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f liSiiffiliniritiiliiii^ 

A hypnotic picture of l 3 5192 03417 olif 
vanished ... It tells of terrible journeys^ ' ' 
men masked against the sun (riding through ethereal 
regions with their feet frozen), 
of welcoming fog-girt monasteries lit by 
butter lamps at the journey's end." 
— New SfDtesmon & Sooer^ 



Lama Anagarika Govinda 

ISQN l-5S5*7-445-* 

9 "781 585^67*657 






Introduction ^ , .. 11 

Foreword 21 


1 The Poet's Vision :2& 

2 The Guru's Vision ' 34 

3 The Monastery of Yi-Gah Chfi-Ling 40 

4 Kachenla, the Fatherly Friend and Mentor '^ 

5 Rehgious Practice and Ritual Symbohsm " ' '^M. 

6 The Guru Appears "SR' 

7 Tibetan Sacred Music * • » ^2 
S Meeting with the Guru 66 
9 Initiation 71 

10 On the Way of the White Clouds ' * ' 77 

1 1 The Rock Monastery 82 

12 The Chela's Vision " ** • 86. 

1 3 An Awakening and a Glimpse into the Future "" 93 


The Nature of the Highlands ' W 

The Living Language of Colours 1 04 
Dreams and Reminiscences in the Land of the Blue Lake 1 09 

Moving Slopes and the Riddle of the Horses' Hoofs ! 19 

Trance Walking and Lung-gotn Training 1 27 


B The Way of the White Clouds 


Contents 9 

6 Nyang-to Kyi-phug: the Monastery of Immured Recluses 

132 1 

6 Arrival at Tsaparang 


7 Physical Exercises 

i3S 1 

7 Critical Days 


8 Healing Powers 

143 I 

8 The Lama of Phtyang 


9 The Hermit Abbot of Lachen 

150 1 

9 A Race against Time and Obstacles 


10 Miraculous Escape and Floating Lights 


1 The Discovery of the Secret Path 



and the Temple of the Great Mandala 


1 The Guru's Passing Away 


1 1 Trek over the Frozen River 


1 65 ^^1 

2 Tulku 

170 ^1 

12 Tlie Happy Valley 


3 Rebirth 

176 ^M 

1 3 Final Initiations 


4 U Khanti, the Seer of Mandalay Hill 

14 The Magic Smith 


5 Maung Tun Kyaing 

190 ■ 

1 5 Farewell to Tibet 


6 The Mind that Conquers Death 

198 ^1 


7 The Case of Shanti Devi 

203 ^1 


8 A Message from the Past 

Guru and Chela and the Journey into the Light 




1 New Beginnings: Ajo Rimpoch^ 

219 ■ 

! The Kings of Lhasa 


2 Interlude at Dungkar Gompa 

225 1 

2 The Rise and Fall of the Kings of Gug6 


3 The Two Siddhas of Tse ChSling 

229 M 

1 INDEX -> - • . 


4 Lengthening Shadows 



5 Mystery-plays 

242 ^m 

6 The State Oracle of Nachung 

249 J 

7 The Oracle of Dungkar Gompa 



8 The Life Story of an Oracle- Priest 

260 S 


9 Magic as Method and Practical Knowledge 






! The Sacred Mountain 

271 ■ 

2 The Land of the Gods 

280 1 

3 The Last Trial 

289 J 

4 A Bon Monastery 

299 fl 

5 The Valley of the Moon Castle 

309 H 



Lama Govinda in Tibet 

Map of Tibet 

Tibetan Nomad Couple 

Lama Scholar of Ganden 

Dhyani-Buddha Vaircona 

Ajorepa Rimpoch^ 

Stag Dance 

ITie Kumbum from Above 

Namgyal's wife 

Lady of Lhasa 

Crossing the Kah' River in the Himalayas 

Old Beggar 

Lama Govinda performing puja at the shores of Lake Manasarovar 

En route to Doima Pass, Kailash Pakrama 

Canyon landscape en route to Tholing 

Tibetan bandit 

In the ruins of Tsaparang 

Leu Purgyal from Kiuk 


Ground-plan of the Temple of Yt-Gah Cho-Ling 

Lung-gom Hermitage (ground-plan) 

Lung-gom Hermitage (section) 

Elevations of Kailas 

Brush drawing of a Tibetan thanka-painting 

Tibetan symbol 

Mandah on the fire-altar during the Mewang ceremony 

All fhotografhi copyright by Li Gotami Govinda 

LAMA ANAGARIKA GOVINDA was undoubtedly one of the Wests 
greatest minds of the twentieth centiiry, and should be considered among 
the group that includes Einstein, Heisenberg, Wittgenstein, Solzhenitsyn, 
Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama. He is not as well known as the others 
except in Buddhist circles. In spite of the fact that many scholars, 
including historian, Arnold Toynbee, claim that the West's most impor- 
tant event of the twentieth century was its encounter with the Buddhist 
Dhanna, most cultured people still have no idea of what that really 
means. Even academic scholars of Buddhism, either its ancient forms in 
Asia or its current manifestations in the West, accepting a definition of 
themselves as marginal investigators laboring in a field of marginalia, 
think of Lama Govinda, invariably without having read his writings, as a 
rather quaint figure. They consider him a German romantic who fled the 
disaster of the "world war century" into a romanticized myth of "The 
East," living and promoting the fantasy of Shangri-la about the backward 
and benighted culture and superstitious, primitive, or feudal, at the very 
least "pre-modern" or "underdeveloped," society of Tibet. 

However, as we begin the twenty-first common era century in hopes 
of not repeating the violence of the world wars and genocides of the previ- 
ous ones — -it is crucial that we face up to some important lessons that Lama 
Govinda tirelessly taught. Western culture, based on the religious forms of 
Christianity and Islam, which, in Lama's words, "lost themselves ... by 
overpowering the human mind through the dictatorship of a partially 

12 The Way of the White Clouds 

world-creating and at the same time world-negating spirit," is still relatively 
uncivilized, focused on the external conquest of other civilizations, vio- 
lence, war, imperialism, and a rampant need For material possession and 
self-aggrandizement. Contrary to its inflated self-image, it is not the most 
advanced culture the world has yet seen. Its very developed material tech- 
nology is, in fact, put to the childish uses of violent destruction and 
thoughtless consumption. Us worst problem is its foundational confusion, 
which leads those of us under its thrall to Fee! disconnected from nature. 
Hence we tend to be not responsible for the consequences of our actions, 
and distract ourselves from the extreme danger of destroying everything in 
our path by the irrational promise of either a blissful salvation by an 
absolutely disconnected omnipotent "God" or else a blissful oblivion. 

Hence our barbarous culture — I do not call it a "civilization" — 
poses the ultimate threat to planetary life, to all the human beings of 
other more ancient and better balanced cultures, all other life forms, and 
the eco-system itself. We are deploying the five horsemen of our immi- 
nent man-made apocalypse; population explosion, epidemic disease, 
unlivable pollution, resource depletion, and wars of mass destruction. 
The urgent need, therefore, is for we bearers of this imbalanced, dis- 
connection culture to rediscover our interconnection with the rest of 
life, our infinite responsibihty to ourselves and all other living beings, the 
extreme negative danger of our continuing on the path of destruction 
and consumption, and the positive potential for us to find a reliable hap- 
piness within our own souls, to conquer our own inner negative habits, 
and to cultivate our infinite capacity for love and joy. 

