Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My USA Tour

The month of May was significant to many of us in Singapore. There were so many special days of celebration such as Vesak Day, Mothers' Day, HH Karmapa's birthday, etc. The most important was the Visit of HH Gyalwa Karmapa to Singapore. His visit to this island transformed the entire atmosphere of Singapore into a spiritual land where people from all over the world came to seek blessings and listened to his teachings.

The Karma Kagyud Buddhist Centre here was the central focus for everyone as it hosted HH Visit. Karma Kagyud Buddhist Centre was established by HH the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa in 1981.
All those special moments several weeks ago are just memories now as I am flying to Chicago at this point in time as per my teaching schedule. Today early morning, I left for Changi airport to travel to Chicago via Narita airport in Tokyo. At this moment I am in the air and writing this on my IPad. I am penning this as I recall all the recent events and also our dear members and devotees of Singapore.

Wow, time flies and in just the blink of an eye as I thought of completing this article, the plane touched down and I am now in the United States. Upon arrival, I have many appointments and engagements such as catching up with friends and relatives. I could not really find time to complete my article. My tardiness also played a part in this delayed article. Now, I am again in the plane and heading towards Washington DC for teaching at a Bodhi Path centre there.

My first teaching in Chicago centre went well and the subject I taught was The Four Dharma of Gampopa. This subject touches the essence of the entire Buddha’s teachings. I explained in brief as there was not enough time to explain at length. Prior to that, I gave oral transmission of collection of Mantra as the students specially requested it on the first night. I also gave some background explanation about the significance of this collection of mantras. That seemed useful as they intended to practice diligently so it must be properly explained.

Over all I had a wonderful time at Chicago with Bodhi Path members. They are very nice people and we exchanged many stories, jokes and meals. We had a lovely walk at an Indian town called Dewan as well lake side. Well, meetings always end up in separations, though if you think about it positively, separation is also the preparation of yet another meeting. Without a separation, there won't be possibility of meeting. So let’s wait to meet again and be happy.

I have a similar nice time also with my relatives in Madison. Everyone was so happy to receive me. The whole family took leave from work to entertain and kept me company happily for several days. I had a wonderful picnic at Devils Lake and after lunch we trekked the mountains. The overview of the lake and height above the rocky mountain was really indescribable and majestic. That moment reminded me of a cartoon movie named Lion King where the lion overlooked from the giant rock very majestically. Ha ha!

So through this report, I would love to express thanks to all the wonderful people I met in Chicago and Madison. I will always remember you in my prayers and my loving thoughts will be always be with you.

Seems the plane will land in Washington soon so I better penned down here. I will write again once I have the time and inspiration.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mantra Preface.

In general, the term ‘mantra’ means protection against the conceptual grasping of true existence. ‘Man’ means mind and ‘traya’ means protection. This protection can be achieved through many high levels of meditation. However for ordinary levels of persons, such protection can also be achieved through recitation of profound mantra with proper meditative concentration.

It was said by Buddha that mantra has immeasurable abilities. Likewise, substances also have immeasurable capabilities. The right combination of materials can produce many wondrous machines such as airplanes that allow people to fly in space. Similarly, it can produce small devices that enable us to hear voices from thousands of miles away.

Mantras are speech manifestations of enlightened ones. They are words of accomplishment of enlightened ones. As such, they can fulfill the positive end results for whoever recites them. It is like a transmission of enlightened qualities from the enlightened ones to the person uttering the mantras. The word mantra is derived from the Sanskrit term ‘Mantrana’, which simply means the highest level of conversation.

Most of the mantras in this collection can gradually lead one to the path of enlightenment. No matter what the circumstances are, one will avoid rebirth into the three lower realms1. The power of the recitation can eliminate accumulations of sins of many kalpas2. One can also gain immeasurable merits comparable to making abundance of offerings to countless Buddhas for kalpas. These mantras collected from the Kangyur text were carefully compiled and translated into the Tibetan language.

Thus, we recite the mantras and convert our every thought and action into accumulation of merits in order to benefit every sentient being.

This precious treasury of mantras was prepared under the guidance of the late Venerable Kalu Rinpoche. He had made the recitation of the mantras as compulsory daily prayers in retreat centers. Thereafter, he had introduced it to many centers in Europe and it also became a form of daily practice.

