Travel journal by Elena Vrublevskaya

The first day

The road to Gyudmed From our jeep window we watch how the dense jungles are changing into rice fields, waved by a light breeze. Along the road some strange looking hovels, and at once - country villas resembling Tadj Mahal* from a distance. Indian flags with the law wheel in the middle are changing into colorful Tibetan ones, and hook-shaped Hindi on the boards along the road into Tibetan cobweb. If to read the English translation it says: Dalai Lama, welcome! We are at home at last

On the way to Gyudmed
On the way to Gyudmed

The first steps towards the Tibetan settlements really give us the feeling of coming back home, how not to believe in incarnation? It's not my first visit to Rabgye-ling, the Tibetan settlement where Gyudmed monastery is situated, but I distinctly remember this feeling of calmness and peace and also joy filling my entire essence during the first visit. I'm peering into monk's smiling faces and smile them back There's an unceasing sound of prayer wheels' in the air On our way to the monastery we see charming little monks, merrily laughing and playing cricket. It's very funny to observe this moment of European culture in such a context. The reality you find yourself in is so far away from the noisy megapolis life At once peace comes to your mind and all anxious and useless thoughts disappear

After Chinese invasion of Tibet many refugees fled to India where they found their second home place. The residence of His Holiness the Dalai-lama XIV is situated on the north of India , in Dharamsala, but the largest Tibetan settlements are on the south of the country, in Karnataka state. In old times small village of Gurupura , situated in the flat valley 60 kilometers west from Mysore , has grown several times for the last half-century to give shelter to 2 thousands of refugees from Tibet . The settlement consists of 16 villages, situated in 2- 3 kilometers distance from each other. Tibetans settle like at home, tightly, but always clearly demarcating the frontiers of private belongings. It comes out like the original beehive.

Though actually they are the people living in the exile, one can feel an amazing inner freedom and serenity in them. The life of the people in settlements is well organized, children go to kindergartens and schools; there are many hospitals, traditional Tibetan medicine service, playgrounds, various communication services, shops and restaurants. In schools, along with other subjects, children study history of Tibet and Buddhism. On the first day of our stay we attend the lessons in the local school. Some children are touchingly confused in our presence and those, who are braver, come up and say hello in English.

There are three monasteries on the territory of the settlement. Gyudmed monastery was founded in 1433 in Lhasa , the capital of Tibet , and now for more than 500 years, stays one of the largest Buddhist universities, where secret practices and sacred arts of Tibetan Buddhism are carefully preserved and are transmitted from a teacher to a student. In 1959, when Dalai-lama had made a decision to leave Tibet , 150 monks from Gyudmed followed their spiritual leader, carrying seven miraculous thankas and sacred texts with them. They found their shelter in India and for 12 years they were living in Dalhauzi, weaving Tibetan carpets (there's still a weaving workshop in Gyudmed today).

In 1972 Indian government granted the monks a plot in the southern state of Karnataka. With the blessing of Dalai-lama they started to build new Gyudmed monastery on the territory of Tibetan refugees' settlement. Every morning they walked 2- 3 kilometers from Gurupura to the place of the future monastery and worked till darkness. They kept on studying all the time as well, for the precious lineage succession of Buddhist practices not to be interrupted and in order to transfer then their knowledge to young monks, who were born in India , far from their homeland. Elderly monks, who arrived to India with the first wave, didn't manage to adapt themselves to a hot Karnataka climate after highland of Tibet. Those few, who managed to survive till today are the most respected and honored people in the monastery. Thanks to them the great centuries-old tradition was not interrupted, as it happened in Mongolia and Buryatia.

