Friday April 21, 2017 – Aspects of death



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I started the morning early in the “devotee zone”. The only problem – the coffee shop was not yet due to open, even given power. Just as I was getting all calm, collected and peaceful towards the end of practice, trying to rest my mind in its own pure nature, I realised that a young Tibetan woman was leaning over me.

“Excuse me, Sir – tea?”

She insisted on giving me a plastic cup of sweet tea (not my taste) and a bun, which warmed me up for my “real” breakfast in the Friendship Café. I was due to meet Chris there, who was going to show me the way to Dudjom Rinpoche’s kudung. I had been lucky enough to meet Dudjom Rinpoche and receive a blessing-empowerment of Guru Rinpoche from him in 1976. A “kudung” can sometimes just be relics, perhaps from a cremation, but here the word is used in the full sense: the preserved body of a great teacher. The process involves putting the body into a formal meditation posture, then placing it in a box and packing it round with salt to draw out the water. After a long time, perhaps a year, it is dry enough to be gilded, dressed, and put in its final resting place. The place may be out of sight, perhaps inside a stupa, or it may be partly visible, as it is here. I don’t know all the details of the process, but for obvious reasons it is only done for particularly revered teachers. Signs or other indications that the body should be treated this way would also be needed. It had been done for Dudjom Rinpoche after his death in 1987.

I needed a guide because the temple concerned, although it’s not far away, it’s very hard to spot. I had already tried and failed to follow written instructions. Not that the instructions had been mistaken: go out of the stupa gate, turn right, and it’s two or three hundred yards down on the left. All true! What could go wrong? The chaotic state of a busy road in Kathmandu, that’s what could go wrong. There are pictures above of the road outside the stupa gate when I arrived. What I had not known was that to find the temple you have to go down this entry way between the Sherpa Fancy Store and the bottle shop:

 

The way in – if you only know!

 

Who knew? The rest is easy. Once you’ve got past the scaffolding and building materials, the temple is obvious, and once you’re inside the temple, the golden stupa that dominates the hall is also obvious. I passed on the picture above to a couple of other people to help them find the kudung, and I show it here in case anybody else is searching for Dudjom Rinpoche’s kudung. At the present rate of development, the entrance might look quite different before long, but it might be useful for a while.

 

Dudjom temple entrance

 

You can’t miss it

If you go to the other side of the hall and stand on tippy-toes you can just see the five-Buddha crown he is wearing and his gilded forehead. So you know he’s in there!

As luck would have it, a young Rinpoche was visiting, although nobody seemed able to tell me exactly who it was. One story that was that he was a yangsi of the great dzogchen teacher Ngoshul Khen Rinpoche. But whoever he was, he was important enough that the temple was performing a long rite associated with the Wrathful Black Dakini, a deity and a practice with which I have a bit of a connection. This was not Chris’s thing, so he left while I, not having any appropriate texts with me, sat at the back and enjoyed a wrathful black glow.

When it got to lunchtime and it became clear that they were only taking a break. I figured that a participatory black glow was all very well, but it wasn’t going to keep me going for the whole day, so I crept off for lunch in the acceptable but rather disappointing Café du Temple.

I had missed the best parts of Pashupatinath on my first stab, and wondered whether it was worth going back. It’s mostly known as a Hindu site, of course, and with so many other Buddhist places to visit I might have been tempted to pass it by. But the decision to get into a taxi and tell the driver to take me to the best starting place for a visit turned out to be absolutely right.

Just like Baudha, the area around the site is full of religious trinket shops, but instead of the dorje’s and bells of Baudha, here we find Shiva lingams of all sizes, tridents and the malas made of the rudraksha seeds that Hindus like.

Trinket shop street

 

Hindu street shrine

 

Inside the main site I was picked up by a guide. This is the type who seems to casually engage you in brief conversation as you negotiate the business of paying an entry fee, but before you know it you realise that you are getting the guided tour. At this point you have to either be very firm about declining or you have to go with it. By the time I realised what was happening, Manish had impressed me as a guide worth having, and by the time I finished my visit I felt he had been worth every rupee. He was clear about where I was allowed to go and where I wasn’t, where photographs were acceptable and where they weren’t. This saved the embarrassment of treading over the invisible line, but also took me to places where I might otherwise have felt reluctant. Here, for instance, is the last point outside the main temple where non-Hindus can go:

 

The end of the line for non-Hindus

 

Pashupati is famous for the burning ghats, and as a cremation site it has long been favoured for meditation practice by both Buddhists and Hindus.

 

Just in case you you might be a bit squeamish, you won’t see the cremation here unless you click the button.

Across the river, beyond the bridge:

 

The ghats from up-river

 

The burning ghats are for death, but the site also focuses on birth. These shrines are visited by people hoping for children:

 

Temple row

 

Hanging on to the side of the cliff up-river are the “private quarters” of the ash-covered sadhus.

 

Sadhus’ homes

 

And a little further up-river again, something I had not expected: two caves, one associated with Tilopa and one with Naropa.

 

Up to the caves

 

Naropa’s cave

 

Tilopa’s cave

 

The story my guide told is that these are the caves where Tilopa and Naropa each died. Another source says that Tilopa gained siddhi (a word meaning something rather like enlightenment, but with a more tantric*, zappy connotation) in his cave, and gave empowerment to Naropa in the other. Yet another source claims that Naropa’s cave is where he had the visions of Vajrayogini that inspire much tantric Buddhist practice even today.

And here’s the best bit: Manish now disappeared up the path to fetch the caretaker to unlock the cave gates, so that I could spend a little time sitting in each of them, trying to open my mind to the vibe echoing down the last thousand years. Each cave had a small relief carving of its guru, but photographs were not allowed. I did, however, find these two on the net, which claim to be photos of these figures. They certainly look about the right style.

 

Tilopa – relief

 

Naropa – relief

 

These moments also gave Manish a chance to hang about outside and suck on a ciggy. He thought I wouldn’t see.

(*Aside: you may well already know this, but do bear in mind that the word “tantric” has been hijacked by would-be-exotic, new-age, would-be-teachers. Just a word to the wise.)

 


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