Sunday, August 27, 2006

China | Xinjiang Province | Khotan | Rawak Stupa

On March 6, 1925, the Roerich Expedition led by mystic, painter, occultist,  spy, arch-Aghartian-Shambhalist, and all-around intriguer Nicholas Roerich left Darjeeling, India on what would be a three-year journey through Central Asia and Tibet, with stops in Kashmir in India, Xinjiang Province in China, the Russian Altai Mountains in Siberia, Ulaan Baatar and Amarbuyant Khiid in Mongolia, the Tibetan Plateau, and numerous places in between.
Nicholas Roerich
Nicholas Roerich claimed he was looking for inspiration for his paintings, and his son George, Harvard-educated and world-class Tibetan translator (see Blue Annals), was supposedly engaged in various ethnological and linguistical researches. From the three books churned out by Nicholas Roerich about the expedition it is pretty clear however that they were actually looking for Shambhala.
From Kashmir the expedition crossed the 18,694-foot Karakorum Pass and descended into the Tarim Basin. On October 14, 1925 they reached Khotan, where the Chinese governor would retain them under virtual house arrest for the next four months. Even here in Khotan they heard of Shambhala and far off Mongolia. Roerich Senior says:
The pilgrims are passing on their way bringing new messages. In Urga [Ulaan Baatar] will be set a place for the temple of Shambhala. When the image of Rigden-japo (presumably the 25th Kalkin King of Shambhala] will reach Urga, then will flash the first light of the New Era—Truth. Then will the renaissance of Mongolia arrive. In Kucha [oasis town on the northern rim of the Tarim Basin], in the bazaars, recently two arriving lamas distributed images and a prayer of Shambhala. Here, also, the nuclei of revivified Buddhism have found shelter. The celebrated Suburgan near Khotan must be the place of one of the manifestations of the New Era. Khotan is the path of Buddha. . .
In his book Heart of Asia Roerich Senior adds,
Not far from Khotan are many ruins of old Buddhist temples and stupas. One of these stupas is identified with the legend: That in the time of Shambhala, a mysterious light wll shine from it. It is said this light has already been seen.
George Roerich’s book Trails to Innermost Asia mentions that while in Khotan they visited various ruins, but mentions by name only the Rawak Stupa, then as now the most conspicuous stupa in the area. Therefore I assumed that the “celebrated Suburgan” mentioned by Roerich Sr. was in fact the Rawak Stupa. Naturally I wanted to see it. On my first day at Khotan I had been unable to find the Khotan Regional Museum. I had walked up and down the street where according to my guidebook the museum was supposed to be four or five times and had seen nothing resembling a museum. I had asked numerous passers-by in both Chinese and Uighur where the museum was and got no reply except for blank stares or outright hostile glares. I invariably visit all museums wherever I am at, but especially in China museums are good sources of otherwise hard-to-find information about local history and often a good place to find someone who speaks at least a little English. But here I struck out completely. Not only couldn’t I find the museum, but I had been in Khotan for almost a full day and had not encountered a single English speaker nor heard an English word, unless you count “Bush.” I bought some Uighur flat bread—nan—and retreated to my room for a dinner of bread and tea. In order to lift my spirits I treated myself to some forty-two year old Puerh tea from Yunnan Province in China. This stuff costs 7000 yuan ($845) a kilo, but the woman who owns a tea shop I frequent in Beijing had given me thirty grams as a free sample. I appeared to be the only guest in the cavernous hotel, which my guidebook had touted as Khotan’s best, complete with a restaurant and travel agency. I had seen no sign of either a restaurant or a travel agency. Except for the two lugubrious Uighur women at the reception desk who had automatically discounted my room to less than half the listed price without me even asking—an indication of how hard up for they were for business—I had not seen another soul in the place. Then about eleven o’clock a noisy group of eight or so middle-aged Uighur businessmen with a passel of young women in tow appeared and took over three or four rooms at the end of the hall. A lot of stomping up and down the creaky floorboards of the hall ensued, along with raucous shouting and laughter and blaring pop music, both Chinese and Uighur. By three in the morning things had quieted down, the silence broken only by an occasional female moan or shriek, whether from pleasure, pain, or a combination of both it was hard to tell. The next morning I breakfasted on green tea (Lung Ching from Zhejiang Province: 1200 yuan [$144] a kilo) and the now cardboard-like nan I had bought the evening before. At eight I ventured out of my room. