticed two extraordinary figures descending the hillside. Their long dreadlocks and their

46

The Yogins o f Ladakh

robes were blowing in the wind and they had the rolling gait of those who travel far on foot in the mountains. At the sight of them I was struck by something exceptional in their demeanour and we invited them to take tea with us. They were by no means young and one of them had a pronounced tremor in the hands, yet their eyes shone with energy and their manners had the brightness of those who are alert to all that goes on around them and view it with amused tolerance. As they sipped their tea from the little wooden bowls they always carried in their robes, they told us that they were yogins of the Drugpa Kargyu order, of which Stagna Rimpoche was the head in Ladakh. They lived in houses built into the front of caves in the mountains but had a base in Stagrimo gompa. They had trained as ordinary monks and then gone on to the special trainings of the yogin. They wanted to 'become a Buddha in one lifetime' and were following the traditional methods of the great Indian and Tibetan yogins of the past: Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa and those who had lived in Dzongkul Gompa in the last century. They had trained assiduously in Tibet and in the Himalayas and had studied the nine paths; the way of the Arhat, the way of the listeners, the way of the Bodhisattva and the three yogas of lower attainment and the three tantras of higher attainment13 though the last three they had not studied all to the same degree. We learnt from them that there were indeed a number of yogins hidden away practising their meditations in the mountains. All were affiliated to the Drugpa Kargyu14 monasteries of Bardan, Stagrimo or Dzongkul. Two yogins, practitioners of Mahamudra and Dzogchen respectively, lived at Shila on the northern side of the

Revolutions o f the Universe

47

Lungnag valley a days walk from our base at Stongde. I was cfetermined to visit them These two men had a psychological assurance, an inner certainty, that was quite different from the scholarly attainments and logically organised faith of even a learned monk. I found it difficult to express in words what this quality was but I was to find it in several advanced meditators; if one word will do it is freedom. The Dalai Lama, although himself a member of the reformed school, the Gelugpa, is also learned in the yogic teachings of the Old School, the Nyingmapa. Tibetan Buddhists, whatever their sect, revere His Holiness and will come to hear him whenever possible. The Dalai Lama is one of the most learned and insightful of contemporary masters and a great teacher. The depth of his transmission can provoke profound insight. The inhabitants of Zangskar had not previously had the privilege of a teaching visit from His Holiness and villagers were pouring out of the mountains from all around to hear him. As we crossed the plain outside Padum small parties were converging on the colourful little palace from all directions. The sunlight shone on their maroon robes and the bright head-dresses of the women. Everyone wore new clothes and fresh finery. In the windless early morning air the light hearted chatter drifted like a breeze over the turf. Everyone wore a joyful smile. In front of the building the monks of Zangskar were sitting in a great square of maroon robes and around them thronged the motley from the villages. His Ho'iness emerged to sit on a high canopied throne. Silence fell. In a deep voice he sounded the opening mantras and the formulae of taking Refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

48

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

The Dalai Lama was to present the central teachings of the Buddhism of the Great Vehicle. Such teachings would be new to many of the younger monks, whose education was limited to a few texts learned by rote, and for many villagers to hear such a brilliant exposition of basic doctrine was a revelation. His Holiness directed his teachings at the monks in particular, aiming to improve their limited comprehension. He spoke in Tibetan and his Ladakhi interpreter did not always give a rendering of which he approved. As the teachings went deeper, there were frequent interchanges between them and finally most of the finer points came over only in Tibetan. No matter that only a few could follow him so far; the merit gained was immense in any case. The happiness was undimmed by any lack of understanding. The heart teachings of Tibetan Buddhism as presented by His Holiness derive in particular from the great Indian teacher Atisha who was invited to western Tibet in 1042 CE to begin the second spreading of the Dharma in the land of snows after its collapse during the reign of the anti-Buddhist king Langdarma. Human life is short, impermanent, difficult to attain and bound by the karma of one's own mind. Karma is the effect of all the deeds of one's past which determine the form of the present. Yet, karma does not determine the future, for present action can modify the effects of past actions. It is therefore vital to live a life of moderation, kindliness and wisdom and through morality gain the merit that ensures a happier rebirth and the possibility of continuing on the path. Unless one is reborn in the human form such continuity is not assured. The opportunity for treading the path further towards enlightenment may not come again for

Revolutions o f the Universe

49

many aeons. Karma is a heavy weight on the shoulders of these Buddhists. Becoming a monk and devoting one's life to the welfare of others is a high aspiration widely venerated. It is well understood that the monks are dependent on the laity for their opportunity to practise and make merit. The laity in turn benefit from their support of the monkhood. Their merit-making relations are reciprocal. A few monks become renouncers of a deeper kind; through visualisation and meditation they seek to 'become Buddhas in one lifetime' rather than by a slow progression over many centuries. These aspirants, the commandos of Tibetan Buddhism, are the yogins. For them too the basic teachings are essential. Without the fundamental motivation towards the saving of others affirmed in the Bodhisattva Vow to liberate all beings, overcome personal vexations, master all approaches to the teachings and to become Buddha, they would not move one iota forward. Seated beside the Ladakhi savant, Tashi Rabgyas, I was able to follow much of the teaching. Afterwards Tashi translated for me the text which had been issued in Tibetan and around which the teachings centred.

The Basis of Good Qualities15


The basis for all merits is the kind teacher whom I perceive as the root of the path. May I be so blessed as to hold him in deep respect.

50

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

Now I have attained this leisurely human life so difficult to get and full of meaning, may I hold this knowledge in awareness and be so blessed as to hold my goal day and night in my mind. Life is like a bubble of water; soon I shall die. The good and bad consequences of karma follow me as my shadow. Let me be so convinced of this that I give up all bad actions, even trivial ones. May I always be so blessed as to perform deeds that are good. Worldly pleasures are most misleading; by gratifying desires one is not fulfilled; doing so is the door to all forms of suffering. May I be so blessed as to hold to the happiness of realisation. Led by so pure a thought and mindful of the Dharma and its moral rules, may I be so blessed as to hold to them as the essence of practice. Like me, all motherly beings have fallen into the ocean of Samsara. Perceiving this and shouldering the burden of liberating them may I be so blessed as to cultivate the highest will to enlightenment.

Revolutions o f the Universe

Yet through will alone enlightenment is not attained, one must also practise the three moral precepts.16 Knowing this, may I be so blessed as to learn diligently the Bodhisattva's way. Dispelling the distractions of evil things and seeking out correct purposes, may the twin path of peacefiil meditation and insight be bom in my mind. Once fit for practising the basic path the supreme way is Vajrayana17 the noble door for fortunate ones. May I be so blessed as to enter easily. Loyalty and morality are the basis for the two objectives.18 May I be certain of them and observe them as the core of my life. The essence of tantra is the two stages.19 Understanding them, may I be so blessed as to perform the yoga of the four times 20 in accordance with the teachings. May the teacher who has shown the way and friends who follow the path properly live long; may external and internal obstacles be removed and all be blessed.

52

The Yogins o f Ladakh

In all my lives may I never be separated from the good teacher May I consume the wealth of Dharmas and, acquiring the qualities of stage and path, become Vajradhara.21 The teachings continued until the dust laden winds of mid day began to blow. On the final day we all received an initiation into the meditative practice of compassion. His Holiness imposed upon us the task of repeating the mantra of compassion ,Om Mane Padme Hum , 100,000 times in the months that lay ahead.

REFERENCES * The addition o f the suffix -la to a name or title indicates affectionate respect in polite usage. 2 The material from the socio-ecological research o f my team took a very long time to analyse and write up for publication. It has how ever at last appeared, 1994, as "Himalayan Buddhist Villages " edited by m y self and Henry Osmaston and published by the w ell known indological firm in N ew D elhi, Motilal Banarsidass and Bristol University. 3 I was only later to discover that in the gom pa had been the hom e o f three meditational practitioners, w ho had had the spirituality o f the valley. See Chapter last century Dzongkul generations o f great a major influence on 1.

4 Lha. Khang, the "Hall o f the G ods, is the main temple o f a gompa where the chief liturgies are said and assemblies held. ^The gSang.Dus Tantric initiation held in Gelugpa monasteries every summer. The term is a contraction o f gSang. Ba'i. Dus. Pa, the Tibetan name o f the Guhyasamaja Tantra. 6 A skilfully moulded offering made from flour and butter. 7 Tibetan: mKhan. Po.

Revolutions o f the Universe

53

^Amchi Wangchuk has since become a monk in Karsha gompa. I was to enjoy his learned com pany on several visits to Zangskar, see further Chapter 11. ^See discussion in Chapter 16 o f Waddell, L. A, 1972. Tibetan Buddhism. N ew York. Dover. Although this work is severely dated 1 carried it through Zangskar in both 77 and 80 and found the details in it helpful. 1^Tibetan : rLung. sGom. ^ D a v id -N ee l, A. 1956. Magic and Mystery in Tibet. N ew York. University Books.. See pp 199-216. l^ S e e Crook, J. H. and H. Osmaston (eds) 1994. H im a laya n Buddhist Villages. M otilal Banarsidass, D elhi and Bristol University. l^ T h e Arhat is one w ho fo cu ses esp ecia lly on his ow n emancipation and has attained a personal liberation. A listener (Pratikabuddha) has attained a profound liberation but does not teach. The Bodhisattva is a being who seeks enlightenment only in the context o f assisting others towards the same goal. The lower tantras are yogas with physical movement, sound or visualisation. The higher tantras include psycho-physiological e x e r c is e s and are e s s e n t i a lly in n er d ir e c te d s e l f transformational practices (See Chapter 14 for discussion). ^ D is c u s s io n o f the differences between the several sects o f Tibetan Buddhism present in Ladakh and o f their meditational and other practices is to be found in Chapters 14 and 17 15 Tibetan title:Yon.Tan. gZhir. 'Gyur. Ma l^ S elf control, beneficial action, work for others. l^The tantric way o f se lf transformation by visualising o n eself as a liberated compassionate being and behaving accordingly. l^ O n e s purpose for s e l f and others, both w orldly and enlightened. ^Visualisation (bsKyed. Rim) and completion (rDzogs. R im ). ^ M orning, afternoon, evening and night. 2lT he tantric name o f the Buddha.

CHAPTER THREE

MEETINGS WITH RIMPOCHES


In the world o f complete purity the dwelling places o f illumination we set up without inside or outside their entire form is o f light.1

The Monastery in the Cave Phugtal Gompa is approached through a gorge between vast limestone crags bare of vegetation except for small patches high on the slopes. Crossing the stream from the right bank, you climb the last steep slopes onto a wide ledge, the Place of Prostrations, and see, perched above it at the far end, an enormous cavern within which stands a dense cluster of white buildings. The impact is overwhelming and it is small wonder that most pilgrims prostrate before it. This is the most impressive monastery in Zangskar, indeed in the whole of Ladakh. The path runs along the ledge beside a range of large chortens and mani walls and ascends through a gate to end in a little courtyard in the centre of which stands a tall prayer flagpole. The buildings hang directly above it and you clamber up a steep flight of steps to find yourself in a gallery running left to right along the mountain within the complex of buildings. The passage winds its way between monks' quarters and eventually out of the gompa to become a rough track leading around a bend in the river towards the village of Shade. Where the steps join the passage there is a facing doorway within which another steep flight climbs up within a building. Beautifully fashioned from stone, it is covered

Meetings with Rimpoches

55

with meticulously cleaned clay resembling cement. The staircase swings right past a three holer of a toilet and emerges in another lateral passageway leading to the fine guest rooms where we were staying. Nearby, the passage opens onto a courtyard forming the mouth of the cavern with a magnificent southern view. The river chums along far below, choughs fly in and out of ledges and on the far side of the stream lie the neat houses of a small village. Behind the courtyard the cavern towers above the visitor. It is at least four storeys high, globular in shape and set back deeply into the mountain. The floor slopes upwards towards the back where there are immense piles of firewood and in front of these are a number of buildings. To the right, looking south, a tall white structure extends beyond the edge of the cavern. The lowest part of it is the kitchen containing huge round cooking vessels where the tea is boiling and large ovens and fires are burning so that even on the coldest day it is warm. Above the kitchen is a library, shelves of books largely hiding splendid paintings of great antiquity,2 and above that the Gonkhang, the shrine room of the monastery's protectors. Every afternoon the drum within it is steadily beaten and a deep chant sung in praise of the wrathful beings that protect the Gompa.3 Behind this building is a windowless structure which seems to be a store house. At the entrance to the cavern is a large chorten with a processional way around it. Behind it, set into the wall, is an extraordinary little shrine containing a Hindu lingam (male organ) beside which lies a stone naturally shaped as a yoni (female organ). Every evening a butter lamp is lit there casting a flickering yellow light from behind the chorten. This is the most ancient part of the gompa, for legend has it that there were Hindu sadhus in residence here before it was

56

The Yogins o f Ladakh

taken over by the Buddhists.4 Women still come here to pray for children. In the middle of the floor of the cavern is a covered groove in the rock at the bottom of which is a spring. When you climb down to it, you find a small pool about a foot deep into which water continuously flows. A metal saucepan lies to one side for scooping it up. Even in the depths of winter the spring never freezes and its presence is naturally the reason why the community of monks can sustain itself in this remote place. At tfye back of the cave is a small white cupboard where offerings are made to ensure the supply of water. From high up in the ceiling of the cave come the squeaking and cooing sounds of bats and pigeons and there seem to be numerous prayer flags somehow stuck to the surface of the rock, although how they got there is difficult to imagine. The monks were extremely kind to us. We had a letter of introduction from Ngari Rimpoche, the Dalai Lamas younger brother, and this had secured for Tashi Rabgyas, Tsering Shakya and me the most wonderful rooms looking straight out over the valley. The abbot remarked that one of the monastery's problems was how to help the tourists who trek past regularly nowadays in summer. He wanted some of the monks to learn English so that they could explain things to visitors.5 At night it was a delight to lie still on my bed near the window of our room and listen to the silence of the monastery. By late afternoon the monks had retired to their rooms for private devotions and, apart from the calls of the choughs and the cooing of pigeons which faded away as the sun set, the place was still; the white shapes of the monastery seeming to hang from the mountainside in the blackness of the night. The sound of distant waters came up from below and there was an occasional puff of wind. A

Meetings with Rimpoches

57

strip of night sky in which the stars glowed stretched between the cliff and the tall mountains opposite. When there was moonlight, a ribbon of silver flooded along the narrow valley throwing into contrast the black shadows of the recesses of the hills and the dark area within which the monastery itself hung. Once or twice I walked around the empty galleries at night. Sitting within the spacious dome of the cavern I looked out at the sky encircled by the dark shape of the cavern entrance. Not a sound from the external world penetrated there. One evening, as the cold of the dusk was descending, two monks blew the long horns from a high terrace of the gompa. The sounds went echoing down the valley in a strange melancholy; a gust of raw loneliness seizing the heart. Human beings seem so small in the vastness of the mountains, insignificant before the powers of rock, river and snow. In a moment life is gone and only the stars remain. While we were at the gompa the monks were reading aloud the whole of the Kangyur, the Tibetan canon. They got up around six and assembled in the Lhakhang for morning puja. I joined them, going first into the kitchen where some warmed themselves at the fire while the first tea of the day was brewing. Other monks rustled up the staircase and went straight to the main hall to begin the recital of prayers. The monks sit in two parallel rows below the statue of the founder of the Gelugpa order, Tsongkhapa. Behind him rows of bookshelves containing the scriptures reach right up to the ceiling. The monks assembled gradually until the room was full and the chanting swelled and moved in waves of sound as the early grey light began to come in at the window. As the chanting faded away there were moments of silence, the monks just sitting quietly in their places. Tea, carried in huge copper kettles, was brought in by the boys and served in

58

The Yogins o f Ladakh

each man's wooden bowl which he had taken from his robe and placed before him. The hot buttered tea in the early morning was most refreshing and woke up the senses. After the service, it was a joy to emerge into the morning air with the first sunlight beaming down over the ridge opposite. Most of the day the monks read aloud from the scriptures, each man working his way through a large volume, turning the separate leaves one by one. The boys were having difficulties and they hummed rather than read. All the books are gone through in this,way as a kind of offering. It is not essential that they be understood. One day on the track we met Geshe Chopel Yangtsen who lived at the gompa. A rather austere-looking character, he greeted us in a most friendly way and we sat by the stream for a while to talk to him. His job was to train some young monks in the teachings so that they could go to the monastic universities in southern India to obtain the geshe doctorate in Buddhist studies. Being a Gelugpa geshe he had no qualms about discussing philosophy and took every opportunity to teach us. He told us that most of the monks spent too much time out of the monastery and in their homes attending to family affairs. They gave themselves little time for study and their knowledge of the Dharma was lamentably poor. Even those who did stay in the monastery were not necessarily suited for philosophical studies. He did not teach regularly and only to those who seemed to have a talent for study. He hoped that some of the boys he had sent south would one day return to raise the standard of understanding in the valley. First of all the boys had to learn some texts by heart. Then they learnt to read and write. He himself had spent the years from six to thirteen in Drepung monastery at Lhasa doing just this. From thirteen to eighteen he had studied texts and learned to recite them; at eighteen he had begun the

Meetings with Rimpoches

59

study of philosophy. He said that in the Gelug training one worked slowly through all the phases of Buddhist philosophy ending with the highest thought, the Madhyamaka system of Nagajuna and Chandrakirti. I suggested that the Gelug emphasis on intellectual analysis was excessive and that more meditation was needed. He responded by saying that meditation and academic study are like two partners to a dispute who must interact to resolve problems. Without analysis meditation would be no better than sleeping; without meditation there is defective concentration and lack of experience leading to shallow debate and mere wordy argument. It is important to analyse but this must be within the context of meditation. The most important aspect of meditation, he said, is self examination. It is vital to know one's personal weaknesses. The mind has to be softened like leather to make the ego pliable and thus compassionate. One has to go deeply into the causes of one's own difficulties to see how they operate and thereby gain insight into ones own working nature. "Read Chandrakirti!" he bade us as we departed.6 The geshe launched Tashi Rabgyas and me into philosophy and, as we walked in the mountains, Tashi gave me wonderful peripatetic instruction.71 learned most of what I know of Mahayana philosophy from our conversations. The Yogins of Shila Near the end of the summer when most of my companions had completed their field work and left, I went with Tashi Rabgyas to find the yogins of Shila. As we went along, I chanted the Om mane padme hum mantra quietly under my breath in the manner His Holiness had shown the company at Padum. Ten in a run, then breathe, then another ten and so on. I found it relaxing and after some time I became more aware of the peaceful landscape into which the

60

The Yogins o f Ladakh

words were flowing than I was of the mantric repetition itself. It was to take me the best part of a year to complete my 100,000; in a busy life I had to concentrate whenever I could. The valley floor was brown now after the harvest. The willow and poplar trees were golden in autumnal glory and in the higher valleys the ground was already flecked with snow. The route from Stongde led us up the northern side of a gorge on an often precipitous path. This flank of the Zangskar valley is narrow; there is little agricultural ground between the river and the hillsides and it is less populated than is the southern side; the tracks are poorly maintained and the farms remote. The hamlet of Shila has grown up above a small area of cultivated land near the river, where a pretty plantation of young trees has also been established. Above the village stand steep mountains split by a valley descending to a waterfall and cliffs near the houses. The upper buildings, some 300 feet above the fields, were strongly constructed in several storeys, one of them so big as to look like a small gompa. A little to the west and at a slightly higher elevation a narrow path led to a small house let into the mouth of a sizeable cave. Here the yogin Ngawang Norbu from the village of Pipiting lived with a yogini said to be his sister. The cave, Gompug8 as it is called, the Cave of Meditation, has been used for two hundred years mostly by local monks of the Kargyu order.9 In front of the cave was a small flat area with a prayer flag and a small wall topped by stones inscribed with the invocation Om mani padme hum. A small door led into a lightless passage, low and twisting, through which Tashi and I were taken holding hands with the yogini. Step by step we mounted a narrow ladder in the darkness to emerge on a roomy platform under the cave's roof protected from wind by a brushwood facade and a small roof

Meetings with Rimpoches

61

projection. Martins swooped in and out from their nests in the roof. From the balcony, a magnificent vista opened to the south where the autumnal valley and a snow-capped Himalayan peak lay shining in the sun. Tea was brewing on a metal stove the chimney of which went out at the side of the natural ceiling. The inner part of the platform led into a dark chamber blackened by soot, which was the couple's winter habitation. Ngawang Norbu was sitting near the balcony and greeted us pleasantly. I began to tell him of my interest in the yogin's way of life. He replied guardedly. He was a very amateur practitioner, he said, but he could recommend us to his teachers and there were many books to be studied. When I pressed him, he pointed out that he could not tell us much because of his vows. All advanced yogic practices are taught under a vow of secrecy since powerful meditation methods may be harmful to one who does not receive proper instruction. To practise one has to have had an empowerment,10 and unless I had received one he could not discuss a precise method with me. I had the feeling that I was getting nowhere. I knew that the man before me was an accomplished practitioner and that if I left with this reply I would certainly have failed in my enquiry. I began telling him of my own meditation practice, the Silent Illumination of Chinese Zen or Shikantaza as it is known to the Japanese Soto Zen school. I had received authoritative instruction in this practice and had attended a number of Zen retreats. I knew that he would hardly rate this as an empowerment on a level with his own training but many aspects of Zen have similarities with the Mahamudra of his own practice. As I described my difficulties in meditation, the atmosphere relaxed and Ngawang Norbu became more helpful. He pointed out that everything we experience is

62

The Yogins o f Ladakh

inevitably coloured by our own egoism. Our perceptions of the world are qualified by attitudes that arise from the ego seeking self-preservation and enhancement. It is not possible to succeed in meditation without disclosing and rooting out the egotistic habits which are a barrier to self-realisation. Past karma dominates our tendencies of thought, and we prefer comfort and indulgence to the necessary austerities which accompany any attempt to practice. A good teacher can help choose methods appropriate to one's nature and can spur one on to confront self indulgence. However, it is possible to begin by oneself without an instructor. "Take a pebble and place it before you. Let the gaze rest upon it without strain and without any particular intention to do anything. Just hold the attention steadily on the pebble. Remain focussed and aware of it. In time, clarity will arise as the mind falls still. Do not concentrate beyond the point where clarity fades and work only for short periods at first. Later, you may replace the pebble by a mental image of the Buddha, later still, by the visualised letter AH and then move to a visualised circle. Finally, meditate on nothing at all." "You have to go through the boredom of repetition until an energy arises of itself. Since this will be blissful you will find yourself eventually entirely free of wanting anything. It is as if you have given up worldly life and the need for a sense of time and place. There is a feeling of timeless nothing in particular of no importance which like a river simply flows along going nowhere in particular except as it must." Ngawang Norbu spoke also of the Dream Yoga of Naropa, a practice in which dream imagery and visual perception come to mingle and, through not sleeping, one sees that ordinary life is just like a dream, all in the mind. "So sitting here and now in this cave is perhaps just a dream also?"

Meetings with Rimpoches

63

"Indeed it is," Ngawang responded. "The dream of sleep is but one aspect of the dream of life. As on awakening we often infer the reasons for a particular dream, so do we rationalise about the causes and conditions for experience in waking life. But we do not apprehend this causation directly. Life without direct apprehension is thus like a sleeping dream, while our comprehension of it through reasoning is analytical only. When we see our daily life as like a dream we begin to appreciate its insubstantial nature and its relativity to conditions." "This allows us to perceive that everything is part of a vast system of interdependent causes and effects. No one thing exists in itself separately. The things we see stand in for a reality of processes which are themselves empty of substance as discrete things. Objects which appear in ordinary perception to be things are in actuality the ceaseless display of causal processes. This principle is called the law of interdependent origination. It means that everything is empty of its apparent 'thingness'. When we let go into this 'emptiness' we can become free from attachments. All dream, whether sleeping or everyday, is empty in this way. The dream of death holds no terror for the yogin since neither his sleeping nor his waking dreams are filled with fear."1 1 While we were talking, the yogini kept filling our little bowls with butter tea. She w as' a kindly lady with a reassuring calmness about her. We had already visited the small nunnery below Stagrimo and met one or two of the yoginis there. These women had received some training in meditation at Hemis and practiced various preliminary trainings12 for Mahamudra. We had noted their easy manner which contrasted sharply with the joky, often challenging and bawdy, manners of the village women in the presence of men. We had formed the impression that this latter pattern

64

The Yogins o f Ladakh

of behaviour had a function in sustaining distance between the sexes by creating uncertainty as to real intentions. The lady hermits seemed at ease with themselves and on a level with men. Their company was certainly pleasing and I began to see why this couple were revered by the villagers of Shila. Ngawang Norbu was our first contact with the group of Drugpa Kargyu yogins who practise in the inner Himalayas. Most of these men train at two monasteries affiliated to Hemis Gompa but in Zangskar a number of older practitioners continue to perfect themselves on their own. Ngawang Norbu and the yogini belonged to this second group. He had trained with the great teacher Lama Norbu who had lived and worked in Zangskar and Lahoul in the early 1900s and with Awo Rimpoche (See Chapters 1 and 14). He had received instruction in all six yogas of Naropa but in his maturity his main practice was Mahamudra. Khamtag Rimpoche One morning in 1981 Tsering Shakya and I were visiting the Mahe household out in the fields beyond Leh. We were intending to collect information on the family genealogy as part of our programme of research into social history. Although the head of the house was away, we were ushered into the main sitting room. Tsering went before me and I was surprised to find him prostrating himself before some person in the shadow at the end of the room. I entered and found myself under the alert and curious gaze of a monk dressed in the robes of a high lama. He invited us to sit down and take chang, the local barley beer, with him. The lamas attendant, Aku-la, ('honoured uncle1 ), served us elegantly. We were questioned extensively about our origins and reasons for being in Ladakh. The lama acknowledged our replies softly - "La la so" - meaning "Ah,

Meetings with Rimpoches

65

is that so?" His name and title was Khamtag13 Rimpoche and he was a Tibetan refugee from a village of this name near Shigatse. He had lived there as the incarnate lama of a small monastery, the 'Gompa of the Apricot tree on the Rock'. Near the end of our conversation we mentioned our interest in monasteries and meditation. As we were leaving, he said "I have a small monastery in the mountains near a little known cave of Guru Rimpoche. It is known as Urgyen Dzong.There is no one there and, if you come, you will find it peaceful. You will both be most welcome." Both Tsering and I felt we had been in the presence of an unusual man,"one who knew" was how we put it. That night I awoke and sat in the window of our room looking at the full moon over the arid hills. I had the strangest impression that my own face had become that of the lama. The feeling lasted for perhaps half an hour. It was very curious and I wondered what sort of man this could be. We decided to take up his invitation but, before we could arrange it, the Rimpoche went off without leaving any instructions. No one seemed to know where his gompa was but eventually we heard it was situated somewhere in the hills right at the limit of the Buddhist world, almost in Baltistan. Near the end of the summer \yith Tashi Rabgyas for company, we set off to find him. We left our jeep at the end of a steep track leading up into the mountains and continued on foot. When we asked for Rimpoche, people shook their heads gesturing vaguely into the hills; nobody knew where he was. His elusiveness added to the attraction of finding him and the trip began to take on the quality of a pilgrimage. At last we were introduced to a buxum young nun who was studying meditation under Rimpoche's direction. She offered to lead us to his retreat saying we would never find it

66

The Yogins o f Ladakh

by ourselves. The track led out across a broad valley of fields, streams and trees where the nun quickly turned off onto a little used path heading straight into the mountain. We found ourselves in the shade of a limestone cleft some 400 feet in height and quickly narrowing to a width of a few yards, a mere crack in the mountainside. We scrambled up over the rounded boulders of dried-up waterfalls, climbing rickety ladders set at the trickiest places. We were ascending a narrow funnel which slowly widened until we emerged into the evening sunlight of a high pasture set within a deep bowl totally ringed by vast snow crested mountains. The only way in was up the narrow gorge through which we had scrambled; any rainfall would make the place, known as Urgyen Dzong, inaccessible except by a frontal assault over the ridges. A hanging silence filled the still air while above us and afar off the wind of the peaks sent down a faint humming. In the centre of the bowl a low ridge, in the middle of which sat a small temple, ran along to a dilapidated farm building with a tiny brand new gompa nearby. A monk was harvesting a small field of barley. No one else was there, the Rimpoche was somewhere off in the hills. We spent several days exploring the bowl. A path leads to small apertures in a limestone crag, the cave of Guru Rimpoche14. You creep in through a narrow tunnel which winds upwards to a chamber opening on the cliff face. There were two small stupas inside and a case for images under construction. Nobody came. A little girl drove her herd of sheep and goats up over the ridge every day for pasture. We sent off messages to local farms enquiring after the Rimpoche. I spent some time meditating under an ancient juniper tree. It is my habit to start a session of meditation by ringing a small Tibetan bell struck on the outer rim with a piece of

Meetings with Rimpoches

67

goat's horn. Tashi saw me heading off with this and asked me what I was going to do with it. When I told him he said: "Please be careful. You should not use it here. You don't know what the local spirits will think of it. Usually they don't like such sounds. Under the trees and near the springs there are Lu15 who might take offence. You could have an accident or get an illness." At first I was not inclined to take this advice. Making a little pinging sound in the still air seemed harmless enough and I had confidence that the purity of my meditative intentions would soon produce a favourable attitude in any Lu that might hear it. Indeed, I felt I would be welcomed under the tree, meditating there like a visiting Buddha. But Tashi was not amused and in deference to his feelings I put the little bell away. To commit hubris in a culture so far from home could well be a foolishness I could not afford. "You do not know the mantras," Tashi had said. Indeed I did n o t. We were preparing to depart and the monk was doing a purification ceremony for us in the temple, when we saw the Rimpoche in his bright robes ascending the hill from the gorge attended by Aku-la, the buxom nun and a farmer, all bearing luggage. That evening we joined Rimpoche in his gompa for a meal. Bottles of chang and village arrack were produced, the latter beautifully distilled and extremely strong, a liquor of complete clarity in the glass which we consumed ceremoniously - a ceremony rapidly punctuated by uncle's drunken snores and our efforts to stay alert. Rimpoche was unaffected, although he reddened slightly as the evening progressed. "It's like this with arrack," he said, "when you get a headache, you stop. In that way to drink it is not harmful."16 Rimpoche gradually revealed to us the nature of his personal attainment. He had first trained with Tipun Padma

68

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Chogyal in Tibet and also with the renowned Awo Rimpoche from whom he had received initiations in the practice of Dorje T rollo.17 These meditations have sometimes been called 'Crazy Wisdom' but Rimpoche said: "You Westerners are always stressing an inadequate aspect. This practice is full of energy but it is not at all crazy, whatever you mean by that. It is just simple sanity!" Rimpoche told us that he had left Tibet in 1959 together with Awo Rimpoche. They were in a large party that was intercepted by Chinese troops. "Many people were hit but because they were wearing their protective charms they were not hurt. I had hung mine on a tree and a bullet pierced my leg. Nonetheless I ran for many miles before I discovered the bleeding. We were lucky in that Tibetans with firearms engaged the Chinese and we were able to escape. I am no longer so careless with my protection." And he showed us the scar on his leg. After his arrival in India, Rimpoche had gone wandering in the mountains. Equipped with powerful yogas he had no fear. Once, when travelling near the frontier, he was arrested by the Indian authorities for being in a forbidden area. "You must go to prison for a week," they announced. "La la so," said Rimpoche. After a week they said, "You cannot stay here any longer; where is your home?" "Nowhere," said Rimpoche."Well, in any case you cannot stay here.""La la so," said Rimpoche. In time he had come to Ladakh with a Tibetan refugee road gang labouring on the roads then under construction near Leh. One day a passing traveller got into conversation with him and realised his rank as a lama. The traveller, of the Mahe household, at once asked him to his home and has been his prime sponsor ever since. Rimpoche, always a great wanderer, received training in other places particularly with Awo Rimpoche, but he stayed in Zangskar for several

Meetings with Rimpoches

69

years affiliated to the Drugpa Kargyu monasteries. No one knew his seniority, he was simply a refugee monk.18 In 1981 Rimpoche was based at Hemis, the leading gompa of the Kargyupa in Ladakh. He had visited Urgyen Dzong and, finding it untenanted, asked the Hemis authorities to let him live there, repair the site, and administer to local families in the villages. He would like to teach other monks but - "They won't come here, you know. It is too far from their homes and they are afraid of the cold." Once, when the Dalai Lama was planning to visit Leh, Rimpoche wrote to him suggesting a visit to Urgyen Dzong. Perhaps surprisingly, His Holiness accepted. The Indian authorities had instructions to assist in the arrangements and a brigadier came struggling up to Urgyen Dzong expostulating at the impossibility of getting anyone to such a place. Nonetheless, His Holiness had come and mdita ed for several hours in the cave, stayed the night in the gompa and discussed yogic practices with Rimpoche. "Are the physical effects of the tumo meditation of Naropa really possible?"19 he had asked. "Yes," Rimpoche had replied. "Could you demonstrate them to me?" "If your Holiness so commands." "Perhaps I shall ask you to come to Dharamsala ".20 Late that night Tashi had spokep to Rimpoche about the importance of accurate translation for the use of Westerners. Rimpoche had produced a tattered but carefully preserved notebook filled with his beautifully precise handwriting. "I want you to copy and translate this," he said. "It is one of the only three copies of the Mahamudra instructions of my master Tipun Padma Chogyal." Next morning we wondered whether we had been dreaming or whether Rimpoche had been influenced by the arrack. After a quiet breakfast, Rimpoche produced the

70

The Yogins o f Ladakh

notebook again and we all went up to the gompa roof where I photographed the whole work. The result of our study of this text is given in Part 3. The next morning we all packed up and started off down the narrow gorge, Rimpoche pointing out interesting birds, a wall creeper, a chukor, the wild partridge of the Himalayas and a white crested redstart. Where the gorge opened out we stopped and sat beside the stream. Out came the arrack and Aku-la filled our wooden bowls as we held them out to him. Feelings of great happiness and jollity soon followed. "You know, Aku-la and I often travel through wild country like this. Once I saw something sparkle. It was a sapphire - beautiful! You ask where? Ah, that's our secret." "I am no scholar - like a fool I see things. The learned man goes along thinking and sees nothing. This fool goes along and suddenly there it is!" "Sometimes we come to especially powerful places where there are many spirits of place.21 We do pujas, offering services, for them right there in the hills." "And," Aku-la added, sipping his arrack. "We really see them - although others might not do so!" For two more days we stayed with Rimpoche travelling to visit various farmhouses. Rimpoche's arrival was the sign for instant festival - the best rooms were ours, the finest food, chang and arrack in quantities and excellent butter tea. The villagers clearly loved and respected their lama with whom they had a close rapport. As I tottered towards the toilet one evening on the arm of my host, the farmer whispered in my ear: "Good, good, you're doing well you've drunk so much you're almost keeping up with Rimpoche-la!" Rimpoche rarely taught us directly but his presence was somehow inspiring. In his company there was a sort of underground transmission going on for he often made

Meetings with Rimpoches

71

sudden illuminating remarks, answers to unspoken questions or ones which had been raised hours before but not resolved. "Whatever you are looking for - Mahamudra, Dzogchen, the secrets of meditation - whether in Europe or in Ladakh, the question is: where at this very moment is your mind?" "The task is to know the natural, the unborn mind. You must observe all activity whether good or bad, easy or difficult without any judgement at all. Simply to see it as it is is the main point. When you do this there is no intellectual elaboration, attachment, rejection or concern. It becomes easy to experience the ground against which, as it were, all images float. Just rest in that without needing to move or reflect intellectually at all. This will lead you to see the three aspects of Buddhahood - the ultimate, the appearance and that which is now in your heart - and how they relate to one another. If you do this, you will find out what I mean." "As for meditation; if you wish to meditate choose a good place, as remote as possible, peaceful with clean water and wild nature." Some of Rimpoche's sponsors were Muslim families for this district was one where Islam and Buddhism meet. The Muslims, while following their own religion, were pleased to have Rimpoche with them sometimes performing pujas in their houses. We were told the story of a Mullah's daughter in Kargil. The Dalai Lama was coming and the family jokingly told the little girl that he had four arms. The child saw him pass. Later they asked her, "Did you see his four arms?" "No," she said, "He has a thousand." Near the end of our little pilgrimage we took a bus ride. As Rimpoche boarded the vehicle the entire company rose to welcome him. We left him sitting by the roadside with Akula in attendance, his clear face shining like the moon. We still had the feeling we had been with one who knew.

72

The Yogins o f Ladakh

To my infinite sadness Khamtag Rimpoche died in the Markhor valley in the winter of 1985-6. This book is dedicated to his memory. La la so! Tragthog Gompa and Staglung Rimpoche Mahamudra or Chagchen was the prime practice of our Drugpa Kagyu friends. I wanted to know how the practice of Dzogchen differed. "Actually," Khamtag Rimpoche had told me, "there is no difference between Dzogchen and Chagchen. They both refer to the unborn mind that is the basis of experience but each is a different way of viewing it, a contrasting perspective. Dzogchen and Chagchen both provide an experiential understanding of the basis of mind but in different ways. Chagchen is a path meditation and Dzogchen a fruit meditation." And he had left it at that. It was to gain some understanding of this enigmatic definition that we travelled to Tragthog Gompa in the valley of Sakti to the east of Leh. Tashi told us that the incarnate lama of the monastery was a renowned expert in Dzogchen. We took a bus there and stayed in monk's quarters below the gompa. Sakti22 is a wide valley of great beauty narrowing to the north into a V shaped pass that leads over to Nubra. Tragthog is in the upper part of the valley and we gazed down its length at the distant Himalayas and the great mass of Stok Kangri forming a group of snowcapped peaks. The gompa lies among rocky crags above fields and poplar groves. Harvesting was in progress and the air was filled with work songs. On the evening of our arrival our monk host was testing his young nephew's memory of texts and the two sat together chanting. Above us, the gompa building lay among great weathered boulders of granite, some of the rooms being let into caves between them. There is a cave

Meetings with Rimpoches

73

shrine to Guru Rimpoche and many fascinating images and paintings.23 Staglung Rimpoche's rooms were at the top of the gompa and commanded a vast view. The door was opened by a smiling, traditionally obsequious assistant who politely sucked in his breath in response to our requests as if drinking hot soup. Rimpoche was out but we were soon settled in his tastefully furnished room. We did not sit on his sofa clearly intended for foreigners because this would have raised us above the level of his seat - very bad manners - but chose cushions on the floor. We took buttered tea and waited. Rimpoche came through the curtains smiling and apologising. He was a large, heavy man breathing deeply from the climb. After he had sat down, we performed the customary salutations and resumed our seats ignoring the proferred hand pointing us to the sofa. We explained our interests and Rimpoche began by denying that he knew much about Dzogchen. He suggested we should visit his teachers in Kalimpong24and Gangtok25 to obtain truly authoritative teaching. This was a familiar line and again I felt the interview might come to an end right then and there. I had with me a bedraggled typescript given me by a friend in London purporting to express the main tenets of Dzogchen. It had been compiled by Mike Hookham from personal teachings received from Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche in London some years previously and subsequently passed on to four students. Trungpa was of the Kargyupa order and Dzogchen traditionally a Nyingmapa teaching. I wanted to know therefore whether these supposed tenets were authentic or whether they had become distorted by filtering during their presentation to Westerners. Rimpoche agreed that he could verify whether they were

74

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

correct or not. Tashi began translating the document. As we went on, Rimpoche nodded assent saying "La so" to each of the main points. I have paraphrased them here as follows: The original mind, the unborn, is quite pure. It is the beginning and the ending of both confusion and realisation, the very ground of samsara and nirvana. Since it is of the nature of the universal process and empty of mentally created discriminations it is free from any bias towards enlightenment. It has no intentionality. Yet, although insight will find in it no concepts differentiating qualities, it is useful to view it as showing three fundamental aspects: complete openness, absolute spontaneity and natural perfection. C om plete openness: All aspects of every phenomenon are intrinsically clear and lucid, for the whole universe is open and unobstructed with everything mutually interpenetrating. Everything is naked, clear and free from obstruction so that there is nothing hidden to realise or attain. The nature of things is there to be seen, appears naturally and is present in time transcending awareness. A bsolute spontaneity: All phenomena are completely new, fresh, unique at the instant of their appearance.They are free from any conceptualisations of the past, present and future which we ourselves are inclined to impose upon them.This unique spontaneity is experienced as outside the usual dimensions of temporal experience. The wonder, splendour and spontaneity of this continual stream of fresh discovery and revelation is the playful dance aspect of the universe. It inspires as do the expressions of a guru. It is eternally young. Natural perfection: Because everything is naturally

Meetings with Rimpoches

75

pure and undefiled it is also perfect. Phenomena appear naturally in their modes and situations, forming ever changing patterns like participants in a great dance. Every experience is a symbolic representation yet there is no difference between the symbol and whatever is symbolised. With no effort or practice whatsoever liberation, enlightenment and Buddhahood are already fully perfected. The everyday practice is thus ordinary life itself; the development of complete openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people. The tremendous energy usually locked up in evasion is experienced by never withdrawing protectively into oneself. There should be no striving to reach some exalted goal since this conditions awareness, producing something artificial which acts as an obstruction to the free flow of the mind. Meditation is a natural process like eating or breathing, not a formal event conditioned by purpose. Never should one consider oneself sinful or worthless but as naturally pure lacking nothing. Everyday life is like a mandala of which one is the centre, free from prejudice from the past and expectations of the future. Rimpoche said that knowing the text to be correct was one thing but understanding it quite another! Without a correct insight into the unborn mind the whole matter would be misconceived. "It is important to comprehend three things thoroughly the basis, the path and the fruit. The basis is the intuitive insight into the self-evident correctness of the doctrine itself. After all how could the universe not be perfect! The path is any one of the nine ways or yanas. Any one of these practices is sufficient when it is seen in the light of the last

76

The Yogins o f Ladakh

one, ati-yoga, the great perfection, Dzogchen itself." "The host of various techniques and the yogas themselves are merely the expedient means or paths for people of varying abilities and attainments. Ati-yoga or Dzogchen is the ultimate appreciation of their meaning and hence the "fruit" of experience. Whatever practice one uses needs to become informed by this pervading insight. Whether you perceive the insight quickly or not depends upon previous lives and the quality of your karma." I asked Rimpoche how Dzogchen might be practised. "You can't practise it," he said, "unless you know it beforehand." "Then how can one begin?" "Either you see it or you dont." "What happens if you don't ?" "Then you are following a path meditation like Chagchen which has an intention of going somewhere. If you do see it, you are practising fruit meditation in which you are merely abiding in the perfection of insight, recalling it to mind. Once the fruit is eaten there need be no path to it. If you have found the apple tree there is no more search for the apples." I experienced Staglung Rimpoche as a great teacher. He watched us closely as I conferred with Tashi during the interpretation, his face solemn and alert. His face has only two expressions; the gentle charm of his mannered exposition, smilingly making his points with a vigorous eloquence, and the relaxed sombre, brooding and rather ugly face of a heavily built man, the first for teaching and the second simply being himself. Rimpoche lacked entirely the many faces of social artifice. We talked of the ultimate unreality of knowledge which he found hugely amusing, roaring with laughter. The whole relationship between mind and universe seemed to become an impossible joke. I began to feel there was no problem and

Meetings with Rimpoches

77

a feeling of relief swept over me, a peculiar sense of freedom in which no anxiety existed. The baffled mind came to a stop in a sort of joyous emptiness, and, in the company of the Rimpoche, the Buddha's smile became this special laughter. "Do the monks here study Dzogchen?" "No." "But how strange since you are a Dzogchen teacher." "They never ask. They are too busy with their visualisations, their pujas and their cooking to wonder what it all is. Whenever one does so, then I respond." "You mean their usual activities are pointless?" "Not at all - a mind may lack insight and need training. Each must go according to the needs set by his own karma. It is entirely appropriate to set traps before the fox is caught. To perceive meditation as a matter of savouring the fruit rather than treading a path requires unusual understanding. That is why Dzogchen means Great Completion." "Would you say that Dzogchen begins where Chagchen ends?" "A Chagchen practitioner might indeed say that; Chagchen discloses the Unborn and this realisation is then Dzogchen. But from the Dzogchen viewpoint the Unborn is never absent." "So the end is in the beginning?" "Exactly so - don't move!" We went out onto the balcony where I took his photograph (embarrassed by my sensory avarice ). As we were about to leave he fetched the khatag261 had given him and placed it gently around my neck.

78

The Yogins of Ladakh

REFERENCES 1From the Sadhana o f Guru Padma Sambhava translated by Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche. In: Willis, J. D. 1972. The Diamond Light o f the Eastern Dawn . Simon and Schuster. New York. 2 The oldest date from the period inspired by Kashmiri Buddhist art and may be compared with murals o f similar style in Alchi, Sumda, Karsha and the gompas such as Tabo in Spiti. See Snellgrove, D and T. Skorupski.1980. The Cultural Heritage o f Ladakh. Aris and Phillips. Warminster. Vol 2, p37. ^Every gom pa has such a shrine room where the protecting Dharmapalas are worshipped daily. These rooms, filled with animal skins and ancient weapons and decorated with murals o f ghoulish and fearsome beings, often strike fear in visitors. ^See further: Crook and Shakyas Chapter 19 in Crook, J. H and H. Osm aslon.1994. Himalayan Buddhist Villages. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi and Bristol University. 5 This account is based on visits in 1980, 1986 and 1993. Olivier Follmi also spent some time in the monastery during the winter of 1980 and clearly learnt a lot from the company o f the monks. D eux hivers au Zanskar. 1983. Editions Olizane. Paris pp 61-82. ^Candrakirti was one o f the greatest successors o f the Madhyamaka philosopher Nagarjuna, see Chapter 14. I met the geshe again in 1993 at Phugtal. By then a very old man with failing powers and more or less gom pa bound, he was nonetheless delighted to see James Crowden and me: we had a quiet conversation and gave him some medical aid. I commemorate him with the following lines: Old Geshe with failing mind probably no longer remembers Candrakirti. Beyond his windows choughs whirl and stall, in distant cells monks intone their liturgies. With lowered eyelids over shining eyes for seventy six years hes seen it move. ^See further Crook J. H. and T. Rabgyas. 1988. The Essential Insight, a central theme in the philosophical training o f Mahayanist monks. In: Peranjpe, A. C, D. Y. F. Ho and R. W. Rieber (eds) A s i a n contributions to Psychology. Praeger. New York. A variant o f this text appears in Crook and Osmaston 1994.

Meetings with Rimpoches

79

^sGom. Phug 9 For further details see Crook, J. 1994. Yogins o f Ladakh. Chapter 22 in Crook and Osmaston (eds) 1994. Himalayan Buddhist Villages. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi and Bristol University. I ^Tibetan : dBang II Ngawang Norbu thus gave us an elegant account o f the principle o f pratitya samutpada and the basic elem ents o f the M adhyam ika philosophy o f Nagarjuna, neatly related to the actual practice o f meditation. 12 Tibetan: sNyong. 'gro. l^Tibetan: Kham. Brag. l^This is the Tibetan title for Padmasambhava the great tantric yogin who finally achieved the conversion o f Tibet to Buddhism. C aves supposedly used by him are found in many places. Klu are spirits o f groves, springs, chortens and other such sheltered places. Like most Tibetan numina they are touchy creatures. Often they take the form o f lizards, snakes, insects and other such small animals. 1^Tibetan monks com m only consume alcohal usually in the mild form o f chang. It is a valuable source o f food and inner warmth and an agreeable adjunct to sociable companionship in an often bitterly cold clim ate. Kargyu and N y in g m a y o g in s may c o n su m e considerable quantities but, although an atmosphere o f merriness can pervade some o f their pu jas , I have never seen one intoxicated unpleasantly. Yet som e lamas, while not affected in their heads, undoubtedly suffer in their livers. 12 rDo. rje. Gro. Lod, one o f the meditational forms o f Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava). 18Jos Bachover, who lived for four months in Hemis, knew Khamtag Rimpoche well. He told me that R im poche had special k a r m i c connections with Guru Rimpoche and claimed to possess his ritual knife (Phur. Ba). He was shown and photographed this extrem ely ancient ritual weapon and later gave me a copy o f his photo. S e e Bachover, J. 1983.. Experiences in Hemis Gompa. In Kantowsky, D. and R. Sander. Recent research in Ladakh , W eltforum V erlag. Mnchen. 19 gTum. Mo, the prime psychophysical meditation in the Six Y ogas

80

The Yogins o f Ladakh

o f Naropa. Special deep breathing exercises useful in unheated caves. The main intention state o f consciousness that arises as a result o f l^ S ee Chapter 4 for Rimpoche's visit and tests 21 Tibetan: gZhi. bDag.

generate warmthvery however is the altered the practice. on tumo practitioners.

22 gSer. Khri. 23jn the early summer o f 1933 Lama Anagarika Govinda travelled
from Ladakh into Western Tibet by way o f the Chang Thang. On leaving Ladakh he stayed the night at a small Nyingma gompa which he calls the rock monastery. Here he had a profound vision which appeared to him on the wall o f his room and led to his later expeditions to Tsaparang. The text o f his account strongly suggests he spent that night at Tragthog (Brag.Thog). See Govinda 1966 The Way o f the White Clouds: a Buddhist pilgrim in Tibet. Hutchinson. London, pp 43-55. The gompa lies below rather than above a rocky outcrop so that the translation o f its name as "top o f the rocks is inappropriate. (See Snellgrove D and T. Skorupski 1977. The Cultural Heritage o f Ladakh. Aris and Phillips. Warminster. p l3 2 .). Tashi Rabgyas renders it "rockroof." 24 bDud. 'Joms. Rin. Po. che.

2$ Dil. mGo. mKhyen. brTse. and rDo. Grub. Chen. Rin. Po.Che. 26 The white offering scarf which is a prominent feature o f Tibetan
greetings.

DIAGRAMMATIC SKETCH OF LOCATIONS VISITED IN LADAKH.

0 Towns villages.

* Monasteries

II Passes

CHAPTER FOUR

SCHOOLS FOR HERMITS


By practising the correct instructions conviction will grow in one's mind. With realization instructions are fulfilled. Once a firm resolution has been made experience and conviction blossom. When kindness grows in one's heart one can through love help others. He who sees his teacher as the Buddha then receives the power o f blessing.^

The Kargyupa Yogins of Hemis and Gotsang In the seventeenth century King Sengye Namgyal of Ladakh ruled over a large kingdom which, at its maximum extent, stretched from Baltistan in the west into what is now Nepal to the east. It comprised the greater part of western Tibet, the area known in ancient times as Zhang Zhung and later as Ngari Khor Sum, incorporated the little kingdoms of Zangskar, Purang and Guge and became for a time a major power lying between Central Asia and Mogul India. At the height of his reign the king became the disciple of a great Tibetan lama, Stagtshang repa,2 and financed the construction by him of several major new monasteries. The greatest of these was Hemis. From Leh to Hemis you travel along the modem road following the northern bank of the Indus eastwards to a point not far from the Tibetan border. The valley is wide; to the north of the river loom dry brown hills while, to the south, a stony desert rises gradually into a range of mountains with peaks of snow clad mountains in the distance. Wherever a stream emerges from these hills a wide

Schools for Hermits

83

alluvial fan spreads out towards the river, the upper part of it green with crops and trees in summer. The river itself narrows quickly until the swift stream runs between sandy banks. Just east of Leh it spreads out into a fan of watercourses among meadows. In all directions there are monasteries brightly shining in the sun, not dominating the landscape, for it is too big for that, but impregnating it with their presence. After some hours driving the road rises, a stream bed twists back into the mountains so that a fertile valley is at first hidden from view behind a ridge. Rounding it, the bus quickly dives among trees and comes to a halt in the middle of an extraordinary monastic settlement. Great buildings loom within a tree-filled gorge surrounded by terraces of smaller houses and cottages, the cells of the monks. Below the monastery, farms He close up against its outer buildings. Breezes rustle the leaves of poplars and the tumbling of the stream is ever present. Stagtshang Repa, the founder of Hemis, belonged to the Kargyupa order of Tibetan Buddhism but not to the same branch of it as Stagna Rimpoche. The two lines of Kargyu teaching and practice in Ladakh are closely associated and have considerable influence, (Chapter 1) particularly through Hemis's enormous land holdings and ownership of numerous minor castles and village temples throughout Ladakh. By virtue of its royal patronage, Hemis remains the largest and most economically powerful monastery in Ladakh, yet it does not seem to have the political punch of the Gelugpa establishments. In spite of its magnificence, there is a seediness about it. It is not difficult, while wandering the lanes between the little houses of the monks, often locked and empty, to come across a group of young

84

The Yogins o f Ladakh

lads in maroon robes drinking chang and making merry in ways that are sometimes suggestive of greater naughtiness. Once when we arrived there was a randy billy goat making advances to all the women - to the embarrassed delight of everyone. Tashi subdued it by riding on its infuriated back up the steps towards the gompa. One hears stories of the corruption of some senior monks and their misuse of resources. Yet, one can also see and meet old monks of sanctity and clear serenity who emerge for a ritual and then disappear again among the mazelike lanes. The place has had a generally bad reputation among Western writers.3-4 In recent years, the problem has been the absence of adequate religious direction. The present Rimpoche, the incarnation of Stagtshang Repa, was discovered in Tibet and brought to Hemis but returned to Tibet for studies. Being caught up in the struggles with China in 1959 he could not return. After much privation, he succeeded in coming to Ladakh in the early 80s and stayed a year or so. Eventually, however, he decided to return to his family in Tibet. The principle of reincarnation seems to put out of question the possibility of a replacement during his lifetime. In 1975, the then 12 year old Drugchen Rimpoche,5 was installed as a provisional abbot and has been in residence periodically with his famous teacher, the late Dungsey Rimpoche. 6 These two transformed the place, though there was a degree of conflict between the rather lax Ladakhi monks and their disciplined Tibetan leaders. Control over the affairs of the Gompa has recently come under the supervision of the newly created Ladakh Gompa Association and a wiser use of revenues from tourism may sustain the earlier impetus of Dungsey Rimpoche.

Schools for Hermits

85

High above Hemis Gompa lies a remote subsidiary monastery unknown to tourists and rarely visited - Gotsang Gompa - a training centre for yogins. The path meanders beside the stream among trees and in the cool of the morning you slowly rise through poplar plantations. The track steepens and two chortens split the way silhouetting themselves against the backdrop of the mountains and the valley of the Indus far below. The wooded stretch ends in a walled grove through which the bubbling brook carves a mossy bed among stones. Gotsang Gompa appears in view as soon as you round a prayer flag onto the ascending track. It hangs in the air; a thin washing line of prayer flags stretching from one side of the little valley to the other above it, rising, falling and waving gently in the enclosed and sheltered space. On the rocks near the track contortions and markings all have some attributed significance and, on the crags above, ibex browse, removing themselves unhurriedly as you climb. The gompa comprises a row of traditional buildings curving across the top of the valley, white, umber and, from a distance, almost translucent in the strong light. Near them are dilapidated structures, a few of them still inhabitable, the cells of earlier meditators undertaking the solitary training retreats of three years, three months and three days which even now form a key element of the training. The view from the monastery is dominated by a' mountain with deeply gouged vertical strata rising to a sharp rocky peak. The monastery is an ancient foundation and we were shown an old, handwritten, document giving the history of the place and an account of the founding of the gompa. It is so named on account of the cave incorporated into the inner part of a two storey building. This cave was once the meditation place of the great yogin Gotsangpa who

86

The Yogins o f Ladakh

wandered through Tibet and the Himalayan states of Kangra, Lahoul and Ladakh and was even said to have visited the semi-mythical land of Udyana (Urgyen), probably in dreams. He settled at the cave above Hemis which thus acquired his name 7 several centuries prior to the foundation of Hemis Gompa itself. Gotsang Gompa was in a healthy state of recruitment, the number of monks having risen from six to thirteen and higher in recent years; thirteen being considered the optimum number for a training group. The monks had trained first at other monasteries, particularly Hemis and the sister monastery at Chemre. Formerly, two monks from Zangskar, one from Stongde village and the other from Kumik, had lived in a large monks' apartment8. They had both been Gelugpa practitioners originating presumably from Stongde Gompa. Tiring of the ritual life there they had taken up yogin training with the famous teacher Sakyashri.9 When they had died twenty years previously, there had been only four monks at the .gompa.10 We also learnt that there was a second Kargyu training centre in the hills above Sakti valley, at Khaspang. Individual trainees spend six years at Gotsang followed by six at Khaspang. At the time of our visit the monks were mature young men of 30-40 years of age representing a class of trainees of about equal attainment. Our main informant, the yogin Rigzin, an uncle of Tashi Rabgyas, told us that, unlike some yogins, the trainees at Gotsang do not wear their hair long and are not distinguishable from the other monks at Hemis except by their demeanour. Only older yogins wear long hair as a sign of attainment. The yogins do not have to do the usual round of village rituals, although they may do household pujas if asked. Only two monks are administrative officers and the

Schools for Hermits

87

whole emphasis of the life is upon yogic training. Gotsang has a number of fields which are worked by sponsoring villagers and its affairs are organised separately from those of Hemis. The Drugpa yogins begin their training by going through a series of practices known as the preliminaries.11 These comprise meditations on impermanence and other fundamental ideas of Buddhism, lengthy sessions of prostration, repetitions of the refuge formula, and visualisa tions of Bodhisattvas and also of personal protectors or 'yidams'. These lengthy and very arduous preliminaries ensure that the individual can muster enough discipline and motivation to undertake the three year retreat as well as the other training for which special initiations are given. Three cycles of preliminaries, each taking four months, are normally completed; sometimes a monk is instructed by his teacher to repeat these cycles two or three times - for example if he suffers from egotistic inclinations or mental confusion or if his earlier life requires extensive purification. On completion of the preliminaries, but even then only at the discretion of the teacher, a monk begins training in Mahamudra meditation and also, either successively or to a degree synchronously, in the Six Yogas of Naropa with their special psychophysical exercises. Usually this is not started before one three year retreat has been completed. The main training period, especially for the heat generating meditation, Tumo,12 is in winter when the entire valley is closed. The others are done mostly in summer. The texts for the training at Gotsang Gompa were those prepared by the sixteenth century master Padma Karpo whose main sphere of influence had been in Bhutan. Rigzin immediately recognised the Tibetan titles of the texts on mental yoga we were carrying with us. Evans Wentz, an

88

The Yogins o f Ladakh

early Western scholar, had translated these works in 191920 with the assistance of the Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup then Headmaster of the Gangtok School and later Lecturer in Tibetan in Calcutta University, who was a close friend of the Maharaja of Sikkim.13 The lama was a member of the Kargyudpa order and had received yogic training in Bhutan with a teacher known as the Hermit Guru Norbu.14 The prints from which these translations had been made were considered both secret and rare, the blocks from which they had been printed and which were kept in the state monastery of Punakkha in Bhutan having been burnt in a fire during political disturbances. The Hermit Guru Norbu had been the nephew of the abbot of this monastery where he had been educated. He had been entitled to assume the abbotship on his uncles death but, following disputes concerning his inheritance, he retreated to a hermitage. It was there that Kazi Dawa-Samdup had studied with him and obtained initiations into these yogas. These texts had been commissioned from Padma Karpo by a scholar king of Zangskar, Zhanphan Zangpo, and paid for with large deliveries of saffron.15 It was a great help to us to know that the very texts basic to the yogins' training were not only in English but also in our rucksacks. Alexandra David-Neel was the first Western writer to describe the psychophysical yogas which form a prominent part of the yogins' training. This remarkable woman travelled deep into Tibet disguised as the peasant mother of her lama companion. In this manner she witnessed events and took part in practices no other Westerner knew about in the early twentieth century. She described competitions between yogins in which, through generating body heat, they dried wet sheets draped on their bodies while meditating in

Schools for Hermits

89

an air temperature below freezing. She herself was given instruction and initiation in the practice.16 We were perhaps unhealthily curious to know how the Gotsang yogins trained in this practice and whether there were comparable examinations. Rigzin told us that the training was extremely physical, involving bodily exercises with control of breath and could only be undertaken by fit young men. Learning the methods requires a teacher who can give personal demonstration and this elderly teachers are no longer able to do. The practice of generating heat is called tumo,17 the Tibetan word for the Goddess Candali, the deity of heat and passion, who figures as a consort to male deities in many of the great mandalas of the tantric meditation cycles.18 At Gotsang in winter there is a tumo practice cycle at dawn, another in the early morning, at dusk and early after nightfall. Good food including meat and chang is important for success, at least by beginners. The effect of tumo practice, we were told, is a steady level of heat maintenance rather than a cyclic rise and fall. Villagers huddling around their fires in midwinter were probably less comfortable than the yogins living at higher altitude without external sources of heat. Apart from food preparation, the cells of the Gotsang monks are not warmed in winter if tumo is being practised. During the first winter's, practice the sessions are conducted within the cell. The second winter, they sit out of doors at night only wearing cotton cloth. The practice of drying sheets is however not carried out at Gotsang, although in principle there is no reason why it should not be done there. At the request of the Dalai Lama, the Gotsang monks had allowed some American physiologists to visit them the previous winter and carry out tests. On the first night they

90

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

had sat outside but the Americans, dressed in padded anoraks, found that without gloves their fingers became numb so quickly that they could not fix the electrodes to the body to obtain their readings. The tests had to be done indoors. Apparently they were happy with their findings. What had amused the monks very much was that the Americans had never asked them how to do it!19 Tumo is the first of the Naropa exercises and seemingly the most basic and essential one. These yogas are designed to produce specific mental effects with powerful psychosomatic consequences. Basically the practices are done not for their own sake but as powerful aids to Mahamudra meditation. As we were told later: "If you think of Mahamudra as an arrow, think of the Naropa yoga as the bow. A powerful bow will shoot the arrow further, faster and higher." The tumo exercise brings about an altered state of consciousness taking the practitioner deep into the calmed mind of meditative trance. Beginning with bodily action and the visualisation of interior bodily processes the mind moves progressively into meditative silence. The raised body heat is not therefore the prime aim of the practice, although tumo is useful in that it permits the practitioner to live in cold unheated environments without harm; a cause for the veneration in which most villagers hold these men. They are the commandos of the Vajrayana, the living prayer wheels of the people. The Drugpa Kargyu is a 'practice' sect as opposed to a 'teaching' one such as the Gelugpa or Sakyapa. The yogins are empowered through appropriate initiations to practise the higher mental yogas but are bound by vows of secrecy not to transmit their knowledge to others. The details of practice may be discussed only among fellow initiates or with the few monks specially empowered to teach them. The only

Schools for Hermits

91

way to learn the yogas personally is therefore to join a community of yogins and work one's way through the preliminaries obtaining the specific initiations at each stage a lifetimes dedication in fact. The teachers, as we were to find out, generally consider any discussion or analysis totally "without benefit" for only through practice can the matter be understood. Yogins at Lamayuru The monastery of Lamayuru lies at the opposite end of Ladakh from Hemis in the high western mountains to the south of the Indus. Perched on a promontory sticking out over a wide fertile valley it dominates the landscape which to the north consists of deeply eroded and pitted terraces of yellow silt, a veritable moonscape created from the remains of an ancient lake bed. The religious name of the monastery is Yun-drung, which means Swastika, a reference to the great mountain at the centre of the world, in reality Mount Kailas in western Tibet, from which four rivers flow. The shape is also a depiction of the centre of a great mandala representing the pivot and circumference of the mind itself and of the cosmos mirrored in it. In the old days a pony track ascended the twisting valley flanked by rows of ancient chortens. Marco Pallis and his party came here from Kashmir by this route in 1936.20 Today the new motor road sweeps past the monastery at a higher elevation having climbed there from the Islamic town of Kargil. Northwards it continues to the Indus valley by way of an immense pass down which it uncoils in innumerable brilliantly engineered snake bends. Tough young Ladakhis like to race down the scree from the top to the bottom of this enormous slope.