The Buddhist world movement is not accurately thought of simply as 
a "world religion," understood as a set system of beliefs and institutions that 
parallel those of religions. It can be viewed that way with some validity — 
indeed both proponents and opponents do so — but it is only one- third a 
religion at most. It is more fundamentally a way of living and a pattern of 
ethics, a basis for numerous civilizations that emphasized individualism, 
wisdom, gentleness, altruism, and universal equality. And it is a way of 
understanding the world, a tradition of sciences based on the possibility 
of human beings developing a complete and accurate understanding of 

Introduction 13 

the realities of life and death. Its fundamental teaching intends to help 
beings understand their causal interconnection with all life, find the 
causes of all their sufferings, intervene to prevent those causes from giv- 
ing their effects, and achieve the evolutionary goal of enduring and share- 
able happiness. It is therefore just what the victim/bearers of a confusion, 
violence-, and greed-based culture need to cure their self-imprisoning 
malaise and world-endangering malfunction. 

So in the history of the process of the West discovering the new 
frontier it requires, namely the inner continent of the human heart, the last 
possibility for a hopeful future for humankind and its hard-pressed planet, 
Lama Anagarika Govinda (Indo-Tibetan Buddhist name Anangavajra 
KJiamsum Wangchuk), emerges as one of the ^eat heroes of the century, 
a pioneer and prophetic leader of an outwardly triumphant and inwardly 
desperate Western culture. He himself broke fiee from the collective 
hypnosis about the superiority of the West and found traces of the civi- 
lization that met his standards in Asia, in Lanka, Burma, India, and ulti- 
mately Tibet. While he never proclaimed himself fully enhghtened, he 
attained his personal visionary goals and turned back to his home culture 
to open up for the thoughtful the vista of a new possibility for human 
life. The first book I read on Tibet was his elegant and epochal 
Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, which 1 read in France when I was 
eighteen, and I am still grateful every day for the path on which it very 
much helped to set me. 

His preface below begins with the words, written already in the six- 
ties, "Why is it that the fate of Tibet has found such a deep echo in the 
world? . . , What is happening in Tibet is symbolical for the fate of 
humanity. As on a gigantically raised stage we witness the struggle 
between two worlds, which may be interpreted, according to the stand- 
point of the spectator, either [if you are still so persuaded] as a struggle 
between the past and the future, between backwardness and progress, 
belief and science, superstition and knowledge — or [much better] as the 
struggle between spiritual freedom and material power, between the wis- 
dom of the heart and the knowledge of the brain, between the dignity of 
the individual and the herd-instinct of the mass, between the faith in the 

(4 The Way of the White Clouds 

higher destiny of man through inner development and the belief in mate- 
rial prosperity tlirough an ever-increasing production of goods," 

This is prophetic utterance, profoundly wise, courageous, and well 
ahead of its time. 1 believe it is accurate to say that Lama Govinda was 
the first Western schoiar-explorer-experimenter-practitioner to experi- 
ence and articulate the radical individualism at the heart of the Buddhist 
tradition. To this day, I use his wonderful simile for the difference 
between Buddhist enlightenment and the mystical experience of one- 
ness that Vedantic Hinduism and many other mysticisms anticipate. He 
said that those mysticisms perceive the ultimate goal as being the 
moment when the little individual drop of water — which has I^Uen from 
the rain cloud to the mountain top, melted down from glacial snows, 
flowed with myriad others into streams and waterfalls and broad rivers — 
finally merges itself indivisibly in the vast and shining sea. But Buddhist 
enlightenment is rather when the individual drop itself becomes the 
repository of the whole vast ocean, when the shining sea slips into the 
individual drop! I cannot get over my admiration for this insight; it teaches 
enlightenment as the inconceivable reconcihation of the seemingly 
absolute dichotomy between individual and universal. It reveals it to be 
the complex, ecstatic, yet responsible state of supreme awareness that it 
is, rather than some sort of escapist extinction of the individual into 
some oblivious collective security. 

The time has long since come to take a deeper look at the Venerable 
Lama, and when would it be more appropriate than on the occasion of 
this new edition of his classic autobiographical work. The Way of the 
White Clouds. Lama was much too humble to have written a detailed 
autobiography, greatly to our loss, it must be said, but he gives us consid- 
erable insight into his inner life, important insights and spiritual experi- 
ences in this work, and in bits and pieces of personal accounts scattered 
throughout his other works. He was bom in 1896, the Year of the Fire 
Monkey, in Waldheim, Germany as Ernst Hoffmann. His father was 
German, his mother Bolivian. During his early childhood he was ill with 
consumption, pneumonia or pleurisy, and had to go to a sanatorium in 
Switzerland, in the Swiss Tessin area (Ticino, where Hermann Hesse also 

Introduction 15 

retreated after the First World War). His later adolescence was spent in 
Capri, Italy as his parents were part of a smail circle of international, 
wealthy, artistic expatriates who were disaffected and in self-imposed exile 
from the imperialistic, industrial, and militaristic European-American cul- 
njre of the time, the culture described so well by Barbara Tuchman in her 
classic, The Proud Tower. Reportedly, he began to meditate using Buddhist 
methods in 1914, during the year of the outbreak of the First World War, 
while completing his first book. The Fundamental Ideas of Buddhism and 
Their Relation to the Concept of God. He also studied Pali at the 
University of Naples. Around this time, in 1917 (I have to guess from 
clues dropped here and there in his writings), he had an extraordinary 
experience of one of his previous incarnations, that of a German writer 
{he doesn't give the name) of about a century previous who had embarked 
upon a massive project of wriring, in Lama's words, a "morphology of 
human thought and culture, resulting in a magic vision of the universe," 
the same project that Lama, as the young Ernst Hoffmann, found him- 
self absorbed in from adolescence. The unnamed German writer had suf- 
fered from the same lung disease young Hoffmann had, and had died 
young, leaving behind an unfinished metaphysical novel, which, when 
Hoffmann read it, contained not only the same general ideas as his novel, 
but even whole sentences and paragraphs of nearly identical prose! A 
scholar he met in Capri who was researching the earlier viriter was 
amazed at the young Hoffmann's resemblance to the unnamed German 
writer. There were many details of this experience that provide convinc- 
ing evidence of a genuine former life remembrance, and the young 
Hoffmann must have thereby adopted the determination to deepen his 
investigation of the teachings of Buddhism. 

Around this time, he must have visited North Africa from Capri, 
since he mentions an anecdote that occurred when he was "spending 
some time" among the Aissaouas tribes of Muslim Sufis, He also mentions 
a journey in the Bolivian highlands, visiting his maternal grandmother, and 
learning about his great-grandfather, who had been a comrade in arms of 
Bolivar, the George Washington of South America, given the title of 
rield Marsha] de Montenegro. His mother's fortune seems to have come 

16 The Way of the White Clouds 

from ownership of silver mines in Bolivia, and at one time he thought of 
becoming a mining engineer. 

Eventually he went to Sri Lanka, eight years after his first book was 
published, say in 1922 or 1923. He was eventually ordained as a novice 
by the Venerable Bhikkhu Nyanatiloka Mahathera (also of German 
descent} at the Island Hermitage of Dodanduwa, and he spent the next 
twenty years as a virtual bhikkhu— monk, celibate, enrobed and asceti- 
cal. He never took the full bhikkhu ordination, as he objected to the 
"innumerable rules" of the formal Sangha. During this time, as a monk 
pilgrim, he visited Burma and perhaps even Hunan in Southwest China, 
which we gather from another anecdote he recites. He expected to stay 
for life in Lanka, and built himself a hermitage between Kandy and 
Nuwara-Eliya. He also worked on his first major work of Buddhist schol- 
arship. The Psychological Attitude of Early Buddhist Philosophy, a learned 
and comprehensive study of the Pali Abhidhamma psychology. 

