Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tibet | Lhasa | Drepung Monastery

Drepung Monastery in Lhasa
Drepung Monastery near Lhasa has been locked down after protests by monks there. See Mass Silent Protest in Tibet’s Drepung Monastery Following China’s Continued Implementation of “Patriotic Education.”
Main Temple at Drepung
Before the communist era in Mongolia and China many Mongolians studied in Gomang College at Drepung, including Zanabazar during his First Trip to Tibet and probably Galdan Bolshigt.

Excerpt from my Life of Zanabazar:

Drepung Monastery, where Zanabazar probably stayed while in Lhasa is still one of the three big monasteries, along with Sera and Gandan, in the Lhasa area, and continues to be an important pilgrimage site for Tibetans, as well as a standard stop on all tourist excursions in Lhasa. I have visited Drepung several times. Once I was there in the winter when the courtyards and hallways were jammed with hundreds if not thousands of Tibetan pilgrims from the countryside. On this occasion I had the benefit of a guide and translator, a Tibetan woman in her thirties who spoke excellent English. I explained to her that I would like to ask someone at Drepung whether they knew anything about Zanabazar, the famous Mongolian lama who had visited here in the mid-seventeenth century. I had intended that she ask someone in a position of authority about this, but instead she immediately turned to an old toothless monk who happened to be shuffling by and put the question to him. He was hard of hearing and my translator ended up shouting at him while he cupped his hands to his ears in order to hear. He finally understand her question and after ruminating at length, all the while twirling the half-dozen or so white hairs which constituted his beard, said "Oh," you must mean the famous Mongolian lama whose 9th Reincarnation now lives in India."

Amazingly, he was indeed referring to Zanabazar, whose current reincarnation is now headquartered at a monastery in Simla, India. I was startled to hear that he knew about Zanabazar, but even more so that he aware of Zanabazar's present reincarnation. "Ask him how he knows about the reincarnation in India," I told my translator. After another shouting match she replied, "He heard about this lama on BBC."

Come," said the monk, "I'll show you where Zanabazar lived." He led us up some cobbled pathways to the back of the monastery and pointed to a mass of ruined walls and rubble covering the hillside. "Zanabazar lived in one of those buildings, but they were destroyed back during the troubles," he said, referring to the Cultural Revolution. Unfortunately the monk could tell us nothing more about Zanabazar's stay in Lhasa during his first trip to Tibet, but it seems significant that even the humblest of the monastery's current inhabitants remember his presence at Drepung.

Ruins of buildings where Zanabazar lived while studying at Drepung

That Drepung has been closed down does not bode well for anyone. A new Party Boss has just been named for Tibet, leading to all kinds of Bizarre Speculations.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

India | Darjeeling | Madame Blavatsky | Mahatmic Intrigue

Along with being famous for tea, Darjeeling is invariably connected with the so-called Mahatmas, or Ascended Masters, the spiritual teachers first unleashed on the unsuspecting world in the late nineteenth century by the Russian traveler, writer, co-founder of the Theosophical Society, world-class adventuress, and Fairy Godmother of the New Age movement Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, often referred to by her followers as H.P.B.
Madame Helena Petronova Blavatsky

According to H.P.B. the Mahatmas were highly evolved spiritual entities who had taken human form and were acting as her gurus. The Theosphical Society was based in part on the teachings of these Mahatmas as relayed to the general public by Madame Blavatsky and in Hundreds of Letters to various people that they allegedy wrote, many of which were eventually collected and published in book form. Madame Blavatsky managed to convince her huge and influential following during her lifetime of the existence of the Mahatmas, although sceptics maintained that they never existed outside of her own legendarily fecund imagination and that the letters which supposedly emanated from them were written by H.P.B. herself.
If, however, the Mahatmas were inventions of Madame Blavatsky’s, they should have vanished from the scene when she herself transmigrated in 1891. Instead, to the intense frustration of Madame Blavatsky’s innumerable critics, they refused to disappear and instead took on a life of their own, continuing to write letters and appear either in material or astral form to those who had taken up the Theosophical torch. Many later adherents of Theosophy, including Nicholas Roerich and his wife Helena Roerich (given their Shambhalic proclivities it was inevitable that both of them eventually showed up in Ulaan Baatar) continued to believe explicitly in the Mahatmas. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books, articles, and pamphlets have been written about them, both pro and con, and indeed the dispute about their existence rages on to this day, as any search on the internet will very quickly reveal.
In Madame Blavatsky’s day Darjeeling was a hotbed of Mahatmic intrigue. Madame Blavatsky herself had been taken there by the Mahatmas, in particular Morya, or Master M. as he was sometimes called.
Although numerous Mahatmas would surface over the years the two most prevalent, and certainly the two busiest letter writers were Master Morya and Koot Hoomi.
Koot Hoomi
One of the more celebrated meetings with a Mahatma took place near Darjeeling, between one of Madame’s Indian acolytes, a young man named S. Ramaswamier, and Master Morya.