Gyudmed has a new temple now, raised on generous donations of sponsors, but even this new one hardly rooms the participants of big ceremonies. The number of monks today is equal to that in Tibetan Gyudmed before 1959. They are more than 550 now and each year more and more new refugees come from Tibet . Risking their lives they overcome Himalayas to get to India , where they can freely practice Buddhism. Many of them can neither read, nor write in Tibetan and they have to join junior classes. That's why among 10 years-old monks, who are learning Tibetan and simple texts, one can meet twenty-year-old monk, whom everyone whispers about: He's just come from Tibet

The second day

Next morning starts with our visit to Gyudmed monastery. It is probably the most important and exciting event for us in the whole trip. I was happy to get acquainted with the monks already long time ago to start to understand the meaning and the power of the rituals they perform. And this time we were very lucky. Especially for us the monks make fire puja in the monastery's courtyard. Fire puja is considered to be a very important ritual, the main aim of which is the pacification of the entire space. The substances, which are burnt as offerings in the fire, are sacrificed to the fire deity. The monks in traditional yellow hats, stating their belonging to Gelug school, ask the beings, that cause harm, leave the people in piece and compassionate sentient beings. Low deep sounds produced by the monks during the ceremony, make the whole body vibrate in unison with the universe, the feeling of the body is missing and one is already inseparable from the space around This is a spiritual experience one will never forget. I look at the relaxed and peaceful faces of friends next to me Alyona Sviridova is standing (she is, by the way, one of the founders of Tibet House) it seems she experiences the same that I do So to say, those, who attended the arrangements of Tibet House Moscow within the festival TIBET: traditions, art, philosophy, could enjoy this divine chanting.

Fire puja
Fire puja
Alyona Sviridova and Elena Vrublevskaya
Alyona Sviridova and Elena Vrublevskaya

Chanting is an integral part of any Tibetan Buddhist ceremony. The main monasteries of Gelug school Sera, Ganden, Drepung and Gyuto mainly use two styles: dzoke and ranke. However there exists even more rare type of the overtone chanting, which is taught only in Gyudmed monastery. It is called gyuke and is the point of a special pride of the monks. Gyuke is the highest top in the art of Tibetan throat chanting. This very method of the vocal soundmaking, founded by Jezun Sherab Senge in his mystical vision-dream, played an important role in his decision to found Gyudmed monastery. All the monks of the monastery want to master this style, but it is so difficult, that among 550 monks only few are able to use pure gyuke, others use a combined technique of gyuke and dzoke. Chanting master is chosen by Dalai-lama from the monks, who studied full 15year course in Gyudmed. Chanting master stays at the head of the musical tradition of the monastery almost till the end of life. He leaves this position only because of the old age. During forty years that the monastery exists, the chanting master was changed only once. The technology of choosing the chanting master is easy the first people of the monastery define three best voices of Gyudmed and give this list with three names to Dalai-lama for the final decision. One of three best singers of the monastery is chosen by Dalai-lama to be the senior chanting master, the second is junior and they take turns depending on the difficulty of the ceremony.

Dalai-lama comes to Gyudmed almost every year, usually in October. Then the monks from all neighboring monasteries gather here to listen to his teachings. During a year many tantric ceremonies, different in their duration and complexity, are held in the monastery. Among them are three long 4days ceremonies of tantric deities: Yamantaka ritual in June, Guhyasamadji in October and Chakrasamvara in January. All of them suppose making fire pujas and building sand mandala - the deity palace, to which this deity is invited during the ceremony.

All those who want to visit Gyudmed monastery now have such an opportunity. As far as there are only few places around the monastery, where one can find dwelling and meals, Tibet House has built a comfortable guest house on the territory of the monastery, where one can accommodate for the time of teachings. Hotel can also serve as the place of staying for those who are interested in Tibetan culture, who wants to live among monks or meditate in solitude.

Guest House on the Territory of Gyudmed Monastery
Guest House on the Territory of Gyudmed Monastery
Guest House on the Territory of Gyudmed Monastery
Guest House on the Territory of Gyudmed Monastery

The third day

We wake up very early. We are going to make a journey to a Tibetan settlement Bylakuppe, situated 85 kilometers south-west from Mysore on the highway Mysore-Merkara. Bylakuppe is one of the first and biggest Tibetan settlements in India , a sort of a small southern Dharamsala.