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew I had to do something or this trip to Khotan was going to be a total bust. By the entrance to the hotel was a small gift shop which has been closed the day before. Now the door was open and inside was a Chinese girl perhaps sixteen years old. “Hello, please come in.” she said in English. Striking up a rudimentary conservation as she showed me a selection of silk scarves I discovered that she had studied a bit of English in school and liked to listen to English-language pop music. She was big on Britney Spears and Whitney Huston. I tried to find out if it was possible to hire a car at the hotel, as there were some trips I would like to make, but she didn’t seem to understand. “Sorry, my English very poor,” she kept saying. Finally she called someone on her cell phone. “My friend—she speak English. She come now.” Her friend, a Uighur woman in her mid-twenties, arrived in ten minutes. She was the proprietor of another nearby gift shop which sold carpets. As she tried her best to sell me a carpet I grilled her in English. She spoke a little more than the Chinese girl, but not much. She did understood that I needed someone to guide me around Khotan. She called a friend of hers on her cell phone. Her friend, another Uighur woman in her early-twenties, arrived in five minutes. She also spoke only a little bit of English. She explained that she did speak fairly fluent Japanese, which she had learned at a language institute in Urumqi, and that she worked as a guide for Japanese tourist groups who came through Khotan. Japanese were by far the most numerous of the foreign visitors to Khotan, she said. They were big buyers of silk carpets and were not afraid to spend their money. She could not help but wonder what I was doing here by myself. No foreigners ever came to Khotan by themselves, she claimed. She kept apologizing for her poor English, which wasn’t all that bad, but added that she knew a young man who was going to a university in Urumqi but was home for the summer and that he spoke very good English and sometimes worked as a guide. She called him and he arrived ten minutes later. His name was Anwar. He was tall and thin, with shoulder-length black hair, long moustache, and aviator sunglasses. He did indeed speak pretty good English. I explained that I wanted to go to some places in the countryside outside of Khotan, one of them being the Rawak Stupa. “Ah,” he said, “that is a problem. The Rawak Stupa is a Class A historical monument and no one is allowed to there without a guide from the local museum to make sure they don’t damage or steal anything.” And where is the museum I wondered, explaining that I had been unable to find it. The museum, it turns out, had just moved to a brand-new building in a different part of town from the old museum. Anyhow, I wanted to visit Rawak Stupa. Could he arrange it? Anwar called the museum, talked to the curator, who also serves as the guide to restricted sites, and found out that he was free at the moment and would be able to accompany me to Rawak Stupa this morning, for a fee of course. He could also arrange for a four-wheel drive vehicle to drive to the site, which he said was in the Taklamakan Desert about forty kilometers north of Khotan city. He added that we would have to walk the final three or four kilometers to the stupa. The curator was in his mid-thirties. He had studied for several years in Canada and spoke almost perfect English. He even had a valid USA visa but was not able to use it because he had to return to Khotan to look after his ailing father. As we drive northward from Khotan I discovered that he had read in English the accounts of all the great Western explorers of the region, including Aurel Stein and Sven Hedin. He added his museum was very interested in organizing trips to places of historical or cultural interest in the Khotan region, either by jeep, horse, or camel.
Location of Rawak Stupa. See Enlargement of Map
About ten miles north of the city center the Khotan oasis, lush fields of corn, cotton, wheat, rice, and melons divided by rows of poplar trees abruptly ends. After a couple of miles of gravelly flats the sand dunes of the Taklamakan Desert begin. A mile or so into the desert is a checkpoint with a chain across the road to stop unauthorized access to the stupa site. The curator has a key to the lock.
After five or so more miles the sand trail ends and we set off on foot around the sand dunes. After about two miles we come to the stupa. The curator says that it was built circa 150 A.D. It was probably abandoned before the arrival of the Islamic Turks in the late tenth century. The Hungarian-born archeologist Aurel Stein rediscovered the stupa half buried in the drifting sands in 1901, as he describes in his Sand-Buried Ruins of Khotan.
Dunes of the Taklamakan Desert on the way to the stupa
Dunes . . .
The Rawak Stupa
Another view of the Rawak Stupa
Some of the holes in the side of the stupa have been made by treasure-hunters in the last five years or so, despite the efforts of local officials to guard the site.
Ancient streambed near the stupa. This river, which flowed north from the Kun Lun Mountains, no doubt provided the water for the inhabitants of the stupa complex. The curator has no idea when the river went dry.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Mongolia | Ulaan Baatar | Religions Go Toe-to-Toe