In these degenerated times where the environment and people are polluted by defilements, many problems such as sicknesses, tsunami, earthquakes and other outer phenomena disasters arise. I sincerely believe that if we engage our body, speech and mind towards the dharma, and conduct our behaviour in the way of the Bodhisattvas, then when we recite these profound mantras with love and compassion, together with unwavering devotion towards the Buddha, many of these disasters can be eliminated. Everyone can then live in this world comfortably without much fear.

I started this text by typing out the daily prayer text of Sherab Rinpoche. After typing it out, I compared it with the computerized version of the mantra source from France.

Subsequently, I found Master Sempa Dorje’s text as well as mantra rolls that are meant for Buddha statue consecration. All these texts are different in words and in grammar structure. It was tough deciding which is the best version to use. Eventually, I extracted the essence from all these texts but based more on Sempa Dorje’s version as he was not only a great scholar but his knowledge of the Sanskrit language was exceptional. However, Sempa Dorje’s text was too pure in Sanskrit and thus readers may have difficulty deciphering it. Most Tibetan Buddhists are comfortable with the Tibetan style of reading. So I have adopted the Tibetan style of writing instead. When editing this mantra based on these versions, I found typographical errors and minor obvious mistakes and corrected them to my best knowledge. Hopefully, I did not edit wrongly. In the event that there are mistakes, I sincerely seek forgiveness from all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and I hope that you will benefit from this project.

The wish-fulling gem symbol found in this text signifies the wish-fulfilling capability of the mantra. However, the positive impact of reading the mantra is far greater than the wish-fulfilling gem that can grant temporarily worldly needs. Not only is the mantra able to bestow the worldly needs of sentient beings, most importantly, it is able to lead sentient beings to the state of Enlightenment at the fastest pace.

Shangpa Rinpoche

May 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Shangpa online: Wealth Vase

Shangpa online: Wealth Vase

Wealth Vase

Treasure Wealth Vases by Karma Kagyud Buddhist Centre
In conjunction with His Holiness Arrival to Singapore from 25-31 May 2012

 The preparation of treasure wealth vases is finally completed. The process though tiring was very auspicious and smooth. Tseyang Rinpoche along with many of my Lamas and wonderful volunteers together put in lots of thoughts and tireless efforts in making this project a huge success.
When the management committee of Karma Kagyud Buddhist Centre first broached the subject of wealth vases to me, my reply to them was that it would be a rather difficult task. Nonetheless, they were not discouraged and said they would endeavour no matter how tough it was going to be. So I started making plans for the treasure wealth vases. The first step was the selection and ordering of the ideal vases. I felt that classic and traditional vases would be wonderful for this project as compared to the elaborately ornate ones. When I was back in Nepal, I found a beautiful traditional vase that is hand-carved and made of copper material with silver and gold polish.

At the same time, I started sourcing for all the precious substances that were needed for the wealth vases. Fortunately, I managed to acquire many of these rare and invaluable spiritual items from several of my close Rinpoches. As for the herbal and mineral related substances, I consulted with a Tibetan physician named Ngawang who helped me gathered all the precious herbs that I needed. He ground the materials and moulded them into pills form.
Over the last 30 years, I have collected many treasures little by little. Very carefully, I combined and ground them into powder. These treasures include precious pills that contain more than 900 substances of blessings given to me by Sherab Rinpoche; relics of former Buddhas and Arahants; relics and blessed substances of many lines of Karmapa; and blessing substances of many great and well-known masters of every tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

I have also received similar precious pills wrapped in yellow cloth from Sang Sang Rinpoche. They contain over 600 blessing substances such as blessing materials of Guru Rinpoche and the 1st to the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa.
One of the significant ingredients that I wish to highlight is the wealth flourishing substances called Yangze Rilbu. They comprise of so many substances combined into the form of pills in order to preserve them in their entirety. The substances include ancient wealth materials of Kings, royalties, rich families and noble people who were never in poverty for many generations. Also, they include materials such as gems, soils, water from ancient temples of various famous holy places of Tibet and India. These places are believed to be sources of good energy with wonderful elements that are capable of generating positive magnetic fields that attract wealth and longevity. The exact list of ingredients that go into the Yangze Rilbu pills is rather lengthy.

Some of the more significant ingredients that went into the wealth vases are as follows:-

1.     Pieces of materials of Guru Rinpoche’s hat;
      2.     Pieces of robes of first, third and fifteen Karmapa’s;

3.     Black Pill Karmapa;
      4.     Nectar Pills made by Guru Rinpoche and his 25 disciples;

5.     Pieces of the Great Translator Vairochana’s handwritten manuscript; and
       6.     Longevity pills from the blessing treasures of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

The main filling substances of the wealth vases are the Tibetan and Ayurveda herbs. We obtained the raw materials from an herbalist and our Tibetan doctor in Nepal carefully checked each ingredient for its quality. Altogether, there were five large boxes weighing over 250 kilograms of materials for this project.