Our first steps are to the centre of Buddhist knowledge Lama Camp. The monks from all over the world come to study here. It has more than five monasteries. All the main temples that existed in Tibet are reconstituted here by the means of Japanese and Taiwan Buddhists. We have heard a lot about one of the main monastic universities of His Holiness Dalai-lama Sera, where for several centuries Tibetan lamas studied Sutra, Buddha's Word. Historically Gyudmed monastery is connected with Sera, where teaching of tantra is given according to Gydmed canons. After completing a several-years course in Sera, Drepung or Namgyal monasteries, geshe can enter Gyudmed to study tantra in a profound way. Several thousands monks are taught in the monastic complex Sera. This is the whole city with its streets, libraries and with many big and small temples. In each of the big temples there's a room of His Holiness Dalai-lama, where he stays during his visits to the south of India.

Golden Temple
Golden Temple
Sera
Sera

Next in turn is Namdroling monastery. It is the most famous place in the almost unknown village because of its Golden Temple . Golden Temple is the residence of a high lama of Nyungma school Penor Rinpoche. It is built on the donations of the American sponsors, including a Hollywood star Steven Seagal. We come inside the monastery and stand still from delight in a huge colorful prayer hall, there are beautiful golden statues of Buddha Shakyamuni, Chenrezig (Buddha of Compassion) and Padmasambhava (Indian master who brought Buddha's teaching to Tibet ). In 2004 on the territory of the Golden Temple was built the only one in the world three-dimensional palace-mandala, exactly reproducing celestial architecture. The palace is built basing on the descriptions, cited in the tantric texts and which the monks use in their meditational practices. Our group disperses in different galleries of this 3D mandala Proceeding from one floor to the other we try to get the view of these higher worlds that the monks recreate in their meditations.

It seems to be enough impressions for one day. And, to a great pity of all those who took part in our trip and became very close thanks to the experience they got together, we have to go back to Moscow . Next time we are planning to visit the monastery of Gelug school, Dzongar Chode. Mainly small monks study there. There are 5-7-years-olds among them. The maim temple building was completed in 2004 and blessed by Dalai-lama. There's the rarest collection of the sacred relics, which history is several centuries. They say, that by touching these relics one gets the blessing, which is favorable to spiritual development, wellbeing and success.

Dzongar Chode
Dzongar Chode

Here, in Bylakuppe the most important Tibetan monasteries, representing all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism are reconstructed: Gelug, Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma. We've been to Gelug and Nyingma ones, so it would be interesting to visit Sakya monastery. It has been recently built and is neighboring the old one, where still the monks live. And a big Kagyu monastery is built to be the future residence of His Holiness Karmapa, the head of Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Unlike the other monasteries on the south of India , it represents an interesting combination of a traditional Tibetan architecture with the elements of West European palatial architecture.

It was surprising, but at the end of our travel all of us seven pilgrims-members of the group, almost simultaneously had the same idea to share the experience we had during these three days with the others, to give the opportunity for many people to see what we have seen. It seems that we experienced the beneficial influence of our travel to the Buddhist places. After it we wanted, consciously or not, to bring to life the main Buddhist idea of giving benefit to all sentient beings. Tibet House gives the opportunity to everybody who wants to make such a journey staying at the hotel on the territory of Gyudmed monastery and to have excursions around the South of India.

The program also includes:

•  Safari in a national park near Tibetan settlement Rabgye-ling (elephants, dears, monkeys, peacocks, wild boars)
•  Visiting an ancient Indian city Mysore , the palace of Indian raja, the shops with Indian souvenirs, restaurants of Indian cuisine.

* Taj Mahal is the world acknowledged architectural masterpiece of XVII century, it was built by a mogolian imperor Shah Jahan to commemorate his beloved wife Mumtaz. They lived together for 14 years and never parted with each other even for a single day. Mumtaz Mahal (translated as palace treasure) accompanied her husband in all his marches and died during one of these journeys on the north of the country.

National park
National park
Jungle inhabitants, taming the elephants
Jungle inhabitants, taming the elephants

 

 

 

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