Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mongolia |Töv Aimag | Aryaval Temple

Wandered out to Aryaval Temple near Terelj, north of Ulaan Baatar. The temple has been under construction for several years now and should be completed this summer.

Aryaval Temple, center
Bridge leading to Aryaval Temple. The sign says, “"The Bridge to Deliver [you] Beyond Wisdom,” according to Luke Distelhorst.
Bridge with Aryaval Temple beyond
The temple while under constructionThe Kalachakra Temple, to the right of the main temple
When completed this temple will contain a thangka of Shambhala, a Kalachakra mandala, and other items connected with the Kalachakra.
In the first floor of the temple is the stunning “Gallery of Buddhist Philosophy,” with 220 original paintings by artist Bayantsagaan illustrating various points of Buddhist beliefs and philosophy.
Four of the paintingsOne of the paintings

Artist Bayantsagaan, right, explicating a fine point of Buddhist philosophy to the ever-rapt Narangua
A newly carved Buddha on the hillside above the temple
Newly constructed meditation hut in the cliffs above the temple, just visible in the center of the photo.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Mongolia | Ulaan Baatar | Zanabazar Street | Choijin Lama Museum

Strolled up to Lamrim Khiid on Zanabazar Street near Gandan Monastery.
New Stupa at Lamrim Khiid
Zanabazar Street, the wide two-lane boulevard which runs from the Big Ring Road up to the entrance of Gandan Monastery, has just been upgraded. Now there is a new tile-paved walkway down the middle between the two lanes. This medial strip has also just been planted with trees. This will make quite an impressive approach to Gandan Monastery when the trees are full grown—it’s impressive enough now.
New trees and walkway in the Zanabazar Street Medial Strip
Then I walked downtown to Choijin Lama Museum, where yet another refurbishing project is underway. Here a garden is being built in front of the museum complete with paved walkways, flowers beds, fountains, and benches for the weary of body and spirit.
New walkways, trees, flower beds, benches, et. al.
The new fountain in front of the Choijin Lama Museum
One of Ulaan Baatar’s ubiquitous street artists plying his wares in the new garden.

Although the tourist season has hardly just began there were three large groups of German tourists there, each group with twenty-to-twenty-five people. I popped in for a quick look around and discovered that the museum has been rearranged yet again and most of the statues are no longer where I described them in my Guide to Locales Connected with the Life of Zanabazar. Zanabazar’s Sitasamvara, for example, is back in the Yidam Temple at the back of the complex. In the Amagalan Temple I discovered that Zanabazar’s Ratnasambhava was missing. The woman in charge soon told me that it had been loaned to a museum in Bonn, Germany. It’s a bit ironic that over sixty German tourists are here see the artwork and one the best pieces is actually back in Germany.
Zanabazar’s Sitasamvara
See More of the Choijin Lama Museum.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Mongolia | Bayankhongor Aimag | Zanabazar’s Ovoo

One place connected with the Life of Zanabazar that I did not mention in my Guides to Zanabazar is Zaluu Uul in Shinjinst sum of southern Bayankhongor Aimag. Zaluu Uul, just south of the town of Shinjinst, is worshipped by the local people, who periodically come to the mountain to make offerings of airag, arkhi, and other dairy products.
Zaluu Uul
Zanabazar’s Ovoo
According to informants from Shinjinst, Zanabazar came here to Zaluu Uul at the request of local people who were experiencing a severe drought. The date of his trip here is uncertain. He reportedly built this ovoo while at Zaluu Uul and performed various ceremonies intended to alleviate the drought. Zaluu Uul is at the western edge of what in the seventeenth century was Khalkh, or Eastern Mongolia. This is the farthest west I have been able to trace Zanabazar’s peregrinations.
Young scholars from the grade school in the sum center of Shinjinst

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Mongolia | Dornogov Aimag | Caves |Update