With all these wonderful and incredibly precious substances, we instructed every participant to adhere strictly on the discipline of cleanliness to prevent any contamination.

All the materials were cleansed and blessed through a ceremony called Jong Tru. This involved the dispelling of negative elements and cleansing the substances. So once this ritual is completed, the Lamas and volunteers spent five long days of hard work to complete the vases. Rinpoches executed the inner filling of the vases using life sticks and mantras. The Lamas then filled up the vases with the remaining materials. The vases were closed and sealed by our volunteers. This is to ensure that every vase is filled correctly and that the life sticks and mantras are properly aligned in the right directions without even a minor mistake.

At the same time, I also instructed the volunteers to prepare the mini longevity flags for the wealth vases. This is actually not compulsory but for the sake of longevity, which is particularly important for leading a meaningful life and for increasing the opportunities for dharma practise, I asked for their preparation and blessed them over the three days puja. All our Sangha and volunteers complied with my instructions to the hilt. The longevity flags were tough to make due to their miniaturised parts. Nonetheless, our volunteers worked very hard making them beautifully and I am certain they will truly gain the blessings of longevity.

When the vases were finally filled, cleansed and blessed, we created a mandala to place the vases. So many auspicious substances and wealth vases were beautifully displayed.

The second part of blessing is similar to the first Jong Tru, i.e. the dispelling of negative elements or obstacles if any. The vases and shrine were then thoroughly cleansed.

This is followed by the ritual ceremony of invocation of wealth deities into the vases.

Subsequently over the next few days, a series of Zambhala puja and Guru Rinpoche inseparable from Amitayus puja were performed. They were important for wealth and longevity. The pujas comprised of invocation, offerings, praise, developing of self, shrine and vase to transform the substances into wealth deities and their sublime environment. The pujas help to attract and amplify the life forces from the four elements, great masters and enlightened ones. These are then absorbed into the vases and longevity flags.  Thus, the vases manifest as outer wish-fulfilling gems as well as inner palace for the wealth deities.

This is my explanation on the preparation of the treasure wealth vases as far as I could think of. Hope everyone will benefit from the wealth vases in terms of wealth, longevity and in all spiritual activities.

The wish-fulfilling gem that relieves the suffering of poverty of beings,


From the door of Zambhala's treasure of generosity,


Arises the continuous flow of profound vases of wealth,

May these satisfy everyone with bountiful wealth and spirituality.

Shangpa Rinpoche

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Completion of retreat

Completion of Retreat
Time flies in a blink of an eye as experienced by all of us in our daily lives. Three years and three months ago, our Rinpoches and Lamas entered into a retreat at Ngedon Palbar Ling Retreat Centre (NPL Retreat Centre). Today, I witnessed its completion and we welcome them into the Jangchub Choeling Monastery (JC Monastery) in Pokhara, Nepal. Karma Kagyu retreat is well known for its strict discipline and profound practice under the guidance of qualified masters. This tradition has ongoing for more than a thousand years. Until today, the transmission of teaching and methods of practice are still very alive and thus the blessings are transmitted to whoever is sincerely engage in the practice.
NPL Retreat Centre is one of the Karma Kagyu’s traditional retreat centre established three and half years ago. It is located in the Sarangkot mountain of Pokhara. There were a total of 2 Rinpoches and 16 lamas who joined this retreat after the retreat centre was established. Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche was the retreat master and he empowered the Lamas with transmissions and lineage blessings. With proper instructions and under the watchful eye of the Rinpoches, the Lamas then practice most of the important Karma Kagyu teachings that include The Six Naropa's Yoga along with many high tantric deity yoga practices. They also very carefully trained in the meditation of Mahamudra at every stage of their practice. Within the period of three years and three months, the Rinpoches and Lamas practiced ever diligently and finally they completed their entire practice successfully.
The completion of the retreat and the returning of the Sangha back to the monastery celebration were a great joy and celebration for everyone. Dupsing Rinpoche led all the retreat lamas out from the retreat centre to JC monastery. Thousands of people lined the streets with flowers, khata and other offering items in their hands and warmly welcome them with cheers, smiles and awe. Everyone was over the moon with happiness and these were clearly reflected on their beaming faces. Some even shed tears of joy.
Upon entering into monastery, they made three prostrations and lamp offerings to the Triple Gem. They then mindfully took their seats. Dupsing Rinpoche and all the retreat Lamas made the Mandala offering of Body, Speech and Mind to Shangpa Rinpoche; followed by the longevity prayers for Shangpa Rinpoche. The secondly Mandala offering of Body, Speech and Mind was made to Dupsing Rinpoche by the Shangpa Rinpoche and the JC Monastery’s Sangha members.
Later, the Sangha performed a puja of sixteen Arahats and auspicious tea and butter rice were served. About 2,500 people attended this ceremony and everyone showered the Rinpoches and retreat Lamas with khata and offerings.
After lunch, the Lamas of the retreat centre and Sangha of JC Monastery gave heartfelt thanks to all the local and overseas sponsors and well wishers. Majority of the overseas sponsors are from Singapore.
Also thanks to the Gurung devotees who formed a small volunteer committee that constantly supplied drinking water to the retreat centre for the entire period of the retreat. Their efforts are greatly admirable and meritorious.
We deeply felt the people's devotions, loving attitude and great contribution towards Ngedon Palbar Ling Retreat Centre as well as Jangchub Choeling Monastery. We are grateful and ever appreciative of everyone’s care and assistance and we wish you good health, longevity and swift fulfillment of all your noble aspirations.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