He mentions that he was not originally attracted to Tibet, and was 
prey to the usual misconception of those times (and in some quarters, 
sadly, still today) that it was a degenerate form of Buddhism polluted by 
demon-worship, shamanism, and other weird elements from the rough 
cultures of the Himalayas. He was therefore astonished, when invited to 
Daijeellng to a conference to present on Theravada Buddhism and its lit- 
erature, to feel strangely drawn to the world of "Lamaism." He spent 
some time in a monastery high above the town, and began his immersion 
in the world of Tibet. It's hard to tell exactly, but this must have been in 
the late ■20s. The monastery was called Yi-gah Cho-ling (Uma's phonetic 
spelling), and was the retreat residence of Tomo G^she Rimpoch^. After 
spending months there in Tibetan studies with other teachers, white the 
Rimpoche was on a long retreat, Lama met the Rimpoche, was accepted 
by him as a disciple, and fomially became a Tibetan Buddhist. During these 
same times, he spent time at Tagores University in Bengal, Shantiniketan, 
and lectured at other Indian universities. In the early 1930s he began 
trips to Tibet, going up through Sikkim into the Chumbi valley, and then 
in 1933 visiting Ladakh and the Chang-Thang or northern plain, coming 
from the west. In 1936 Tomo G^sh^ Rimpoche passed away, soon taking 

Introduction 17 

reincarnation in Sikkim. In 1937 Lama himself went to SiJddm and visit- 
ed the lama of the famous French scholar-adventurer, Alexandra David- 
Neel, the Gomchen of Lachen, up on the Tibetan border. During his 
vears in India, he had become friendly with Tagore, Nehru, and other 
Indian independence leaders, and so during the war years, the British 
held him in an internment camp for five years, despite the fact that he held 
a British passport at this time. After his release, he met the beautiful artist 
and scholar Li Gotami, bom in the Fire Horse Year, 1906, to a Parsee 
family in Bombay, who had been studying for years at Shantiniketan. He 
renounced his monastic novice vows to many her, and she became his 
inseparable companion until his death. 

With Indian independence in 1947, he became an Indian citizen, 
and he and Li were finally able to make the extensive pilgrimage and 
study travels tn Tibet that took him to Mount Kailash and Lake 
Manasarovar, and beyond to the ruins of the great temples and monas- 
teries of Tsaparang, which he describes so eloquently in this book. After 
the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1 950 they moved to the small and beau- 
tiful Kasar Devi hermitage at Aimora, in the Kumaon hills of Uttar 
Pradesh, given to him and Li by the great translator W. H. Y Evans-Wentz, 
where he lived and wrote his major works over the next thirty years, with 
occasional trips to Europe and America in the late '70s and early '80s. 

It was in Aimora, a little tovm in the Kumaon Hills of Utter 
Pradesh, India, that I first met Lama and Li in 1971, while on a year- 
long fellowship for dissertation research. My wife Nena had already met 
them six years earlier on her own pilgrimage to India, and Lama and Li 
were obviously very fond of her, in a parental sort of way. When she 
introduced me to the gentle but reclusive scholar, he looked me over as 
a fastidious father might inspect a son-in-law. Whatever my own shon- 
comings, he and Li were immediately enchanted with our three-year-old 
boy, Ganden, and our smiling baby girl, Uma. On the scholarly level. 
Lama was a bit concerned that my approach to Buddhism might be too 
one-sidedly intellectual, as I was translating a work of Centrist 
Madhyamaka philosophy, and, though he knew I had been a monk 
tnyself for some years, he was afraid I might become enmired in scholas- 

J -^.J-^L . f 

18 The Way of the White Clouds 

ticism and not get deeply enough into the meditative side of the prac- 
tice. He brought out his old study notebooks — 1 particularly remember 
his translation of Aryadeva's Four Hundred, a work of the same Centrist 
school, and I was impressed with the high level of his critical scholar- 
ship. He was intent that 1 acknowledge the key role of the great hermit 
yogins of Tibet, and of the Chahasamvara Tantra in particular, the 
favorite spiritual technology of the Great Adepts he was so fond of. 

We had wonderful times at his ashram, celebrating his birthday, tak- 
ing Li down to the bazaar for shopping in our Volkswagen, hearing spell- 
binding tales of their visit to Kailash. They were wonderful in conversa- 
tion, as they would correct each other meticulously as to the fine details 
of particular adventures, to make sure the facts were clear. On the other 
hand, when Lama was engaged in his writing, Li was like a guardian 
angel and would not allow visitors or anything to disturb him. This 
became more and more of a problem during the '70s, as Lama's books 
were beginning to attract a wider readership in Europe and America, and 
visitors were more and more frequent. To reach the ashram retreat was 
quite a hike up the mountain onto "Crank's Ridge," as the place was 
affectionately called, due to the presence of Lama and other Indian 
intellectuals and old-guard expatriate yogins, artists, and writers. So 
when Lama reached his eightieth year, in 1976, it seemed more and 
more difficult to live there. He began to stay longer in the West, finally 
settling down in California, with the help of the San Francisco Zen 
Center and a growing circle of friends. 

I remember meeting him out there during his last years, after he 
had already suffered a few strokes. His reaction to old age and approach- 
ing death was truly amazing. He assured me that the strokes were the 
greatest of blessings, not a hardship at all. He said that he had previous- 
ly thought he had achieved some understanding of emptiness, skunyata, 
the great void of blissful freedom at the core of Buddhist reality, only to 
realize with each stroke, how much more profound, how much more 
miraculous it was! He expressed his extreme gratitude that he was get- 
ting the chance to disentagle from his embodiment so gradually, so able 
to observe the process, unravelling the web of attachments strand by 

Introduction t^ 

strand. The few visits we had in those last days were a great privilege and 
an encouragement about dealing with ail aspects of life that 1 am only 
beginning to appreciate in my own later years. 

I am grateful to Peter Mayer and Overlook Press that they are now 
reprinting Lama's amazing memoir. I have tried to extract the details of 
his life from the little nuggets he drops here and there in his text and 
from what he told to Peter Matthiessen, 1 can't beheve 1 was so busy and 
preoccupied when I had the chance that 1 didn't sit him down and gel 
him to provide me a clear and detailed chronology, but Lama was not an 
easy person to sit down and put to a task not of his own choosing. Out 
of humility he chose not to author a full autobiography, as in the Tibetan 
tradition only the most enlightened saint is thought worthy of biogra- 
phy — the very term for which literally translates as "Liberation." He gave 
us instead his many works of teaching, and the marvelous account of his 
pilgrimages and discoveries in Tibet that you now have before you. Enjoy 
it, and may it help you open your heart and mind to the white-cloud-like 
quality of your own existence, floating freely through the clear blue sky! 

^^RobertA. F, Thurman 

Ganden DekyiJing, Woodstock, New York 
January 1, 2005, Year of the Wood Monkey 


WHY IS IT that the fate of Tibet has found such a deep echo in the world? 
There can only be one answer: Tibet has become the symbol of all that 
present-day humanity is longing for, either because it has been lost or not 
yet been realised or because it is in danger of disappearing from human 
sight: the stability of a tradition, which has its roots not only in a historical 
or cultural past, but within the innermost being of man, in whose depth 
this past is enshrined as an ever-present source of inspiration. 

But more than that: what is happening in Tibet is symbolical for the 
fate of humanity. As on a gigantically raised stage we witness the strug- 
gle between two worlds, which may be interpreted, according to the 
standpoint of the spectator, either as the struggle between the past and 
the future, between backwardness and progress, behef and science, 
superstition and knowledge — or as the struggle between spiritual free- 
dom and material power, between the wisdom of the heart and the 
knowledge of the brain, between the dignity of the human individual and 
the herd- instinct of the mass, between the faith in the higher destiny of 
fnan through inner development and the belief in material prosperity 
through an ever-increasing production of goods. 

We witness the tragedy of a peaceful people without political ambi- 
tions and with the sole desire to be left alone, being deprived of its free- 
dom and trampled underfoot by a powerful neighbour in the name of 
progress', which as ever must serve as a cover for all the brutalities of the 
riuman race. The living present is sacrificed to the moloch of the future, 

22 The Way of the White Clouds 

the organic connection with a fruitful past is destroyed for the chimera 
of a machine-made prosperity. 

