Boudhanath Stupa – A sight to behold

Lama Pasang Tempa in an undated file photo.

Lama Pasang Tempa in an undated file photo. Photographer unknown

By Laden Tshering Samdup

KATHMANDU, Nepal, 25 August 2016

Whenever I stand below the Gate and do obeisance to the Boudhanath Stupa, I feel awash with inexplicable solace and peace. This feeling may have been shared by the many Tibetan travellers, pilgrims, and traders who used the western and central trade routes when Tibet was free, and stopped by the Stupa to offer thanksgiving for having successfully traversed the Himalayas and reached Nepal safely. I don’t know when they will once again stop by the Stupa to receive blessings for a safe journey home, but today Boudhanath is a bustling metropolis, a home away from home for Tibetans and their religion and culture.

There is no historical evidence to confirm the origins of the stupa, but there is a galore of Nepali, Newari, and Tibetan folklores to claim its rightful ownership. The Tibetans have named it “Jyarung Khashyor” and recall the story of Ma Jhyazima, poultry keeper by profession but pious at heart, who wished to construct an edifice to honour the Buddha. She approached the king and was awarded the amount of land that could be covered by a buffalo hide. She however cut the hide into small strips and built an enclosure to claim a much bigger parcel of land, and began construction of the grand Stupa. This infuriated the high officials who asked the king to stop her, but the king replied ‘Jyarung Khashyor’ or “permission granted, cannot be rescinded”.

Boudhanath Stupa is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists. Many are overwhelmed by its huge structure, but that is not its only significance. Hidden within its architecture are various tenets of Tibetan Buddhism.

Its most striking feature can only be seen from the sky. From there, the stupa becomes a gigantic sprawling geometric pattern of the Mandala of five Dhyani Buddhas (Gyalwa Rig Nga) or wisdom Buddha or five qualities of Buddha; statues of the four Dhyani Buddhas (Mikyopa, Rinchen Jungne, Opame, Donyo Drubpa) adorn its four cardinal directions with Vairochana (Nampar Nangdze) in the middle enshrined under the white dome.

Such a Mandala normally conveys completeness and perfection of Buddha hood, and also signifies the gathering of Buddhas. His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaches that the Mandala is a place of gaining magnificence and in which you enter for getting this essence in the sense of receiving a blessing.

At ground level, the Stupa is adorned by 108 figures of Chenrezig or Avalokiteswara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, the one (eswara) who hears the plaintive voices (ava) of the world (lokit). Therefore the Stupa is a boon-granting place and the devotees furiously roll the many prayer wheels engraved with his mantra OM MANE PEME HUNG, seeking prosperity, success, etc.

I can’t assure you that all your prayers will be granted, but can definitely guarantee that you will receive the boon of a healthy and long life. If correlated with our mundane concerns, the religious rituals of morning and evening ‘Koras’ become what we call morning and evening walks and prostrations, what we call push-ups. At the Stupa, or for that matter in any Gonpa, you are not straining alone like in a jungle or gym doing all these physical exercises, but happily in the midst of all, and in full fragrance of burning juniper leaves or aromatherapy.

Regarding fulfilment of desires, the story of Terton Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa is worth recounting. In 1757, aged 28, while on a three-year retreat at Pelri, Tibet, on a winter night he went to sleep, as usual, full of remorse over Guru Rinpoche having forsaken him. That night he had a dream in which he flew to Jyarung Khasyor and while doing Kora there, a wisdom Dakini accosted him and handed over a small box containing yellow scrolls. These scrolls contained the mind Terma of Guru Rinpoche, which Jigme Lingpa would subsequently reveal as Longchen Nyingthik containing systematic teachings and practices of Dzogchen and today widely practiced by the Nyingmapas.

The Stupa above the base level is for more serious practitioners and traces the means and path to Buddhahood. The three concentric decreasing circular bases of the Stupa represent the earth; above it are two circular plinths to represent water; the plinths are straddled by the tower having omnipresent Buddha eyes; the nose is shaped like Nepali numeral 1 to mean Buddhism is the one and only way to reach Nirvana; the tower is topped by 13 pyramidal steps to represent the 13 efforts needed to attain Buddha hood; and above this is a triangular shape representing fire, the gilded canopy the air, and lastly the spire to represent ether or Buddha Vairochana. The elements earth, water, fire, air, and ether are all again representations of the five Dhyani Buddhas.

The five Dhyani Buddhas have personal relevance to you because they are representatives of the antidotes to your bad behaviour, or the five poisons or ‘Kleshas’ of your mind which cause suffering to you. Buddha Akshobaya represents mirror-like wisdom, the wisdom to view circumstances in their true nature without prejudices and thereby to control your anger and hatred. Buddha Ratnasambhava represents wisdom of equality, the wisdom which enables you to shed your ego and pride. Buddha Amitabha represents discerning wisdom, the wisdom which enables you to be rid of the craving, dissatisfaction, and frustration. Buddha Amogasiddhi represents the all-accomplishing wisdom, the wisdom which entails efforts free of debilitating jealousy. Buddha Vairochana as the central figure represents our ignorance, the central cause for all our disturbing emotions.

Tibetan Buddhism and culture have reincarnated in the Boudhanath area in full, and the place is dotted with imposing monasteries, about 50, of all sects of Tibetan Buddhism. But what is “small is beautiful” also happens here, down Phulbari road across Maoist Alley, in a small four-room apartment. During week days you will hear a staccato of voices reciting Tibetan ka, kha, ghaa … in one room, and full speed ahead Jyalok in another, and in the main temple room, serene voices reciting Tibetan prayers. This is Boudha Shanti Vidyalaya, whose students are mostly Nepali Buddhist ladies of age thirty years and above, with some as old as eighty, hard of hearing and seeing. It is run by a small group of lamas and the fee charged is Npr 500 per month with twice a day free serving of tea and biscuits, and knick knacks offered at the shrine by the well-to-do. No exams are held in this school and everybody’s sole ambition is to get over quickly with the alphabets and Jyaloks and join the group in the temple room to sing and recite eloquently the prayers. The school was established about 15 years ago, taught more than 6000 students, and presently has 200 pupils.

The abbot of this school is Khenpola Nwang Namgyal — self-effacing, soft-spoken, and reserved, but always smiling. The principal and driving force behind the school is Lama Pasang Tempa, fondly called ‘Ghela’ by everybody, a very active and firebrand character and involved in various social welfare activities all over Nepal despite the physical handicap of polio-stricken legs. A good friend and mentor, and sometimes seen vigorously cleaning the toilet commode.

It’s the presence of such people of Dalai Lama’s ‘magnificence’ which adds to the charm of Boudhanath being truly a place of piety and a holy place worth going on pilgrimage.

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