Linguist, historian, and Germanic studies scholar Mönkhnyagt has pointed out that I neglected to mention what she considered one of the more interesting aspects of Danzan Rajvaa’s caves.
On the top of the cliffs above the caves is a hole which supposedly opens into a networks of air channels connecting all of the caves. This not only serves as a natural air-conditioning system but, according to monk Baatar, also allows certain biophysical energies found in the desert atmosphere here to enter the caves. These energies reportedly have an effect on those who meditate in the caves.
Hole on the top of cliffs allows in air and energies
Also I forgot this: Baatar mentioned that each of the stupas under construction at the nearby Shambhala Land had been paid for by donations from various interested parties, most of them Mongolian. One of the stupas, however, has been paid for with a donation from action-movie actor Steven Seagal, who reportedly visited Khamariin Khiid last year. I had not heard about this visit before, so if this is the case he must have made the trip without the publicity blitz which accompanied his 2002 Visit to Chingis Khan’s 840th Birthday Bash, where he made a cameo appearance after a dramatic arrival by helicopter.
Billboard touting whirlwind 2002 Mongolian tour of would-be Chingis Khan Steven Seagal. Apparently the Chingis Khan bio-pic he was planning did not pan out, which is unfortunate because I was looking forward to seeing Winona Ryder play Börte, Chingis’s wife.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Mongolia | Dornogov Aimag | Danzan Ravjaa's Caves

About 700 yards (that’s 640 meters to you decimal-heads) from the entrance to Shambhala are the caves of Danzan Ravjaa. According to tradition there were 108 caves in the side of the cliffs here. That of course is a symbolic number. How ever many caves there were in Danzan Ravjaa’s day only three remain today. According to Baatar, the monk who showed us the caves, Danzan Ravjaa was aware that the basaltic rocks which make up the cliffs were at the bottom of the huge sea which once covered much of what is now the Gobi Desert. Danzan Ravjaa believed that the spiritual energies focused here were a result of this, according to the monk.

Many occultists, including World-Class Traveler, Adventuress, and Theosophist Madame Helena Blavatsky, believed that Shambhala was located on an island in the middle of the sea which covered the Gobi Desert.
Madame Blavatsky
From Blavasky’s magnum opus The Secret Doctrine:
The last survivors of the fair child of the White Island (the primitive Svetadwipa) had perished ages before. Their (Lemuria's) elect, had taken shelter on the sacred Island (now the "fabled" Shamballah, in the Gobi Desert), while some of their accursed races, separating from the main stock, now lived in the jungles and underground ("cave-men"), when the golden yellow race (the Fourth) became in its turn "black with sin." From pole to pole the Earth had changed her face for the third time, and was no longer inhabited by the Sons of Sveta-dwipa, the blessed, and Adbhitanya, east and west, the first, the one and the pure, had become corrupted. . .
Got that? In any case, it should be noted that the traditional Tibetan concept of Shambhala, as described the Kalachakra Tantra and other works, is quite different from the Occult-Theosophist version.

Ovoo on the top of the cliffs above the caves
Newly restored terrace by the main cave overlooking the desert
The main cave with Danzan Ravjaa’s meditation platform to the right
Monk Baatar in front of the main cave
Two caves overlooking a ravine near the main cave. On the right is the Library Cave where Danzan Ravjaa reportedly kept a collection of books. This cave is well-known for always being cool even in the middle of the hottest summer days while being relatively warm in the depths of winter. To the left is the Meal Cave. According to legend when Danzan Ravjaa meditated in this cave he would have his daily meal placed on the stone platform just in front of the cave. Every day after he finished his food he would turn the bowl upside and grate off some of its edge on the stones of the platform. Thus each day the bowl became smaller and smaller and as a result each day he ate less and less. By the end of fifty days the bowl would be completely worn away and he would continue the rest of the meditation with a total fast.
Statue of Danzan Ravjaa now in the Library Cave
Driver Uuganbayar, Baatar, and Germanic studies scholar Mönkhnyagt at the caves.
View of the desert from of the top of cliffs above the caves. This area was once at the bottom of the Tethys Sea.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Mongolia | Dornogov Aimag | Shambhala