92

The Yogins o f Ladakh

I have been to Lamayuru several times. Unfortunately I have never been there at the same time as the monks! Usually there has been only a caretaker or two and small boys selling the tickets to tourists who want to see the shrines. The most satisfactory journey was one winter when I went there from Leh with the photo-journalist Tim Malyon. We had hired a tough but comfortable taxi which, loaded with luggage, cruised the high road through a whitened icy landscape etched by the intrusion of black wind-cleared ridges and patches of gravelly rock. The world was a pattern in shades of grey, brown and black, snow covered ranges standing vast against the blue sky, glaciers and snow slopes hanging above valleys where whitewashed chortens bade us welcome in every settlement. The higher we climbed, the lower the temperature fell. Towards evening, wearing everything we had, we climbed out of the car on the ridge above the monastery. Below us lay the chequered valley, to the left the moonscape covered in shining snow, along the streamside the maroon and yellow wands of willows and poplars gave some colour to the scene. Ahead the vast pile of the monastery also overlooked the valley, its central building flanked by three big chortens ringed by necklaces of prayer wheels set in stone. On the hill above the gompa and almost at our feet, a line of new buildings contoured the hillside. These were the cells and temple of the yogins of Lamayuru. Below the gompa the village houses climb the hillside to mingle with the monastic buildings. Indeed some of the older parts of the gompa seem to have reverted to lay ownership. The houses have hay and firewood on the roofs, cockerels crow from vantage points, and chickens scratch among the chimneys. Below the main building is a group of older structures built about a courtyard off which mysterious

Schools for Hermits

93

rubbish filled passages lead towards dark undercrofts like medieval dungeons.21 Clambering up some uneven steps you enter a tiny court and face the carved wooden doorway of an ancient shrine. This little-visited chamber is one of the most impressive in Ladakh. The outer part contains superb mandalas, large wall paintings darkened and cracked by time, and stucco statuary of Vairocana and the attendant meditation Buddhas of his mandala. Off this is a small unlit chamber, a shrine room for the protector lords. Groping inside with candle or torchlight one can see strange figures gyrating on the walls, skeletons jiving in the darkness, and a row of massive demonic statues grimacing viciously. Sculpted with a power that few artists today could command, the wrathful protectors are revealed in massive strength. You have to know the tricky Tibetan calendar extremely well to calculate when you will receive a sociable welcome in a gompa. Sometimes you hit a period when the monks are assembled for a communal festival; at other times the monastery is empty, dust blowing down deserted corridors. The monks are away collecting alms or materials or visiting their families. One day in Leh we found the yogins of Lamayuru all in town washing their long dreadlocks and chattering on the roof of their lodgings. On another occasion Tashi and I were shown around the buildings at Lamayuru and given a secret description of the training, sitting in a dark basement and talking in whispers. Another time, there was only a single yogin present who told us a little of his personal life. And on that cold winter visit we met a young English speaking yogin-lama, who told us about his work and let us use his kitchen. On one occasion when only one yogin was present, he was reluctant to let us into his cell so we sat in his porch

94

The Yogins o f Ladakh

while he told us about his life. Jigme Wangdu came from a village not far from Lamayuru. He had wanted to become a monk as a child and while at Lamayuru he contemplated the shortness of precious human life and decided he must become a yogin. There were ten yogins out of thirteen in residence, he said, but they were away collecting alms from their sponsors. He said that he had just begun to practise tumo and that he had difficulty in correctly establishing the breathing method. The practice enabled him to feel light in body with a calm clear, mind. You needed energy for the practice, he told us; meat eating was a good idea. Another main practice was a visualisation involving the transference of consciousness into space (Phowa), and he said he was training in this too. Lamayuru belongs to the Drigungpa,22 yet another branch of the Kargyupa order. All these sects share a common origin in the traditions of Tan trie meditation brought from India by Marpa the Translator and passed by him to the great ascetic .Milarepa and thence to the scholar Gampopa. Gampopa integrated a number of traditions of the Indian teachers and handed them on to Phagmodru whose disciples created a number of lineages each focussing around particular aspects of a common tradition. Jigten Gonpa,23 from whom the Drigungpa line is descended, met Phagmodru when he was 25 and received from him all the teachings in the sutras and the tantras. At one time he sent three of his disciples, together with Tsangpa Gyare the Drugpa founder, to the mountain of Tsari to open it for pilgrimages. He also sent hermits to meditate in the caves around Mount Kailas where Milarepa had meditated previously. One of these monks 24 was invited to Ladakh by the king Tashi Namgyal ( ruled 1555-1575) and founded the monastery of Phyang. After the occupation of Tibet by the

Schools for Hermits

95

Chinese in 1959 only a few Drigungpa yogins survived to pass on their tradition. Among them was Khyunga Rimpoche who became the main teacher for the yogins of Lamayuru.25 When I had visited Lamayuru in 1981 there were twelve yogins mostly of local origin all training together. They were the survivors of a group of nineteen who had joined Khyunga Rimpoche, being taught by him first at Riwalsar and then at Chusul in Ladakh. He was at Lamayuru for three years before dying there, his remains being interred in a chorten.26 The training was taken over by a monk called Jorphel who had trained with Khyunga Rimpoche at Chusul.27 One of the yogins kindly described to us the training schedule of the yogins as undertaken with Khyunga Rimpoche. The entire process should take about twenty seven months but the group we talked to in 1981 was only beginning tumo after four years. Complete training could well take six. The Training Schedule of the Lamayuru Yogins The group of yogins first assembles with the teacher and constitute themselves as a class. Each monk then enters his cell to work through a series of contemplative meditations on his own, practising from authoritative texts on each subject. He moves from step to step only after interviews and examination by the teacher. Ordinary preliminaries i) The precious opportunity presented by human life. The monk meditates on how rare is the occasion to be bom as a human being. He is fortunate in that good karma has led to this and that he has not ended up as an animal, a hungry ghost, a titan or a god. Being human provides him with the opportunity of escaping the wheel altogether

96

The Yogins o f Ladakh

through yogic training. He must resolve to use the precious opportunity to the best of his ability and strength. ii) The fact of impermanence. Everything is impermanent, especially life itself. The mind resists this fact. Meditative contemplation leads to acceptance of it. iii) The law of cause and effect. All things are produced by causes and generate effects that are in turn causes. This is called the interdependent origination of all things. As the Universe unfolds the continuing generation of causes and effects produces an enormously complex scenario of interdependent phenomena which is ever extending. This is the basic process of karma. In practical terms what one experiences now is due to one's actions in the past but these do not inevitably determine the future. What I do now taken in conjunction with what I have done determines the future. Hence I need to act rightly now. iv) The meaninglessness of worldly life (samsara ) and the vow to become a Buddha. To be endlessly caught in the chain of karmic retribution is meaningless; it is the suffering born of ignorance of causation. To transcend such suffering through insight into its nature is the goal, but to do this there is only one way: one must become a Buddha. To do this in this very lifetime is the yogins' vow. Twenty one days are spent on each topic and then, depending on the understanding gained, the teacher will allow the trainee to proceed. Special preliminaries i) Grand prostrations.

Schools for Hermits

97

The purpose of prostration is to reduce egoism, engender humility and effect purification through repentance. Prostration can also become a meditative exercise in itself. One hundred thousand is the basic commitment. The grand prostration is a full length stretch on the ground performed from a standing position and accompanied by certain prayers or refuge formulae. An additional 10,000 are done to atone for errors in the practice and then an additional 1000 in case of further mistakes. The total is put at 111,125 prostrations. The Refuge formula is recited on every movement or on every two or three. The entire procedure takes about two to three months given diligent practice. It is hard work and carried out between 1 am - 7 am, 8 am - 12 am , 1 pm - 3 pm , 4 pm - 8 pm. The monk then sleeps from 10 pm till 1 am. There are also some visualisations and recitations to be done. Needless to say a practitioner must be fit and indeed becomes very fit during this training. ii) Mandala Offerings. A mandala is constructed as an offering either using trays, rice and objects or mentally. This is accompanied by the offertory prayers. The offering is made for the same number of times as the prostrations and takes about the same time. iii)Visualisation of the teacher as guru. The teacher is visualised as a tantric guru and identified with oneself. Thus one makes ones own mind of the same quality as the teachers. The special preliminaries may take 8-12 months to complete. The main training i) Contemplative meditation on love (Byams. Pa)

98

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

In Tibetan Buddhism, love is the practice of empathy with the joy of others. ii) Contemplative meditation on compassion (Nying. rJe). Compassion is the practice of empathy with the suffering of others. iii) Contemplation on the Bodhisattva Vow. It is not enough to try to achieve release for oneself in this lifetime. So long as another suffering sentient being remains, it is ones duty to help them to go before one into Nirvana. The Bodhisattva is one who practices in this way. All yogins take this vow. iv) Evocation of Heruka Cakrasambhava as protector. To protect the practice it is important to receive the assistance of a protector, a powerful deity or visualised being who will come to ones aid. In this case the deity is Heruka.28 Such a visualised deity or wrathful Buddha is known as a yidam. Yidams come in many forms. Here there are two figures in a sexual embrace symbolising the union of Bliss and Means. They are attended by numerous dakinis, female principles of action. The yogin visualises himself as the male and female figures in union as the mental experience of the unity of Bliss and Means. There are 400,000 mantric repetitions for the 'father' and 200,000 for the 'mother' together with 100,000 for the retinue of dakinis. This evocation protects the previous contemplations and the endeavour of the Yogin. The meditation symbolises the use of skilful means to enter Bliss-Emptiness and reveals that Bliss- Emptiness itself comprises the means. These four meditations require twenty one days each in the case of the first three and three months practice for the

Schools for Hermits

99

yidam. The series ends with a Fire ceremony ( sByin. sReg) as a celebration. v) Contemplation of the guru as emptiness. Having identified with the guru, the meditater now sees him as ultimate emptiness. Through deepening the guru visualisation he discovers the flux of all things and goes beyond attachment to the teacher. This takes three months. vi) Mahamudra (phyag. chen) Mahamudra is a profound meditative practice involving insight into the nature of a calmed mind. This is the ultimate path which can take the yogin all the way. Eventually yogins may drop most other methods and simply use this one, even going beyond that into "not meditation". (sGom.Med) Mahamudra is discussed in later chapters, especially 17 There is no time limit on its practice but within the training it is introduced in a session one month long. vi) The Six Yogas of Naropa (Na. Ro. Chos. Drug) The six yogas provide the yogin with a powerful support for Mahamudra practice. The six begin with Heat generation (gTum.Mo) and continue with Dream m editation (rMi.Lam), Illusory body (sGyu.Lus), Clear light (Od.gSal), Intermediate stage (Bar.mDo) and Transference of consciousness (Pho. Ba). All make use of the visualised channels of breath in the body and breathing exercises which generate prana much in the same way as taoist exercises develop chi. The practices provide a deep understanding of the processes of the body and mind. One cycle takes six months. vii) Dedication. On completing the course the yogin may become a hermit and continue to practise on his own in lengthy enclosed retreats. He has the aim of becoming a siddha, a

10 0

The Yogins o f Ladakh

meditator of exceptional ability. He may however also remain in a community and practise there. He has not been given permission to teach, yet his influence in the world will have greatly changed as a result of his training. A dedication is performed when the formal training ends. The exhaustively thorough nature of this training will be apparent to anyone who takes the trouble to examine what is involved. Its intensity and the duration through which it is sustained demand high levels of mental and physical fitness to say nothing of determination and motivation. It demands total faith. As one of the yogins said to us, somewhat distancing himself from the manner of our enquiry -"The difference between a Westerner and a yogin is that we are consecrated persons." The Drikungpa have now established centres in Germany and the USA. They show a greater inclination to come out into the modem world than do most Drugpa Kargyu monks. Clearly the time for the wider understanding of these profound meditations is upon us. 29

REFERENCES 1 Edited version o f a verse in Milarepa's "Heartfelt advice to Rechungpa." Chapter 51 in Chang, G. C. C. 1962. The Hundred Thousand songs o f Milarepa. University books. N ew York. Vol 2. p 581 2 sTag. Tshang. Ras. Pa 3 See: Pallis M. 1939 ( reprint 1974). Peaks and Lamas. Chapter 19, for example. 4 Also: Snellgrove, D. and T. Skorupski. 1977. The Cultural Heritage o f Ladakh. Warminster. Aris and Phillips. Vol 1, p l2 7 5'Brug. Chen.

Schools for Hermits

101

6 gDung. Ras. For an account o f a Westerner's impressions o f this great lama, see Harvey, A. 1983. A Journey to Ladakh L o n d o n . Jonathan Cape. ^Gotsangpa is also said to have frequented other caves in Ladakh, including that near Mattho Gompa. Gotsangpa had four disciples in Ladakh represented today in the Gotsang Gompa cave by statues. Tw o o f these were Yangonpa and Urgyenpa. The latter lived in Hemis and he too was said to have visited Odyana 8 One o f these monks was called Sonam Dorje. Detailed accounts o f this gompa are given in Crook, J.H. and H. O sm aston.1994. Himalayan Buddhist Villages, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi and Bristol University. 9 A fifth yogin, Nochung Punzog o f Markha valley, had late in life become the teacher o f the lost abbot o f Hemis. l^ T w o o f these had been named Chosum (Chos. bSam) and Urgyen (U. rGyan) 11 These preliminaries are called Nong-dro, (sN yon . 'Gro, in Tibetan.) l^ g T u m . Mo. ^ E v a n s-W e n tz W .Y. 1935 Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. Oxford University Press. l^sLob. dPon. mTshams. Pa. Nor. Bu l^ E vans Wentz, loc cit p 154 and 251. Referring to Zhangphan Zangpo as a 'Kashmiri1 king, Evans Wentz ( p 112) tells us that Kazi Dawa-Samdup believed that "there may be some accounts" o f his establishment o f a Dukpa line o f transmission in Zangskar at Hemis Gompa. This is undoubtedly an oblique reference to Gotsang Gompa. Deiter Shuh has established that this king's queen did indeed establish the Kargyudpa in Zangskar (See History chapter in Crook and Osmaston). Evans Wentz describes this line as the 'white line' and this may be the basis for an occult Western interest in so called 'White fathers' in the Himalayas. l^ D avid-N eel, A. 1931(New edition 1965) Magic and Mystery in Tibet. New York. University Books, see pp 216-229 17. gTum.mo

102

The Yogins o f Ladakh

l^ S e e Snellgrove D. 1959 The Hevajra Tantra . Oxford University Press l^ T h e s e investigations had also taken Khamtag R im poche to Manali to be tested. Som e o f the interesting results o f these and related enquiries h ave been published; se e B en so n . H, J. W.Lehmann, M. S.Malhotra, R. F.Goldman, J. Hopkins and M. Epstein. 1982. Body temperature changes during the practice o f gT um.Mo yoga. Nature 295:234-236. A lso Benson. H, M. S.Malhotra, R.F.Goldman, G. D. Jacobs and P. J. Hopkins. 1990. Three case reports o f the m etabolic and electro-encaphalographic changes during advanced Buddhist m editation techniques. B e h a v io r a l M e d i c i n e . Summer edition. 9 0 -95 . S ee further: Sudsuang. R, V.Chentanez and K Veluvan. 1991. Effect o f Buddhist meditation on serum cortisol and total protein levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lung volume and reaction time. Physiology and behaviour 50: 543548. A lso Young, J. 1988. Research on the effects o f the Phowa ritual. Tibet Foundation N ew sletter3 . 11-12 quoting source as P sych op hysiological changes due to the performance o f Phowa ritual. Research f o r religion and parapsychology Journal 17. December 1987. A lso further reviews o f such enquiries in West, M. 1987. The Psychology o f Meditation. Oxford University Press. ^Opallis, M. 1939 (reprint 1974) Peaks and Lamas . London. Woburn Press, p 211 21 In the summer o f 1992 I was happy to see that a major clean up had been undertaken.

22 'Bri. Gung. Pa
2 3 A lso known as Ratnashri 2 4 c h o s. rJe. IDan. Ma. Kun. dGa. grags.pa 2^Khunu Lama Rimpoche also escaped and taught young Tibetans including Konchog Gyaltsen who founded the Drigungpa centre in Washington, USA. 2^For details o f the life o f the Venerable Khyunga Rimpoche see Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen. 1988. In Search o f the Stainless Ambrosia. N ew York. Snow Lion, p 23. photo facing p 96.

Schools for Hermits

103

27 The main teaching texts of this group which match those by Padma Karpo at Gotsang are the Theg Chen. bsTan. Pai. sNying. Po, the Dam. Pai. Chos. dGongs. Pa. gChig. Pa. and the Bri. Gung. sKyob. Pa. 28 bDe. mChog. 'Khor. Lo. sDom.pa

CHAPTER FIVE

THE CITY AND THE HILLS


The sage who meditates in the upper part o f the gorge and the sponsors from the lower valley who give him food will both attain Enlightenment together. The essence o f their relationship is dedication.1

Buddhism and Social Life in Leh Leh is the capital of Ladakh and the centre of Ladakhi culture. Its merchants' houses and shops flank a handsome market place stretching through the centre of the town below the castle of ancient kings. The massive fortress, older than the Potala, the seventeenth century palace at Lhasa, domi nates a side valley of the Indus from the crags of a lengthy mountain ridge. The royal family, branch descendants of the ancient royal house of Lhasa, sustained their power from the ninth or tenth century until their defeat by the Dogras in 1842. Even then the family was permitted to retain Stok Palace outside Leh as their home. Their social influence and that of the aristocracy that surrounded them can still be witnessed and the recent coronation of the young king at his marriage in 1992 was a popular event. James Low and I first flew to Ladakh together in September 1986. Whether you enter Leh by air or on the motor road the initial impression is depressing: miles of army camps and a grotty suburb in a dull expanse of gravel. In the old days, the caravan trail crossed this desert and climbed the slope to the town on a track flanked by enormous mani walls, raised beds of boulders topped with millions of carved repetitions of Om mane padme hum on rounded stones brought from the riverbed. It was a

The City and the Hills

105

processional way leading right into the marketplace and ending at the mosque placed just below the palace. The alluvial fan to the east of the town is waterless, but, to the west of the castle ridge a powerful stream irrigates terraced fields of barley and peas. Groves of poplar and willow trees grow along the stream bed giving the place the air of Central Asia. In the middle of these groves stands an ancient chorten surrounded by standing stones on which representations of Bodhisattvas are carved in bas-relief. This site has been used since the earliest days of Buddhism in the Himalayas, the seventh to eighth century CE. The village around the stupa is called Changspa, after Chamba the Tibetan name of Maitreya, the Buddha of the future. The houses are vast and the farms and vegetable gardens luxuriant; they are owned by the more influential families of Buddhist Leh. The wooded tranquillity of Changspa makes it the most delightful area of Leh and just to the north of it lies the monastery of Sankar where the courtyard is full of flowers and surrounded by the winding lanes of a village beset with enormous trees. Trained in engineering, economics or social studies, the young English speaking Ladakhi graduates from Indian universities whom we met in Leh were on the whole strikingly ignorant about the details of their own culture and of Buddhism in general. Many of the politically minded, simply used the label Buddhist to stand for their collective identity as non-Muslim Ladakhis. I met one group of engineers who were practising meditation at a branch of the Mahabodhi Society. Their focus was primarily on the basic meditations of the Theravada, and they took little interest in the complex tantras of the monasteries. The gompas to them represented an outmoded form of life and meditation was a means for increasing the efficiency of bank managers or

106

The Yogins o f Ladakh

engineers. It was clear that the contemporary citizen of Leh was little different from a taxi driver or business executive in London, harassed by stress from hard work or, alternatively, no work, debt, family pressures and political disaffection. Here the torments of Samsara appeared in florid form. It seemed an odd paradox that in the ancient monasteries with their apparently outmoded practices and views on life, there existed doctrines, texts and methods for psychological growth that were specifipally designed to go beyond such painful limitations. James and I talked this over together, not only contrasting rural and urban Ladakhis but comparing the minds of monks or farmers with those of Western city dwellers. It seemed to James that the monks and farmers moved in a dimension we called Action-Space. They were either actively involved in their everyday activities or they released themselves into a sort of spacious ease with no special focus. This allowed regular recovery from hard work and action. The urban person, with his aims structured by Westernised norms and focussed on fame and gain, moved in a dimension of Pleasure-Depletion. Needs and desires built up until some degree of fulfilment occurred, usually a dissipation in food, drink, sex, indulgence in some sensational event or activity, imaginative projection or forms of ego support in mutual flattery. The experience of pleasure here ends in depletion, like a tyre being let down or a flaccid penis, exhaustion occurs until the search for fame, gain and pleasurable consumption of sensation enters another cycle. There is a crucial difference in the function of desire in the two cases: for the modern person craving is far more intense and even the suggestion that it might be set aside looks like an absurdity.

The City and the Hills

107

Everyday life for a traditional Ladakhi was built around ideas that have their origins in several contrasting historical strata. At first, when we talked with village Ladakhis, we were puzzled by many inconsistencies. Take for instance a conversation I once had with our Ladakhi guides while crossing the Stongde La, a high pass in Zangskar, on the way to the remote village of Shadi. After a good day's climb in brilliant weather, we were approaching the crest of the pass when a fierce snowstorm suddenly swept upon us. In a few minutes we were white from head to foot and the track disappeared under snow. We struggled down the far side and took shelter in a hut, part of a disused cattle camp. My companions were very merry. "It is a splendid sign," they told me. "The goddess of the mountain is delighted by your good qualities, so she has sent us snow." I pondered this and then enquired why this was a good thing. "Oh, you don't understand," was their reply. "If it snows and freezes up here on the mountain there will be less water in the gorge tomorrow and we will be able to make the stream crossings easily." Since sixteen stream crossings of varying depth lay ahead of us, that was indeed a good thing. Sun in the mountains rapidly increases the flow of water in such gorges. To the Ladakhis our moral qualities were important in determining our fate on the climb. And so it is in all matters. During my 1980 stay in Zangskar our landlord's son suffered from a fluctuant swelling after a fall and rapidly developed an extremely high temperature. He was treated by both our team's doctor and his father, a local amchi. The father's view was that this was no accident: the boy must

108

The Yogins o f Ladakh

have offended a local spirit - probably one living near a chorten. He may even have pissed on it unknowingly. Again and again we came across statements that never admitted of chance occurrences; everything was a consequence of some action in relation to hidden powers. Yet, in facing these powers, there was an entirely matter of fact attitude. 2 In this world without chance there are many forces; spirits, titans, gods and other beings, ghosts and wandering spirits, thought forms both of the dead and those still living. Some of these are traditional gods or powers of place mountain, gorge, pass, plain - whose shrines, normally a stone pile crowned with animal horns and prayer flags fluttering in the breeze, stand at vantage points throughout the landscape. Others are the thought forms or ghosts of people who have died by violence. Some are the great lha or gods of the high peaks. Often they manifest by taking possession of someone. One expedition crossed a pass but left some bags at the village it had visited the day before. A man, sent back to retrieve them, was caught at night in a storm on the pass. He was found demented and raving. After a while the villagers realised that he had become possessed by the god of the pass and performed the appropriate exorcism, making offerings and other forms of recompense for having disturbed him.3 Although Ladakhi society is characterised by remarkable cohesion and a capacity to heal disputes through negotiation, these features are aspects of an underlying intensity of social life based probably in the high level of reciprocation required in relations between closely knit families in a tough environment. I once asked a Ladakhi hotel owner why he employed as staff only people from outside Ladakh. "Well," he said. "If I employed a Ladakhi I could never sack him!"

The City and the Hills

109

This impossibility is based upon a sense of mutual support as a powerful social convention within a highly localised ethic of reciprocation. Such concern may take the form of care in balancing the giving and receiving of gifts or services. Once, with Tim Malyon, I went to interview a local healer at Stok. We had taken a small gift to give him and, when we heard he was ill, we wanted to leave the gift at his house as a goodwill gesture. Our interpreter told us this was not a good idea. When we asked why this was so, he said, "Well, it would make him most uncomfortable since he has done nothing for you. You would be forcing an obligation upon him." Once the logic was clear to us, we naturally desisted. Clearly there are costs to such conventions. Where the pressures of a coded mutuality become insupportable the resultant hysteria takes the form of 'possession'. A woman may experience possession by a neighbour who she suspects of being jealous of her and who is thus in danger of being labelled a witch through collective projection. Such instances of possession are relieved by certain standard treatments for mollifying or casting out the possessing entity. As a final appeal, the local Rimpoche may be consulted. Village oracles are often people, usually women but also men, who are possessed by local spirits. Rather than fight them, the Rimpoche negotiates a contract with the possessing spirits so that they occupy their vehicle only in the role of healing or prophesying agents.4 Naturally the status of the afflicted one rises considerably in her local society. In these matters there is an effective indigenous psychiatry at work.5 All such beliefs are of great antiquity having their origin in the pre-Buddhist and animistic religion in which the shaman was the prototype of the contemporary oracle or lha-

110

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

ba. They lie at the root of Ladakhi folk religion and mix in puzzling ways with Buddhism. For monks there is a higher path of ethical conduct involving mental cultivation through concentrative meditation that gradually purifies the mind. Even when they officiate in rituals seeking protection from local forces for their rustic clients, most monks are aware of a more inclusive order of ethics and cosmic interpretation in the metanarrative of the 'great tradition'.6 Some laymen too are ardent Buddhist practitioners of the highest integrity. Ladakhis with modern education have added to this mixture the values of middle class India with an emphasis on success, the good material life and ethics of fellowship without eschewing competition. These individualistic values appeared in Ladakh following the monetisation of the subsistence economy and the growth of westernised education. In Zangskar, sadness was expressed at the fact that so many of the yogins' caves in the mountains were empty. The nobility of the yogins' endeavour was well recognised although not a few villagers were afraid of their apparent powers. The yogin was the rare exemplar who showed that liberation was possible. No matter that the methods were not understood, that secrecy was sustained; the monk living in freezing cells in a mountain cave had accomplished something remarkable. He received a curiously reticent respect for he had "gone beyond" in ways the average man cannot envisage. The yogins were the unsung heroes of the dharma. A number of Ladakhi intellectuals and some of the more widely educated monks have gradually responded to the Western interest in Tibetan Buddhism. When I first went to Ladakh in the early eighties, Leh was the centre of a drive for westernisation in the Indian mode. Everything traditional

The City and the Hills

111

was old hat, waiting to be discarded. Over the years this attitude has changed. The interest taken in their culture by Western tourists and the establishment by Helena NorbergHodge of the Ecology Centre in Leh focussing on traditional economics and providing educative discussion of contemporary ecological and social issues, have together contributed to a widened Ladakhi awareness of their own culture in a world context. With the growth of a Ladakhi sense of social and political identity has come a deeper interest in the meaning of those magnificent buildings, the gompas, that appear everywhere in the landscape. The fact that Westerners may take the doctrines of liberation seriously and practise intensively has impressed Ladakhis, particularly when they realise how ill equipped they are to respond to the searching questions Westerners habitually ask. Education of monks in their own tradition is now improving and close links with the old Tibetan monastic universities, now re-established on Indian soil, are developing. The frequent, presence of the Dalai Lama in the new summer palace built for him near the river at Choglamsar has also become an influential focus. It may be that some of the Ladakhi monasteries will become centres of excellence in scholarship and practice. Already, through broadcasts on the local radio and the holding of talks and symposia in the main Buddhist temple in Leh, the education of Ladakhis in the deeper roots of their traditional culture is improving. As the failures of Western materialism are seen increasingly to balance its successes, this trend is likely to continue. Lunch at the Palace Soon after our arrival James and I attended a Buddhist conference and met one of James's old friends, Tsering

112

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Dorje, who had helped him out during his meditational practice in the Ladakhi cemeteries. He expressed a great interest in our project and invited us to lunch in the Stok Palace where he was staying. He had let slip a number of remarks such as "You must come and see our museum," and "The Queen and I. . . " which warned us he must be a member of the royal family and indeed he turned out to be an uncle of the then Queen. The massive building seems to lean into the landscape and from its rooms spectacular views can be had in all directions. We climbed up several flights of steps and through several intriguing little courtyards to meet Tsering Dorje on the upper stairway. He ushered us into a long chamber with a great window overlooking the distant Indus. On the floor was a superb carpet that had come from Kashgar, pink, red and green with a pattern of vases. There were wooden armchairs and large sofas covered with Tibetan rugs. At the end of the room was a canopied area and we realised we were in an audience room where the Queen could receive visitors. She did in fact join us for tea after our meal. We discovered that another of Tsering Dorjes relatives had been the yogin, Lama Norbu of Khordong near Kyelang, who had played a major role in the restoration of Dzongkul Gompa in Zangskar and had renewed the dharma in the mountainous regions of the Himalaya between Zangskar and Lahoul, a remote country known as Punghey, which rarely appears on any maps. After the meal, exquisitely stuffed peppers with mixed vegetable noodles and creamed potatoes followed by a banana and apple desert superbly served on excellent crockery by a servant so discreet that his presence was barely discernible, we were joined by an Indian gentleman

The City and the Hills

113

bearing presents from Japan for the royal children. This gentleman of impeccable manners was not introduced to us; our host conversed alternately with him and us exhibiting that extraordinary skill which Indians often show for doing several things at the same time. Each party participated in each other's affairs without actually mingling them. The parcels were opened before us and included a toy motor car complete with radio controls. Of course we fitted the batteries and then the five of us got down on all-fours while the little vehicle whizzed to and fro around the chairs on the Kashgar carpet. A Modern Rimpoche One day James and I visited Tikse Gompa near Leh. We reached the monastery after dark and clambered around its narrow passages and stairways with flickering lamps and torches. Afterwards, in the roadside tea house, we met a young monk with elegant manners and a wispy moustache who surprised us considerably. He turned out to be the incarnation of a very famous figure in Ladakhi history and now the abbot of a Gelugpa monastery in a remote part of the Himalayas to the east of Ladakh. The young Rimpoche became most enthusiastic about our project and requested a private meeting with us at our hotel. Since this meeting was private we give no details identifying the Rimpoche. He intrigued us by his open friendliness, his obvious intelligence and his fluent English. Most of his training as a Gelugpa had been of an academic and scholarly nature and he wanted to question us about meditation. His monastery was the base for some two hundred monks but its rural location meant that they had little training. As a reincarnating lama, Rimpoche was expected to find study easy for he would have known it all in his previous lives. He was taking

114

The Yogins o f Ladakh

a course that would lead to the honoured degree of geshe, a doctorate in Buddhist studies following the traditional and lengthy Tibetan syllabus. But he professed to be bored by the Vinaya, the study of monastic rules and precepts, and the intricate psychology of the Abhidharma, with its innumerable classifications of states of mind. He found the philosophical doctrine of emptiness exciting for he felt some personal insight into these ideas. But in the Gelugpa tradition meditation was taught only late in the syllabus after the more academic content had been thoroughly absorbed and he wanted to find out more We remarked that in some traditions meditation is taught much earlier in the syllabus and that there was no reason why he should not begin immediately. The first thing was to practise the calming of the mind 7 after which he could attempt to gain direct, experiential insight into his basic nature.8 It was clearly difficult for a reincarnation who was also an abbot to arrange basic training for himself. He was simply expected to know. This he found unrealistic and embarrassing. Asked whether he had any recollections of his previous incarnations, he replied that he had no such memories and that he often doubted whether he really was a reincarnation of a great lama. Once he had spoken to the Dalai Lama about this. His Holiness had said that although he had been told who he himself was when he was very young, he too had no direct memories of his past history and had often had such doubts. However, being placed in the position that he was, he felt he had come to activate the spirit of his noble predecessors so that he could emanate this for others. This had been a considerable inspiration to the young Rimpoche. At the end of our meeting he invited us to come one day to his remote monastery so that we could meet his community of monks and meditate together with him.

The City and the Hills

115

It seemed clear to me that this intelligent young man had been provoked into asking these questions partly by his training in English and Western ways at school. The new generation of young lamas has a hard task of integration to perform. There is certainly room for two way traffic here: a comprehension of the Western mind will be as important for the new generation of lama teachers as their own tradition must be. Journey to Khaspang During our period of acclimatisation in Leh, James and I had several valuable discussions with Tashi Rabgyas. Tashi agreed to accompany us on a visit to Khaspang, the alternative retreat centre of the Drugpa Kargyu monks in training at Gotsang. It lies above the village of Igu, where, as at Gotsang, there is a cave once occupied by the great yogin Gotsangpa. To go there we could travel by way of the Sakti valley where Tashi grew up. He invited us to stay at his home before our climb into the mountains. Tashis family home is a huge square building set back against the hills. We walked there from the road across marshy ground and between rich fields where harvesting was going on. In places, teams of men,women and children were squatting on their haunches cutting the barley crop with sickles and singing in unison. We could hear the sound of these gentle work songs rising and falling, some near, some distant, defining the space of the valley. The house, almost a miniature castle, has a high outer wall and a massive portico guarded by a ferocious mastiff who leers out from his kennel at anyone who approaches. At night the chain is lengthened so that no one can enter the front door. When we approached, Tashi stood in front of the bristling animal as we sidled in. We climbed to the top floor

116

The Yogins o f Ladakh

and came out on a roof terrace off which opened a room with old wall paintings, fine carpets and comfortable chairs. There we spent the evening. Next morning we walked across the marshy land admiring the various landmarks. As is usual in Ladakh, there are reminders of miracles of long ago on every hillside and every massive boulder. A shrine to the local spirit 9 overlooks the farm. A large rock on the hillside has the impression of two figures on it, one of them with a great slash into the rockface above it. This is said to depict Guru Rimpoche .slaying the female demon of the mountain whose breasts stick up as two large boulders further up the hill. Out on the valley floor, a rock split down the centre is her cleft heart while a larger rounded one is said to be her stomach. Having cleared the valley of malevolent influences, Guru Rimpoche meditated in the cave at Tragthog Gompa which looks down on Tashi's house from the opposite side of the valley. To the Ladakhis, such reminders of the days when the Tantrikas outwitted the old shamans of the Bon religion are of great significance. After a short call on Staglung Rimpoche at the Gompa, we approached a steep stony hillside below looming hills. We took only light packs since Tashi expected to be back by nightfall and, having been told that Khaspang lay in the Chang Thang - the desert uplands of northern Ladakh, - 1 was quite surprised to find it was within walking distance. Soon we were clambering breathlessly up steep slopes following a barely discernible path that twisted between great crags. Without Tashi, we would never have found it. A flock of Chukor, mountain partridges, ran around us calling frequently and peering over the tops of the stones to watch our progress. Rounding a steep cone of rock we crested the ridge to find ourselves overlooking a narrow valley full of sand and

The City and the Hills

117

stones, empty of any habitation or greenery. Tashi led us along the knife edge of the ridge, the barely visible track winding along just below its crest. In places we hurried across steep scree so loose and sandy that it drifted away below each footstep and, had we halted, we would have slid downhill with an ever increasing speed. In the thin air, James and I were tiring quickly; the pass was a good 14000 feet above sea level. We were both coming under the influence of the mountains, the altitude making us light headed. I was repeating Om mane padme hum in time with my feet and got into a steady rhythm saving mental energy and regulating the breathing effectively. At last we reached the head of the valley and the slope eased up towards the cairn at the top of the pass. Away to the south heavy clouds were gathering and Tashi announced we were in for a storm. For this we were not prepared having left warmer and more protective clothing down at his house. It began to snow and the wind, which during the climb had been coming up from the south, was now rushing down from the summits above us. Tashi said that the zhidag, the spirits of place, were disconcerted by our presence. He told us that the sudden storm was because we were perhaps the first Europeans to have crossed this pass. The zhidag themselves were top shy to appear but they had summoned the weather to make us hurry along. As the cloud cover became heavier, the light dimmed and the atmosphere of the mountains became very strange. Even the wind did not disturb the deep silence. Whenever I turned to look at the view, all thoughts were sucked from my mind into an immensity of space. On the slopes above us certain rocks stood out like sentinels and I had the strong impression that we were being observed. On either side of

118

The Yogins o f Ladakh

the track were collections of tiny cairns, stones balanced precariously one above the other to make sets of little stupas. They had been ingeniously made and placed in attractive patterns on the ground. Four of them had been arranged as a little mandala just off the track giving me the feeling that we were entering a world ruled by silence under the protection of natural presences. On the northern face of the pass the land did not drop away as I had expected, we were entering a region of low rolling hills, the high Chang Thang itself. The hummocks consisted of firm earth almost like dunes but completely hard. A shallow valley descended to an alpine pasture where we found a disused cattle camp near which a herd of Dzo, Tibetan cattle, a yak cross, was grazing, their black shapes standing out against the fawn coloured earth. By now the snow had given way to a fine rain, cloudy mists were eddying down around the hills and the light continued to grow dimmer. It looked exactly like a Scottish moorland on a wintry day. Rounding a spur in the hillside we came down upon a group of low buildings tucked under a ridge. Khaspang Gompa consisted of a line of two storey buildings following the contour of the hill. Before it lay a little flower garden now dripping with the moisture from the mountain mist. The garden contained a small pool and was protected by a low stone wall. As we entered, an iron gate squeaked in the silent air. Beside the front door stood a lithophone, a thin suspended stone. Tashi tapped it sending a high pinging sound into the air.10 Inside the building there was a murmuring of voices; after a little while a window opened and a face appeared with an exclamation. Silence fell again and then we heard the sound of feet shuffling up behind the door, which finally creaked open.

The City and the Hills

119

The opened door revealed Rigzin, Tashi's uncle, whom I had met at Gotsang. He had now moved up to Khaspang to do his stint here. Beaming with pleasure, he ushered us upstairs to a small unfurnished room which he quickly dressed with carpets and mats for us to sit on. Before long we were sipping tea, reviving and warming up. Outside the zhidag were still hard at work for the elements were growling; the rain had turned into a soft hail and then into large snowflakes. Another yogin joined us. Tashi's uncle is tall and strongly built with a smiling affable face. The newcomer was much shorter and broader, a veritable rock of a man, round faced and somewhat unsmiling, impressive in his massive solidity. Both men seemed extremely fit and exuded alert awareness. Their eyes shone with an inner energy which gave their faces an expression of remarkable clarity and they had a penetrating presence. We tried to lead the conversation towards the nature of their activity but we learned nothing new from them. Their attitude told us that if we wanted to know anything about their practices, we should stop talking and begin doing them too. After a while we were taken to see the lha-khang, a great privilege. Here in the main hall we found three beautiful statues. In the centre, behind the altar, sat Milarepa the great meditator, with his hand cupped tq his ear. He was four to five feet high, impressively constructed and the eyes had a strange gaze, seeming to look far out into the distance. Beside him, on the left, sat his teacher Marpa looking every bit as angry and ferocious as his reputation implies. His great round eyes glared at whatever object was before them. To the right sat the philosopher of the Kargyu lineage, Gampopa, his eyes much calmer, well suiting the scholar in comparison with the other yogins who seemed about to take

120

The Yogins o f Ladakh

off into space. The little gompa was enveloped in an extraordinary silence. Almost tangible, it seemed to penetrate every room, every corridor, the garden and the low wet hills outside. It seemed to hang in the air rather than in the senses and, as I experienced its presence, the whole of my consciousness seemed to slip out into it to be replaced by a feeling of unlimited vastness. Staying at Khaspang was to live in the spaciousness of the mountain silences which is itself the silence of the mind. In, such a place Mahamudra could emerge without effort, the only obstacle being the presence of one's own karma. When we entered the monastery that vastness had come with us seeming to eddy around the monks as they tended us with cups of tea. We returned to the other room where we were served tsampa, roasted barley flour, which we placed in small bowls brought by us for the purpose. We stirred water into the powdery flour and it slowly changed into a glutinous mass which thickened into a sort of porridge. We were given slices of dry raw meat which gave me an immediate feeling of strength. Looking out of the window I could see grey mists writhing in the fading light over the hummocky hills. Rigzin invited us to stay but we had neither sleeping bags nor a change of clothing and we were still damp. The temperature was dropping and the night had yet to come. Regretfully, we decided to return to Tashis house. In any case we felt that, unannounced as our arrival had been, to stay might be a real imposition and a strain on the yogins supplies.1 1 When we emerged it was snowing heavily, the flakes swirling around us. The visibility was very low and we followed the main track rather than the narrow one on which

The City and the Hills

121

we had come. We crossed the pass and, instead of attempting the ridge, went straight on down the deserted valley exhilarated by the swirling snow. Above the clouds there was a full moon and its pallid light was sufficient illumination. Tashi led us down the spiralling path dancing over the rough stones like a pixy. It was very cold but I was wearing a new sweater bought a few days before in Leh market. The rather greasy local wool was a perfect protection; the snow stayed on the outside soaking it but the damp never penetrated. Rounding the foot of the spur we came out at Sakti and crossed the marsh to Tashi's home. In the middle of the night I awoke to an impending attack of diarrhoea, my guts refusing to absorb the succession of Indian tea, Tibetan tea and cold chang which nowadays precedes a hospitable Ladakhi meal. At the same time, a rainstorm, quite the most violent I have experienced in Ladakh, fell upon us. The water collected on the flat roof of the house, rapidly soaked through the compacted earth and dripped faster and faster into the room. Puddles formed upon the floor before the water went on down to the room below. When we had moved the carpets and chairs out of the way of the numerous little torrents, I toddled out onto the terrace and along to the toilet. It now had a stream of mud coloured water dripping rapidly from the ceiling directly over the hole. However, nothing would have induced me to try going out past the mastiff at the front door. We awoke in the morning to a grey stormy day. The snow line had come down the mountainside and ended only just above the farms on the valley floor. Traces of snow lay around the house and on the roof. The inclement weather was said to be due to a strong final fling of the year's monsoon. It was also an omen for the rest of our stay.

122

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Theory and Experience: a timely noggin On our return to Leh, James and I felt inspired by our short journey and began discussing our quest. The experience of visiting the yogins was exhilarating but how should we understand it? What was our purpose here? Sipping whisky one evening in our untidy room strewn with rucsacs, primus stoves, lamps, plates to be washed up and notebooks, I opened our conversation by trying to summarise some of the difficulties as I saw them.12 "In our project proposal,"131 began, "I said we want to understand the yogins' model of mind', their theory about the mind and how it works. A model in science is a representation in another medium of some observed process. It amounts to a concise form of theoretical explanation. Yogins do not, I suspect, think in this way. They do not 'model anything; indeed, for the most part they are not even interested in explanation. There is nothing outside their minds to explain! What they do is to use ideas as cues for mental actions that transform everyday experiences through insight into selfless feeling. "A term such as 'model' has meaning only within its own context. If we translate it without providing the context we open ourselves to many errors. We need to remember Witgenstein's old dictum, 'Ask not for the meaning but for the use.' When we are examining how yogins use terms, we have to think not so much about meanings but about their usages. In the end we are trying to contrast the usages of words by psychologists on the one hand with those of yogins on the other. Should we succeed, we would have a basis for some sort of comparison between these two cultures. At least we would have an understanding of what people are doing rather than attributing dubious meanings out of a guess work based merely on our own prejudices

The City and the Hills

123

and the dictionary. "If we worry too much about the meaning of words, we get lost. If we ask what a yogin is doing and then proceed to see how he talks about it, we can get some understanding of what is happening. The ways in which yogins and western psychologists think may not be mappable one upon the other but, by looking at them in this way, we may perceive what they are both doing with their ideas. This gives us choices as to how to proceed." James took up the argument: "We must remember that a yogin's practice is no static thing. There is a continuous interaction between his life process and his practice, a long relationship between the two, almost like a marriage. He is doing something with his practice, his practice is doing something to him. They set up a reciprocal system, a loop which, as it is repeated again and again, produces ever increasing complexity and richness. We cannot extract him from his system. "I cannot imagine any way in which we could identify or measure the actual effects of his practice. Such measurement is problematic enough with all the advantages of a laboratory but - out here - quite impossible I guess. Yet, if we cannot assess what consequence his practice is having for him then we are stuck with looking merely at the practices themselves; his mantras, visualisations or introspections. "If we were to copy down a relatively simple meditative visualisation, the paper in front of us would have little to do with the meaning of that practice for a yogin who has been following it for five years or more with devotion. We might have the skeleton but how do we work out what the flesh may be? He himself could only express it perhaps in the poetry of his faith." "I think I am trying to get at something a little different,"

124

The Yogins o f Ladakh

I remarked. "When I speak of usage, I mean the person's intention, the purpose within which he is using an idea. The intention of a psychologist when he speaks of models of mind is to provide an analysis, usually in a reductionistic form, of what the mind is doing. The very word 'model' is nowadays associated with computers and computing. The psychologist will want to translate his observations about behaviour into some set of expressions on a computer that imitate the relations in the behaviours of the person he has been observing. In this very literal sense he tries to 'model' the behaviour. The activity of the computer imitates the inner processes that led to the behaviour. In a similar way, the psychologist is analysing action in terms of inner intentions which he deduces from what he sees. "If we now look at the yogin and ask what are his intentions, it seems he is attempting to transform his everyday mind of attachment and desire, samsara, into another mode or dimension of being, selfless awareness or nirvana. The whole process is entirely different from that of the explanatory activity in which the cognitive scientist is engaged." "You have to take the idea of intention further than that!" James responded. "The psychologist is working not in a disinterested way but in order to maintain his job, to develop his career and reputation; there are all sorts of payoffs apart from the contributions to knowledge he may be making. These things may well be fundamental to his motivation. The psychologist is not on a path of sacrifice but on one of self aggrandisement in however mild a form. "The yogin, by contrast, if he is truly fulfilling the ideal of a self-confessing renunciant, is giving up a very great deal - normal life in fact - to fulfil his intention. The payoff for him cannot lie in the material world, indeed probably not

The City and the Hills

125

even in this life. In any case, the yogin is dedicating any benefits he may acquire to other people. Any altruism of the psychologist is of a different nature; maybe he may hit upon an idea that becomes the basis for a cure for autism or neurosis. He will still get the credit for it however useful it may be." "Yet I do believe that true scientists are motivated by a curiosity to understand and to unravel what is seen to be mysterious. They may be possessed by an enthusiasm that goes beyond a simple desire for fame or gain," I replied. "Could we put it this way? A psychologist is engaged in creating mental structures that are interpretive whereas the yogin is not engaged in constructing anything at all. Indeed he is busily occupied with the de-construction of his preconceptions, his everyday assumptions built into him from society right from his childhood, his karma, if you like. The intentions of the psychologist and the yogin are in a way diametrically opposed to one another." "I think that's true," said James. "Yet there is a similarity in that both employ basic working ideas. These days few scientists believe they are looking for an ultimate truth, a final paradigm, a model that would explain everything, yet there is still a yearning for some ultimate point of absolute truth. A scientist's theories are temporary and interim. Similarly, while the yogin has deyotion to his meditation method, to its structure, he knows that it is only a part of the path. It is the raft, if you like, which he uses to cross the river but which he does not go on carrying once he is across. The trainee scientist learns theories only later to discover how they are contradicted and made redundant. Similarly the yogin learns methods which he may later abandon as he moves to a further stage of spiritual development. "A Westerner who approaches Tibetan Buddhism only

126

The Yogins o f Ladakh

through books may have the idea that advanced meditation, whether it be Mahamudra or Dzogchen, is the sole activity of a yogin. Actually the yogin has used many supportive activities for years, doing guru yoga, prostrations, praying to Tara, building gompas and acquiring merit and insight in living the life of the monk. He is by no means to be defined as one who perches on a mountain top with his head in a spiritual space as his sole mode of being. The yogin uses many preliminary practices on his path too. "Indeed, it may be, better to compare the yogin's purposes with those of someone undergoing psychotherapy than with the intentions of an academic psychologist. In humanistic therapy there has been a real concern with helping the individual to take creative risks that will give insight. There is a need to create safe contexts within which a person who feels vulnerable may be enabled to explore richer modes of being. The theory that backs up such approaches has been built up around practical issues. In the same way, the yogin opens up his defences to prospects that may be initially very self-threatening. The trainee yogin needs the security of interim practices, of relationship with the guru, of feedback in the training, of theory even. Maybe we could map out the vulnerabilities along the path which are common to therapy and to dharma practice." "I think that is very helpful," I said. "Nonetheless I feel a cognitive psychologist might respond by saying that he is interested in modelling the nature of the therapeutic process too. What is going on, he would ask, when a patient or client begins to change his values and behaviours in the context of his training? He would try to construct a theory, comprising in part a model of mind, which would account for the changes going on whether in therapy or in yoga. The psychologist is operating in an abstract domain whereas the

The City and the Hills

127

therapist is operating in an interactional and affective mode. We need to ask what a theorist would do when asking about the underlying process going on in the 'dharma therapy'. Perhaps he might begin, as you suggest, by considering the need for support of a practitioner as he moves along the path. And indeed the yogic path is highly structured to match the stages of development of a practitioner." "Yet," responded James, "We would have again to enquire into why that cognitive psychologist should wish to make an abstract model of the process of therapy. Why this concern with distant enquiry? If his endeavour is not oriented to developing the process of therapy in himself, then I might argue that it is pointless, a waste of time. It is not doing anything. It just provides more of what the Tibetans call 'nam-tok', illusory intellection which may intrigue or even seduce people but which does not actually help to develop human well-being in the world. "Of course, this abstract level of understanding also occurs within the Dhartna, but it is strongly frowned upon by those who actually meditate themselves. As we are finding out on our journey, this is one of the differences between the 'teaching' and the 'practice' orders of Tibetan Buddhism. It is the basis of the classical Nyingma critique of much of Gelugpa scholarship. Such scholarship may be very elegant and refined, insightful in its way, but so long as it remains on the abstract level alone it generates no actual experiential understanding and cannot therefore produce real changes in human existence. It is like doing computer modelling of the rain forest system while the loggers are taking out the trees. It is a waste of time in that it gives little power to living more positively or creatively." "Perhaps we have to accept that the scholar is not actually interested in benefiting life at all," I said. "A pure

128

The Yogins o f Ladakh

scientist, say, is merely interested in understanding 'what is the case'. He may know that his understanding can never be complete, that his endeavour can never be more than a theoretical creation, yet that is sufficient for him. "His situation will be very different from that of a medical man or a scientist who may also be very concerned about changing him or herself or the moral character of the world through public influence. These are different vocations, based perhaps on differing sorts of personal involvement with the world. The pure cognitive scientist might be satisfied when his theory of mind was, for the moment, good enough. And his theoretical structure to him may be no more than representation: he may have no intention of acting on it. The scientist with a moral consience to trouble him may be more like the yogin. "The yogin is well aware that his ultimate goal is a therapy of the world. Perhaps a modern yogin could make use of the abstractions of cognitive science in the context of his personal goals in the same way that a Gelugpa lama would make a claim for the value of his philosophy?" "Unfortunately," James replied, "an abstraction remains a mere skeleton lacking the felt components of experience. The descriptive mode, by its very nature, will tend to ignore or simplify vital experiential aspects of the process it purports to represent. The attempt to present the existential in abstract description necessarily misses out so much. People take the abstraction and flesh out the skeleton in their own image, adding their own projections so that the experiences it may induce might be far from those originally intended. It remains vital that anyone interested in the description of a practice actually goes and does it with those who are experienced within the lineage by which it has descended from past generations."

The City and the Hills

129

"I'm sure that's true, "I said. "It is of course exactly what Naropa himself did. He left his university to wander about seeking a guru who had truly realised the teachings and who could help him do the same. He found Tilopa, a wild man if ever there was one. We could imagine a modem Naropa, a cognitive psychologist even, leaving his laboratory, his statistics, his computer, his journals and discussion groups of students and wandering off in search of someone who put it all into a real life practice. Professor Naropa's dilemma would undoubtedly be his predilection for thinking in the abstract terms of his pure philosophy. He would have to find a way, possibly a painful one, to shift from the abstract mode into the experiential one. He would have to discover how to relate his abstract ways of thinking and talking not only to descriptions in experiential terms but to experiences themselves." "Its a dangerous world out here!" said James.

REFERENCES 1 Quotation from Milarepa given me by Tashi Rabgyas. 2 Crook. J. H. 1991 Zanskari Attitudes. Chapter 17. In: Crook and Osmaston. Loc cit. 3 See further regarding Tibetan noumena: Kaplanian, P. 1981 Les Ladakhi du Cachemire. Paris. Hachette. Also: Stein, R.A. 1972 Tibetan Civilization. London. Faber and Faber. ^Day, S. 1989 Embodying spirits: village oracles and possession ritual in Ladakh, Northern India. Doctoral thesis. London School o f Econom ics and Political Science. A lso see Crook J.H M S S in preparation. The Indigenous Psychiatry o f Ladakh. Paper presented at the 7th colloquium o f IALS, Bonn. 1995. ^ For background see Lewis I. M. 1971 Ecstatic Religion. Penguin

130

The Yogins o f Ladakh

London. (Routledge 1989). For example, we may recall the attitude to such pujas o f the monk Y eshe Monlam in Chapter 7. ^Zhi. gNa s ^Lhag. mThong 9 These shrines are known as Lha .To. l^Lam a Govinda reported seeing a number o f these in 1933 at the monastery w e suspect to have been Tragthog. returned to Khaspang, in the summer o f 1993 with James Crowden for company and spent two days practising Mahamudra. W e were allowed to use the lha-kang for sitting and also meditated in the hills around the gompa. Although in a less exalted mood than on my first visit I found the peaceful atmosphere very helpful. Rigzin was again present and w e enjoyed conversations with him and another yogin, the bright eyed N gaw ang Dorje. They were a p p recia tiv e o f our practice and this facilita ted v alu able conversations. N gawang Dorje told me that although the Drukpa Kargyud normally expect the preliminary practices to be completed before embarking on advanced meditative training it was quite p o ssib le for an ardent practitioner to en ga g e in Mahamudra alternating with intercalated sessions o f preliminary practice. In this way the advantages o f both could be synchronously experienced. He appreciated that for a lay person who had obtained the essential initiations but who had limited time for practice, this method was the best approach. In conducting a personal solitary retreat it was essential .to be comfortable with basic needs met. Tumo was best practised by such a person very early in the morning but not before half light since in darkness evil influences could enter the mind. The little gompa had no official head although he was him self the Gonyer nyerpa charged with maintenance o f services, offerings and household chores. The group o f yogins worked as a community under the direction o f Gegen Khyentse o f Manali. Sey Rimpoche, the current incarnation o f Tipun Padma Chogyal (Chapter 14), was to visit the gompa shortly to inaugurate a new chorten. We learnt that the name Khaspang has a double meaning; one is T h e green sward before the door', the other Abandonment o f Intellectual concern'!

The City and the Hills

131

order to stay in touch with the academic concerns o f our journey James Low and I had a number o f conversations working out the intellectual basis o f our enquiry and attempting to place our thoughts about the y o g in s w ithin the p ersp e ctiv es o f contemporary psycho-philosophy o f mind. This conversation is edited from our tape recorded talks. l^Our project was grant aided by the Nuffield Foundation on the strength o f my academic proposal for our field study. In scientific research it is expected that such a project should produce results that either test the original proposals or w hich offer new interpretations.

CHAPTER SIX

THE GESHE OF SASPOLA


Time marked by the flowering trees, summer passes; lengthening days shorten once again, bees com e and go and different insects explore the garden. Oh - that for one short moment time should stop and the perennial falling o f tears melt away Today the sun shines on roses tomorrow the dew falls autumnal chrysanthemums.1

For more than twenty four winters the Geshe of Saspola has spent the coldest time of year in deep retreat in a solitary cave house above the village. There he atones for the past and clears his mind of karma. In summer time he comes out of seclusion to live among the villagers, teaching and doing p u ja s for them. Sometimes he returns to his monastery, the fine Gelugpa establishment at Likir, and provides lengthy and authoritative teachings to the monks. Ngawang Jugne is that rare individual - a scholar yogin. It was Tashi who suggested that on our way to Zangskar we should stop off at Saspola to meet this man. Tashi had kdown him years before, received some teachings from him and been impressed. Saspola lies in the Indus valley at a much lower altitude than Leh. It is a summer land of apricots and apples, sunny walls and lizards, groves of luxuriant trees glowing in sunlight below

The Geshe o f Saspola

133

amber cliffs; a land of vivid light and shade, mellow Italianate stillnesses, bee-murmuring afternoons, great ruined fortresses on promontories of rock, brooks always bubbling somewhere near, sudden outbursts of laughter or a shout at some field-invading beast. At sunset the great mountains turn black against a golden sky. Silhouettes, men, women, beasts move in single file up a hillside etched against the light. A bird calls by the river, a vulture so high it seems impossible careens across empty space. Suddenly, a donkey brays a loud brazen return to earthy village truth. We left our jeep in the shade of some trees by the road and walked up along twisting village lanes. Coming out among fields, we faced a long flat-topped escarpment. Its face was pierced by a number of caves one or two of which were fronted with walls, windows and a door. On top of the stony slope stood a ruined fort and, to one side, an old temple. The settlement is of great antiquity with murals, often badly damaged, going back to the early days of Ladakhi Buddhism. We arrived at a farmhouse drowsing in the afternoon sun and were asked to wait a while in the courtyard because the geshe was meditating. When we entered we found Geshe-la in bright orange monk's robes seated against the living room wall, a small table with a few texts on it before him together with a great bowl of fruit, an offering from a villager. We prostrated and, after, offering khatags (white scarves), settled down to talk. The conversation was mostly in Ladakhi, rather than in Tibetan and Tashi translated. We took to Geshe-la at once. He was warm and inquisitive, especially when James was introduced as a practising yogin who had trained with a Nyingma lama. "What preliminary practices did you do?" "And how many of them ?"

134

The Yogins o f Ladakh

"Did you receive any benefits?" "Have you developed a mind of Bodhicitta? 2" James replied with an account of his training and the geshe asked what he had learned from the practice. Had James developed a 'Good mind'?3 Mere repetition was of little use if it had no effects. Geshe-la told us that his own early practices had been similar to those James had done, a standard set of preliminaries that precede any permission to practise advanced meditations. His own practice now, which he performs mainly in the winter months, is the "purification of defilements and the accumulation of merit and wisdom." This expression can be taken in several ways, for it may refer either to a beginners practice or to that of an adept. The modest way in which he spoke suggested to us that Geshe-la's meditations were not only advanced but utterly sincere. This practice, known as so-jong, is fundamental to all serious activities of monks. It is the basis of the view developed from the teachings of Atisha and the Kadampa order he had created in the eleventh century, the first indigenous order of monks in Tibet. Indeed, it seemed to us that Geshe Ngawang Jugne enshrined in his person many of the Kadampa virtues. These forerunners of the later schools - Kargyudpa, Sakyapa and Gelugpa - had been extreme people, highly ascetic, celibate and devoted to intensive meditation, often under very hard conditions. Some idea of their dedication comes from a group of aspirations known as the Four Jewels of the Kadampas. These are: Not to be afraid of meditating alone in a cave. Not to be afraid of meditating alone in a cave with very little food and getting ill.

The Geshe o f Saspola

135

Not to be afraid of meditating alone in a cave and dying there. Not to be afraid of meditating alone in a cave and dying there with no one even knowing your name. Geshe Ngawang Jugne was a native of Saspola who had been a monk almost all his life. He had travelled to Tibet and spent twenty two years at the famous Gelugpa monastic university of Drepung close to Lhasa. There he had studied the Buddhist scriptures and philosophical commentaries on the course leading to the geshe degree, equivalent to a Western doctorate. Such an attainment implies a profound knowledge not only of the theory but also the practice of Mahayana Buddhism and the Tantras. In Ngawang Jugne's case, his choice of practice appeared to be related to some personal need. He seemed to be telling us that early difficulties in his life had led him to wish to purify negativities in his person. The practice consists of the performance of mindful prostration, the offering of the mandala and the repetitions of the 100 Syllable Mantra of Vajrasattva a very great number of times. There must also be a practice of good works for others and a heartfelt wish for their enlightenment. It is this wish that drives him to serve his fellows in the summer months. The recompense he receives for this he then donates to his monastery for the purchase of butter for altar lamp's and tea served on the occasion of liturgical ceremonies. His own personal support comes from his family. "The performance of prostration and other similar activities leads to a cleansing of the mind. There is a sort of accumulation of spiritual strength which enables the practitioner to actualise in himself the values described in the sutras. There must be a balanced development of both

136

The Yogins o f Ladakh

compassion and wisdom.Yet, if the basis for practice is lacking in the wish for enlightenment for others, that is to say bodhicitta, then it is of no use." The teaching fundamental to this viewpoint is expressed in a particular type of ethical writing of which the "Lamdron" of Atisha (died 1054)4 is an early and particularly lucid example. Atisha wrote it for his royal sponsor, the devout King Changchub O of Guge,5 to set the Dharma on the right path after some years of confusion. This work became the philosophical basis of the much expanded Lamrim or Graduated Path'teachings developed by Lama Tsongkhapa in the 14th century when he created the reformed school, the Gelugpas, largely on the basis of Kadampa ethics. The same system was also the basis of the integration of sutra and tantra in Gampopa's great work, The Jewel Ornament of Liberation6, used as the philosophical basis of the Kargyupa practices. Whatever the sophisticated psychosomatic techniques and advanced yogas of the yogins may be, this essentially ethical system of thought is the root from which their understanding of the dharma develops. Geshe-la was emphatic about the profound necessity of practices that actualise the ethical person implicit in these teachings and he had twice instructed the monks of Likir in the complete teachings of the Lam-rim doctrine. In these scriptures a detailed explanation of the basis for human suffering is coupled with persuasive arguments which, when followed to their conclusion, have the effect of opening the mind to insights that lead to a sense of release and a vision of the path to be followed if suffering is to be thoroughly reversed. The ideas are put forward in a logical sequence that makes the conclusions virtually self evident. The teachings aim particularly at those who feel the

The Geshe o f Saspola

137

suffering of others so intently that, abandoning more lowly aspirations, they resolve to bring others out of worldliness before claiming their own release. To do this requires that they seek to become like the Buddha, awakening the mind in the cultivation of this aspiration - bodhicitta,- as it is called. The way to achieve this is through the renunciation of self-cherishing. The logic for this is straightforward: suffering arises from the craving for permanent well-being derived from the fear of death, harm or social diminishment of the self. Impermanence is an intrinsic property of all things so this ache after permanence is simply ignorance. The cherishing of self is thus the root of suffering and renunciation of self enhancement and the acceptance of impermanence is therefore the first step on the path. The second step is the training in ethical behaviour, the purification of past mistakes and the generation of good acts. Tibetan Buddhists believe that this accumulation of merit ensures a rebirth as a human so that the work can continue life after life until the goal is reached. The third step is to calm the mind through meditation and then, through insight, to perceive its essential nature. The root basis of ignorance, is then disclosed - a belief in the inherent thingness of things. The seeming solidity of their appearances is seen to be a mistake. A full comprehension of the underlying 'emptiness' requires not only philosophical training, intellectual debate and the memorisation of doctrine but also the non-conceptual insight that arises in the meditative actualisation of the teachings. Emptiness has not only to be conceptually understood but also experienced. Then, in case this realisation becomes a cause of turning away from the world, it becomes essential to see that the

138

The Yogins o f Ladakh

conventional appearances of people, minds and things are simply the way in which nature operates, the suchness of things. These appearances are all we have; it is the realm of the conventional in which we experience our hopes, fears and aspirations. The adept thus returns to the everyday in which he lives his life but now supported by the depth of insight derived from his training. Understanding the Two Truths, ultimate and conventional, the monk practices the View, the Meditation and the Action, actualising himself as a Bodhisattva.7 Geshe-la took up the question of the relationship between sutra and tantra. He said that tantric practice is useless without a firm basis in the sutra training as revealed in the Lam-rim and similar teachings. Many people think that going by the sutras is a slow path while that of the tantras is fast. This may not be the case, he argued. Mistakes in tantra are many and easily made; apparent speed may be deeply flawed, especially if the basis in sutra has not been adequate. He quoted a Kadampa teacher8, who had said that the Graduated Path was by no means slow for it led steadily and surely to the experience of emptiness and, after that, there was no essential difference between sutra and tantra. We took up with him the problems of young people in Leh. It was not easy to practise traditionally when trying to cope with the modern world. Geshe-la said that he did not want to go and teach people directly but if someone came to him he might respond. It would depend on the quality of the approach made to him: the aspirant should really want to know the dharma and to practise it. Mere lecturing to audiences could cause as much confusion as help. Even the Buddha himself only taught when he was requested to do so.