Madame Blavatsky and her co-conspirator, the American lawyer Henry Steele Olcott, had founded the Theosophical Society in New York City in September of 1875.
Henry Steel Olcott
In December of 1878 Madame Blavatsky—by that time a naturalized American citizen (the first Russian woman to achieve that honor)—and Olcott decamped to Bombay, India, where they hoped to find more fecund grounds for the flowering of the Theosophical Society. They soon attracted a sizable contingent of both Indian and British followers. Among the Indians was Ramaswamier, a young clerk from the city of Tinnevelly. During a visit to the Theosophical Headquarters in Bombay in September of 1881 Ramaswamier claimed to have seen a materialization of Master Morya, and shortly thereafter he received a letter from the Master welcoming him as an chela, or acolyte, in the Himalayan Brotherhood. “Upasika [“female disciple,” the Masters’ name for Madame Blavatsky] has all the instructions. Let my chela [Ramaswamier] follow the instruction he will receive from her,” Master M. told him in a letter. Like many chelas and other Theosophy camp followers Ramaswamier was extremely eager to see and converse with the Masters, and he apparently began badgering Madame Blavatsky, who was in communication with them, to arrange a meeting. At some point he must have threatened to go to Tibet in search of the Masters himself if Madame Blavatsky would not faciliate an encounter. In response, Ramaswamier received another Mahatma letter sometime in September of 1882: “YOU cannot go to Tibet . . .” Master M. admonished him, “You must first show that you deserve it by labouring in that direction for two or three years. You must be prepared to do anything told to you, anything you are ordered through her [Madame Blavatsky]. If you have faith in us—others have not—are you prepared to do all and everything to prove our existence?” If Madame Blavatsky was, as her legions of detractors maintained, the actual author of the various letters from the Mahatmas, then instructions like these were just fairly simply ploys to ensure the obedience of her followers. As it turned out, Ramaswamier was “prepared to do all and everything to prove” the existence of the Masters.”

About this time Ramaswamier had a physical and mental breakdown. He applied for and was granted a medical leave of absence from his job.“One day in September last,” he later wrote, “while I was reading in my room, I was ordered by the audible voice of my blessed Guru, M——Maharsi, to leave all and proceed immediately to Bombay, whence I had to go in search of Madame Blavatsky wherever I could find her and follow her wherever she went. Without losing a moment, I closed up all my affairs and left for the station.”
In Bombay he discovered that Madame had become very ill and had suddenly decamped from the city several days earlier. As Ramaswamier himself later related:
Really not knowing whither I had best go, I took a through ticket to Calcutta; but, on reaching Allahabad, I heard the same well-known voice [Master M.?] directing me to go to Berhampore. At Azimgunge, in the train, I met, most providentially I may say, with some Babus (I did not then know they were also Theosophists since I had never seen any of them), who were also in search of Madame Blavatsky. Some had traced her to Dinapore, but lost her track and went back to Berhampore. They knew, they said, she was going to Tibet and wanted to throw themselves at the feet of the Mahatmas to permit them to accompany her. At last, as I was told, they received from her a note, informing them to come if they so desired it, but that she herself was prohibited from going to Tibet just now. She was to remain, she said, in the vicinity of Darjeeling and would see the BROTHERS on the Sikkim Territory, where they would not be allowed to follow her. . .
Although it would appear he had found the trail of the elusive Madame Blavastky, for whom he was so diligently searching, Ramaswamier decided for some reason to continued on to Calcutta. Here he met with a “Brother Nobin,” president of the local Theosophical Society. Nobin, relates Ramaswamier, “would not tell me where Madame Blavatsky was, or perhaps did not then know himself. Yet he and other had risked all in hopes of seeing the Mahatmas.” Apparently Nobin soon got intimations of her whereabouts, since on 23 September he took Ramaswamier to the city of Chandernagore, just north of Calcutta, where they were promptly united with the frustratingly evasive Madame Blavatsky. She had little to say to the hapless Ramaswamier, but a man with her who he assumed was a Tibetan informed him, Ramaswamier, that he was too late, “that Madame Blavatsky had already seen the Mahatmas and that he had brought her back.” Nevertheless Ramaswamier, Nobin, and assorted other camp followers were now determined to follow Madame Blavatsky where ever she might go. There followed a bizarre series of events—trains mysteriously leaving ahead of schedule, connections inexplicable missed, and so on—which again separated the Theosophical seekers from their leader. Ramaswamier explains:
It requires no great stretch of imagination to know that Madame Blavatsky had been or was, perhaps, being again taken to the BROTHERS, who, for some good reasons best known to them, did not want us to be following and watching her. Two of the Mahatmas, I had learned for a certainty, were in the neighbourhood of British territory; and one of them was seen and recognised—by a person I need not name here—as a high Chutuktu [?] of Tibet.
Finally, however, Madame Blavatsky with her band of acolytes in tow reached Darjeeling. Here Madame shut herself up in house of a Bengalese Theosophist and refused to talk to any of the party who had followed her, including Ramaswamier. No matter, however; on or about September 30 Ramaswamier got a letter from Master M. with explicit instructions written in the third person:
RAMASWAMIER will don the robes of a regular Vedantin ascetic—even to the top-knot if necessary, and send his useless clothes to Bombay. He must travel from town to town along the line to Allahabad, and preach Theosophy and Vedantism. Every one must know he is my chela, and that he has seen me in Sikkim. He must let Upasika know of his movements constantly, and finally join her at Allahabad—as also receive my orders through her. His whole aspiration and concern must be directed towards one aim—convince the world of our existence.
The point to remember here is that Master M is telling the impressionable Ramaswamier about their meeting before it even occurred, thus making it appear that such an encounter was pre-ordained. Yet Madame Blavatsky herself refused to offer any assistance. “To all our importunities,” Ramaswamier wrote, “we could get only this answer from her: that we had no business to stick to and follow her, that she did not want us, and that she had no right to disturb the Mahatmas, with all sorts of questions that concerned only the questioners, for they knew their own business best.”
If, as her armies of detractors maintained, Madame Blavatsky was the inventor of the Mahatmas and their letters were in fact her productions then this whole series of events was a masterful pyschological ploy. She had managed to assemble a whole group of Theosophists in Darjeeling, all the while maintaining she did not want them here, and then herself refused their heart’s desire—meeting the Mahatmas—while in a letter to Ramaswamier intimating that such an encounter was inevitable. It’s no wonder that Ramaswamier was confused. He was, after all, not only on medical leave for physical and mental exhaustion but had also just traveled helter-skelter coast-to-coast across India upon the instruction of “voices” and mysteriously delivered letters. “In despair, I determined, come what might, to cross the frontier which is about a dozen miles from here, and find the Mahatmas, or-DIE,” he wrote. “I never stopped to think that what I was going to undertake would be regarded as the rash act of a lunatic.”

