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6/25/08 – In my journal, I do not have anything written down, aside from little dream tidbits, so I am going by my photographic recounting along with my memory. We visited a monastery on the way back to Leh, and I believe it was a Gelugpa gompa named Deskit (in Tibetan I think this means something like Happiness and Joy). It was a beautiful monastery with several sections.
The lower section, in elevation that is, had a large meditation / audience hall. It had a throne for the Dalai Lama and for the Panchen Lama (like all monasteries – keeping a seat warm for the highest lama in the lineage). It also had gorgeous murals and photos of other lamas. It was very contemporary – of all the monasteries we visited, the internal structure of this hall seemed the most modern. The large building was at the foot of a hill which had been leveled, and on top, a large seated Buddha statue was being constructed. They may have been half way through – there was an extensive series of lattices and scaffolding around the Buddha whose overall shape was coming into form. As you can see from the photo, the statue is seated atop a building, so when it is complete, I am confident it will be at least at total of 60 feet high (quite a large statue).
The older buildings of the monastery (some monasteries claimed to go back more than a thousand years) were higher on the mountain side. Therefore we climbed numerous steps, which is quite normal for gompas we visited. There was a protector shrine with its residents having their wrathful faces covered by cloth, a meditation hall, and a spot where the lamas performed wrathful / purifying pujas.
Actually, our guide told us a very curious story about this protector shrine – in collaboration with what looked to be a human skull in the hands of one of the deities. This is from my memory, so forgive me for the errors which I know are present, but a long time ago, there was a prince. He made a pact with the local Dharma protector – “help me defeat my enemies in battle and I will dedicate my life to you.” Sure enough, he was successful in battle. He wanted to go about his life normally, as a prince might, afterward, but for some reason he could never leave the monastery. When he tried, strong winds or weather would prevent him from doing so. Therefore he stayed at the monastery for years. Finally, he became so tired of being chained as it were to the Dharma protector, that he decided to end his life than go on with his present existence. He jumped to his death – a long plummet off the highest monastery wall. His body fell a long way down into a ravine, which was very dangerous for the monks or local villagers to try to get to. Therefore, I believe the animals and vultures cleaned the bones. But somehow, mysteriously and ominously, the prince’s skull came to be found in the hands of the Dharma protector in the monastery – where it has been to this day. (most of this story is accurate from what I heard) The moral of this story – be very careful with the vows you make (and break)!
This outdoor Buddha was a preview for a gorgeous statue we would visit later in the pilgrimage at Likir Monastery (in a future post). And I am sure by now that this Buddha statue has been completed and it is radiantly sitting on its perch, gazing out over and protecting the Nubra Valley.
At the top of the monastery, there was a curious stone slab, square in shape, with two little partitions as it were. The partitions had seed syllables of wrathful deities on them, and so I asked what this was. The lama who was with us told the guide, who translated it into English. This was where wrathful / purifying pujas happened – the seed syllables on the partitions protected the lamas from the nasty stuff – it sounded like they performed potent rituals here – possibly along the lines of exorcisms.
I have many decent pictures from this monastery, but I have tried to present several here that are representative of the batch. It is with tentative apprehension that I post this photo of the Dharma guardian with the skull in its hand – please treat it with respect. And have a good day.