Two kilometers (1.24 miles to normal people) ATCF from Khamariin Khiid is Danzan Rajvaa’s Huge Three Dimensional Representation of the Sacred Land of Shambhala. Created in the last two years of his life, this Shambhala consisted of a huge square encompassed by a wall of 108 stupas with four gateways, plus several other larger stupas, ovoos, and other constructions. Most of the original Shambhala here was destroyed during the repressions of the late 1930, but a big project is now underway to restore the complex. The square of 108 ovoos is being rebuilt, along with three of the original four gateways and eight larger stupas.

According to tradition noblemen entered Shambhala by the right gate and lamas and teachers by the left gate. Pilgrims and worshippers entered by the Central Gate. The Central Gate had two doorways named the Golden Doorstep and the Silver Doorstep. Visitors to Shambhala entered by the Golden Doorstep and left by the Silver Doorstep. Upon entering the Golden Doorstep you were suppose to leave all harmful thoughts behind and think only auspicious thoughts while in Shambhala.
A path leading from near the temples to Shambhala ends just in front of the Center Gate.
The Center Gate with the two doorways under construction. The Brick front will have representations of the 25 Kalkin Kings of Shambhala.
Two of the larger stupas and one of the completed smaller stupas which will make up the square of 108.
Large stupa and two smaller stupas making up the square.
The ring of rock in the background is known as the Twelve Year Circle and represents the 12-year cycle of the Tibeto-Mongolian calender. In front of the Twelve Year circle are three different-sized ovoos representing the Future, Present, and Past. The Ovoo of the Future is in the front. The Ovoo of the Present is just visible immediately behind it. The smallest ovoo is the the Ovoo of the Past. According to tradition, If you put a white stone on the Ovoo of the Future while saying your surname and then first name when you die you will be reincarnated very quickly.
The Maidar’s Circles. These three circles make up a line pointing to Khairkhan Uul, the mountain where Danzan Ravjaa’s spirit is supposed to reside.
The Brain Ovoo—Center of Shambhala—in the distance.
The Brain Ovoo
The Brain (Tarkhi) Ovoo. This is the center point of energy in Shambhala. Local monks claim that when there are dust storms and high winds outside Shambhala Land here by the Brain Ovoo it is always calm. Some people also claim to feel heat or some other form of energy emanating from this place. Monks also claim that there are just two places like this in the world. The other place is in Tibet, although they say they do not know the actual location.
Shambhala from a nearby hill. The complex is expected to be completed by September of 2006, when there will be an official opening and dedication.

See more about The Legend of Shambhala.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mongolia | Dornogov Aimag | Khamariin Khiid

We entered some slightly hillier country and soon came to a low pass surmounted by two ovoos known as the Women’s Ovoos. They are said to represent a woman’s breasts and a mother’s milk. By tradition all women are supposed to stop at these ovoos and while circumambulating them look back toward Khairkhan Uul, a mountain off to the distance in the southwest. According to tradition if they wish for good things while doing this their wishes will come true. In a depression a half-mile or so away from the ovoos can be seen the temples of Khamariin Khiid.
The Women's Ovoos
Gateway to Khamariin Khiid
The monastery turned out to be 34.9 kilometers as the crow flies (that's 21.7 miles ATCF to non-metric-heads) from Sainshand as measured by GPS, and perhaps a kilometer or two more by vehicle, as the road is pretty much straight.
The temples of Khamariin Khiid.
Stupas at Khamariin KhiidTemple containing the Statue of Ten Thousand Knives
Dush Lama and Enkhjargal, the two main monks at Khamariin Khiid
Detail of the Statue of Ten Thousand Knives
For more on the Statue of Ten Thousand Knives and Khamariin Khiid see "Treasures of the Sand—The Legacy of Danzan Ravjaa” by Venerable Dude Konchog Norbu.