The Buddha said:
This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds
To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky,
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.


What the caterpillar perceives as the end, to the butterfly is just the beginning.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

India, Day 19 - Nechung, final teachings and haystacks

Wednesday, 16th January

I woke up with deep, resonant sounds coming from Drepung Deyang Monastery, and immediately sensed that something was about to happen. The monks were chanting and playing ritual music with traditional Tibetan instruments. I could hear the "earth-shaking bass tones" of the dungchen long horns, accompanied by cymbals, and the trumpet-like sounds of the gyalings and the ceremonial puja drums, each instrument representing a different offering (the drum, for example, representing a dharma offering, the bell, wisdom, and so on). The monks continued to chant, and the morning birds joined them, creating an other-wordly atmosphere.

I got dressed as quickly as I could, ran down the stairs and out of Gyakham Khangtsen straight into Deyang Monastery. Not many people were there, probably because the ceremony hadn't been publicly announced, so I could sit quite near the shrine, where the kuten (medium, "physical basis," person/body that the spirit manifests in) sat surrounded by monks, the assistants standing around him, others sitting together on the floor invoking Nechung's spirit with their chants and instruments. Sitting so close, I could see the medium's ritual costume, described in detail by Pearlman (2002:p.94-95) as follows,
"On formal occasions, the Kuten is dressed in an elaborate costume consisting of several layers of clothing topped by a highly ornate robe of golden silk brocade, which is covered with ancient designs in red and blue and green and yellow [colours traditionally subscribed to the Mahabhuta]. On his chest he wears a circular mirror which is surrounded by clusters of turquoise and amethyst, its polished steel flashing with the Sanskrit mantra corresponding to Dorje Drakden. Before the proceedings begin, he also puts on a sort of harness, which supports four flags and three victory banners. Altogether, this outfit weighs more than seventy pounds and the medium, when not in trance, can hardly walk in it." 
Eventually, the medium went into trance. His arms, hands, and legs began to shake. The music stopped. As the trance deepened, the assistants placed the heavy headress and fastened it tightly on his head. It is said to weigh 30 pounds. He was now possessed by the Nechung Oracle, and will not remember a thing once the spirit leaves his body.

Suddenly, he raised from the chair, his face contorted, and began to make prostrations in what seemed like a dance. Back on his sit, he started to make strange hissing, snake like sounds, which only the few monks around him could understand and translate. These special monks immediately took notes of the oracles' messages, which were kept secret.

Once the message was recorded, the Oracle threw blessed grains to the crowd of Tibetans, which took it as a sign to quickly push their way forward to receive his blessings and the red scarves for good fortune. I joined them and went through the experience of being in his close proximity for a second time, now in a much more intimate environment, as Deyang Monastery is much smaller than the New Assembly Hall.

Last day of teachings by the Dalai lama

When I eventually got back to Gyakham Khangsten, still shaken by the experience, everybody was already gone. I was late for the Dalai lama's teachings, so I rushed to the temple.  It was His Holiness' last day in Mundgod, and the last chance to hear his teachings. The Assembly Hall was absolutely packed, and I couldn't find Alan or anyone from the group of Westerners staying at Gyakham Khangsten, so I squeezed my way in and sat with the Tibetans.

One of the women sitting near me asked me to take a photo of her, which I did. This seemed to please her and a lot of her friends, who kept smiling and making eye contact with me. One of the women gave me her hat to try it on.

Haystacks and Palmtrees...
In the afternoon Alan and I walked to the haystacks and sat underneath the palm trees by the swimming pool. 

Walk to the swimming pool. Haystacks, palm trees - hope we can go again and take pictures. Oracle. Nechung. Photographs of monks. [from Alan's travel diary]

Continues here.