“October 5, I set out in search of the Mahatmas,” wrote Ramaswamier. “I had an umbrella, and a pilgrim’s staff for sole weapons, with a few rupees in my purse. I wore the yellow garb and cap. Whenever I was tired on the road, my costume easily procured for me for a small sum a pony to ride.” He was bound for Sikkim, the border of which was at that time about a dozen miles north of Darjeeling, even though he had no permit to enter the country and would face arrest if caught. That afternoon he tried to cross the Ranjit River via the swaying suspension bridge, but soon lost his nerve and took the ferry instead. Soon the path narrowed and he was in thick jungle. “I met on the road, in the afternoon, a leopard and a wild cat;” he wrote, “and I am astonished now to think how I should have felt no fear then nor tried to run away. Throughout, some secret influence supported me. Fear or anxiety never once entered my mind. Perhaps in my heart there was room for no other feeling but an intense anxiety to find my Guru.” At nighfall he happened upon by sheer luck an uninhabited two-room cabin. The door was locked but a rear window proved to be unbolted. “By a strange coincidence of circumstances,” he noted, “the hillman had forgotten to fasten it on the inside when he locked the door! Or course, after what has subsequently transpired I now, through the eye of faith, see the protecting hand of my Guru everywhere around me.”
His sleep was interrupting by the arrival of two or three people who took up residence in the adjoining room, unaware of his presence. He was terrified that they were robbers who might murder him for his admittedly few ruples, or, alternately, that he would be mistaken for the robber and they would kill him to protect themselves. After a harrowing night he managed to sneak back out the window at the first light of dawn and continue on his way. Here Ramaswamier must be quoted at length, since his account is one of the few detailed descriptions of an alleged meeting with a Mahatma in the flesh, in this case Master Morya:

It was, I think, between eight and nine a.m. and I was following the road to the town of Sikkhim whence, I was assured by the people I met on the road, I could cross over to Tibet easily in my pilgrim’s garb, when I suddenly saw a solitary horseman galloping towards me from the opposite direction. From his tall stature and the expert way he managed the animal, I thought he was some military officer of the Sikkhim Rajah. Now, I thought, am I caught! He will ask me for my pass and what business I have on the independent territory of Sikkhim, and, perhaps, have me arrested and—sent back, if not worse. But—as he approached me, he reined the steed. I looked at and recognized him instantly . . . I was in the awful presence of him, of the same Mahatma, my own revered Guru whom I had seen before in his astral body, on the balcony of the Theosophical Headquarters! It was he, the “Himalayan BROTHER” of the ever memorable night of December last, who had so kindly dropped a letter in answer to one I had given in a sealed envelope to Madame Blavatsky—whom I had never for one moment during the interval lost sight of—but an hour or so before! The very same instant saw me prostrated on the ground at his feet. I arose at his command and, leisurely looking into his face, I forgot myself entirely in the contemplation of the image I knew so well, having seen his portrait (the one in Colonel Olcott’s possession) a number of times. I knew not what to say: joy and reverence tied my tongue. The majesty of his countenance, which seemed to me to be the impersonation of power and thought, held me rapt in awe. I was at last face to face with “the Mahatma of the Himavat” and he was no myth, no “creation of the imagination of a medium,” as some sceptics suggested. It was no night dream; it is between nine and ten o’clock of the forenoon. There is the sun shining and silently witnessing the scene from above. I see HIM before me in flesh and blood; and he speaks to me in accents of kindness and gentleness. What more do I want? My excess of happiness made me dumb. Nor was it until a few moments later that I was drawn to utter a few words, encouraged by his gentle tone and speech. His complexion is not as fair as that of Mahatma Koot Hoomi; but never have I seen a countenance so handsome, a stature so tall and so majestic. As in his portrait, he wears a short black beard, and long black hair hanging down to his breast; only his dress was different. Instead of a white, loose robe he wore a yellow mantle lined with fur, and, on his head, instead of a pagri, a yellow Tibetan felt cap, as I have seen some Bhootanese wear in this country. When the first moments of rapture and surprise were over and I calmly comprehended the situation, I had a long talk with him. He told me to go no further, for I would come to grief. He said I should wait patiently if I wanted to become an accepted Chela; that many were those who offered themselves as candidates, but that only a very few were found worthy; none were rejected—but all of them tried, and most found to fail signally, especially—and—. Some, instead of being accepted and pledged this year, were now thrown off for a year . . . The Mahatma, I found, speaks very little English—or at least it so seemed to me—and spoke to me in my mother-tongue—Tamil. He told me that if the Chohan permitted Madame B. to go to Pari-jong next year, then I could come with her . . . The Bengalee Theosophists who followed the “Upasika” (Madame Blavatsky) would see that she was right in trying to dissuade them from following her now. I asked the blessed Mahatma whether I could tell what I saw and heard to others. He replied in the affirmative and that moreover I would do well to write to you and describe all . . .
Ramaswamier immediately turned around and headed back to Darjeeling, arriving late that evening completely exhausted by his two day ordeal. “I could neither eat, nor sit, nor stand. Every part of my body was aching,” he declared. He immediately went to see Madame Blavatsky, who was spending the evening with other members of the Theosophical Society. “At their prayer and Madame Blavatsky’s command, I recounted all that had happened to me, reserving of course my private conversation with the Mahatma . . . They were all, to say the least, astounded!”