for the Kagyu Dharma Bulletin. Kuala Lumpur.

1) What is the meaning of making 'kora' or doing a clockwise circumambulation of stupas, temples, mountains, lakes, etc. that is practised by Buddhists? From where and how does this culture originate and become a practice?

Shangpa Rinpoche:
Buddhist way of circumambulation to temple, stupa and even great person are considered as a meritorious act. It started from the Buddha’s time as a form of Buddhist practice. Most of the sutras and tantras mentioned that devotees circumambulate to lord Buddha three or seven times before kneeling on their right knees in front of the Buddha. It is a way of showing great respect and devotion to the Buddha. It is not clear whether such behaviour originated from the early Indian culture or was purely a Buddhist way. I tried to check from some Hindu texts such as Ramayan Mahabhatar or Shiva Puran but did not see such acts being recorded in these Hindu texts. So I guess it must have originated during the Buddha’s time. It is also likely that the Buddha himself introduced this action. This is because many sutras mentioned that the Buddha uttered how a meritorious person could make simple offering, prostration and circumambulation to the images of the Buddha. 
Since then, Buddhist practitioners make kora to symbols of the Buddha Dharma as a method of purification of sins. Circumambulation in a clockwise direction is always in a form of respect in Indian culture as the right hand is facing the Buddha or stupa. The left hand is considered as ‘unclean’ for many auspicious activities. This is because in many cultures, the left hand is used for cleaning oneself. Thus, it is a form of great respect by going in a clockwise direction. Also, by placing the Buddha on the right side of your body signifies that the Dharma is your main or focal lifestyle. Moving forward can also mean the progress towards the path of enlightenment. Besides all these meanings, clockwise circumambulation could also aide in the clearing of wind, channel and bindu and thus help one to develop a clear mind and a physically fit body.

As a pilgrim, whilst circumambulating any holy sites and symbols, always think that the Buddha Dharma is on your right side and you imagine going around them clockwise. This will purify sins and accumulate a lot of merits. 

2) Some dharma practitioners face life challenges such as being jobless and experiencing business downfall which affect their daily life as a practitioner. In this situation, which should come first? Dharma or business?

Firstly, you should try to understand what is Dharma or at least to understand the Dharma as a mental development and how to place the mind correctly with awareness and wisdom. With this understanding, one’s business or work will not be hindered and instead one will succeed greatly. It is said by the Buddha that the nature of all phenomena arises from the mind and so the mind is the primary and initiator of everything. If our mind is pure or clean from defilements, whether one talks or does anything, one will gain blissfulness. If our mind is pure and clear, then you will be able to perform every piece of work well and that includes your business, daily activities and handling of people.

If you think Dharma is merely going to a temple, sitting cross-legged, chanting and counting with a rosary, then that may affect your job or business sometimes. Good physical gestures should naturally arise from pure mental inspiration and in this way you can complete a good practice. Dharma should be the leading path for us and in showing the ultimate and relative Truth.

So in this way Dharma should come first amongst all activities and it can be the cause of every success too.