Thus cut off from their past, men lose their roots and can find secu- 
dity only in the herd, and happiness only in the satisfaction of their 
ephemeral needs and desires. For, from the standpoint of progress' the 
past is a negligible, if not negative, value, bearing the stigma of imper- 
fection and being synonymous with backwardness and 'reaction'. 

What, however, is it that distinguishes man from the animal, if not 
the consciousness of the past, a consciousness which stretches beyond 
his short life-span, beyond his own little ego, in short, beyond the limi- 
tations of his momentary time-conditioned individuality? It is this wider 
and richer consciousness, this oneness with the creative seeds hidden in 
the womb of an ever-young past, which makes the difference, not only 
between the human and the animal consciousness, hut between a cul- 
tured and an uncultured mind. 

The same is true for naUons and peoples. Only such nations are 
truly civilised, or better, truly cultured, which are rich in tradition and 
conscious of their past. It is in this sense that we speak of Tibet as a 
deeply cultured nation, in spite of the primitive conditions of life and the 
wildness of nature prevailing over the greater part of the country. In fact, 
it is the very harshness of life, and the unrelenting struggle against the 
powers of nature, that has steeled the spirit of its inhabitants and built 
their character. Herein lies the unconquerable strength of the Tibetan, 
which in the end will prevail over all external powers and calamities. 
This strength has shovra itself throughout Tibet's history. Tibet has been 
overrun more than once by hostile powers and has gone through worse 
calamities than the present one — as in the times of King Langdarma, 
who usurped the throne of Lhasa and persecuted Buddhism with fire 
and sword. But the Tibetans never bowed to any conqueror or to any 
tyrant. When the hordes of Genghis Khan drowned half the world in 
blood and Mongols overran the mighty Chinese empire and threatened 
to conquer Tibet, it was the spiritual superiority of Tibet that saved its 
independence, by converting Kublai Khan and his people to Buddhism 
and transforming this warlike race into a peaceful nation. Nobody has 

Foreword 23 

vet entered Tibet without faDing under its spell, and who knows whether 
the Chinese themselves, instead of converting the Tibetans to 
Communism, may not be subtly transformed in their ideas like the 
Mongolian hordes of yore. 

One thing is sure, and that is, that while the Chinese are trying 
their utmost to crush Tibet by brutal force, the spirit of Tibet is gaining 
an ever-increasing influence upon the world — -just as the persecution of the 
earlv Christians by the might of the Roman empire carried the new faith 
into the remotest corners of the then -known world, converted a small 
religious sect into a world-religion and finally triumphed over the very 
empire that had tried to crush it. 

We know that Tibet will never be the same again, even if it regains its 
independence, but this is not what really matters. What matters is that the 
continuity of Tibet's spiritual culture, which is based on a living tradition 
and a conscious connection with its origins, should not be lost. Buddhism 
is not opposed to change — in fact, it is recognising it as the nature of all 
life — it is, therefore, not opposed to new forms of life and thought or to 
new discoveries in the fields of science and technique. 

On the contrary, the challenge of modern life, the widening horizon 
of scientific knowledge, will be an incentive to explore the very depths 
of the human mind and to rediscover the true meaning of the teachings 
and symbols of the past, which had been hidden under the accumulat- 
ed dross of centuries. Much that had been merely accepted as an article 
of faith, or that had become a matter of mere rourine, will again have to 
be consciously acquired and resuscitated. 

in the meantime, however, it is our task to keep alive the remembrance 
of the beauty and g?"eatness of the spirit that informed the history and the 
religious life of Tibet, so that future generarions may feel encouraged and 
inspired to build a new life on the foundations of a noble past. 

The Way of the White Clouds as an eye-witness account and the 
description of a pilgrimage in Tibet during the last decenniums of its 
independence and unbroken cultural tradition, is the attempt to do jus- 
tice to the above-mentioned task, as far as this is possible within the 
frame of personal experiences and impressions. It is not a travelogue, but 

24 The Wat of the White Clouds 

the description of a pilgrimage in the truest sense of the word, because 
a pilgrimage distinguishes itself from an ordinary journey by the fact that 
it does not follow a laid-out plan or itinerary, that it does not pursue a 
fixed aim or a limited purpose, but that it carries its meaning in itself, by 
relying on an inner urge which operates on two planes; on the physical 
as well as on the spiritual pfane. It is a movement not only in the outer, 
but equally in the inner space, a movement whose spontaneity is that of 
the nature of all life, i.e. of all that grows continually beyond its momen- 
tary form, a movement that always starts from an invisible inner core. 

It is for this reason that we begin our description with a prologue in 
one of the temples of Tsaparang, a poetic vision corresponding to that 
inner reality (or core) which contains the germs of all outer events that 
later on unfold themselves before our eyes in temporal succession. 

In the great solitude and stillness of the abandoned city of Tsaparang 
and in the mysterious semi-darkness of its temple-halls, in which the 
spiritual experiences and achievements of countless generations seemed 
to be projected into the magic forms of images — an insight into hidden 
connections dawned upon me, which gave a new perspective to my life 
and revealed apparently accidental events and human relarionships as 
being parts of a meaningful interplay of psychic forces. The coincidence 
of certain happenings and experiences, which are not causally con- 
nected and therefore not rime-conditioned, seem to have their origin in 
a time-free dimension, which can be experienced only on a higher level 
of consciousness. 

Indeed, the temples of Tsaparang seemed to be lifted out of the 
stream of time; preserving in them the concentrated atmosphere of a 
whole epoch of Tibetan culture. And this atmosphere grew in intensity 
the longer one dwelled in it, until the images took on a life of their owti 
and an almost supernatural reality. Their very presence filled the temples 
with the voices of an undying past. What, therefore, may appear to the 
reader as merely poetical imaginarion, contains a deeper reality than any 
matter-of-fact description of outer events and situations could ever have 
conveyed, because these events and facts become meaningful only if seen 
against the background of inner experience. 

Foreword 25 

Thus the pilgrimage in the outer space is actually the mirrored 
reflection of an inner movement or development, directed towards a yet 
unknown, distant aim which, however, is intrinsically and seed- like con- 
tained in the very direcrion of that movement. Herefrom springs the 
readiness to cross the horizons of the known and the familiar, the readi- 
ness to accept people and new environments as parts of our destiny, and 
the confidence in the ultimate significance of all that happens and is in 
harmony with the depth of our being and the universality of a greater life. 

Just as a white summer-cloud, in harmony with heaven and earth, 
heely floats in the blue sky from horizon to horizon, following the breath 
of the atmosphere — in the same way the pilgrim abandons himself to the 
breath of the greater life that wells up from the depth of his being and 
leads him beyond the farthest horizons to an aim which is already pres- 
ent within him, though yet hidden from his sight. 

In Tibetan Buddhism the symbol of the cloud is of such far-reaching 
importance, that a glance upon Tibetan Thankas (scrolls) or temple- 
frescoes would suffice to convince the beholder. The figures of Buddhas, 
Bodhisattvas (enlightened beings), saints, gods and genii manifest them- 
selves from cloud-formations which surround their haloes. The cloud 
represents the creative power of the mind, which can assume any imag- 
inable form. The white cloud especially (or even a cloud shining in del- 
icate rainbow-colours) is regarded as the ideal medium of creation for 
the enlightened or enraptured mind, which manifests itself on the plane 
of meditadve vision as sambhogakuya, the mind-created 'body of delight'. 

Even the earlier Sanskrit-Buddhism speaks of the 'Cloud of Truth' 
or the 'Cloud of the Universal Law' {dhamta-megha), from which descends 
the rain of bliss and liberating knowledge upon a world burning with 

Thus the 'White Cloud' becomes the symbol of the Guru's wisdom 
and compassion, and therefore 'the Way of the White Clouds' hints at 
tile same time at the way of spiritual unfold ment, the way of a pilgrim- 
age that leads to the realisation of final completeness. 