We have no further description of Madame Blavatsky’s reaction, but she must have been very pleased by the performance of her acolyte. He had met Master Morya in Sikkim just as he had been instructed to do in the letter he had received earlier. His account was duly published in December issue of Madame Blavatsky’s journal The Theosophist under the title “How a ‘Chela’ Found His ‘Guru,”’ and became one of the main “proofs” of the existence of the Mahatmas, although of course there were no witnesses but Ramaswamier himself. Ramaswamier stuck to his story for the rest of his life. “And now that I have seen the Mahatma in the flesh,” he declared, “and heard his living voice, let no one dare say to me that the BROTHERS do not exist. Come now whatever will, death has no fear for me, nor the vengeance of enemies; for what I know, I KNOW!

No novelist would dare create a character like Madame Blavatsky. She was definitely sui generis. Marion Meade has waded into the morass of myth and legends swirling around H.P.B. and emerged with a fairly cogent, and wonderfully entertaining, biography firmly in hand. See her account of Madame Blavatsky's well-nigh unbelievable life: Madame Blavatsky: The Woman Behind the Myth. Book Description:
“Madame Helena Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, was the granddaughter of a White Russian princess. She became the first internationally famous professional psychic and she was also a brilliant occult con artist who drew such figures as G. B. Shaw and William Butler Yeats into her bizarre web. A fervent flower child, she journeyed to the East in search of enlightenment almost 100 years before the hippie hegira of the 1960s.”
For less impartial accounts compiled by a True Believer see:

Read H.P.B.s magnum opus The Secret Doctrine:

Friday, November 25, 2005

India | Darjeeling | Shambhala | Csoma de Koros

The Transylvanian Traveler at Rest - The Grave of Csoma de Köros in Darjeeling, India

Csoma de Köros was a full-blown eccentric who devoted his entire life to the pursuit of arcane knowledge. As the Russian Shambhalist Madame Helena Blavatsky noted, "a poor Hungarian, Csoma de Körös, not only without means, but a veritable beggar, set out on foot for Tibet, through unknown and dangerous countries, urged only by the love of learning and the eager wish to shed light on the historical origin of his nation. The result was that inexhaustible mines of literary treasures were discovered." Among the written works unearthed were the first descriptions of the Buddhist Realm of Shambhala to reach the West . . . Continued

Although my main reason for going to Darjeeling was to make a pilgrimage to Csoma's grave I also of course wanted to sample the Darjeeling Teas for which the surrounding area is famous. Above is a tea plantation just across the road from the tomb. After paying homage to Csoma I visited one of the dozens of local tea emporiums, where I was faced by a bewildering array of types and grades of tea. The very best grades of black tea, such as “First Flush Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe," can cost up to twenty dollars for 100 grams, depending on what garden it comes from and where you buy it. I bought some “Second Flush Ruby Clonal” from the Arya Garden plantation and by evening I was comfortable ensconsced in the second story lounge of the Bellevue Hotel, which overlooked the Chowkra, the main square of Darjeeling, with a cup of freshly-brewed Darjeeling tea at my elbow. How much different this tea is from that found in the tea bags commonly sold throughout the rest of the world! If we lived in a more orderly society the chairmen of the board and CEOs of bag tea purveyors would be hauled off to the nearest public square and given a sound horse whipping for trying to pass off on the unsuspecting populace the floor sweepings they dare to call tea.
Tea at Local Market: this isn't Lipton's!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Nepal | Mongolia | Shambhala | Endgame Update

Could this be Maitreya?: Boy in Nepal Believed to be Reincarnation of Buddha. Already he is attracting 10,000 pilgrims a day . . . And now the Ruins at Armageddon have just been uncovered. Is there some kind of convergence here? Lama Gombo at Lamrim Khiid has opined that 2012 just might be the year the 25th Khalkin King of Shambhala returns with General Hanuman to lead the last battle against the enemies of Buddhism . . . Traditional Tibetan Sources give the year 2327 for the Return of the Last King of Shambhala, but recent events, including the Destruction of the Bamian Buddhas by the Taliban, may have speeded up the timetable. Look out folks, it's Katy-Bar-the-Door Time! Need I add that the 14th Dalai Lama is giving a Kalachakra Initiation this January at Amaravati, India, where according to tradition Buddha taught the Kalachakra Tantra to the First King of Shambhala? According to tradition, whoever takes the initiation has a chance to be Reborn in Shambhala.
For more details see:
Excerpt from Kalachakra Tantra:
Through making prayer-wishes persons can be reborn in Shambhala whereby they can enjoy the Kulikas' [Kalkis'] continued preaching of the doctrine. Also, initiation [into the Kalachakra] is said to establish predispostions for rebirth in Shambhala not only for the sake of maintaining practise of the Kalachakra system but also for being under the care and protection of the Kulika Rudra With A Wheel when the great war comes. Thus, Shambhala is a beacon of hope in a world of tragedy for many Tibetans, Mongolians, Bhutanese, Sikkimese, Nepalese, and Ladakhis.

Excerpt from The Wheel of Time:
The Kalachakra or “Wheel of Time” is a tantra that plays a unique and paradoxical role in Tibetan Buddhism. On the one hand, most Tibetan Buddhists believe it to represent the very pinnacle of Buddhist esoterism. The Kalachakra presents the Buddha’s most profound and complex statement on matters both worldly and religious, and its intricacies have placed it beyond the ken of all by a few specialized scholars and practioners who can master it onlTy by understanding a vast range of traditional ideas and practises. On the other hand, initiations into the meditational practise of Kalachakra are the only Anuttara Yoga tantra initiations that are offered to the general public. The Kalachakra’s association with the kingdom of Shambhala, the ground of a future revival of the Dharma, gives it a special eschatological focus.