3) When one is being overwhelmed with great anger, it is extremely difficult to be aware and mindful of one's present actions. During these moments, how does one control the mind and stop oneself from creating negative thoughts and actions that are based on anger?

There is no formula that can be instantly applied with immediate and effortless results. Anger is part of our emotions. When anger overflows, it shows how strong and aggressive emotions can be. Sometimes, it is so strong that we are unable to stop it when it arises. So we must know that there is a root cause of all these emotions in our mind. Such root cause can be regarded as an obstruction to see the reality. That is ignorance and we need to apply wisdom to counteract.

For ordinary people, the gradual improvement of handling emotion is to first recognize the emotion and it's defects. Secondly, one should try to disperse it with the application of an antidote. Thirdly, knowing the nature of emotion as emptiness cuts off the root of emotion.

To do this, you need to explore the teachings of the Buddha and try to contemplate, meditate, as well as practice purification of sins and accumulation of merit.

4) What is the most effective method for ordinary practitioners to be constantly reminded to not commit the five poisons (desire, anger, ignorance, pride and jealousy) when we are living in this samsaric world?
Mindfulness is the most important key for all practitioners. Generally, we know that the five poisons are harmful. However, most of the time we are not aware that they have arisen and that the poison has already been transmitted to ourselves. Only when we experience the results of the poison, then we realized that it is too late. If we are constantly mindful of the arising of the poison, we won't embrace it but keep far away from it as such poisons are far more destructive than ordinary poison. So good practitioners always use awareness and mindfulness to guard against the defilements and with that, the chances of defilement disturbance are reduced and eventually it can be stopped.

5) Many people who lack knowledge in Vajrayana Buddhism seems to have false interpretations towards tantric images. What is the philosophy or significance of these images or symbols, (for example, the sexual union depiction of the 'yabyum')? How do we resolve others' misunderstanding towards Vajrayana Buddhism?
Such misunderstanding has arisen since the existence of these images. Vajrayana approach is rather different from others so when your mind is fixed on one method, it is natural that you cannot accept other ways that appear different from your beliefs. If the person is not set in his ways and try to explore and understand the truth, then such misunderstanding may not happen. Vajrayana uses emotion to disperse emotion, just like using poison to cure poisonous effect. That is the path shown by the Buddha in most tantric teachings. There are many symbolic objects that reflect emotions but when you dismantle the tie of attachment towards certain emotion, then that emotion may not sustain as emotion but rather a form of cognition and that is wisdom itself. So we should firstly understand what is emotion outwardly, followed by the nature of emotion inwardly, and finally establish the seal of non-attachment or great expanse of emptiness and then transform it into wisdom which ultimately results in enlightenment.
Vajrayana is a very individual practice and traditionally it is not exposed to everyone. Practitioners must have very clear minds to practise and understand the instructions given by the guru in order to succeed in their practice within a short time. Today, Vajrayana practice is very common and sometimes it sadly abused as a commercial purpose. So these days, it is rather difficult to check or see if a person is suitable for Vajrayana practise or how well one has practiced.

We may not be able to resolve the misunderstandings that people may have towards such yabyum Buddhist symbols. Even in early times, great masters like Nagarjuna and many other gurus such as the Buddha himself could not remove this misunderstanding from the people completely. We ourselves have not awakened totally from confusion and so how can we lead others onto the correct path of Vajrayana? There is a Tibetan saying that if the blind leads the blind, then at the end is a tumble or a fall. So the first and most important thing for us to do is to explore the teaching and apply it onto ourselves so that we may develop the ability to lead others to the right path.

Friday, January 7, 2011


6-17 December 2010 Meditation Retreat cum Pilgrimage to Guru Rinpoche & Mandarava Cave of Maratika, Nepal