The relationship to the Guru, the highest teacher, is beautifully 
expressed in the Tibetan Song of the Eastern Snow Mountain: 

26 The Way of the White Clouds 

'On the peak of the white snow mountain in the East 
A white cloud seems to be rising towards the sky. 
At the instance of beholding it, I remember my teacher 
And, 'pondering over his kindness, faith stirs in me.'' 

Three Visions 

1. Quoted in TibeLan and translated by Johan van, Manen. Asiatic Society. Calcutta 


The Poet's Vision 



clothed in facts 

truth feek oppressed; 

in the garb of poetry 

it moves easy and free. 

-Rabin DRANATH Tagore 

T WAS A Stormy night over the rocks and ruins of Tsaparang, the aban- 
doned capital of the once powerful kingdom of Western Tibet, Clouds 
were drifting across the sky, alternately hiding and revealing the full 
moon, throwing its ghostly spotlights upon the gigantic stage on which 
history piayed one of its immortal dramas. Immortal? Yes: because it was 
the same old theme of the impermanency of all things, the wondrous 
play of power and beauty, spiritual achievement and worldly splendour. 
The power vanished, while beauty still hovered over the ruins and in 
the works of art, which had been created patiently and humbly under the 
shadow of power. The splendour crumbled while the spirit of culture and 
aevotion retired into far-off hermitages and survived in the words and 
oeeds of saints and scholars, poets and artists — illustrating the words of 
'-^o-tse, ihat what is yielding and tender belongs to the realm of life, and 
^hat is hard and strong belongs to the realm of death. 

30 The Way of the White Clouds 

The fate of Tsaparang is sealed. The work of man and the work oF 
nature have become almost indistinguishable. The ruins have taken the 
form of rocks, and rocks stand out like Cyclopean buildings. The whole 
huge mountain looks like one huge block of marble, out of which a fairy 
city has been carved, with lofty castles, towers, and turrets which seem 
to touch the clouds, with mighty walls and battlements on perpendicu- 
lar rocks, which on their part are honeycombed with hundreds and hun- 
dreds of caves. 

The changing light of the moon made all this still more unreal, like 
a vision that flared up and disappeared as unexpectedly as it came into 

The great Red Temple of Buddha Sakyamuni was filled with dark- 
ness and silence. Only from ihe golden face of the giant image of 
Buddha Sakyamuni a soft light seemed to radiate and to be reflected 
faintly on the golden images of the Dhyani-Buddhas, seated on both 
sides below his throne. 

Suddenly a tremor, accompanied by the rumbling sounds of falling 
masonry, shook the walls of the temple. The wooden shutters above the 
head of Buddha Sakyamuni sprang open, and the Buddha's face was lit 
up brightly by the rays of the full moon flooding the whole temple with 
a pale light. 

At the same time the air was filled with the moaning and groaning 
of innumerable voices. It was as if the whole building were groaning 
under the weight of the many centuries of its existence. A huge crack 
appeared by the side of the White Tara, almost touching one of the flow- 
ers flanking her beautiful throne. 

The spirit who inhabited this flower rushed out in fear, and with 
clasped hands prayed to Tarai 'Oh, Thou Saviouress of all who are in 
danger, save us, save this sacred place from destruction!' 

Tara looked with merciful eyes in the direction from where the 
voice came and asked: 'Who art thou, little spirit?' 

'I am the Spirit of Beauty, living in this flower by your side,' 

Tara smiled her motherly smile and, pointing towards the other side 
of the temple, replied: 



Three Visions 31 

'Among the priceless treasures of wisdom which are collected in 
those ancient half-destroyed manuscripts, heaped up in the comer, there 
is one called Prajftaparamita. In it these words of the Tathagata are 

"Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world: 
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, 
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud, 
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream,'" 

The Spirit of Beauty bad tears in his eyes: 'Oh, how true are these 
words, how true! And where there is beauty, even for a flashing moment, 
there some immortal chord is touched in us. Yes, we are all in a great 
dream, and we hope to awaken from it, as our Lord the Tathagata, who 
in his mercy appears before us in his dream-form in order to guide us 
towards enlightenment.' 

The Spirit of Beauty, while speaking thus, bowed down towards the 
gigantic statue of Buddha Sakyamuni, which had come to life like all the 
other images in this magic hour. 

'It is not for myself,' the Spirit continued, 'that I pray for help, I know- 
that all the forms which we inhabit have to perish— as even the priceless 
words of the Tathagata, stored up in those dust-covered manuscripts. But 
what I pray for is: let them not perish before they have fulfilled the pur- 
pose for which they were created; let them not perish before we have 
delivered the great message wfiich is embodied in them. 

'I, therefore, pray to thee, O mother of all suffering beings, and to 
all the Buddhas here present, to have mercy upon those among humans 
whose eyes are covered with only a little dust, and who would see and 
understand if only we would linger a little in these our dream-forms until 
our message has reached them or has been handed on to those who are 
able to spread it for the benefit of all living beings. 

Our Lord Sakyamuni himself was deterred thus by the gods from 
entering Parinirvana after the attainment of Perfect Enlightenment, May 
appeal to him again with the same motive and take my refuge in him 
^^ all his innumerable forms of appearance.' 

32 The Way of the White Clouds 

Three Visions 33 

Again he bowed with clasped hands before his forehead towards the 
mighty, radiating figure of Sakyamuni and to all the assembled Buddhas 
and Bodhisattvas. 

Tara raised her hands in a tender attitude of blessing and wish- 
granting, and Sakyamuni's radiant features smiled in approval. 

The Spirit of Beauty has spoken the truth and his heart is sincere. 
And how could it be otherwise? Is not beauty the greatest messenger and 
servant of truth? Beauty is the revelation of harmony through forms, 
whether visible or audible, material or immaterial. However transient the 
forms may be, the harmony they express and embody belongs to the eter- 
nal realm of the spirit, the innermost law of truth, which we call Dharma. 

'Had I not expressed this eternal Dharma through perfect harmony of 
word and thought, had I not appealed to humanity through the spirit of 
beauty, my teaching would never have moved the hearts of men, it would 
never have survived even one generation. 

This temple is doomed to destruction like those precious manu- 
scripts, in which ardent disciples have recorded my words with infinite 
pain and devotion. But others have copied them and carried on my 
teachings both in word and deed. In a similar way the work of those 
devoted artists and saints who created this sanctuary may be saved for 
future generations. 

Thy wish shall be granted. Spirit of Beauty! Thy form, as well as that 
of the others inhabiting this temple, shall not perish until their message 
has been delivered to the world, their sacred purpose fulfilled.' 

A stir went through the rows of Dhyani-Buddhas inhabiting the 

Aksobhya, whose nature is as vast and immutable as space, said: 'I 
will give stability to this sanctuary until it has fulfilled its purpose.* 

Ratnasambhava, whose nature is gift-bestowing, said: 'I will bestow 
the gift of the Dharma on those who are ready to receive it. 1 will inspire the 
generosity of those who are able to contribute to the preservation of 
the Dharma.' 

Amitabha, whose nature is infinite fight, said: Those who have eyes 
to see, I shall make them see the beauty of the Dharma. And those who 

have minds to understand, I shall make them discern the profound truth 
of the Dharma.' 

Amoghasiddlii, whose nature is to accomplish the works of the 
Dharma by the magic power of compassion, penetrating the four quarters. 
the ten directions, of the universe, said: Those who are fit to do the work 
of the Dharma, I will inspire them with energy and compassion.' 