Part of crowd of 5000 or so awaiting the appearance of the Dalai Lama in the National Stadium
In this corner, from the Land of Snows, in the burgundy and yellow robes, undefeated in fourteen appearances, the Dalai Lama . . . USA Today has an interesting article on the Current Smack-Down among religions in Mongolia. For more on the Dalai Lama at the National Stadium see V. D. Konchok Norbu.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mongolia | Ulaan Baatar | Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama arrived in Ulaan Baatar on August 21. On August 22 he appeared in public at Gandan Monastery.
Crowd awaiting the appearance of the Dalai Lama
Crowd still awaiting the appearance of the Dalai Lama
VIP Konchog Norbu had a backstage pass and has Photos of the Dalai Lama. See More Photos.
The crowd is still waiting . . .
The stage for the Dalai LamaPeople offering prayer flags as the Dalai Lama approached the stage.
See More on the Dalai Lama’s Visit. As usual, the Chinese government Was Not Pleased about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Mongolia.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Mongolia | Ulaan Baatar | Dhanyakataka Stupa

Tashchoimphel Temple at Gandan
While at Gandan you might also want to visit Tashchoimphel Temple to see another Kalachakra-connected thangka. Although Taranatha, Zanabazar’s previous Incarnation (See Incarnations of Javzandamba), wrote extensively about the Kalachakra and translated one of the most famous guidebooks to Shambhala from Sanskrit into Tibetan, Zanabazar Himself, the First Bogd Gegen, apparently showed little if any interest in the teachings. It was the Fourth Bogd Gegeen who first introduced the Duinkhor, or Kalachakra Teachings, into Mongolia in 1801. In 1803 he made a trip to Lhasa and brought back with him a large collection statues and books, including material connected with the Kalachakra. According to ethnologist A. M. Pozdneev, “In 1806 he set up a special datsang for the school of Duinkor [Kalachakra]” and services were performed here in 1807. "In the same year 1807, the Gegen ordered a yum written in gold from Tibet . . . Moreover, being devoted to the task of developing Duinkor, the Gegen decorated the temple of Dachin-kalbain-Sume, gilding its roof, and in its courtyard he established his personal residence.”

He also reportedly commissioned a thangka showing the Dhanyakataka Stupa in southern India where by tradition Shakyamuni Buddha first taught the Kalachakra Tantra to the first King of Shambhala. This thangka can now be seen in the Tashchoimphel Temple.
Thangka of the Dhanyakataka Stupa
Close-up of the thangka showing Buddha emanating as the Kalachakra Deity inside the stupa. It was in this form that he taught the Kalachakra Tantra to Suchandra, the First King of Shambhala.

By tradition the Dhanyakataka Stupa is located at Amaravati, in south India, where the Dalai Lama gave a Kalachakra Initiation in January of 2006.
Ninety-two year-old Lama Gombo (left) was kind enough to point out the Dhanyakataka Thangka to me.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mongolia | Ulaan Baatar | Kalachakra Thangkas

People going to Gandan Monastery in connection with the Dalai Lama’s Upcoming Visit next week might want to stop in the Kalachakra Temple to take a look at the seven extremely rare Kalachakra thangkas depicting all 722 Kalachakra deities and much else. The 722 deities are also depicted on wall paintings in the Dalai Lama's Namgyal Temple in Dharmasala, but these are the only such thangkas that I am aware of.
Duinkhor, or Kalachakra Temple
See Enlargement
Shambhala Thangka in Temple - See Enlargement
One of the 32 Kings of Shambhala in the Temple
See all the Kings of Shambhala.
For excerpts from the Kalachakra Tantra and commentary see:

For the complete text of the Kalachakra Tantra and commentaries see:

Saturday, August 12, 2006

China | Xinjiang Province | Khotan | Shambhala

The Tarim Basin as Shambhala. See Enlargement of Map

Edwin Bernbaum, in his book The Way to Shambhala, states:
Of all the regions of Central Asia, the Tarim Basin southwest of Turpan . . . comes closest in size and shape to Tibetan descriptions of Shambhala. A huge oval-shaped area enclosed by the Kunlun, Pamir, and Tien Shan ranges, it could be viewed as an enormous lotus blossom surrounded by a ring of snow mountains. The small kingdoms that have existed side by side in the numerous oases sprinkled around the fringes of the basin may well have provided the model for the ninety-six principalities of the outer region of Shambhala. Until shortly before the Kalachakra reached India and Tibet, Buddhism had been flourishing in the Tarim Basin for nearly eight hundred years. During part of that time, caravans following the silk route to China had brought the outside influences of Manicheism and Nestorian Christianity to bear on the development of Buddhist art thought in the area.

Shambhala may have corresponded historically to the Tarim Basin as a whole or to one the major oases such as Yarkand, Kashgar, or Khotan. Some scholars have singled out Khotan the largest and most fertile oasis on the southern rim of the basin. Watered by melting snows of the Kunlun Mountains, it supported a thriving center of Buddhist learning, a people who loved music and culture, and a school of painting that impressed the Chinese and influenced Tibetan art. According to an old Khotanese tradition, an Indian prince of the third century B.C., who was blinded by rivals, fled his homeland to cross the intervening mountains and found a local dynasty in Khotan. Archeological finds show that Indians did, in fact, colonize the oasis around that time. According to a Tibetan legend about the founding of Shambhala, a member of Buddha’s clan, called Shakya Shambha, was forced by enemies to flee north from India. After crossing many mountains, he came to a land that the conquered and that later became known after him as “Shambhala.” Because of its similarity, the Tibetan legend may have come from the Khotanese tradition, suggesting a possible link between the hidden kingdom and Khotan.
Read more of Edwin Bernbaum’s The Way to Shambhala:

According to another legend Buddhism reached Khotan during the reign of Indian emperor Ashoka (r. ca. 268¬239 B.C.). Historical and archeological evidence would seem to indicate the first century A.D., however. In any case, Khotan may well be the first place that Buddhism was introduced into what is now the country of China. The first Buddhists probably reached Khotan by two different routes; eastward across the Hindu Kush and Pamirs mountains from what is now Afghanistan, and the more direct route northward from Kashmir in India across the Karakorum and Kun Lun Mountains. At first the Sarvastivadin school of Buddhism took hold here; by the fourth Mahayana Buddhism was prevalent. The Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hien, who arrived here in the early fifth century, noted:
Yu-teen [Yutian, the old Chinese name for Khotan] is a pleasant and prosperous kingdom, with a numerous and flourishing population. The inhabitants all profess our Law [Buddhism], and join together in its religious music for their enjoyment. The monks amount to several myriads, most of whom are students of the Mahayana. They all receive their food from the common store . . . They make (in the monasteries) rooms for monks from all quarters, the use of which is given to traveling monks who may arrive, and who are provided with whatever else they may require.
Fa-Hien stayed at Gomati Monastery, which was home to 3000 monks. He also says:
Seven or eight li to the west of the city there is what is called the King’s New Monastery, the building of which took eighty years, and extended over three reigns. It may be 250 cubits in height, rich in elegant carving and inlaid work covered with gold and silver, and finished throughout with a combination of all the precious substances. Behind the tope there has been built a Hall of Buddha, doors, and windows being overlaid with gold-leaf. Besides this, the apartments for the monks are imposingly and elegantly decorated, beyond the power of words to express. Of whatever things of highest value and preciousness the kings of the six countries on the east of the (Ts’ung) range of mountains are possessed, they contribute the greater portion (to this monastery), using but a small portion of them themselves.
As already noted, Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang also visited Khotan in 644.

Vajrayana Buddhism was introduced into Khotan in the seventh century. The use of Sanskrit was also prevalent in Khotan. Thus Khotan has been posited by some commentators as the possible source of the Kalachakra Tantra, which was originally written in Sanskit. According to tradition the Kalachakra was brought to India from Shambhala in 966 A.D. In the 980s and 990s Khotan was overran by Turkish Moslem armies who destroyed the Buddhist temples and converted the area to Islam. According to one scenario the Kalachakra Tantra was brought to India by monks from who were escaping the Moslem onslaught on Khotan. Thus Khotan was synonymous with Shambhala, the realm were the Kalachakra was originally practiced.