Excerpt from The Practise of Kalachakra:
For most attendees, the purpose of sitting through the initiation ceremony would not be to receive empowerment as a permission to enter into the yogic endeavors, but rather to have the opportunity to bask in the bright rays of the spiritual communion with the initiating lama, in this case the Dalai Lama, and hopefully to absorb a sprinking of spiritual energy from the occasion. As well, the hope would be to generate karmic seeds that establish a link with the lama and also with Shambala [Shambhala], the mythological pure land of the Kalachakra doctrine.
Also see:

Monday, November 21, 2005

Mongolia | Bush and Hulegu

George W. "The Hulegu of This Age" Bush is in town.
Reaching out across the Ages, Bush shakes hands with previous incarnation Hulegu. They agreed on Baghdad: “Git-R-Done!” Hulegu leveled Baghdad in the year 1258. Bush is working on it. Read what the Persian historian Ata-Malik Juvaini has to say about Hulegu:

Juvaini had this to say about Hulegu’s mother, Sorkhakhtani, the niece of the Keriat khan Tooril who had been seized as war booty after the defeat of the Keraits by Chingis and given to Hulegu’s father Tolui, Chingis's fourth son, as a wife:
And her hand was ever open in munificence and benefaction, and although she was a follower and devotee of the religion of Jesus she would bestow alms and presents upon imams and shaikhs and strove to revive the sacred observances of the faith of Mohammed (may God bless him and give him peace!) . . . And always she would sent alms to all parts to be distributed among the poor and needy Moslems, and so she continued until [February or March of 1252], when the Destroyer of Delights sounded the note of departure.
Be advised that Juvaini, who was Hulegu's hired pen-slinger, wisely ends his narrative in 1257, before the destruction of Baghdad. As a Sunni Moslem himself he would have had a problem dealing with that. He does, however, provide an interesting description of Hulegu's defeat of the so-called Assassins and the destruction of their fortress castle at Alamut in 1256, which he witnessed. The Assassins were Shiites, Ismailis at that, on whom Juvaini could not pour enough scorn. Some things never change. Read about the Assassins here:

Excerpt from The Secret Order of Assassins:
In the power of Alamut was thought to be all the wild malice and destruction a soul could dream of: at a word a dagger was ready, at a word kings and lords laid low. No fear of earthly punishment or divine displeasure: only a total immersion in the power of death, as in the delight of sense. Of the atheistic devotion the ordinary citizen must hardly think: yet he was permitted a glimpse in the stories of the secret master of such men. A god to all about him, he owned no god beyond. At his command, the company would assemble at night in forbidden orgies, celebrating the rites of sex with any to hand in the covering darkness, to the nearest and most forbidden; or at a glance, fifty men would leap from the turrets about him to a far death below. So splendid a luxuriance had as arresting a fascination as it had impossibility in real life; and it became a favored possession of the Muslim, and then too of the Western, imagination.
For an explanation of how legends about the Assassins, most of them untrue, became embedded in the Western consciousness see:

I would go with Secret Order of the Assassins first.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Mongolia | Ulaan Baatar | Asian Art Museum

Popped into the Asian Art Museum, just down the street from the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum. This small but surprisingly well appointed private museum holds the personal collection of A. Altangerel, who since the early 1990s has amassed a staggering array of Mongolian Buddhist art. As Altangerel says in the beautifully produced catalog of his collection, “Although I was not academically trained in the discipline of material cultural studies, I have devoted my entire life, including most of my waking hours, to the work of studying and protecting the precious historical and cultural heritages of the native folk of Mongolia, in order to preserve those works for posterity.” His main goal, he adds, “is to protect important works of art and to keep these precious relics of our long history from leaving the country forever.”

His collection includes two works directly attributed to Zanabazar: a 22 7/8 inch-high bronze statue of a standing Janraisig (Avalokitesvara) and a 13 5/8 inch high Ratnasambhava, one of the Transcendental Buddhas. The collection is apparently shown in the museum on a rotating basis and these two works are not currently on display. Also not on display is a silk appliqué, 25 ¼ x 21 3/8, showing a three-eyed Narkhajid holding a skull cup filled with blood. Zanabazar’s wife was believed by some to be an emanation of Narkhajid.

There is on display a 12 x 9.5 inch portrait of Zanabazar dating from the 18th-19th centuries (artist unknown). Taranatha, the incarnation of Javzandamba prior to Zanabazar, is shown with white hair and a beard in the lower left hand corner of the portrait. There is also a 5 7/8 inch high paper-maché statue of Zanabazar in his familiar pose, holding a vajra and bell. There are also many “School of Zanabazar” works, many of superb quality, in the collection. Here are some of the the works on display:

An illustrated Sutra
After a couple hours at the museum I nipped over to nearby Narya’s Café. Even though it was three o’clock in the afternoon and a weekday every table was occupied and I had to take a stool out in the front room. Narya’s now has bragging rights to the best coffee in town. I’ve heard it said (by people who have never been there) that only ex-pats and tourists frequent Narya's but I when I was there I was the only non-Mongolian in the place. Narya’s also has Wi-Fi, although you are supposed to pay 1000 togrogs (85 cents) to use it.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Mongolia | UB News

A potpourri of Ulaan Baatar news . . . Another one of Ulaan Baatar's Mystery Buildings. I have asked a dozen people what this is and no one has a clue. Whatever it is, the building does not seem to be open to the public. Maybe some strange cult is holding secret ceremonies here . . . Neo-Grecian Dionysians?
Ulaan Baatar has joined the Wi-Fi World and now boasts several hotspots. This one is near the Tech Center on Little Ring Road. On September 27 a new sixty-nine foot-high statue of Buddha sponsored by the South Korean Kimgon Buddhist Center and dedicated to Zanabazar was unveiled at Zaisan Hill, near the Bogd Khan's Winter Palace Museum. (Photo courtesy of Monkhnyagt)
The Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum has just recently gotten a new coat of paint and now looks quite spiffy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mongolia | Ulaan Baataar | Full Moon