The Geshe o f Saspola

139

James remarked that it was difficult to sustain a calm mind in the marketplace. "Are you not interested in what is going on in the market place?" responded the geshe. "If you are in the market, what are you there for?" This Zen-like question remained, as it were, on the table. Several times we were to return to it, pondering in what way his example had relevance to a modern lay person, whether in East or West. Geshe-la had a delightful presence, warm and sympathetic to us and to the people in whose house he was and to other villagers who called. He was clearly greatly loved. He seemed to be one with nothing to hide: quite relaxed in his own realisation, he knew exactly what he was talking about. His emphasis was on the gradual development of compassion. For him, dharma should be about real things: the everyday suffering and concerns of people and how to live through them with dharma understanding. Tashi remarked that when he had met Geshe-la some years ago he had been sickly whereas today he seemed robust in his middle age. Geshe-la agreed with this, saying that a real change had come about as a result of his practice. Through practising calming the mind over a long period of time, his body, which had been painful, had now become soft and blissful and this blissful state had fed back into his meditation allowing it to develop further. These states and meditation were now working together, developing into an upward cycle. Since James had met many teachers in his time I later asked him, so far as it was possible, how he would rate the geshe. James said he would rate him very highly. "He was so relaxed and, although he said he was still often in retreat to maintain his practice, it was obvious that

140

The Yogins o f Ladakh

he had actually attained something. He had found something for himself and on the basis of that was able to reach out to other people. He was not just giving us some intellectual presentation, he was really a living example of what he had been practising for many years." He also compared favourably with various other Geshes I had met. These doctors of the dharma are always men of vast erudition, often with extraordinary memories trained to retain vast passages of scriptural and philosophical text, skilled in debate, great charmers, sophisticated, persuasive, polished, wonderful examples of the civilisation they represent. I recalled one exceptionally eminent scholar, elegant and poised wearing great dark glasses on all occasions, a pose of intellectual arrogance barely concealed behind the glistening smile. Another, a fine teacher, could retail every minute point and phrase of Shantideva's monumental scripture on compassion, every nook and cranny of the various hells and heavens was outlined in exquisite detail, but to what ultimate point was not so clear. Yet another was retiring, shy, extremely kind yet lazy, preferring to do his own contemplations like a dormouse. Sometimes rather dry in their intellectuality, rationalising the Dharma into a reasonableness that does not quite fit the chaos of the world, the geshes are rather like Oxbridge dons at the acme of their respectability and power. How wonderful it was therefore to find one who truly lived a life of compassion^ After meeting him, I was reminded of one occasion when I had been talking with another such accomplished teacher, Geshe Damchos Yontan, of the Lam-rim Centre in Wales. We had been discussing emptiness and the various complexities of meditative practice, the meanings to be given to experiences and so on. I was deeply into the

The Geshe o f Saspola

141

problems of technique and realisation. After a while, he paused and looked at me. "John," he said, "When were you last kind?"

REFERENCES ^ o e m by JC ^ B o d h ic itta - here m ea n in g an enlightenment for the benefit o f others.

attitu de

of

s e e k in g

^Sems .bZang. po ^Beresford. B. (translator) 1978. The B o d h ip a th a p ra d ip a m (Byang.chub.lam.gyi.sGron.ma). The Lamp for the Path to Full Awakening. In: Mahayana texts on the Graded Path. Dharamsala. Dharmakaya Publications. See also Chattopadhyaya, A. 1981. Atisa and Tibet. Delhi. Motilal Banarsidass. pp 525-535. 5 Byang. chub. 'Od. ^Guenther. H.V. 1959 sGampopa: The Jewel Ornament o f Liberation. London. Rider. 7 S ee N gaw ang Dhargyey, Geshe. 1978. Pith o f the Secret Teachings. In .Mahayana Texts on the Graded Path. Dharamsala. Dharmakaya Publications. **Potawa, a follower o f Atisha's chief disciple, 'Brom.sTon.

CHAPTER SEVEN

RETURN TO SANI
Sometimes one climbs the summit o f the mountain in the dream-like state between life and death. Sometimes one sleeps in the street in the bardo city o f Samsara. For my part, I aspire to the realm o f reality adorning the cloth o f pure mind and heart with the embroidery o f immaculate discipline.1

Passports to the Gompas Before we left Leh, James and I decided that we would probably need a letter of introduction in order to stayin the various Drugpa Kargyu monasteries we wished tovisit in Zangskar. Since the Stagna Rimpoche was the head of all the gompas, it was obviously to him that we should apply. Tashi Rabgyas told us he would pave the way. When he returned from his talk with the Rimpoche, Tashi told us that the Rimpoche had been far from enthusiastic about our project. "What good will it do?" Rimpoche had asked, "A couple of Western intellectuals wandering about the monasteries may only lead to confusion for everyone." "I told him," Tashi said, "that not only were you quite harmless but also that you were, in any case, practitioners of the dharma who had both received various initiations in the practices of Tibetan Buddhism. In my view benefit could indeed result from your visit. I would guarantee personally that no harm would come to the dharma." Rimpoche had replied, "Since it is you, Tashi, who guarantee this visit, I will write them a letter of introduction."

Return to Sani

143

Even so we had first to persuade him ourselves. Stagna Rimpoche was staying for a few days at his residence in Leh so we went to call on him with Tashi as our sponsor. We responded to his questions by giving an outline of our project and telling him of our belief that a greater understanding of the dharma could follow from our work and that this was sorely needed among Western peoples. Rimpoche clearly agreed about that. After a rather starchy start, he relaxed and the conversation became friendly. I knew that Rimpoche had himself trained with the great Tipun Padma Chogyal in Tibet and I asked him whether he would be willing to tell us about that period of his life. "No" he replied bluntly, "It would be of no benefit." We were beginning to get used to this expression and had begun to wonder where "benefit" was to be found. Nonetheless we were grateful to Rimpoche for issuing us with a letter, a straightforward request for us to receive hospitality and help, a veritable passport. Armed now with all that we required we were ready to set out for Zangskar. We were hoping to meet a number of elderly yogins practising there, who had trained with famous Tibetan teachers in Tibet itself. They had had no contact with Westerners, did not teach, and represented the tradition exactly as it had been till 1959. We would find among them neither a softening of the message,to suit Westerners nor modifications due to the new conditions of exile in India. They would be untouched gold. The Monk of Rangdum Gompa The long Suru valley ascending from Kargil towards Zangskar with its quiet fields, little villages and silver domed mosques takes all day to traverse, even in a motor vehicle. By the afternoon we were climbing higher, passing a great

144

The Yogins o f Ladakh

glacier which reaches right down to the road. We came out on a bleak rock-strewn wasteland with high peaks on each side, a wide no-man's-land between Islam and. the Buddhist world. We were crossing the high water mark of Islam in the depth of the mountains. It was getting dark when at last some distant lights appeared, the road became easier and we careered around the edge of a huge plain ringed by mountains, passed the first chorten and on towards the village of Zhulduk. We stopped by a little house which served as a local hotel run by the monks of the nearby monastery of Rangdum. It was empty. We got out of our jeep; the silence of night and the chill of deep frost surrounded us; an ocean of stars wheeled above and the mountain air had a tang that freshened our spirits. The bulky figures of two middle aged Gelugpa monks, heavily robed against the cold and wearing their yellow hats, came out of the night and let us in. One of them lit a fire in the stove in the upper room and got us some food. Well and truly mothered, we felt home again. I remembered Yeshe Monlam from a previous stay in Zangskar. As soon as he found that we could converse in Tibetan, he wanted to know where we were from and why we were in Zangskar. We plunged at once into a discussion of the dharma. "What is the essence of all the Buddhas' teachings?" he asked. "Emptiness,"said James. "Well then," said Yeshe Monlam "If it is Emptiness what makes the teachings better than anything else? What good is it if it is empty?" "Its good," said James, "because everything is truly empty of the self nature of their appearances and, because things are really empty, to be told so is very helpful to

Return to Sani

145

people. It might seem that you are giving them nothing at all, but by doing that very thing you are giving them the greatest gift." Yeshe Monlam seemed quite pleased with this reply, but he continued: "If that is so, what then is the meaning of our everyday life here and now?" James was not quite sure of the monk's intention in asking such questions. On the one hand, Yeshe Monlam was very attentive to the answers, on the other, he seemed to be ingenuous. He had been a monk since the age of thirty, becoming one because of pressures from his family. Worldly problems had become insurmountable and he had decided to leave the life of a householder for ever. Having entered the monkhood in a mature way, he hardly needed answers from us to such questions as these. Was he just setting us up? James decided to treat them as real enquiry. "In terms of ordinary activity, everything that we do is according to the influence of karma on the one hand and emptiness on the other. Yet karma and emptiness are inseparable, just as all appearances and emptiness are inseparable." Yeshe Monlam seemed satisfied and began rummaging, in typical Zangskari style, among James's bundle of Tibetan texts which he carried in his rucksack. He showed interest in several of these, especially those discussing meditation. James asked him if he could see the monk's texts too but Yeshe Monlam refused. His texts were only pujas for performing in the village houses, he told us. They were just worldly dharma of no great interest. James asked him whether he could not make this worldly dharma part of true practice. Yeshe Monlam looked sad. It was difficult he said

146

The Yogins o f Ladakh

because he had had no training in meditation and he often felt quite lost. James and Yeshe Monlam then launched into a discussion of the meditations that calm the mind. If you take an object and fixate it with the mind it helps to still wandering thoughts and the mind becomes clear. Whenever the mind wanders it is brought back again and again to the object. "There is an account,of meditation," James said,"which says the practice is like taking a cow and putting a rope around its neck and then fixing the rope to a peg and bashing it firmly into the ground as a stake. The peg is the object of meditation and the cord is the practice of awareness which keeps the cow within a small area of its field. The cow is the mind of the practitioner which wants to wander here and there and fails to eat in any one area properly." Yeshe Monlam said that his problem was that he could not visualise well. He had been taught to practise meditation through visualising Chenrezi (Avalokiteshvara) and concentrating on that. In the heart of the image is a letter and around it revolves the six syllable mantra, Om mane padme hum. This was difficult to see clearly. "Perhaps it would be better to begin with a small external object." suggested James, "When that is going well, you may gradually introduce some internal one." The beauty of this conversation for us was that Yeshe Monlam had clearly begun to treat us as fellow nang.pa, 'insiders', practitioners like himself of the dharma, and not as Western tourists with whom, in his little hotel, he was clearly familiar. It gave us a sense that once we had entered into the language and symbolism of Buddhism we really belonged. We ceased to be seen as foreigners who knew nothing.

Return to Sani

147

Yeshe Monlam combined a quiet earthy efficiency in managing the hotel, getting tea, serving us and cleaning the place with a dedication to the dharma that touched me. In the morning, before he swept the earthen floor, he filled his mouth with tea and spewed it all over the surface laying the dust. He had a solidity of demeanour that was reassuring. James felt he was like an ox, big, stumbling but fundamentally reliable and warm at heart. The other monk was different. He sat and recited a lot of texts but all the time he had the radio on and was listening to folk songs and glancing around at us. He was much more awake and knowing whereas Yeshe Monlam was pure at heart, simple with a deep sincerity. We arranged our sleeping bags on the beds and all four of us slept in the same room. When we blew out the lamps the starlight came into the silent room and I could make out the reassuring shape of Yeshe Monlam sitting on his bed in meditation. When I awoke he was there again, sitting in the half light before dawn. Outside I could feel the great mountains looming in a circle over the wide valley with its marshes, meadows and running streams; a feeling of spaciousness watched over by eternal snows. Sani monastery As James was a qualified Nyingma practitioner, I had been encouraging him to change from Western clothes into the robes of a practitioner of tantra. These robes, maroon in colour and very capacious, resemble those of a monk. At first James had demurred but I had felt that it might be useful for our project and serve to initiate encounters that we might otherwise not have. We had consulted a tailor in Leh and - with difficulty for the robes are not of a standard Ladakhi type - had had a set run up. At Zhulduk, the

148

The Yogins o f Ladakh

gateway to Zangskar, James put them on. What I had not realised was the dramatic effect this would have on our relationship. Instead of being the expedition leader and instigator of the project, entitled to respect and consideration due to my age and seniority, I was suddenly transformed into James's servant. I was to James what Aku-la had been to Khamtag Rimpoche, the loyal retainer who toddled along behind rendering service. There was to be an excellent lesson for me in this somewhere, I mused, remembering that Alexandra David-Neel had wandered throughout Tibet dressed as a lama's mother. We expected Yeshe Monlam to be surprised by this transformation but he took it as if it happened every day. He had spoken enough to us anyway and now busied himself with his own affairs and let us get on with ours. Very healthy we thought, this ability to accept change and just move on. We drove across the wide valley towards the conical hill near its centre. On the top sits the impressive pile of Rangdum Gompa, a Gelug establishment, one of several under the aegis of Ngari Rimpoche, the Dalai Lama's brother. We climbed up to the building, getting in over a back wall because a great mastiff stood barking at the front entrance. We were welcomed and shown around but the atmosphere showed the monks to be well used to tourists and expectant of financial returns. Indeed, even in 1977,1 had not been allowed into the temple before I had paid, unusual in the Ladakh of those days. James felt the monks were either lazy and sleepy or downright guileful, very different from Yeshe Monlam. The monks at Rangdum are mostly from outside the area, mainly from Karsha or Phuktal Gompas, the population nearby being too small to provide a full complement. 2

Return to Sani

149

On the eastern side of the Pentse La pass a steep slope drops down into the treeless expanse of Zangskar. To the right lies an enormous glacier the length of which stretches back against the peaks of the Himalayas. We reached Sani monastery in mid-afternoon and I stood once more in the courtyard of the gompa where I had first arrived with the Bristol University expedition six years earlier. We debated whether to put up our tent on the little lawn but inspection suggested frequent irrigation. The sun was already setting behind a high mountain and the wind was rising, soon developing into a gale. Dust swirled about us and we opted for a room to the right of the main doorway to the courtyard. A small boy appointed himself as our floor sweeper, clearing off layers of dust. Soon we were surrounded by village children singing welcome songs. James was already basking in the appellation 'Lama' and they showed off their ability to count in Urdu to him. Cheerfully smiling, ragged, wiping snot on their sleeves, they finally formed up in line, neatly ordered from tallest to smallest, to receive the sweets with which we rewarded them for their work. They were amazingly cooperative, each seeming to know his or her place in some sort of natural hierarchy. An instinctive ability to collaborate seemed to permeate all their jolly doings. Older villagers were hurrying past from the fields. They too were helpful and soon the caretaking monk arrived. He struggled through Stagna Rimpoche's letter of introduction and assured us we could settle in. As the light faded we had the boxes unpacked, food and fuel located, coffee brewed, and ate a meal of that curious Tibetan vermicelli known as 'ping', carrots and cabbage, together with a screwtop full of whisky each - our evening ration we had decided. We sat back restored after the journey.

150

The Yogins o f Ladakh

When I went outside, the biting wind was blowing dust around the little courtyard. The mountains looked grey and forbidding in the fading light and I experienced a chill of fear at the bare vastness of the landscape. We were a long way from England. Taking torches we explored the dusty and deserted monastery. No monks live here, rather they come from Bardan or Dzongkul Gompas for village festivals. As we lit butter lamps on the main altar, mere pinpricks of light in the dark recesses of the hall, the chill air, the cloak of dust covering everything, the silence, the ghostly shadows of statues and the sudden glimmer of gold on the surfaces of wall paintings, made me think of the palace of Gormenghast in Mervyn Peake's novels. Racks of dust-covered scriptures lay unread along the walls of the inner sanctum and in a shrine room stood draped figures, life size, of the protective deities, more potent because unseen. Around the temple is a covered cloister with broken prayer wheels set at intervals in the stonework. We shuffled around this tunnel spinning any wheels that would move for us, sending up clouds of dust around our feet. There is a back yard with a beautiful chorten in it, the most revered monument in Zangskar, for it is plausibly associated with the ancient Kushan period (1st century CE) and said to have been visited by Naropa. I remembered the place colourful with wild roses and other flowers but, now, at the end of the season, it was grey and deserted. Outside the monastery stands a stone figure of Maitreya dating from perhaps the eighth Century. We sat in meditation near it, James glowing in his new robes as he chanted aloud. Some children and passing villagers stopped and laughed a little at the oddity of this Westerner's performance. Quickly, however, they entered into the spirit

Return to Sani

151

of the chant and, when it ceased, we all sat together silently for a while. I could sense the strength of the dharma at Sani. The sparrows were chirping in the trees as they settled into their roosts. Back in our room it was warmer and, as the wind dropped and the village fell still, everything felt more homely. The pool of warm light around our new lamp soon attracted variously sized and very long legged harvestmen who proceeded to creep all over everything in a highly investigative manner. At first this was somewhat unnerving, for what else might come creeping out of the brushwood ceiling or the cracks in the earthen walls? The touch of these odd arachnids as they ran over the hand was like being stroked with a light paint brush. After a while we ignored them and in the dark they dispersed. I did not feel any creepy crawlies on me in the night. The village of Sani stands on flat land not far from the river; a dense cluster of houses with narrow alleys between them. It faces an expanse of marshy meadows, close cropped to a fine turf by cattle and sheep, where several springs of clear fresh water rise to form deep pools in which swim schools of handsome fish. Dotted about the pools are little grassy islands barely a yard or so across. Posts have been placed upon them and small white prayer flags hang festooned between one island and its neighbour. The pools are a holy place: no one is allowed to pollute the water nor are the fish to be caught and eaten. In the morning the air hung still and silent, the surface of the pools reflecting the sky without a ripple and sunlight enhancing the rich colours of the green turf. Further out birds came and went along the banks: a duck was foraging; a small wader like a Godwit ran between grassy hummocks; two large gulls, one in juvenile plumage, were swimming

152

The Yogins o f Ladakh

far out on a large pool. We washed our dishes at the spring where the villagers collected water for the houses. The children were there again and they borrowed my soap to clean their snotty little faces and filthy hands; fresh and laughing they went off to show their Mums. One carried water back to the gompa for us. While James went exploring, I sat beside a tranquil pool with the children experiencing the still beauty of the morning air, the prayer flags, the water, the fish and the birds as a benediction. I wished for nothing more than to sit there in peace for ever; here was' paradise and a sort of longed-for home. A villager came down to wash a pot and, afterwards, stood and gazed out over the waters wordlessly before going quietly back to his house. The landscape all around Sani is filled with holy sites. A villager pointed out to us the various footprints and other mementos of Guru Rimpoche in the hills around. The entire landscape is marked with sacred orientations with the gompa as a centre to a natural mandala. The people have a profound respect for the locality which seems to shine with the purity of the waters of the pool. When I got back to the gompa I found James standing in the courtyard with a handsome young Zangskari. Tsewang Choster was the Sani Goba, the head man of the village. He quickly moved us into the chief guest chamber of the gompa right above the main doorway. There was a little balcony here ( the one where Stagna Rimpoche had sat when we had arrived on my previous visit) and we had a magnificent view over the fields, the village and the whole valley beyond. The Goba was telling us about the local sites. "You see that mountainside?" he said, pointing across the valley to a high crag facing us. "At the top of that face of cliffs and scree there is a holy cave. If you use your

Return to Sani

153

binoculars you will see it. That is a cave of Guru Rimpoche. We call it Nyima Ozer - Light Rays of the Sun." It needed a thorough search before we could pick it out. The mountainside was split by a widening triangular groove formed by a tiny dried-out watercourse that fell at a very steep angle towards the valley below. Near the top careful inspection revealed the face of a tiny house set back into the cliff, probably the frontage to a small cave. Without binoculars it was quite invisible. Yogins used to practise up there, said the Goba. It intrigued us and we decided we would try to visit it using Sani gompa as a base for several explorations in this part of the valley.

REFERENCES JMilarepa. From: The meeting at Silver Spring. In: Chang. G.C.C. 1962. The One Hundred Thousand songs o f Milarepa. Vol 1. pl63. University Books N ew York. 2 When I returned to Rangdum in the summer o f 1993 I found the gompa under a new khenpo much improved. I learned to my sorrow that Yeshe Monlam had died and arranged for the monks to chant a short memorial service for him wishing good to the world. Afterwards I wrote the following lines: At Rangdum Gompa I am glad to see the monks still maintain the revolutions o f the Universe. Since I was here Y eshe 'Monlam, fine monk, has died. For me, remembering him, they chant the aspirations o f the blessed. Dust continues to fall from the Buddha's nose.

CHAPTER EIGHT

LIGHT RAYS OF THE SUN


This land is called the highest, the land o f bliss the womb o f eternity. First Buddha, everlasting goodness, Guru Padmasambhava, approach and bless us! Understanding there is neither division between us nor coming nor going, raise our hearts as a glorious copper mountain, clearing away the confusion caused for a time by the sundering o f god and mind and universal nature. Grant the empowerment that neither gathers nor gives away.*

An empty cell In order to reach the eagle's perch that the Goba had shown us, we had to walk back up the road from Sani to the Tungri bridge to cross the large river flowing down the valley from the Pentse-la. This river joins the main Zangskar stream just below Padum and then flows north through a great gorge to join the Indus not far from Leh. At Sani, it spreads out in several large channels which we were told could be waded with care. At Tungri, however, the river forms a single stream and, crossing the brand new road bridge, we were soon on the northern bank. In front of us lay the small village of Drakung where we could see an interesting little temple building. We found a young monk who took us to see it and offered us tea. While we were there, we noticed a path running along the hillside beside an irrigation channel which seemed to end in a small hut partly

Light rays o f the Sun

155

inserted into the hill. The monk told us that a senior Gelugpa monk had resided there practising meditation but had died fifteen years earlier. We were curious to see inside. The door to the hermitage was locked and the whole place looked deserted. Obviously no one had been there for a long time. When I took hold of the padlock the whole thing came apart in my hands. As the door swung open we peered into a little building which turned out to contain four miniature chambers, a kitchen, shrine room, an area probably used for sleeping and a toilet. We poked about and on a shelf we found some clay and ash tablets prepared after a cremation and shaped into a Buddha image, some personal items and a tin box holding some cards and a family photo perfectly preserved by the dry climate. The monk told us that the place had probably been empty ever since the last incumbent died. He had been a learned monk from Karsha Gompa, Gelong Rinchen by name, clearly a man in the same tradition as our friend at Saspola, who had lived there in isolation for fifteen to twenty years. I felt sad to think of all those years of practice, now forgotten, with no hermit to take up the inner task. The young monk had never been in the building, although it was a mere two hundred paces from his temple. He knew little of Buddhism and nothing of meditation. He was a pujari - a performer of rituals in the houses of,the villagers and had yet to do serious training at his home monastery, Karsha. We took a small track running up the mountain in the general direction of Nyima Ozer. It led around the back of the hill away from the steep slopes above the river yet, as we climbed, an enormous view over the entire Zangskar valley opened before us. We kept near the crest of the ridge so as to line ourselves up against Sani Gompa in the valley below. The hermitage lay more or less at right angles to the river

156

The Yogins o f Ladakh

opposite the gompa and we had been told to look out for a lha-to, a shrine to the local spirit, which was placed on the ridge hard by the cave. It was already late in the afternoon and long shadows lay deep across the valley floor. My innate caution began to tell me that unless we returned soon we were going to be caught out on the mountain as darkness and severe frost set in after sunset. In any case, an extremely exhausting scramble to a probably empty cave was perhaps not worth the risks. James, however, was filled with his characteristic enthusiasm. After some debate we resolved that at five fifteen exactly we would turn back whether we had found the cave or not. Chanting mantras to keep us going, we pressed on with the path fast fading out and the hillside getting ever steeper. At five fifteen exactly we found the lha-to, the second we had come across. With bright prayer flags streaming in the breeze, it was a wonderful offering to the gods of the windy spaces. We were standing on the edge of a rock strewn incline that fell almost vertically to the river perhaps 2000 feet below. At first there was no sign of any possible habitation but, peering about us, we suddenly spotted a small house front tucked into a little gully under a cliff just below the summit of the ridge. Throwing caution to the winds, we scrambled down and along the cliff face clinging to the rocks and tufts of vegetation. The Hermitage of Nyima Ozer The mountainside facing the Zangskar valley was extremely steep, a series of craggy slopes broken by almost vertical gullies, channels made in the spring season by water from melting snow. We could see occasional traces marking a footway across the rocks and loose scree to end

Light rays o f the Sun

157

immediately below the hermitage, the doorway some 15 feet above. A pile of wobbly boulders made an insecure flight of steps to it but these stopped short of the door and getting up there looked impossible. We paused to examine the building, just a wall with a door, one window beside it and another above stretched across a cavity, barely a cave, in the cliff face. The labour to produce it must have been formidable; rocks had been piled and levelled to make a base above which sun dried earthen blocks and more boulders formed the frontage. Water was seeping out of the rocks and we realised that a tiny spring emerging from the rock face at the top of the gully made the place inhabitable. Suddenly, to our total surprise and shock, a face appeared at the door. There was an exclamation and then a beaming Tibetan monk emerged, inviting us in. There could be no turning back now so we scrambled up the pile of rocks. Taking our hands, he pulled us in through the door. There was a small entrance chamber and then a dark staircase up which we climbed to an upper storey. Here we found two small rooms and, in one of them, sat a second monk, smiling at us over a primus stove with a boiling pot of tea. The chamber was so tiny the four of us could barely sit together within it. To one side, let into the face of the mountain, was a little alcove beautifully decorated with recently made offering tormas. The two monks had been there for a week repeating over and over pujas extolling and evoking the great protectors of the dharma. We made our prostrations to the altar and then sat down to tea and 'tsok' (offering food) which, to our surprise, included excellent sweet biscuits. The atmosphere generated by the two men in the little

158

The Yogins o f Ladakh

room was extraordinary. They were extremely high; in a clearly altered state of consciousness they gazed blissfully at us and laughed merrily at everything. It was very infectious and we soon became aware of a great happiness pervading all. Glancing out of the window I could see nothing but sky. Miles below us, it seemed, lay the whole length of Zangskar; way beyond Padum the Lungnak valley disappeared into its gorge and almost vertically below was the village of Sani and the square enclosure of the gompa. The silver channels of the river meandered along the now darkening floor of the valley where a light or two appeared among the houses. We were suspended in still flight as if from a hang glider surrounded by unlimited space. It came into the little chamber to mingle with the blissful happiness there. After a while James began a soft chanting, the monks joining in. I sat in a quiet meditation wherein the peace of the room, the joy of the monks and the space outside all merged into one indescribable feeling. In another tiny room,where some of their belongings were kept, a small aperture led into the rockface. Putting a ladle down into it we could draw up clear water straight from a spring in the stone. The monks had very few possessions and we assumed they must practise tumo to keep warm at night. They were Tibetan refugees no longer affiliated to any particular monastery. They were doing a pilgrimage to the power places of Ladakh, where they offered pujas, and were to spend a week at Karsha Gompa. James told me the story of how Guru Rimpoche acquired the name Light Rays of the Sun. Once upon a time Guru Rimpoche visited a tavern kept by a woman called Vimasa. He ordered wine and when the woman asked how much he wanted, he asked for her entire stock. "I have five hundred jars," she told him.

Light rays o f the Sun

159

The Guru replied: "Right, I'll take the lot. I will pay you when the sun sets." Guru Rimpoche not only drank all the wine but kept Vimasa running out to other shops to fetch even more. When the sun was about to set, the Guru took out his ritual dagger and stuck it in the sun's rays so that one side was in the light, the other in the dark. This prevented the sun moving and it could not set. Time stood still. For seven days he went on drinking and all the while the dagger held up the movement of the sun. The people complained to the King, saying that a beggar in a tavern was responsible. The King went to visit him. "What on earth are you doing, drinking all the wine and stopping the sun? You should be doing good to people and not making a nuisance of yourself." The Guru smiled and said: "O King, I have no money to pay for all this wine!" When the King offered to pay for it all, Guru Rimpoche took out his dagger and at last the sun could set. Later Vimasa went to see him bringing wine and food on an elephant. He accepted her as a disciple and taught her the yogas so that she was immune from drowning, could pass through walls and fly through the air. From this time on the guru was also known as Nyima Ozer, 'Light Rays of the Sun. 2 At Nyima Ozer the sun sets right in front of the hermitage. It was an excellent choice of name. But when we got up to leave it was almost dark. Bidding the monks farewell, we asked about the best way home; it would be several hours walk over the mountain if we retraced our steps and we would more than likely lose our way in the night. To plunge straight down was tempting for we could see the gompa below us - admittedly on the far side of the

160

The Yogins o f Ladakh

river. "Oh, straight down, straight down," said one, happily. "No problem!" The other sized us up and said: "That is a very difficult path. You will certainly reach the bottom but alive or dead we cannot say. Anyhow, we ourselves will go that way when we leave for Karsha." We opted to try it and I led the way down. As a naturalist who has often worked in the wilderness, I had been used to traversing difficult terrain since boyhood, and now the monks had imbued me with the feeling that we could do almost anything. The slope was however terrifying; as we looked down, we seemed to be swinging in space. The mountain was covered with crags, stones and loose scree so I chose to scramble down the gully cut into the hillside by the water from the spring. The surface was wet and muddy and, since we had to descend bottom by bottom, my trousers were soon ringing wet. Looking back we saw the younger monk sitting outside the hermitage watching us go. "Its all right," James cried. "He is saying mantras so that we have a safe descent. We're well protected. Lets go !" The funnel descended in a series of S bends. As it swung one way or the other the spring water shot over a ledge leaving us with an overhang to negotiate. On the first of these I suddenly found myself half over the ledge with my feet in the air and a 20 foot drop below me. Clawing myself back, I squeezed around the comer and slid down the side of the overhang. At last the gully flattened out onto a steep slope running down to the river. My legs were shaking from the strain and my heart beating like a drum; we sat down to recover. Ahead of us in the darkness we could hear the swish of the

Light rays o f the Sun

161

river. Once more we were faced by a dilemma. We could walk around by way of the Tungri bridge, but the gompa lay immediately before us. Could we wade over? The Goba had said the river wouldn't come above a man's knees. Taking off our boots, socks and trousers and slinging them around our necks we strode into the water. It was only a few miles from its origin in the glacier and the chill shock of it was almost paralysing, though the numbed legs kept moving. The first channel offered no resistance; the water surged strongly around our knees but the stony bed held firm. We were now well out in the centre of the valley and a chill wind was blowing. The second channel was both deeper and wider; we emerged wet to our waists and chilling rapidly in the breeze. We hurried across a series of sandbanks to reach the third stream. James went first and I suddenly heard him crying out. "Quicksands!" I rushed to where he stood, grabbed him firmly and we both struggled back out of the water. We moved away downstream and I had a go. The water was smooth and ominously silent, flowing swiftly. As I moved into it, I suddenly felt the ground shelving away sharply and in an instant I was up to my chest in the tug of a strong current. I turned around, almost overbalancing, and struggled out dripping. We were now in a nasty fix. The cold wind was drying us quickly and chilling us very severely. We were wet through and to retrace our steps would mean two more water crossings before we reached the shore from which we had started and could begin the long walk back via Tungri. The way ahead seemed blocked and the temperature was falling fast.

162

The Yogins o f Ladakh

As we stood there shivering, I had an idea. In the night air I could hear the water rustling some distance up the stream to the west. Keeping silent, we moved along the bank, listening. As the sound grew louder I crouched down and in the dim light could make out a line of ripples running diagonally across the much widened stream. This could only mean shallow water. Lining up with the rippling, I went back into the river. It barely reached the knees and in a few minutes we were across. As we approached the fourth and final stream everything was at stake. Our protection stayed with us however, for the river was quite shallow and we crossed with barely a wetting. Even so we were dangerously cold and hurried on across the marshes towards the village. Out of the gloom came an old woman who was calling out, searching for something. As we passed her, she said, "Hey! Have you seen my cow?" Evidently, shadowy figures emerging from the river were not out of the ordinary at Sani. Back in our room we hurriedly changed into dry things, lit the Primus stove and lamp to warm the place, wrapped our sleeping bags around us and cooked some food. We were almost numb from exposure. Suddenly we heard a shout outside and soon we were joined by the Goba who had been wondering where we had been. He was a bearer of gifts, a bottle of rum! As we related our adventures we felt our inner ice melting. The Happy Cemetery: Conversations with the Goba We often sat with the Goba in the evenings at Sani sharing either our whisky or his rum. This cheerful, concerned, man told us a lot about the place. Like many localities with a religious reputation in Tibet, Sani had been

Light rays o f the Sun

163

visited by Guru Rimpoche when he conquered the ancient demons and made them into protectors of the dharma. The Guru, rather than the Buddha, is the beginning of the story in every such location. The oldest surviving document concerning the history of Zangskar is the Bo-Yig of Phugtal Gompa which begins with the legend of the origin of Zangskar. When Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava) came to Zangskar, he prophesied saying that it would be like the happy cemetery of Sukhavati where the great yogins of India had gathered for their meditations. "The trees of the cemetery are the bushes at Sani and the birds there are the vultures thereof. So said Padmasambhava. It was a place where the Dakinis assembled, he said. The owner of the valley is the Goddess with one Eye."3 Today the square compound of the monastery is the only place in the centre of Zangskar valley where there are large and ancient trees much used by birds and a roosting site for the village sparrows. Just outside the compound, in the centre of a circle of lesser boulders, there is an ancient standing stone with a carving in relief of Maitreya, the Buddha of the future, dating back to the very beginnings of Buddhism here between the seventh and tenth century. There are similar standing stones elsewhere in Zangskar at Padum, Stongde, Karsha and Mune testifying to widespread settlement and Buddhist culture at a time before the penetration of Tibetan peoples to what was probably then a Dardic land. The Bo-Yig also refers to the valley as being in the shape of a female demon on whose feet was built a shrine in a garden of Maitreya and on whose head was the chorten of Kanika. This is the ancient stupa in the back yard of Sani Gompa the dating of

164

The Yogins o f Ladakh

which remains uncertain and which may or may not be an original stupa of the Kushan emperor in Kashmir. The inscription referring to it in the gompa is evidently a late compilation containing quotations from scriptures and hagiographies rather than historical statement.4 Its fame probably arose from a visit by Naropa who is said to have meditated before it on the site of a small chamber in which a statue Of him is kept carefully locked. As a great tantrika it is not surprising that Guru Rimpoche compared the place to a happy cemetery. Many of the early tantric practitioners in India used to meet at night in cemeteries for rites of love among the dead and dog-eaten corpses. The One Eyed Goddess refers to Ekavati, the single minded focus of deep meditation and bliss. Much of this early description of the 'land of religious practice'5 is couched in terms that are metaphors of the inner life. Apart from establishing the meditation cave at Nyima Ozer, Guru Rimpoche performed many feats in the valley. Upstream from Sani to the north are three black mountains, the abodes of three trouble causing demons. The Guru dragged them to a big rock where he terrified them by stamping his foot until they took a vow not to cause any further difficulties for the people. Just above that place on the hillside is a pattern of rocks that looks like a scorpion with its head bent down. A king of the scorpions lived up there and the Guru put it under a vow to protect the dharma. Around the Maitreya statue he made marks in the four directions on stones, thereby consecrating this land for ever. The mountain opposite Sani, near the top of which is the Nyima Ozer hermitage, is called the hill of the cemetery. Another name for it is Norbu-ri, meaning a hill of jewels for it is said to resemble the Three Jewels6 piled up in a heap as represented in Tibetan paintings. The Goba told us that the

Light rays o f the Sun

165

mountain was inhabited by many Dakinis, sky flying spirits of feminine gender, who come down from time to time to make fire offerings at the site of the ancient cemetery around the statues. The Goba told us that the present buildings at Sani had been constructed by either the third or fourth incarnation of Zhabdrung Rimpoche of Bhutan. In the main temple was a fine mural painted by a Bhutanese artist7 depicting the founder. This ruler of Bhutan had been bom as the son of the Gyalpo (king) of Padum and the reason why Zangskar and Bhutan should have this connection stems from the war between Tibet and Bhutan.8 The King of Ladakh, whose religious affiliation was with the Drugpa Kargyu, attempted to curb the expansion of the Gelugpas by siding with Bhutan, a Drugpa stronghold. The results were disastrous but a friendly linkage between Ladakh and Bhutan dates from this time. The Zhabdrung had sent out messengers to surrounding regions9 asking for donations, for Sani was a famous and holy place mentioned in Guru Rimpoche's biography10 and associated particularly with Naropa. It was these donations that financed the construction and decoration of the gom pa. In 1834 General Zorawar Singh of Jammu conquered Ladakh11 thus bringing it within the Indian fold. Gulab Singh, the ruler of Jammu, had no children. Many people did pujas for him but nothing helped. He heard of the Stagna Rimpoche of Ladakh and sought his aid. The Stagna Rimpoche was able to help him and Gulab Singh gave the Rimpoche a high appointment and lands in Zangskar including the estates of Sani, Dzongkul and Bardan gompas. The Stagna Rimpoche had told Gulab Singh that these places were dedicated to the Zhabdrung of Bhutan but Gulab Singh had remarked that, since Bhutan was far away and he was

166

The Yogins o f Ladakh

now the ruler of Ladakh, he could do with his lands as he liked. He then appointed Stagna Rimpoche as the executive head of these Gompas though the Zhabdrung remains the titular head. In the main temple at Sani the throne dedicated to the Zhabdrung is almost as large as that for his Holiness the Dalai Lama while that of Stagna Rimpoche is considerably smaller and less decorated. The Lhodrug (southern school of Drugpa Kargyu)12 gompas of Zangskar (Sani, Dzongkul, Stagrimo and Bardan) do in fact have a minor problem. The last Zhabdrung of Bhutan was murdered by agents of the royal family of that country when they became the de facto rulers. The present Zhabdrung therefore lives in exile and for many years was in fear of his life and given police protection by the Indian government. The Goba told us a story relating how the late king of Bhutan once had a vision in a dream: he was threatened by a red faced demon who seemed about to eat him. He asked the Dalai Lama what the meaning could be. The Dalai Lama replied that it was a consequence of the way in which the new Zhabdrung was being treated, forced to live in exile and neglected. The old king tried to persuade his ministers to bring back the Zhabdrung as religious leader but, as some of them had been implicated in the murder of the previous incarnation, they were afraid of what might happen to them should he return. The old king died before any arrangement had been made. The new king has shown little interest in the matter.13 Today, Zhabdrung Rimpoche lives in Manali in a very private manner. He plays little role in the life of the Drugpa Kargyu for fear of accusations of political intrigue. The Goba felt it would be beneficial if he could visit Sani and preside over some ceremonies. Indeed he asked us to convey a message to the Zhabdrung, should we be so

Light rays o f the Sun

167

fortunate as to meet him. James remarked to the Goba how empty and unused the gompa sometimes felt; no seats for monks, so much dust and little maintenance. The Goba was sad to hear this but James went on to say that this might be no bad thing. In Sani we were much struck by the devotion of the villagers. Many of them did periodic circumambulations of the gompa and all were proud of the stories of the Guru and the places to which they referred. James felt that where there was a big monastery with lots of monks, villagers often felt distanced from the dharma leaving the monks to get on with it. Here the deep religious feeling might be a direct expression of their own care for the dharma and the holiness of the site. The Goba was pleased by what James had told him, remarking that perhaps indeed it was so. Meme Gomchen - Grandfather Great Meditator Not far from Sani, on a rise beside a stream tumbling from the southern mountain, sat a solitary little house with a prayer flag in front of it, a few stumpy trees and green grassy banks. The day after our climb to Nyima Ozer we went there across the fields. A young monk accompanied us to show us the way. Reaching the stream we found a little chamber constructed right across it containing a colourful prayer wheel whirling around all on its own. It was powered by water driven paddles attached below the drum. The owner of a nearby house, a religious practitioner who used to say pujas in peoples' houses, had built it as an offering. As we approached our destination, we noticed the wizened figure of an old man with a basket on his back, looking exactly like one of Snow White's dwarfs, moving away from the building and going to a yet smaller dwelling further up the hillside. Asked who he might be, the young

168

The Yogins o f Ladakh

man replied in a manner suggesting something halfway between condescension and reverence. "Ah," he said. "That's Meme Gomchen - Grandad Great Meditator. He keeps very much to himself up there." The first of the two houses was entered by a ladder. We found ourselves in a sizeable, barely furnished, lhakang decorated with smoke blackened wall paintings on two sides. The monk explained that these were the work of a great painter, a monk from Dzongkul who had worked there late in the nineteenth century, a man who had ended up as Abbot, the great Zhapa Dorje. The first of the several great meditators at Dzongkul had been Ngawang Tsering and we now discovered a magnificent small statue of him, stern and severe but deeply meditative, wearing earrings and his hair piled high on the top of his head. In the corner of the room a pile of broken up scriptures lay in abandon, leaves from the text of the Book of the Dead among them. This small gompa, known as Ter-Go-Tse, had been the place where Ngawang Tsering had meditated in his old age and he had died there. Behind the building was a cairn marking the site of his cremation. The building had been repaired recently and the foundations for a new one were being excavated beside it. Leaving the building, James and I went on up the hill to the stone house where the ancient lived. The monk had told us he was a practitioner of Mahamudra, a Chagchenpa. Rounding the corner of the house, we found him seated outside his doorway sewing a garment. He had yet to notice us and his demeanour struck us by its contained equanimity. We prostrated to him and James presented a khatag, but he struggled quickly to his feet. "Ah, that's not necessary," he said. "You are welcome!" "You are a Gomchen, a great meditator," said

Light rays o f the Sun

169

James. "We present khatags because to such a one it is appropriate. " Repeating "Not necessary, not necessary," he set the khatags to one side. He was dressed in tattered clothing, wore a filthy monk's hat on his head and had a long grey beard. He looked exactly like a kindly version of the Ngawang Tsering statue we had just been viewing. His manners were most gentle, welcoming us softly as if we were a sort of interruption to inward contemplation. Yes - he was a practitioner of Mahamudra, - but his eyes were now a great trouble to him and when they failed he would die. He spoke with a quiet air of finality and acceptance of life's process. He thought his eyes were inflamed by the smoke from his fire and, after looking at them, we told him we would bring him some of the ointment we had at the gompa. Sonam Ngodrup had practised meditation all his life. He was born in the Lungnak valley and had travelled to Tibet three times on foot and had been many times on pilgrimage in India. He had been a disciple of Lama Norbu of Lahoul who had done much work at Dzongkul. When his lama had died he had come to Sani and spent three years in retreat up at Nyima Ozer. Later, he did a five year retreat in Sani Gompa in a cell near the Kanika chorten. He had now been on the hill above Ter-Go-Tse for ten years. We visited Sonam Ngodrup again, treated him with some eye ointment and found his presence quite wonderful. His little house contained a fine set of household utensils all well cleaned and carefully arranged. He served us tea and told us that in his youth he had often walked far, alone in the mountains. One winter when he was in retreat at Nyima Ozer, snow had fallen deeply and ice had frozen the mountain so that he could not leave the cave. No one could

170

The Yogins o f Ladakh

get to him and he ran out of food. He had gone on meditating until almost all his flesh was gone. Realising he could stay no longer he "fell out of the mountain" and found his way to a village for sustenance. He had trained and practised the Six Yogas of Naropa for many years and, in his old age, he continued with Mahamudra. He was seventy eight. These days his lama was Stagna Rimpoche but he could see him only rarely. When we asked him how to begin the practices of Mahamudra he wouldn't answer - merely remarking that we should make such a request to someone better qualified. When we gave him some butter, he said he would offer it to Sani Gompa for use in the butter lamps. My impression was that his entire life was an offering. A deep inward peace and gentleness pervaded all our time with him. Afterwards I wrote these lines: For him the end is butterlamps offered up in points of gold. Barefoot upon the stone spread mountain he goes his way, cloud wanderer by streams where endless waters flow. Perched in space at Nyima Ozer he sat three years; when winter came the flowers bloomed in summer time the snow. Sitting by the pool As time went by and we made several excursions, James and I were always thankful to return to our capacious room at Sani. Something was happening to us here for we

Light rays o f the Sun

171

found ourselves growing ever more peaceful and at home. Something was being learned, although it would have been difficult to say exactly what it was. Our attraction to Sani was understandable for each of us had a strong feeling for the image of Guru Rimpoche. James, in particular, owing to his long acquaintance with Nyingma thought and practice, had a deep personal affection for him and the mysterious powers that stem from him, a profound protection of the spirit. I too had had encounters with the Guru which had been influential in my dharma practice. The first lengthy retreat I ever attempted had been at Samye-Ling meditation centre in Scotland. It was a private retreat and I was sitting for hour-long periods in the shrine room for about eight hours a day. Every evening we had chanting and this included the mantra of Guru Rimpoche. I did not know what it was at the time but one night I awoke to find it going round and round in my head endlessly, giving me a deep repose. I woke myself up and wrote down the syllables to identify it. At the same time I was most attracted by a beautiful Tibetan scroll painting of a small boy seated on a lotus in a lake beaming a wonderful, all knowing, smile, hanging on the wall in the shrine room. Again, I did not know who it was. When I discovered that both painting and mantra were of Guru Rimpoche it seemed clear that he had appointed himself as my yidam of meditational guardian. Out on the moors one day I began chanting a mantra and experienced so powerful a sense of presence in the landscape that I had to stop. There was of course nothing there. When I began again I felt the presence once more. Since that time whenever I chant the mantra of the Guru, of which there are several versions for different occasions, it has a strong effect

172

The Yogins o f Ladakh

on the quality of my awareness. Later, I attended an empowerment given by the great Nyingma teacher, Dudjom Rimpoche, in London, which allowed me to practise the higher yoga associated with the Guru. All the reminders of the Guru at Sani could not but have a strong effect upon us both. Aropnd the village the harvesting continued: all over the small rounded fields, men, women and children were hard at work. When we first arrived the cutting of peas and barley had been in progress, each being laid in neat rows and then built up into a big stack with the fruiting heads inwards to save them from wandering cattle. The threshing had now commenced on hardened floors made by stamping the clay flat. In some places winnowing too was underway, two people standing opposite each another and tossing the straw on long wooden forks. As the cattle go round and round the threshing floor trampling the grain out of the straw, the driver sings a lovely little work song that rises and falls in the quiet morning air. Hulloo hullo yah Hullu madur kor ro roApart from the 'kor1 , which means-going round, we could not find a meaning for this. At dawn it starts, the women's shrill but tuneful voices raising the song from floors all along the valley into the far distance. The animals go counter-clockwise but no one could tell us why. After the harvest some of the fields are ploughed before the winter comes to freeze the ground.14 One of the ploughing songs goes as follows:

Light rays o f the Sun

173

Oh! You beautiful Yak! Please walk fast so that our fields will be quickly sown. Oh! You beautiful Yak! Your horns are so tall they reach the sky and your tail is very long. Please plough our fields quickly and then you can go to the high pastures and eat flowers sitting by the water on green grass. Oh! You beautiful Y ak!.15 Work is steady, relentless but unhurried, people taking it at a natural pace. There is time to stand and joke, or talk a little with passers by, to attend to children playing or asleep under a stack. Animals come and go grazing quietly, the dzo making the deep grunts characteristic of yaks. The cattle are completely at ease with the people in whose very houses they spend the winter. In the streets of the village, cows do not move out of the way or shy at one's approach. They know their rights. You can stand beside such an animal and feel its warm relaxed presence, its breathing, in a way that is quite impossible in England. Man and beast exist together here in a mutual bonding; the master is no bully and animals are not meat but sentient beings. Sometimes at night the dogs bark at a passing wolf. Another feature of life at Sani. is the balanced relation between the sexes. Women are free and easy, jokingly flirtatious and full of a brimming humorous energy that stems from a natural self confidence. Several times we sat in the fields with them holding conversations in which their initially joky manner was dropped and they showed a rich awareness of the place, the landmarks and the gompa. Some of them have strident voices born of hallowing over great

174

The Yogins o f Ladakh

distances, shouting at animals, open chested voices rarely heard from women in other cultures. The younger women are strikingly handsome, real dakinis; the older women are warm and friendly. One night we came back to the village after a long trudge to find the women's smiles of welcome trustful and open hearted. 16 The little islands with their prayer flags reminded us that Guru Rimpoche was born on a lotus island in the middle of a lake. Beyond the pools the turf extends to the gravel banks bounding the river. The whole place is an oasis in the montane desert. In my diary I wrote: "Meditation on the green turf beside the pools is sheer joy. The tranquillity of the place lets the mind slip easily into no-thought. There arises something essentially very simple: with eyes shut bliss appears within; with eyes open there is a stone, a bird, a flag, the houses, mountains stand out sharp and clear. The skull is empty and air moves through the head. Identified with space itself, all sounds and sights are part of a consciousness that has no reference to self. This stillness, this spaciousness, this absence of thought is an unutterable beauty, a grace, a blessing. It is the no-mind of the guru, a final atonement or natural home from which there need be no willed departure for nothing else could possibly be wanted. In Sani there is so little meditative effort needed. I just sit down and open myself in awareness and the rest follows so simple it is difficult to realise how elsewhere with other energies or with an agitated mind unstilled by spirit of place, this point of inner stillness so often seems a far-off goal. Here, below snow clad peaks, beside the tranquil pool, I have found what I came on this pilgrimage to find, a stillness of the mind simply reflecting what is - and that is beautiful. Every thought melts into silence - tracelessly."17

Light rays o f the Sun

175

REFERENCES 1Edited text from The Sadhana o f Guru Padma Sambhava. In:Willis J. D. 1972 The Diamond Light o f the Eastern Dawn. Simon and Schuster, p 94 ^See: Evans-Wentz, W .Y. 1954. The Tibetan Book o f the Great

Liberation. Oxford, pp 162-3.


3 F o r further details o f the Bo.yig see Crook. J. H. 1994. The History o f Zangskar. In: Crook, J. H. and H. Osmaston (eds). Himalayan Buddhist Villages. Delhi. Motilal Banarsidass and Bristol University. Chapter 14.. A lso Shuh, D. 1983. Zu den hintergrunden der Parteinahme Ladakhs fur Bhutan im Kreig gegen Lhasa. In Kantowski, D. and R. Sander (eds). Recent Research on Ladak Schriftenreihe Internationales Asienforum 1. Mnchen. Weltforum Verlag. And Franck A.H. 1914, 1926. Antiquities o f Indian Tibet. Vols 1 and 2. Calcutta. ^Snellgrove D. L. and T. Skorupski .1980. The Cultural Heritage of Ladakh. Warminster. Aris and Phillips. Vol 2. p 9. ^ Chos. yul ^Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. ^Informant Tsering Dorje o f Lahaul. The Goba thought it was done by the artist meditator Zhapa Dorje o f Dzongkul but this seems to be incorrect. 8 See the chapter by Deiter Shuh in Kantowsky D. and R. Sander 1983 Recent Research in Ladakh.' Weltforum Verlag Mnchen .loc cit 9 That is Padar, Kishtwar, Kulu, Garsha (Lahoul ) and Spiti. ^ P o s s ib ly this reference may be located in Evans Wentz' translation (above): p i 30. See historical discussion in Rizvi, J. 1983 Ladakh: crossroads of High Asia. Bombay. Oxford University Press, p 61 ff. l^ N o te remindr: the Drugpa Kargyu are devided into two branches, the Northern (Chang.drug) in Ladakh at Hemis and

176

The Yogins o f Ladakh

the Southern (Lho.drug) based on Stagna. See Chapter 1. 1^Note: we have not been able to check the historical accuracy o f the Goba's story. 14 For detailed accounts o f Zangskari agriculture and animal husbandry see chapters by Henry Osmaston in Crook. J. H. and H. Osmaston. 1994 .Himalayan Buddhist Villages, loc cit. ^ E d ited from James Crowden's rendering in Osmaston H. 1994. Adaptation to environment. Chapter 2 in Crook, J. H. and H. Osmaston. ibid. For studies o f work roles and gender relations in Zanskar see chapters by Attenborough in Crook J.H and H. Osmaston (eds) Ibid. 17 Edited from Author's Zangskar 86 Diary. 1, p 77-83.

CHAPTER NINE

A HOME OF ANCIENT YOGINS


There is no path no need for dependency, only time and the pattern o f time unfolding. In letting the winds o f time blow this old corpse along the everyday becomes indeed the eternal. *

Trekking to Dzongkul Two days after our river crossing we set out for Dzongkul, James in his new boots leading and a boy with two donkeys bearing our baggage bringing up the rear. All went well until we reached a bridge over a powerful micah laden stream. The bridge was a mere wooden frame covered with flat rocks resting on beams in crazy paving fashion interspersed with patches of planking below which was a long fall to the boiling turbulence beneath. The donkeys, having more sense than ourselves, absolutely refused to cross even after we had unloaded them. We had to carry our baggage across and then persuade the boy to take a bag and join us in yomping the stuff up to the monastery. A new gravel road had been built towards the Umasi-La pass but the ferocity of the spring floods had swept most of it away and raised huge banks of stones over it at frequent intervals. The rise to Dzongkul is not steep but unrelenting and it seemed the gompa would never appear. At last, there it was - a small white building set in a cliff face high above a boulder strewn fan which spread down to a few uncultivated fields beside the torrent.

178

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Some surprised but kindly boys met us and called out a rather surly Konyer, the monk in charge of administration, responsible for dealing with guests. He read Stagna Rimpoche's letter of introduction while the kids crowded about us all smiles and questions. We were ushered into the gompa past a great growling mastiff in a kennel outside the door. It had red ribbons around its neck and at once we named it Bonzo. Inside the building the stone flagged passages were lined with tall stacks of dung ready for the winter fires. We climbed a dark stairway and were soon seated by a metal stove in the kitchen and offered Tibetan tea and tsampa. The abbot appeared and granted us accommodation in a small newly constructed monk's cell outside the gompa entrance and beyond the reach of the dog. The cell was low, the doors characteristically so small we had to crouch to get in. There were three small rooms with earthen floors, a rock wall on the inside where the structure pressed against the mountain and a roof of twigs covered with heavy turves. The inner room was warmest, for here was the only complete glass pane across a window. The other denizens were occasional large, black and rather elongated woodlice. The entire place was exceptionally dusty and soon we gave up all pretence at trying to be cleaner than the monks. Whenever a breeze blew, little showers of dust and debris fell on us from the ceiling. At night I had to put a towel over my face to prevent the falling particles from getting into my eyes. At first it seemed as if we had arrived at a school for boys; the place was overflowing with small, lively and friendly little monks. We soon realised that many of these were the nephews of the older monks with whom they shared family cells, which in course of time they would inherit. We were impressed by the gentleness and firm

A Home o f Ancient Yogins

179

kindness shown by the older men to their potentially unruly charges. The abbot told us the older monks all practised Mahamudra. Next morning the Konyer invited us up to tea in the kitchen. The smoke from the fire kept rushing back down the chimney into the room apparently because, during a recent rainstorm, someone had placed a flat stone on top of the chimney and no one had yet bothered to remove it! The Konyer, more hospitable now, told us we were welcome to stay but that the library was sealed and the abbot had gone elsewhere. Our project was at least on course if not advancing. Dzongkul Gompa sat within an overhang of the cliff that formed a shallow cave. To the north, a ledge of flat land extended for several hundred yards. New or recently repaired cells clustered together and one of these was a fine glass-fronted building for the Abbot. At the far end of the ledge there was a washing place where piped water rushed from a spring that emerged above the gompa on a green slope. Several gigantic boulders fallen from above lay haphazardly along the ledge and between them ran small mani walls; and there was a new but heavily turd-strewn toilet. The whole area was dreadfully unkempt but the view up the gorge was fabulous. The roar of the river and the waterfall opposite provided a continuing distant sound. Little birds, alpine accentors, redstarts and a bunting were flitting about; yellow billed choughs wheeled and called and occasionally a majestic raven passed by. A damp nook was full of bright green ferns. We found an old monk and his young relative bringing up heavy sods from the damp sward near the river and piling them onto the brushwood roof of their cell. We helped them in their work and talked. They were shortly to depart

180

The Yogins o f Ladakh

for the winter in Manali and were strengthening their cell's roof so that it would survive the snowfalls of winter. The old man meditated four times a day, he told us, doing Mahamudra. He was happy that we too were practitioners but was not inclined to add any detail of his practice. We were getting used to such reticence. On the second morning we awoke to find the gompa deserted. Everyone had set off for the villages to collect alms. However, at least one monk must have stayed behind for we could see smoke rising from the kitchen roof. We walked down to the sward beside the stream, made a small fire offering and sat a while in meditation. Returning to the gompa, we bellowed up to the monk until his face appeared at a window. Sorry, no, he could not let us in. Bonzo would bite him! Maintaining our meditative stance, we attempted to climb to a small cave-house that lay beyond the end of the ledge and above the level of the gompa. A flight of irregular steps led upwards coming to an end in jumble of fallen stones; the carefully placed slabs of rock had all dropped away. The slope was very steep and we decided not to try an ascent without help. Above us but unreachable, a small building was let into the cliff face in a manner reminiscent of Nyima Ozer. This site was famous. Not only had Naropa meditated here, so we were told, but also several of the great meditators of the more recent past. Although disappointed, we sat on the highest steps and turned to face the view opening up towards the great mountains to the south. Later I wrote in my diary: "Not a word of explanation, no opportunity for us to talk or question, no access to library or temple. Merely accommodation - otherwise friendly indifference. We had

A Home o f Ancient Yogins

181

come to practise and were offered time and space. Whats the point of discussion? Merely - 'How long will you stay?' 'Where is your homeland?' Basic obvious remarks. You cannot reach this holy cave where once Naropa sat in timeless bliss; the steps are fallen and the sloping rock too steep for mortal feet. We sit upon the highest stair and turn to face the view. Peak on peak projects against the wintry sky and clouds of drifting snow flakes evaporate before they reach the ground. The passers-by below appear like ants, dots upon the ribbon of a track that ends in snow fields up on high. Falling waterfall, river white and grey, broken scree and emerald sward beside the stream; sitting here I sense eternity that goes beyond all thought. The landscape stands remote and terrible, a universe of elemental forms, earth and water, sky and space, always moving yet ever still. The steps to Naropa's cave are broken, only goats can climb there now. A tattered prayer flag hangs before the gaping door. Winds blow through ravaged windows gazing out on endless space a river and far off peaks bare rock and water roar, harsh grey or bright in sun empty presences. Only the small birds come and go yet on these broken steps I sit in boundless bliss. Eyes shut - the joy revolves within, then open - falling space a multitudinous vastness as one thing.

182

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Here is the ultimate destination. Abode of emptiness a ruined void no eyes but gaping windows no mind but space blown through by endless wind. My eyes fill with tears of recognition. There is nowhere else to go. A raven passes and on departure not one part of this great happiness is lost. Bliss is not the ultimate but the fruit of it which, undemanded, comes and goes. Divine graces of the rocks are these above the gompa a blood-red ledge unclimbable wherein dakinis dwell. I raise my hands no more can say. In the morning the Konyer had returned and invited us up to the kitchen. We discovered how to circumvent the dog: we tossed a piece of tsampa into the back of its kennel and, as it rushed within, a small boy monk squatted with his back against the aperture while visitors slipped in through the portico. Bonzo wouldn't nip a well known back. We told the Konyer we had come because of the fame of the great yogin, Ngawang Tsering, who had meditated here

A Home o f Ancient Yogins

183

in the eighteenth century. The Konyer told us that as a young man Ngawang Tsering had had a vision of a gompa up in the gorge opposite a hill where dakinis dwelt. Later he painted the vision as a tanka (which we were later shown). Ngawang Tsering had devoted his life to meditation and teaching with Dzongkul as his base. The books of the monastery included his autobiography but Stagna Rimpoche had sealed them and they were thus unavailable to us. These texts are themselves sacred and not to be easily set before prying eyes. We knew that when Csoma de Koros had stayed in Zangskar he received teachings from Lama Kunga Choleg, a successor to Ngawang Tsering, who had prepared a summary of teachings in response to Csoma's questions. The monk had heard of this book,"The Questions of Iskander", but informed us that Khamtag Rimpoche had read it and was of the opinion that the author was not Kunga Choleg.2 The Konyer finally brought us a wonderful volume containing this lama's autobiography and other works written personally by the lama in alternating gold and white calligraphy of great elegance on blackened paper. It was a superb treasure which I was allowed to photograph. James had little time to study it and only afterwards realised that a philosophical section might have been the very text we were searching for. In the upper lha-kang a fine statue of Lama Kunga Choleg was centrally placed in a beautiful shrine room and, at the back of the chamber, stood a row of four images in an alcove: the nineteenth century abbot Zhapa Dorje and his descendants, Karma Tandzin, Kunga Choleg and Lama Norbu. They were beautifully executed with vividly expressive faces. The Konyer crowned Kunga Choleg with a headgear for our delectation.

184

The Yogins o f Ladakh

A rock recess reached by a ladder at the back of the cave was said to have been the original place of Naropa's meditation when he first came to the site. The walls, blackened by smoke, appeared to be covered by the oldest murals in the gompa. On the floor was an impression of Naropa's foot and among other images in a glass fronted cabinet was an especially lively representation of Ngawang Tsering. Descending to the spacious lower room used as the assembly hall we found a monk printing copies of the Diamond Sutra by hand from ancient wood blocks, ink flying all over the place! He would take these later in the time-honoured way on foot over the Shingo-la pass to the Drugpa headquarters at Manali. At the side of this room, a door led into a storeroom full of wood blocks and other equipment for traditional handprinting. In all these rooms there was a deeply meditative atmosphere, a quietude pervaded by the sense of space beyond the windows. I found my mind once more dropping frequently into thoughtlessness and profound peace. There was a silent beauty here which seemed to be the very object of my journey. We lunched on a few chunks of cheese and set off down the track with our packs. On these long treks it was best not to think of any destination. Just noting a landmark some way ahead, I watched my breaths while swinging my legs along in time with them discounting all bodily complaints. Sometimes I repeated mantras. Before long I would find myself at the spot noted and another stage was passed. When the surface was not too rough and the body easy it was delightful to feel the landscape gliding by. On a great curve in the river, the wavelets rippled silver grey over the shallows between grassy banks. There were occasional mani walls with a peculiar grey light bouncing off the stones. A

A Home o f Ancient Yogins

185

great mountain covered with snow loomed to the south. Later I was to write: My name is No Eye Hole in the skull Servant of silence Walking. Not I, this skull alone moves across this dusty plain. Mountains rise, valleys cool winds and waters fall. Hot rocks glow on the valley floor. Through this skull the world moves like rivers from the mountain snow waters from high ice nothing in the way. The curious light was due to a huge dark cloud that began sweeping up the valley whisking trails of dust into the air. Suddenly the wind was upon us, blowing right into our faces. At Sani, everyone was wearing balaclavas as they toiled at harvest in the fields. They welcomed us with smiles and we felt we were coming home; As night fell the Goba joined us in our room, fitting up the marvel of an electric light bulb and opening a bottle of Red Dagger rum. We got thoroughly pissed in his convivial company. Talking about Tantra When the Goba was not with us, James and I often sat

186

The Yog ins o f Ladakh

over a noggin or two trying to make some sense out of what we were doing and made tape recordings of our dialogues. One evening I asked James about the contrasts in meditation methods in the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism. What goals had they in mind? Why such richness and variety? In tantra the everyday is transformed through active imagination into it's equivalence as a Buddha realm. All experiences, however mundane, however passionate, are to be seen as sacred and as revealing the sacred. Imaginative visualisation and the use of psycho-physical exercises bring about shifts in attitude and consciousness until the experience of being an everyday Buddha emerges. There are six sets of tantras. The lower ones are oriented to performances that purify the mind and clear it. There is much outer ritual to be done. The three higher tantras are inward, the mind state is altered primarily through visualising the inner structure of the body, tubes and centres or cakra and seeing how the mind 'rides' on certain kinds of breathing. Here there is little external ritual, the whole work is in the mind and body functioning as one. I asked James how tantra relates to the twin paths of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. "The basic idea of tantra is continuity", James said. "An advanced practitioner sees all moments of experience as somehow of the same nature. Even though our minds separate them out and create apparent differences these moments are not discontinuous events. The lamas sometimes compare this contradiction to a rosary in which the beads are all placed on a long continuous string. This string is awareness itself, a spacious mind or rigpa as it is called. The bead is a particular experience or moment. When a yogi has an awakening in his practice it is a deep and precise awareness, a spaciousness without a sense of time

A Home o f Ancient Y ogins

187

past, present or future. In our metaphor, this is his awareness of the string. When he expresses it in thought or word there is a discrete moment in time which takes the form of a bead. "The creation of a written tantric practice begins with the experience of momentless awareness which is then expressed in terms of the symbols of the traditional vision of the Tibetan yogin. The symbolisation occurs in time, it is the realisation of that experience as a bead. And from this symbolisation the yogin may write something down, a few sentences maybe. He may use this later on as a meditation, a sort of mnemonic if you like, with which to evoke again the underlying continuity. He may go on to elaborate this basic experience by writing further texts for visualisation, rituals, prayers and so on. This is what is meant by "revealing" a Tantra. It is going on all the time among Nyingmapa practitioners." "So these would be new tantras, new teachings?" "Actually the tantrika may or may not teach. He may keep his notes secret, merely for personal use, or even hide them away to await later discovery. For example, Dudjom Rimpoche once wrote a tantra. The original text was short and pithy. Perhaps it meant little to anyone except himself but out of it he created visualisations, fire ceremonies, a practice of transference of consciousness at death and preliminary exercises. The original experience is in all cases a moment in which the mind reveals itself in a very pure form. This experience points towards that sought in Mahamudra practice and realised in Dzogchen. "The function of the tantra as written out as a practice is to return the mind to its pure origin using the materials of visualisation which may in ordinary consciousness be felt to be commonplace or even defiled. The tantric visualisation is

188

The Yogins o f Ladakh

not concerned so much with either conventional purity or morality. It takes the ordinary and even the gross or vile and transforms them into their original Buddha clarity. To a tantric adept, a piece of shit is seen just as it is, an empty substance to which there is no need to add like or dislike. All things are said to be of the "same taste". Needless to say this is difficult and, for all but determined minds, possibly dangerous. That is why it is only practised by initiates whose endeavours are approved by a lama. Yet when the experience of renewed integration arises it is the same as Mahamudra, Dzogchen or whatever you like to call it. There isn't any difference." "So the practices of Mahamudra and Dzogchen refer to that continuity of experience that holds the beads. And the beads are the expressions of experiences that arise from time to time. In ritual practice these may be repetitions based on already written sadhanas or they may be newly created there and then. The recitation of a tantra is a turning of the beads." "That's taking it within a fairly narrow perspective. You can also see all these beads as being the whole world of human experience, the totality of the possibilities of samsara and nirvana. Having got the thread, it doesn't bother you whether you are involved in something that appears to be pure or something that seems to be bad, a visualisation or riding on a bus. If you know what the thread running through the heart of all appearances is, you also know their nature. And because that is their root nature, you can allow them to manifest it. You do not need to control them in any way. Such a level of experience is known as Mahamudra inside the system of tantra. It is the highest stage of tantric realisation. Of course different schools may use different technical terms for it." "Essentially then it's knowing the presence of the string

A Home o f Ancient Yogins

189

within the bead?" "Within the bead - yes". "It follows from what we are saying that Mahamudra and Dzogchen are symbols for the same experience which have come from different traditions." "In some senses you can say that. At a certain point there comes an experience, an awareness that is self fulfilling. But ordinarily our experiences are incomplete. There is always a little bit of anxiety, a sense of lack or desire. In order to round off our experiences we like to make a kind of comment about them. We have a good day so we say to one another "Oh that was a good day" as if to reassure ourselves that it really was so. We are endlessly rounding out our experiences quite unconsciously. We provide terms to identify what we are doing and compliment ourselves about it or raise doubts as may be. Since there is a lack of completion we need to reassure ourselves. "Here we are sitting in this room drinking a cup of tea. We look about and there is nothing to surprise us. I seem to have complete mental control of the room even if it appears quite chaotic." "It is quite chaotic !" "Well- exactly. Maybe I need to affirm my control in order to put up with it! We so often need to tidy up our situations by this kind of barely conscious self-reassurance. There is nearly always a bit of underlying insecurity in our experience. We need to say the last word all the time - and not only in conversations. Yet, when we are completely in touch, fulfilled in our being, fully spacious, there is no need to complete what appears to be going on around us; no need to say what a particular experience may have been; no need for a jargon or special terms. You can allow much more spontaneity to arise, allow a lot more uncertainty, simply

190

The Yogins o f Ladakh

because you know all moments are expressions of the basic spaciousness. "The focus in Mahamudra and Dzogchen is on staying with this deep identity which permits a lot of freedom in manifestation. In our ordinary life our insecurity leads us to project onto other people and coerce them into fulfilling the roles that they first seemed to manifest for us, roles which we found supportive or self confirming. As you know, in a relationship when one partner begins to show changes the other often cannot recognise such changes as they are. There's a fearful need to remain in past securities." "The obvious antidote to that is meditation upon impermanence. Even the basic Hinayana meditations are similar to those for Dzogchen; except perhaps that in Dzogchen there is an awareness of ones own involvement in the flux of total existence and a letting go into it. There is an integration of an awareness of the flux within an underlying continuity." "So- perhaps we could look further at these systems of training. Let us imagine a nun in training at her convent. It is as if there is a three way interplay, you have: i) Her personal experience as an individual. ii) Her personal understanding of the system of practice that is her own making sense of what she is involved in. iii) Her intellectual sense of the practice with reference to the ideas of other practitioners, in particular her teacher and the latter's superior understanding. "As long as the individual is on the path and has not reached an experience of self validation, there will always be a need for some sort of analysis, checking out where she is. The thing has not been demonstrated from the inside out, there is still a need for an external confirmation. Its like doing a jigsaw puzzle when the picture has still not emerged.