Vairocana, who is the embodiment of the all-comprising reality of 
[he Dharma, said: '1 will combine all your efforts and direct them 
towards the individuals ready for this task.' And with his heavenly eye 
penetrating the four directions of the universe he said: 'Even in this age 
of strife and spirituaJ decay there are some saintly men, and among them 
in this very country of Tibet there lives a great hermit, whose abode is in 
the Southern Wheat Valley His name is Lama Ngawang KaJzang, I shall 
request him to go forth from his retreat into the world and kindle the 
flame of the Dharma in the hearts of men. 

'1 shall call him through the mouth of the Great Oracle to the sacred 
spot, where heaven and earth meet, and where Padmasambhava, the 
great apostle of the Buddha- Dharma, left the traces of his magic power 
in the miraculous spring of Chorten Nyima. In the utter solitude and 
purity of this place 1 shall allow the radiance of our transcendent forms 
to appear before him. Having acquired during long years of meditation 
the power to communicate his visions to others, he will open their eyes 
to the eternal beauty of Euddha-hood and guide those who 'will be able 
to save these our perishing forms from oblivion, so that aU who under- 
stand the language of beauty will be inspired and uplifted and be put 
upon the path of deliverance.' 



Three Visions 35 


The Guru's Vision 

A lonely hermitage on a mountain 'peak. 
Towering above a thousand others — 
One half is occupied by an old monk, 
The other by a cloud! 

Last ttigfif it was stormy 
And the cloud was bhttm crway; 
After all a cloud is not equal 
To the old twm's quiet way. 

— Rtokwan 






HE Lama Ngawang K.^LZANG had been meditating For twelve years in 
various caves and retreats in the wilderness of the mountains of 
Southern Tibet. Nobody knew him, nobody had heard of him. He was 
one of the many thousands of unknown monks who had received his 
higher education in one of the great monastic universities in the vicinity 
of Lhasa, and though he had acquired the title of G^sh^ (i.e. Doctor of 
Divinity), he had come to the conclusion that realisation can only be 
found in the stillness and solitude of nature, as far away from the noisy 
crowds of market-places as from the monkish routine of big monasteneS 
and the intellectual atmosphere of famous colleges, 

ITie world had forgotten him, and he had forgotten the world. This 


was not the outcome of indifference on his part but, on the contrary, 
because he had ceased to make a distinction between himself and the 
world. What actually he had forgotten was not the world but his own 
self, because the 'world' is something that exists only in contrast to one's 
own ego. 

I Wild animals visited him in his caves and made friends with him, 

and his spirit went out in sympathy to all living beings. Thus he never 
felt loneiy in his solitude, and enjoyed the bliss of emancipation, born 
out of the exalted visions of Dhyana. 

One day a herdsman in search of new grazing grounds had lost his 
way in the inaccessible wilderness of rocks high above the valley when 
he heard the rhythmic beats of a damaru (a small hour-glass-like hand- 
drum, used by Lamas and wandering ascetics during their invocations) 
mingled with the silvery sound of a ritual bell. At first he did not believe 
his ears, because he could not imagine that any human being could exist 
in this forbidding place. But when the sound came again and again fear 
filled him, because if these sounds had no human origin then they could 
only have some supernatural cause, 

^ Torn between fear and curiosity, he followed the sound, as if drawn 

by the irresistible force of a magnet, and soon he saw the figure of a her- 
mit, seated before a cave, deeply absorbed in his devotional practice. 
The hermit's body was lean but not emaciated, and his face serene, lit 
up with the fire of inspiration and devotion. Tlie herdsman immediately 

I lost all fear, and after the hermit had finished his invocations he confi- 
dently approached the Lama and asked for his blessing. 

When the hermit's hand touched the crown of his head he felt a 
stream of bliss flowing through his body and he was filled with such 
utispeakable peace and happiness that he forgot all the questions he had 
Wanted to ask, and hurried down into the valley to bring the happy news 
of his discovery to the people there, 

These people at first could hardly believe the news, and when the 

firclsman led some of them to the hermit's cave they were wonder- 

"ck. How could any human being live in this almost inaccessible 

ountain fastness? From where did he get his food, since nobody knew 

36 The Way of the White Clouds 

of his existencer How could he endure the hardships of winter, when the" 
mountains were covered with snow and ice and even the smallest foot- 
paths were obliterated, so that neither fuel nor food could be obtained? 
Certainly only a hermit endowed with superhuman yogic powers could 
survive under such conditions. 

The people threw themselves at the feet of the Hermit-Lama, and 
when he blessed them they felt as if their whole being was transformed 
into a vessel of peace and happiness. It gave them a foretaste of what 
every human being can attain to when he reahses the dormant powers of 
light, which are buried like seeds deep within his soul. 

The Hermit- Lama merely made them participate in the bliss of his 
own achievement, so that they might be encouraged to follow the same 
path towards liberation. 

The rumour of the wondrous hermit spread in the valleys like wild- 
fire. But, alas, only those who were strong enough could venture to climb 
up to the hermit's cave, and since there were many who were thirsting 
for spiritual guidance, the people of the valley implored the Lama to set- 
tle among them for the benefit of all who needed his help. The hermit 
knew that the hour had come for him to return to the world of men, and 
true to his Bodhisattva-vow he renounced the bliss of solitude for the 
welfare of the many 

There was a very small and poor monastery in the valley from which 
the people had come, called the Monastery of the White Conch 
(Dungkar Gompa). It was situated on a steep hill with a rocky crest in 
the middle of a fertile wheat-growing valley called Tomo (To' - wheat). 
This place was given to the Hermit- Lama, who from now on was Itnown 
as Tomo G6sh£, Rimpoch^', "ITie Learned Jewel of the Wheat Valley. 

Soon monks and laymen came from far and wide to learn at the feet 
of Tomo G6sh^ and in a very short time the Monastery of the White 
Conch grew into an important place of study and worship, with beauti- 
ful temples and spacious living-quarters. In the great hall of the main 
temple Tomo Ceshe erected a gigantic golden statue of Buddha 
Maitreya, the Coming One, as a symbol of the spiritual future and 
rebirth of the Eternal Truth of the Dharma, which is reincarnated in 

Three Visions 37 

verv Enlightened One and is to be rediscovered in every human heart. 

Tomo G6she, however, did not content himself with the success of 
his work at Dungkar. He erected statues of Maitreya in many other 
nlaces and made the followers of the Buddha-Dhanna conscious of the 
fact that it was not sufficient to bask in the glories of the past, but that 
one must take active part in the shaping of the future, and thus make it 
possible for the coming Buddha to appear in this world by preparing our 
minds for his reception. 

In the midst of all these activities an event took place which was as 
startling as the HemTit-Lama's discovery and return to the world. 

It came about through the intervention of the State Oracle of Lhasa 
(Nachung), which directed Tomo G6sh§ to make a pilgrimage to 
Chorten Nyima, a place sacred to Padmasambhava, who was the first to 
establish Buddhism in Tibet and who, therefore, is held in the highest 
esteem, especially by the older schools of Tibetan tradition, 

This is of particular significance because it throws light upon the 
interesting fact that one of the most important events in Tomo Gashes 
life was thus connected with the earliest period of Tibetan Buddhism, in 
which Western Tibet — and especially Tsaparang — played an important 

Chorten Nyima is situated in one of the highest parts of the Tibetan 
plateau near the northern border of Sikkim. The place is wide and open, 
with snow-peaks here and there piercing the deep blue sky characteris- 
tic of these altitudes. It is a place where heaven and earth meet on equal 
terms, where the landscape has the vastness and rhythm of the open sea, 
and the sky the depth of universal space. It is a place where you feel near 
to the celestial bodies, where sun and moon are your neighbours and the 
stars your friends. 

And here it happened that those very Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, 

wlio inspired the artists of Tsaparang and took visible shape through 

eir hands, appeared again in visible form before the eyes of Tomo 

she Rimpoche. They appeared against the dark blue sky, as if woven 

'gnt, daz/Jing in all the colours of the rainbow, while slowly moving 

fom the eastern to the western horizon. 