The Full Moon occurred here in Ulaan Baatar at 8:57 this morning. The exact moment of the Full Moon, with 100% illumination, lasts only for a split second, which I was able to catch on my live-time lunar calendar.
Moon with 100% illumination
Three minutes later the illumination had already dropped to 99.99999930 as the Moon began to wane. Keep in mind that although the actual moment of the Full Moon lasts only for a split second, for all practical purposes the moon is full for several days. According to my astronomical calendar the moon is full for three days and nights this month:
This of course marks the middle of the month according according to the Islamic lunar calendar. Today is the 14th day of the month of Shawwal.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Mongolia | Zanabazar | Yestiin Hot Springs

Yestiin Hot Springs

N48º36.149 – E107º50.465. Töv Aimag. Located on a small tributary of the Bugaryaagiin Gol, which flows north into Buryatia, the springs are accessible by horse only from Möngönmort forty miles to the southeast or from the Terelj resort area forty-two miles to the south-southwest.

While overseeing the construction of nearby Sardgiin Khiid from 1654 to 1680 Zanabazar would have ample opportunities to visit Yestiin Rashaan (rashaan = mineral springs) twelve miles to the northwest. According to tradition Zanabazar identified here up to twenty individual mineral springs here and gave very specific instructions on how they were to be used. Water from the smaller springs, many of them just seepages, were said to affect different parts of the body; there are springs for the left and right eye, the left and right nostril, the left and right kidney, teeth, heart, lungs, stomach, skin, ulcers, bones, and on. There are also larger springs around which bathing pits were dug and log bath houses established. Bathing in the water of these springs was said to beneficial for the whole body. The best time to use the springs is in spring or autumn, and for a full treatment they should be used daily for regimes of twenty-one, twenty-seven, or thirty-one days. Odd-numbered days are better. Also, there is one day in each month which is thought to be the most beneficial to use the springs; for example the eighth day of the eighth month, according to the Tibeto-Mongolian lunar calendar.

According to one tradition Zanabazar stopped here for the last time in 1688 or 1689 when he was fleeing from Galdan Bolshigt and dictated to a local nobleman by the name of Tserendorj all the properties of the springs. Tserendorj then passed the information along to local people. An alternative version suggests that Tserendorj lived in the mid-nineteenth century and that in 1853 he gathered together oral traditions about Zanabazar’s instructions concerning the springs and recorded them for the benefit of subsequent users.

Currently there are two bath houses and a small chapel at the hot springs.
Temple and Bathhouse
Local Herdsman Zevgee in front of the temple
Unfortunately, as of 2005, the roof of the larger bathhouse, with three different bathing pits, has caved in, probably from snow overload, making it unusable.
Snow-damaged bathhouse
The temple contains a sign giving the best day of the month to use the springs and other information allegedly gathered by Tserendorj. The smaller springs have wooden signs indicating in Tibetan for which part of the body the water is to be used.
Signs in Mongolian and Tibetan indicating that the spring is to be used to treat the nose.
Up until 2005 herdsmen from the Tuul and Kherlen valleys traveled here by horse to take cures and retreats. My horseman when I visited here told me his cousin came here for seven days (not the full recommended regime) after a bad fall from a horse and after bathing daily in the bath houses came away cured. Locals also maintain that bathing in the larger of the baths atones for big sins, while bathing in the smaller one washes away lesser transgressions.
Local Guide Zevgee
Zevgee, long a legend in Khentii and Bayankhongor aimags, has now achieved international notoriety after the unflattering account of him given in Stanley Stewart's best-selling book In the Empire of Genghis Khan. He has, however, shrugged off the whole affair, dismissing Stewart as a bounder and a cad.
Read for yourself what Stewart has to say:
Then read what I have to say about Zevgee:

Historical Consultant Monkhnyagt
Medicine Buddha in the Temple

Monday, November 14, 2005

Mongolia | Zanabazar | Gunjiin Temple

Gunjiin Süm – Temple of the Peaceful Princess

Temple Dedicated to the Manchu Wife of Dondovdorj, Father of the Second Bogd Gegen.

Location: N048°11.009 – E107°33.379, 35.6 miles northeast of Ulaan Baatar as the crow flies and 64 miles by road via the tourist center of Terelj, at the upper end of Khökh Chuluutiin Gol, a small tributary of the Dund Bayangiin Gol, which flows into the Tuul River near Terelj. Accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicle, as several small streams north of Terelj must be crossed. In summer it might be necessary to walk the last mile or so because of the swampy road, but in winter, when the ground it frozen, it is possible to drive the whole way, assuming there is not too much snow.

The 1657 danshig naadam held for Zanabazar at Erdene Zuu after his return from his second trip to Tibet marked the ascension of his influence among his Mongolian followers. As Podzneev points out, “The Gegen’s might in Eastern Khalkha reached its extreme limits at this time; they believed in him and came to him with the most extraordinary requests.” For instance, his nephew Galdandorj, son of the Tüsheet Khan, met with Zanabazar and implored him to cure his wife’s infertility and grant him a son. After numerous such entreaties Zanabazar finally said:
I know that thou wouldst need a son; therefore when I set out in a miraculous manner for Tibet, I visited there the mountain of the hermits, and in a certain cave I found a lama named Arthasiddha, a reincarnation of Vajrapani. I told him that there was one prince among us who needed a son, and asked him for that; he replied to me that when he had completed his meditation he would be ready to be reborn as the son that prince. In proof of his fairness, I demanded that he give me an acknowledgement, and I now present it to thee. This lama died today, and his soul ought to be incarnated in the womb of thy wife.
Galdandorj’s wife did shortly thereafter become pregnant and eventually gave birth to a son who was given the name Dondovdorj.