A Home o f Ancient Yogins

191

One has to look back to the illustration on the box now and again. At a certain time it just comes together and there is no need to refer to the picture any more. You just go on knowingly fitting pieces together." "What the teacher of a system provides then is the picture on the box. It is a frame of reference, a meaningful context without which the practitioner may feel lost or even abandon the attempt to practise." "An educated practitioner will also know that the system she is practising is perhaps only one of a family of similar systems. Sometimes it will be helpful to look at these other systems and be aware of their similarities and differences. At other times to do this is of no use. When actually practising ones own system it is important to feel it is the best, or at least to give oneself totally to it. The problem for scholars is that they get entangled in endless comparisons so that the experience within a selected tradition is never realised. "On different occasions a practitioner may therefore compare a system with another favourably or unfavourably. The critique depends on context. Sometimes the Scots will differentiate themselves from the English, at other times they will show solidarity with them as British!" "When we're deeply involved in a particular practice it certainly seems unwise to compare or to mix practices from different traditions. It's better to assume that one's own practice is totally valid. A practice is an integral and time honoured part of a lineage and this cannot be lightly set aside. A Westerner seeking widely in the dharma may however, on separate occasions and in contrasting contexts, practise according to whatever system he finds himself associated with. Any Tibetan system and more distant ones Zen for example - may all be perceived as the same in intent

192

The Yogins o f Ladakh

and in outcome. I think this is a way of mastering the width as well as the depth of the dharma. The experiences that arise in the different traditions are fundamentally the same because the thread runs through all of them." "That seems to be right. Sometimes Dzogchen lamas say that Madhyamaka, Mahamudra and Dzogchen are all the same. Such a statement may have an important function. Dzogchen is sometimes said to be the ultimate practice, something far out, the best if you like. Its important to be reminded of the value of other traditions, ones that may perhaps be more accessible. Its important for practitioners not to start rating each other according to some implied superiority of the different systems of practice. This would be a bad mistake." "The basis indeed of a lot of misunderstanding in the West!" "When I was translating with Rimpoche I found some discrepancies between two texts. He said, when you read one dharma text, just believe it utterly. And when you read another one, believe that completely too. If you get involved in contradictions you will be confused and if confused you will loose your faith. The Buddha taught many methods in order to help different types of people. It would be greedy to want all these methods to apply to one's own condition and selfish to impose what suits you on others."3 "In any case we cannot really debate the different values of contrasting systems of symbols. It is not like scientific argument whereby inferences from some experiment may or not prove to be convincing. There are tests to prove a point and so on. Here, in the dharma, each text symbolises the deeper truths. They are to be used not as truth statements open to debate but as part of a practice. They are all metaphors. You can use whichever one feels best suited to

A Home o f Ancient Yogins

193

your karma." "Its similar in psychotherapy - one creates a necessary myth while knowing that it is just a myth. The myth is there because it has a function in one's personal understanding. Likewise you may use a preferred technique, knowing that that is all it is ." "You know the story. Someone with an arrow in his arm doesn't ask where it came from. He goes ahead and pulls it ou t."

REFERENCES Written by JC while travelling in Zangskar. 2This puzzled us for if not he then who could the author have been? 3James Low's translations and his introduction to them provides a further commentary on these issues. See Low. J. 1994. Simply Being. Durtro Press. London

CHAPTER TEN

THE HILL OF THE TIGRESS


Peace, quiet joy Servants o f Silence Ordinary grey rocks o f the mountain In whom deep waters run On whom by night the Moon By day the Sun.1

Two old rogues To the south of Padum the land rises to a wide ledge before the northern foothills of the Himalayas begin. A short climb leads through fields to the little hill on which the gompa of Stagrimo stands, the 'Hill of the Tigress', a Drugpa monastery set among groves of willow trees. The place is blessed by small streams cascading in little rills from one level to another. Rustic gardens mount the terraces to a group of unadorned monks' cells and temples. The mind relaxes in the sound of running water and rustling leaves while the sunlight throws patterns of light and shade around the courtyards. As we climbed up and entered the shelter of the trees, an atmosphere more like a Chinese than a Tibetan monastery surrounded us.2 Stagrimo is a home for yogins and the base of the Drugpa monks of Padum and Sani. At first we saw no one but, on hearing voices, we found two old men seated on some steps gossiping. At once I recognised them: they were the very two I had met during the Dalai Lama's visit and from whom I had first learnt of the existence of yogins in Zangskar. I was overjoyed to meet them again. Sonam Konsum, known as Gonpo, then aged seventy two, was

Hill o f the Tigress

195

striking in appearance. His long dreadlocks, loosely tied, straggled around a lined and hawklike head, the bright eyes alert to everything. He had a long forceful face of dark toned skin, not at all Tibetan in character, and the air of one familiar with the winds and snows of high places. Accustomed to years of solitude, he nonetheless took an intense pleasure in company. He had the shakes so that his hands were often in a slight perpetual movement.3 His companion, even older I suspected, was the yogin who had told me in 1977 he had not left the gompa for fifteen years and felt no need to do so. He was known as Nochung Tse but this was his lay name. His religious appellation was Ngawang Jigme.4 His speciality was long term retreats, years at a time, all done on the Hill of the Tigress. He sat benignly in the sun spinning his mani wheel and often disappearing into a quiet muttering of mantras. After some minutes, Gonpo invited us up to his rooms for tea. We climbed the stair and came out on a roof about 15 foot square with a little kitchen off at one end. A high wall surrounded it so that, when one sat down, one could not be seen from outside and there was a view of the overarching sky. After we had had tea, we heard a voice outside. It was Nochung Tse. Gonpo shouted out: "Hey, bring some chang! These people want chang!" Nochung Tse came hobbling up (he stairs with a bowl of chang and joined us. We sat there in the sun for about four hours. Gonpo would juggle with old tins and pans to keep us served. He did this quietly with a sort of reverential attention as if it were a tea ceremony. I realised you do not need beautiful utensils or especially aesthetic surroundings to create something sacred. Sometimes a silence fell and we just sat there in the sun enjoying the chang, the stillness and the warmth of the light.

196

The Yogins o f Ladakh

The two old men had trained deeply in the dharma and they spoke freely about themselves and their training. They belonged to a generation of yogins strongly influenced by Lama Norbu of Khardong who had trained with the great Shakyashri at his hermitage in eastern Tibet and restored the gompa of Dzongkul reviving the practice of the monks there. He had spent his life working in Zangskar, Lahoul and areas nearby. Many monks had been attracted to him and became practising yogins.5 Our two companions were among the last survivors,. Gonpo and Nochung Tse had trained in all the yogas of their sect yet, although fully familiar with the yogas of Naropa, they no longer felt the need to practise them intensively. Instead, their practice had become that of Chagchen (Mahamudra) and Dzogchen (Adiyoga). Indeed they were not inclined to make a distinction between these two paths. 'Its just a different perspective on the same thing.' they told us. Without any sense of pride, they remarked that they had quite simply got to the end of their training. There was nowhere else to go and nothing else to attain. They sat in meditation four times a day for a duration of at least one hour. At night they often practised the dream yoga of Naropa. In this yoga you lie on your right side and remain open to whatever comes. It is neither sleeping nor not sleeping. You simply allow the dream images to come and go in their own time without becoming attached to or frightened of them. You lie down with your right hand cupped under your cheek, thumb pressing on a nerve by the cheek bone. The left hand is extended down the side to rest on the hip. The night is for practice and practice is maintaining the open mind of experience. Yet, as the night progresses, the yogi naturally falls into a condition half awake and half asleep. By

Hill o f the Tigress

197

learning to sustain a watchful attention, it is then possible to observe a dream as it arises, knowing it to be a dream. In the West this is known as lucid dreaming. The purpose of dream yoga is to recognise the fact of dreaming and then to learn to move within the process, using the dream energy to travel to Buddha lands and so forth. The practice makes you realise the illusory nature of experience for what then is the difference between sleeping and waking? Both are in a sense illusory. Being clear about this is called the Illusory Body yoga, another of Naropa's exercises. If you look into a mirror, what you see seems to be real and have solidity, yet that is not its true nature. In meditation this sense of physical solidity dissolves and there is a feeling of processes working together in the generation of awareness. You experience what you are as the suchness of experience not as a 'thing'. In their daily practice,which they did in their own apartments, the two yogins said they sat either in Mahamudra or Dzogchen. To train in such meditation you have to get the balance right between Calming the Mind 6 and Insightful Awareness of the mind's nature.7 When the mind is calm and thoughtless, you can see into its nature which is clear and limpid like a still lake. When you identify with such clarity, you find it to be empty of yourself. When this is an actual realisation rather than a conceptual interpretation, it can be called Mahamudra and, when there is a feeling of utter letting go into a spacious timelessness which you cannot even characterise as being of the mind, then that may be thought of afterwards as the fruit experience - Dzogchen. The important thing is the experiential reality, not the distinguishing between methods or the describing of it with names and terms. We asked them about the daily practice of a layman

198

The Yogins o f Ladakh

living in a city. It was relatively easy sitting quietly by the pools of Sani to develop that sense of spaciousness 8 that is the root of the mind but such an awareness often seems impossible in the bustle of a big city like Delhi or London or when interacting with others in complex relationships. "Ah!" said Gonpo, "If that is the case you have not generated a mind that is big enough. You have to make your mind so big in meditation that it can take in all such things and remain undisturbed. And the mind must remain big when you are not meditating also. You have to have a mind so big that all the sounds and struggles of the city can go on within it and yet there remains ample space. Then the city can be a joyous place for you." Sitting quietly in the sun in the company of these old men allowed me to fall into a reverie of spaciousness and ease. The whirr of Nochung Tses spinning mani wheel gave a focus to such times and his soft repetition of the mantra was like the murmuring of the stream. We went up to visit them several times. Once, as we were having our cups filled, I picked up the mani wheel and spun it the wrong way round. There was a great chuckling about that and I was not allowed to forget it. Those heterodox Tibetans, the Bonpo, spin their wheels that way so whenever I met the yogins thereafter they would point in mock accusation at me, crying "Bonpo! Bonpo!"and laugh. Lama Norbu and Lama Thubten: the modern founders On other occasions, Nochung Tse and Gonpo told us about characters who had been associated with the gompa. Stagrimo is a relatively recent foundation although yogins may well have practised on the site for centuries. The present gompa was apparently founded by Dorje Dzinpa, whose

Hill o f the Tigress

199

parents were from Kham in eastern Tibet and had been on pilgrimage in Zangskar when he was born near Padum. His teacher may have been Lama Rangrig, the lama of the great Ngawang Tsering of Dzongkhul who was said to have been thirteen years old when Dorje Dzinpa died. After the golden age at Dzongkul, yogin practice had clearly fallen off and in this century it had been Lama Norbu's task to recreate it. Our friend, Amchi Wanchuk of Karsha, at the age of ten, had met Lama Norbu and recalled him as quite short, with extremely long matted hair coiled up on the top of his head. A calm and peaceful teacher, he used to carry scriptures and mantras in a long silver container 9 slung over his shoulder. Such a container appears in some mani stone figures in the valley, which may be representations of the lama. When Lama Norbu was teaching in Zangskar there was another teacher associated with him who was reputed to have been very fierce. Lama Thubten was born of parents who had come from Tibet. A remarkable story tells how his father came to Zangskar. At the great monastery of Samye in Tibet there was said to be a special room where the bodies that get lost in the Bardo, the realm between successive lives, were chopped up and the weighing of souls for punishment occurred. On a certain day every year a piece of wood was placed there and, when retrieved, it was found to be cut up into little pieces. Occasionally it became politically necessary for a man to be put in this room as a ransom for the sins of Tibet. If he was not dead when the room was reopened, he had to leave Samye for ever. Lama Thubten's father was such a man and he chose Zangskar as his place of refuge because of its holy reputation. His son Thubten went to Tibet to train with the great Shakyashri and was therefore a brother disciple of

200

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Lama Norbu. Thubten remained some four years at Stagrimo dying at the age of forty two in the Chang Thang desert. Nochung Tse and Gonpo remembered him well. He had lived in the rooms above the main temple hall and had been a fine exponent of Dzogchen. One day, climbing the path to the gompa, we met another yogin. He was an old bewhiskered monk called Tashi Dharghey and we were sorry not to see more of him. We asked after our two friends, whom we had not seen for a while. "Oh - pissed as usual !" he laughed. Tashi Dargney was exceedingly jolly, oozing vitality and laughing straight into our eyes. Everything seemed to him to be hugely amusing - especially James and I. He had trained with both Lama Norbu and Lama Thubten, learning Mahamudra from the first and Dzogchen from the second and he continued to practise. James asked him: "Why is it that, when there is so much need for teaching, you do not now have disciples yourself?" "What can a disciple do with disciples?" was the immediate reply. Checkmate One evening James and I reflected on the progress of our research. We had to admit that, although we were gathering shreds and patches of information, we seemed to be getting nowhere with our central quest. What was the psychology that lay at the basis of the yogin's practice? I suggested that perhaps we could question our two friends in a more systematic manner. Since they had trained so much in all the yogas, they would surely be able to give us a rational account of the philosophy and psychology behind it. I was becoming a little restless at the way the Drugpa

Hill o f the Tigress

201

Kargyu monks were so adept at ducking and weaving, never coming straight out with what they were doing in meditation nor with the central ideas that formed the basis for practice. They were adepts at a special sort of mystification implying that another teacher along the line knew better than they and that perhaps we should go and find him. Since detailed accounts of both practice and theory can be found in books, including a number of masterful translations into English, what I wanted to know and witness was how all this was working out on the ground in the day to day life of the monks. What was the everyday import of all those words? The fact that I cared for actual practice seemed to make our monkish friends even more elusive and I was arrogant enough to feel that my own training and that of James was worthy of greater frankness and sharing. We decided that during our next session with them we would ask a searching question and see where it got us. We arrived at the gompa and this time Nochung Tse invited us into his room for tea. We settled in around the stove and were soon sipping from the hot cupfuls in our hands. We were talking about this and that when James said: "John and I have been talking about the mind and the yogin's path to understanding. We want to ask you what you understand by mind. Could you tell us how it should be understood?" Both our friends seemed to freeze in their tracks and there was a complete silence. Nochung Tse picked up his Mani wheel and began intoning "OM MANI PADME HUMOM MANI PADME HUM" in a loud voice with his eyes closed. Gonpo looked extremely uncomfortable. For a while he rocked from side to side as if trying to make up his mind. Then he said: "Since you two have had the great benefit of training in

202

The Yogins o f Ladakh

meditation, why don't you go and do it. Then you would have no need to ask such a stupid question!" I was stunned by this response. I felt profoundly reprimanded and the shock registered in my guts. I also had a sudden insight into the nature of my mistake and felt quite uncommonly foolish. How indeed could mere talk reveal anything of the depths of a lifetime's practice? What arrogance to suppose that such a precious secret could be disclosed in a conversation over beer or tea! Nochung Tse was gone beyond recall but Gonpo then began to ease our embarrassment. We talked of other subjects and gradually regained our composure. We were staying the night in a small cell in the gompa. After supper, when it was quite dark, there came a soft almost secretive knock on the door. It was Gonpo. We welcomed him warmly and in he came, remarking on the deepening autumnal cold, and sat down to have a drink with us. In a soft and urgent voice he began speaking to James. He continued for about an hour and then went quietly away, almost conspiratorially. I asked James what he had been saying. James said it was all very difficult. Gonpo had been speaking so quietly that the words were difficult to hear, and slurred in his heavy Zangskari accent; besides he had been well loaded with chang. James had understood almost nothing.10 Yet the sense of what Gonpo had attempted was with us and we felt grateful. He had been telling us about his own training, about the importance of the guru, of proper preliminary practices, of building up insight and calm, of the different yogas in which he had trained. His message was clear. 'If you wish to understand the Drugpa Kargyu path you need to go and do likewise. Talking about such things gets nowhere. Only practice in the heart of meditation does anything. Only in this

Hill o f the Tigress

203

way can you discover that all talk of the mind is illusion. Only through direct knowing can you understand. The Kargyu way is instruction through practice. It is a practice sect not a teaching sect. Theory and talk is the business of the Gelugpa. We are in the business of transformative action. You don't have to understand it. You learn to do it. That is the essence of our culture.' Furthermore, we understood that for him to say even this much was taking him to the very edge of his commitment to sectarian secrecy. That was why he was so cautious and conspiratorial. He had done all he could to tell us what he knew and we loved him for it. I awoke at first light and sat outside on the little balcony. An immense view opened before me. The sunlight was striking the far side of the Zangskar valley and the cold shadows of the night were withdrawing. I watched the line of shadow as it crept ever nearer the sleeping town below, until it reached the roof of the Gyalpo's house. The valley was changing from leaden grey to gold, a palpable warmth was rising towards me and distant cocks were crowing. Contemplating the events of the preceding day, I saw that the requirements of our project for an intellectual outcome had been blinding me to the subtle process of change that I had undergone in Zangskar. Walking in the mountains, adventuring across rivers and down cliffs, sitting in the calm of groves and pools, talking with these old men and sipping their chang, I had been learning something about myself and my inner world, letting go into that vast space that lies below all mental imaging. The need to theorise and to treat the yogins as objective sources of 'information' was the cause of a characteristic Western mistake. Only through participation can the yogic secrets be understood: the yogins could not tell them to me. Yet the participation need not be

204

The Yogins o f Ladakh

strictly by following their particular path; it needed simply the proper balancing of a meditative mind within their sphere of operations. By insisting on framing those operations with terms, definitions and the structure of discourse, we had almost lost contact with our friends. Over the cup of chang in the silence of sunlight what else had there been to be known? I also realised that the whole trend of the yogin's thought as we had heard it revealed a preoccupation not with a model of mind, but with a model of illusion. The yogins had spoken hardly at all about the mind. Their whole focus had been on illusion and the clarification of illusion. Our own reification of 'mind' was our undoing here, for the dispelling of illusion does not reveal the mind. What it does reveal cannot actually be said. The stillness over the wide valley absorbed the distant sounds of the crowing cocks, an occasional shout to an animal, and so too did it absorb all thought. That mind, which is nothing other than the product of thought, was stilled and emptied into bare awareness,1 1 a consciousness without a self-reflecting reference creating a thinking entity apart from the objects of sense. Such awareness simply mirrors that which arrives through the doors of sense. If I let such an awareness arise but neither define it nor place it anywhere what then is discovered? This is a way of talking about calming the mind and seeing its nature. With the mind so calmed that all it does is to mirror, one finds that its nature is none other than the mirroring. There is nothing else, no essence, simply existence. This seems to be the root of being, the continuous monitoring of that which is presented. It is, as the great Japanese Zen teacher Dogen has said,"being-time."12 It seemed clear to me that the quality of insight which

Hill o f the Tigress

205

Buddhists call prajna arises when awareness focuses on itself without any discriminating thought to separate subject from object. This then is the direct apperception of minding, or, if you must have a noun, the 'mind'. If such a state is strong and clear, then thoughts, or dreams indeed, arise and float through without attachment or rejection. They are simply memories, karmic residues, working through the patterns of the past. To the great space through which they move they have no relevance. They are like "writing on w ater"13. Prajna is not unconscious but rather an open awareness of awareness that flows within the time of its own being. This emptiness of self is active-being-known, not absence but alert presence. As the world comes in, there appear "light rays of affection and wisdom"; memory sparks associations giving rise to gratitude, insight and love. And from these there comes a feeling of bliss, for everything is as it is. How marvellous to be here !

REFERENCES ^Written by JC at Padum and Karsha during his first visit. 2 Oct 1st 1986 3Gonpo, turned out to be the grandfather o f Jopa Namgyal in whose house at Stongde I had lodged during our main ethnographic expedition to the valley in 1980. I was keen to go into this because the relationship meant I could fit him as a missing member into a Zangskari family tree (Crook and Osmaston 1994. H im a la y a n Buddhist Villages Chapter 15, Fig 15.3, p 493). It appears that his father (Sonam Tseten) may have married twice, the second time as a m ag.pa (ie to a wife in a family outside his original home) and that Gonpo was the son o f this second marriage. This would explain why he was affiliated to the Drugpa order, this being his mother's affiliation, rather than to the Gelugpa o f Stongde like the rest o f his paternal relatives. Gonpo's own paternal grandfather was a famous

206

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Gelugpa lama, Namkha Jolden, who had brought a great library to Stongde Gompa from Tibet, where it can still be seen in the family rooms. Several o f his uncles were monks at Stongde in their time. ^The word N ochung com es from No.No, meaning son or boy and Chung which means small. His mother had two sons and he was the smaller. He came from a Padum family and was born in the same year as the old Gyalpo. He had never been a great traveller. His longest journey appears to have been to Lahoul, presumably to Khardong Gompa the home o f his guru. ^See Chapter 1. ^ie. Zhi. gNas in Tibetan, samatha in Sanskrit. 7 ie. Lhag. mThong =vipassana 8 Rig. pa 9Za. ma .tog 1^1 had se cr etly taped this co n v er sa tio n . indecipherable as James had found it! H A term much favoured by Krishnamurti. 1 2 S e e : N is h iy a m a , K. and J. S te v e n s . It rem ains as

1975. D o g e n Zenji:Shobogenzo:The Eye and treasury o f the True Law . N akayam a Shobo. Tokyo. Chapter 16. 13 A s the Dzogchen text Tsig. gSum. gNad. brDeg puts it.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

THE PRECIOUS JEWEL OF PIPCHA


If you perceive the interaction o f all your separated parts and dissolve them also into theirs eventually you fall into endless space and enter the continuity o f all things. Then the waterfall sounds where your head used to be and the voice o f the Raven is your own voice calling and bodily functions play themselves out in strange performances all their own. At last, with energetic contradictions solved, you enter the openness o f boundless bliss still and unlimited, timeless and spacious quiet joy serene and the Buddha's sm ile.1

The search for Sonam Dorje The narrow path wound up and down the steep inclines above the river offering views of the snow covered range towards the south. Soon the great rock of Bardan with the monastery on its top loomed up and, after passing it, we descended into a small valley where the village of Pipcha nestled under the mountains. We were at once impressed by the neatness of the fields, the peaceful atmosphere and the two welcoming and beautifully painted chorten that arched across the path at the entrance to the valley. Inside each was a splendid mandala recently painted on the ceiling and glowing with colour. Between Padum and Rangdom the chortens along the route are no longer cared for; they have

208

The Yogins o f Ladakh

been so frequently defaced by passing Muslims that their care has been largely abandoned. By contrast, in the villages in the Lungnak valley between Padum and Lahoul any nonBuddhist travellers are Hindus who respect whatever gods they find upon the way. We found ourselves in a happy community entirely traditional in its ways and quite unaffected by the Muslim influences that press so heavily in Padum. The large houses were beautifully maintained, the streets clean and tidy and there was an atmosphere of cheerful village activity. We set up our tent in a field below the village attended by a buzzing swarm of excited children and made our way among the houses looking for the yogin. Pipcha's houses were all pressed up against one another and among them ran narrow, often covered, lanes. The houses seemed to interconnect, forming an intimate labyrinth in which we could easily have become lost. We were led through a veritable maze, upstairs and downstairs, along corridors, past rooms filled to the ceiling with great piles of dried dung pats for winter fires and other stores, up across roofs where the hay stood in great ricks doubling the height of the buildings, out into a narrow street only to dive again within another building. Finally we found Sonam Dorje, a round faced old man with a patch over one eye like an ancient pirate, seated by the stove in a kitchen lined with shelves of gleaming brass and copper vessels. We were introduced and at once made the customary prostrations, presenting him with white scarves and presents. He got to his feet exclaiming that he was not at all worthy of such attention. The villagers, now crowding into the room, were smiling and murmuring approvingly. For them this was an event to be savoured: two foreigners from the West, dressed in vernacular garb, prostrating themselves

Precious Jewel o f Pipcha

209

before their teacher with every sign of reverence and respect. Sonam Dorje looked secretly delighted. He told us to go up the hill before him to the little house where he lived. In the house, we found his personal servant and a younger monk who ushered us into his room, sat us down before the stove and provided us with sweet Indian tea. Soon Sonam Dorje came puffing up the steep path to his house. For a man of seventy nine, he was vigorous and his one bright eye suggested a lively mind. The villagers referred to him in honorific style as the precious jewel, Rimpoche-la, and we soon began to use this name for him ourselves. We found he well deserved it. Sonam Dorje was born in the village and became a monk at Bardan Gompa at the age of fifteen. When he was twenty-one he did his first set of preliminary practices and then travelled over the pass and down to Lahoul to Kordong Gompa where he met Lama Norbu who became his guru. After doing a second set of preliminaries, he travelled with his lama through Zangskar spending the summers at Dzongkul and going elsewhere with him in the winters.2 At the age of forty two he went to Namdroling in Tibet, the monastery of Mila Tulku, the reincarnation of Milarepa, whose name was Drugpa Yongdzin and who became his teacher. He remained in Tibet for twelve years and returned after the Chinese occupation. In Tibet, he had done a three year solitary retreat and back in Zangskar he did another three year stint in isolation in a house above the village of Shila3 before moving back to Pipcha. His house resembled nothing so much as a very small gompa. Situated high above the other houses it had a commanding view over the whole valley and the white peaks beyond. Sonam Dorje was extremely interested in what had brought us to him and the reasons for our presence in

210

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Zangskar. He leant forward over his tea listening intently and questioned us both closely about the practices we had each done and what we might have gleaned from them. In particular, he concerned himself with the details of James's practices which most resembled his own early training. He asked us about the development of the Buddhist dharma in the West and once more we discussed the problem of meditative practice in the busy life of a Western lay person. James asked him which practices he felt would be most useful for such a Westerner. "Patience is needed," Sonam Dorje began. "You know it takes quite a long time to establish a real calmness in the mind. For example, if you begin with four hours of meditation you may be able to achieve a calm mind only for one of them. As you go on, however, you will be able to calm the mind for two or maybe three hours. Finally you will be able to sit without disturbance for the whole period.4 This may take months or years to achieve. Yet, once it is achieved, you can go on to develop some sort of clarity inside the calmness using the practices of insight5. This too takes a long time and for busy people it is not at all easy." "When you practise it is important to be able to see your difficulties clearly. This is especially important for a lay practitioner. If you have no idea where your problems lie, then you waste a lot of time. If you can identify your problems you can often set them aside and go more deeply into the direct observation of the quietened mind." We asked him about the differences between Chagchen and Dzogchen. He said at once that while the methods were different and could be described as contrasting approaches, they did not differ at all in their endpoint. James and Sonam Dorje then embarked on an exploration of some of the technical terms involved in Dzogchen. Later, James told me

Precious Jewel o f Pipcha

211

they both got completely lost in this. Which for example was more important in meditation, the subject or the object ? Sonam Dorje finally broke the impasse. "In the end this approach is not very helpful. What one has to do is to come back again and again to calming the mind, for that is the basis to which you have to return whenever you get lost. Understanding the essence of meditation is often very difficult because one can get muddled by terms and definitions. It is always vital to perceive directly what is happening in the mind. Returning to the basis of practice itself is then the essential thing." Sonam Dorje spoke enthusiastically and his presentation became faster and faster until James could barely keep up. Sonam Dorje understood this however and was careful to phrase his speech in the central Tibetan idiom, setting aside local Zangskari terms. His twelve year training in Tibet enabled him to be sensitive to the language and James's degree of familiarity with it. We asked him about the role within training of the Yogas of Naropa.6 "These yogas are psychophysical exercises which should not be taken as ends in themselves," Sonam Dorje said. "Essentially they are aids to the fundamental path which is the practice of either Mahamudra or Dzogchen. The Yogas of Naropa can be compared to a bpw while Mahamudra is like an arrow. When you string the bow of Naropa with the arrow of Mahamudra you shoot the arrow into voidness with great power. The motivation and strength of the Naropa exercises are a great aid to the training in either Mahamudra or Dzogchen. That is why we yogins use them as young men but may often set them aside when we are older. Mahamudra training is then sufficient unto itself." Sonam Dorje seemed quite touched by our devotion to

212

The Yogins o f Ladakh

the subject and we understood that he probably only rarely had the opportunity for such a conversation. None of these old men in Zangskar had received authorisation to teach. This seemed very strange to us because their level of expertise was so great. In the Drugpa Kargyu it seems that only very particular people are holders of authority to transmit the lineage. During the time of our visit that authority was vested in Gegen Khentse Rimpoche who lived at Manali. He was an old man himself and we often wondered how the lineage could continue when its stem was so narrow and the leaves withering. The total reliance on Manali seemed to us dangerous for the future of the teaching Sonam Dorje seemed to have accepted that our training was sufficient to allow him to discuss dharma practice with us quite openly, yet his respect for discretion was always there. We fell to discussing the secret jumping exercises, done from a sitting posture, which are a standard physical training in exercises that support Tumo practice.7 I was about to demonstrate what I had been taught when he stopped me saying that uninitiated persons were present and I should not proceed. While we sat in the little house on the hillside and James was talking with Rimpoche, I became aware of the very especial sort of energy that emanates from these yogins in their remote dwellings and in their personal search for enlightenment, a male energy with which I was not familiar. It was a resolved male energy, for these people have worked themselves out and reached a point near the conclusion of their lives where they seem fully together and integrated. Here was a male energy that was not dependent upon women, upon female gratification, upon meeting female needs, upon the mother; here rather was an energy that had emancipated itself from the mother while at the same time

Precious Jewel o f Pipcha

213

acknowledging the importance of the mother. Indeed, the yogins are themselves motherly. On his death bed my father, a stalwart and thoughtful Anglican Christian, had regretted calmly and clearly that he had never met a churchman who could make matters of life and death fully clear to him. Afterwards I had felt saddened by my own inability to help him at that time, and I have supposed that this experience set me on a path attempting to solve my father's question. Meeting these men with their solid energies, their resolution of the dimorphism of the sexes, the quietude of their manners and the certainty with which they live, had shown me something my father would very much have liked. There is a kindness, a generosity and a simplicity about these aged yogins that is extremely impressive and very different from the abrasive uncertain male energy now common in the West. These men are important as fathers. Here are male models supremely well worth understanding. Puntzog's house In Padum we were staying with an old friend from my 1980 visit, Puntzog Dawa, the Gyalpo of Padum. He had received us warmly, a small friendly man with lines of concern creasing his face and the dark stain of a birthmark high on his right cheek. He is a teacher and a farmer and had only recently become the Gyalpo following the death of his characterful father.8 Being the king of Padum carries no official weight these days: Puntzog is just a farmer like any other, yet his social position grants him a certain prestige and his diplomatic attitudes are of value in the sometimes difficult negotiations between the Muslim and Buddhist communities. He has five little daughters and three sons who pack themselves into his large traditional house of

214

The Yogins o f Ladakh

earth, rocks and dusty passages overlooking the agricultural land surrounding the town. The building has three storeys and a large glass fronted room opening off the roof which was given to us for accommodation. The animals use the ground floor and the main living rooms are on the second storey. On the roof stand piles of dried dung, twigs, hay and beds of damp dung drying in the sun. Chimney pots stick up among them (not to be tripped over) and several square holes (not to be fallen into) provide light for the rooms beneath and most of the smoke ascends through these. A big earthen closet on the second floor is a three holer. The corridors in the house were full of huge sacks of grain ready for milling or storage. The walls of earthen blocks, the tightly laid twig ceilings, the grubby much handled windowsills and tiny windows, some with glass and some without, neat shelves of pots and the big iron stove in the kitchen all spoke of a rich and involved family life in close contact with the organic necessities of the subsistence life. The walls are so thick that sounds are muted and, in spite of the many inhabitants, the house has a spacious quality. Sitting on the roof of the "Raja's" house in the early morning sun we looked out over the roofscape of the town. People were bringing in winter supplies, great bundles of straw in huge baskets. Before us on the roof a hundred sparrows were foraging in a disorderly pile of chaff and hopping about among the drying dung pats. In front of us lay a stack of loose dung mixed with straw trodden into it by the animals over the previous winter and now cut up with a spade into drying blocks for fuel.

Precious Jewel o f Pipcha

215

Rahi Indian music ascended from a chimney outside the door of our upper room gently flooding the yard in the still morning air. The "Radio-operator-Sahib" was awake and turned on if not exactly tuned in. He lived in a room of the Gyalpo's house with his ancient transmitter and Morse key on a table, long wires going out of the window to an aerial array above the yard. Rahi was a short shrunken little Dogra from Jammu, a bag of skin and bones. "G'moming Sir!", he would greet us irrespective of the time of day in a high pitched, somewhat imploratory accent touching his forelock in a typically Indian gesture of respect. He was kind, bringing us apples (very rare here) and inviting us to his room. "Will you take a little spirit?" He asked us shortly after 8 a. m. admitting: "I have a bad habit, Sir, one bottle of rum a day and fifty sticks of cigarette!" "May I enjoy you for dinner today?" he asked. "My Didi is preparing food." Didi means sister but he was referring to Puntzogs wife, the Gyalmo, a sweet lady who seemed to find in Rahi a joke, a source of stimulation from another world and a sad case. After several procrastinations, we accepted. His little room was neatly kept and a large water filter enabled him at least to dilute his liquor a little. We began with rum, fortunately the bottle was almost empty. "Didi" brought us the food heavily spiced with delicious Kashmiri flavours. Rahi turned up the music singing along in sudden outbursts. He kept finding apples for us, conjuring them out of odd corners of his little room and, between puffs of smoke, treated us most generously. This little man was in charge of one of the most remote Government radio posts in the subcontinent. Clearly he

216

The Yogins o f Ladakh

craved for company and convivial talk with drinking companions. In many ways he paralleled the odd outsider of the British Raj who in remote parts of Empire used to do the same sort of job. Like many Indians he was proud of his humble service to his country, and he took pleasure in his skills with the squeaking ululating signals emerging from his receiver. Rahi had a house and some land near Jammu, a wife and three children, a small company known by the capital letters of his children's names and did government service to gain cash at little expense. He had been successful but resented the fact that two of his past acquaintances failed to get him into the Police. We got onto the subject of religion. "Your god Buddha ? My deva is called Fancy." "Fancy that!" "When you come to Jammu I will meet you with my Baba (guru). He is a great man. Do you think I will meet Buddha?" We were sure that he would if only he could reduce his smoking. "Oh, Sahib, I am a man of very bad habit!" Amchi Wanchuk Another evening I was delighted to find an old acquaintance from previous visits sitting by the fire in the family room of the Gyalpos house. Amchi Wanchuk of Karsha, the Tibetan scholar and teacher, is the acknowledged historian of the valley. He comes from an old aristocratic family still bearing the appellation Lonpo of Karsha, the large village just across the river from Padum, which his family must have administered for the Gyalpo before the arrival of the Dogras. He has a medical practice as a well known traditional amchi but his fame comes from his astute

Precious Jewel o f Pipcha

217

scholarship. Amchi has five children and his son was the tourist officer for the valley. In 1981 his wife had died followed soon afterwards by his father. His mother had separated from his father soon after the latter had taken a younger woman as second wife. With his knowledge of such a history, Amchi decided not to marry again when his own wife died. Instead, he went to Bodhgaya for the Kalacakra initiation given by the Dalai Lama and decided to become a monk. When we met him again in 1986 he was, at fifty two, a full fledged monk in the gompa of his home village with the religious name Tenzing Rinchen. Becoming a monk at such an age and with so high a reputation is no easy matter. In the monasteries, seniority goes by years in the community so that Amchi now found himself a very junior individual. He was prepared to work with this for the sake of the dharma but he did not hide from us his personal difficulties. He frequently visited the Gyalpo's house because his sister was Puntzog Dawas wife. Amchi, always a fund of information, told us something we had not known about the visit of the first European scholar to stay in the Zangskar valley. Sangye Puntzog,9 the lama who had been the teacher of the great Hungarian linguist, Csoma de Koros,10 had been a relative of Amchis family who had lived firstly in the village of Drankar and later at sTesta. Sangya Puntzog's main teacher had been one Shepa Dorje, a Dukpa Kargyupa lama. Sangye Puntzog had also been an amchi and an expert in astrology. He had been a Lonpo of the King of Padum before the invasion of Zorawar Singh and this may account for his familiarity with the Ladakhi court in Leh from where Csoma had obtained the recommendation to him as a teacher of Tibetan. Apparently his family suffered under the Dogras although the people of

218

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Karsha had not been particularly antagonistic to them. One morning Amchi invited us over to his home in Karsha from where we could also visit the gompa. I was keen to visit it again. We took three horses and rode in style to the fast flowing river where Amchi led the way into the water. The horses struggled over the rough river bed and the flowing current came up to their bellies so that we had to lift our legs high. The gompa revealed its treasures to us and we returned in the evening getting wet and cold in crossing the running stream. The sun had well set before we trotted into the yard outside Puntzog's house. Goodbye to Padum The nights were getting colder and it was almost freezing by morning in our high room with its big thin glass windows. We knew we had to press on with our task if we were to complete it before the snow came down on the passes. Yet Puntzog fed us so well we were not inclined to leave. Our entertainment started at about eight a.m. when sweet tea arrived at our door. Breakfast of chapatis and jam followed about nine. If we were in at lunch time great plates of vegetable and chapatis came our way and in the evening a full meal with rice liberally served with butter tea. Sadly, it was time to say goodbye. Up at Stagrimo among the peepul trees, the two old friends were sitting apart in two of the courtyards and conversing in loud voices accross the gap. Nochung Tse was sitting on the steps of the temple spinning his mani wheel and intoning the six syllable mantra as usual, his sharp face appraising us as we approached. Gonpo greeted us warmly, inviting us to drink chang. We moved into a higher courtyard and sat in a circle. We were joined by a friendly black dog and a small boy. The lad appeared to be up at the

Precious Jewel o f Pipcha

219

gompa most of the time. He had adopted the old men as his grandfathers and did many things for them, running back home in the evenings. We laughed and talked and treated a sore on Gonpo's arm with medicine. We put some on a leaf for later use but when Nochung Tse came up he promptly sat on it. Picking it up he threw it away saying, "What's this? What's this?" Gonpo retrieved the leaf and, sticking another on it to make a sandwich, secreted it about his person. Just then two elegant figures came up through the trees in the fading evening light. They were smart young Indian Army officers who seemed intrigued to find us there dressed in local costume. We wondered idly if they would take us for spies. They came from the south of the continent and spoke Indian Army English in the beguiling tones of the old Raj. They asked if they could see the temple, so Nochung Tse produced some keys and took them there. They looked at all the murals and statues wonderingly. Turning to Nochung Tse they asked him, "What god lives here ?" "Ah!" said Nochung Tse, "That's a good question. I do!" Down at the Gyalpo's house we prepared for our journey. We engaged a muleteer from Stongde who had two horses for our baggage, had our primus repaired and looked anxiously at the sky. The snow line above the town had come down a long way in the last few days, the skies were heavy and the air cold. Most people heading south had already gone and if the passes were to close on us we would be stuck in the valley for the winter. We bade farewell to our generous friends and set off for the uplands beyond the Lungnak gorge.

220

The Yogins o f Ladakh

REFERENCES 1Written by JC in Zangskar. 2 At som e point he lived and taught in a village in a remote district called Punghey which lies to the north o f the Chandra river and only reached directly from Zangskar over the exceedingly high, glaciated and little known Poat-la pass (around 19000ft) almost due south over the Himalayas from Pipcha. ^1 had seen this house from a distance when visiting Shila with Tashi Rabgyas in 1980, a small cheerful building nestling in a narrow valley above the Shila village. I learn that Ngawang Norbu, the Shila Chagchenpa , now lives there. 4Zhi. gNas ^Lhag. mThong 6 Na.. ro. chos. drug ^These exercises have been glamorised by Maharishi Mahesh and the TM organisation as Flying". In fact they are standard exercises in Tibetan physical training in the developm ent o f mental yoga. Some yogins have developed them to quite startling degrees. The practitioner sits in full lotus posture and by means of a downward flip o f the legs propels him self upwards in a jump which may reach several feet. In conjunction with breathing yoga (p ra n a y a m a ) the methods are primarily intended to facilitate the clarification o f mind. 8 1 had met the old Gyalpo in 1980, a friendly influential farmer fond o f his chang. O livier Follm i describes his visit to the household when the old man was alive in his Deux hivers au Zangskar. 1983 Editions Olizane, Paris, pp 165-169. Photo. ^Sangs. rGyas. phun. tshogs 10 See N awang Tsering Shakspo. 1994. Lamas o f Zangskar and the origin o f Tibetan studies in the West. In Crook and Osmaston. .Himalayan Buddhist Villages. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, and Bristol University. Chapter 18.

CHAPTER TWELVE

CROSSING THE MOUNTAINS


Through dancing stillnesses o f windless air the sound o f water over rocks com es down riding with swift yet turbulent ease the slope between the glacier and the valley floor below. And so descend the mists that writhe in chasms hid by juniper, the snowflake clouds that roam for years vast reaches o f the sky, vapours o f great seas and lakes that mount on high beneath the sun. Do w e perhaps like these flow down the melting valleys o f our lives and disappear in time to fall again upon the endless ice?*

On our way We left in October, the Primus stove still not properly repaired by the local expert. We collected two small cabbages, a few eggs, potatoes and apples at the tea stall so that we would have fresh food for at least the first couple of days of our trek. Arranging the baggage animals caused some altercation because we felt three were needed. Tsering Dorje, a muleteer from Stongde, whom Puntzog Dawa had engaged for us, thought that two were sufficient and that three would be difficult for him to manage along the precipitous paths and over the glacier. We accepted local opinion and settled for two. The road out of Padum towards Lahoul began well, a wide track with gentle slopes and curves. We had a black

222

The Yogins o f Ladakh

horse and a white one. The black was burdened with our two metal boxes, the food sack and sundries while the white carried the two rucksacks bursting at the seams and the ancient but very useful US Post bag with a tent and boots inside it. The two metal boxes containing our cameras and papers soon started slipping and Tsering had to stop the animals repeatedly to fix them. James and Tsering were not well matched. Tsering was a man whom you could never hurry. Slow and deliberate in his ways he had a clear idea of what his service to us was to be and knew exactly how far he would go each day. With winter approaching James was in a hurry; we had been late in starting and he wanted to put some miles behind us. There were one or two irritated outbursts and James confided to me that he hadn't learned Tibetan to converse with village bumpkins like this one, and stalked off well in front where he remained for much of the trek. For my part, I found bovine villagers like Tsering reassuring and was secretly glad the caravan would not proceed at too headlong a pace. I kept near the animals most of the time and, feeling selfrighteous, occasionally assisted in leading them over rough passages. Before Mune the road gave up and we found ourselves on a rough narrow path. We climbed a craggy slope outside the village and stopped at the small Gelugpa gompa perched on the top of a precipice over the rushing river. An American woman from San Francisco, an independent solitary traveller, was camping in a meadow with elaborate equipment and a team of solicitous Kashmiris, cultivated young men with excellent English but no understanding of the local culture. She was on a quest for the "White Fathers", mythical persons of spiritual attainment who were supposed to live in the Himalayas somewhere.2 We were not able to

Crossing the Mountains

223

help her but she enjoyed our talk of the yogins and the monasteries. We took over the deserted gompa. Tsering now made up for all the delays by mastering the recalcitrant Primus stove and cooking us an excellent supper. I elected to sleep under the stars on the gompa roof. The terrace was bathed in moonlight as I snuggled into my bag. It was wonderful lying there in the exquisite silence with the dark bulk of the monastery at my back and the moonlit frieze of the mountains before me. At first light Orion strode the sky and as dawn approached the stars faded until at last the sun tipped the snow clad peaks with gold. The next day's 3 trek took us over open upland and then back into the gorge country. As evening came, the gorge fell into deep shadow and a withering cold seemed to emanate from the grey rocks and sullen, rushing water. We huddled under a wall while Tsering built up a small fire. Just then a saffron robed geshe from Dharamsala appeared on the path and rode into the nearby village with a gaggle of retiiiners. He was on a trip giving initiations into religious practices to lay folk in the mountains. He showed no interest in us, apart from a cursory acknowledgement of our greeting, and the rather haughty tone of the little party did not impress us. A solitary German youth wandered up as darkness fell and rolled into his bag under a rock. He told us to call on the Jo of sTesta who had been kind to him. When morning came I looked out from the flaps of the tent. It was snowing lightly and a thick cloud hovered in the gorge. The cold was penetrating. "I say, Snodgrass!" I said in the tones of a Victorian army officer on leave shooting in the mountains, "Bit of a drizzle out here, quite a white-out, old man. Brass monkeys too. Looks like a nasty o n e."

224

The Yogins o f Ladakh

"Wha ha? Sorry about that, Smithers old chap!" James responded. "Good show we've a jolly old chota peg or two left in the bloody bottle. Better get wandering, I suppose. See any snow leopards out there, old boy ?" We had fallen into this charade progressively during the preceding weeks. James was Colonel Snodgrass and I was Major Smithers, sometimes the other way round. Whenever the going looked difficult we discovered ourselves falling, at first quite unconsciously, into the unflappable, super-confi dent style of the British imperial bore. It was the equivalent of the Ladakhis singing on a glacier. Our Zangskari companions looked on amazed as our voices, body language and style switched from one mode to another. It did a lot for our morale and flung us into a good humour at exactly those times when our differences in character might have become a problem.4 Although we did not discuss it much, the weather was causing us concern. Throughout our stay in Zangskar it had been very unsettled. There was much snow in the sky and showers had fallen now and again, the flakes swirling around us but usually melting before they touched the ground. Now they were settling in earnest and we had a major pass ahead of us and very restricted rations. We could not afford to get holed up anywhere. Without our own supplies even staying in a village would soon become difficult. Normally the passes would remain open for some time yet but we knew that in exceptional years they could close early, and once closed there was no certainty of them opening again until the spring. The path became difficult, a ribbon of a track winding along the edge of the precipice often a thousand feet above the tumbling surge of the river. Sometimes the track was supported by log platforms built out from a cliff face or

Crossing the Mountains

2 25

ascended on piles of rocks in narrow funnels between crags. Here and there there were steep steps to climb where the horses had to be carefully led, more to give them confidence than guidance. Sometimes steep scree covered the mountain sides, occasionally sandy, more often of rough broken stones, and here the path was no more than a foot wide with steep slopes above and below. As we crossed these sloping patches we could sometimes hear the scree sliding down behind us. Our ponies seemed as sure footed as goats. On rocky steps they placed their hooves deliberately as if thinking about it and they rarely bashed their bulky loads against the often projecting rocks. One false step on some of these ledges would have meant the loss of both horse and load to the river below. At one especially difficult point in the path the track led over a smooth inclined rock surface and, just below, on the rocks at the riverside, lay the body of a recently fallen horse, its head smashed open.5 Opposite the Cha rope bridge, we came across some prehistoric sketches scratched on the shiny surface of the wind worn rocks; antelope with high horns, a goat with a beard, a man on a horse, another with bow and arrow, a lively dog facing an animal that resembled a yak and a kind of ithyphallic antelope-man. We were to find more of these lively drawings in a strikingly similar site near Purne. In both cases there is a wide area of flat land capable of supporting a considerable camp of hunters which overlooks an enormous panorama of river, gorge and mountain. After passing Cha the valley widens towards the confluence of the river Tsarap and the main Zangskar stream. When I had been here in an earlier month the northflowing stream had been a lighter blue, carding more shale, but at this season, with less water flowing, both were of the

2 26

The Yogins o f Ladakh

same deep blue translucency. The Artou guidebook to Zangskar contains a warning: 'Watch your belongings at Purne!' And Tsering told us the people there were "bad". So, when we arrived at the enormous solitary farmhouse by the river and a rather truculent young man started quizzing us, I adopted a rather sharp attitude, inspecting the room we were offered ostentatiously and examining the door locks in public view. Indeed the folk of the gorges and upper villages were far more up-front than the inhabitants of the main Zangskar valley. We had met some young men riding excited ponies along the tracks. They had come whooping up to us and seeing James in his yogin's robes had asked peremptorily; "And who do you think you are?" The people of this remote region need to be tough and, in the absence of Muslims, their manners seem quite uninhibited. We found them blunt and direct in expression but, when several men invaded our room in the evening without so much as a by-your-leave and engaged in conversation, we discovered them to be concerned and devout Buddhists who maintained chortens and mani walls and their faith in excellent condition. Several of them had travelled to Bodhgaya to partake in the Kalacakra initiation given by the Dalai Lama and when some small children arrived we found that all of them could repeat the refuge prayers. We wished these bold characters had greater influence in Padum, where the faith needs such defenders. This enormous house had great atmosphere, especially at night. Women wandered up and down the long corridors carrying guttering candles that threw dark shadows on the walls. As they rounded a corner the passageway was plunged back into darkness and only faint lights shone out under the doors of mysterious rooms. In the middle of the

Crossing the Mountains

2 27

night there was a great disturbance, running feet and women crying. In the early morning a baby was born. Since we intended to go up to Phugtal Gompa, the family entrusted us with a message for the Abbot to come and bless the baby. When we went out the weather was menacing. About an inch of snow lay on the ground and the landscape was an etching in black, grey and white. We went down to some ruins by the river where we understood an ancient gompa to have been: the place being known as Purne Gompa. There were long mani walls and chortens with many inscriptions some of which I had photographed and had translated.6 It was bitterly cold as we set off up the Tsarap valley to visit Phugtal. The river rushed down cheerfully enough and the air was full of choughs. At several places we found a special kind of shrine. Instead of the usual pile of stones crowned with horns as a dedication to the spirit of place, there were small thrones set among the stones for the greater gods of the mountain to sit upon. The siting of these thrones was sensitive and the atmosphere extremely powerful; passers by had raised little cairns of stones in attractive patterns as offerings to the spirits and as reminders to them of the Dharma. No one goes this way today the snows are down. Only the rivers sound presides yet on his throne the God of Place now sits, a presence focussing the energies of rock and hill. A chill wind blows from snowfields up above the cloud. The lha is smiling on his comfortable seat. We pass him by, accept his grace. 7

228

The Yogins o f Ladakh

When you visit a gompa you may find the monks or you may not. This time we were unlucky. Only the Gonyer and a bright little boy were present so we had a quick look round and left the message about the baby. Snowfall on the Pass Next day we found ourselves in a very different landscape. The gorge country was behind us and in front lay a wide upland valley into which the path slowly descended, winding at times around gravelly streambeds crossing extensive, stony alluvial fans. The mountains receded and those on the right were topped by ruddy crests. This was highland country with a silvery, silty river flowing along in several channels like a Scottish stream. Lonely farms were scattered throughout the sloping wilderness, people and animals standing out sharply in the clear air even at great distances. There was a Central Asian feel about the landscape and a kind of savagery was in the air. The mountains and sky were not to be trusted here. A sudden wind came roaring down the riverbed trailing dust across the landscape. Up a side valley to the west a snowstorm was raging around the peaks and a wisp of it crossed the face of the foothills and rushed down into the valley, but without reaching us on the far side. Whenever the sun was not shining there was a chill in the air. Empty now of agriculture, the valley was dotted with numerous grazing yaks. People were coming down from the hills with great backloads of wild fodder. Stacks of barley awaited threshing. The houses were covered to twice their height with forage, brushwood and hay. The whole place had an expectancy of winter and everyone was busy completing the preparations before the snows. In two places we found wolf

Crossing the Mountains

229

traps, wide pits with deep sides tilted inwards so that the animal, once inside, could not jump out. It took us a little over eight hours to reach the last village at the head of the valley. Kargyak was an embattled place, holding on at the very limits of habitable existence. The houses were set deep into the ground, mostly windowless to protect the inhabitants from the intense cold, the people spending the worst of the winter within cellarlike ground floors. Above the village stood a little gompa. We obtained a bare room in a large house. It had a metal stove in it and two holes in the ceiling to let out the smoke. At night the moonlight poured through them creating pools of cold mercury upon the floor. The toilet lay off to one side of the stairs, fully open to the view of those ascending. It was a three holer with a small window that looked out over the village. The ladies of the house, wearing full peraks (head dress) with ear muffs, groped along the dark corridors, creating extraordinary shadows in the recesses of the building. One young blind woman had a baby on her back. The villagers collected around us as we loaded the horses in the grey light of a cold morning. They were a robust lot, with the same direct manners as the other folk we had met along the track. They wished us well for the crossing of the pass and cheered us on our way. The valley remained wide at first, spreading out in gravelly plains beside the river. High peaks now surrounded us but we could see none of them for they were shrouded from our view by curtains of running cloud. Up in front of us a white monster of a mountain slowly emerged Gumbaranjan, a giant pillar of ice dusted from head to foot with the snow of flying blizzards. The great mountains seemed like protectors of the land veiling their faces from us while watching our progress. A feeling of vast presences

230

The Yogins o f Ladakh

remained with me all day. We were now climbing steadily and I was puffing like an old train. It was then that the third blizzard of the day struck us and the landscape whitened. Soon we were climbing into a continuous snowfall with decreasing visibility and the altitude slowing us down. After five hours we came into a shallow little valley on the side of which stood a bare stone hut with a flat roof of stone slabs and a narrow entrance. People were milling around it in the fading light and one of them told James roughly that since we had a tent we could camp outside. The ground was already inches deep in snow and covered with large jagged boulders, clearly no place for camping. James got very angry telling the company in no uncertain terms what bad Buddhists they were. I was seized by a fatalistic mood waiting to see what would turn up. Tsering Dorje looked non-plussed and made no comment. The scene was an ugly and uncomfortable one. At that moment a warm-voiced young man wearing a stylish Western hat emerged from the hut, crying out to James in English: "Hey, man, what's going on here?" This Zangskari, who ran a beer garden in Manali and knew the Western hippy community there only too well, told us that there were already some seventeen people in the hut because the snow had blocked the pass and everyone who could not get over was assembling there. We had best move on, he said, to another hut five minutes further up the valley where there were only six people. This second hut was much smaller than the first; it was really a wall of stones built up around an overhanging rock that provided a sort of shelter. A narrow little passage led within, off which lay a kind of pen filled with sheep and goats. Their exit had been blocked by a pile of stones and

Crossing the Mountains

231

they were cold, hungry and bleating. They did not like it at all and were saying so loudly. They continued to do so all night. The chamber under the rock was tiny and the inclined rock face forced us to crawl. A small family sitting around a dung fire occupied almost all the space under the bulging wall. James, still angry, was wanted to assert our rights to some of the space but I said these villagers were not used to bad temper and would not respond to it. There was no way in which we could push them around but if we made friends they might well move over for us. This was a risky policy, however, because for the first hour or so we had to confine ourselves to a tiny comer near the draughty entrance. Eventually I moved in on the family circle praising their fire and asking simple questions. The three women in the party smiled at my inept remarks and offered a cup of soup. James joined in and we all began to get more friendly. Outside the daylight faded in a continuous light blizzard. The hovel was earth floored and dirty but we arranged our things as best we could and struggled with the Primus. Tsering Dorje lost the pump washer inside the mechanism but, once this was restored, the stove gave the best performance for several days. We shared some paraffin with the family to make their fire burn more brightly, the flames throwing our shadows sharply against the walls of stone. We treated an old lady for face ache and cold and the atmosphere became convivial, especially when they heard James repeating mantra. We began talking about the dharma in Zangskar and in the West. The family had a house in Drangtse, a village near Kargyak, but they had closed it up and were off south for a winter pilgrimage. Several of them were elderly and they said it was their last chance to make such a journey. They

232

The Yogins o f Ladakh

would visit Bodhgaya and Sarnath near Varanasi staying with the Tibetan communities whenever they could. Finally they would go to Dharamsala to meet the Dalai Lama. The dirt and deseases of the plains would be new to them. They would travel on foot or on buses. They had an indomitable and moving faith that all would be well. After our separate suppers they asked for a song and I gave some awkward renderings of "There's a tavern in the Town" and other ditties. We all sat silently after that, each person engaged in a soft repetition of mantras, the murmuring sound of which mingled with that of the wind outside. I felt great affection for our little party perched some fourteen thousand feet up on a snow bound mountain with the blizzard still unabated outside, nine souls alone in a wilderness. It looked as if the Shingo-la was rapidly closing down on us. I slept on the ground near the draughty entrance thankful for the excellent quality of my sleeping bag. The villagers dog, a big cream animal, crept in after we had settled down and curled up just beyond my pillow. It was comforting to feel his furry presence next to me and when I patted his big head I could hear his low grunt of pleasure. He kept me warmer than I might have been, staying there between me and the door all night. Ki ki so so lha gyal lo ! At first light the family had a look outside. More snow had fallen so they disappeared under their blankets again. When we finally got up, a great discussion began. Some of the people from the lower hut had come up to ours to look at the conditions. The general view of the villagers was that the pass was now too snowy for animals to cross. They intended to wait where they were for a couple of days to see

Crossing the Mountains

233

if conditions improved. Our family said that if things did not get better they would return to their home in Drangtse. One of the younger men explained to us that the snow was too deep for the animals, especially for the sheep and goats they were taking over for market. He was sending back to Kargyak for some more fodder for them. "We've got to get over somehow," he said, "We can't delay longer than a few days because if there is a further snowstorm the pass will be sealed for the winter and no one will be able to cross it. The snow becomes far too deep. If things don't improve shortly we will force the passage. First we'll send yaks and they will push a route through the snow. The horses can then follow them and after that the sheep and goats. In that way we can certainly get over. We must not wait too long". The less friendly younger man of our family was trying to persuade Tsering Dorje to leave us. 'We can look after them,' he was saying. 'You should leave them here. ' Obviously he was after the money. We told Tsering that our contract with him still held and that, if he was willing, we relied upon him to help us over the pass. Tsering Dorje looked relieved. James was adamant that we should get going at once, but my more cautious nature was inclined to wait a little. I did not relish the idea of falling in a crevasse hidden under the snows of the glacier. Even Major Smithers had to draw a line somewhere! Tsering Dorje was going along with the other villagers and wanted to wait to see if the weather changed. Our problem was quite simple: we had enough food left for only a day or two. If we had to go back down to Kargyak, there was no certainty that the villagers could support us there for long. Once we turned back, we would

234

The Yogins o f Ladakh

have to return to Padum and suffer the ignominy of departing in a lorry over the Pentse-la, if indeed there was one. And we would have to be quick about that too because, although the Pentse-la was much lower in altitude, it could attract a great deal of snow and we would not be able to get there within a further five to six days. Although there was still a lot of snow in the sky, it did look a little brighter. We made a pact with Tsering Dorje that he would lead us up the path locating the track carefully. If he became doubtful about the line of the path or if the blizzard thickened then we would return. We knew he was responsible for two valuable horses and was not likely to take undue risks. He agreed to this plan and we prepared to set off. The villagers seemed impressed by our resolution. A jolly man with a ruddy face like a Native American's clapped me on the shoulders. "Shabash, shabash," he said :"Splendid, splendid. I wish you luck." At first the going was heavy and I was slipping about in my big boots. A light blizzard and the wind continued, yet, as we got higher, the sky began to lift and visibility improved. Looking back I could see a small party of figures in single file setting out to follow us. I was overjoyed for this meant we would have company on the pass. So far it had felt a lonely and risky expedition. Up ahead we could now make out the lower snout of the glacier. We approached it on its left but Tsering led us over to its right side and we clambered up over its snow laden surface. It was not particularly steep but my progress was slow and laboured; the altitude was almost 17000 feet. The energetic young Zangskaris rapidly overtook us on the glacier with a New Zealander in tow. He had turned up

Crossing the Mountains

235

overnight and was travelling with them, his face protected by a white nose mask. Soon after they had gone by I heard some shouting up ahead and realised we had reached the summit. There was a frosted cairn with rigid prayer flags stuck to it. We all gathered around it in the snow crying out honours to the Gods, handing out to one another chocolates and anything we had to offer. I had understood it was a four hour climb, but we had done it in two. "Ki ki so so lha gyal lo! Ki ki so so lha gyal lo ! May the Gods rule!" we shouted. It was a harsh descent over rough ground but the pathfinder was able to trace the track and we hit the steady, mile eating pace of Ladakhis on the move. At the end of the glacier freezing water was pouring out to make a small ice fringed stream - we were at the source of the Lahoul River. As the gradient of the slopes lessened, we clambered through deep gullies of loose stones cut deeply into lines of moraines. I was exhausted and moved slowly on every rise, but the Zangskaris were cheerfully patient; the party kept together and sustained its pace. At long last we came across a small hut under a cliff beside the rushing stream. It was little more than a wall of stones and boulders through which the wind whistled, roofed with slabs except at one end where a gap for smoke was partially covered by an old sheet of plastic. Inside, the floor was muddy and sprinkled with dung. Our energetic friends lit a fire at one end of the hut using dried dung which they had with them in sacks. Our miserable stove took longer to make tea than their fire did assisted by liberal doses of our paraffin ! It was a convivial night with jokes around the fire and the feeling of success that we had got over the pass.