38 The Way of the White Clouds 

The vision was first seen by the Rimpoch^ alone, but just as a ^at 
artist is able to make his visions visible to others by re-creating them in 
various materials, the Gum, by the creative power of his mind, made this 
wonderful vision visible to all who were present. Not all of them were 
able to see the full extent of it, or to see it as completely as the Guru. It 
varied according to the capacity or receptivity of the individual mtnd. 

It is not possible for anybody who was not present, and perhaps 
even for those who were, to put into adequate words the sublime beauty 
and the profound effect of this vision upon the beholders. However, in 
the Surangama Sutra we find the description of a similar event (said to 
have taken place in the presence of Buddha Sakyamuni), of which a par- 
aphrase may serve as the nearest approach to the vision of Chorten 

The Blessed Lord, sitting upon the throne in the midst of Buddhas 
and Bodhisattvas from all the ten quarters of the universe, manifested 
his transcendental glory, surpassing them all. From his hands and feet 
and body radiated supernal beams of light that rested upon the crown of 
each Buddha and Bodhisattva assembled here, 

'And equally from the hands and feet and bodies of all those 
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten quarters of the universe went forth' 
rays of glorious brightness that converged upon the crown of the Lord 
Buddha, and upon the crowns of aO the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and 
Saints present. 

'At the same time, the waters and waves of brooks and streams were 
singing the music of the Dharma, and all the intersecting rays of brightness 
were like a net of splendour, set with jewels and over-arching them all- 

'Such a marvellous sight had never been imagined and held all who 
were present in silence and awe. Unwittingly they passed into the blissful 
state of Samadhi. And upon them all an unspeakable peace and happiness 
descended like a gentle rain of soft petals of many different-coloured 
lotus-blossoms, all blending together and being reflected into the open 
space of heaven in all the tints of the spectrum. "W 

'Moreover, all the differentiations of mountains and waters and rocks 
and plants, and all that makes up our common world, blended into one 

Three Visions 39 

. nother and faded away, leaving only the indescribable experience of pri- 
mordial unity — not dull and inert, but vibrant with rhythmic life and light, 
iiith celestial sounds of songs and harmonies, melodiously rising and 
falling and merging and then fading away into silence.' 

After the party had returned to Dungl^r Gompa each of the eye- 
witnesses described what he had seen, and from the combined records, 
with the final sanction of the Guru (who reluctantly gave in to the wishes 
of his disciples to have the scene recorded in the form of a fresco), the 
painting was conscientiously executed. 

One of the last witnesses of this memorable incident is the present 
abbot of Dungkar Gompa. He not only gave his permission to take pho- 
tographs of this interesting fresco in one of Tomo G^sh^'s private apart- 
ments, but explained every detail of the painting, while relating his own 
experiences of this pilgrimage. He pointed out what he had seen with his 
own eyes, and also what he had not been able to see, but what apparently 
had been visible to others. He also mentioned the strange fact that the 
vision had remained visible for hours, so that all who saw it could 
observe and point out to each other the minutest details. 

This vision had far-reaching effects upon Tomo G^sh^ as well as 
upon his disciples. It invested him vrith that superior authority which in 
Tibet is ascribed only to Tulkus, i.e. those in whom the Bodhisattva-spir- 
it, or the ideal of Buddhahood, has taken firm root, so that they have 
become its living embodiment. They have the power to direct their 
future rebirths according to the needs of their fellow-men. 

And from now on Tomo Geshe conceived the idea to bring the teach- 
ings of the Enlightened Ones not only to the people of his own country but 
to the world at large, irrespective of race, caste, colour, or creed. 

And so he stepped out of his quiet valley and travelled all over the 
countries of the Himalayas and to the sacred places of Buddhism in 
India. And wherever he went he planted hope and inspiration in the 
"Carts of men, he healed the sick, taught those who were ready to 
receive the truth of the Dharma, and left in his wake many a disciple to 
carry on the work which the Buddhas had ordained him to do. 


The Monastery of 
Yi-Gah Cho-Ling 



N ORDER TO UNDERSTAND the significance of events in our lives, in fact 
in order to perceive the strange patterns of our destiny (which according 
to Buddhist conviction are the outcome of our own Karma, our own for- 
mer deeds), which condition our present thoughts and actions, we have 
to look back from time to time and trace the origin and the course of the 
main threads of the comp heated fabric which we call Me. 

Sometimes a glance, a few casual words, fragments of a melody 
floating through the quiet air of a summer evening, a book that acciden- 
tally comes into our hands, a poem or a memory-laden fragrance, may 
bring about the impulse which changes and determines our whole life. 

While writing this, the delicate resinous scent of Tibetan incense is 
wafted through the shrine-room of my little hermitage and immediately 
calls up the memory of the place where for the first time 1 became 
acquainted with this particular variety. 1 see myself seated in the dimly 
lit hall of a Tibetan temple, surrounded by a pantheon of fantastic fig' 
ures, some of them peaceful and benevolent, some wild and frightening, 

Three Visions 41 

nd others enigmatic and mysterious; but alt full of life and colour, 
though emanating from the depth of dark shadows. 

I had uken refuge in this temple during a terrible blizzard which for 
davs on end covered the roads with snow and ice. The suddenness and 
violence of the storm were something which even the local people had 
not experienced in their liferime, and for me, who had come straight 
from Ceylon clad only in the yellow robes of a Theravada monk and a 
light woollen shawl, the contrast was such that I seemed to live in a 
weird dream. Tlie monastery itself, situated on a mountain-spur jutring 
out high above the deep valleys which surround the Darjeeling range, 
seemed to be tossed about in a cauldron of boiling clouds, rising up from 
invisible dark valleys, lit up only by continual lightning, while other 
clouds seemed to be sweeping down from the icy ranges of the Central 
Himalayas from which they were rebounding, thus adding to the confu- 
sion of the elements. The uninterrupted rumble of thunder, the deafen- 
ing noise of hail on the roof, and the howhng of the storm filled the air. 

The abbot kindly invited me to stay with him in his own room, sup- 
plied me with blankets and food, and made me as comfortable as possi- 
ble under the circumstances. His little room, however, was so overheated, 
and filled with the smoke of incense and deodar-needles which he sprin- 
kled upon the charcoal fire as offerings during his devotions and long 
recitations, that I felt almost suffocated and was unable to sleep. The 
next day he therefore allowed me to settle down in a corner of the big 
temple as soon as it was possible to cross the courtyard which separated 
it from the main building of the monastery. 

How did 1 get from the placid life of Ceylon's tropical paradise into 
this pandemonium of an Himalayan blizzard and the strange surround- 
"igs of a Tibetan monastery? Tibet had never figured in my plans or 
stirred my imagination. To me Ceylon had seemed the fulfilment of all 
"^y dreams; and in the certainty of living there to the end of my days I 
liad built myself a hermitage in the heart of the island, midway between 
t^andy and Nuwara-Eliya in a country of eternal spring, which was nei- 
ther touched by the heat of the summer nor by the cold of the vvanter, 
and where trees and flowers blossomed all through the year. 

42 The Way of the White Clouds 

But one day [received an invitation to take part in an international 

Buddhist Conference at Darjeeling as a delegate from Ceylon and to 
preside over the literary section of this conference. After some initial 
hesitation I suddenly made up my mind, encouraged by the idea that 
here was an opportunity to uphold the purity of the Buddha's teaching, 
as preserved in Ceylon, arid to spread its message in a country where the 
Buddha- Dharma had degenerated into a system of demon-worship and 
weird beliefs. 