After Zanabazar recognized Manchu suzerainty in 1691 the Qing emperor awarded Galdandorj the title of Darkhan-Ch’ing-Wang. His son, Dondovdorj, was brought up in Beijing, in the Qing court of Kangxi, and in 1697 the emperor gave him a princess to marry. Some Sources imply that the princess, named Khicheengoui Amarlangoui, was one of Kangxi’s own daughters, while others maintain she was the daughter of one the First Degree Qing princes. In either case, his marriage led to Dondovdorj’s further advancement in the Qing court, and in 1700, after his father’s death, he too was awarded the title of Darkhan-Ch’ing-Wang, in addition to becoming the new Tüsheet Khan. Dondovdorj was, however, a notorious boozer, devil-may-care lady’s man, all-around roisterer, and a poet to boot, and after gregarious affronts to public decorum he was finally forced to relinquish both his position as Tüsheet Khan and his Qing title of Darkhan-Ch’ing-Wang.

Reduced in rank to a second-degree prince, Dondovdorj returned to Mongolia, presumably with his Manchu wife. He eventually distinguished himself on the battlefield and apparently fought against the resurgent Zungarian Mongols who under the leadership of Galdan Bolshigt’s nephew Tzevan-Ravdan had invaded Tibet in 1716.

The Qing emperor Kangxi died in 1722. Zanabazar was in Mongolia at the time of Kangxi’s death. He immediately decided to return to Beijing and pay his respects to Kangxi’s remains, even though he was in his late eighties at the time. Accompanying him was Dondovdorj. The new Qing emperor, Kangxi’s son Yongzheng, forgave Dondovdorj’s previous transgressions and he was again elevated to the title of Darkhan-Ch’ing-Wang. As an additional perk he was given yet another Manchu princess in marriage.

Not long after his arrival in Beijing Zanabazar fell ill. Sensing that his end may have been nearing, his attendants asked him where and under what circumstances he would be reborn. According to tradition, Zanabazar replied, “The second wang [Dondovdorj] should bring into his home a maiden belonging according to birth to the year of the monkey or the chicken.” This was interpreted to mean that Dondovdorj was to find a Mongolian girl born in either the year of the monkey or the chicken and that the second Bogd Gegen would be born to her. Apprized of this prophesy, the emperor Yongzheng gave Dondovdorj permission to immediately return home and seek a new wife. Back in Mongolia Dondovdorj straight away found a nineteen-year old woman named Tsagaan-Dara-Bayartu who had been born in the year of the monkey and just a month after his marriage to the Chinese princess he took her as his third wife.

Zanabazar in himself died in 1723 in Beijing. In 1724, “at daybreak on the first day of the middle of the spring moon in the Wood Dragon year” a son was born to Tsagaan-Dara-Bayartu. In 1728 the boy took his first monastic vows and was given the name Lusandanbidonme. In 1729 he was declared the Second Bogd Gegeen, the seventeenth incarnation of Javzandamba.

Dondovdorj’s second Manchu wife faded into the background and nothing seems to be known of her. To this day, however, numerous folktales exist about the first one, Khicheengoui Amarlangoui, who moved to Mongolia to live with her husband and eventually came to love her adapted country and its people. “The Peaceful Princess,” as she was called, came to consider herself a Mongolian and according to legend she said that when she died she did not her body returned to the land of her ancestors but instead wished to be buried in Mongolia. "I am the wife of a Mongolian man, therefore I am a Mongolian. Bury me in Mongolian soil,” she reportedly said.

Here the ”Peaceful Princess” reenters the historical record. The Qing emperor Yongzheng’s successor, Qianlong, heard about the princess’s wish and in 1740 ordered that a temple be built in Mongolia to hold her remains (one Source claims Dondovdorj himself had the temple built). The so-called Gunjiin Süm consisted of five parts: a tower, the Bogd Entrance, a guard house, the central temple, and the grave of the princess. The complex was heavily damaged in the 1930s, however, and now only remnants of the tower and the Bogd Entrance remain. The temple was gutted but the shell remains and has been restored to a certain extant.
The Temple
The eight-foot high wall around the temple, which encompassed a square about 200 feet long on each side, is still in fairly good shape on three sides.
North side of the walled compound
The princess’s grave, behind the temple, was reportedly looted in the mid-thirties, not, according to local informants, by communist iconoclasts, but by common thieves looking for gold, silver, and other valuables believed to have been buried with her.
Researchers examining the site in 1949 found remains of the princess’s sandalwood coffin and also the body of a man preserved sitting upright in the lotus position. Further examination of the site in 1959 revealed a blouse decorated with pearls, two large loose pearls, and several dolls made of gold and silver. If the site was looted in the 1930s the thieves apparently missed these items. They are now reportedly in the Mongolian State Museum of History in Ulaan Baatar. The fate of the princess’s body remains unclear.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Mongolia | Zanabazar | Gandan Monastery

Location: Ulaan Baatar. To the west of city center, off Ikh Toiruu (Big Ring) Road, at the end of Öndör Gegeen Zanabazar Street.