2 36

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Descent to Kyelang When we emerged in the morning the weather was much better, with a little sun, but so cold that I had to wear my camera inside my anorak to warm it or it refused to operate. Loading the animals was a finger-numbing business and dragging our heavy boxes out through the narrow entrance to the hut involved a lot of slipping on ice and cursing. Once we were away we descended rapidly to the riverbed where the Lahoul stream joins a wider torrent. This stream is famous for the difficulties it poses for those who try to cross it earlier in the season. In late autumn it was much less tricky although still 100 yards wide and flowing fast. We tucked our trousers and long johns up to our thighs and waded over. Blocks of ice half an inch thick were coming down in the freezing water which rose just above the knee at the deepest point. We now entered a rugged land where great tumbled boulders were piled in screes on either side of the stream. Crossing these was hard work, not least for the horses, but when we came across a grassy sward we revived ourselves with a picnic. After seven hours we reached the first Lahauli farm. For some crazy reason I was expecting a forest to appear but had underestimated the distance badly. We were still a long way from the tree line and warmer conditions. In the farm house the people seemed cold and unwelcoming. They gave us half a stable to sleep in and kept driving sheep and goats through it until it was my turn to throw a fit of bad temper and, in spite of James kindly remonstrations, drove a group of giggling girls away into their own quarters. The night seemed endless. It was not far from the farm to the motor road, then under construction from Lahoul through the mountains to

Crossing the Mountains

237

Leh, one of the highest and longest mountain roads in the world. Almost as soon as we got on to it we had an accident. A huge noisy lorry came thundering past and the white horse shied. The truck was going far too fast and the people in the back merely laughed to see Tsering Dorje thrown down and our bags scattered over the road. Poor Tsering Dorje lay beside the road, his legs in pain. The horse had thrown him against the side of the lorry and he was lucky not to have been severely hurt. We held the horses while he slowly recovered from the shock. The thought that we had come a hundred miles with these patient animals over snowy wastes and high passes to have such a misadventure at first contact with 'civilisation' filled me with gall. We limped into Darcha angry and dispirited. The place was little more than a road workers' camp full of tar barrels, lorries, dirty tents, one or two grubby tea stalls and a cheerful Tibetan selling clothes. It was a frontier station, grey, muddy, freezing and surrounded by unfriendly mountains. It felt like a Siberian prison camp. We were saved by the kindness of the Traffic Manager who, while accepting no responsibility for our accident, allowed us to put our bags into his office and let Tsering sleep there for a while. We treated our guide's bruises and then he said he was off back up tlie path again. He had had enough and wanted nothing more than to get back into the snows and press on home. We walked back with him and his unladen horses to the point where the track to Zangskar left the road. He was hobbling but determined. I gave him my big boots and, unwisely as it turned out, my thermal underwear. Back in Darcha, we had a fine meal of momos, delicious Tibetan meat balls, in a tea stall run by a loquacious Tibetan

238

The Yogins o f Ladakh

who sat behind an array of enormous paraffin stoves generating plates of food for all and sundry. The office of the traffic manager was also his living quarters and he kindly offered to put us up there for the night. In a day or two he would close the camp for the winter. He advised us to take the bus next morning and go straight to Manali because we had to get over the Rohtang Pass before it too closed. We had completely forgotten about the Rohtang! Knowing there was a road over it, we had not considered it could shut down on us too. "Once it gets iced up no one can drive over it. This year the snows are early and heavy. Nobody knows what is going to happen," the traffic manager told us. The prospect of yet another barrier between us and warmer climes was depressing. In winter Lahoul is almost as cut off as Zangskar. We all sat huddled rather gloomily around the charcoal stove in his room. He was the authority and father figure of the whole place and people kept dropping in for an opinion or news. Over a little rum we began to warm up and enjoy his conversation. He was the sort of local philosopher whose nostrums were memorable. "Shakespeare said beauty is in the hill stations." "Struggle is life and life is struggle." "Tomorrow you will go to Manali and you will give me your stove. You cannot mend it but I can. I am an honest man of twenty five years service to the Government of India. Not so common I can tell you." "What is life? It is nothing. We are simply here now. This is it - and gone tomorrow." "Religions differ of course but we are all one. We are all men. Being human is the central point." When the evening bus arrived we were joined by a wild

Crossing the Mountains

239

and turbaned Rajput, the conductor. He was full of jokes which became so salacious that James refused to translate them from the racy Hindi that was almost beyond him. The conductor enjoyed telling us that the pass was closed. We would never get to Manali. We would be stuck in Kyelang for the winter - listening to his jokes. We all crowded together to sleep in the Managers room where I had a patch of floor near a big oil drum which stank. As the charcoal cooled and the room became chilly, more snow was drifting down on the shacks outside the window, the shabby tents, the piles of tarmac drums and the lorries. On the bus rumours came thick and fast. The Rohtang Pass was closed. No, it had just opened. Crowds of lorries were waiting at its base. There would be no problem. We roared around the sharp curves in the road above formidable drops to the valley floor below. The road slowly descended and, as we approached Kyelang, we drove in among the first cedar trees, set in magnificent forest clad hillsides. To see trees again was wonderful. Towards the south the sky was dark and heavy with snow. We decided to stay in the tourist bungalow at Kyelang until we had more certain news of the road to Manali. In any case we needed a rest. Stuck in Kyelang Kyelang is an odd little town perched on terraces cut into the side of an enormous slope. The road from the north becomes the upper street where there are tea stalls by the bus station, an academy for Buddhist studies and tracks leading up the mountains to abruptly sloping pastures and monasteries hidden among the trees. Steep, narrow tracks connect the horizontal streets, people pushing up and down them awkwardly, breathing heavily under loads of country

2 40

The Yogins o f Ladakh

produce. We clambered down to a winding street of shops, offices, small guest houses and two video cinemas to find the tourist bungalow. We were given a big tent, one of several in the garden. We nearly froze and awoke in the early hours to the tuneful chanting of a Tibetan husband and wife doing their puja in a neighbouring tent During the day we were moved into a warm room in the building and had our first night in beds for a very long time. It felt luxurious. News from the pass continued to be bad and the weather menacing. There was indeed a great traffic jam at its base, we were told, and the local food supplies were rapidly running out. Everyone was most concerned. Kyelang was not yet ready for winter, many government officers and others had yet to depart for warmer regions. The people held the Rohtang Pass in some awe: it was the final barrier between the old mountain kingdoms which had originally been Buddhist and the lower foothills of the Hindu Himalayas. Lahoul is today in fact predominantly Hindu in culture but there are a number of monasteries and Buddhist villages.8 The relation between the two religions is a fairly gentle struggle for influence rather that the suppressed and menacing antagonism between Islam and Buddhism on the Kargil side of Zangskar. The absence of direct conflict makes for the easier atmosphere in Lahoul. Both religions here have an underlying if competitive respect for one another. We decided to take advantage of our enforced stay by visiting some of the monasteries around Kyelang. One morning we set off through groves down to the torrent below the town. There was a bridge at the bottom overhung by strange Chinese looking pines, one of which was hanging upside dowr\ over the water by its roots. The track then

Crossing the Mountains

241

negotiated a series of loops winding up to Khardong village. Beyond the village, Khardong Gompa sat prominently on the open hillside adorned with flying prayer flags and white washed chortens that shone in the sun. Busy villagers were charging up and down the narrow tracks with strings of pack mules laden with the potato harvest, their bells jangling. In the village the beautiful little temple surrounded by its roofed walkway of mani wheels reminded us that this was the birth place of Lama Norbu who had been the leading influence at Khardong for many years, making it the prime training monastery for the yogins of Zangskar. The monastery comprised a central temple with a whole range of structures around it, a courtyard for assembly and a fine roof terrace. The cells of the monks ..straddled the hillside above, some of them with flat roofs on which some monks were sitting. Inside the temples was a lot of woodwork which glowed with polished cleanliness and care. Unlike Zangskar, Khardong Gompa was substantially modernised materially and had a high level of comfort including electricity. The community consisted of both monks and nuns and the monastic rituals were devotedly performed. We were told that there were three young monks doing long retreats and three older ones who had trained as yogins with Awo Rimpoche. We were expecting to see many representations of Lama Norbu but in fact the main presence was that of the more recent Drugpa teacher Awo Rimpoche whose photos appeared in several rooms. There were also some pictures of Lama Kunga, a monk also born in Khardong village and who had also gone with Lama Norbu to study with Shakyashri .9 Among other treks, we struggled up the steep slopes of a fine fir forest to the little gompa of Tayul, a remote outpost

2 42

The Yogins o f Ladakh

of the Drugpa Kargyu for which the Stagna Rimpoche is responsible. These hill forests had a softer atmosphere than the high wastes of Zangskar and their silence is coloured by the subtle presence of trees. Every tree seems to have a rock for a sage to sit upon close by it. At Tayul we were most intrigued to find one of the cells inhabited by an English woman whose dharma name was Padma. Faith Grahame had had her own cell constructed to her specifications. It was a lovely little cottage with a sweet garden of flowers, two comfortable rooms, a splendid view and a gentle atmosphere. She treated us to some excellent cake. Tayul monastery differed considerably from those to which we had become used. A number of cells had fallen empty and become occupied by lay relatives of former monks who used them as bases for farming activities, shepherding and cattle herding. Some of these cells had fully reverted to family ownership. This process seems to be well advanced in several Lahoul monasteries and could conceivably lead to their extinction as dharma institutions, especially where recruitment of boys as monks from the families owning the cells is not sustained. The local nun who showed us around was completely ignorant of even the names of the main statues and the Abbot of the gompa, a very old man, was a permanent appointment since there were not enough monks to form a monastery government with an electoral body. There were only one or two fully ordained monks; little meditation was done and no retreats. The services at the gompa consisted of responses to the requests of villagers for rites beneficial for their harvests and so on. There was apparently no annual round of monastic festivals organised by bursars appointed for the purpose. It seemed to us a sad situation. 10

Crossing the Mountains

243

We were however fascinated to hear from Padma that an English nun, Tensing Palmo, was conducting a personal three year retreat in a cave not far from the gompa. We could not visit her as her retreat was closed and only Padma and Tsering Dorje ( the uncle of the Queen of Ladakh and who was her sponsor ) ever went to see her. Padma told us that she lived in a little house set within a cave in a cliff face among Juniper trees high up among the crags and far from the villagers paths. It was one and a half hours on foot from Tayul. The place was utterly solitary and invisible except from one point on the opposite mountain. She grows flowers in a little garden and has made friends of the wild animals. She performs her practices in solitary vigils cut off entirely in the winter by months of snow. Her little cave contains all the resources she needs. Furthermore, this was not the first three year retreat she had done but one of a series. She was a true exemplar of her tradition and from Tayul we could do more than pay a distant homage.11 We had just returned from another little gompa when we were informed that a bus was leaving for Manali. The pass was apparently now open so everyone was on the move. We rushed to retrieve our bags and pay our bill. We were happy to get on our way not least because the little town's restaurants and tea houses were now entirely out of food and we had been eating nothing but omelettes since our arrival. We were the last foreigners out of town. As we approached the pass the tension in the bus mounted. At the foot of a steep snowy monstrosity of a mountain that stretched straight up into the clouds there was a police checkpoint. My passport was deep inside my rucksack well strapped down on the roof of the bus. James and I had to do a quick fiddle with his documents and I entered entirely fictitious passport details in the book.

244

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Boarding the bus again with a triumphantly guilty conscience I awaited sudden arrest. Relief came as we set off, twisting up the sharp loops of the pass into ice, snow and swirling mists. The Rohtang Pass is not only high but also extremely steep and leads over a thin ridge that is the last major barrier between the Himalayan lands snow locked in winter and the lower foothills. The traffic was in chaos with large vehicles struggling both up and down. The roadway was confined to a single lane and we spon found ourselves almost hanging over the rim of the road above a huge drop with the wheels spinning on black ice. Not only was it clearly dangerous but we were possessed by the feeling that this would be our last chance of escaping from the mountains. Snodgrass and Smithers held their breath in a claustrophobic anxiety. It was the army that came to our rescue with some officers in military jeeps getting the vehicles into a sort of order. When we reached the top of the pass our relief was immense. As we plunged downhill into green forests night fell and we dropped into a well earned if bumpy sleep. It was not until I made a daylight passage of the pass in 1990 that I was able to see the magnificent and awe inspiring scenery that adoms its southern side.

REFERENCES 1Written by JC in Zangskar. literal translation o f the word Kargyu evidently led som e early writers to use the term White Fathers for these monks. This term, associated with an origin in theosophy, has caused som e confusion generating a false mystery in the Himalayas. The woman was probably looking for yogins without knowing i t . 3Oct 11th 1986.

Crossing the Mountains

245

4 It was not until a year or two later that I discovered James father to have been a Colonel in the Indian army o f the Raj. Early this century I too had had a military uncle in the Veterinary Corps in India. In 1993 I had a sim ilar experience. Travelling with James Crowden under rather infuriating circumstances due to airline strikes w e found ourselves doing a D oug and Pete act w henever things looked more than usually desperate. Clearly there is a coping device in operation here! I can recommend it. ^This was actually on the tricky section just before we had reached Bardan. In 1993 an elderly woman tourist fell to her death from her horse near here. It is essential to walk and not to ride the difficult sections o f this track. ^ See Crook, J.H. 1984. Inscriptions and manuscripts at sites in Z angskar. P h otograp h ic plates c o lle c t e d 1980. Unpublished compilation, and The History o f Zangskar. Chapter 14 in Crook, J. H. and H. O sm asto n.1 9 94 . Himalayan Buddhist Villages. Motilal Banarsidass. Delhi and Bristol University. ^Zangskar field diary 2. p 21. Oct 13th 1986. ^See Handa, O. C.1988. Buddhist monasteries in Himachal Pradesh. Sangam Press. N ew Delhi. A historically biased account but with useful details o f monastic structures and sociology. Review by JC in Times Literary Supplement Feb 3-9 1989. 9 We did not make many contacts at Khardong but I returned there leading a cultural tour in the summer o f 1990. The presiding spirit was again a sturdy old monk with a beard, sm iling face and cheery manner called Lama Kangyur. The group o f us sat in the temple w hile he chanted the ceremonies. I also met Gelong Paljor, trained at Manali, who is now a teacher o f mental y o g a at Khardong. He was highly informative about several aspects o f Yogin training and life. He spoke with me at first in Tibetan, later shifting to a fluent English. I had the impression that between 86 and '90 there had been som e reappraisal o f Western interest in Buddhism and Gelong

246

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Paljor was far from sh o w in g the reticence w e had repeatedly encountered in Ladakh. He was probably aware that the great modern translator, Herbert Guenther, had done much o f his work in Lahoul. Nonetheless his focus was on practice rather than upon philosophy. l 0 Such a process o f transition to a lay institution seemed to be quite common in the smaller gompas o f Lahoul where we often noticed that the inhabitants were a mixture o f m onks, nuns and lay people. Even so such communities could be quite lively. At a small gompa called Phokar (or Bokar) some buildings had recently been reconstructed and an old monk was beautifully restoring the paintings assisted by some nuns. Tenzing Palmo now lives in A ssisi and was recently interviewed about her time in Lahoul by Dorje Tseten and Jeremy Russell. See Cho Yang. N o 6. pp 91-98. 1994. Dharamsala.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

MANALI
Along the path o f great yoga the inner and the outer become the same and that sameness empty. Yet these vessels are also full and the emptiness and the fullness are the same and the sameness everywhere. Tell me now - in the giving what can be the most perfect gift?1

Civilisation, so called, again Although too scrofulous a town to be considered one of the jewels of India, Manali is an attractive hill station set among wooded mountains and forests of magnificent cedars. It was the centre of the hippy movement in India at the end of the seventies, indeed until the authorities clamped down heavily on the use of hash and other drugs. Most of the Western community of that period has now left the area. Manali supported a large Tibetan refugee population and two very fine monasteries, one of the Gelugpa and another of the Nyingmapa. Outside the town lay the home of Awo Rimpoche where Gegen Khyentse Rimpoche trained the yogins. In addition somewhere in town lived the Zhabdrung Rimpoche, titular head of the southern school of the Drugpa Kargyu. We set out to visit them all. The Gelug monastery was set in a grove of tall trees near the heart of town. The peaceful courtyard opened onto a temple with modern murals of a style we had not seen before. Nearby a Kargyupa gompa sported a fine prayer flag. There was an atmosphere of ordered devotion about

248

The Yogins o f Ladakh

these Manali monasteries expressing the support of the Tibetan refugee community, the needs of which they serviced. It was as if the tragedy of Tibet and the refugee diaspora had intensified the Tibetan feeling for their culture and for their dharma. Instead of the slightly lazy atmosphere of the deeply traditional Ladakhi monasteries and the ambivalent attitude towards them of some urban Ladakhis, here all was bustle, a large lay following and a greater sense of discipline. Many of the Tibetans were very poor, living in shabby shacks on the edge of town where the water supplies and hygiene were manifestly bad. Yet their huts were neat and their spirits high. Several times we passed a little hut marked 'Tibetan bread' which never seemed to attract any customers. In the early hours we could hear the entire family chanting, the voices of the children and the wife blending together with the deeper tones of the husband in complex and gentle rhythms. Several areas of the town had a strong Tibetan feel and we delighted in this. We had arrived at the very end of the tourist season when there was ample accommodation. We soon found an attractive upper room in a hotel set among gardens and trees and began to luxuriate in such comfort, indulging ourselves somewhat grossly in the rich and tasty food available to us in the town. Manali of course remains high enough to attract heavy snows in winter and already our unheated rooms were chilly at night. Most of the hotels that remained open were to close shortly, their staff, like seasonal birds, migrating south to the plains beyond the snows. Zhabdrung Rimpoche One afternoon we set off to find the house of Zhabdrung Rimpoche. We knew this would not be easy for he had only

Manali

249

recently come out of hiding and given up the protection of the Indian police. As the incarnation of the great Zhabdrung Rimpoche of Bhutan, the first ruler of the state, he had, as we had been told at Sani, feared political assassination. When it was clear he had no intention of interfering with the affairs of Bhutan the threat to him finally diminished. Yet he still lives in relative seclusion. We only had a few clues as to his whereabouts. Passing up and down one street we noticed some Tibetan flags on a wooden shack. Inside an old man with beads and mani wheel was doing his practice. We asked if he knew of the whereabouts of a high lama. He and his wife set us on course to arrive outside an upstairs flat in a modern house with no indication of who lived there. We knocked and, after careful enquiries on both sides, we were allowed to enter. An alert looking man in Western dress was sitting calmly in a small modern apartment surrounded by English novels. The conversation began in Tibetan but the Rimpoche soon took it into English, a language in which he had clearly received a good education. He confirmed to us that he was indeed the head of the Lhodrug branch of the Drugpa Kargyu order of Tibetan Buddhism but that this position was really only of historical interest. In any case, he told us, the actual practices of the Lhodrug are lost. Today most of the monasteries formerly of the 'southern' (Lho) branch actually used the practices of the,'northern' (Chang) branch and the last practitioners of the original southern school had passed away in Bhutan recently. In any case, both branches had always been very similar deriving their teachings from the work of Padma Karpo. The contrasts had been based not so much in different teachings as in accidents of leadership in different parts of Tibet and Bhutan. We passed on the invitation from the Goba to visit Sani

250

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Gompa but he said he took very little part in public affairs these days, even when they were of a purely religious nature, and he certainly did not want us to take his photograph for the Goba to use in making badges! So far as the monasteries of Zangskar were concerned, he said, we should approach all matters concerning them through Stagna Rimpoche at Leh. We began discussing the value of Buddhism for the lay people of Ladakh who were now receiving Western education in Indian universities becoming engineers, bank managers, army officers or taxi drivers. Rimpoche remarked that a basic understanding of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha, especially the Four Noble Truths, would be of more value than complex initiations into elaborate rites which only monks had the time to perform. Similarly he felt that, rather than complex mind analysis or visualisation, the Westernised Ladakhi would do better to learn simple mind calming meditations and practical kindliness. It was not that he did not value these ancient traditions but they were essentially oriented to monastic life and in a busy world something more basic and practical was needed. Rimpoche told us that he himself had not received training in the higher yogas of his order. "It is difficult when one is said to be the reincarnation of a great lama, a tulku. People believe that you automatically know all these things, that you are reborn with all the great insights and practices of the former man. Actually this is not at all so. Such a person, myself for example, needs to learn such things anew in every lifetime. It is perhaps only the inclination towards such a life that is implanted. My own practices are quite simple. My history in this life has not allowed great spiritual advancement," he said, smiling

Manali

251

ruefully. We spoke of Western Buddhism and he told us that the tendency to create large organisations with a high lama as the guru was typically Western and possibly detrimental to real understanding. The true guru-chela relationship is between two people who get to know one another intimately. Western discipleship of a remote globe-trotting figure of fame is not the same thing at all. Indeed it may be quite misleading, giving rise to personality cults and attributions of charisma of a purely mythical nature. In addition, in such a case, the disciple can be of little use to the guru. It is important that the disciple should be free to be critical from his side within his devotion and to share his feelings with his teacher. In this way the teacher keeps in touch with his own defects. If he is a figure of fame with merely shallow relationships with disciples a teacher may get delusions of grandeur. He may even begin to exploit the devotion of his followers in ways that can actually bring the dharma into disrepute.2 If the teacher retains an anchorage within his own tradition, his fellow monks will keep him in order, but some of the teachers in the West have cut this connection and gone flying off on their own. That was dangerous, especially when they may have substituted fluency in Western culture for an in-depth understanding of Tibetan meditative practice. Such a persons spiritual growth has become quite superficial and lacking in understanding of some of the difficulties of the practices he may be teaching. A monk may have received all the initiations as a young man and yet, unless the practices are sustained and used appropriately in generating a continuing spiritual depth, such initiations lose their power and may even open their recipient to delusion. Zhabdrung Rimpoche seemed to us to be a caged man externally but one with a lot of practical wisdom. We could

252

The Yogins o f Ladakh

not have discussed these questions with traditional yogins for they would not have been so alert to the problems of the dharma in the West. Likewise the type of Asian teacher he was describing and his or her followers are too embedded within their system to be open on such questions. On our way back to town we again passed the little shack of the old Tibetan. He saw us and called out,"Did you find him?" He was happy at our success and returned to his practice, gently murmuring and spinning the mani wheel in his hand. The Monastery of Awo Rimpoche Gegen Khyentse sat within the wooden frame of his unraised bed on the bare and polished floor of his room. In front of him a small table supported the text he was reading. The windows opened on a panorama of forests and snowy mountains. Apart from a small personal shrine with photographs of his teachers set out within it, a blanket, a small metal trunk in a comer and a pile of Tibetan texts, the room was empty. Yet it was not devoid of comfort. It was as if the very presence of this man had warmed it over the years. We had walked back along the road to the north until we were well clear of Manali town. Up a small side road a collection of modem dwellings hides among trees. It was here that the great teacher of Mahamudra, Awo Rimpoche, settled after having fled Tibet in the late 1950s and after a number of years spent teaching in Ladakh. He died in the late seventies and his stupa has pride of place in his garden. When we arrived we found a group of young men busily constructing a new temple. One of them, dressed in a brightly coloured T shirt, greeted us in fluent English with a most friendly manner. Descending from the roof he

Manali

253

introduced himself as Ser Rimpoche, the son of Awo Rimpoche, the current incarnation of Tipun Padma Chogyal. We had arrived at the training centre for the Drugpa Kargyu yogins of the present generation. Any monk seriously wishing to follow this path ended up here: in 1986 Gegen Khyentse Rimpoche was the only living monk empowered to teach who was actively doing so.The property was undistinguished, an Indian middle class residence on a high terrace above Manali commanding magnificent views. Unfortunately, immediately above the property a gaunt concrete structure was appearing; a future tourist complex. The location may soon be troubled by very contradictory energies. We sat on the veranda for tea. An old man joined us and sat with us constantly altering his posture and complaining of his rheumatism. We were struck by the joyous twinkle in his eyes which persisted in spite of his obvious physical discomfort. We relaxed at once in his company and talked of travel, Tibetan problems and so on with great ease. I had conceived of Gegen Khyentse as a severe, unsmiling teacher who would not give anything away and who subjected his pupils to the hardest training. When a second elderly monk bustled out of a building to join us with the same humorous light in his eyes I was quite surprised to find that this was he. He joined in the conversation at once and immediately agreed to discuss with us the translation of the Padma Chogyal notebook I had been given by Khamtag Rimpopche in 1981. We were tired from our adventures in the mountains but the company of these old men, one relaxed and talkative, the other vigorous and bustling, was like a tonic. All the time their eyes held that curious joy that children know and which is so quickly lost in adulthood. As we walked back to

254

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Manali and saw the expressions on the faces of the passers by, we could not but at once perceive the way in which these two men differed from the common herd and also from ourselves. They conveyed a sort of inspiration simply through their manner of being. We spent the next afternoon with Gegen Khyentse sitting quietly in his room surrounded by texts. "My root guru was Tipun Padma Chogyal so I am naturally most interested in the text you have brought. I first met him when I was twenty eight and trained with him in eastern Tibet. He was a strict teacher but not a rough one. Many people came to him but he would usually tell them to go away and practise meditation. He taught the leading meditators of our sect, although few of them remain alive today. As you see, I myself am old. Of cours Tipun himself was a great practitioner who spent most of his life ir caves." "As you know, Tipun was a Ladakhi who went to train with the great Shakyashri in the entirely traditional manner which we still insist upon today. He walked over the Chang Thang for three months before he met him. After his training he spent six years in a cave, then a further three and finally nine. He was then persuaded to go to Tsibri to live and teach in a cave which had been associated with the great yogin Gotsangpa. Gradually several groups came to study with him and several gompas in the district had him as their prime teacher. There was also a nunnery with twenty one nuns training with him." "Together with the old monk Drubten, whom you met yesterday, I came from a place called Sangag Choling in Lhogka in eastern Tibet. It is north of Nagaland, a country of great mountains and rich forests. There was a lot of rain there in the monsoon season and in winter so much snow

Manali

255

that no one could travel." " Padma Chogyal was of the same generation as those great Lahouli monks from Khardong, whom you know about from your stay in Zangskar, Lama Norbu and Lama Kunga. Tipun is an honorific title, you know, and all of that generation really deserve it. I was one of the next generation which was trained by Tipun. It included Nedon Puntsog who was the teacher of Stagsang Rimpoche, the head of Hemis Gompa, the great Dungsey Rimpoche, who taught at Hemis in recent years and who was the teacher of the young Drubchen Rimpoche, Stagna Rimpoche who you know, Kempo Nornang, Awo Rimpoche, Sentra Rimpoche, Drubten and I. Khamtag was also a younger trainee of our group. Today only Sentra Rimpoche, who lives in Nepal near the Tibetan frontier, Stagna Rimpoche, Drubten here and I remain alive." "Shakyashri was married. One of his sons was a fine teacher called Awo Ngawang Lama. He died at the age of twenty five but quickly reincarnated as the son of his brother, whose name was Kun-la (a contraction), taking the name Awo Rimpoche. As you see there is a tradition of marriage in this lineage. Awo Rimpoche's own son, whom we call Ser Rimpoche, is the young man whom you have met here and who trains with me. He is the present incarnation of Tipun Padma Chogyal" "Tipun wrote neither books nor a spiritual biography although he did accumulate a large library. His meditation notebook became used by several teachers in their turn. This is the text which Khamtag Rimpoche has entrusted to you for translation. We have another copy here among Awo Rimpoche's papers but I know of no other."3 Tashi Rabgyas had translated most of Tipun's text for me but he was uncertain about the meaning of some of the

256

The Yogins o f Ladakh

terms specific to Kargyupa meditational training. James had undertaken to prepare a definitive version of the text and it was about these technical terms that we very much wanted to question Gegen Khyentse. We had insufficient time to work out the text exhaustively but James and he made great progress in the time that we had. Gegen Khyentse was very kind and illuminating, taking up the task with great seriousness and scholarship. When we had finished, we discussed the problems of presenting such a text to a Western readership. "You know," said Gegen Khyentse, "This is a highly specialised text intended for the intimate instruction of monks who wish to train as yogins. It is extremely abbreviated, a true notebook. Tipun never intended it to be a published treatise. He would have had to prepare a much more extensive work before he could have completed it with all the appropriate references and sources quoted in the tradition of our scholarship. Do you really think that such a work can be of any benefit to a Western reader who is unfamiliar with this tradition, perhaps only an amateur Buddhist anyway and with no intention of seriously following the yogin path of hardship and renunciation?" I said that it was perhaps our job to make it understandable in the modem world. The West had a great need for the understanding which yogic training could provide. The text, based in the thought and training of a great yogin uninfluenced by contemporary prejudices could be an illumination to many. There were Westerners who wished to practise seriously even if they remained lay persons. Furthermore, the work could be a primary text of inspiration to scholars who wished to clarify such matters. In any case I had been entrusted with the text by Khamtag Rimpoche and wished to honour his memory by carrying out his wish that

Manali

257

it be translated. Gegen Khyentse was not to be persuaded. "As you know, we emphasise the focus on practice. This text is a foundation for practical instruction. It is not a theoretical disquisition. It is not a description. Scholars deal with the latter and are not usually attempting to practise what they read. Yet, without direct experience, scholarship is meaningless, especially to the scholar who begins to have certain misapprehensions about himself. We already have too much of it in the Tibetan world, words words, little intuitive understanding. This is merely Tipun's memo pad, he used it to remind himself of themes he wished to use in passing basic instructions in mindfulness to his pupils. Without such a personal context the text is barely meaningful. It only gains meaning in the hands of an instructor who is in a direct relationship with a trainee and who is a fine practitioner himself." "To publish this work for the uninitiated may merely plunge them into confusion. The secrecy of such texts is often best sustained. Already it is possible that the huge numbers of translations that fill your learned libraries in the West are merely sources of error rather than enlightenment. People get so easily attached to what they feel is fundamental doctrine, roots of authority which they misconceive as truth itself. You know there is no fundamental doctrine - only words descriptive of it. The thing in itself is beyond all that. Mysterious texts in the minds of amateurs can hardly open the doors of insight into emptiness!" Gegen Khyentse perceived my need to make use of that with which I had been entrusted. While pressing his viewpoint, he knew well that in the teaching traditions of Tibet theoretical works were regularly used to support practical instruction in the dharma. He ended on a kindly

258

The Yogins o f Ladakh

note. "Khamtag Rimpoche was a junior member of our group. I am not sure he really had an authority to let you see this text, let alone translate it. However, I cari respect his good intentions in these times when so much of our tradition has gone to dust. He knew, as I do, that all the monasteries of Tipun have been destroyed by the Chinese. Some followers of Tipun were stoned to death or killed in various ways. Those who escaped to India have all suffered. Naturally there is a feeling that it is important to transfer what we know to those who express sincere interest. The meaning is clear. It is now you who inherit this problem. You may fulfil Khamtag's intention but you should consider whether it is really beneficial for others to do so. You need to consider very carefully in what way such a text may be translated. You need to find a way by which the intimacy of the transmissions of our order is respected. It is your problem now. Of course I wish you both well." James and I returned to our hotel in thoughtful mood. A responsibility had been laid upon us that needed careful consideration. We left India without having resolved this issue yet filled with memories of remarkable men whom we had come to love, admire and deeply respect. We had something to say, we both knew. We would have to find out how to say it. The wind in the high peaks clears the mind; sometimes a vast emptiness brings a bliss that goes beyond all knowing. Now we were returning to a lower world. What were we to do with that which in some wordless way we had come to understand? We were returning with another question. The ones with which we had set out had largely disappeared.

Manali

259

REFERENCES 1Written by JC in Zangskar. ^Note that Zhabdrung Rimpoche was speaking well before the exposure o f serious personal defects in certain Asian teachers and their w estern initiates led to the contemporary debates on these issues. 3Khamtag Rimpoche had told me there was another copy with a lama at Korzog Gompa in Rupshu. I visited this Gompa in 2003 with James Crowden and interviewed the Rimpoche in residence. We were without an inrterpreter and communication was poor. We could obtain no information about such a text in the monastery and the Rimpoche had not heard o f one.

PART THREE

TEACHING AND PRACTICE

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

TEACHINGS OF THE YOGINS


By the virtue o f following both Sutra and Tantra I vow to liberate all living beings completely. May the merit collected flow towards the Dharma Protect it and nourish the prayers o f the masters. 1

Philosophy as experience Buddhist philosophy is concerned with experience. Thought is never considered an abstraction divorced from life and feeling for the whole putpose of Buddhism since the enlightenment of its founder has been to transcend the suffering that is perceived as the root characteristic of human being. To the yogin the mere reception or transmission of ideas, however revelatory they may be, is not the point. The evocation of experience in the continuing uncovering of the resolution to the problem is both the root of training and the source of whatever method he may use in attempting to transmit his experience to others. Experience is an ambiguous word for it stands both for the here and now of the current moment and for its product. As my pen glides on the paper or I peer into the word processing screen I experience the here and now, yet 'experience' is also my past in so far as it is retained and available to influence my current action. My world of experience is formed in large measure in interaction with others and is framed by that context. The past influences the present, both that of my personal being and that which is

264

The Yogins o f Ladakh

shared collectively with others. The present in turn affects the future but the future is not predetermined by the past; present action is the opportunity for transformation. This is the meaning of the Indian term karma. In Buddhist practice the quality of experience is profoundly rooted in the ways in which the individual responds to karma and this response depends upon how the karmic process is seen. The perspective of the mind, the extent to which insight replaces ignorance, is the critical determinant. The yogins we met rarely taught us directly but, by allowing us into their presence and by what they said and refused to say, they challenged our assumptions and opened us towards fresh experience. The root of their challenge lay in a perspective derived from three sources known to them conventionally as the View, the Path and the Result. In training the yogin assimilates a philosophical perspective that is at every step tested against personal experience, not only through meditation but also in day-today being. This perspective is the View. The yogin also receives initiations or empowerments that allow him to practise the yogas of his lineage involving both physical and mental action. These yogas, which constitute the Path, provoke alterations in mental states and attitudes which illuminate the emerging aspects of the View. The Result may be a mere glimpse or it may be either a gradual or a sudden realisation of what is potential in every man and woman. The approach an individual takes to View and Path is itself determined by the karma of the practitioner. She may be dull, slow and incapable of refined insight or capable of hard work, discipline and the cultivation of method. Some are capable of almost immediate insight into the purport of the teaching. The texts often divide their material according

Teachings o f the Y ogins

265

to which of these three grades it is suited. Correspondingly, a teacher varies his teaching to suit the capacity of his hearer. A Tibetan monk receives a comprehensive education in View and Path graded to his abilities. All paths have the potential of leading the mind to the Buddha's solution to the problem of suffering; it is not essential that all the steps be intellectually appreciated. However, the intellect is a sharp tool for carving insightful understanding and a means of deepening and widening the life of practice. In Zangskar, Gonpo told us that the Drugpa yogins trained in all the nine yanas of the Path. As an old man, he spent his time in the practice of the final two to which the others led. These 'yanas' or 'ways' are a conventional classification of the Old School, the Nyingmapa, which is often used also by Kargyu monks. The nine yanas offer a progressive ascent through the whole corpus of Buddhist teachings, both Sutric and Tantric approaches. In Ladakh we considered any monk or nun who had withdrawn from both world and monastery to practise meditation in depth to be a yogin. Yet these practitioners hailed from three different schools and their practices and attitudes reflected these differences in affiliation. While the Drigungpa and the Drugpa Kargyu monks were very similar indeed, they differed considerably from the few Gelugpa yogins we encountered. These contrasts reflect the differing teachings of these Tibetan monastic, traditions with respect to View and Path but they do not differ either in their ultimate intention or in the outcome. All the yogins were adherents of the Mahayana with its emphasis on the dual practice of wisdom and compassion in the endeavour to fulfil the Bodhisattva vow. Advanced practitioners of different sects have a different flavour, but it is a question of where an emphasis is placed and not a matter of any fundamental

266

The Yogins o f Ladakh

divergence. The View My attitude towards the world, towards others and towards myself depends upon the way I view them. This view is an amalgam of opinions whereby I construct an understanding of the world and existence within it and provide myself with ethics to regulate my conduct. In addition, the way in which I fulfil my own ideals within the View determines how I feel about myself. When Gautama had set out on his quest as an ascetic he thought, like many others of his time, that asceticism would lead to a merging with the ultimate state, the atman. His honest intellect, however, led him to perceive that everything he did was conditioned by his state of mind. Asceticism remained conditioned by its practice and the unconditioned was not to be found - at least not by such a route and within such an interpretation of existence. Deciding that asceticism was ultimately futile except as a form of training in discipline, he settled himself comfortably, received a good meal from a kind woman and concentrated his mind in a final great effort. After freedom from doubt had come upon him he sought to express his discovery. The Four Noble Truths were the starting point and they have continued to be the root of all Buddhist thinking ever since. 1) All life is suffering. 2) Suffering is due to craving. 3) There is a way beyond craving 4) That way is the Eightfold Path. 2 The Buddha's realisation hinges upon two very common-sensical observations. The first is that everything is impermanent; the second is that we dearly want permanence,

Teachings o f the Y ogins

267

especially of ourselves and of all that makes us feel secure. The opposition between these two insights, generates the tension which is the basis of dukkha, a word meaning fundamental unsatisfactoriness and mental anxiety. The way beyond craving is through a close inspection of the nature of the mind3. The mind itself attributes the illusion of permanence to things even when the opposite would be the clear conclusion of any thought about the matter. In doing so it demonstrates a profound innate ignorance 4 of how things actually are. Meditation yields the discovery that when attachment to permanence is set aside the mind flows in an unending energetic flow of creativity. Things are merely nominally existent; the basis of mind resides in a flux of experience within which attributions, discriminations and judgements arise as such. Training consists in letting go of attachments in such a way as to allow this flow to develop for, freed from constraint and fear, it is in itself found to be joyous and unlimited. In early Buddhism, such meditation led to the letting go of all the concerns of karma and when this release was complete the karmic force for reincarnation was believed to fade out. Everything then fell away in silence - the end of suffering. This view of the fundamental nature of mind allowed another theme to develop gradually within it. A selfless mind is naturally compassionate and the monk is a kindly being. As Buddhism developed in succeeding centuries the aim of practice changed. The emphasis shifted gradually from the ideal of becoming an Arhat, one who achieves a personal liberation only, to the imitation of the Buddha himself. The Buddha's mind of realisation became increasingly seen as a potential in all human beings. The aim was now not to obtain release from suffering for oneself alone but also that of all sentient beings, to become a

268

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Bodhisattva rather than an Arhat. There were thus potentially many Buddhas, and fully realised Buddhas were believed to appear from time to time throughout history, their prime task being the compassionate helping of all sentient beings in the throes of suffering. These developing inferences gradually took a distinctive form and emerged as the Mahayana or Great Vehicle, also known as the Second Turning of the Wheel of the Law. During these years Buddhism was also becoming part of the consciousness of the people and not merely a monkish sect of increasing influence. As Buddhism became popular it was essential to relate Buddhist idealism to the folk worship of the numerous Hindu deities. Since deities were higher beings, some of them could be viewed as Buddhas and a whole multiplicity of Buddhas emerged, beings who in their previous lives had attained enlightenment and returned compassionately to save others. Such beings became embodiments, reifications or personifications of the Buddha mind inherent in everyone, of the principle of salvation, objects of visualisation, devotion and a focus for prayer. This broadening vision was also associated with a widening philosophical perspective. Not only was the permanence of the self an illusory attribution to be transcended in a more insightful vision, but the way things appeared in the world was challenged. The Buddha had said that the manifestation of a world was the expression of what he called the Principle of Interdependent Origination5: all things emerge from causes and such movement has effects that in turn cause further change. There is thus a perpetual cosmic unrolling as one thing leads inexorably to another. The process is one of increasing complexity and is itself the enduring basis of impermanence. Nothing has a permanent self-nature generated as it were from its own side. This is

Teachings o f the Yogins

269

what the technical term 'emptiness' means; it in no way implies that there is nothing there. Far from it, the dynamic process unfolds as it must. As the key phrase in the Heart Sutra puts it, 'Form is Emptiness and Emptiness itself is Form. ' The nature of things thus lies right before us but may be apperceived by the insightful either in an ultimate or in a relative perspective. Early Buddhism held that the cosmos was the expression of the arising and disappearance of momentary 'dharmas', atomic events. In the new perspective these dharmas themselves were empty of existence as things; they too were simply an expression of the interdependent origination of phenomena. In the great literature of the period,wisdom became the insight into this paradoxical 'emptiness'. The Prajnaparamita scriptures of the early Mahayana present a daunting vision since everything that exists, including the Path, the View and the Buddha Mind itself is empty of inherent existence. Everything is no more (and no less) than the expression of the interdependent origination of phenomena and this too is empty. There is thus an emptiness of emptiness about which nothing can be meaningfully said. This vision has the potential of striking the observer with sheer terror. Indeed Tibetan lamas counsel against teaching emptiness to minds not prepared to hear of it; yet this teaching is considered to'be the one sure basis of transcending suffering. If 'emptiness' were only knowable conceptually it could never have such power. It is through meditation that the 'non-conceptual realisation of emptiness'6 can occur - a personal insight, a relaxation from self concern, the ultimate putting down of attachments, of craving security and letting go into a primordial flow. Here the bliss of freedom

270

The Yogins o f Ladakh

becomes the root of being as everything is let go. Since in such a state there is no nominal creation the condition is often called the 'unborn'. Two contrasting perspectives emerged in the philosophical examination of these topics, and it is this contrast that underlies some of the differences in emphasis between our Gelugpa yogins and those of the Kargyupa. Again, the opposition between the notions of 'inherent existence' and 'emptiness' provides the dynamic for these metaphysical explorations. In early Buddhist thought the atomic events from which all appearances emerge were treated as having 'self nature'.7 They existed independently from the mind of the observer 'from their own side'. It is this imputation of 'inherent existence' that the Law of Interdependent Origination denies for it is incompatible with a flow of events. If everything is a flux of change then no apparent entity can actually exist as a permanent self-existent thing. This principle is the root notion of the Prajnaparamita scriptures but it had needed the great thinkers Nagarjuna and his follower Candrakirti to draw out the deep philosophical implications of what hqd plausibly originated in meditative experience. The system of philosophy devised by Nagarjuna was called the Madhyamaka, the middle position. The system utilises formal argument to refute the notion of the inherent existence of any object proposed by a philosophical system. Nagarjuna succeeded in deconstructing not only non-Buddhist philosophies but also those that preceded his view within Buddhism. To Nagarjuna, the demonstration of the untenability of an opponent's position was sufficient because it was equally untenable to assert anything in its stead. Any concept was open to the same process of deconstruction. The method was known as Madhyamaka

Teachings o f the Y ogins

271

Prasangika, the reduction of an opponent's view to absurdity. The methods of Nagarjuna, brilliantly developed by Chandrakirti, swept aside all alternative views and remain even today the ultimate Mahayana philosophical position. It is important to note that it asserts neither the existence of a void as a basis nor any kind of permanent principle such as the atman of the Hindus. What it does do is to take the thinker along a line of thought that eventually drops him into a condition where no further thought is possible. The opponent drops his position and thereby his attachment to it. Essentially it consists in the undoing of the reifications natural to linguistic expression. There is an experiential component to such a process which can become the realisation of clear conceptless being. Gelugpa monks, who are especially keen on this approach, therefore use verbal debate and a form of meditation that uses probing intellectual analysis, both leading to this end. 8 It is not easy however to convey this enthusiasm to another, because initially it is difficult to see why the inherent emptiness of everything can solve anything, least of all the problem of suffering. To see how this can be, you have to have suffered and perceived how that suffering is a consequence of the holding of fixed ideas, attitudes, attachments and the belief that things must be one way or another or life would not be worth living. We acquire the social stances of our teachers and parents and the culture into which we are bom and culture is itself a complex patterning of ideas, explanations and values. These become the cages within which we suffer, cages made of presuppositions and presumptions. Conventional vision is a result of socialisation and the Madhyamaka view pushes us towards the limit of what it can sustain. When we reach that point, we stand intellectually naked in a universe about which no assertion

272

The Yogins o f Ladakh

can be made. Even to say that the Universe exists leads, in the light of Madhyamaka, to being pushed back into the tongue-tied state that Candrakirti and Nagajuna intend. Yet to ancient Buddhist philosophers too this was a hard one to swallow. Several thinkers tried to maintain arguments for some assertion about reality. Bhavavika (500-550 CE approx), for example, hpd argued that while ultimately it could be said that objects lacked inherent existence nonetheless they existed in everyday experience. (This position became known as Svatantrika - self-existence-conventionally). Such a position was unlikely to withstand the withering fire of the Prasangikas and Candrakirti indeed made it his prime target. A more subtle position, which was to have importance for the yogins, was that of Santarakshita, the scholar who had brought the dharma to Tibet, and his follower Kamalasila. These thinkers argued that objects could be said to exist conventionally inside the mind, even when ultimately they are empty of inherent existence. Since things undoubtedly do appear to us as things there is some mileage in such a position even though it remains open to the critique of the Prasangikas. Nagarjuna lived in the second century CE during a period of political instability in Northern India. Impermanence was in the air and, although we are not attributing his belief system solely to the economics of his time, the greater stability of the Gupta period that followed may have influenced the next development. The Gupta Empire of the fourth century provided peace and wealth. Huge monastic universities developed, the original models for the great monastic colleges of Lhasa, and in them not only Buddhist philosophy but also Hindu thought and medical and legal theory was taught. There was a great

Teachings o f the Yogins

273

interplay of ideas. In this milieu, the brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu attacked the prevailing Madhyamaka position by arguing that it went too far in failing to advocate any basis for either experience or belief. Since some of Nagarjuna's writings suggested that the Prasangika stance claimed no more than that the ineffable was inexpressible, the ineffable could perhaps still be said to exist undemonstrably. Certainly Tsongkhapa, the great reformer who created the Gelugpa order, also seems to have believed this to be so. The critique became known as the Cittamatra, meaning 'mind only'9, and it emerged naturally enough from ah orientation focusing on mental yoga rather than on logic alone. It took a more psychological view implying that philosophy is underpined by meditational experience. Phenomena can be known only in the mind. The whole of experience is mind-created. There are three aspects to this view. Phenomena are understood as being categorised, differentiated and related to one another by an analysing faculty which works upon the bare unconceptualised material of mentahexperience. This basis is, needless to say, beyond and prior to language. The use of language necessarily abstracts, edits and contorts the bare materials to create a realm of reifying conceptualization which is illusory if not exactly false. The conceptualised material is the explicated order of things to which inherent existences are erroneously imputed. Meditation reveals that the basic awareness of things is entirely lacking'in the bounded fixities of reification. The basis, rather, is a flow of unnamed experiencing. This is non-dual in the sense that neither the experiencer nor the experienced is distinguishable as separate within it. The flow of this meditation is free of the conceptualised entities that the discriminatory mind creates. It is thus literally empty of all such discrimination.

274

The Yogins o f Ladakh

What is apperceived can only be called the suchness of things. 10 Although the Prasangika could still claim to refute his position logically, the Cittamatrin affirms that this suchness truly exists as the root of experience. Furthermore, since it is not the creation of mind machination, it has a universal quality about it. It is the 'Buddha Mind and the pervasive basis of all. It is known as the realm of the dharmas - the dharmadhatu - an intrinsically pure universal state of being. It is precisely at this point that we come across a psychological account of these processes and thus tumble upon a model of mind. The Cittamatrins propose that the substratum of the personal mind consists of an unprocessed level of experience which resembles a store. This store consciousness holds within it 'seeds' which, although only of momentary existence, are constantly recurring to provide continuity. The seeds are the result of actions leaving residues which 'perfume' the store much as an incense stick burnt in a room leaves a trace. The whole thing is therefore dynamic and changing yet preserves a sort of continuum based on past karma. In everyday activity the faculty of attentive analysis discriminates elements in the store and weaves a logically constructed world of elaborated categorisations. However, in profound meditation, this same faculty of attention may observe the store without discrimination and perceive it to be inherently without such structure. The experiential world as reified is thus completely a fabrication of the mind, the world in itself is the suchness of the store, a flowing undifferentiated yet colourfully variegated continuum of experience without observer or observed. There is only itself. The Cittamatrin viewpoint resembles closely another perspective the precise history of which remains uncertain.11

Teachings o f the Yogins

275

This perspective affirms the existence of a 'womb' or 'embryo' (garbha) of Buddhahood (tathagata - the 'thus gone one') comprising the potentiality inherent in the basis of mind itself. This is called the Tathagatagarbha. Philosophically, the idea is very close to the suchness of the storehouse we have just discussed. It denotes the basis of sentience and without it no sentient being could become a Buddha. The idea probably emerged within a process of accommodation with Indian needs for philosophical assertion rather than negation while preserving the essential Buddhist vision concerning impermanence. Etymologically the term implies the thus coming and thus going intrinsic to interdependent causation. The Tathagatagarbha is then the name of that basic process of the mind, more or less identifiable with the storehouse (alaya) in the Cittamatrin tradition, which is obscured by the defiling activities of the interpretive functions of attention (manas). When it is free from such defilement it is seen to be the 'dharmakaya', the Buddhanature. Its apprehension is therefore enlightenment itself yet in that apprehension there can be no apprehender. The significance of this doctrine and its psychological model is that it affirms the mind to be itself the basis of both defilement, samsara, and of freedom from defilement, nirvana. The way to nirvana is therefore the yogic modification of the mental processes. The Tathagatagarbha doctrine is closely associated with the most important meditative traditions in the Mahayana, Mahamudra, Dzogchen and, in China, Ch'an and, therefore, in Japan, Zen and in Korea, Son. It is the basic View of the Kargyupa yogins who, however, in following the Tibetan scholastic tradition, will usually also be aware of the critical relationship between this view and the subtle negation of the

276

The Yogins o f Ladakh

Madhyamikan practitioner. The Tibetans extended the philosophical debate and attempted to provide a resolution. The basis of mind proposed by the Cittamatrins had an entitiveness about it that raised the hackles of the Madyamakas. When the Jonangpas (a Kargyupa sub-sect) came up with a radical resolution, fights broke out.12 Some of the tension of that dispute still remains in the air today. To the orthodox Gelugpas things were 'empty of self (Rang. sTong ). The insistence on this position led to exactly the infinite regression tht forced the mind into the state of not knowing said to lead to insight. The Jonangpas argued that, when speaking of an emptiness of emptiness, the subject of discussion could be said to be empty of all those characteristics of which it was self-empty and yet remain itself. The Tathagatagabha was thus 'other-empty' (gZhan . sTong ), having absolutely no features of which it could be said to be empty other than its own emptiness - yet there it w a s .13 Such an assertion has never perhaps met the fundamental 'self-empty' objection but it does stop the infinite regression which that position entails. This has been helpful to many as it allows the mind to come to a focus, thus resolving a difficulty for those who neither follow the subtleties of Madhyamaka nor develop the insight to which it leads. In his acquisition of the View, the yogin practitioner benefits from the dynamic opposition between the perspectives of Madhyamaka and Cittam atra or Tathagatagarbha. Whereas the latter view relates closely to changes that can be directly experienced through meditation, the former remains philosophically irrefutable. Positive experience emerging in meditative training allows an affirmation of the endeavour while, at the same time,

Teachings o f the Yogins

277

penetrating philosophical meditation on the terms through which that achievement may be described instantly cuts down all attempts to build any but the most elementary structure. The interplay of the two holds the mind in a dynamic not-knowing which in itself is the womb of enlightenment. The Path The Tibetan practitioner does not acquire View and Path sequentially. The two are closely interlaced right from the beginning. When the novice monk enters his gompa to live with his relative in the family cell, he will very soon be given texts to learn, will participate in monastic ritual and learn to conduct pujas in the shrine rooms of village houses for the benefit of the household and its lands. His mind will soon be full of complex texts, the meaning of which will be obscure to him, and visualisations of the extraordinary deities that adorn the gompa walls. He is learning to be a shaman, it may seem, rather than a monk as the Buddha intended. Only gradually through the interplay of ritual, meditation and teaching will the View and Path come together. A gifted monk will tend to specialise either in scholarship, perhaps to receive the doctorate of the Geshe degree, or in Tantra, whereby he becomes a master of visualisation and ritualistic self transformation. Yet these two are never entirely separate: the scholar will have his Tantric practice and the Tantra master will become learned in philosophical theory. Indeed, it is argued by the Gelugpa that an effective practice of Tantra depends upon mastery of the philosophical scriptures, the sutras, said to be the direct utterances of the Buddha. Tibetan orthodoxy affirms that the Buddha taught three successive presentations of the dharma, each one a further

278

The Yogins o f Ladakh

'Turning of the Wheel of the Law'. The first resulted from his personal enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and gave rise to the non-Mahayana scriptures of the original teachings. The second turning gave rise to the Prajnaparamita teachings on the emptiness of inherent existence and the emergence of the Bodhisattva as the ideal way. The third comprises the teachings of the Tantras. Modern scholarship shows these scriptures to represent major changes in the emphasis of Buddhist teaching in India over the course of centuries. Tantric practitioners,may be monks with ascetic practices but may equally well be wandering yogins dedicated to practices that at first sight might be read as self indulgence rather than renunciation. Their aim is not withdrawal and purity but the transformation of the everyday into the bliss of the Buddhas. Such yogins may not even be monks in any strict sense and a few teach through outlandish behaviour 14 but they will subscribe to the overall aim of fulfilling the Bodhisattva vow. The world of Mahayana is inhabited by countless meditational deities that may be the subject of exhortation, placation, visualisation, em pow erm ent and mind transformation. We have seen that the emphasis on the mind as a creator of illusion became very important in the Gupta period. At the same time the worship of deities was becoming a widespread practice in India as it is today15 and no longer contained within its tribal origins. Such practices could be presented in Buddhism as mental activities designed to move the mind in the general direction of dharma aspiration, a beneficial activity within the realm of the relative. Dieties express the personification of dharma abstractions; love could be a beautiful female figure, power a wrathful male one. In meditation such visualisations became coded manipulations of the mind.

Teachings o f the Yogins

279

For example, the mind according to the Abhidhamma psychology comprises five sets or factors.16 In Tantra, each of these becomes represented by a Buddha figure collectively standing for enlightened transformations of the original set. Arranged in a Mandala we find the five key meditational deities of Tantric practice who in their numerous transformations symbolise the activities of the meditator. 17 Exponents of Tantra argue that whereas followers of the philosophical path of asceticism, the Sutric path, will take countless aeons to reach their goal, a tantric practitioner might 'become a Buddha in one life time'. The reason proposed is that by visualising oneself as a Buddha one creates an 'illusory body' which is a simulacrum of the powers of the Enlightened one. Repeated practice ratchets the mind quickly into states that become progressively closer to those of a Buddha. Such a path is nonetheless dangerous. The practitioner may imagine that he is actually a Buddha, thereby straying from the View of emptiness. He might develop not merely what is called the 'divine pride' of being a 'deity' but real egoistic pride itself. Some deities of power have rites involving activities of a worldly or sensual nature. The ritual transforms these acts through awareness of their essential emptiness. Clearly, however, if the practitioner falls into a worldly performance his activity' is no more than sensual indulgence and potentially addictive, generating the dangerous powers of the egotistic magician. For these reasons, Tantra is likened to the kiss of a beautiful woman with teeth like the fangs of a snake, as I was informed in Mattro Gompa. Its practice is therefore hedged about with devices that protect the practitioner from error. These include devotion to the guru who teaches the

280

The Yogins o f Ladakh

practice, initiation into practices only after appropriate preliminary training, the provision of a meditational deity or yidam who acts as an inner guide and protector, and secrecy protecting the practice from idle speculation by the uninformed. Above all, tantric practice is embedded within the View as revealed by the Sutras. Their essential illusory quality, their emptiness, is thereby affirmed. The Tantras are means to achieve an end and the multiplicity of methods provides the Tibetan Buddhist with a quite remarkable range of techniques. The first three yanas are the ways of the Arhat, the Hearer and the Bodhisattva. The yogin studying these will focus on preliminary meditations. Fundamentally they include meditation on the basic propositions of Sutric Buddhism: impermanence, craving, love, compassion and emptiness. Soon, however, the yogin will be empowered to practise one or more of the three Lower Tantric yanas, Kriyatantra, Caryatantra and Yogatantra. These three, known sometimes as the outer tantras, focus on action in the visualisation, worship and devotion of a chosen meditational deity. Emphasis is upon prostration, preparing and making offerings, setting up and maintaining an altar and shrine, visualising the arrival of the deity through a complex series of imaginative changes and finally sequences of devotion, placation, offering and return to source after receiving blessings. As the aspirant progresses so she may visualise herself as the deity, closely identifying with the meanings inherent in the' various postures, expressions, clothing and implements carried in two or more hands. The second three yanas are known as the causal vehicles because the practice is directed towards the attainment of Enlightenment. The final three yanas are called the resultant vehicles because the practice centres on the result of the path

Teachings o f the Yogins

281

being taken into the practice. In these yanas the essence of mind has become known to the practitioner but he is aware that it is heavily obscured most of the time by delusion. The task then is to use a great variety of means to clarify the obscuration and allow primordial existence to shine out in all its clarity. Training in the resultant vehicle, the inner yogas, Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga involves permission to leam and acquire the sadhanas (visualisations) describing the ancient physiology of the body, in particular the channels whereby breath enters the body and changes into energy streams of prana. Two channels run up from the nostrils and then vertically down through the body to the lower belly where they turn in towards one another and form a third median channel that runs up through a series of knots, centres or cakras to the forehead and crown where there are apertures to the exterior. During meditation, awareness is placed in a bright spot or 'tigle', a drop which is then moved up and down the channels. At each cakra, beams of energy radiate from it down numerous channels spreading out into the surrounding tissues like spokes from a wheel. In this way the different regions of the body are energised through a sort of mental massage. Placing awareness around the physical body in this way can have a powerful invigorating effect. Channels, cakras and drops were doubtless originally part of a theory of actual anatomy ip ancient India. They no longer represent real anatomy to the lamas but are visualisations significant in the energising of the body; very much like stimulating the meridians in Chinese acupuncture. The tantras are treated by most yogins as mutually pervasive; the final stages take as their basis what has gone before. They are developed therefore by practising the outer tantras which have now moved from outer action to inner

282

The Yogins o f Ladakh

visualisation. In Mahayoga, imagery is developed, in Anuyoga, the channels and drops are used in meditation and perceived as void while, in Atiyoga, the intention is to cultivate a non-meditative abiding in the emptiness of all things. Each of these yogas has a 'development' stage and each a 'completion' stage. In development, the forms are visualised and used in the unrolling of the visualisation text. In completion, insight reveals all these forms to be empty of inherent existence. As the practitioner gains some skill, he begins his visualisation with a meditation that brings emptiness to mind. Only then does he generate the images of the deities for the creation in himself of the wisdom or compassion aspect of the Buddha which the deity may represent. It is essential to work with a teacher and to become familiar with the process experientially.18 There are many terms for that which is directly realised in the completion stages. There is a pure conceptless awareness of what is - suchness. This founding stratum of experience is said to exist primordially; it is the same for anyone who uncovers it. It never changes and is likened to sky or space. Within this space the various Buddhas and their qualities generated by the visualisation arise, have their being and fade away. As all thought fades away, this voidness of the mind appears. It is said to have a quality of 'Clear Light and to be the all-pervading intentionality of the Buddhas (dharmakaya). To realise it is the supreme view. The wording of these texts sometimes seems to imply that everything is in the mind or is mental. However, the texts are more subtle than this. They neither make a distinction between mind and Mind - something universal, nor do they say that mind is all. It is simply that at this level of meditation there are no boundaries. There is only an

Teachings o f the Yogins

283

awareness like clear light, an experiential luminosity that is normally shrouded by the discriminatory activity of thought and imagery. There are no horizons in this experience. The texts say that this is the realm of the abiding nature of all things inherent in the mind streams of all sentient beings, a foundational sphere as all-pervasive as space. In Nyingma thought this awareness is called Samantabhadra, originally the name of a Buddha, which expresses the implicit intentionality of Buddha nature in every person who gradually comes to realise his or her own enlightened state. As one text puts it: "Although primordial awareness of the abiding nature of reality is inherent in the mind-streams of all sentient beings, they are unaware of it. It is shrouded in ignorance. Samantabhadra may be thought of as a being who is aware of his enlightened state. When you likewise become aware of your own innate condition you recover the mind of Samantabhadra. To realise directly this all-pervasive intentionality of the Buddhas is the supreme view of reality according to Dzogchen. It is based on directly introducing the disciple to the innate Dharmakaya within his own mind stream." This commentator, the great Dudjom Rimpoche,19later compares the Buddha Mind20 to the sky in which moisture is moved about by the wind to form clouds. Since clouds are manifestations arising from wind and sky they cannot be considered independent of it. "Clouds can only gather in the sky and vanish from it." Further on he deals with a critical question: "When you ascertain the actual abiding nature of all things and arrive at voidness, there is no longer anything that can be labelled or spoken of. If this is the case, how then can the ultimate be known or realised? The answer is that there is

284

The Yogins o f Ladakh

pure awareness voidness from the point of view of its being realised. To be beyond the division into subject and object does not render voidness as something unrealisable, nor the realiser of voidness an inanimate object without any consciousness." In the final approaches to this state in the Dzogchen system insight arises as all conceptuality is blown away. 21 Result Some of these descriptions of Buddhahood are so far out that non-meditators cannot imagine any mortal being attaining such a state. Apparently idealised beyond the realm of attainable psychology these pictures sometimes take off into the speculative richness of Sanskrit poetics and may seem more of a theodicy for devotional purposes than for any other. At these exalted levels 'Buddha' is a symbol for states of mind in confluence with the primordial nature of the universe itself. At less exalted levels the meditation manuals give some indication of what it would mean to be a Buddha. His primary features would be selflessness, complete dharma confidence and a great joyous nature springing from fearlessness bom from an intimate identity with emptiness. Were any of our yogins Buddhas ? The most striking feature of the yogins we visited was equanimity. They seemed to reside within an aura of inner peace and total certainty. They possessed a joy in the dharma which came from having penetrated to its core and made it their own. I recall Khamtag Rimpoche's fearlessness in wandering in the high places, his indifference to arrest and imprisonment, his long weeks spent labouring unrecognised in a road gang; Staglung Rimpoche's naturalness of manner revealing no concern with social form yet also his brilliant

Teachings o f the Yogins

285

style of exposition when teaching; Gonpo and Nochung Tse kindly conducting their zany tea ceremony with tin cans and old saucepans of freshly prepared chang, smiling in the sunshine and glowing in the knowledge that came from the completion of the path. Outside his mountain hut, Meme Gomchen sat stitching with an infectious tranquillity that stilled the heart. There was the scholarly precision of Gegen Khyentse, the child-like happiness in his eyes and the riotous joy of the two monks perched in their cliff-top cave at Nyima Ozer. All of them possessed a species of assured happiness rooted in an absence of ordinary attachment as the world knows it, land, wealth, marriage. As renunciants they had become cloud wanderers - as the Japanese call the Zen monks who drift from monastery to monastery with no premeditated plans. The uncovering of the intrinsic luminosity of the mind's basis, the antecedent of thought, comes about in many ways. The Tibetans argue that much depends upon personal karma and the relationship with the guru. Those of low ability may never rise above the practice of the lower paths, those of middling abilities work through the grades and levels following the details of the teachings with great care and discipline. Those of highest ability know the secret before they begin. It is as if they had merely forgotten it and they were simply awaiting a moment that would trigger its recall. Tulku Thondup Rimpoche illustrates several of these routes to attainment.22 In many cases trainees worked for years studying with teachers, travelling to far off places, meditating in caverns. Sometimes a learned monk had great expectations of realisation yet his understanding may have been merely intellectual and his capacity for experiential understanding low. One such monk on meeting a great master was disappointed when he was given simple, basic

286

The Yogins o f Ladakh

practices to do. It took many years for him to reach the experiential basis from which deeper insight could emerge. Some masters, perceiving a ripe state of mind in their followers, surprise them with abrupt assaults or demands. When Jigme Yeshe Dorje was wandering in ascetic practice he came across Patrul Rinpoche. "Oh, Paige!" he shouted. "Are you brave ? If so come here!" When Patrul went to him Jigme seized him by the hair and spun him around, throwing him to the ground. To Patrul it seemed as if Jigme stank of alcohol so he thought that even a great adept can behave oddly'when drunk. At that moment Jigme released him shouting; "Alas you who are called intellectuals! How could such an evil thought arise in you. You old dog!" and he spat in his face and insulted him by showing him his little finger. When he had left, Patrul sat in despair realising that he had been deeply mistaken. What was happening was a direct introduction to his mind. He resumed meditation and at that moment realised the unhindered intrinsic awareness, clear as a cloudless sky. Later on he would say that Old Dog was the name given him by Jigme. In another account, Patrul Rimpoche was living with his disciples in a field not far from his hermitage. Every day he would do a meditation session in which he would lie on his back and gaze at the sky. One evening he cried out to Luntog, a disciple, who was nearby: "Did you tell me you do not know the root of mind?" Luntog answered that indeed he did not. Whereupon Patrul said: "Oh, there is nothing to know. Come here and lie down and look at the sky." As Luntog lay there the master asked him; "Do you see the stars in the sky?" "Yes, I see them."