As 6 Dec 2010 approached, groups of retreatants and pilgrims from different countries such as America, Europe (Germany, France, Denmark), Australia, Singapore and Malaysia gathered at Kagyu Institute of Buddist Studies (KIBS), Kirtipur, Nepal to attend a 7 days meditation retreat (6-12 December 2010). This retreat was led by Venerable Sang Sang Rinpoche, Ven. Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche and Ven. Shangpa Rinpoche in preparation of the subsequent pilgrimage (13-17 December 2010) to the sacred Maratika Cave of Guru Rinpoche and his consort Mandarava.
In the midst of the cold winter winds, we were giddy with excitement at arriving KIBS, many of whom have visited it repeatedly. After we placed our worldly possessions into the respective rooms, we dashed to greet our beloved guru Ven. Shangpa Rinpoche who had organized this immeasurably beneficial retreat and pilgrimage. Rinpoche received us with warm welcome and a broad smile. He was concerned whether we could withstand the winter chill. Everyday, he took upon himself to check on everyone’s well-being. We are very touched by his care and kindness.
At the invitation of Ven. Shangpa Rinpoche, Vens. Sang Sang Rinpoche and Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche accepted to give oral transmissions and teachings on the Practice of Guru Rinpoche’s Konchok Chidu Puja and Amitabha Practice. Despite their very tight teaching schedules, both Rinpoches out of great compassion, set aside time to give us these precious teachings. This was to prepare all of us to have a better understanding of the significance of the pilgrimage to Maratika Cave.
The ritual practice of Konchok Chidu, translated as 'The Union of all Jewels' / "Embodiment of the Three Jewels", is guru yoga a terma practice of Guru Padmasambhava discovered in the 17th century by the great terton, Rigdzin Jatson Nyingpo (1585-1656) (also known as Letro Lingpa). It is a complete text which includes an outer, inner, secret and long life practice as well as an amending of samaya fire offering and feast practice (Ganachakra Tsog offering practice). Through the power of the Lama, in the form of Tsokye Dorje - a peaceful manifestation of Guru Rinpoche; the Yidam Guru Drakpo - a wrathful manifestation of Guru Rinpoche; and the Khandro Senge Dongma, it removes obstacles and harmful influences; creates positive circumstances for the environment and all beings; increases virtue; and clears away all ignorance.

Widely practiced by the practitioners of Kagyu and Nyingma lineages in the whole of Tibet and especially in western Tibet and the Himalayan region of Nepal, this text is renowned for its simplicity and profundity. Ven. Shangpa Rinpoche, in his previous life, spent 12 years in retreat and completed 12 times of the Konchok Chidu's four foundation practices.

It is said that amongst the 500 different termas of Tsewang (long life empowerment) that have been discovered throughout the centuries, the Tsewang of Konchok Chidu is said to be the main one that confers Guru Rinpoche's most profound blessings for long life and freedom from obstacles.

We were indeed extremely fortunate to have received such precious oral transmissions and teachings from Vens. Sang Sang Rinpoche, Sherab Gyalsten Rinpoche and Shangpa Rinpoche.

Ven. Shangpa Rinpoche also invited Ven. Shi Yuan Fan to join this retreat cum pilgrimage. Venerable Yuan Fan was born in 1957 to a very humble and traditional family. He came into contact with Buddhism at a very early age through the interesting Dharma talks shared with him by his father. While pursuing his engineering degree at the National University of Singapore, the calling came. In 1979, Venerable Yuan Fan joined the monastic order. The Venerable is an expert on Zen, Vajrayana and Pureland Practices. Ven. Yuan Fan gave a lucid and candid talk on the differences and similarities and also historical accounts of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. He also shared with us his years of arduous Zen training in Korea. We could not help but respect him further on his accomplishments. He gave a sound advice that “One can own many material things and yet not be attached to them.” Truly wise words indeed.

In between the teachings, the lamas and anis would guide us in torma making, setting up shrine and Mahakala puja. It was a great learning experience living the simple monastic life, away from the hustle and bustle of our routine city lives. As the days passed, we forgot the dates and relied on the gongs of classes and bells of meals to remind us of the time. Yes, we could not access our modern appliances easily. Internet, mobile and electricity is not as smooth as we expected. Nonetheless, we learnt to slow down our busy minds and start looking within.

Finally, the day that we embarked on the journey to Maratika Cave arrived. Some of us travelled by bus or jeep while others travelled by helicopter. The journey was tough due to the remoteness of the holy site. Prior to the pilgrimage, we were mentally prepared for the hardships so most of us took it in strides and happy tandem.

Located in the District of Khotang, Halesi, the caves of Maratika are mentioned in Tibetan literature from the 12th century onwards. Padmasambhava met Mandarava, daughter of the King of Zahor, who possessed all the marks of a dakini. The two of them set out for the caves called Maratika. There, Padmasambhava opened the mandala of the Buddha Amitayus, and after three months he received the vision of Buddha Amitayus. Buddha Amitayus then placed vases filled with nectar upon the heads of Padmasambhava and his consort, and as he poured some of it into their mouths, both obtained the siddhi of power over life.