The full name of Gandan Monastery is Gandantegchenling, the exact meaning of which is uncertain, but which might translate into something like “Great Place of Complete Joy” or “Great Way to the Cosmos.” The monastery was founded in 1809 by the 4th Bogd Gegeen, one of Zanabazar’s Successors, as a center for Tsanid, or advance studies in Buddhist philosophy and practice. According to A. M. Podzneev, the more advanced of the lamas at Ikh Khuree, centered at that time around current-day Sukhebaatar Square in downtown Ulaan Baatar, asked the 4th Bogd Gegeen to create a separate monastery for them:
. . . as soon as Urga began to emerge as a governmental and trading center, life at the Khuree began to oppress the learned lamas, and they planned a way to separate themselves from it. Their requests concerning this matter began as early as the times of the third gegen, though it was the fourth gegen who first heeded their wishes and in 1809 established Gandan on the spot where it stands today.
The first temple built at Gandan was known as the Shar Süm, or Yellow Temple, and in 1824 the Lamrim Temple was completed. After the return of the 5th Bogd Gegeen in 1836 from a visit to Tibet he moved his residence to Gandan and several more temples were constructed, including the main Gandantegchenling Temple in 1838 and the Vajradhara Temple in 1840-41. (Some sources cite the completion of Gandantegchenling Temple in 1838 as the beginning of Gandan.) According to Podzneev, Gandan grew rapidly in size at this time:
When . . . the Gegen’s palace was founded at the Gandan, the majority of the lamas began requesting to be enrolled in the Tsanid school in order that they might be closer to the Gegen, and the Gegen enrolled each of them, for this reason the Tsanid schools, they say, were never as full in Urga as they were at the time of the fifth Gegen
The 5th Bogd Gegeen died in 1842, at the age of twenty-seven, and was entombed at Gandan. His short-lived successor, the 6th Bogd Gegeen (1842–1849) also lived at Gandan before succumbing to small pox while still a young boy. The early deaths of these two Bogd Gegens while living at Gandan led subsequent Bogd Gegens to believe that the monastery was not a propitious residence and as a result they established living quarters elsewhere. Many monks followed, “leaving Gandan once more as the exclusive residence of the learned lamas,” according to Podzneev. The 7th and 8th Bogd Gegens were entombed at Gandan, however.

Gandan escaped the wholesale destruction suffered by most monasteries during the communist suppression of Buddhism. Some temples and stupas were destroyed or damaged, but at least six temples and the surrounding wall survived more or least in tact. The monastery itself was shut down during the height of the repressions in 1938. Religious services were reinstituted in 1944, and Gandan became a kind of showcase on display to foreign dignitaries and other visitors as proof that Buddhism had not been completely snuffed out in Mongolia.

Today Gandan is once again very active, with reportedly over 400 monks in residence. The monastery hosts a college of Medicine and Astrology and four other colleges of Buddhist philosophy and tantric practices. Gandan is also home to Zanabazar Buddhist University, founded in 1970. Specializing in Buddhist and Indo-Tibetan studies, the university attracts students and researchers from all over Mongolia and the rest of the world.

As for Zanabazar’s artworks, one of his most famous creations, the Vajradhara crafted in 1683 at his Tövkhon retreat (see above), can be seen in the Vajradhara Temple, located in a separate walled compound to the left of the main entrance to the monastery. This is the original Vajradhara Temple constructed in 1840 but subsequently remodeled.
Vajradhara Temple (Left)
Gandantegchenling Temple, dating from 1838 and located in the same compound, contains what is said to be a self-portrait of Zanabazar made at the request of his mother, although as with other of Zanabazar’s “self portraits” there is some question as to who actually made it.

Also of interest, although not directly connected to Zanabazar, is the huge Tibetan-style Megjid Janraisig Temple towards the back of the main compound, built in 1912 to house an eighty-two foot-high statue of Janraisig (Avalokitesvara). The original statue was destroyed by the communists and the metal used, at least according to anecdotal history, to make bullets. A campaign to build a replacement statue was launched in the mid-1990s under the direction of now-president of Mongolia Enkhbayar, and a new eighty-seven foot high Janraisig statue was installed in the temple in 1996. The temple now attracts hundreds if not thousands of devout pilgrims and sightseers a day and is one of the main tourist attractions in Ulaan Baatar.
Janraisig Temple
Just to the right of the Janraisig Temple is the Kalachakra Temple, also known as the Dechengalpa Datsan. Although Zanabazar was not known for his interest in the Kalachakra (Mongolian = Duinkhor) doctrine, his previous incarnation, Taranatha, wrote extensively on the subject and translated a guidebook to the kingdom to Shambhala, whose kings first propagated the Kalachakra doctrine, from Sanskrit into Tibetan. He even claimed to have visited Shambhala in a dream state (unlike other visitors to this realm, he found it inhabited almost completely by women). The Kalachakra Temple was founded by the 4th Bogd Gegeen in 1806 for the study of the Kalachakra teachings, and in 1807 Kalachakra rituals were held in the datsan for the first time. Originally the datsan was located in Ikh Khuree, in the general area of present-day Sukhebaatar Square. It was reestablished here at Gandan in 1992, and Kalachakra rituals are now held in the temple on a regular basis. The current temple contains seven extremely rare thangkas depicting the 722 Kalachakra Deities, and other thangkas depicting thirty-one of the thirty-two Kings of Shambhala (one was reportedly stolen), as well as Shambhala itself. Incidentally, the 14th Dalai Lama will be giving a Kalachakra Initiation in Amaravati, India, from January 5 to January 16, 2006.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Mongolia | Khovd Aimag | Yamaan Us Rock Engravings

The Yamaan Us, or Goat Water Rock Drawings, are located in a narrow gorge 14.7 miles east of Uyench at N46º01.392 / E092º20.049. There are several hundred drawings here on the face of a smooth-sided cliff. Most of the drawings are believed to date from the Late Bronze or Early Iron Age.

Cliffs with drawings

Examples of drawings

Closer view of the unusual drawing of a cart drawn by three horses

Drawings of ibex

Drawing of a deer
The rock drawing of the cart at Yamaan Us has become well-known and is often reproduced; here, for example, on the wall of the Buyant Restaurant (not rated by Michelin) in Khovd's Buyant Hotel.