Teachings o f the Y ogins

287

"Do you hear the dogs barking in the monastery?" "Yes, I hear them." "Well then, that is what meditation is!" Afterwards Luntog reported: "At that moment I arrived at a certainty of realisation from within. I was liberated from concerns with 'It is' or 'It is not'. I felt the naked union of emptiness and intrinsic awareness. I was introduced to it through his blessing." Another trainee had spent many months in his cave practising with severe asceticism. One day he came out into the sunlight and looked towards Lhasa. With intense affection he recalled his teachers and he prayed to them with deep devotion. For a long while it was as if he had fallen unconscious. When he came to, he found there was nothing to view or to meditate upon as all apprehensions of attending to meditation had dissolved. He had actualised the presence of intrinsic awareness freed from discrimination but was unaware of it. Thinking he should have meditated where there was nothing to see, he regretted his excursion into the sun. Even so he set off for Lhasa to gain clarification from his teacher. Jigme Lingpa heard his story and was delighted. "Son, that is it! You have reached the stage of exhausting the phenomenal existants." The trainee then went off and meditated upon his realisation for a further twenty years. Insights such as these are not sufficient for they require a deepening in perfection through cultivation. They must become entirely natural. Concerning such examples Tulku Thondup writes: "Although one has to go through intensive preparations with study and meditation to get the introduction to realisation and to perfect it, the actual realisation is an instant occurrence when the meditator has ripened and there is no need of intellectual constructs or mental supports. If the

288

The Yogins o f Ladakh

disciple is ready he will attain realisation. If the master is a realised adept then even the simplest indication could bring forth the highest insight." (Edited text). Such examples show that for anyone deeply dedicated to the path there are causes for encouragement. However dark may be the journey, illumination may happen at any time. Going out into the sun. Hearing the dogs bark under the star filled sky. A sudden slap. When the apple is ripe it falls from the tree.

REFERENCES ^From a Six Session Y oga prayer. 2 On sociological grounds one might suspect that a version o f the N oble Truths might have read : all life is caste, suffering is caste imposition, its fears and hopes, there is a way out and here's how to do it ! C f Chapter 1. ^Vipassana or Lhag. mThong. 4 Avidya. 5 Paticcasamupada in the Pali or Pratityasamutpada in Sanskrit. ^In Tibetan philosophical Buddhism a strong distinction is drawn between the conceptual and the non conceptual understanding o f emptiness. ^svabhava. ^When I had first encountered the Prajnaparamita Sutras in Edward Conze's inimitable translations o f the 1950s, I was engaged in biological research at Cambridge. As a scientist, I had com e to believe in a purely material explanation o f the world; yet my own experiences told me that the logical frame o f materialism did not provide the sense o f worthwhileness in life which I needed and w hich I could no longer base in the contradictions between Christian theology and Science. Yet modern physics, far from supporting a materialistic philosophy pointed in the direction o f mystery, possibly unfathomable mystery. I felt that the Principle o f Interdependent Origination was a beautifully scientific idea for it

Teachings o f the Yogins

289

could equally well underlie a scientific stance as a Buddhist one. For me, therefore, the teaching o f emptiness' had becom e a matter o f intellectual excitement from the very first time I had heard o f it. D iscussing these matters with Tashi Rabgyas in the mountains renewed that thrill and I came to feel the very act o f walking to be an entityless flow o f m ovem ent without attachment. I let g o o f aches, pains, fatigue and expectation o f the com ing camp site. The analysis we were conducting led to an experience o f freedom I had intuitively glimpsed years before in Conze's pages. (Conze, E. 1955 Selected sayings from the Perfection o f Wisdom . Buddhist Society. London ) There are many erudite works on these topics: for exam ple see Santina, P. D 1986. Madhyamika sch oo ls in India. M otilal Banarsidass,Delhi, and Williams, P. 1989. Mahay ana Buddhism , the doctrinal foundations. Routledge. London. 9 A lso known as Vijnanavada, or again as Yogachara 1 That is tathata. For the psychological model see Suzuki.D.T.1973 (original 1932) The Lankavatara Sutra . Routledge and Kegan Paul. Also, Ibid. 1930. Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. Routledge and Kegan Paul. London. A lso discussion in Crook. J. H. 1980. The Evolution o f Human Consciousness. Oxford University Press. Chapter 13. U S e e discussion in Williams, P. 1989 Mahayana Buddhism: The doctrinal foundations. Routledge. Chapter 5. l^ S ee Snellgrove, D. and H. Richardson. 1968 A Cultural History o f Tibet. Prajna , Boulder, p 176, 196. 1 3 For a detailed and fascinating account o f these op posed viewpoints see Hookham, S. 1991, The Buddha within. S ta t e U niversity o f N ew York. In addition se e Tsultrim G yam tso R im p o ch e.1 9 8 6 Progressive stages o f meditation on emptiness. Longchen Foundation. l^Ardussi, J and L. Epstein. 1978. Saintly Madmen in Tibet. In: Fisher, J. (ed) Himalayan Anthropology. Mouton. 15 The development o f deism from V edic religion is detailed in Bardieu's book. See comment in Chapter 1. l^Khandha. (skt skandha) ie form, feeling, perception, karmic predispositions, and consciousness.

290

The Yogins o f Ladakh

l^For a full account see Govinda, Anagarika. 1959. The Foundations

o f Tibetan Mysticism. Rider. London.


l^ T h e technical description o f these many yogas is elaborate and the terminology precise. It has been a major task for lamas and translators alike to con vey the subtleties o f the states o f mind generated and manipulated in these m editations. S ee further: Cozort, D. 1986. Highest Yoga Tantra. Snow Lion. N ew York. Also; Lessing, F.D and A. Wayman. 1978. Introduction to the Buddhist tantric systems. Motilal Banarsidass. Delhi. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso 1982. Clear Light o f Bliss. Wisdom. Muses, C.A. 1982 Esoteric teachings o f the Tibetan Tantra. Weiser.etc l^This explanation is found in a commentary to a translation o f a work by Longchen Rabjam by Dudjom Rinpoche and Beru Khentze Rinpoche. 1978. The Four-themed Precious Garland, an introduction to Dzog-chen , the Great Completeness. Library o f Tibetan works and A r c h iv e s.D h a r a m sa la . The recent appearan ce o f D udjom Rimpoche's remarkable study o f Nyingma thought and practice is a triumph for Wisdom Publications: see Dudjom Rinpoche. 1991. The

Nyingma school o f Tibetan Buddhism: its fundamentals and history.


Wisdom. Boston.
^ R e m i n d e r : this term means the basis o f mind discovered by the

Buddha and present in all sentient beings.


21 T h e Nyingma practice o f Dzogchen or Atiyoga is subdivided into

three systems the differences between which are subtle. In the first, Semde, it is asserted that all phenomena are the mere play o f the mind that transcend all perceptions such as apprehender and apprehension. In Longde, it is asserted that all phenomena arise from the primordial vast expanse and are continuously s e lf liberating like writing upon water. In the third viewpoint, M engade, there is only the glow o f the essen ce itself without consideration o f mind or origin. The appearance o f phenomena is perfected within their own ultimate nature without any elaboration. See Note 22 2^Tulku Thondup Rinpoche. 1989. Buddha mind. An anthology of Longchen Rabjam's writings on Dzogpa chenpo . Snow Lion. N ew York.

DEVELOPMENTAL SEQUENCE IN THE HISTORY OF THE YOG IN'S TEACHINGS.

THERAVADA. The Four Noble Truths Theravada Sutras Abhidhamma Pitaka The Principle of Interdependent Causation. MAHAYANA Prajnaparamita Sutras and the idea of emptiness. Other Mahay ana Sutras Tantric Teachings Critique of Madhyamaka leading to the Cittamatra and Tathagatagarbha perspectives gZhan.sTong view Main Kargyu /Nyingma view. The Nine Yanas Yogas of Naropa etc Mahamudra Dzogchen Path of Practice

Sutric Teachings Scholarly debate and criticism leading to emergence of the Madhyamaka Prasangika as the 'final' philosophy. Rang.sTong view Main Gelugpa view

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

PRACTISING CHOD IN THE CEMETERIES OF LADAKH


N o w that I have obtained a precious human existence, so difficult to obtain, -- please bless me with diligence in the practice o f the holy Dharma.'

Introducing the practice In the early summer of 1976 I travelled from Bengal to Ladakh.2 1 was going to the mountains, to a Buddhist area, in order to practise Chod in 108 cemeteries. I had been living in India for several years studying Tibetan language at Visva-Bharati University, practising meditation, studying Buddhism by working on Tibetan texts and gradually finding my way to my main teacher, Chimed Rigdzin Lama, a married lama of the Nyingma School. The Tibetan equivalent for the word 'yoga', 'naljor, carries a rather special significance.The Sanskrit word indicates union, a yoking together, whereas the Tibetan term means abiding naturally, just being oneself. It seemed to me that Chimed Rigdzin embodied the spontaneous natural way of being; uncontrived and yet complex, able to participate in every aspect of life, expressing emotions freely without becoming stuck in fixed patterns or mere whimsicality. In studying Tibetan language and literature with him I had become interested in the practice of Chod for a variety of reasons. Nearly all of us have our own protective stance towards our body, our habit of dealing with its appearance, needs and sensations as if they determine who and what we are, and this is the root of much confusion and distress.

Practising Chod

293

'Chod' means 'to cut; the central focus of the practice being to cut attachment to the body, thereby leaving awareness free to perceive whatever arises from a neutral position, unencumbered by identification with a vulnerable body. The body ages and becomes sick. No matter how we try we cannot keep it from straying beyond the narrow confines of current fashion or the fantasies of our own or another's desire. And when we die we must go alone, our precious body being left behind for the attentions of fire or worms. The yogi's ability to be open to everything that occurs has freedom from identification with the body as the basis. To abide naturally is to include everything in one's experience and not to strive desperately to increase what is deemed pleasant or minimise what seems unpleasant. We acquire identity and learn skills within a supporting environment and when that system changes our abilities and self-image often change too, for example, on retirement from an institution. To enter fully into the experience of cutting off attachment to the body it is important to utilise the power of a new context. The practice of Chod is carried out in cemeteries at night in order to maximise the potential for working with fear and self-protection centred on the body. It also creates an extreme situation survival of which will ensure competence in other environments. The practice draws on the power of visualised Buddhist deities, local gods and demons to counteract reliance on the experienced reality of our ordinary embodied existence. To accomplish this, the world of imagination must be merged with the world of ordinary sense perception, the 'merely imaginary' becoming more real than the solid appearance of everyday phenomena. The preparatory practices of calming the mind are therefore linked with developing the ability to visualise clearly so that what is constructed by the mind and

294

The Yogins o f Ladakh

what appears via the senses have the same level of experiential impact. Unless one can rely on the felt presence of one's consciously constructed domain to prevail over the imprints of one's habitual pattern of reification, one will be terrorised back into being a vulnerable person living in a threatening world. There is also something attractively romantic about the practice of Chod. It is archetypal in structure - the hero journeys alone but for special symbolic helpers, travelling into the dangerous regions of the dead and the damned in order to win a jewel of great price. The practice text is sung to the accompaniment of bell, drum and thigh-bone horn.3 Once the journey is commenced there is no turning back until all 108 cemetery sites have been visited. In travelling from site to site one dances, driving the local demons ahead of one by the magical power of the specific steps one takes. The whole world is potentiated as a place of power and one moves through it with a commanding majesty. Yet the practice cannot be performed with an inflated ego for one has to sit in the loneliness of the dark night in the cemetery with only one's own faith and practice to rely on. Buddhist practice begins with taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The teaching is often presented as a vehicle that takes one from a place of suffering and frustration to a place of satisfaction or salvation. The practice of Chod presents this transition in a powerful and symbolic way as the practitioner shifts his focus of identification from his ordinary body to the symbolic form of the deity. The deity which he thus becomes then destroys ordinary flesh and blood so that no return is possible. The visualised reality has replaced quotidian reality. Not only has it replaced it but, at the end of the practice, the reappearance of the 'ordinary world' is experienced as the

Practising Chod

295

display of the nature of the deity. The sticking point at this stage is the body. As the meditator returns to an awareness of the body he or she is drawn towards the habitual perceptions which maintain the experience of being an individual in the world. Chod helps to effect the vital shift of identification; instead of the meditation experience being placed against ordinary life as a special event, 'ordinary life' is transformed by incorporation into the symbolic dimension opened up by the practice. In this way the meditator escapes the clutches of dualism and locates self in a place that does not rest anywhere This is in fact the Mahayana definition of enlightenment. The practice of Chod unifies the view of the Prajnaparamita literature with the methodology of Tantra. The central focus of Prajnaparamita, or transcendent wisdom, is the understanding of emptiness. Whatever appears, all that we perceive, is devoid of inherent self nature. There is no 'self-substance' in anything since everything is a construct, a juxtaposition of elements which themselves are mere juxtapositions ad infinitum so that no ultimate building blocks are discoverable. Our perspective shifts from that of a subject observing discrete objects to that of an awareness of processes in play. Tantra reveals the power of a symbolic domain and the value of letting awareness find a transitional reliance on the realm of the deities. The development of Chod through the meeting of these two streams occurred in the eleventh century in Tibet when Machig Labdron met the Indian yogi who is known by the Tibetan name of Phadampa Sangye. Phadampa developed the Zhi.B yed teachings which focus on pacifying the suffering that arises from attachment. The source of painful discursive thought is the interface between a grasping

296

The Yogins o f Ladakh

subject and the objects that are grasped. By cutting through the root of identification with discrete embodied existence, the mind is freed from the feeling of being a separate self. There is thus nowhere for suffering to adhere as thoughts arise and pass without trace and without coercing the mind into a response. Moreover in cutting off the body there emerges a direct experience of awareness as independent, autonomous, free of the trammels of cause and effect. The body is in the world, part of the world,, in constant interaction, and so of course is the self. My notion of who I am arises in the play of being in the world. I am not something apart, something unique and isolated, rather I am a part of the world yet this phenomenological reality usually becomes overlaid with hopes and fears developed by false attributions of an individuality that stands apart. Chod meditation confronts this head on - or rather head off - by removing the body as a point of reliance for the self-referencing ego, and then interrupting the flow of concepts supporting and creating the sense of separate selfhood. The interruption is done by sharply declaring the syllable "Phat!" which breaks the flow of thoughts allowing awareness to recognise itself in the open dimension normally obscured by fixation on thought. To do this requires unwavering resolve for many difficulties occur in the practice of Chod. Some indications of the ideal attitude and strength of commitment necessary can be gained from the following short biography of Machig Labdron. I have translated it with the help of Chimed Rigdzin from an anonymous text that he collected in the course of his travels.

Practising Chod

297

The Secret Biography of Machig Labdron Homage to the holy Gurus. In former times Machig Labdron was the Indian Dakini known as Gauri.4 Later, the Dakini came to Tibet in order to benefit sentient beings. She took birth in the district of Labs in Central Tibet. Her father was Khyega Cholha and her mother was Lumo Bumcham. Her own name was Labdron. Her brother was called Khyega Khore. Their village which was known as 'Tsher was on the east side below the ridge where the constellation of Kartik5 arose. Offers of marriage came from all directions yet she was kept in the family. But there was a rich man known as Kunga among the herders of the north and he gave Machig's parents much wealth and asked to marry her. When her parents saw the riches, they gave Machig to the herder. She went to the house of the herder and there the thought came to her that in order to to get just one meal to eat or one piece of cloth to wear in the villages of these nomads it was necessary to do some sinful action [such as killing animals, stealing their wool and milk etc.] With these thoughts, she dropped a hot clay pot, as if her hand were unsteady. Then her husband's father and mother asked: "Girl, is there something wrong with your health?" Machig replied "Yes, my health is not good and my condition may get worse." Her in-laws said that she should receive initiation and do religious practice as this would be beneficial. But then they would not permit her to go.6 She was forbidden to go beyond the lower area of the village. One day she threw fire on her hands and feet so that blisters developed. Her

298

The Yogins o f Ladakh

husbands parents said: "You are troubled by the Land Owner Spirits." Machig said, "Yes, I have that trouble and they are sure to cause more disturbance." The parents-in-law said that she would be helped by reciting Vajrapani's mantra but still they would not allow her to go for instruction. Machig thought; "The only thing that is beneficial for me is the holy dharma." And so one morning she hung her milking pot from her waist and put a small golden knife inside her amulet case. Going to the cattle, she squatted as if to milk the cows. She placed the milking pail below the cow as a chopping block and then she cut off both her thumbs with the knife. At this all the herders cried: "What have you done! For all our activities, whether weaving wool, milking cattle or whatever we do, thumbs are most essential Now you must go to your village!". So Machig went back to her home and when her parents asked her why she had returned she replied; "My thumbs became diseased and infected and so I lost them. Then the herders told me to go so I came here. Now I am a useless woman so please allow me to go to the dharma." Her parents only commented: "The loss of your thumbs is not so bad There are many here who like you, so we will send you to whichever of your neighbours you find pleasing." Machig told them: "I have been born in the happy continent of Jambuling. My five sense organs are complete. At this time when I have obtained a precious human existence,7 the Dharma alone is of benefit to me. Moreover, this illusory body composed of the five elements is like a rainbow in the sky. The small wind of the demon lord of death will develop within it causing sickness and pain, and

Practising Chod

299

then my four limbs will become paralysed. Then my breath will become as fine as a cobweb, barely escaping from my nose. I will desire food yet will only be able to drink water. At that time only the dharma will help me. I do not like the false worldly way of lay people. Now even if the sun were to rise from the west or if someone were to cut my throat, I would not become a housewife." Having spoken thus she sang this song to her father: "I take refuge in the father Gurus. I pray to these most kind ones. Please hold all the beings in the six realms with your compassion and especially please bless me a beggar, that I may enter the Dharma. "At first I, this girl, believed in my fatherland. 8 As practice I worked with both earth and stone and as a result a large house arose. Yet on the day that I die I must leave that house. In the end this fatherland is also empty and unreliable. I will not stay here but I will go to the Dharma. As for these duties of the fatherland, father, you must perform them yourself!" Her father made no reply. Then again her mother approached and said, Daughter, you tell your father that you want to practise dharma and say that you will not do any of the activities of this life. Well, those people who practise the dharma also change their ideas and then return home. Therefore you must go to the husband your parents send you to! To this Machig replied; Mother, you must listen well to me! Among all those bom in former times there were none who did not die and the people being bom now are also not free from death. The demon lord of death is very resourceful and cunning, while this illusory body, the form

300

The Yogins o f Ladakh

composed of the elements, is not trustworthy at all.9 When the time comes for the breath to leave the nostrils like a fine cobweb thread 10 those who are without the dharma will have nothing to help them, Mother, listen to my song! At first I, your daughter, believed in my husband. As practice, I developed intense love and as a result our minds became harmonious. But when I die I will have to go alone. In the end ones husband is also empty and unreliable." Her mother replied: If you weave cloth for one or two years then you will have sufficient resources to finance your Dharma study. Otherwise you will be unable to enter the Dharma and wearing poor cloth, you will cause us shame. Machig said: Among our people the men wear gowns on their bodies and ride on horses,11 yet I never heard that they could repel our enemy, the troubles of samsara. Our ladies wear nice soft cloth yet never have I heard that they could repel our enemy, the troubles of samsara." The ones who stay in empty places where there are no people, who wear a cave as their hat and drink only water and wear patched clothes - it is these persons that I have heard to be repelling the troubles of samsara." And she sang this song to her mother. At first I believed in sheep. As practice I did carding and weaving of wool and as a result I became a good weaver. Yet on the day I die I must go naked. I doubt the reliability of nice soft cloth for in the end it also is empty. I, your daughter, will not stay here but will go to the dharma. As for being the owner of sheep, mother, you must do that work yourself!

Practising Chod

301

Then her brother Khyega Khore approached her, "Sister, you wish to practise dharma. Now in order to ask for the dharma, to request initiations, to take teachings, and for all such things you must have some resources. It is not possible to approach a Guru without having some offerings. And if you do practice while living as a beggar, the people will say that although you are from a good house, you have no food.13 Therefore you should first collect some wealth and then we will send you to the dharma." Machig replied: "Come now, elder brother, think well about what I say. Although you may have much wealth and all good things, yet at death you will have to go naked like a hair drawn out from a lump of butter. Although you may have innumerable brothers and relatives, you will still have to go like a hair pulled out from a lump of butter. But I have never heard of anyone who relied on the Three Jewels coming to die of hunger." Then she sang this song to her brother: "At first I, your sister, believed in food and wealth. As practice I was mean and tight-fisted with the result that I collected food and wealth. Yet although I am wealthy, on the day of my death I must go empty-handed. I doubt the reliability of food and wealth for in the end they are also empty. As for being the owner of food and wealth, brother, you must do that work yourself! I, your sister, will not stay, I am going to the dharma." After she sang this her brother was weeping and he said, "Sister, you are correct. I am not able to practise Dharma myself but I will not make any obstacle for your Dharma practice." Then he gave her three measures of gold.14

302

The Yogins o f Ladakh

But then her mother came and said: "Now what are you children doing? What with one going to the dharma and the other giving money for the dharma!" And then she took the gold out of Machig's hand. At this Machig responded: "Mother, you must think well about this. Our understanding is a little longer than a fox's tail 15 and our human lives are shorter than a sheep's tail. The Lord of Death is lying in wait for us and this illusory body composed of the four elements will certainly be destroyed. Relatives and friends will gather round and we will have finished with all the good things we used to enjoy. When the breath ceases to move in and out only the Dharma will be of help - you look and see if there is anything else! I do not have your gold yet I will not die of hunger. Mother, you must listen to my song." "We go to the north side 16 to cut grass but we have no sickle and so we, who wish grass, must return empty handed. "We go to the forest on the south but we have no axe and so we, who wish wood, must return empty handed. "Now when this human body has been gained, we have no faith, and so we will go empty handed from these freedoms and opportunities.17 "Perhaps we can contemplate returning empty handed, but shameful actions and the load of ripening sins are very troublesome to bear. "Mother, be careful with samsara. I, your daughter, will not stay here but will go to the dharma." Saying this she left to seek the dharma. Machig considered what she knew of the various

Practising Chod

303

teachers and decided that Dampa Sangye at Lato village in Dingri Lakhor was a very excellent one. So she made up her mind to go there. On that very same day she left for Lakhor and at night on the road she met a sponsor called Dawa Zangpo. He said to her: "Girl, you are very young. Why are you a beggar? Have all your parents and relatives died?" Machig replied: "Father, mother, relatives and wealth all these I have, but they are worldly notions. I have abandoned them all and am going now to practice the Dharma. It is said that Dampa Sangye is staying in Dingri Lakhor and so I am going there. I will request the dharma from him." The sponsor said: "Girl, you are not an ordinary beggar. You have come here because your thoughts are on the holy Dharma. This is most wonderful. Yet you do not have any presents with which to request dharma teaching from the Guru so stay as my servant for one or two years and I will give you wages. Then with that in hand you will be able to ask for the dharma." Machig thought, "He has spoken truly. I have no resources to use for practising the Dharma." So she told him that her only choice was to do what he said and thus she became his paid servant. Then a few months later she thought to herself, Why have you become like this? Previously you were not able to do such work and you felt sorrow at the state of samsara and then set out to find the dharma. But now you are working as a hired servant. Do you think you will not die? These thoughts came in her mind so she said to her sponsor: Remembering my death I must go to the dharma. And she told him that she could not remain as his servant.

304

The Yogins o f Ladakh

The sponsor replied, If you must go to the dharma then I will give you a full measure18 of gold as your wages for the time you have been here. And he sent her on her way to the dharma. Machig came to Dingri Lakhor and met Dampa Sangye. She made many prostrations to him and circumambulated him many times. Placing his feet upon her head, she acted with intense faith and devotion. Dampa addressed his followers, You disciples who have assembled from the ten directions, place your offerings here in my small sleeping place. We teachers know the signs of connection, and I will explain the connections shown by the offerings.19 The disciples presented their various offerings. With the gold the sponsor had given her and the remains of the alms she had collected, Machig had bought three ladders. She placed them against the three storeyed house so that there was one ladder at each level. Dampa asked who had offered the ladders. When she said that she had offered them, he said that this was the sign of a very good connection. Girl, you will completely upturn and empty samsara of all the beings in the six realms by leading them up the ladder of the upper realms.20 Now girl, how old are you? I am five by three years, that is, my age is fifteen. Dampa said: That is also very good. You will become a lamp to dispel the darkness of ignorance from all the beings in the three worlds21. Therefore your name is Daepai Dronme.22 Girl, your faith is not strong one day and weak the next, but is always consistent and straight like a bow string. It is my duty to give you instruction." During the following days he taught her the Gegs-Sel INga, the Ro-sNyoms sKor-Drug, an explanation of the

Practising Chod

305

Phyag-rGya Chhen-Po LNga within which there is also the pacification of the afflictions, and the cycles of the ZhiByed-Pa, and also many other instructions.23 Then Dampa said: Girl, you should not stay here. It is better for you to go to Central Tibet, to the place called Lhatag where there are monks who show the outer form of Kadampa 24 yet are tantric meditators within. You should practice above their monastery and by this you will come to benefit beings equalling the extent of the sky." Thus Machig received her Gurus prediction and in accordance with it she went to central Tibet to the area above Lhatag which was empty and uninhabited. There, in an empty and ownerless cave, she meditated while practising austerities and drinking only water. In the lower part of that area there were five or six groups of herders. In former years these herders had given a curd festival for the monks of Lhatag during the summer month. But that year no rain had fallen from the sky and because of that no grass had grown on the hills. In consequence the yak-cows 25 had no milk and so there could be no curd festival at Lhatag. The Abbot led the monks in reading texts, making ritual offerings, doing rain-calling practices and so on but still no rain came and so there was no curd. The yak-herders gathered together and felt very sad. They led their cows out on to the hills and the cattle of one of the herders went towards the place where Machig was staying. Following them, he came to see the cave she occupied. Machigs mind was in the state of absorbed contemplation of the unchanging natural condition.26 Her hair had become yellow and her eyebrows were red. Her hands were in the meditation gesture in her lap. Her eyes stared up at the sky and her body was shining and splendid. Seeing her, faith

306

The Yogins o f Ladakh

was born in the herder and he made prostrations and circumambulated her. Then Machig asked him, O you who have faith and devotion, which siddhi25 do you wish? The herder did not know how to request Dharma instructions so he asked for the siddhi of encouraging milk to flow. Machig said: You do not know how to ask for siddhis.26 But anyway, to give you the siddhi you asked for is not difficult. Have you some wool? He said yes and took some from his shoulder bag, spun a length of yam and gave that to her. She tied a few knots in it and said it should be put on the cows' necks and she gave him some earth from beneath her seat and from under her feet, saying that it should be thrown at the herd. He threw it and the cows udders became full of milk. When he saw this he was very happy and led his cattle home. One old monk saw him and said: Unfortunate herder! In this year no rain has fallen and so on the hills there is no grass with the result that the cattle have no milk. Now there can be no curd festival for the monastery of Lhatag.Why are you taking your cattle in at mid-day? You must be mad! To this the herder replied: Reverend monk, the cattle have much milk and I will milk them and from that I will have much curd. That night he made curd and the next morning he went to Lhatag to the sound of conch-shell horns and wooden drums. All the sangha welcomed him into the college temple and the curd festival commenced. The Abbot addressed the assembly, Now pay attention all of you sponsor herdsmen. From the time of the Buddha up until now the spreading of the Buddhas Doctrines has been due to our sanghas kindness. Not only that but our

Practising Chod

307

sangha has very great blessing.26 The herder, who was sitting in a lower place by a pillar, stood up and made three prostrations. Then he addressed the head monk. Kye! Kye! Reverend Abbot! The spreading of the Buddhas doctrines is due no doubt to your sanghas kindness. But the milk that has now come from the cows and the resulting curd festival - these are not due to your kindness. "That child is talking nonsense, the Abbot cried and he beat him in the face with three sticks. We monks are like gold. If blessing does not come from us, then where else can it come from? The herder then told the whole story of Machig Labdron. On hearing this the Abbot declared: One old heretic lady is staying above our village. Some of you teachers who are well trained in the dharma must go and defeat her in debate and then tie a black rope around her neck and bring her here. So some of the great teachers went out, and when they came to the place where Machig was staying they felt very happy owing to her blessing. When they came before her and saw her body they felt an irreversible and inconceivably intense faith and devotion. It was impossible for them to debate with her or to put the rope around her neck. Instead they requested many teachings from her for removing wrong ideas and then they returned very peacefully to the monastery. The Abbot asked them if they had defeated her in debate and put the rope around her neck. But when they explained about Machigs appearance and blessings the Abbot became very angry. These hopeless people still have their white infant's teeth when their hair has grown white. They are not even able to defeat one girl with arguments of clear definition. Now I myself will go so bring my horse. Then

308

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

he departed. At the door of the rock cave where Machig was staying a great throne was constructed and on top of this the Abbot took his seat. At both his right and left sides he placed very wise Dharma teachers and then he addressed Machig; Girl, what are you doing? Here in this place where there is no grass, no water and no source of food you, a woman, stay alone! Do you stay here for relaxation or for some purpose? In reply to the Abbots question, Machig sang as follows: I am the beggar Labdi n who goes to the fearsome hermitage. Relaxed? Yes, I am relaxed. Busy? Well, yes I am busy. "Relaxed because I have not the least cause for activity. And busy because I am without even a moment of wavering or idleness. "I, the beggar, am never separated from the teachings. This beggar does not trust the enemy, samsara. The Abbot then commented: Girl, these words of yours are not wrong. Well now, do you stay in this high place in hunger or in plenty? To this she again replied with a song: I am the beggar Labdron who lives in the mountain hermitage. Is this beggar hungry? Yes, I am hungry. And has she plenty? Yes, plenty. "I am very hungry for I have not the least food. "I am very wealthy for I practise the state of dharmata. I have the doctrines of the dharma conduct, free of decline. This beggar does not trust avarice and tight selfishness!

Practising Chod

309

Thus she sang. These words of yours are not wrong. Well now girl, do you stay here well or do you stay here badly? To this Machig replied: I am the beggar Labdron living in the mountain hermitage. Good? Well, yes, it is good. Bad? Yes, it is also bad. Good, for I hold the lineage of the siddhas. Bad since my circle of associates is only beggars. I have doctrines of the holy dharma that is equal and free of bias. This beggar does not trust the enemy of the eight worldly dharmas "28 Then the Abbot said: Girl, your three verses have not been wrong. But here in this desolate place, do you stay bravely or in fear? Again Machig gave reply: I am the beggar Labdron who goes to the fearsome hermitage. Brave? Yes I am brave. Cowardly? Yes, I am also afraid. Brave, because I go to the very fearful snow mountains. Cowardly, because I am afraid of the sufferings of samsara. This beggar does not trust this beloved illusory body, I, the beggar, have doctrines of the direct dharma. Then the Abbot asked her to come out of her cave and she replied: I acted with the cause of ignorance and had a little of the condition29 of fully dualistic discrimination. But now I have gone directly into the state of the unborn Dharmakaya and so I have come out! Again the Abbot told her to come out and so she said,

310

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

Before, I had some sense of shame but I came out of that some years ago. But Girl, now you really must come out! Well, if you order me to come out, then I really must do so!" So then she came out of the door dancing with her eyes staring very strongly at both the sky and the ground, and her hair bright yellow, and thus the Abbot saw her. And just from seeing her face, faith developed in the Abbot. You are Ama Labdron. With the body of an ordinary woman, you are really a jnana dakini30 possessing the understanding of all the Buddhas of the three times. I did not recognise you so please forgive me. We are from the monastery of Lhatag. Please come there and we will make you a senior nun.31 Then please act as our teacher. Machig replied: It is not mentioned in the Doctrine that a nun can act as head of a group of monks and it is not traditional. Also, I do not have the dress of a nun. Regarding that, I will sing you a song." Then to the Abbot and to the principal teachers she sang this song called The Song of the Nuns Nature of Machigs Mind: I am the beggar who has gone to the fearsome hermitage, I need a hat but I have no cloth so I wear the hat of the highest view. "I need nuns shoes but I lack the materials, so I wear the shoes of ascending good conduct. "I need rainbow coloured cloth but I have no sheep, so I use the sheep of shame and hard work. "I need a nun's skirt but I have no woollen cloth, so as a beggar I am beautiful with the ornaments of morality. "If you wash your face,32 then your face becomes cold so I wash out the sins and obscurations of my body, speech and mind.

Practising Chod

311

"Due to my weakness and sick liver I, the beggar, cannot distinguish the highest view so I keep the four root vows.33 "The monks who hope to keep their vows pure are happy, arent they? The monks who think about protecting their vows have joy, dont they?"34 The Abbot felt much faith and said: Respected Machig, you may not act as a nun, yet for dharma practitioners in general, and especially for those who stay in mountain hermitages, the view, meditation and conduct are most important. So please give us your thoughts on this, together with some examples. Machig answered him: Last year or so I had a practice with view, meditation and conduct. But for some time now I have cut the connection with them so you should listen to my song. And then she sang this song: I am the beggar Machig who stays in the mountain hermitage. I had one dharma view but by destroying all biased grasping it has become empty and has vanished.35 "I had one meditation but by destroying both dullness and wildness in my mind, it became empty and vanished. "I had one conduct but by destroying all contrived acting to impress others, it became empty and vanished. "I have one vow and that I must keep. "But you monks have a view,' meditation and conduct and so you should be happy! With this the Abbots faith became much stronger and he inquired of her, Respected Machig, when you first came to the dharma did you practise much self-abnegation? Were you married or not? Why did you not stay in your own country? Do you have relatives on your fathers side

312

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

and on your m others? Do you have wealth and possessions? Machig replied: I was married and had both paternal and maternal relations. But I saw that all these belonged to confusion and so I came to the dharma. Now listen to this song of mine. I am Labdron who stays in the mountain hermitage. "I wanted to practise the dharma in my district and homeland, but the fatherland is a demons prison which I found to be most deceptive, have no desire for the restless minds of the fatherland.36 Now, without being partial, I keep all places as my fatherland and so my mind is very happy. "I wanted to practise the dharma in the company of my paternal relations, but their pride was as high as a mountain over which the sun of the wisdom of natural awareness can never rise. Therefore this beggar has abandoned her paternal relatives. Now I take the kind Gurus as my fathers relations. I make the doctrines my paternal group and so my mind is very happy. "I wanted to practise the dharma in the company of my maternal relations, but they were like a pot of poison within which there was no place to put the liberating elixir of dharma instructions. Therefore this beggar abandoned her maternal relatives. Now I take my fellow dharma practitioners as my maternal relations. Having the full breast of the dharma, my mind is very happy. "This beggar wanted to practise the dharma in the company of her husband. But he was like a yoke of evil and so she was powerless to find opportunities for practice. Therefore this beggar has abandoned her husband. Now I have found the husband of self-existing wisdom. Trying to

Practising Chod

313

always please her friend, this beggars mind is very happy. "This beggar wanted to practise the dharma in the company of her sons. But sons are a rope that binds one to samsara and then there is no time to get out of the swamp of the sufferings of samsara. Therefore this beggar has abandoned her sons. Now as a son I have gained the small boy 37 of awareness. With this unborn and undying son, my mind is very happy. "This beggar wanted to practise the dharma in the company of wealth and possessions. But wealth and possessions are like a demons rope and so her mind was strongly bound with sorrow. Therefore this beggar has abandoned her wealth and possessions. Now I have opened the door of a treasure of undiminishing wealth and, having the stainless supply of easy 39 food, my mind is always very happy. "Thus I make the auspicious offering of this song of the six joys of my mind. By hearing this the Abbot gained unchanging faith and he felt that all the sufferings of his body were ended. Then he made this request. Respected Machig, you will not stay as head of our monastery of Lhatag, but we also have a place of retreat called Zangri Kharmar. Please, you must accept headship there! Machig said;this was more suitable. Then she went to Zang-Ri mKhar-dMar when she was eighteen years of age and remained there until she was eighty eight during which period she helped beings equalling in number the extent of the sky. Then, at the time of her death, she sang this song to her disciples, called The Teachings given to Disciples:

314

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

This beggar lady who stays in a mountain hermitage will sing a song for you fortunate meditators present here. "That the experiences of practice may clearly arise, I have the doctrines of consciousness transference. I give them to my disciples on the stages of blessing. Be happy my disciples! "That one may be completely freed from habitual hopes, I have the doctrines of offering ones flesh and blood 38 I give them to my disciples on the stages of the path. Be happy, my disciples! "That dualistic mental activity may be completely destroyed, I have the excellent doctrines of freedom from activity 401 give them to my disciples on the stages of the teaching of the path. Be happy, my disciples! "That all difficulties may be used as helpers, I have the doctrines which show how to liberate whatever is arising in the mind. I give them to my disciples on the stages of the destruction of the maras (illusions). Be happy, my disciples! "That the treasure of benefit for others may be opened, I have the doctrines of the mental training of aspiration and practice Bodhicitta. I give this teaching on benefiting others to my disciples. Be happy, my disciples! "Oh! In order that mother and son will never separate, you disciples must make offerings and say prayers. I open the treasure of benefit for both self and others and give it to you. Do not feel sorrow, my children! "In general I will liberate all beings in the six realms of samsara. And especially I must free from samsara all those who pray to Zangri Kharmar."41 Thus she promised. Then she showed the mode of

Practising Chod

315

passing into nirvana. Regarding her death, those of high, intermediate and low understanding saw different things. The most advanced ones saw Machig herself become enveloped within mist and clouds. Then she went off beating her drum, blowing her thigh-bone horn and shaking her six bone ornaments. They saw the dakinis of the five families bear her aloft and carry her off. Those disciples of middle development saw Machigs body shrink in size until it was like an arura nut.42 Then it vanished into white light. The ordinary disciples saw her body take a great fever and then she had a long sickness and died. The actual body of Machig is still preserved in Zangri Kharmar. Machig Labdron herself taught: For the practice of Chod and all its doctrines, you must perform taking refuge, developing bodhicitta, consciousness transference, devoted prayer 43 and making assembled offerings. Machig Labdrons songs and this secret biography have been written down in order to benefit the practice of great meditators.

One of the interesting features of this brief text is the way it describes the difficulties Machig Labdron faced in withdrawing from the demands and expectations of her culture. In Tibet at that time, and indeed until very recently, the path of personal spiritual development was generally determined by social factors rather than the force of individual volition. Children were sent to the local

316

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

monastery and learned to follow the system of devotion and meditation practised there. Which sect or lineage a person joined was determined by geography rather than an individual act of choice. Machig Labdron's fate as a young woman was determined by others; her parents and then her husband and his family. Her spiritual desire was acknowledged but not supported since her role as a working member of the family was seen to be of more importance. Her only exit was to disqualify herself from that role by an attack on her body. This prefigures and perhaps mirrors the sacrifice of the body in the Chod practice. After her meeting with Phadampa Sangye, she lived alone in a cave in a state of total withdrawal from society. When the abbot of the local monastery comes to hear of her miraculous powers his first thought is to see her as a rival who does not belong in the system. Even when he meets her and is won over by the power of her directness and authenticity within the spiritual field with which he is familiar, his desire is to relocate her in a monastery, to place her within the known. This illustrates the rather ambiguous position of the yogins in Tibetan society On the one hand they represent one of the highest ideals of Buddhist culture, namely the total sacrifice of all worldly concerns and comfort in order to attain the highest state of enlightenment. In this way they are the direct successors to Prince Siddhartha who became a wandering yogi as a means to attain liberation. As such they represent the very heart of 'professional' Buddhist practice. On the other hand, they are outsiders who live on the edge of the integrated economy of village and monastery in which food is exchanged for blessing and protection. The fact that Machig was the one who could bring the cows to lactation made her

Practising Chod

317

a real threat to the harmonious balance of the local secularsacred exchange system. The biography of Milarepa contains several similar stories and in Ladakh the conflict appears still to be in play, (see below). The final section of Machig's biography illustrates another important attitude in the traditional Tibetan Buddhist view. Machig's death appeared differently to disciples of different levels of development. It is not that some of them saw what 'really' happened and others did not, but rather that our experience reflects our awareness - subject and object arise together, they are inextricable. Truth, value or meaning lies not in what one perceives or in the quality of the object. Rather it lies in the degree to which one can relax control, trusting to a process of unfolding no matter what occurs. The yogin seeks to let himself be aware in such a way that simple presence is continuous and unbroken. Such presence is not enriched by wonderful 'spiritual' experiences nor is it defiled by mundane or 'difficult' ones. Indeed, the desire of students to have 'good' meditation experiences often gets in the way of allowing bare awareness of presence. Turning the body into food - The Secret Treasure of the Dakini One of the Chod texts that I used in my practice in Ladakh was written by Nuden Dorje Dropen Lingpa Drolo Tsai in the latter part of the nineteenth century in East Tibet. It is entitled "The Brief Practice for Turning the Body into Food taken from the Secret Treasure of the Dakini. "As the colophon at the end of the book tells us, he wrote it at the request of one of his disciples while he was staying at Tsone which was the retreat centre linked to his own monastery of Khardong.

318

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

Only that part of the text which is specifically the Chod practice is considered here.The complete text also includes all the elements present in a tantric preliminary practice. In the cemetery, Chod is performed six times a day; twice in the morning, once at noon and three times in the evening and night. I used this Chod twice a day, Jigmed Lingpa's Khandro Gadjang twice and Gonpo Wangyal's Tharpa Go Je twice. The first part of the text is a reminder of how rare is the opportunity to practise the Dharma. This is followed by taking refuge in the usukl Tantric fashion with a particular focus on Machig Labdron, and a request for blessing. After this an offering is made of all that is deemed precious in order to lessen attachments and increase merit. The main practice follows in which the yogin visualises his awareness leaving his body through the top of the skull and transforming into a wrathful goddess who then chops up the body and piles it into the top of the skull. This then becomes a great offering bowl filling the universe. All the beings of samsara and nirvana, ranked according to their spiritual realisation, are invited to feast on the mangled remains of the body which transform into whatever the guests desire. "Hri. This arrangement of the outer, inner and secret mandalas is offered to the unfailing Three Jewels. Using my intellect to remove my belief in a truly existing self, may my mind arise free from desire. May I quickly realise my mind to be unborn." "Phat! My awareness leaves my body via the central channel. It becomes the fierce dakini who then cuts off my corpse's cranium with her curved knife. Set up on a tripod

Practising Chod

319

of skulls, it pervades the entire Universe and contains the undefiled desirable qualities of the various constituents of the body." "Phat! I give this to all those to whom I have owed services in my lives throughout beginningless time, and who have now become the sickness-causing demons and obstructors. All debts and help unrepaid are thus paid off. I offer this to the guests who arrive suddenly for the remainders, those of the intermediate place, the weak and those of little power." "Phat! With this great wealth displaying whatever splendid qualities the guests desire - all beings must gain Buddhahood. With all the hosts of thoughts of samsara and nirvana being liberated in their own place, the original nature must be fully realised in the experience of direct understanding." "Phat! Phat! Phat!" When the guests have finished, the three loud cries of PHAT are made cutting through all thoughts grasping at embodied identity. The yogin then abides in the resultant open awareness for as long as possible sounding off further PHATs to cut through the seductive web of reification. Brief practices to accumulate merit and purify error follow and then a long meditation on one's guru in the form of Machig Labdron. This involves an elaborate visualisation of the deities of her mandala and the recitation of the lineage prayer linking the original inspiration of the Buddha down through all the teachers to one's own lama. After praying as follows the practitioner finally receives the initiation of the guru's enlightened being and then merges in emptiness.

320

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

"Please bless us so that our difficulties can be used as the path. "Please bless us with the power of experiencing the equal taste of the dual ideas of happiness and sadness and so forth "Please bless us that unhelpful bad conditions may become our helpers. "Please bless us with the power to benefit the local gods and demons, and all beipgs. "Please bless us with the completion of ego-cutting by severing the root of confusing dualistic thoughts "Please bless us that in this very life we may gain the supreme real attainment of radiant clarity." The body, focus of our attachment, sensual pleasure and fear of death, is transformed into food to benefit others. Attachment and self-centredness are replaced by a profound sacrifice, ultimate altruism. This gift of oneself for the benefit of others also, perhaps paradoxically, frees the practitioner from the illusion of false identification. The meditation provides a practical experience of the mystical commonplace that one finds oneself by losing oneself. The practice is a ritual enactm ent which uses identification with the symbolic to shift experience in the perceptual field. Faith is a very powerful and important driving force here for it both opens the practitioner's heart, making him softer, more fluid and able to let go and change, and mobilises the will through a longing aspiration which permits the reframing of ordinary obstacles into ornaments on the spiritual path. The way of engagement, of participation, that is recom mended is one of openness and generosity. In particular we

Practising Chod

321

are enjoined to think first of those we might wish to deny and exclude, our demons, those who make trouble for us. By this gesture, demons and enemies are included rather than excluded, the 'shadow' is owned and given a place in the developing field of wisdom and compassion. Refuge is open to all and the price of entry is not adherence to a dogma but rather an attitude of openness to change grounded in a phenomenological acknowledgement of ones present situation; I am in pain I am lost I need help. And help is there for the asking, gurus, Buddhas, deities are forces in play, not separate others'. The practice offers a powerful means of shifting habitual patterns of identification and reflex response.The cry "Phat cuts through the chain of thought construction that holds the ordinary world in place. There is a gap, a moment of possibility - like using the clutch to disengage gear before changing it. Awareness is relocated around the image of the fierce dakini who then destroys the line of retreat by cutting up the body one has just left, and transforming it into an offering suitable for the gurus and higher deities. The lines have been sung to the accompaniment of the large drum (damaru) and handbell. With Phat the meditator cuts off thought, letting go of reliance on good images and fear of bad images. This is the heart of the meditation, the gap in the practice which opens up and widens the gap between thoughts; cutting off thought, cutting out distraction, cutting through to the experience of integrated presence. By cutting out frightening images as they arise the meditator uses the power of the practice to expose the essential emptiness of the danger. When this experience is deeply felt it gives rise to the realisation that there is no danger.The yogin becomes fearless through an ability to see the essential emptiness in the moment of experiential arising.

322

The Yogins o f Ladakh

During the course of the practice the meditator takes on a series of identifications, becoming a wrathful goddess, a calm purifying god, the fearless yogi. In longer texts there may be over a hundred shifts of personal identification. In this manner the self-referencing function of the practitioner is put into question, for the usual identification with the subjective sense of self, the felt sense of 'I', is clearly undermined by the experience of being 'another*. The deity is not a play acting role or alternative self. The deity is the presence of the radiance of the symbolic which permeates the manifestation that, in our dullness, we take to be the real world of ordinary reality, things as they are. To identify with the deity is to enter another mode of the same dance. It is not to become somebody else but to realise that one never becomes anybody per se. Being is always becoming, always in play, in display, in the presence of the dance. And the identification with the deity permits a moment of recognition; there is nowhere to leave and nowhere to arrive. Nothing, nothing doing, nothing doing everything. Nothing exists, and it's fine. Everything that appears, good or bad, pleasant or un pleasant, is located within the presence of the Buddha.44 Then with nothing to defend and nothing to gain the yogin is free to experience things as they are, in the simplicity of their presentation. Machig Labdron, once human now divine, or always divine and sometimes human, is an ideal representation for this process. The practice ends with an intensification of devotion, calling on the guru never to forget us. Out in the cemetery in the dark night and the howling wind, who will help us? In tragedy and terror, who can help us? Those who distract us with kind words and helpful concepts may be doing their best - and it may appear to help - but what such well meant

Practising Chod

323

help sets in play is only another fantasy of reliance. The guru, by contrast, offers only the reliance of non-reliance, of a certainty that opens up the splendours of the sky, the profound safety net of emptiness that catches us as we fall towards the living death of reification. "In accordance with what I have prayed for, may the natural condition be realised just as it is with the symbol of rainbow light manifest, aware, clear and empty. May we all realise this pure spontaneous original display." Once the transmission of this awareness has been received through the four initiations, the form of the guru dissolves into light and flows into us so that we also dissolve in light that gently fades like a rainbow, leaving us safe in the open expanse of presence. Within this our lives continue, getting up, making a cup of tea, nothing special. Practising Chod in Ladakh Before I travelled to Ladakh to commence the Chod practice I had spent many months in preparation. I had to learn the words of three different Chod texts and learn the various tunes they were sung to. I had to arrange for a tent to be made, a square tent with a central pole and four ropes. This tent represents a mandala and becomes one during the ritual dance during which it is set up. I was able to practice Chod late at night in Bengal by walking five miles to a local Hindu shrine where there was a well-established site for burning corpses. Although Chod is often practised without initiation, Chimed Rigdzin Lama had given me the initiation for Gonpo Wangyal's text, Tharpai-Go-Je. With the initiation came the commitment to practise in one hundred and eight

324

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

cemeteries and I was then faced with finding an area in India where I could do this. I felt it would have to be a Buddhist area so that local people might understand my intention, and it had to be an area where the cemeteries were in use and not more than a few hours walk apart as the site had to be changed each day. I chose Ladakh because many people there speak Tibetan and I would need to be able to communicate in order to buy food. It was a relief finally to take the train to Jammu and then the bus to Srinagar. After the heat in the plains the mountain air was refreshing and inspiring. On the bus I had met a couple of English travellers and we decided to share a small houseboat for the night before taking a bus for the two day journey up to Leh. In the evening I changed from my shirt and lunghi into Tibetan Buddhist robes that I would wear for the duration. I felt rather uncomfortable with the strange looks that my new companions were giving me. I had become used to living in a small town in Bengal where religion was an integrated part of daily life. And I had become so accustomed to wearing robes that I gave them hardly a thought. But now I was confronted with the scepticism of my own culture. What was I up to? I settled down in a corner and began to chant the Chod to the accompaniment of dharma drum, bell and thigh bone hom. Afterwards, I sat for a long time and gradually drifted into sleep, resting my back against the side of the small boat. Suddenly the boat was shaking, my companions were yelling and I was aware of my heart pounding. I had been having a dream in which I was captured by vicious dark bandits, when I had shouted "Phat" with force, hurtling myself across the cabin and waking up the travellers. Whether this was auspicious or inauspicious I didn't know. Something powerful was in play and I felt as if I was on the

Practising Chod

325

edge of new dimensions of experience. After some final teachings and blessings from Chimed Rigdzin who was in Ladakh for a month, I fixed a date to start and obtained a letter of introduction from the Chief of Police who thought no-one would understand what I was up to. I took the bus to the village of Shey near the banks of the Indus and then walked out into the sand dunes where I could see the mud-oven structures in which the bodies were burned. I began my prayers and then started the dance steps that drive the local demons and spirits towards the burning ground. A dozen local children gathered round to watch as I put up my tent while performing the ritual dance. Part of it involves driving stakes into the ground with the accompanying visualisation that they are being driven into the demons of the four directions. Trying to do this in soft sand with a late afternoon breeze blowing was not at all easy. I felt self-conscious and confused, forgetting my lines, tripping over my long shawl and being very distracted by the newness and'uncertainty of my undertaking. Eventually the tent was up and I was inside, finishing the practice. A final Chod around midnight, and then the first for the new day at dawn. It was hard to adjust to the timing because I was allowed no light at night, and sitting in the dark listening to the wind had a very soporific effect. The wind was to be my companion for the next three months, testing me with howling gusts in the middle of the night. My great fear was that the tent would rip for it was made of very cheap cotton, the kind used in India to wrap up parcels for the post. I often had to stand in the tent pushing the pole with my full weight and force as it threatened to keel over in the face of the gale. During the day in the. first month or so it was very hot, and sitting inside the tent was exhausting and disorientating. Thoughts

326

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

and feelings whirled round and round; memories of childhood, recent encounters with the villagers, longings and fears, so many ways to be distracted. Gradually the rhythm of the practice took over. Wake, Chod, prayers, tea, Chod, strike camp, Chod, dance to the next crematorium, Chod, eat, Chod, prayers, Chod, sleep. Owing to the kindness of my teacher I had very little money with me for he had borrowed most of what I had in Leh in order to buy some offering bowls. There were occasional shops to buy butter, sugar, paraffin for my stove and mostly I lived on fsampa (roasted barley flour) and black tea. I bought the tsampa from villagers but it was often difficult to find anyone willing to sell anything to me. The villagers who helped me most and seemed most respectful of my purpose were Muslim. Apart from a few monks and yogis, most of the Buddhist population I met had no knowledge of the practice I was doing. Again and again I was asked "Why do you sit in the burning place? You wear robes. You should go to the monastery, there is food there!" In this barren landscape where harvests are uncertain, food is a central obsession. The hunger I experienced most of the time helped to make me more aware of my sense of my body, of my embodied existence. The expectations of others and my own expectations and desires formed a backdrop to every activity. It was difficult just to be present in the vast landscape, to lie on the ground and watch the lammergeyers riding the thermals. A thought would arise and then a stream of associations and, before I knew it, I would be off somewhere in my head. Suddenly I would recollect myself and break the stream of elaboration with a " P h a t!" My worst addiction was to writing down ideas. I would connect some experience I had with a concept in Buddhist

Practising Chod

327

philosophy and start writing. I ran out of paper and used incense packets, paper bags, anything to fix the moment. One afternoon I was sitting writing in my tent doorway near Stagna Gonpa when a man walked up and said in English: "This is not the way to realisation. These words will only fool you." That was Tshering Dorje of the royal house of Stok whom I was to meet again ten years later on my journey with John. We talked for a half an hour, sometimes in English, sometimes in Tibetan and something in his presence shifted my energy so that I gave up writing. By August I had spent ninety days in crematoria and was nearing the end of the practice. I was camping on the edge of Mattro village and was quite unwell. I had a massive infection in my upper gums and the poison had spread up through my face so that my left eye was closed and the right eye nearly so. I tried to do the Chod but the pain in my body kept bringing me back to a very dualistic perception of just wanting to be free of this hellish torture. I spent the night banging my head on the ground trying to distract myself. In the morning I went up to the monastery. Sakya Trizin, the head of the Sakyapa Sect, was giving some teachings and when I asked him for a blessing to clear the obstacle of my infection, he gave me some antibiotics! Two capsules later the inflammation had vanished and I was able to return to my practice. Three days later it was the twenty-fifth day of the lunar month, the day that is associated with meditation on the dakini. This is considered to be one of the most powerful days for practising Chod and Chimed Rigdzin had told me that he would be doing a special meditation that day to help me in my practice. I had reached the last crematorium of the village which was on the edge of the stony wasteland

328

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

leading into the mountains and the path to the next village of Stok. I was feeling in a good mood because I had managed to buy a kilo of potatoes and was boiling them up. This was going to be a feast. Hot potatoes! What a relief from the tsampa and black tea that I had been living on. It was about six o'clock, the sun had almost set and I was just finishing a Chod in my tent, with the potatoes boiling merrily in the background. I could hear the sound of men's voices getting louder and then there was a tugging at the door and someone fell through the doorway and crashed into me. I tried to continue my practice but he began shouting so I stopped and tried to make out what he was saying. He was very drunk and was waving a sickle in my face. He was joined by a friend and thus encouraged, he interrogated me about my purpose. Why was I staying in the place where his mother had been cremated? He did not want me disturbing her spirit. I tried to explain that his mother would have passed into her next life and was not hanging around there, but he was adamant that I was disturbing her and was becoming angrier by the minute. He pulled me by the arm and tried to drag me out of the tent. Through the doorway I could see two more of his associates shaking their sickles. They were all very drunk having just finished a long hard day harvesting sustained by ample supplies of barley wine. I told them to go away and let me finish my practice and said that they should go to the monastery and ask their own local monks if what I was doing was harmful or not. This got through to them but with a consequence other than the one I had intended. They pulled out the pegs supporting the tent ropes and ran round the tent tying me up in it tighter and tighter. I felt the sharp tips of the sickles cutting into me as they stabbed and shouted. Feeling in some real danger I shouted'That!" loudly three times and

Practising Chod

329

then sang a verse calling on the guru's protection. They stopped their beating and I was able to extricate myself from the collapsed tent, with my text and vulnerable drum held in my arms. They bundled the tent together and threw everything in a pile and marched me up the hill to the monastery. I struggled to keep my mind in the practice but found my thoughts returning to my potatoes now trampled in the mud. Once we reached the monastery the Abbot was called out to pass judgment. Since the farmers were sponsors of his establishment, he had a delicate task. With various jests and stories he reassured them that I was not a danger to their deceased relatives and, in any case, was leaving the next day. I spent the night in the monks' cemetery on the hill and after stitching up my tent in the morning, set off for Stok. I visited 120 cemeteries then spent twenty one days at one burning place to round off the practice. The nights were very cold and I had to keep my stove inside my shirt at night otherwise the diesel fuel I was using froze. All the streams were frozen to a depth of two or three inches and winter was approaching. I checked out when the last bus was leaving and then reluctantly left the hillside and started the long walk back to Leh. My relation to the world seemed to have been altered and I felt very free and easy walking through the crowded streets. Writing about ^his kind of experience makes me aware of how much I wish to keep secret. The visions and understandings that occur are private and of no real value if they become tokens of social exchange. But one thing that struck me very powerfully was that my practice was more at risk from other people than from "demons". The demonic takes strange forms but when we meet someone

330

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

in the street we locate them in our known world by interpreting their behaviour according to our own value system. They may be Buddhas or they may be demons; if our own frame of reference is too restricted we would never know. By acting out my aspiration, I encountered the dead weight of ignorance in myself and in others. Cutting a way through cultural limitation, cutting off the demands of others, cutting into the innate clarity of presence - this is the task of Chod. And it is a task that calls us, the soft reverberating drum of Machig Labdron, echoing down through every momerit of experience, transforming the corpse of reification into the living dancing beauty of the ceaseless play of becoming.

REFERENCES 1 From The Secret Treasure of the Dakini. See below. 2Note this chapter is written by James Low. ^The design of the practice has certain similarities to shamanic journeys. ^Sometimes this is held to mean Shiva's wife but here the reference is to Pundarika, the wife of Vajrasattva. ^The Pleiades, sKar.Ma. sMin.drug. 6Although her parents said this, they would not allow her to leave. 7 A precious human existence is one which has the optimum personal and environmental qualities to support dharma practice. 8 Pha.Yul, native place of ones family or ancestors. ^It is without substantial essence. 10 At the time of death. 1lit was the custom in her area for the chief to wear a fine gown when he led his men into battle. 1^ Aeons, great expances of time. l^This would harm the reputation of her family.

Practising Chod

3 31

14About half an ounce. 15 That is to say not very great. 16 Generally in Tibet the north side of a hill or valley has much grass and the south side has deep forests. Since the Chinese occupation the latter is much less true. 1^ Arising from the precious human existence. See note 4. l^Zho, that is about one sixth of an ounce. 19 That is whether they show an auspicious karmic connection between guru and disciple and thereby indicate the disciple's future development.
20 The realms of humans, asuras and gods.

21 The worlds of desire, form and the formless. 22Lamp of Faith. 2^These texts are meditation instructions dealing with calming the mind and developing understanding of the way thoughts arise. 24The followers of this sect were the precursors of the Gelugpa and were known for their monastic disciplione and rigorous practice. 25'Bri. gYag. 26chos. Nyid. Mi. 'Gyur. Ba'i. Ting. Nge. Dzin . 25 Blessing or attainment. 26 That is, you do not ask for an important one. 26 e. it is responsible for the curd festival being possible. 28 Hope for praise and fear of blame; hope for gain and fear of loss; hope for fame and fear of notoriety; hope for happiness and fear of sorrow. 29 rKhyen. 50 A wisdom goddess who has the same nature as the Buddha. 51 That is one who has been long ordained and is of high status. 52 Nuns are supposed to keep themselves clean. 55 No killing, lying, stealing or sexual immorality. 54 She is saying they all have cloth and things she cannot have and so they are better off than her and should be happy. So, really, she is mocking them. 55 That is, there was no longer any reason to employ it.

33 2

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

36 All people there are constantly disturbed by their samsaric tendencies. 37This awareness is always new and fresh like a small boy free of strong habits. 3 %Her desire was finished and so she could live easily on very little. 39 i.e. gChod. 40 Sunyata, emptiness. 41 ie the place of Machig Labdron. 42 About one inch in height. 43 To the lineage. 44 Technically this means within the dharmakaya - the Buddha nature of the Universe.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

PRIVACY AND PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE OF THE DHARMAi


Before you have realised primordial truth do not boast of your sublime philosophy. Before you can explain the profound teaching do not be beguiled by partial knowledge. Before you can destroy your inner cravings do not treat charity as your right. Before you have gained supreme enlightenment do not assume you are a venerable lama. 2

A sealed relationship Our discussion with Gegen Khyentse at Manali had given us much food for thought. The reluctance of members of the Drugpa Kargyu order to discuss matters of meditation with anyone who had not trained in exactly their system had been a barrier to communication throughout our journey. We had overcome it only by revealing to the yogins our own meditative practices and sharing our own understanding and puzzlement. We had not pressed the yogins to describe to us in detail those specific images, mantras or physical exercises that were the hallmarks of their own spiritual methodology. They usually came to accept that each of us had his own practice and this could serve as an adequate basis for mutual understanding. Nonetheless, some of the secrecy seemed pedantic and unhelpful. For example, although one reluctant individual's story of his life with Tipun might have been of no particular benefit to those committed to a path of practice, it would have provided historical depth and social insight for those approaching the path with a wish to understand and perhaps to become practitioners in due course themselves.