Upon our arrival, we were warmly greeted by the local villagers with flowers and helping hands. We were extremely grateful for their assistance with our belongings, without which we might not be able to navigate the rocky and rough terrains of the hills to reach our accommodation. Our city legs were not meant for the irregular and numerous steps of Maratika. We had a glimpse of the cave’s entrance as we proceeded to the simple guest house. The sangha members stayed in the tiny local monastery while the pilgrims made home at the starkly furnished guest house. Some brave pilgrims chose to reside in tents on a recently harvested field.

After we have sorted out our residences, we had hot noodle soup that warmed and nourished our bodies. Like a fatherly figure, Ven, Shangpa Rinpoche personally checked on all of our well-being and gave instructions to his lamas and anis to take great care of us. As it was getting dark, we turned in for the night to rest our minds and bodies in preparation of the next morning’s journey to the holy caves.

Early next morning after breakfast, we headed for the first cave. As we entered the cave, we noted several Hindu friends doing their prayers and offerings. The caves are sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists alike. Within the cave are several ‘secret paths’ that many believed would purify defilements and obscurations and accumulate merits if one is able to navigate through them. Also within the cave are self-created images of Brahma, Indra, Hayagriva and Dorje Phagmo in union, and a rock of good fortune that grants the birth of sons and daughters and whatever one prays for. On the four directions are the four great kings; above are self-created umbrellas, victory banners, standards and canopies, and in the middle is a self-created prayer to the Guru written in the symbolic script of the dakinis. Inside the cave, above seven steps, is the self-created life vase used by Amitayus for bestowing the empowerment of immortality.

Is longevity really so important you may ask. It is essential for all dharma practitioners to engage upon longevity practices that are meant to restore vital energy that has been dissipated over time, resulting in illness, aging and death. They are employed in order to increase one’s own or others’ lifespan. With a healthy long life, we can fully accomplish the purpose of this and future lives, particularly in our spiritual pursuits. Thus, it is significant for dharma practitioners to do long life practises for oneself and for the benefit of many sentient beings.

The next cave that we trekked towards was the Cave of the Eight Means of Attainment. Inside is the naturally arisen stone of the flesh, blood and soul of liberating the female demons subdued by Guru Rinpoche. At the left of this cave’s entrance is a conch shell. It is said that just by hearing its sound, the evil states of cyclic existence are shattered. Five hundred arahats are said to have visited that place. Within this cave is the amrita or Guru’s blessed water. It is said that by putting that blessed water in the mouth, the five uninterrupted sins are purified. Guru’s footprint and the unobstructed sky door are also located in this cave.

In Maratika, there are the hills of Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani – where the complete and pure wisdom mandalas of the Three Family Lords are naturally present in their entirety. Manjushri is the embodiment of the wisdom aspect of all the Buddhas; Avalokiteshvara represents the essence of the wisdom speech and compassion of all the Buddhas; whilst Vajrapani represents the power of all the Buddhas.

The next day, we headed towards Garuda Cave which is believed to be a good place to go to for people with cancer. At the peak of the cave is a naturally arisen formation of Garuda’s head with its beak clearing visible to call.

We were inspired by the caves history and legends. On a daily basis, we would walk to the caves in the morning and early afternoon, and attend the pujas at the monastery in the later part of the day prior to night fall.

On one night, we had birthday celebrations of two dharma brothers. Ven. Shangpa Rinpoche made a unique Tsampa birthday cake with assistance from his lamas and anis. A bon fire was lit and as we gathered around it, our hearts were warmed, joyful and in unity as fellow practitioners supporting each other throughout this sacred journey. After the birthday songs in a myriad of international languages from English, France, Malay, Tibetan, Chinese, etc, one of the French dharma sister sang an opera song as a gift to the two dharma brothers. It was very meaningful to celebrate birthdays in Maratika as this was the site where Guru Rinpoche and Mandarava attained immortality.

On the last night’s stay at Maratika, some dharma brothers and sisters wished to experience residing in the meditation cave of the Eight Means of Attainment. We packed our sleeping bags and bravely marched into the cave for the night. Amidst the individual pujas, it was peaceful ambience within the cave. We finally turned in for the last night within the holy cave.

The next morning, it was time for us to leave Maratika. We packed our bags in the early morning, had a simple breakfast and departed for KIBS, Kirtipur.

Once again, the villagers assisted us with our luggages and sent us off with the same smiles as we had arrived. Most of us concluded that the villagers are very simple and honest people who treated us with kindness and respect. Sure, there were kids asking for rupees and gifts and both stray and domestic animals such as dogs, goats, fowls, cows, pigs etc mingled amongst us. Most of the time, they let us be and were more curious on our activities than anything else. During our stay at Maratika, we also witnessed a wedding ceremony.

