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As already had happened in Darjeeling, the Monastery of Rumtek was preparing for a special celebration of one week called Kalachakra, which means wheel of time, focusing on the correspondence between cosmic cycles and human cycles, between the external and the internal.
Unable to pass up the opportunity to participate in this special event, we stayed in one of the hostels near the monastery.
A mandala perfectly oriented with the four cardinal points presided over the temple, prepared for the occasion using colored sands arranged in complex geometries full of symbolism.
The chanting of monks intermingled with weird music produced by trumpets, conch shells, drums, cymbals and bells.
Occasionally, there were interludes in which everyone (including us) got a cup of tea made with milk of yak, sweet in the morning and salty in the evenings. I was in heaven.
For the children-monks, the ceremony was way too long, so it was not uncommon to see them throwing rice each other, playing with their robes, or simply bored to death.
One of them, not so much of a child, approached us one day and said in broken English, “Tomorrow the ceremony begins one hour earlier.” When we stood at the gates of the monastery at four o’clock in the morning, even the guards were asleep. Soon all the monks, children and adults, got to know the joke of the altered “wheel of time” and cracked up at us.
Apart from how funny you consider the matter, the Tibetans are the most cheerful people I’ve ever met, which should not be confused with sense of humor!
The Kalachakra ceremony lasted one week.
Every evening we returned to the hostel to have dinner and sleep. The views over Gangtok were spectacular. Its poor public lighting, with frequent blackouts of entire neighborhoods, looked like a network of bright beads floating on the valley.
One of those evenings, while chatting in the terrace with a couple of Dutch people, a huge cloud began to develop over the valley till making a perfect dragon with every detail. The four of us were amazed. Checking that I was not the only crazy guy who sees dragons in the clouds produced me a secret satisfaction.
My friend decided to return to the capital before the conclusion of the ceremony for exploring the possibility of enrolling in one of the alpine expeditions. I preferred staying at Rumtek until the end of the week. He would not stay for the climax of the ceremony, when the mandala is destroyed.
The high ranked-monk (lama) grabbed a liturgical device with the shape of a three-dimensional eight called vajra (literally lightning), and drew a line in the sand from the east side to the center of the mandala. Immediately after, his aides destroyed the ephemeral work of art piling the sand at the center. All the monks approached to shower a pinch of the sacred sand on top of their heads.
I watched spell-bounded the whole process from my dark corner. Once every monk was anointed, the lama gestured with his hand towards me. I was being invited to the “sandy baptize.” With the last of the pinches of sand still on my balding top, I returned to the hostel, happy and grateful.
The equivalence between cosmic cycles and those ruling human lives is the Kalachakra motif, one of the subjects that I have studied more deeply. There is great wisdom in the Kalachakra ceremony, deeper than we can fathom with our limited intellects. We modern and postmodern people use only our rational minds to analyze such rites, which necessarily concludes in labeling them as superstition. Too bad.
I’m afraid our society is not becoming wiser, but the opposite. We are losing the real wisdom of our ancestors, substituted by technological products that make life more comfortable but, unfortunately, more disconnected from its real purpose.
The hallmarks of Sikkim are associated with the mystical figure of Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rimpoche, literally “Dear Master.” This extraordinary character spread throughout the Himalayan region the most esoteric version of Buddhism, around the eighth century.
Likewise his contemporary monk Kobo Daishi in Japan, Guru Rinpoche is revered in Sikkim as a great saint. The presence of Buddhist monasteries in the region, reinforced recently by the tragic exodus of Tibetans is therefore very old. One of these is Rumtek monastery, a few kilometers from Gangtok (the capital of Sikkim), the official residence of one of the two candidates to Karmapa (who unfortunately I couldn’t meet because he was absent) .
The armed guards stationed in towers and the sign with the ban on access to the temple carrying firearms seemed extremely inappropriate for a monastery, however, the confluence of the tension between Indian and Chinese governments on matters related to political asylum coupled with the schism caused by the appearance of two candidates for Karmapa, whose ugly controversy is underlined by economic and political implications, explains the security concerns.
Passed the first impression, Rumtek can be even cozy, and the many child-monks running around the broad patios and terraces make one to quickly forget the murky affairs of adults. One of the children had a facial feature considered very auspicious, that I thought was only a metaphor: a long white plume coming naturally from its brow. “Too bad I had not a camera.”
Rumtek was preparing for a one week long ceremony called “Kalachakra,” literally “wheel of time,” focused on the correspondence between cosmic and human cycles, between the external and the internal. Unable to pass up the opportunity to participate in this special event, we stayed in one of the hostels near the monastery.
A board perfectly oriented to the four cardinal points presided over the temple, on which a great mandala had been prepared for the occasion using fine colored sands arranged in complex geometries brimming with symbolism.
The monks produced supramundane music with trumpets, conch shells, drums, cymbals and small bells. Occasionally, there were interludes in which everyone received a cup of yak milk tea, sweet in the morning and salty in the evening. I felt in heaven.
For the child-monks the long ceremonies made them terribly bored, and it was not uncommon to see them throwing rice each other, playing with their robes, or simply bored to death. One of them, approached us one day and said in broken English: “Tomorrow the ceremonies begin one hour earlier.” When we appeared at four o’clock in front of the monastery gates, even the guards were asleep. Later, we reproached him the joke, and he burst into a loud laugh. It didn’t take long for all the monks (children and adults) to know about it. Apart from the questionable amusement of the matter, Tibetans are the most cheerful people I’ve ever known (which should not be confused with the best sense of humor).