334

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

Before deciding what to do about the document entrusted to me for translation by Khamtag Rimpoche I felt it important to come to a better understanding of the secrecy of the yogins.3 Privacy necessarily permeates the Dharma. The Buddha came to a level of understanding that was in its very nature private, unigue, at first seemingly incommunicable. Yet, such was its value, that the Buddha resolved to attempt to teach it and evolved a system for doing so. From the beginning, however, the understanding of the dharma was not a matter of mere publication. Anyone who wished to understand had to bring to his enquiry a direct insight into the meaning of suffering. In talk with others the sharing of personal knowledge is always subject to risks of misunderstanding owing to the contrary biases of individual minds. Anything personal begins in privacy. Something experienced as of value may not be experienced as such by another and in discourse this is liable to devaluation, especially where the other's influence is powerful. This is the common lot of children. Deep thoughts, feelings of love or affection, cannot be shared with just anyone. A testing of the mutuality of mind is required. This is true of even the more explicit ideas of the dharma. Degrees of caution in the sharing of personal experience on the dharma path vary. In Zen, for example, very little of the training is private; however the content of the interview with the Master is considered highly confidential. In Tantra secrecy becomes pronounced, traditionally associated with high levels of service to the Guru and indeed payment in gold for teachings. The special nature of Tantra depends on psychophysical teachings that have great potential for altering states of consciousness, attitudes of mind and personal capacity for

Privacy and public knowledge

335

insight into the meaning of the dharma. Such methods are powerful and if misapplied can lead to considerable harm to the practitioner. Both teacher and pupil are responsible for an outcome which even at best is commonly problematical. The attempt to become a 'Buddha in one lifetime through the transformation of everyday experience rather than through asceticism is fraught with dangers arising from self indulgence, false evaluations of progress, pride in apparent achievements and misuse of psychological power. To safeguard the tantric practitioner, a carefully graded system of initiations is provided as a path along which he moves carefully as if in a vehicle. Gradually the way winds into deeper country as the teacher reveals the depth in the teachings. He does not attempt explanations, overviews or summaries for these merely excite the mind, set up expectations and move awareness away from the actuality of the moment to a hypothesized future. The teachers instructions take the form of 'do more, 'do less', 'do this', 'do that', without necessarily responding to questions. Explanations do not always help. Eventually insights arise and questions disappear. There has to be trust without understanding, but as understanding grows, so trust develops, further deepening the relationship between pupil and guru. Only when the goal is attained is the pupil free to leave the path and walk in the jungle.4 James once drew a vivid com parison between relationships in Tantra and those in sex. A group of men may gather in a bar and have a highly salacious discussion about women with jokes not to be repeated in mixed company and tales of prowess of a dubious and exaggerated nature, which in a heightened atmosphere of laughter and teasing can be a source of fellow feeling, cementing the bonds of male companionship in an unconscious homosexuality. Should

336

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

one of these men now fall in love with a woman, he may still enjoy the company of his male friends but the actual experience of love and the sexuality he enjoys with her will form no part of the conversation. This is private, maybe secret. To share it with outsiders would break the bonds of a relationship sealed by the trust of a mutual intimacy. This comparison with sexuality goes deeper. Much of the imagery of the inner Tantras involves the visualisation of sexual contact with a partner. The teachings are deliberately vague about the manner in which such visualisation occurs. The texts are merely the templates upon which the meditative experience develops. For some, the visualisation may be little more than masturbatory imagery; for others, the arousal is mental rather than physical but remains essentially that of contact with a sex object; for yet others, there may be an experience of loving intimacy and bliss combined with varying degrees of arousal. At the deepest level, the bliss of intimacy is a pure experience of emptiness generated by the visualisation but with a feeling of mind merging with mind rather than body with body. Here we have a lived metaphor of the union of lovers in bliss for whom the body is a forgotten vehicle. They merge as one and disappear. The practice, always symbolic, has moved from a personal into a 'cosmic' space. To speak of the details of such an inner world is to open oneself to the judgement of another which may lead to self doubt and alienation from the intrinsic value of one's own experience. The inner world is best kept sealed, private to oneself, for the nature of our identities is such that we are all subject to invasion by the opinions of others. When a sharing of inner worlds is desirable the choice of confidant becomes very important. Probably only those on a similar path and who wrestle with similar worlds can be partners here. People

Privacy and public knowledge

337

who share the same Tantric initiations become 'vajra brothers and sisters' in the lineage of a particular teacher whose authenticity has been affirmed through a transmission allowing him to teach. The guru will be interested not in the detail but in the outcome. The psychological process here is profound. In the evocation of the images in the text additional personal associations may arise, archetypes from the unconscious some of which are negative and destructive and therefore need to be managed. Some sadhanas deliberately invoke powerful images derived from the shadow side of personality for creative use in meditation. There is a parallel here with psychotherapy: in both cases there is a working through to a clarity in which the details of the moves become unimportant. To the uninitiated such details, if provided in casual conversation, could be a source of misleading fantasy, speculation and potentially dangerous experimentation. Unguided practice can, for example, lead people to believe they have achieved certain powers and hence to exaggerate their self importance. If kept private this is merely a sad illusion, but, if it is made public in a bid to gain followers and external support, great harm can be done. In general, anyone who claims any type of superiority as a result of training in the dharma needs to be regarded with a healthy scepticism even when that individual may appear superficially highly qualified. This is especially true in the West where unregulated teaching is common and carried out with little peer supervision far from the original sources of authority. Traditionally, lamas have always believed that tantric training should be shared only by those who are brothers and sisters in the tradition. The lama himself will not be free from the effects of past karma, for these continue to resonate in the personality long

338

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

after an initial insight into enlightenment has been attained. Work to resolve these vexations remains the personal responsibility of all teachers. It is within this understanding that he or she will have received an empowerment to transmit to others a specific understanding of dharma through deep practice with a particular method. A truly great teacher goes beyond methods and can create teaching situations uniquely fitted to particular pupils. Teachers and pupils evaluate one another to find a sort of congruence through which transmission can occur. Pupils are told not to judge their gurus for their faults. These are simply signs of karma and do not detract from the insight into the dharma which the teacher is empowered to transmit. In Guru Yoga the focus of practice is the ideal figure of the teacher, but, in the Sutra view, the important thing for the disciple is not to raise the guru to an impossible plane of faultlessness. Genuine gurus are human and will show a natural humility before their defects. If this is not the case, there is cause for suspicion. Yet dharma gossip, through which the merits of one teacher versus another are comparatively assessed, is a common fault especially in the Western marketplace where the illusions of spiritual consumerism run strongly. Such talk has always been considered to be the breaking of a precept. The lama-pupil relationship needs to be based in a common respect and compassion. True transmission involves integrating the experience of perfection. The quality of the relationship is a private matter. The outcome of our discussion seemed to clarify for us the distinction between the realms of the public and private implied in the teaching of tantra. The teachings themselves are vulnerable if discussed with those whose inner resources or education are insufficient to allow a basic understanding.

Privacy and public knowledge

339

Lama and pupil both become vulnerable if the detailed nature of their relationship is opened to gossip. This is a sealed relationship of trust not dissimilar to that between a therapist and a client. The practitioner becomes vulnerable if he or she tries to share the experiences of his tantric meditation with those outside the lineage or without training in the approaches of tantra. The psychological principle embedded in the relationship with the meditational 'deity' becomes vulnerable if it's value to one's personal process is unwisely disclosed to those who cannot understand. For all these reasons, the Lamas counsel discretion. Information concerning religious practice is not at all on the same level as public knowledge of current affairs or the business world. There are many levels of insight and communication between these levels is fraught with the potentially damaging results of misunderstanding. The translation of Tipun's notebook In the light of this, we examined carefully how we might make available for others the text that Khamtag Rimpoche had entrusted to me. Once James had translated the text, we discovered that the first part was a synoptic summary of the yogic approach of Padma Karpo, describing the stages of the path and the appropriate meditations at each stage. This knowledge was already available in the West because the text follows very closely that published by Evans Wentz in the 1930s. In that instance Lama Kazi Samdup, who had played a major role in the translation (see Chapter 1), had given a cogent reason for making it. The lama's own gu ru ,5 seeing the growing interest in mental yoga among westerners, had given permission for the translation believing that its wider availability could bring benefit to those of other cultures seeking to tread the path. This had clearly also been the intention of Khamtag Rimpoche when, unsolicited, he had

340

The Yogins of Ladakh

shown the text of Tipuns notebook to Tashi Rabgyas and me in 1981. The text is furthermore not a sadhana. It does not contain specific instructions about how to visualise a particular deity and it is not therefore a private possession of a deity's lineage. The approach is more general and has wide application. The second part of the text contains many valuable aphorisms and insightful commentary on advanced levels of meditative practice through which Tipuns teacher, the great Shakyashri, instructed his followers. These wise sayings are not specifically related to any one tantric practice. None of the vulnerabilities listed above seemed to be threatened in these sayings. James consulted his own teacher, the Venerable Chimed Rigdzin Rimpoche, who saw no harm in its publication in a suitable presentation and helped James with difficult passages of the text. The text discloses the teaching approach of the Drugpa Kargyu yogins but in such a way as to reveal the wisdom of the meditational method without providing the sort of detail best confined to a personal practice. We therefore believe that we can fulfil Khamtag Rimpoches wishes and do so in a spirit of profound gratitude to him.

REFERENCES 1Chapter prepared by JC after extensive discussion together with JL. ^M ilarepa. Edited version from p 589. Rechungpas Journey to Weu. In Chang, G.C.C. 1962. The H undred Thousand Songs o f Milarepa. University Books. New York . ^My own impatience with this matter stemmed from expectations regarding public knowledge in my own culture. In Europe and America the insatiable thirst for inside information on the private lives of public figures generates a gossipy pornography which is the life blood of the lower sections o f the

Privacy and public knowledge

341

media. It's function in mass society is to level anything o f personal significance to the lowest common denom inator o f public taste so that even the most vulgar can feel on a par with the apparently sophisticated. There is an expectation o f sharing in human experience in which m ore subtle awareness becomes devalued or traduced. G ossip allow s us all to feel superior, keeping us safe from the facts o f our own mediocrity. ^This has commonly been misunderstood by W esterners especially those attracted by the so called "spontaneity" of Zen. Beat Zen, in spite of having a certain value, completely misunderstood the dharma on this point. ^sLob.dPon. mTshams.Pa .Nor.bu

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

THE MEDITATION NOTEBOOK OF TIPUN PADMA CHOGYAL


To a fool who squints one lamp is as two. Where seen and seer are not two - ah! - the mind works on the reality of them both.1

An Introduction to Mind and Meditation A Mahamudra Text by Khri. dPott Pad. Ma. Chos. rGyal. 2 The hand written text of Tipun's notebook on Mahamudra meditation was shown to John Crook and Tashi Rabgyas by Khamtag Rimpoche, a former student of Tipun Padma Chogyal in Tibet, at the gompa of Urgyen Dzong, Ladakh in 1980 and a photographic copy made. Khamtag Rimpoche had hand copied it himself from an original probably in the possession of Awo Rimpoche and he asked us to translate it into English for the benefit of all beings (Chapter 3). An initial translation was completed by Tashi Rabgyas in Leh by 1983. After consultation regarding technical terms with Gegen Khyentse in Manali (Chapter 13), the final translation was prepared by James Low in London with assistance from Chimed Rigdzin Rimpoche. The commentary was written by John Crook based upon a tape recorded discussion with James Low3 and subsequent amendments. The original consists of unbroken text. To make it more comprehensible we have divided it into sections and added our own capitalised titles in brackets. The translated text is in

Tipun's Notebook

343

italics and our commentary in standard font. Where a meaning is unclear we have occasionally introduced a qualifying word or phrase in square brackets.

[INTRODUCTION]
Homage to the Precious White Lineage ! Co-emergent Mahamudra introduces the ordinary mind as pure pristine cognition and I have arranged my instructions concerning it in three parts: the Preliminaries, the Main Subjects and the Conclusion. The Preliminaries are o f two kinds; the Ordinary and the Special. The Ordinary Preliminaries have been dealt with in other works. The Special Preliminaries concern the Three Solitudes, the Three Stabilities and the Three Spontaneities. The notebook has no Tibetan title. It begins with homage to the Kargyupa order within which Tipun practised and taught and the early sections of the text follow very closely that of the introduction to Mahamudra prepared by the sixteenth century sage Padma Karpo for a Zangskari King. The association between this text and the history of the yogins in Ladakh is thus strong and Tipun was himself a Ladakhi. 4 Indeed he may plausibly have first encountered this part of the text at Gotsang gompa. Tipun sets out to provide for his disciples an outline of the practice of Mahamudra. This practice originates both within the mind of relative truth - that is to say the everyday discriminatory mind in its dualistic perception of 'reality' and within the mind of ultimate truth, the insight into the

344

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

illusory nature of the mind as inherently existing. Hence it is called co-emergent; the world as subject and object and the insight into its emptiness appear together as an untainted cognition basic to both everyday existence and enlightenment. There are many technical terms like 'co-emergence' in this text. It is pointless to look for a fixed dictionary meaning for such words. The terms stand more as symbols for experiences than as signs and we encourage the reader to accept the rich overlay of meanings which is gradually disclosed. Mahamudra is presented through an introduction, a main text and a conclusion. The introductory practices, known as the Preliminaries, are concerned with a setting aside of ordinary conceptions in order to create a space within which a fresh viewpoint can appear. The Special Preliminaries, a set of nine practices, all refer to ways of cutting oneself off from the uncertainties of life through solitude, stability and spontaneous insight so as to uncover something of enduring value. The Preliminaries establish a basis for practice. The Main Subjects are [also] o f two kinds; the Ordinary and the Special Practice. The Ordinary Practice has two aspects. The first is the development o f tranquillity. This is the basis o f meditation [all the way] from the first taste [o f it] up to the fu ll experience o f ope pointedness. The second aspect is the examination o f the abiding mind [of awareness] and the moving mind [o f thought] until one can meditate in the insightful experience offreedom from relative positions. In developing tranquillity as the basis o f meditation from the first taste to the fu ll experience o f one pointedness the practice may be with or without reliance on supports.

Tipun's Notebook

345

The distinction between the ordinary and the special practices within the main subject refers to the practice of calming the mind (ie Zhi. gNas =sam atha) and insight into its nature (Lhag. mTong =vipasanna ) respectively. These are the two main poles of meditation practice throughout the dharma. It is usually argued that calming is a prerequisite for insight and Mahamudra also takes this view so far as the majority of trainees are concerned. 'One pointedness' means the stabilisation of attention without distraction, which is the main aim of calming the mind. The main thread of the text argues for calming the mind to enable the meditator to disengage from automatic reactions to external sensory experience. By slowing such responses one is able to take up a position from which one can look at the mental continuum unfogged by reaction. A space develops between an event (including a thought) and our response to it and it is this space that is then looked into. This space can also be thought of as the string that holds the separate beads of thought thus creating continuity (See chapter 9, pi 86) As we shall see (below) the examination of the calmed mind, which comprises the second aspect, is an alert watchful focussing on actual experience with an enquiring intention. Throughout the text the mind is asked to take up different positions of focus so that a fresh view can be adopted. The use o f supports may be without breath control or with breath control Practices without breath control involve the use o f common objects such as small stones or wooden objects or reliance upon holy images, books or stupas representing the body speech and mind o f the Tathagata.

346

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

Practices with breath control include vajra recitation and reliance upon the retention o f breath known as the pot style [of breathing]. The supports are methods used to give the trainee who is practising calming the mind something stable to rely upon. This may be achieved by fixing visual attention upon an object such as a stone, a religious object or a written letter of the Tibetan alphabet. Alternatively the meditator may count the breaths, watch the,movement of breathing, observe the breath going in and out of the nostrils or the movement of the diaphragm. The retention of breath involves the use of 'energy' (prana) that can be stored in the body to enhance mental focusing. Tibetans say that the mind rides upon the breath. Breath retention holds the vital power steady and allows a concentration of feeling which focuses the mind. Normally such arousal is easily dissipated through and out of the body in physical or mental activity. Holding it steady through breath control increases the practitioner's capacity for onepointed attention. The Pot Breath involves belly breathing whereby, through lowering of the diaphragm, the breath accumulates and is held in the lower part of the lungs. The method is standard practice in pranayoga but should be attempted only after correct tuition. Unskilled breathing yoga can be dangerous.5 There are three ways o f practising [calming] without the use o f supports. [These are] ceasing to encourage mental arisings, not responding to whatever arises and the essential method o f abiding. The essential method o f abiding has four aspects: i) To abide in the manner in which a Brahmin spins a

Tipun's Notebook

347

thread. iij To abide like a bunch o f straw when the rope is cut. iii) To abide like a child gazing at a temple iv) To abide like an elephant whose flesh is pierced. Setting aside supports, the meditator may practise by deliberately ignoring unbidden thoughts and sensations. Such a practice requires a disciplined watchfulness over the activities of the mind. The 'essential' method is to let the mind abide continuously without distraction by events of any kind. The idea here is that the basis of mind is still. Instead of looking at the movements generated by stimulation, whether arising from thought or from sensations, the meditator maintains a focus on the stillness within which these movements occur. The text supplies a number of similes for the practice of abiding in stillness. The Brahmin spins the thread for his sacred cord very evenly so that it's thickness does not vary. The meditator should thus regard all things that arise with an even attention. The bunch of straw is held together by a rope. When the rope is cut the straw simply flops outwards. The whole mass goes together, some parts are not faster than others. So the meditator should release all thoughts evenly not holding on to some and letting go of others. The child gazes with full attention at the wondrous temple. There is a touch of innocent awe in the manner of his gaze and the object fully occupies him allowing no distraction to impede the vision. The meditator should likewise view the mind as something sacred. With amazement he is absorbed into his contemplation of the mystery. He does not question it but just looks. Another version of this statement is to suggest a child gazing at a

348

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

mural painted on the walls inside a temple. The meaning is the same. The cultivation of amazement in meditation keeps the practice alert. To abide like an elephant whose flesh is pierced means that the meditator should not respond to whatever impacts upon him. His 'flesh' should be so thick that he can sit unmoved in the face of bad and good visions, the appearance of demons and the arousal of the gods. Insight meditation is established through examining the root o f [both] abiding' and moving and then meditating within the experience o f non-elaboration. There are three aspects to this; firstly to examine the basis o f abiding and moving; secondly to recognise an experience o f insight and thirdly to remain meditating in the experience o f non elaboration. To examine the basis o f the mind abiding [in tranquillity] and the mind moving [with thought] it is necesary to look into the following questions: When abiding in tranquillity what is the nature o f such abiding? What is the manner whereby it is maintained ? How does the movement o f thought arise within tranquillity ? Is there an essential difference between abiding in tranquillity and moving in thought ? What is the manner in which thought moves ? What is the manner in which the movement comes to an end ? It then becomes important to examine whether the awareness that does the looking into these matters is separate from the abiding and moving states or whether it is the same.

Tipun's Notebook

349

There are three ways o f investigating the experience o f non-elaboration. This is done through inquiring (i) into the reality o f contrasts between the three times o f past, present and future, (ii) asking whether entities and non-entities can be distinguished and ( iii) asking whether apparent things are the same or different. Lhag. mThong is a method for seeing ever more clearly what is actually present in experience as meditation proceeds. This is done by placing the meditation within a framework of questions. These are entirely logical, yet what is demanded of the meditator is not a rationalisation of whatever it is that he may see. The practitioner steps back, as it were, and asks: "When the mind is quiet, what is this?" He then looks directly into the mind with the 'gaze' turned inwards and endeavours to apperceive directly what indeed it is. The intention is to remain in a bare awareness of the nature of the tranquil mind. The response internally is a sort of "Ah - so this is how it is!", rather than an intellectual description on the one hand or an absorbed trance-like state of peace on the other. In Lhag. mThong there is close observation of the experiencing of tranquillity within the abiding and moving states of mind and this leads into an appreciation of what the nature of insight actually is. It becomes possible to remain insightfully within a state of enquiring observation but with no intellectual or verbal elaboration constructed by thought. In Ch'an such a practice is known as 'raising the doubt' or 'investigation' (tsan). Meditation in the experience of non-elaboration is to sustain such enquiry while allowing things to be just as they are without a secondary world of descriptions or analysis. The use of a question as a probe needs to be properly

35 0

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

understood. In many ways it resembles the use of a koan or hua-tou in Ch'an (Zen) practice. Such a question does not demand an answer framed by thought. The question is simply a demand to look and see. For example, suppose one has a goldfish bowl and there are two fish in it. Somebody says: "What else is in the goldfish bowl?" The correct response is to look and see. There appears to be no more than a pair of fishes. But look again with heightened attention. Are you yet aware of the water in the goldfish bowl? This is like looking at the surface of a pond as a flyfisher does, open to the possibility of something appearing but without the tension of expectation. It is an alert timeless attention like that of a bird-watcher walking through the marshes ready for a bird to appear. Where and when it will fly into view cannot be known, nor what species it may be. "Are there any birds in these marshes?" One creates a space of doubting observation within which phenomenological awareness is increased. A Lhag. mThong practitioner will allow a feeling, which is a movement of the mind, to pass through. Soon it will give way to another feeling or a thought. Letting them just flow as if watching "writing upon water" leaves the mind free to return to tranquillity. This it will do as the arising of energy dies down. In this approach to Lhag. mThong there is only abiding or movement. Further classification, used in some other vipassana systems, is not asked for here. Now we come to the Special Practices which are o f two kinds: i) The experience o f one taste; mind and appearance have become indistinguishable, they have the same 'taste'. ii) The experience o f non-meditation; the natural mode

Tipun's Notebook

351

o f being is the co-emergence o f mind and phenomena. Having seen this, the mind abides in the acceptance o f the realisation [that deliberate meditation as a method on a path is no longer relevant]. We may introduce the experience o f one taste - in which everything has the same taste arising fro m the indistinguishability o f mind and appearance - through three similes: i) Sleep is to dream as mind is to appearance ii) The merging o f ice and water is as the merging o f appearance and emptiness. iii) Seeing the relations between water and wave allows the meditator to accept that everything has one taste. The one taste is the single flavour of emptiness or openness in every experience as opposed to a world of feelings raised by good experiences or lowered by bad ones. Whatever arises has equal value. The mind is like a mirror, reflecting a beautiful woman or an ugly dwarf with the same neutrality. The similes provide guidance. The advanced practitioner continues his meditation into sleep and observes dream as dream. Reality and appearance are of the same basic nature in the mind as sleep and dream. Ice appears to be hard and solid and to possess a certain shape or form but when it changes into water it becomes soft and flowing. In the same way external appearances change and merge with one another; the beautiful morning changes into the overcast afternoon. Things move from form to form and from form to fluidity. So does the functioning of mind. One appearance is no more real than any other. Similarly water and waves are moving into form and

352

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

passing out of form. They have the same taste. One is no more real than the other. When something arises in the mind it appears to be different; something has been bom and is off and running, elaborating on the experience, making it into something. If one accepts that this is just like a wave arising out of the water, then the mind becomes like the ocean into which the wave again collapses. In this way we familiarise ourselves with the one taste, the taste of emptiness. If we practise thus in everyday life, we can release ourselves from thought-out ideal solutions which may be impossible. The practice of one taste presents one with simply that which is happening, liberating us from the hopes and fears of mind created expectations, and ultimately from a conviction in the objectivity of things. Non-meditation is the absence of intention in the action of the meditator. It follows naturally from what we have said of one taste. So long as there is deliberation in meditation, a goal, a drive to get somewhere, so long is duality persisting and one taste undeveloped. With one taste comes eventually a release from meditation itself: non-meditation becomes the practice. The experience of non-meditation is an advanced condition in the sense that a lot of illusion has disappeared. Non-meditation is mentally contentless and as such it can only be known retrospectively when one is no longer experiencing it. In the end, the realisation of one taste is Mahamudra. There are three further aspects [to meditative practice]: i) The introductory experience and the recognition o f Mahamudra. ii) The examination o f obstacles and errors. iii) The distinguishing analysis o f experience, realisation and understanding.

Tipun's Notebook

353

i)The introductory experience and recognition o f Mahamudra has four aspects: -the basis is established and accepted; -the path is practised; -meditation experiences are accurately judged; -signs o f success in the stages and path o f Mahamudra are analysed. These aspects are the four means whereby the results manifest themselves clearly. Further clarification may be found in the text Phvag. Chen. Nges. Don\ ii) Obstacles and errors on the Path o f Mahamudra may be analysed as follows: There are three things that arise as enemies to Mahamudra. Appearances may arise as enemies; thoughts may arise as enemies and emptiness can arise as an enemy. There are three points where one may go astray. Happiness, clarity and the absence o f thoughts may be sources o f errancy in meditation. There are four points o f loss. Emptiness can be lost in nature, in interpretation, in antidotes and on the path. iii) Experiences, realisation and understanding are distinguished and analysed as follows: To appreciate the true nature b f mind through listening and reflecting is called understanding. To stay one pointedly with a general appreciation o f meaning is called experience. Realisation refers to the [first] direct realisation right up to the level o f non-elaboration. All three terms may be called "realisation" according to ordinary linguistic usage and there is no contradiction in

354

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

this. Tipun is speaking here of advanced practice attempted only after the preliminaries are complete. To have experiential knowledge of what is referred to here - one taste, the indistinguishability of mind and appearances, and the emergence of non-meditation - the practitioner will have meditated profoundly and in depth using the methods of both Zhi. gNas and Lhag. mThong. The preparation for these experiences lies in accepting that everything does indeed have 'one taste'. This can happen only when the paranoid intentionality underlying the need to preserve the safety of the ego and one's world has been lessened. If it becomes possible to let go of that, then there is nothing special to protect. Unhappy moments and blissful ones are observed to float through experience without evaluation in relation to an egoic standpoint. Whatever arises is simply that which is arising. When this capacity has been acquired the meditator is able to enter into Non-meditation. During practice the focus of meditation must often be the elimination of obstacles and errors, trying not to get lost. Having tasted the essence of meditation the practitioner now seeks to disperse recurrent illusion. The practice becomes ever more clear and attitudes to the world consequently increasingly pure. The Mahamudra practitioner on this level is no longer looking for something, the mind, an experience, a goal; rather he is insisting on undoing everything. Mahamudra is a sort of experiential deconstruction of an entire lifetimes ka rm a , the uprooting of the deepest predispositions, the samskaras. There are social implications here. If the life of the practitioner is daily suffused by an intentionality fuelled by fear of obliteration, the struggle for survival, subsistence or

Tipun's Notebook

355

status, desires to belong or to be wanted, then his/her ordinary way of operating in the world remains at odds with the Mahamudra perspective. A contemporary lay practitioner has to live in a world where in order to maintain a living he may have to attend office for nine to five, ride the underground, look after baby, attend to a tax return. The lay person has a very real commitment to feed his crying baby, to take the contractual side of his marriage or job as important. These things are his responsibilities. For the Ladakhi villager, irrigation comes before meditation. There will be neither life nor meditation if the crops upon which both village and monastery depend should fail. The yogin, being contractually outside society, has an easier access to the experiential meanings of the terms of our text. The yogin with his begging bowl stakes his life on a mere hope of support. If he does not survive - tough luck. The yogin is already committed to saying that whether his belly is full or empty it's the same; and with such an attitude as a basis he is half the way to Non-meditation when he starts out. Yogins are indeed "consecrated persons" as one of them had told us. If a lay practitioner takes up the discipline of the yogin he will need to take time and space to become familiar with the meditative disciplines. Both lay-person and monk have responsibilities to their institutional roles which the yogin has to set aside if he is to gain insight. The beginning yogic practitioner, lay or monk, needs to assume a roleless role while he is on the early stages of the path. He has to be a free agent in his exploration. The beginner desperately needs to acquire a glimpse of a Non-meditative moment. He needs to "taste the chocolate" as Lama Thubten Yeshe used to say. Without that he simply

356

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

flounders in not knowing what he is doing. Once a direct apprehension has been gained the practitioner can have confidence in the path. Such confidence will lead to climbing the mountain of practice in retreat to gain the basic insights and to confront the obstacles and errors listed in our text. Realisation is all the way from the first moment of insight right up to the level of non-elaboration. As the text remarks, there is no contradiction in this. Appearances can arise as an enemy if the meditator takes them as too real. The same applies to thoughts and to empty experiences. These points are all about the tendency of the mind to reify experiences rather than simply allowing them to arise and pass away. In the text an 'enemy' arises when a mental event takes a 'solid' form which blocks the practice through attachment. When a proposition is taken to refer to something other, out there, a thing of substance or reality in itself, then the mind crystalises around such a point and begins to elaborate propositions around it. This is a barrier to meditation. Moments of emptiness can mislead though provoking interpretation or, if they arise as an antidote for an illusion, provoking the thought that illumination lies elsewhere than within the immediacy of practice. In the practice of Mahamudra these matters have to be gone over again and again as one confronts the ever present tendency of the mind to snap back into an egoic frame. A similar notion is expressed regarding the three points where one can go astray. Happiness, clarity and absence of thoughts are referred to in Tibetan as Nyams. They are the feeling tones it is essential to have in meditation, especially for beginners. However, they lead one astray if they are accounted successes and thereby become a focus of attachment.

Tipuns Notebook

357

The four points of loss refer to moments in meditation where the focus becomes diffuse. Emptiness becomes lost in nature when it becomes an empty emptiness. This is when there is a loss of balance between the mind abiding in openness and the permission for thoughts and feelings to arise. There is here a holding on to one polarity of the fusion between form and emptiness forgetting the co-emergent relation of these two. Emptiness is lost in interpretation when the mind becomes verbose, wallowing in elaborated propositions and in antidotes with negative side effects. Antidotes can thus obscure rather than reveal emptiness. Emptiness can be lost on the path by going through the stages checking them out mechanically rather than flowing in the place where one's subjective feeling actually is. All these points serve as a valuable debugging scheme whenever a meditator gets lost in his practice. They are signposts to what may have gone wrong and an indication of the kind of restorative process the meditator may need to engage. The distinctions between experience, realisation and understanding have the following meanings. Studying, listening to a teacher and reflecting on what has been read and heard gives rise to a dualistic comprehension of the nature of mind. Such insight is predominantly intellectual or aesthetic. Applying such insight within meditation leads to a deepening appreciation of the meaning through a felt presence in experience. When this is kept as a steady state it becomes realisation all the way up to the level of non elaboration. Then there is no movement into any ratiocinative dualistic position involving subject and object at all. The daily life of a lay person is commonly driven by

358

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

repetitive compulsions that may be mild or severe. We keep engaging the cogs of our mind wheels with predispositions either of our own or of others. We create ourselves out of repeating the same limited patterns, whether these be personal or cultural. When we give ourselves the space to step back, we may see that these wheels need not be placed in gear. If we disengage, the cogs eventually fall off. The wheels simply spin, shining balls of reality doing their own thing. Finding the way to a roleless role is here the task. The texts mentioned by Tipun are all well known Buddhist texts. By referring to them Tipun helps to locate his presentation and argument within the development of mainstream Buddhist thought grounded in the work of authors such as Nagarjuna. Seeking validation of one's own views by the judicious use of quotations is as standard a practice in Tibetan literature as it is in other academic discourse. [CONTRIBUTORY CAUSES OF TRANQUILLITY AND INSIGHT. ] The causes that nurture the ordinary conditions o f tranquillity and insight have been considered in the sutra known as dGongs. Pa Nges. 'Grel. "Bhagvan! What is the cause o f tranquillity and insight?" "Maitreya, they arise from causation in pure morality. The cause is the pure view o f listening [to the dharma and reflecting on it ]. " sGam. Po. Pa [Gampopa] also speaks o f the cause in such terms. Tranquillity is explained as arising from the blessing o f the guru, auspicious connection [with Dharma and Sangha], the accumulation o f merit and the purification o f obscurations. The same applies fo r insight.

Tipun's Notebook

359

The text sGom. Rim. Bar. Pa says: "Staying in an agreeable place [is helpful]." The mDo. sDe. rGvan [Sutralankara Sutra] states: "A place where the wise practise is easy o f access. It has a good position, good land, there are good companions and a ready supply o f all that is needful fo r the practice o f yoga. " Furthermore, it is said that having little desire, being contented, giving up inessential activities, pure morality, and the complete letting go o f thought are the five causes o f tranquillity. Serving holy people, seeking out those who are learned and thinking in the correct way are said to be the three causes of insight. The Bvang. Chub. Lam. sGron states: "If the branches o f tranquillity are spoiled then even if one meditates with great diligence fo r a thousand years one will not attain absorbed concentration. " The things that obscure tranquillity and insight are described in the bShes. sPrings: "Distraction and regret; malice; dullness and sleep; desire and longing; and doubt - these five are the thieves who steal the virtuous wealth o f mental stability. Thus has the Buddha said. " Here it is stated that there are five obstacles: distraction and regret; malice; sleep and dullness; longing and desire; and doubt. For example, distraction by developing thoughts about different things and regret at inappropriate actions both obstruct the mind from resting peacefully. Malice prevents the mind being contented. When the mind clouds over it sinks and as this worsens the mind becomes dull and then oppressed by sleepiness. These three [sinking, dullness, sleepiness] prevent the mind from remaining clear.

360

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

Longing and desire arising from attachment to possessions and persons obstruct the mind from staying with its proper work [meditation]. Doubt as to whether this [practice] will or will not lead into absorbed contemplation obstructs the mind from abiding one-pointedly. Tipun is now moving away from the tightly presented statement of the logical structure of Mahamudra practice to a more general discussion of the contexts in which practice can flourish. He expands on his compressed overview, developing the ideas. The text dGongs. 'Grel says: "Bhagvan! Concerning the five obstacles, which o f these are obstacles to tranquillity, which to insight and which to both ? " "Maitreya, distraction and regret are obstacles to tranquillity. Dullness, sleep and doubt are obstacles to insight. Longing desire and malice are obstacles to both o f them. " The Buddha, furthermore, has given many different enumerations o f obstacles such as the five waverings, the five faults and so on, but all obstacles are subsumed within the essential groupings o f the threefold sinking, dullness and distraction and the twofold sinking and distraction. As regards the threefold grouping, the text sGom. Rim. Bar. Pa says: "When the mind does not see its object clearly as in the manner o f a blind man, one entering a dark room or as someone with eyes closed, then what is happening at that time should be known as sinking. " Dullness is spoken o f in the mDzod. 'Grel: "If you ask what dullness is, it is a heaviness o f body and mind that prevents them from doing the work [in meditation]

Tipun's Notebook

361

appropriate to them." Distraction is discussed in the Kun. Las. bTus. Pa: "If you ask what distraction is, it is the agitated mind which under desire goes following after the beautiful and this becomes an obstacle to tranquillity." The method fo r removing these obstacles has been briefly stated by Nagarjuna: "Sinking and heaviness [can be replaced by] generating a positive attitude while distraction and wandering [can be replaced by attention] remaining in its own place. " Furthermore, dispersal is controlled by meditating on impermanence. Regret is controlled by not thinking about the events that evoke it. Mental dullness is controlled by thinking o f pleasant things. Sinking is controlled by generating a positive attitude. Sleep is controlled by developing the perception o f light. Doubt is controlled by making the mind one-pointed. D esireful longing is controlled by thinking o f the faults o f the objects o f desire and by cultivating contentment. Ill will is controlled by developing love and the intention to benefit others. All of these are very important. As it is said: "There is nothing to clarify in this and nothing at all to be added. Look directly at reality fo r when one sees clearly one is completely liberated.
ti

The principle point is to examine the nature o f sinking and dispersal. The deep teaching [on this point] is to remain without artifice in that real nature. Moreover there are four threefold aspects to sinking and dispersal: sinking, dullness and fogginess; dispersal scattering and regret; desire, longing and attachment; below the surface, partial and indefinable. Briefly, all of these are [again] subsumed under sinking and dispersal. Sinking [may also] be classified according to six [other] aspects; place, time, companions, food, way o f

362

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

sitting, and [way of] meditation. Tipun's examination of the obstacles is vital. Sinking, dullness and distraction are the categories under which the main problems in meditation are discussed in the majority of Tibetan texts. Dispersal is the loss of a coherent sense of continuing subjectivity while scattering is a distracted attention caught up in the vagaries of what is arising. 'Below the surface', 'partial' and 'indefinable' define modes of dispersal - ie, you cannot get a handle on it. If one truly understands these then more complex terminology becomes easily approachable. The text here is a good guide for beginning meditators because it deals with the common problems that all will encounter The way of tackling these problems is through the application of an antidote, and these are listed in sequence. One takes an antagonistic volitional position with regard to the obstacle: "I will not do this; I will do that instead." This approach has frequent advocacy in Tibetan texts. It is important to realise, however, that, while this approach is essentially that adopted in Sutra and Tantra, the Mahamudra approach is to go straight for emptiness. Imagine that a robber is breaking into your house. In the first approach you call the police but in Mahamudra you take the view that your house is empty and so there is nothing to worry about. The position of Mahamudra always starts with emptiness; it is not the result of the practice, rather it is the very beginning. In the more elementary training in Sutra, emptiness is what one is endeavouring to reach by doing the practice. Obstacles then have to be cleared out of the way. In Mahamudra one has to wake up to a pre-existent reality which is merely momentarily obscured. There is no need to do anything other than emerge from obscuration. "The deep

Tipun's Notebook

363

teaching is to remain without artifice in that real nature". In considering the recognition o f the nature o f tranquillity and insight, the text dKon. mChog. sPrin says: "Tranquillity is a focused mind. Insight is the clear perception o f reality just as it is. " Tranquillity, generally speaking, is said to occur when the mind remains focused upon its object o f attention, whatever it may be, without being distracted elsewhere. Insight occurs when the mind carefully examines the significance o f the thing that is to be known with precise distinction. The literal definition o f tranquillity and insight is briefly as follows: Tranquillity is when the afflictions and thoughts [of the mind] are pacified [Zhi] and it abides [gNas] one pointedly in the nature o f virtue. Insight [Lhag. mThong] is supreme [Lhag] seeing [mThong] among all kinds o f seeing fo r it is to really see the invisible truth just as it is. With regard to the analysis o f tranquillity and insight, tranquillity is analysed in terms o f its nature as worldly tranquillity and as tranquillity that transcends the world. It is also analysed in terms o f its function as the tranquillity that rests contentedly upon the object that is to be observed. In addition, by a well known method, it can be analysed according to the nine aspects o f mind [see below]. In order to attain tranquillity; the five faults must be abandoned. Using their antidotes, which consist o f eight associations, one removes the defects o f sinking and dispersal. With the six strengths and the four applications one is enabled to attain the nine aspects o f the mind that abides in equilibrium. The eight associations are: longing; effort; faith; attentiveness; recollection; attention; strength o f listening;

364

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

and the strength o f contemplating, recollecting, attending, diligence and o f recognition. The fo ur applications are: to endeavour and to engage; to separate and to engage; to engage without separating; to effortlessly engage. The nine aspects are: to engage the mind; to engage it fully; to engage it with certainty; to engage it closely; to control it; to calm it; to calm it closely; to bring it into one flow; to bring it into equilibrium. So it is described. As the text Kun. bTus [also] says: "To engage the mind, to fully engage it continuously, to engage it in contact, to engage it closely, to control it, to calm it, to calm it closely, to make it one-pointed and to bring it into equilibrium. Tranquillity which is worldly is the normal peace of mind that arises from conventional practices of meditation. The tranquillity that transcends the world is so deep and clear that nothing that arises can endanger it. To engage the mind means to begin the process of focusing it. Instead of being tossed and turned by circumstance one is able to step bapk and observe what is happening; to engage the mind hilly implies that a battle has begun, the mind has really been taken on in struggle. In Tibetan pictures the monk riding the elephant engages it with the ankush, a controlling hook used to govern its behaviour. The other forms of engagement refer to steps in developing meditation all the way to the achievement of one pointedness.

Tipun's Notebook

365

[C L A SSIF IC A T IO N AND TRANQ U ILLITY AND INSIG H T]

FRU IT

OF

Regarding the classification o f insight the text dGongs. 'Grel says: "Bhagvan, what kinds o f insight are there ? " "Maitreya, there are three kinds o f insight: that which arises from signs, that which arises from all one's efforts and that which arises from analysis o f particulars. Signs means paying attention to things as they arise in the mind. Insight arising from efforts is that which arises from applying oneself vigorously and that which comes from analysis arises from seeing the mental contents clearly and classifying them according to some conventional method, such as noting one's predispositions (samskaras ) for example. The fruit o f tranquillity and insight is described in the text dGongs. 'Grel: "If one asks what is the fruit o f these two, their fruit is pure mind, their fruit is pure wisdom. " The Buddha has said that tranquillity leads to pure mind and insight leads to pure wisdom. A pure mind is one that is purified o f afflicting thoughts. Pure wisdom is to be purified o f the traces o f ignorance. Moreover tranquillity averts attachment to worldly pleasures and helps one achieve mental powers and absorption in this life. Then in the next life one will gain the form o f a god in the realm beyond desire. It is also explained that with insight all beings gain happiness in the short term and, then, understanding the nature o f existence, they are completely liberated from the three worlds [o f past, present and future]. The Buddha has said that the ultimate fruit o f tranquillity and insight is to

366

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

gain perfect enlightenment. The saintly sGam. Po. Pa, speaking generally o f tranquillity and insight, said: "Tranquillity and insight are the door to all the Dharmas. " The meaning o f this is discussed [ by him ] under five headings: pure cause, action, obstacle, obscurations and path. i) The cause o f tranquillity is pure morality. The cause o f insight is the wisdom o f listening and reflecting. ii) The action o f tranquillity is to free one from the bondage o f reliance on signified entities. The action o f insight is to free one from the bondage o f taking birth in a lower realm. iii) The obstacle to tranquillity is concern with one's body and wealth. The obstacle to insight is to be dissatisfied by the teachings o f the holy ones. Socialising and failing to be content with little are obstacles to both. iv) Distraction, regret, and doubt obscure tranquillity and insight. Desireful longing and malice obscure them also. v) The pure path o f tranquillity is to overcome dullness and sleep. The pure path o f insight is to overcome distraction and regret. By overcoming the two obscurations with tranquillity and insight one gains the result o f the pure and natural mode. " The text speaks of purification from afflicting thoughts and purification from the traces of ignorance. This distinction refers to the klesas and the vasanas. When the Buddha gained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree he completely cut the roots of all afflicting thought; the five poisons were eliminated from his mind (klesas). From this time until his parinirvana (death) he was working through the clarification of the subtle traces or residues of karma

Tipun's Notebook

367

known as vasanas. These are the residual consequences of having engaged in conflicted activity. The traditional metaphor is to point out that the odour of a musk pod kept in a box remains in the box long after the pod has been removed. The effects of personal karma persist in the personality even after the affliction has been removed. This is a very important and often unrealized distinction. This text of Gampopa is an excellent subject for contemplative meditation on such points. [LAM A S H A K Y A S H R I's O R AL IN S T R U C T IO N S BASED ON THE TEXT PHYAG. CHEN ZIN. B R IS B Y PADMA KARPO. ] I now record my recollections o f my guru's oral instructions [given in his] commentary to the text Phvag. Chen Zin. Bris. In general [the text contains] three sections. Firstly, all phenomena are shown to be as one's own mind. Secondly, the error and defects from not meditating on the nature o f one's mind is explained. Thirdly, the benefits o f meditation are explained. Those who train through practicing breath control make use o f counting the breath, inhaling and exhaling, the vajra recitation o f the three letters and the potlike retention. Those not practising with breath ,control focus at first on the three aspects o f mind; abiding, moving and awareness. Then, in accord with whatever text they are studying, they practise cutting thoughts at the moment o f their arising and so forth. As regards the method o f maintaining meditation, initially one needs to know how to enter meditation. During the middle period one needs to know how to work with

368

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

experiences. Finally one needs to know how to cut off the development o f thought. Those who wish to practise using breath control need to learn the methods from an accomplished teacher in pranayama. The methods listed here include some practices similar to those described in the Six Yogas of Naropa. Elementary exercises include simple observation of the movement of breath in various ways including the counting of the inhalations and exhalations. The more insistent the wandering of the mind in distracting thoughts, the more complex these exercises need to be. One uses a focused discipline to cut out mind wandering and after a time the mind settles. The vajra recitation concerns the repetition of the seed syllables OM, AH, HUM which are often murmured or repeated mentally in time with the movements of breathing. The potlike breath retention is also the first movement of Tumo (gTum. Mo), the first of Naropa's yogas. Practitioners of the Inner Tantras will do these exercises while visualising the system of tubes and chakras that distribute vital energy (prana ) around the body. These powerful methods vary around sets of common themes which are only taught by adepts after the pupil has received appropriate Tantric initiations. Such exercises have powerful effects on the sympathetic-parasympathetic nervous systems and, as we have already emphasised, should not be attempted without trained guidance. The practices without breath control are only briefly mentioned here. In Padma Karpo's text vigorous rejection of arising thought is the basis of preventing the progressive elaboration of ideas which begins once a provocative notion has been entertained. Thought is therefore cut down by

Tipun's Notebook

369

rejection at the moment of its appearance. As a result of this practice the meditator becomes aware of the insistence with which the mind produces thought. Alternatively thought may be diminished by allowing ideas to flow without paying attention to them. Such methods are similar to those advocated in the Dzogchen text Tshig. gSum. gNad. brDeg where thought is cut off by the emission of sudden shouts (with or without the performance of violent exercises) or where thought is allowed to flow "like writing upon water" which spontaneously disappears as soon as it is written. Through such practices the meditator eventually discovers spaces in the activity of mind in which thought is absent. There is merely vivid awareness. By clearly identifying the arising of thoughts as the prime enemy and then being a vigilant watcher of the process one learns how to maintain the openness of emptiness. This focused abiding in tranquillity [which arises as a result o f controlling wandering thoughts] is classified as having three stages. Firstly [the beginner] abides like a stream descending from a steep mountain. Later he abides like a gently flowing river. Finally he abides like a calm ocean. There are [also] many classifications o f insight which may be brought together in a threefold division. There is insight focused on the object, the insight o f the period when experiences arise, and the insight o f realisation. There is also a two-fold distinction between the insight arising on the path and insight that is the result. The insight on the path refers to the clarifying wisdom o f precise conceptualization which examines [whatever occurs] during the period o f tranquillity. The insight o f the result [o f doing this to completion] is the exact

370

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

apprehension of that which transcends the duality o f the seer and the seen. This is how it has been described by the Buddha. To differentiate clearly between tranquillity and insight we may say that tranquillity is to abide purely in one's m ind's true nature, while insight is the addition o f awareness to such abiding. In the Sutras there are many classifications o f insight. The best known o f these distinguishes two modes o f understanding the absence o f inherent self-nature. When one clearly establishes the nature o f one's mind, this is similar to the method employed by the Sutras in establishing the absence o f inherent self-nature in people. When insight establishes clarity regarding thought and experience, this is similar to the method in the Sutras o f establishing the absence o f inherent self-nature in phenomena. These classifications of insight are various ways of looking at the gradual unfolding of realisation. At first there is turbulence; later the mind is calmer and clearer; finally there is a peaceful clarity like that over a vast windless ocean. One may expect to discover such stages through personal application. On the way there is the insight that makes use of conceptualization with the intention of understanding. This gives rise to insight on the intentional path. Once realisation is attained, there is nowhere else to go and no need for intentionality. The distinction between seer and seen is then no longer operative. While going somewhere one may need to use a map, but after arrival it is put away. These distinctions parallel the contrast between the "path of the path" and the "path of the fruit" which John discussed with Staglung Rimpoche (Chapter 3) and also the contrasting levels of attainment in Tantra known as the preparatory and

Tipun's Notebook

371

the completion stages (Chapter 14). Shakyashri compares knowing the nature of the tranquil mind to the philosophical emphasis of the Theravadin Sutras where the absence of inherent self nature is established for the mind (anatta ). This differs from the emphasis in the Mahayana Sutras where clarity regarding thought is equated with attributing emptiness to all phenomena as well (sunyata). This is a standard way of distinguishing between the Hinayana and the Mahayana. In the course of philosophical instruction, most Tibetan monks become familiar with both viewpoints and the distinction between them. The Mahayana view is considered to be the more comprehensive. [I N T R O D U C T I O N MAHAMUDRA]. AND RECOGNITION OF

The third part o f Padma Karpo's text deals with the introduction o f the (specific method] ofMahamudra and its recognition. First o f all, there are three aspects to the recognition o f Mahamudra: i) The meaning o f the name and its enumeration. ii) The nature and classification ofMahamudra. iii) The faults o f not knowing it and the benefits o f knowing it. The term Mahamudra refers to the co-emergence of form and emptiness that is the actual nature of human experience. It is this that is being introduced and recognised rather than simply the ideas of a practical method of philosophy or psychology. The text therefore goes at once into an introduction to the nature of mind.

372

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

The mind is introduced through the threefold aspects o f self, mind and co-emergence; the threefold ground, path and result; the threefold view, meditation and conduct; the three modalities; and the five pristine cognitions. If you wish to go into this more thoroughly the nature o f mind is presented very well by Kun. dGa. 'bsTan. 'Dzin in his Phvag. Chen. Zab. Don. rGva. mTsho'i. Lam. Tsgang. There are four aspects to this: i) staying even; ii) subsequent knowledge; iii) subsequent appearance; iv) subsequent attainment. As to staying even there are six methods o f maintaining the nature [of realisation], three other ways and yet again others. In brief however all o f them are included within two aspects; non-wavering and non-meditation. As to the manner o f developing subsequent knowledge, there are the three aspects o f i) subjugation on contact, ii) following after and iii) the realisation o f the absence o f inherent self nature. These listings are a characteristic way of covering a range of features referring to the theme of the mind in early Buddhist literature and one that has been retained in traditional discourses to this day. Each aspect is, as it were, a different route across the landscape. In order to receive an introduction to the nature of mind, the meditator has to maintain a state of equanimity without registering varying degrees of response to events or stimulations that arise. As equanimity develops, the shifted perspective allows whatever appears to do so as merged in 'emptiness'; that is as a process of interdependent cause and

Tipuns Notebook

373

effect. The practitioner sees that the apparent solidity, entitiveness, separateness and uniqueness of things is actually only one way of looking at a process of unending interactions between causes and effects in time. The objectivity of the world then becomes empty rather than solid. If this insight can be sustained there is a feeling of freedom, lightness and liberation known in the text as subsequent attainment. Various authors have classified the aspects of this realisation in a number of ways but all may be included in the two aspects of non-wavering and non-meditation. Non wavering is to go beyond attachment to pleasing thoughts and feelings and beyond repulsion by unpleasant, depressive or demented thoughts. Non-meditation means freedom from trying to achieve any particular goal or state. One is simply remaining in non-wavering absorption; there is nothing to do. The text next proceeds to give a basic account of the conventional mind dividing it into the six sense-based consciousnesses and additional features. In their active state these produce the whole range of experiences possible for sentient beings. All this has developed through time and the resulting karmic complexes of mind become the obstacles to realisation or causes of deviation from the path to it. The mind is classified as the essence o f mind, mind, and the products o f mind. The consciousnesses o f the five senses together with consciousness o f mentation are called the group o f six consciousnesses. When afflicted mentation (thinking and feeling) and that consciousness which is the basis o f everything are added we have a group o f eight. This group is referred to [collectively] as mind. There are fifty one products o f mind classified as thefive

374

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

mobiles, the five certain objects, the eleven virtues, the six root afflictions, the twenty secondary afflictions and the four or six transformations. As to their development, there are the three aspects o f the development o f afflictions, six consciousnesses and the [polarities] o f happy/sad, good/bad and pure/impure. So fa r as obstacles and deviations are concerned, the outer obstacles include those in authority, relatives, enemies, robbers and so on. Inner obstacles include illness caused by conflict between the four elements, ratiocination and so on. The dangerous obstacles or passages in particular are appearances arising as enemies, thoughts arising as enemies, karma arising as an enemy and compassion arising as an enemy. After this basic summary of mostly Abhidharma concepts, Tipun now considers his teacher's account of the deviations. This is an important and illuminating description. Deviations are like road blocks with signs to turn off and return. The trouble is that they may not be recognised as such, leading one to wander about lost in the countryside The three deviations and the eight [points o f loss] are explained through opening up their meaning. One may deviate [from Mahamudra] towards the three dimensions of samsara [past, present and future] due to bliss, clarity and absence o f thought. The Venerable 'Ba. Ra. Ba said: "The point o f deviation is this: taking all phenomena to be like the sky one adopts a limitless attitude and goes astray with a meditation which is limitless like the sky. Taking consciousness to be limitless, one deviates into limitless consciousness. Taking all phenomena to be absolutely nonexistent, by meditation one deviates into nonexistence. By

Tipun's Notebook

375

taking all phenomena to be neither existent nor nonexistent one deviates through such a meditation into the experience o f neither existing nor nonexisting." If, through intellectual contemplation, one has a conceptual longing and one practises with this to develop a one-pointed meditation on the blissful, happy mind, one deviates into the first absorption. Through longing fo r contemplation and one-pointedly meditating on mind's blissful happiness, one deviates into the second absorption. I f one contemplates without a clear object but with a onepointed focus on recollection, happiness and mind, then one deviates to the third absorption. Should one contemplate with perfect impartiality and perfect recollection, then that one-pointed mind free o f sensations o f pleasure and pain will deviate into the fourth absorption. If, having inhibited the arising o f the objects o f the six senses, one keeps one's mind in a state devoid o f thought, then one is without pure recollection and deviates to the state devoid o f perception. When consciousness is indeterminate, unpredictable and unhappy one may deviate into recollectionless indeterminacy [this state covers all undefined possibilities]. When the mind is dark, heavy, dispersed and devoid o f thought, then one may deviate to the animal realm. The four [main] points o f loss are: loss on the nature o f emptiness, on the path, on the antidote and on integration. Each o f these may also be classified into original loss and immediate loss so that there are eight categories o f loss. Moreover, the error o f thinking that things are what they are not is described thus in the Rin. Chen. sPungs. Pa "To think that views constructed by the intellect are ultimate is to deviate. To think that the experience o f happiness, clarity and the absence o f thought is the natural

376

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

mode o f being [Dharmakaya] is to deviate. To think that the unlocated self-abiding pristine cognition is distraction is to deviate. To think that conduct that artificially destroys the order o f things is the same as destroying illusion is to deviate. To think that desireless conduct that does not evaluate is a cause o f sin and downfall, is to deviate. To think that conduct that expresses compassionate method is inferidr, is to deviate. To think that false and foolish behaviour that lacks real confidence is ultimate, is to deviate. To think that those who help others out o f their own desire are Bodhisattvas, is to deviate. " Classification is unable to encompass the many forms o f deviation but [all o f them] can be summarised as the twofold belief in entities. I f one realises that the mind that believes in entities and the objects that are identified as being real are both without inherent self-nature then one becomes freed from all grasping at entities. Then even the word "deviance" ceases to exist. In considering the ways in which the meditator may deviate from the path of Mahamudra or become lost we must recall that Mahamudra itself is the unbiased co emergence of form and emptiness. Any stress on either of these two is thus likely to provoke a deviation from that state of balance. In particular, fixation on any one idea, interpretation, or object is likely to push one out of the state of unwaveripg non-meditation. To rely on a constructed manner of being will result in deviance, that is errancy from the natural alignment of spontaneity. The text develops insights, originally formulated in the Prajnaparamita literature, which assert that while forms are empty, emptiness is expressed through forms. To attach to emptiness is nihilism; to attach to constructs is etemalism.

Tipun's N otebook

377

Both are deviations. Similarly, to become overfocused in a particular meditative method, or to rely too much on an antidote after it has fulfilled its purpose, is to deviate into states that fall short of the non-meditative basis of Mahamudra. One can get lost in ones practice through excessive attachment to emptiness, to the path or method, to an antidote or to integration around an incompleted or deviant condition. These points of loss then need recognition and correction. Original loss occurs when the meditator attempts to practise without understanding emptiness, path, antidote or integration. Immediate loss is when for one reason or another the meditator is unable to make use of his understanding, has forgotten what emptiness is or, on recognising it, does not see it clearly. Likewise he may attempt to practise off the path or may lose cognition of it. Likewise with antidotes and integration. This whole careful analysis provides the meditator with a textual guide which he can use to spot the points at which he is going astray in his practice. Yet the text is also nurturing because it gives the meditator hope that whatever difficulties he may be encountering can with diligence be overcome. The whole text reveals very clearly the numerous pitfalls in the practice of meditation and provide a strong argument for the need for a spiritual guide when treading the path. [ THE BENEFITS PRACTICE] AND THE CONDUCT OF

To create benefits the practitioner must remember that: i) devotion is the head o f meditation; ii) revulsion is the feet of meditation; Hi) recollection is the main part o f meditation;

378

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

iv) shame and conscience are the armour o f meditation; v) Love and compassion may be entrusted with the message o f meditation. The benefit that arises from realising the unborn is to see the nature o f the mind which is the cause o f going beyond. This is to realise the natural condition which is beyond time and the meaning o f words. [The benefit] is to go beyond to the unimpeded unborn. By merging in this continuously by day and by night the practitioner discovers the essential meaning o f going beyond. [Good] conduct produces diminishing effort. Conduct is classified as threefold in the Father Tantras: elaborated conduct, non-elaborated conduct and extremely non elaborated conduct. The Mother Tantras also have a threefold classification: secret conduct, extreme conduct and totally victorious conduct. There is also a fourfold division in the text cycle Grub. sNving. Gi. sKor: totally good conduct, concealed secret conduct, the extreme conduct o f awareness and totally victorious conduct. There are [also] said to be these four: the conduct o f beginners, the conduct o f those with the power o f pristine cognition, the conduct o f those with greater pristine condition and the conduct o f total liberation. Regarding the practice o f non-elaborated conduct there are five types: i) being like a shy deer; ii) being like a lion; iii) conduct like that o f wind in the atmosphere iv) conduct like that o f the sky; v) conduct like that o f a crazy person. Regarding the levels o f human ability, the most competent will have realisation arise instantly. Those o f

Tipun's Notebook

379

medium capacity will have an unfolding o f realisation. Those o f least capacity will have a [more] gradual unfolding o f realisation. Furthermore fo r each o f these types there is a knowledge, an experience and a realisation. Knowledge arising from deduction appears when the exact meaning o f whatever virtuous exercise is being practised, whether it be high or low, becomes the focus o f meditation. Direct experience is apprehended when the structure o f one's own position [meditative state] is sensed and from which an awareness develops leading into an experience. The meditator realises a mind that is clear and convinced when the unconfused actual condition o f his own state is clearly recognised. Knowledge through recollection arises in the following sequence: i) Recollection with a one-pointed focused mind is called a held recollection. This is called an engrained or constrained recollection. ii) Recollection on levels up to freedom from limitation is effortless or pure recollection. Hi) There is also the recollection o f the recognition o f holding emptiness. Regarding the latter two, there is non-dual or pure recollection and also a recollection beyond thought. There are thus fo u r divisions [which may be distinguished in meditation] The Great Omniscient One [kLong. Chen. Rab. 1 B yams] has described recollection and awareness [in the following way]: "Recollection is the root o f all the paths; devotion is to keep it in front o f one. Recollection is the essence o f the

380

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

ability to abide fo r as long as one wants in meditation. Recollection is unwavering fo r if one does not waver one comes to know movement. This aspect o f knowing is awareness". The meditator needs to have a real sense of the difficulties and dangers inherent in daily mundane consciousness. In revulsion, one turns decisively in the opposite direction. Recollection is staying in the present moment of awareness while shame and conscience protect one from deviating from the practice into an inauthentic self. In meditation devotion is a vital prerequisite. When the unborn is realised, one can see the basis of mind that allows one to transcend the natural condition of samsara. One goes beyond it by not sustaining a projected world of things. The unimpeded unborn means that whatever is cosmically unborn is unceasingly manifesting itself without any form of constraint. Such vision is beyond time and words. If you see samsara as a ghost town and walk through it in the confidence that no one lives there, you are free from fears of being stabbed in the back. Furthermore, with such a view point, effort on the path diminishes because it is no longer so necessary. Elaborated conduct involves thought which is dualistic; non-elaborated is simple awareness; and extremely non elaborated means complete spontaneity. The conduct of a beginner requires elaboration because signposts to practice are needed. As one moves down the path and as the pristine cognition is realised, there is increasingly free conduct. The other classifications have similar meanings and the references to the Father and Mother Tantras are a technical aside for cognoscenti which we will not go into further here. The non-elaborated conduct varies according to a

Tipun's Notebook

381

number of metaphors. Shy deer keep themselves out of the way and conserve energy without confusion. Lions roar and others who might create difficulties back off; they thereby sustain power. Wind is absorbed in the atmosphere and is not available for reification. The sky likewise cannot be pinned down in any way, and the crazy person is left alone. In all these ways the practitioner avoids being pulled into the play of family or social karma. The text emphasises that those engaged in practice as on a path do need some conceptual understanding of what they are doing. Knowledge and deduction are not then inappropriate, for reflection on experience is important at this stage. With full attainment no deductions from experience are needed. {THE NATURE OF THE FOUR YOGASJ rJe. sGom. Chung [in describing the fo u r yogas in Mahamudra] said: "One pointedness is to abide in clarity. Freedom from limitation is cutting off doubt. The experience o f one taste is the absence o f adopting and abandoning [concepts]. Non meditation is pure experience." One pointedness: When the mind clearly, purely and simply remains in the awareness o f the merging o f abiding and moving, the skylike emptiness is free o f centre and circumference. Freedom from limitation: The absence o f conceptual signification with regards to beginning and ending, subject and object, inner and outer is freedom from [conceptual] limitation. There is then the emptiness o f the unborn nature o f everything and all doubts are cut off. One taste: When all possible phenomena o f samsara

382

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

and nirvana become absolutely equal in the original state, free o f inhibiting and developing, abandoning and adopting, emptiness or non emptiness, freedom or non-freedom from liberation o f beginnings and endings, that is one taste. Non-meditation: When the impurities o f previous occurrences and experiences are purified, the realisation o f the path and the nature o f the original condition merge together and there is no difference between meditation and postmeditation or between recollection and distraction [that is non-meditation]. Going further into the meaning o f what is called onepointedness; it is said to be the one-pointed unwavering recollection o f the original condition o f the meditator's mind, the one-pointed awareness o f the merging o f abiding and moving. Going further into the meaning o f freedom from limitation; the original condition o f mind is like the sky, free o f limiting notions concerning beginning, ending, and abiding, permanence and annihilation, coming and going and so forth. Going further into the meaning of one taste; in general all possible phenomena are said to have one taste within the actuality o f emptiness. In particular, the many different kinds o f phenomena under the two separate modes o f appearance and non-appearance are unified in their real nature and therefore said to be o f one taste. Non-meditation is further explained as signifying the absence o f inherent self-nature which arises when one is no longer conceptualising the thing meditated upon as being a real entity. I f one asks how this can be the case, [then one can reply by saying] that while experiencing one taste the very refined sense o f the meditator and the object o f meditation are [jointly] purified. The absence o f difference

Tipun's Notebook

383

between meditation and post-meditation and between recollection and non-recollection then develops. The action o f meditation is then free o f all effort and this is what is called non-meditation. Each o f the Four Yogas may be classified into three types thereby giving a total o f twelve aspects. i) With minor one-pointedness the meditator sees the real nature o f the bliss and clarity o f the mind. With medium one-pointedness there is personal authority without absorption. With great one-pointedness experience is continuous. ii) With minor freedom from limitation, the meditator realises that his own mind is unborn. With medium freedom from limitation, he realises that it has no root. With great freedom from limitation, he destroys all doubts regarding all inner and outer phenomena. iii) With minor one taste, samsara and nirvana merge as one. With medium one taste, the root o f the [distinction between] subject and object are cut. With great one taste, all phenomena are purified within a state o f perfect equality. iv) With minor non-meditation, the practitioner is free from [the distinction between] the meditator and the thing meditated upon. With medium non-meditation, he keeps to the realm o f spontaneous accomplishment. With great non meditation, the two form s o f clarity [mother and child] merge. There is yet another sixteenfold classification o f these yogas. The one-pointedness o f one-pointedness, the freedom from limitation o f one-pointedness, the one taste o f onepointedness, the non-meditation o f one-pointedness, and so on fo r the other three yogas, freedom from limitation, one taste and non-meditation producing a total o f sixteen.