Before we left, each of us voluntarily dug into our pockets to raise funds for the local school and for cleaning up the caves. Ven. Shangpa Rinpoche handed the donations to the local chief in the presence of the local community and police. They were grateful for our generosity whilst we were happy by our small deeds.

In batches, we finally arrived our ‘home sweet home’ KIBS. By now we felt it was a palace as compared to the remote and tough conditions of Maratika. As night falls, we had a simple celebration where everyone gathered after dinner in front of a bon fire. We had a fun lucky draw of presents kindly sponsored by all participants. Laughters roared as we took turns to pick our presents on a draw basis. As the celebration ended, with heavy footsteps, we returned to our rooms to rest. By this time, many close bonds had begun to form amongst the sangha members and pilgrims. This is reflected by the great care and concern that were showered upon each other on a daily basis.

The next morning, we headed to a local old folks’ home. Once again, we brought useful gifts such as groceries and donations to support the home. We were greeted by extremely kind-hearted Dilshova Shrestha who takes care of 36 elderlys and 30 children. Dilshova, 57, who was abandoned by her husband for not being able to give birth to a son, has managed the Old Age Management Social Welfare Trust for the last 13 years. Popularly known as Aamako Ghar (Mother’s Home), she established the trust all on her own. In 1997, she picked five women from the streets and brought them to her house at Ravi Bhawan. She vacated five rooms in her house that had been given on rent. After that, she gathered many such women who were discarded or divorced or raped or deceived by their loved ones. Some of the women that Dilshova picked were on the verge of death. Later, she also started taking care of street children. In the last 13 years, at least 80 women have been nursed by the kind-hearted Dilshova. Of them, she estimates, about 25 have passed away. She also performed their funeral rites. Taking a cursory look around the Trust, one gets a feel that Dilshova is looking after an 86-member happy family that is multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious.

Tears flowed and noses sniffed as we saw through their eyes, the tough conditions that both the elderlies and children had to endure before meeting Dilshova. We are truly fortunate in every sense. The French dharma sister sang “Amazing Grace” to the children whilst we handed over tokens of gifts. Before we left, we gave our good wishes, hugs and smiles.

Throughout our stay in KIBS, we also visited Boudanath, Swayambuth, Namo Buddha, Pharping, Thamel (shopping!) and Ven. Shangpa Rinpoche’s mother Ah Ma Yum. With head full of naturally black and long hair (only small amounts of white streaks could be seen), we could not believe she is already 82 years of age. In her hands were a mala and a prayer wheel that she constantly circulated and spun through her fingers. Ven. Shangpa Rinpoche explained that Ah Ma Yum resolved to complete 100 million times of the 6 syllables mantra “Om Mani Padme Hung”. For that, we truly salute her and pray that she swiftly fulfills her wishes. Like a doting grandmother, she urged us to drink tea and eat biscuits and we happily obliged. As it was getting dark, we bade farewell to Ah Ma Yum and headed back to our palace in time for another warm and sumptuous dinner.

Finally, the day to depart KIBS arrived. With heavy hearts, we bade farewell to our now close-knitted international family of sangha members and dharma brothers and sisters. We took each other’s contacts and encouraged one another to return to KIBS again next year for a ‘family’ reunion. Amongst the hugs and farewells, we were most grateful to Ven. Shangpa Rinpoche for his love, unwavering care, concern, patience and teachings to every single one of us. We were also grateful to Vens. Sang Sang Rinpoche, Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche, Shi Yuan Fan, all lamas, anis and staff of the KIBS who showered us with kindness and great assistance. The sheer number of over 50 pilgrims was not easy for the organizers, especially at the remote but very sacred site of Maratika. Sure, there were discomforts here and there but in the end, we were proud to say that we overcame most of them. Now, we are more precocious of our fortunate living conditions of clean air, water, hot showers, warm beds and flushing toilets just to name a few! Again, with great care and concern, Ven. Shangpa Rinpoche called and sms the group to ensure that we have reached our countries safe and sound.

From the bottom of our hearts, we sincerely thank you Shangpa Rinpochela. Thank you for fulfilling our dreams at Maratika. May Padma Sambhava continue to bestow his blessings of great health and longevity upon you. We pray that you will remain with us for a long time to turn the dharma wheel for the benefit of all sentient beings. May all your projects be swiftly fulfilled and may you be successful in all your spiritual endeavours!