384

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

The text is largely self explanatory here. Je Gom Chung, a well known Kargyudpa teacher, presents a number of parallel sequences wherein the development of meditative experience is described. Beginners may find it frustrating since these points are being addressed primarily to yogins advanced in practice. With developing practice in meditation the meanings will become clearer and experiential understanding of the distinctions will emerge. The contrasting ways of classifying are largely the fruit of slight variations in teaching given at monasteries hundreds of miles apart during times when communication was slow. These classifications have been collected together and the scholar in Tipun has noted them down in their diversity. Most of them refer to very similar stages along the way. Nonetheless they make a coherent system and the one presented is derived from Gampopa; one-pointedness, freedom from limitation, one taste and non-meditation entail one another and can be classified by the extent to which they have developed in practice. These descriptions make good topics for contemplation and help the practitioner to orient himself on the path. The following paragraphs refer to different features found in the practice of the Four Yogas. Each is best taken separately as one might look through a book of pictures, rather than cursively as when reading a text. Ways o f developing realisation: rJe. sGom. Chung tells us how realisation differs from non-realisation: "At the time o f one pointedness, one realises the real nature. A t the time o f freedom from limitation, one realises the self nature. A t the time o f one taste, one realises the qualities. With non-meditation, realisation becomes

Tipun's Notebook

385

continuous. " How sensations appear in meditation: One-pointedness becomes dulled within darkness [when there is no clear focus]. Freedom from limitation is lost in empty counting. One taste is distracted in the waves o f mixing. The sun o f meditation is covered by clouds. Post-meditation understanding: The post-m editation understanding fro m onepointedness is habitual. The post-meditation understanding from freedom from limitation is illusoriness. The post meditation understanding from one taste is emptiness. The post-meditation understanding from non-meditation is compassion. Taints to be purified: One-pointedness is tainted by belief in real entities. Freedom from limitation is tainted by non-recognition. One taste is tainted by meditation sensations. Non-meditation is tainted by things that can be known. Clarifying post-meditation gains: One-pointedness has separation but no gain. Freedom from limitation has both separation and gain. One taste has no separation but does have gain. Non-meditation has neither separation nor gain. When you are one-pointed you are separated from illusory thoughts but there is no special gain. In freedom from limitation there is the gain of emotional freedom. In one taste everything has the same flavour so there is no separation. The gain is an enhanced meditative power. In

386

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

non-meditation there is no differentiation between any states that arise and no intentionality. The sequence is developmental: one must have highly developed onepointedness to sustain non-meditation. On the difference between meditation and p ost meditation: With the practice o f one-pointedness comes clarity in both meditation and post-meditation. In freedom from limitation there remains differentiation between meditation and post-meditation. During one taste, meditation and post meditation are merged. Non-meditation is the time o f realisation. Milarepa's disciple, rJe. Yang. dGon. Pa, said: "At the time o f one-pointedness the skandha o f form is separated o ff and the consciousness o f the five senses is purified. At the time o f freedom from limitation, the skandha o f feeling and perception are separated off and the thought consciousness is purified. At the time o f one taste, the skandha o f association is separated o ff and the consciousness o f afflicted thought is purified. At the time o f non-meditation the skandha o f consciousness is separated off and the consciousness o f the ground o f all is purified. Thus the means o f purifying the eight consciousnesses is taught through the four yogas. " Tipun is establishing here that the four yogas can be interpreted in terms of the structure of mind analysed, as in the Abhidharma, into the five senses and the basic attributes of mind (Skt: skandhas). He is demonstrating the powerful purificatory power of these yogas and also locating the ideas within those of mainstream Buddhism. This is found again and again in Tibetan texts. The powerful innovative

Tipun's Notebook

387

techniques seek to justify themselves retrospectively by forming alliances with former modes of thought which they surpass but with which a link needs to be claimed. The sequence of these modes of practice or yogas is developmental. The later ones assume and necessarily include the practice of the earlier ones. As the discussion deepens the interplay of the four modes becomes increasingly stressed. "One-pointed yoga [still] carries taints. Freedom from lim itation distinguishes meditation, sensation and realisation. One taste is the union o f meditation, sensation and realisation. In this way the four yogas are related to the differences between meditation, sensation and realisation. Furthermore, at the time o f one-pointedness one experiences one's habituation to karma. A t the time o f freedom from limitation, karma is like an illusion. At the time o f one-pointedness, karma is like the sky. At the time o f non-meditation, one understands groundless dependent origination. In this way the four yogas can be related to the modes o f karma. Through abiding [the contrast with] movement is recognised. Through [the contrast with] movement abiding is established. In this way it is said that the barrier between abiding and movement is taken down. This is se lf recognition through one pointedness. Through being confused one notices the confidence o f liberation. Through discovering liberation one becomes aware o f the self deception due to confusion. In this way it is said that the barrier between confusion and liberation is taken down. This is self-recognition through freedom from limitation. Through appearances one becomes aware o f how the

388

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

mind is. Through [the contrast with] mind, one realises how appearances arise. In this way it is said that the barrier between appearance and mind comes down. This is the self recognition through one taste. In meditation one does not waver from the present state. In post-meditation the vastness o f compassion arises. In this way it is said that the barrier between meditation and post meditation has come down. This is the self recognition through non-meditation." With respect to the difference between completing or not completing the realisation o f each o f the fou r yogas, rJe. rGya. Ras [a disciple o f one o f Milarepa's disciples ] 6 has said: "There are six or twelve points [here] that are identified as points o f contrast. i) Seeing or not seeing the real nature. ii) Perfect or imperfect energy. iii) The arising or non arising o f thoughts in meditation. iv) The appearance or tjot o f qualities. v) Presence or absence o f confidence regarding relative truth. vi) Planting or not planting the seed o f the form mode (gZugs. sKu). In brief, one-pointedness is to be able to remain in meditation fo r as long as one wishes. Freedom from limitation is to recognise one's ordinary mind and to realise that it has no base or root. One taste is to liberate on becoming aware o f the grasping at the appearances o f samsara and nirvana. Non-meditation is the certainty gained from purifying all the subtle traces o f the taints. In this way the essential nature o f the four yogas is described. There are four special features to all this. The view is special because it arises from within through

Tipun's Notebook

389

a realisation that is not dependent on consulting texts. The meditation is special because it does not attend to fixing the mind but allows dullness and distraction to be self liberating in their own place. The conduct is special because it does not attend to rules and sanctions but remains free o f both encouraging and abandoning. The result is special because it is not dependent on time and signs fo r the three modes arise effortlessly." Although one may understand something about the view from what a teacher or text may say, essentially the whole way of seeing the world in Mahamudra is truly real only when it comes from a direct and personal realisation. It cannot be internalised from outside nor memorised from the words of others. When it arises clearly, it is a direct expression of ones own being and not an alignment with what is a received truth. [TRAVERSING THE PATHS AND THE STAGES J One realisation traverses all the stages and paths. It is not appropriate to make distinctions in terms o f the actual nature addressed in Mahamudra. Even so, according to the Sutra path there are five paths; o f accumulation, o f connection, o f seeing, o f meditation $nd o f fulfilment. [These paths are described as follows:] i) The little path o f accumulation has four ways by which strong recollection may be kept. These are: closely kept recollections o f the body, feeling, mind, and phenomena. ii) The middle path o f accumulation has the four pure abandonings. These are: abandoning the development o f sin and unvirtuous ways; refusing to develop those [bad] ways

390

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

not yet developed; developing the antidote o f virtue not as yet developed and increasing all that has been developed. Hi) The great path o f accumulation has fo u r feet o f magical illusion. These are: longingful concentration; diligent concentration; concentration o f the mind and investigative concentration. iv) The path o f connection has fo u r branches o f analysis: heat, the summit, patience and the supreme worldly dharma. During heat and summit one acquires five capacities [organs]: fa ith , diligence, recollection, concentration and wisdom. During patience and the supreme dharma, one acquires the five strengths [powers]: faith, diligence, recollection, concentration and wisdom. v) The path o f seeing has the seven branches o f Enlightenment. These are: pure recollection, pure discrim ination o f phenomena, pure diligence, pure happiness, pure developed ability, pure concentration and pure equanimity. vi) The path o f meditation has the Noble Eightfold Path: pure view, pure realisation, pure speech, pure activity, pure livelihood, pure effort, pure recollection, and pure concentration. vii) The path o f fulfilment has the nature o f the end o f suffering and the knowledge o f the Unborn. The Ten Stages o f the Bodhisattvas may be understood both in terms o f their general and their particular features. There are three general features: the nature o f the stage, the literal meaning o f the stage and the reason fo r the distinction into ten stages. With respect to the particular features, each stage is distinguished by nine identifiable differences. These are: differences between names, differences o f literal meaning, differences in purification, practice, purity, realisation,

Tipun's Notebook

391

differences in the abandonment o f things, in birth and on power. The first stage is called 'very happy', the second 'stainless', the third 'illuminating', the fourth 'radiant', the fifth 'hard to do', the sixth 'manifest', the seventh 'distant', the eighth 'unmoving', the ninth 'good intelligence', the tenth 'cloud o f Dharma', the eleventh 'total light' the twelfth 'lotus free o f attachment' and the thirteenth 'bearer o f vajra'. We may differentiate between the qualities o f the stages as follows. While on the first stage, the practitioner can enter a hundred different concentrations and ascend them. He can see the faces o f a hundred Buddhas and know their blessings. He may go to a hundred Buddha lands, shake a hundred realms and illuminate a hundred realms. He may open a hundred doors o f dharma, ripen a hundred sentient beings. He may show that one remains fo r a hundred aeons or see a hundred past and future lives with the perception o f wisdom. He may display a hundred bodies, each surrounded by a retinue o f a hundred auspicious ones and with the power to show the twelve hundred qualities. On the second stage, the meditator may do all these things one thousand times and show twelve thousand qualities, and so on [up through the series]. Actually, while making a literal description [as we are doing here] it is not appropriate to enumerate [all these] stages o f the paths. As the great [Kargyudpa] adept Zhang has said:"Mahamudra on its own is sufficient. Foolish people confuse themselves by counting the stages and the paths. Even so, fo r those who are foolish [and need words as signs] the stages and paths [need to be] set out and also counted." As rje. rGya. Ras said: "Although there is no necessity fo r the stages and paths, yet if one wishes to demonstrate

392

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

them, they can be shown in the following manner. Offering the mandala is the path o f accumulation; developing sensation and experience is the path o f connection; freedom from limitation is the path o f seeing; the arising o f realisation is the path o f meditation. One taste is the eighth stage. Non-meditation is the eleventh stage and the path o f completion. " The ultimate result o f Mahamudra which is the perfect Buddhahood o f the inseparable three modes, can be described under seven aspects: nature, literal meaning, classification, explanation, enumeration, signification and particularities. First there is auspicious renunciation and auspicious pristine cognition, o f which there are five types: that o f the absolute nature, the mirrorlike pristine cognition, the pristine cognition o f perfect equality, the pristine condition o f perfect discrimination and the pristine cognition that is all accomplishing. In brief, there are the [two] pristine cognitions o f understanding ju st how things are and o f understanding what can be achieved. Concerning the sixth aspect above, there are eight ways in which the absolute mode [o f Buddhahood] is signified: even, depth, permanence, alone, pure, clean, radiant and connected with the mode o f display, which also has eight aspects: form, cause, place, time, nature, commencing, ripening and liberating. [Going further] there are three viewpoints on the seventh aspect [o f Buddhahood], namely the particularities o f evenness, phenomena and of appearance. There are also the seven branches o f coupling, the eight qualities o f authority and the cycle o f the eight inexhaustible secrets o f body, speech and mind. There is the secret o f the inconceivable body and all

Tipun's Notebook

393

forms o f the body, there is the inconceivable secret o f speech and all that is speech. There is the inconceivable secret o f mind and of all that is mind. In spite of his protestations that all these categorising discriminations are really uncalled-for in the practice of Mahamudra, Tipun seems keen to reveal the multitude of approaches which he can call up in teaching those foolish enough to require discourses. This finale of our text is a veritable tour de force of hair splitting definitions yet the overall meaning is apparent. The path, when seen as a path, is progressive; it goes through several levels up to fulfilment. On each path and on each level a set of terms indicate a focus for the meditator at that point. Tipun was doubtless using these terms in the context of helping practitioners with the intricate difficulties that beset everyone who undertakes the path of meditation. The words here act as points around which the practitioner, already defined as rather less than adept, can focus contemplatively as he attempts to settle his mind. The precise meanings of such terms were doubtless created within the context of face to face instruction and it may be that not only are many of the nuances lost to us now, but that some of the subtleties have not come over in English, as the repetitious appearance of some words suggests. Once the Bodhisattva vow to save all beings has been taken, a useful preliminary is to envisage the capacities of the developing Bodhisattva as he moves closer to Buddhahood. The text takes off into inspirational enthusiasm here and one can imagine the power of the original discourses given in the mountains. To read this section of the text as poetry helps to introduce us to the deep spirituality informing the work as a whole.

394

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

In the end, body, speech and mind become inconceivable. The path of Mahamudra leads beyond words and even beyond meditation itself. What is uncovered in practice is the basis of mind, the unborn which has always been there. It is merely that the clouds obscured the sky. It is important for the beginner to take this seriously for the meanings of words become realised only through practice. Tipun ends with a few words of summation. To express it briefly, when the practitioner confirms clearly and without doubt his unmistaken recognition o f the natural condition o f mind ju st as it is, the ground Mahamudra itself, he gains a definite confidence. All the adventitious obscurations o f the interactions between subject and object are purified on the path o f Mahamudra. By thoroughly understanding the nature o f view, meditation and conduct and practising them onepointedly day and night without a break, the mind manifests itself in the mode o f its own nature. For as long as samsara is not emptied, the two modes o f form, display and activity, effortlessly and spontaneously benefit beings. This [understanding] is called the resultant Mahamudra. May all beings be happy. Written by 'Khrul. Zhig. rDo. rJe. 'Chang. In fulfilment of Khamtag Rimpoches wishes, the opening sections of Tipun's notebook have been used in three teaching presentations of Mahamudra meditation at John's meditation centre in Wales to practitioners previously trained in vipassana or in Ch'an. The experiments proved successful. Many participants remarked that the careful laying out of developmental stages greatly improved thenunderstanding of practice.

Tipun's Notebook

395

Individual meditators need to approach this text with caution so as not to feel overwhelmed, as Gegen Khyentse feared, by the complexity of the distinctions developed in the latter half of the notebook. As we have pointed out these arose mainly as cross references between descriptive systems for Tipun's personal use in teaching and will be of interest mainly to scholars of the subject. The practitioner will find them helpful if small groups of paragraphs on a given topic are taken up for contemplative examination to see the key point Tipun is making. Any attempt to read the lot through in one go is likely to prove self defeating. In the end one has to perceive the emptiness of all such distinctions and, following the main thrust of the text, strike at the root of mind itself. One will find oneself back at the beginning which has never been forgotten, the clear translucency of the 'unborn' basis of being.

REFERENCES 1 From "The Royal Song o f Saraha" who may have lived within a century o f Buddha's death. S ee the text o f this title by H.V. Guenther. 1973. Shambala. Berkeley, California. 2\Ve gratefully acknowledge the preliminary translation o f this text prepared by Tashi Rabgyas and our discussions o f the translation with him in Leh and also our consultations with Gegen Khyentse o f Manali and with Chimed Rigdzin Rimpoche. W e are aware that, from a scholarly viewpoint, this translation is the beginning rather than the end o f its comprehension. The difficulties in interpreting the intention, let alone the m eaning, o f such a work are great. Readers equipped with Tibetan may like to read Broido's account o f problems in translating Padma Karpo.(Broido. M. M. 1980. The term dNgos.po'i. gNas. lugs as used in Padma dKar-po's gZhung.'Grel. In: Aris, M and S.K. Aung San. (eds) Tibetan studies in Honour o f Hugh Richardson. Proceedings o f the International Seminar in Tibetan studies. Oxford 1979. A ris and P h illip s. W arm inster) The

396

The Yogins o f Ladakh

photographic original o f Tipun's notebook remains with JC and is potentially available for study by scholars or meditators familiar with Tibetan who are sympathetic to its original intention. 3 At Maenllwyd, Pant-y-dwr, Wales in October 1991 ^See Crook, J.H. 1994. The History o f Zangskar. In: Crook J. H. and H. O sm aston (ed s) H im alayan B uddhist Villages. M otilal Banarsidass, Delhi, and Bristol University. Chapter 14. ^See Iyengar, B.K.S. 1981. Light on Pranayama . Unwin. London. ^Presumably Tsangpa gyaras.

FLOW DIAGRAM OF TIFUNS NOTEBOOK

O u tlint ofthe m ainarju m ecilad tio n A . P R E L IM IN A R IE S


A1 Ordinary B A2 Special MAIN SUBJECTS B1 ORDINARY PRACTICE B1 A DEV: OF TRANQUILLITY BlAi Vith supports No breath control Breath Control B1 Ati Vithout Supports Release of mental origins BIB INSIGHT BIBi Examination of abiding and moving BIBii Recognising Insight B2 SPECIAL PRACTICE B2A ONE TASTE B2B NON MEDITATION

B 2A iM H A M U D R A
Recognition Basis

No r.sponoo to t h o ^ M g , ^ , Mfd,u ori Abiding occording to three similes without oloborotion

O bstacles R ealisation

Practice Success

C Tranquillity and Insight: Causes, Obsourations, Sinking, Dullness and other obstructions.

D .Q uotations concerningC alm ingandIn sig h t.

E. Shaky as hr is oral instructions on Mahamudra.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

END AND BEGINNING


And now may the grace o f the Three Jewels o f Refuge following on through cause and effect fulfil all the prayers that we now send forth and bring us across to the enlightening shore.1

When we contemplate the politics of our contemporary world with its collapse of traditional values, endemic violence and our failure so far to do anything serious about the way human civilisation is steadily strangling the planet, we may increasingly ask: "Will there be anything left apart from a great sadness?"2 At first it seemed that the apparent end of ideology in the collapse of totalitarian communism could herald a 'new world order' in which educated democracy, self constraint and constructive diplomacy could open ways to solving our planetary dilemma. Yet no, into the vacuum of power have stepped the haunting ghosts of ancient enmity and ethnic hatred. The outer constraints have gone precisely when we need them and the self indulgence of wealthy democracies, in which too few will vote for a lower standard of living in a world exceeding its carrying capacity, continues.The underclass grows, only partially hidden in the sewers.3 If the new order is not to be another imposition by the few upon the many, radical changes in our understanding of ourselves and our institutions are necessary. To get us out of danger these changes cannot rely naively on market forces or idealogues in comfortable bureaucracies. We will have to take on board the psychological and sociological causes of

End and Beginning

399

distress that lie in the maximising exploitation of finite resources by both personal and institutional egos.4 Perhaps we will do this, as the Arabs and Israelis are discovering, only when exhausted by conflict and the realisation that worse is to come. In such a period of history it is not surprising that the insightful are calling for the 'deconstruction' of old edifices and ways of doing that are the roots of failure. And it is in this context that the Buddha's dharma has found a relevant place for the dharma itself is a practice in deconstruction. At the personal, the social, and the political levels the message of the dharma focuses on the need for a deliberately cultivated awareness of the effects of our ignorance, the misconception that the conventional is the truth. We lack neither technology nor knowledge. What we lack is wisdom, the self reflective capacity for restraint, optimisation and diplomacy from insight rather than the habitual and misconceived notions of gain.5 We do not suppose that our friends the yogins provide a perfect model for what is required; yet their disciplined self regulation and understanding is both the cause and consequence of the type of wisdom that a world basing its values on self indulgent individualism and bloated with material consumption so severely lacks. Like the Mamas among the Kogi 6 who send us warnings from their secluded South American mountain', the yogins suggest an alternative way and at the same time reveal the type of discipline that is required to achieve it. The way out of the consequences of gross self-indulgence will not be easy, yet, from the viewpoint of the yogins, most of the pain involved is illusory. The yogins we met in Ladakh succesfully integrate personal openness and a sense of play with a strong

400

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

commitment to a living tradition. In their simple lives they express some of the best features of their value system, honesty, availability, friendliness, self sacrifice, humour, acceptance. This is teaching by example rather than by formal didacticism. It contrasts quite markedly with the manner in which Buddhism is often presented in the West. When Tibetan teachers come over here they often give 'Teachings', a presentation of doctrines with explanations of their significance. The complexities of the argument, the refined distinctions of terminology, the history of ideas, all this and more are spelt out in great detail. Such an approach resembles the type of mind training which is typical of Western intellectual education and it is therefore relatively easily assimilated. Indeed many students may amass a considerable knowledge of the dharma. Unfortunately, knowledge is easier to gain than wisdom. Knowledge arises from the seeking out of information while wisdom cannot be predicted. Wisdom is more passive, requiring an ability to attend to the moment, to penetrate multilayered metaphors intuitively, to be present in the presence of another. It cannot be appropriated or taught directly by words. It is learned through experience, by the introjection of mood and nuance, by empathetic understanding of where another is, through inspiration that creates an opening. This is the Indian way of darshan or satsang, the mere sitting in the presence of the guru or lama allowing their being to in-form one through co presence. In our meetings with the yogins words were almost a social nicety, a means of providing the context in which a direct experience of their being could occur - for the conversations we report are hardly remarkable by their content alone. The quality of the yogin's presence is freely available but the means to acquire such quality is,

End and Beginning

401

paradoxically, a rather closely guarded secret. The yogins are coy about their teachings. The yogin who has realised the heart of the teaching places the focus on lived experience rather than pious aspiration or intellectual comprehension alone. The task is to be open to what is here, present, available. We would not wish to encourage readers to think that the only way forward is to travel to the Himalayas in search of holy masters. Far from it. The yogins teach us to focus on the details of present existence, to penetrate confusion through insight, through relaxing the predispositions, prejudices and projections which create our world of habit so that the refreshening presence of the other can be felt. Many of our yogins were old men. In the West the blinkering effect of prejudgement is very evident in our attitudes towards the old. Post-modernist trends have stressed innovation, newness, change. Age may seem to represent the useless, the past, that which lacks value. While it would be foolish to equate old age with wisdom, it is possible to suggest that the accumulation of a lifetime's experience coupled with disengagement from monetary and familial tasks creates a time for reflection which gives some individuals a quality of awareness not dissimilar from that of the yogins. Precious qualities such as acceptance, non reactivity, broad perspectives, diminishing desire and attachment, delight in the simple, are not so rare among the elderly. A culture that disregards these personal qualities is making a commitment to self impoverishment in creating a merely noisy world in which the final stages of life can no longer be naturally lived.7 The old can nourish the roots of culture 8 but only when the contemporary cult of noisy business and endless quests for excitement can be set aside in a more open awareness of quality in life.

402

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

Yet the yogins offered us something more subtle, a feel for fathering that was both to be received and to be acquired for passing on to others. The chaos in personal relationships in the Western world must surely be rooted in the failure of this society to provide a nurturing parentage. One age-group has little understanding of another and the needs of the young to introject imaginary identities derived from media cults lead to a petulant desire for endless psychological decoration lasting often into middle age: the precise opposite of the tantric use of creative transformation as the expression of the real. Child abandonment, the ejection of adolescents from their homes and the young homeless on our streets, suggest that nobody cares for anyone else, even though this is what everyone cries out for. An education in competitive manoeuvring with soft words covering incipient racism, sexism and ageism, the enhancement of individual egoism as the good to be learnt if one is to survive in a world of "get on your bike"-ism, has done nothing to encourage the gentler more reflective side of human nature . What does an acquaintance with the yogins tell us about all this? Since they say so little one has to feel it. There is in them a strength of inner discipline and devotion to a path that negates self indulgence at every point. The consequence is not at all some severe asceticism, for celibacy is voluntary and many yogins and their teachers are married and warmly aware of the delights of the Dakini, but rather a gentling kindness that comes from regarding others as more interesting than oneself. The kindness, furthermore, entails a wish for the others' good, that they may become free from their vexations and discover enlightening experiences leading to wisdom and to bliss. The vision is as vast as possible and not at all bound by limiting ethics or idealogy. Such kindness is however not easily developed. It has to

End and Beginning

403

be cultivated. That is why the development of the 'mind favouring enlightenment', bodhicitta, is the pivot of Tibetan training. The yogin deliberately cultivates the thought that all beings are equal, that benefits arise from cherishing another before oneself and that many faults come from cherishing oneself alone. There is a willed recognition that, just as children are dependent on mothers, so are we all dependent on one another. In recollecting the kindnesses we have received we cultivate the giving back of kindness.9 When a yogin walks down a street we should not suppose he or she sees it as most of us usually do, a moving mass of independent mortals hurrying along like programmed machines. Sure of his ground and lacking the insecure identity that is so often the product of our culture, the yogin sees the pitiable suffering all around him with open eyes. His view lacks sentimentality for he knows the basis of his own mind to be a vast spaciousness that can include all within its accepting vision. Through active empathy he experiences the joys and the sufferings of others that bring forth his deep concern. Knowing that ignorance is pervasive he says little but, by his being, others notice him. Uncalloused, he goes his way, disappearing again among the mountains yet available to any who takes the trouble to seek him out. Such a caring stance based in wisdom is the quality of parenting we need as adults in our world . Furthermore, in their unconscious parenting, the yogins have gone beyond the gender tensions of our world because their kindness is neither particularly masculine nor feminine but both. Deeply androgynous in their practice of the Middle Way, they show how the issues of gender identity in our culture are based on insecurities that are basically unnatural; because when equality is demanded complimentarity is no longer understood.

404

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

The yogins know they are fallible, they are often better at the practices of self clarification in caves than at teaching in the city. As the Geshe of Saspola indicated to us (Chapter 6), his role is to be available when needed by those who seek. Yet, there are some, the great lamas who stride the world colossal in the majesty of their compassion, who stand for us as exemplars of spiritual possibility . In our culture we attempt to compensate for the losses of our tim e through the creation o f num erous psychotherapeutic systems essentially derived from Freudian or Jungian insights. Based in ideological assumptions lacking in scientific verification such systems offer cognitive-behavioural methods designed to reframe the ego in creating an identity better functional in society as it is. It may be that our excessive contemporary psychologising pathologises much of what is in fact quite natural. The sociobiological basis of human life plausibly entails differences of need between the genders which require adjustment in every generation. Rather than pathology, this may simply be the challenge that life forces upon both men and women. Instead of considering ourselves neurotic because we have problems in relationship maybe we just have to work with them directly, without ideological commitments to this therapy or that. Therapists compete implicitly or explicitly with one another and their own often shallow training may create identities often sorely in need of depth.10 Potentially damaging consequences follow from the projections of immature therapists upon their clients and, although training methods are becoming more exacting and supervision recognised as vital, the system as a whole sometimes lacks both integrity and compassion due to its positioning within a market place of human needs that is basically commercial.11

End and Beginning

405

A number of psychologists are exploring the need for a more spiritual basis for psychotherapy. This implies the cultivation of a personal practice based in self criticism, integrity and compassion in which the insidious needs for fame and gain are a focus of critical concern. Claxton, somewhat idealistically, suggests that therapists and spiritual practitioners, the masters, "differ in the breadth and depth of their serenity. The therapists is like a river, still pools interspersed with white water. The spiritual guides, who know that nothing can threaten them, not even death, because who they truly are is not bounded in either space or time, have a presence like a vast flat lake. The therapist's self-acceptance is patchy and sporadic, because it is still located within an unquestioned sense of self. Enlightened people cannot be disturbed by anything, for there is no longer any vestige of a distinction between self and experience. Identified with nothing in particular they are free to be -- touched by everything, -- for they are a polished mirror on which no reflection can ever leave a mark."12 Our book provides information about a way of life and practice that involves a tough but practical wisdom. It is a way of non-harming that at the same time yields a spiritual joy that can never be purchased with either money or influence. There is a serious and urgent need that some such viewpoint should become part of our Western education, not just for the intellectually concerned or would-be religious virtuosi but for every teenager in school. Taught skilfully they would see the point, for youth always does until befuddled by the false consciousness of their presumed betters, the possessed of the previous generation. To find a way to create methods for such education is an urgent but little appreciated task of our time. Paradoxically perhaps, what is needed is a radical subversiveness addressing the

406

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

blind assumptions of our common life. Yet how this may be done is far from clear. The introduction of Eastern ways into Western contexts has often proven problematic as the transmission of Zen from Japan to the USA and the behaviour of certain Tibetan lamas has shown. Some Eastern masters as well as those to whom they have transmitted their wisdom have become far from masterly under the impact of Western permissiveness and the seductions of money, sex and celebrity status.13 The matter needs careful consideration and better mutual understanding between indigenous exponents of Eastern forms and those Westerners exploring traditions originating in cultures based in assumptions far from their own.14 One point of focus our yogins do make clear; the essence of discovery lies in practice and the attempt at direct understanding. Words, theories, idealistic debates leading to intellectual elaborations of all kinds are not seriously to the point. Only in confrontation with oneself may one discover that root truth from which an independence from the thought that creates an ego may spring. And such discovery is essential if the integrity needed for parenting our increasingly lost world is to be found. We cannot hide from ourselves for long and it would be wiser for us to learn at the feet of the happy than under the chains of new dictators of whatever form.

REFERENCES C o n c lu d in g verse o f a Six Session Yoga prayer. 2From the poem Paros in Crook, J. 1993. Isiands. Y ellow Fox Press. W ood engravings by Ros Cuthbert. Limited edition. 3 S ee B o y d en , S. 1987 W estern c iv iliz a tio n in B io lo g ic a l Perspective. Clarendon. Oxford. A lso Mine, A. 1993. Le Nouveau

End and Beginning

407

Moyen Age. Paris. 4 Tiger, L. 1987 The Manufacture o f Evil: ethics, evolution . and the industrial system. Harper and Row. N ew York.
^See: Ash, M. 1992 The Fabric o f the World. R esurgence. A lso Crook, J. H. 1995. The Place o f the Dharma in our Time. New Ch'an Forum, Supplement to N o 11. Summer 1995. Bristol Chan Group. 6Ereira, A. 1990. The Heart o f the World. Jonathan Cape. London. 7Clayton, V. 1975. Ericksons theory o f human developm ent as it applies to the aged: w isdom as contradictive cognition. H u m a n Development 18, 119-128. ^Indeed, this may be one Darwinian explanation for the function o f the long post-reproductive life o f human beings. If so, it is a condition rooted in the original environment o f human adaptedness. Today w e ignore this potential for wisdom, yet the old men in the House o f Lords have not been without positive political significance in the last few years. 9 The depth o f the Tibetan yo gic analysis here can be seen, for example, in the great Pabonka Rim poches treatment o f Bodhicitta in the Seven Point Mind Training o f the Lam Rim. Part 6, The Great Scope, in Liberation in the Palm o f your Hand. 1991. Wisdom. 10It is a striking fact that at Western Zen and Ch'an retreats it is usual for around 75% o f participants to com e from the 'helping professions'. It seem s that 'helpers' are not easily or effectively available for one another and remain very much in need o f existential clarification. 11 One o f the distressing con sequ en ces o f inadequately based therapeutic systems is the growing phenomenon o f 'false memory syndrom e' w hereby a d u lt children recover apparently false memories o f sexual abuse by parents. Reports argue that many families have becom e distressed in this way. The allegations have developed from the accusers claim to have recovered his or her memory during therapy for an unrelated problem. They com e from middle class families; most accusers are w om en, many o f them feminists, but som e are men. The abuse is som etim es said to have occurred during supposed satanic rituals none o f which appear to have been proven. Most accusers are well educated and have taken an interest in the N ew A ge or similar cult like movements. A ll o f

408

The Yogins o f Ladakh

them cut o ff any member o f their family who does not believe them. Som e o f them plan to sue for compensation. The phenomenon is believed to be due to confabulation based in fantasies induced by therapists using techniques such as hypnosis and regression therapy. Som e such accusers want to becom e therapists themselves. There is perhaps a parallel here with those extremist 'spiritual' cults that so often end in gross disasters for their adherents. Although there is little doubt that child abuse is widespread, these incidents suggest a radical reassessment o f psychotherapeutic theory and methods will soon becom e essential. Inspite o f the courage and insight o f many individual practitioners, therapy as substitute parenting is becoming a questionable procedure. (Reference: W aterhouse, R. 'Families haunted by accusations o f childhood abuse.' The Independent. London. 24th May 1993.) Research indeed suggests that effective therapy is more dependent upon the personality o f the therapist than upon the method o f therapy. What is som etim es clearly absent is an adequate grounding in personal depth, compassion and vision. ^ C la x to n , G. (ed) 1986. Beyond Therapy: the impact o f Eastern Religions on Psychological theory and Practice . W isdom London, p 319. 13A major social psych ological problem underlying these cases concerns the e x c e s siv e attribution o f charisma to teachers by follow ers and, conversely, its acceptance by teachers w ho have little understanding o f the dependency needs o f their adherents or w h o m ay a ctiv e ly e x p lo it them. The problem also afflicts charismatic N ew A g e Christianity. The roots o f the profound errors that may then arise lie in the spiritual naivety o f the W est o f our time and the failure o f gurus to request monitoring by their peers. l^ S e e further: Watts, A. W. 1961 Psychotherapy East and West. Ballantine Books. N ew York. Crook J. H. 1977. Personal growth: East and W est. Consciousness and Culture . V ol 1 N o 1: 59-84. Humanistic Transdisciplinary Ass: Box 345. Orinda. Ca. Katz, N. (ed) 1983. Buddhist and Western Psychology. Prajna.. Boulder. W elw o o d . J. ( ed ) 1983. Awakening the H eart:: E ast/W est approaches to psychotherapy and the healing relationship. Shambala. Crook J. H and D.Fontana (eds) 1990 Space in Mind: East-W est Psychology and Contemporary Buddhism. Element. Shaftesbury.

GLOSSARY
Amchi (T) Tibetan for traditional medical doctor. A rhat (Skt) A Buddhist who has attained Enlightenment for his /her own benefit. B o d h ic itta (Skt) The 'mind of enlightenment' or the intention to reach enlightenment but not before all other sentient beings have got there first. The mind of a Bodhisattva. Bodhisattva (Skt) A Buddhist trainee who practices for the benefit of all sentient beings. Also there are mythical Bodhisattvas whose features represent aspects of wisdom. B uddha An Enlightened being. More narrowly the Shakyan Prince Gautama who after intensive practice came to the understanding known as enlightenment. In Mahayana philosophy the term often means the underlying nature of mind and cosmos which the Buddha realised. Cakra (Skt) A centre or 'wheel' in the visualised physiology of the body considered of key importance in the energy system manipulated in meditative practices. Chagchen (T) A system of meditative practice also known as Mahamudra (Skt) considered to be a 'path' meditation because it involves the intention to uncover the mind of enlightenment. Chenrezi (T) Avalokiteshvara (Skt).The Bodhisattva of Compassion. Chod (T) An elaborate yoga involving dance, song, vi sualisation and meditation in order to to cut free from the at tachments to the body (See Chap: 15) C horten (T) A built structure (stupa -Skt) found widespread in lands of Buddhist culture and originally functioning as a reliquary. Main function to symbolise the

410

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

Buddha mind. Dakini (Skt) A 'sky dancer' or female enlightened being. In the Tibetan world dakinis live in 'power places'; hills, cliffs, grottos etc and visit people to inspire them. A less popular male version is a Daka. D harm a (Skt) A term with several meanings in Buddhist philosophy. In this book it usually means the teachings of the Buddha, Buddhism. A 'dharma' is an early philosophical term for a basic 'atomic' unit of cosmic reality. Doghras A Hindu people living south of Ladakh. Formerly the rulers by conquest of much of the Western Himalayas and Kashmir in the nineteenth century. Defeated by Tibetans during an attempted invasion of Tibet, finally absorbed by the British Raj. Dzogchen (T) A system of meditative practice. (AtiyogaSkt) based in a mind clear of conceptuality and by some considered the most advanced or final practice. Known as a 'fruit' meditation because it focusses on tasting the fruit of insight. Compare Chagchen. Enlightenment The final insight of a Buddha. Glimpses of this state occur to trainees in the course of practice. The condition implicit in the 'unborn' or basic nature of mind. Gelugpa (T) The reformed order of Tibetan Buddhist monks created by Tsongkapa in the 14th century. Geshe (T) Tibetan title meaning doctor or professor of philosophy attained by examination after many years of academic study of traditional Mahayana literature by a monk of the Gelugpa order. The degree is awarded by the great Lhasan universities now re-established in S.India. Goba (T) A village headman Gompa (T) A Tibetan Buddhist monastery G u ru Rim poche (T) Tibetan name for the Indian monk Padmasambhava to whose magical tantric powers is

Glossary

411

traditionally attributed the conversion of Tibet to Buddhism. Gyalpo (T) King, tibetan term for a local ruler. H in a y a n a A rather derogatory term, meaning lesser vehicle, for the Theravada, the earliest teachings of Buddha, forming the focus of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Burma. Compare with Mahayana- the great vehicle - which developed from it in N.India, Tibet, China and Japan. Kadam pa (T) The first celebate order of Tibetan monks founded by Atisha in the 15th century. Kangyur (T) The Tibetan Canon of Buddhist literature. Kargyupa (T) One of the earlier partially reformed orders of Tibetan Buddhist monks based on the monastic system of the Kadampa with the addition of later yogic and tantric practices. (Chapters 1 and 14). K arm a (Skt) The effects of one's past deeds determining the form of present life together with the effects of present actions in determining the future. There are levels of karmaeg social, biological, etc in addition to the personal or psychological. K hatag (T) A white scarf given as an offering to guest, friend, visitor or more formally when visiting or consulting a lama. Khenpo (T) The abbot of a monastery elected by monks sitting in an assembly for monastery government. Konyer (T) Monk in charge of administration and hospitality at a monastery, one of several obedentiaries or nyerpas serving as bursars for various funding and administratrive activities. Nyerpas are elected periodically by the monks in assembly. Lama Tibetan equivalent of the Indian term 'guru' meaning a personal teacher. Not all monks are therefore lamas and the expression 'lamaism' is a totally inadequate name for Tibetan Buddhism.

412

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

Lha (T) A 'god' or perceived power personifying a force of nature or a power place such as a mountain or pass. Originated in pre-Buddhist religion. Lha-kang (T) The main assembly hall of a monastery used for liturgical purposes; means the 'room of the gods'. Lha-to (T) A shrine to a local spirit or household deity. L in ea g e. The lineage of a teaching or a practice is considered important in both Tibetan Buddhism and in Chan (Zen).Teachings, practices, yogas and empowerments are transmitted personally from teacher to pupil down the generations within a lineage of succession. The emphasis keeps the teachings and practices free from defilement through misunderstanding, misuse or misleading self promotion by a teacher. Madyhamaka (Skt) The philosophical analysis of em ptiness (sunyata) based on examination of the Prajnaparamita scriptures fundamental to Mahay ana. The system is attributed to the philosopher Nagarjuna. The term Madhyamika is the adjectival form of this noun (Chapt: 14). Mahamudra (Skt) See Chagchen. Mahayana. The 'Great Vehicle'. Also known as the second turning of the wheel of Dharma. Later Buddhist teachings emphasising training as a Bodhisattva rather than as an Arhat. Prime focus on compassion allied to wisdom. Mandala (Skt) A circular diagram of aspects of the mind often represented as deities. Used in meditation, especially in tantra. Mantra (Skt) A formula or monosyllable usually chanted or murmured to achieve alterations in states of mind or to acquire merit. Mantras have ancient Sanskrit meanings but these are commonly of little importance in practice. Mantras, often accompanied by hand gestures (mudra), augment meditative visualisation. Example: Om mane padme hum.

Glossary

413

Meditation Mental exercises designed to have both a short and longer term effect in calming the mind and seeing into its nature. A major aspect of following the Buddhist path. Naropa A famous Indian academic professor at Nalanda University. He felt he lacked experiential insight into the subject matter of his books. Sought out the yogin Tilopa and finally received the existential teachings. These he passed on to visiting Tibetans such as Marpa (1012-1096 CE) thus starting the lineage of the Kargyupa. Nirvana (Skt) A state of release from the suffering of worldly life (samsara). Nyingmapa (T) The oldest order of Tibetan Buddhism. Prajna (Skt) Insight into the nature of mind. Prajnaparamita (Skt) Sutra teachings dealing mainly with the topic of emptiness. Puja (Skt) An offertory service or liturgy. Large pujas are complex services held in the main hall of a monastery. Simpler pujas may be conducted by monks in their own cells or in villagers' homeS where they may place blessings on houses, people, travels, endeavours etc. The term is derived from Hindu usage. Ri-me (T) Name for a 19th Century movement in Tibet bringing together many of the teaching practices and tantras of the older orders. A non-sectarian viewpoint influential today. Rimpoche (T) A Tibetan title usually applied to a high lama, meaning precious jewel. Sadhana (Skt) A text for visualisation in meditative practice. Samsara (Skt) The endless circling of worldly life. The opposite of Nirvana. Sangha (Skt) Collective noun for monks and nuns. More

41 4

The Yogins o f Ladakh

widely refers to all practising Buddhists.The Buddha created the original Sangha as his order of monks. Sunyata (Skt) Emptiness.A term variously interpreted in Mahayana philosophy. In common usage implies the absence of inherent selfhood in phenomena: everything, being empty of selfhood, expresses processes subject to interdependent origination ( pratitya samutpada). Siddha (Skt) A meditator of exceptional ability. Siddhi (Skt) A blessing on attainment, mental powers. Six Yogas of Naropa A set of psychophysical exercises used in strengthening the practise of meditation, especially Mahamudra. Sutra (Skt) A scripture reputedly based on the words of the Buddha as remembered by a disciple, usually Ananda. The term is also used more generally for the ascetic approach to monasticism in Mahayana as contrasted with Tantra. Tantra (Skt) Meditations using visualisation, physical exercises, sound and gesture to clarify the mind on the path to Enlightenment. Tantra is not restricted to ascetic practices but may make use of the passions perceived as emptiness to transform the mind. It is considered dangerous without an excellent teacher since the practice easily slips back into worldly activity. For this reason correct tantric practice is based in prior sutra practices. Tantrika (Skt) A practitioner of Tantra. Theravada (Skt) The original teachings of the Buddha as found in the Pali Canon. Em phasises personal enlightenment bringing about the cessation of repeated 'rebirth'. Torma (T) An offering made of butter and flour paste, often decorated. Used in pujas. Tulku (T) A reincarnating lama. Rimpoches are usually

Glossary

415

tulkus. Vajra (Skt) A Sanskrit term, originally with sexual undertones, meaning thunderbolt and sym bolising meditative powers especially those of Tantra. In Tibetan mantras and liturgies confusingly pronounced 'bendza'. Vajrayana (Skt) The Tantric path. Yana (Skt) A way - eg Hinayana, the lesser way, Mahayana, the great path etc . Yidam (T) A personal protector visualised in meditation. Yoga (Skt) Mental and physical exercises which within Buddhism are designed to calm the mind and clarify insight into its nature: hence yogin, one who practises the same. Yogi A practitioner of yoga usually used with reference to Hinduism Yogin (Skt) A trained meditator in the M ahayana tradition, commonly but not necessarily a monk. Yogini (Skt) A woman yogin. Zen The Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Ch'an, itself a mispronunciation of the Indian word Dhyana meaning meditation. A Mahayana school focussing especially on meditation and practice rather than on scholarship. Zhidag (T) An earth spirit of place, also sadag.

Complete openness, 74 Consecrated persons, 100 Dakini, 165 Absolute spontaneity, 74 Dalai Lama, 34, 45, 48, 111, 114, Action theory, xv 166 Amchi Wangchuk, 43,199, 216 Darcha, 237 Arrack. 67 Delusions o f grandeur, 251 Ati-yoga, 76 David-Neel, Alexandra x, 44, 88 Atisa Dipamkara, 8, 48, 134 Digungpa Kargyu, 20, 94 Attribution* xvii -yogins, 95 A w o Rimpoche, 30, 64, 68, 342 Dingri, 28 Aziz,Barbara xxv Dogen, xvii Bardan gompa, 21, 46, 209 Dorje Trollo, 68 Basis o f Good Qualities, 49 Dravidian India, 3 Bhutan, 20 Dream Yoga o f Naropa, 62, 99, Bodhicitta, 137, 403 196, Bodhisattva V ow , 49, 98 Drepung monastery at Lhasa, 58. Bon, 8 135 B o-yig o f Phugtal Gompa, 163 Drugchen Rimpoche, 84 Brahmins, 4 Drugpa Kargyu, 46, 200 Breath control, 368 Drugpa Kargyu yogins, 64, 87, Bristol University Expedition, 33, 340 149 Drugpa Yongdzin, 209 Buddhas Enlightenment, 5 Dudjom Rimpoche, 172 Calming the mind, 197, 293 Dungsey Rimpoche, 84 Caste system, 3 Dzogchen, 46, 72, 186, 192, Cemeteries, 329 197, 369 Chagchen, 72 Dzongkul, 29, 46, 169, 177 Chandrakirti, 59 Ecology Centre, Leh, 111 Chang. 'Brugy 20 Emptiness, 7, 99, 137, Chang Tang, 118 Ethical behaviour, 137 Chenrezi (Avalokiteshvara), 146 Everyday practice, 75 Chimed Rigdzin Rimpoche, xiii, Four Jewels o f Khadampas, 292, 342 134 Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche, 73 Freud, xvii Chod, 292, 323. Chap: 15. Freedom from limitation, 381 Chorten o f Kanika, Sani, 163 Fruit meditation., 72 Clear light ( O d.gSal ), 99 Gampopa, 9, 17, 94 Cognitive psychologist, 127 Gegen Khyentse Rimpoche, 30,

INDEX

Index

417

212, 247, 333, 342 Gelong Rinchen o f Karsha, 155 Gelugpa, 113 Geshe Chopel Yangtsen, 58 -Damchos Yontan, 140 -Ngawang Jugne, 134 Geshes, 140 Ghosts, 108 Goba o f Sani, 153, 162 Goldstein, Melvyn xxi Gonpo, yogin o f Padum, 195, 202, 219 Gotsang Gompa, 18, 85 Gotsangpa, 18, 85 Graduated path, 138 Grahame, Faith 242 Guge, 8, 82 Gulab Singh, 165 Guru Rimpoche, 8, 66, 116, 158, 164, 171 Guru yoga, 338 Gyalpo o f Padum, 213 Habermas, J xx Heat generation ( gTum.M o ), 99 Heidegger, xvii Heine, Steven xvii Hemis Gompa, 10, 20, 255 Hermeneutics, xx, Hermit Guru Norbu o f Sikkim, 88 Heruka Cakrasambhava, 98 Hobbes, Thomas xv Hookham, Mike xiv, 73 Illusory body ( sGyu.Lus). 99, 197, Impermanence, 96 Insightful awareness, 197 -meditation, 348 Intermediate stage (Bar.m Do)

99

Islam, 71 Jewel Ornament o f Liberation, 136 Jamgon Kongtrul, 26 Jamyang Khentse Wangpo, 26 Jawaharlal Nehru University, 34 Jigme Lingpa, 26 Jigten Gonpo, o f Digungpa, 94 Kadampa, 8, 9, 134 Kangyur, 57 Kargyak, 229 Karsha Gompa, 155, 158, 218 Kawaguchi, Ekai x Kham, 26 Khamtag Rimpoche, xxi, 64, 72, 183, 253, 258, 339 Khaspang Gompa, 86, 115, 118, Khordong Gompa, 18, 209, 241 Khyunga R im poche,of Digungpa. 95 King Changchub O o f Guge, 136 -D eleg Namgyal, 20 - Jamyang Namgyal, 19 -Sengye namgyal, 82 -Tashi Namgyal, 94 -Trisong Deutsan, 8 Kogi ethics (S America), 399 Krs, Csoma da x, 25, 183, 217 Krishnamurti, 26 Ksatriyas (the warrior classes), 5 Kushah period (1st C:CE), 150 Kyelang, 236, 239 Ladakhi people, xii -graduates, 105 -intellectuals, 110 Lahoul, 30, 236, 240 -monasteries, 242 Lama Anagarika Govinda, xi -Karmapa, 25 -Karpo, 29

4 18

The Yogins o f Ladakh

-Kazi Dawa-Samdup, 88 -Kunga, 255 -Kunga Choleg, 24, 25, 183 -Norbu, 30, 64 -Rangrig., 21 -Sangye Phuntsog, 25, 217 -Thubten, 198 -Zhapa Dorje, 24, 268 Lama-pupil relationship, 339 Lamayuru, 10, 91 -yogins of, 95 Law o f Interdependent Origination., xvi Leh, 83, 329 Lhag. mThong, 340 Lho.'Brug, 20, 166, 249 Likir Gompa, 132 Lingrepa, 18 Lithophone, 118 Local spirits, 67, 108 Lungnag valley, 47, 158 Machig Labdron, xxii, 28, 295, Chap: 15. Madame Blavatsky, 26 Madhyamaka, 59,192 Mahamudra, 8, 16, 23, 46, 63. 90, 99, 168, 186, 192, 1 9 7 ,2 1 1 ,2 5 2 , 343, 352, 371 Mahayana, 11 Mahe household, 64 Maitreya, 150, 163 Malyon, Tim 92, 109 Manali, 30, 184, 212, 247 Mandala, 93 -offerings, 97 Mantras, 232 Marpa, 9, 94 Mattro Gompa, 18 Meditation, 59, 71, 349, 75, 90,

138, 146, 174 -notebook o f Tipun, 342 -on compassion, 98 -on love, 97 Meditative absorption, 39 -obstacles, 362 -visualisation, 123 Meme Gomchen, Sani yogin, 167 Milarepa, 9, 35, 28, 94 Mind and self, xv Model o f Mind, xiv, 122 - o f illusion, 204 Moghul India, 82 Monasticism, 6 Motion theory, xvi Mount Kailas, 91 Mune Gompa, 222 Muslim holocaust, 10 -influences in Zangskar, 208 Nagajuna, 59 Naropa, 7, 16, 37, 129, 150, 180 Natural perfection, 74 Ngari Khor Sum, 82 Ngari Rimpoche, 148 Ngawang Norbu, yogin, 60 Ngawang Jigme, yogin, 195 Ngawang Tsering o f Dzongkul, 21, 24, 168, 182, 199 Nochung Tse, yogin o f Padum, 41, 195, 219 Non elaboration, 349 Non meditation, 350, 373, 382 Norberg-Hodge, Helena 111 Nirvanic possibility, 11 Nunnery, 63 Nyim a Ozer (cave), 153, 155 Nyingmapa, 10 Om mane padme hum, 117, 146 One pointedness, 381

Index

419

One taste, yoga o f 350, 381 Original mind, 74 Padar, 30 Padma Karpo, 19, 87, 339 Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche), 8, 66, 116, 158, 164, 171 Padum, 59, 158, 218 Pallis, Marco xi, 91 Path meditation, 72 Patrul, 26 Pentse la (pass), 149, 234 Pervading insight, 76 Phadampa Sangye, 28, 295, 316 Phagmodru, 17, 94 Phugtal Gompa, 19, 54, 227 Phyang gompa, 94 Physiologists o f yoga, 89 Possession, 109 Pot breath, 346 Prajnaparamita, 295 Practice sect, 90 Predispositions, ie samskaras; 365 Privacy in Dharma practice, 334, Chap: 16 Preliminaries, 95 Prostrations, 96 Protector (yidam), 98 Psychophysiology, 211, 334 Psychotherapy, 126, 193, 405 Punghey, 30 Puntzog Dawa, Gyalpo o f Padum, 213 Purang, 82 Purification o f defilements, 134 Pume, 226 Queen o f Ladakh, 112, 243 Questions o f Iskander, 25 Rangdum Gompa, 143, 148

Refuge formula, 97 Refugee road gang, 68 Reincarnation, 114, 250 Ri-me masters, 26 Rohtang Pass, 238, 244 Sakti, 72 Sakya Trizin o f Sakyapa, 327 Samye Ling, 199 Sangha, 6 Sani Gompa, 33, 147, 152, 155, 163, 249 Sankar Gompa, 105 Santarakshita, 8 Sartre, xvii Saspola village, 132 Ser Rimpoche, 253 Sexuality, 336 Shakyashri, 26, 28, 199, 371, Chap: 17 Shila, 60 Shingo la (pass), 184, 232 Silence, 120 Sinking , dullness, distraction, 362 Six Yogas o f Naropa, 7, 87, 99, 170, 368 Snellgrove, David xi Social life in Ladakh, 104 Sociobiology, 404 Sonam Dorje, yogin, 207, 210 Sonam, Konsum , see Gonpo. Sonam Ngodrup, yogin o f Sani, 169 Stages o f the path, 389 Staglung Rimpoche, 72, 116, 370 Stagna Gompa, 10, 20 -Rimpoche, 25, 33, 83 37,142, 166 170 Stagrimo Gompa,Padum, 40, 46, 63, 194, 218

420

The Y ogins o f Ladakh

Stagtshang Repa, 20, 82 Stongde Gompa, 86 Stok Palace, 112 Sutras, 11, 138 Tantric Hinduism, 6, -practice, 138, 295, 334 - yogin, 6 Tashi Rabgyas, xxiii, 35, 56, 59 86, 142, 255, 340, 342 Tayul Gompa, Lahoul, 241 Teaching sect, 90 Tensing Palmo, English yogini, 243 Ter-go-tse, 168 Tibetan Buddhism and Western thought, xv -calendar, 93 Tikse Gompa, 113 Tilopa, 7, 16 Tipun Padma Chogyal, xxv, 29, 67, 6 9 ,2 5 3 Tragthog Gompa, 27 Training schedule, yogins, 95 Trance walking, 44 Transference o f Consciousness (Pho.Bd) 99 Tsangpa Gyare, 18, 94 Tsering Dorje o f Lahoul, 111, 327 Tsering Shakya, 35, 56 Tsewang Choster, Goba o f Sani, 152 Tsongkhapa, 10, 57, 136 Tucci, Guiseppi xi Tumo meditation, 69, 87, 88 Umasi La pass, 36, 177 Unborn mind, 380 University o f Nalanda, 7 Upanisads, 5 Urgyen Dzong, 65

Vairocana, 93 Vajrasattva, 135 Vedic sacrifices, 4 Vedic world, 4 V iew , the, 138 Village women, 63 Visualisation, 97 V isva Bharati University, xiii, 292 Wandering spirits, 108 Weather, 224 W. Y. Evans Wentz, xxii White fathers, 222 Women, 173 Yangongpa, 28 Yellow-billed choughs, 179 Yeshe Monlam , monk o f Rangdum, 144 Yidams 98 Yeshe O, King o f Guge, 8 Yogic practices, 61 Yogini, 60 Yogins o f Dzongkul, 21 -o f Hemis/ Gotsang, 82 Younghusband, Sir Francis x Zangla, 25 Zangskar, xii, 21, 36, 47, 54, 110, 148, 156 Zangskaris, 234 Zen, 61, 334, 406 Zhabdrung Rimpoche, 165, 247 Zhanphan Zangpo, King o f Padum,

88

Zhi.Byed system o f meditation, 28, 295 Zhi.gNas , 345 Zorawar Singh, 165, 217

Plate IB: Photo ofT ipun Padma Chogyal from Dukpa Kargyu monastery, Manali. (p.22)

Plate 2: A w o R im p o c h e fr o m a p h o t o g r a p h at M anali D u k p a Kargyu M onastery, (p . 26 )

Plate 3: Awo Rimpoche

(left) and Shakyashri in old age from

snapshots at Manali Dukpa Kargyu m on aste r y. 1986. (pp. 2 5 and 2 52-2 58)

Plate 4: Sta tu e o f N g a w a n g T s e r in g o f D z o n g k u l at T er-G o-T se near San i, Zangskar. 1 9 8 6 (p p . 17-20)

Plate 5A: T h e lo w e r g la c ie r o f th e U m a s i La pass l o o k i n g s o u th fro m a r id g e w h e r e w e c a m p e d o v e r n ig h t. 1977. (p. 36)

Plate 5B: A s c e n d i n g th e U m a s i g la c ie r o n ic e. 1977.

Plate 6A: The ice cliffs b e tw e e n th e lower a n d u p p e r Um asi glaciers lo o k in g n o r t h towards th e su m m i t o f th e pass.

Plate 6B: View n o r t h fro m th e su m m i t o f th e Umasi la pass at o ver 18000 ft 1977.

Plate 7A: M onks in c e r e m o n y at Karsha G o m p a , Zangskar. (p. 41)

P l a t e 7B: M o n k s p r e p a r i n g t o r m a s e t c . K a r s h a G o m p a . 1 977.

Plate 8: Monk* with KJirn|>o (lancing to complete a ritual in the field* of Karsh a. 1977. (p. 42)

Plate 10A: M on k s re a d in g su tra at P hugtal

Plate 1OB: T h e r e t u r n trek fro m P hu g lal 1981 J o h n C ro o k (left), Tashi Rabgyas a n d T sc r in g Shakya at t h e i r m eal in c a m p in th e L u n g n a k g o rg e. 1981.

Plate 11 : Yogin N g aw an g N o r b u o f S h ila . 1980. (p. 61)

Plate 12: K h am tag R im p o c h e at l'r g y e n D zong. 1981. (p. 64)

Plate 13: K ham tag R im p o c h e a n d T ash i Rabgyas r e a d i n g th e text o f T ip u n 's n o te b o o k . U rgyen D zong. 1981. (pp. 68-69)

Plate 14: The first page of Khamtag's notebook of T i p u n s Mahamudra text. 1981. (p. 7 0 and Chapter 17)

Piale

16: General view of L'rgvcn

D zong. (pp. 66-70 )

Plate 17: Tashi Rabgyas, Aku-la, Tsering Shakya (back to camera) and Khamtag Rimpoche enjoying a noggingon trek from Urgyen Dzong. 1981 (p. 70)

Plate 18: S taglim g R i m p o c h c at T ra g t h o g Gortipa. 1981 (pp. 72-76)

Plate 19A: H em is G o m p a . (p. 83)

Plate 19B: G o tsa n g G o m p a . (p. 85)

Plate 20A: T h e valley o f Gotsang. (p. 85)

Plate 20B: M e d ita tio n cell built o f rocks again st a vast b o u l d e r which p ro v id es th e r o o f for an i n n e r c h a m b e r . Gotsang. (p. 85)

Plaie 21 A: Yogins a l G o lsa n g G o m p a . (p. 87)

Plaie 2 IB: (p. 87)

Plate 22A: l.am ayurii, a g e n e r a l view, (p. 91)

Plate 23: The large stupas at Lamayuru

G om p ;

Plate 25: Yogins al I.amayuru. 1981.

Plate 26: A m o n a s tic library.

Plate 27A: T h e castle a n d city o f L eh . (p . 104)

Plate 27B: K h a sp an g G ornpa. 1986. (p . 118)

It
4

P late 28: Y ogin N g a w a n g D or je o f K haspan g. 1992. (p . 130, f o o t n o t e 11)

Plate 29: The Geshe N gaw angJugn e

of Saspola, with Tashi Rabgyas (left), (p. 135)

Plate 30: T h e m o n k Yeshe M o n la m in th e little h o te l at Z h u ld u k . 1986. (p. 144)

Plate 31A: T h e lakes o n th e to p o f th e P entse La, Z angskar. (p. 149)

Plate 3 IB: T h e village a n d m o n aste ry c o m p o u n d a t S a n i . 1986. (p. 151)

Vi

Plate 32A: San i village, (p . 151)

Plate 32B: S an i G o m p a w ith J a m e s o n th e b a lc o n y o f o t i r r o o m . 1986.

Plate 33A: The ancient stone statue (7-10th century CE) at Sani smeared by butter ofTerings. 1986.

Plate 33B: Flag bearing islands as ofTerings to G uru Rimpoche at Sanl. 1986.

Plate 34: T h e y o g in S o n a m N g o d r u p . M e m e G o m c h e n o f Sani. (p. 167)

Plate 35: The Tibetan

refugee practitioners of tantra whom

w e met at Nyima Ozer. (pp. 156-160)

P late 3 6 A

John

and Jam es joking

w ith

the

Goba

o f S ani.

(p p .

162-167)

Plate 36B (pp. 162-167)

Plate 37A: D z o n g k u l G o m p a . 1986. (p . 174)

Plate 37B: T h e cave o f N a r o p a at D z o n g k u l. 1986. (p. 181)

Plate 38A: T h e y o g in S o n a m K o n s u m . G o n p o , at S t a g r im o G o m p a . 1986. (p . 194-203)

Plate 38B: T h e y o g in N o c h u n g T se . S ta g rim o . 1 986. (p p . 19 4-2 0 3 )

Plate 39: T h e y o g in S o n a m D o i j e . 198 6. (p . 2 0 9 )

Plate 40: James conversing

with yogin Sonam

Doije in his room. 1986. (p. 2 1 0 )

Plate 41: V iew o f Pa d lm fr o m S ta g r im o G o m p a . 1986. (p . 2 0 3 )

Plate 4 2 A : J o h n v ie w in g th e r o o fto p s o f P a d u m fr o m th e h o u s e o f th e G yalp o, P u n tz o g D aw a. 1 9 86. (p . 2 1 4 )

Plate 42B: T h e L u n g n a k g o r g e , (p. 2 2 2 )

Plate 43A: B u r d an G o m p a in th e L u n g n a g G o r g e . 1986.

Plate 43B: P u r n e fa r m h o u s e . 1986. (p p . 2 2 6 )

Plate 44: Smithers and Snodgrass in full fig at Kargyak before attempting

the Shingo

La. 1986. (p. 2 2 9 )

Plate 45A: S t o n e s h e lte r o n th e s o u th e r n s id e o f th e S h in g o La. 1986. (p . 2 3 5 )

Plate 45B: D e s c e n d in g th e S h i n g o La in snow . O c t 1986. (p. 2 3 6 )

Plate 46A: T h e D u k p a Kargyu g o m p a f o u n d e d by A w o R i m p o c h e at M anali. 1986. (p . 2 5 2 )

Plate 46B: T h e y o u n g Ser R im p o c h e w ith his te a c h e r G c g c n K hyentse. O c t 1986. (p. 2 5 3 )

Plate 47A: T h e y o gen D r u b t c n at Manali. (p. 30 f o o tn o te 41 a n d p. 253)

Plate 47B: G e g e n K hyentse, the m e d ita tio n te a c h e r o f th e Kargyu yogin s. Manali. 1986. (p p. 25 3-25 8)

Plate 48: S e r R i m p o c h e , th e c u r r e n t in c a r n a tio n o f T ip u n Patlm a Chogyal, M anali. 1986. (p p . 2 5 2 -253)

J oh n C rook , PhD. DSc a pioneer in the socio-

e c o lo g ic a l study, le d in 19 7 7 a B ristol U n iv e r s ity e x p e d i t i o n to Z a n g sk a r in L adakh in itiatin g a series o f stud ies o n village an d m on a sd c life in the Himalayas. D u r in g this w ork ( H im alayan Buddhist Villages, J. C rook an d H. O sm aston eds. Motilal Banarsidass an d Bristol University 19 94 ), h e b eg a n studying the psychology o f yogin meditators living as herm its in the h ig h m ountains. H e is th e au thor o f The Evolution of Human Consciousness (O xford 1980), Illuminating Silence (with Chan Master S h en y en . Watkins, L o n d o n 2002 an d N ew A g e B o o k s, D e lh i) a n d The Indigenous Psychiatry of Ladakh (in A nthropology and M edicine Vols 4 and 5 1997-1998).
J ames L o w MA. PhD works as a C onsu ltant

Psychotherapist at Guys Hospital, L on don . B etw een 1973 and 1982 h e studied Tibetan la n g u a g e , literature a n d p h ilo so p h y in India with C him ed Rigdzin R in p o c h e at V isva-Bharati U n iv ersity , S a n tin ik e ta n , W. Bengal. D uring that time they prod uced translations o f over twenty ritual texts in the N y in g m a p a trad ition. H e c o n t in u e s to tra n sla te B u d d h is ts te x ts a n d t e a c h e s D zo g c h e n m editation practices. His recent p ub lications are Simply Being (Vajra Press 1998) a n d Being Right Here (Sn ow L ion 20 04 ).

Exrerjits from reviews: T h i s is a b o o k n o t to b e ta k en in h a n d u n a d v ise d ly , ligh tly o r w a n to n ly . It is a s e r io u s a t t e m p t by tw o e m i n e n t s c h o la r s o f a n th r o p o lo g y , p sy c h o lo g y a n d t h e o lo g y to u n ra vel th e m y steries o f B u d d h is m in its m o st u n c o m p r o m is in g fo r m , a n d to m a k e th is i n t e l l i g i b l e a n d d e f e n s i b l e to r e a d e r s b r o u g h t u p in a W estern in te lle c tu a l c u ltu r e ....F o r t h o s e w h o se rio u sly d e s ir e to p e n e t r a t e th e m in d se t o f a b u d d h is t h e r m it, th is b o o k is likely to c o m e as c lo s e to sa y in g s o m e t h i n g m e a n in g f u l as t h e w ritten w ord allows. T h o s e w h o p e r s e v e r e to th e e n d will a lm o s t ce rta in ly w ant to g o b ack to th e b e g in n i n g a n d start again."
J o h n U ke

Times Literary Supplement, London


1 have read it c o v e r to c o v e r w ith e n th u sia sm ! A g r e a t p ie c e o f social a n th r o p o lo g y , n e v e r m in d its q u a lity as travel w ritin g a n d its fu n c tio n as an e y e o p e n e r o n T ib e ta n y o g ic p r a c u c e s. It h as a real se n s e o f im m e d ia c y a n d e x p e r ie n c e as a travel b o o k , n e v e r m in d th e rest!"
R o b in D un ba r

Professor o f Evolutionary Psychology, Liverpool University


R e a d in g The Yogins o f Ladakh w as a c o n f ir m a t o r y e x p e r i e n c e for m e; lik e r e c e iv in g a t e a c h in g a n d k n o w in g its im p lic a t io n for p r a c u c e im m e d ia te ly . Basically its a c o n f i d e n c e in k n o w in g t h e p r o c e s s o f m e d it a t io n a n d in s o m e w ay e x p e r i e n c i n g its re la tio n sh ip to w h a t is w ritten a n d said a b o u t it, t h e n a tu r e o f d ie e g o a n d th e e x p e r ie n c e o f e x p e r i e n c e itself. S o m e h o w th e valley flo o r h a s risen a n in c h !
D r . E ddy S t r e e t

Counselling an d Clinical Psychologist, Cardiff M O TILA L B A N A R SID A SS PU B L ISH E R S PVT. LTD.


------------- D elhi ( india ) ---------------E m a i l : m llK l@ v sn l.c o m

9788120814790

Website: www.nilhd.rom Rs. 395 C o d c i 14790