And here 1 was in the middle of this weird world of Lamaism, nei- 
ther knowing the language of the country nor the meaning of those 
countless images and symbols which surrounded me in the frescoes and 
statues of this temple, except when they represented the universally 
known figures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, 

And yet when the day came on which the skies arid the roads were 
open again and nothing stood in the way of my returning to the comforts 
of Darjeeling and the soft loveliness of Ceylon I was no more interested i 
in making use of these opportunities. Some inexplicable force seemed to 
keep me back, and the longer I stayed on in this magic world into which 
I had dropped by a strange concatenation of circumstances, the more I 
felt that a hitherto unknown form of reality was revealed to me and that 
I was on the threshold of a new life. 

1 never realised it as strongly as on this occasion that the absence of 
the spoken word, the silent communion with things and people, which 
was forced upon me due to the lack of a common language, can bring 
about a deeper awareness and a directness of experience which general- 
ly is drowned by the incessant chatter under which human beings hide 
their fear of meeting each other in the nakedness of their natural being. 
(1 say 'generally' because in the East a form of silent communion is still 
known under the concept of darshan, which denotes the meeting and 
contemplating a person in silence, merely partaking of the person's pres- 
ence, without the necessity of making conversation. Thus, religious lead- 
ers or other spiritually advanced people are expected to 'give darshan to 
their devotees or disciples. To 'have darshan of a saint is the equivalent 
of receiving his blessings.) 

Three Visions 43 

As I said before, 1 had been given the privilege of being allowed to 
V e in a comer of the temple: a big square hall, presided over by the 
'eantic statue of Buddha Maitreya, whose head would have lost itself in 
the darkness of the temple s upper regions had it not received the day- 
lioht coming through an opening of the rai.sed central part of the roof, 
which was supported by tall red-lacquered pillars with richly carved and 
oilded brackets. During the night Maitreya's golden face reflected the 
mellow light of the Eternal Lamp, which stood in the centre of the hall 
before a marble table with offerings, consisting of rows of water-bowls, 
small butter-lamps, bowls with rice, and conical ritual cakes (torma). 

The floor to the riglit and to the left of this altar-like offering- table 
was occupied by long rows of low, carpeted seats and equally low and 
narrow, box-like tables (ckogtse), stretching from the open space near the 
entrance towards the back wall of the temple, against which the giant 
figure of Maitreya was seated (in European fashion), flanked by other 
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and the statues of the founder of the temple 
and of the thirteenth Dalai Lama. The remainder of the back wall, as 
well as a substantial part of the two side walls, were covered with a col- 
lection of sacred books (Kanjur and Tanjur), each volume wrapped in red 
and yellow cloth, resting in wooden pigeon-holes, surmounted by beau- 
tifully carved and painted panels. 

The walls, as far as their surface was visible to the eye — even above 
the tall wooden booltstands and behind the statues — were covered with 
frescoes, alive with the denizens of all the realms of existence: human, 
superhuman and non-human, divine and demonic, awe-inspiring and 
reassuring, fierce and compassionate ones. There were many-armed 
monsters embracing each other in sexual union, surrounded by flames 
snd smoke, and close to them enhaloed saints, serenely resting on lotus- 
' lowers, with devotees at their feet. There were fairies of tender beauty 
sua tierce goddesses in ecstatic dance, adorned with skulls and garlands 
human heads, while ascetics were absorbed in meditation and schol- 
s'*s in teaching their disciples. In between appeared wooded hills and 
snow-clad mountains, trees and waterfalls, clouds and deep blue space 

^tilestial bodies, while manifold birds and beasts and flowering trees 

44 The Way of the White Clouds 

animated the landscapes. At the bottom of all, the waters of the ocean 
with their treasures of pearls, jewels, and corals, as well as the serpent- 
spirits, the guardians of these treasures, became ^ible. 

LAMP s; 



1 tomo 0M)4« Thron* 

2 Abbot\Jtinn9 
Pm Plliar 
W- Window 
!■ IncanM Box 


Th* two ta bl*« with butter- 
lamp* In th* cfntr*, alto urv* 
C tor Offerings of varktutUnda 

t>acriric1aJ cak«t •tc,) 

Gbound-plan of the Temple of Yi-Gah ChO-Ung 

Three Visions 45 

TTic whole universe seemed to be assembled in this temple, whose 
[1 Qpened, as it were, into the depths of unheard-of dimensions. And in 
, iTijdst of this thousand-eyed, form-filled universe, overbrimming with 
..f ^f^j possibilities of conscious experience. I lived in a state of wonder, 
ontemplating and absorbing an infinite variety of impressions without try- 
tne to define or reason out their meaning— accepting them, as one accepts 
the landscapes of a foreign country through which one travels. 

Had I had somebody to explain to me the details of these my 
surroundings, my attention would probably have been diverted towards 
iconographical and historical facts, and this tnteilectual preoccupation 
would have robbed me of the direct impact and the spontaneous reac- 
tion which these mysterious images exerted upon me. Here I was not 
confronted only with the outgrowths of individual human imagination 
but with the accumulated visions of untold generations, visions based on 
inner experience and on a spiritual reality over which my intellect had 
neither power nor judgement. 

And slowly this reality took possession of me, penetrating and 
superimposing itself upon my conception and evaluation of the material 
world and bringing about a subtle transformation in my conscious atti- 
tude towards it. 1 realised that religious truths and spiritual life are more 
a matter of transcending our habitual consciousness than of changing 
our opinions or building our convictions on the strength of intellectual 
arguments and syllogisms, of the laws of reason, which will never lead us 
beyond the circle of what is already known in the form of ready-made 
concepts: the cut-and-dried bricks with which we have constructed the 
present world of 'material reality' and common sense. These have always 
been the greatest obstacles of creative vision and of the exploration of 
further dimensions of consciousness and deeper realms of reality Spiritual 
""e is based on inner awareness and experience, which no amount of 
ninking could create, thinking and reasoning merely being a process of 
igestion or mental assimilation which follows but does not precede the 
above-mentioned faculties. 


Kachen^,the Fatherly 
Friend and Mentor 


HENEVER I HAPPENED TO WAKE UP during the night I beheld the 
benign features of Buddha Maitreya's golden face, which seemed to float 
high above the shadowy forms that filled the temple in the dim light of 
the Eternal Lamp. And in the golden, softly radiating face the large deep 
blue eyes seemed to be filled with supernatural hfe, and I felt their 
gjance resting upon me with infinite tenderness. 

Sometimes in the middle of the night a strange shufFling sound awoke 
me, accompanied by what appeared to be the sound of heavy breathing. As 
the nights were very cold and I was well wrapped up, it took me some time 
before I could make up my mind to raise myself up and to look around. But 
the knowledge that the temple was closed at night, and that there was no 
living soul in it except myself, aroused my curiosity. 

And then 1 saw the slowly moving dark figure of an old man in the 
open space before the altar, raising his joined hands above his head, 
going down upon his knees and hands, and then stretching himself out 
upon the floor in his full length, after which he would again get up and 

Three Visions 47 

eat the same exercise over and over again, until his breath was heavy 

.1 gxertion. After that he moved silently along the walls, bowing before 

ch ol the images and touching the lower rows of the sacred books and 

he feet of Maitreya reverently with his forehead. He moved in a clock- 

^vise direction, and when coming back along the right wall towards my 

orner, I recognised him as the venerable old monk who lived in a small 

room flanking the porch that formed the entrance of the temple. 

It was easy to recognise him because of his slightly bent figure and 
his long beard, which is comparatively rare among Tibetans. He was the 
oldest monk in the monastery and hailed from Shigatse. In his younger 
days he had been one of the personal attendants of the Tashi Lama (or 
Panchen Rimpoch^, as he is knovm in Tibet), from whom he still 
received a small pension which, as I found out later, he mainly used for 
the improvement and beautification of the temple, while he himself 
lived like the poorest and humblest of monks at the temple door with no 
other personal possessions than his sitting-mat and his monastic robes. 
He was bent not so much from age, perhaps, as from sitting for years and 
years in the posture of meditation, and, in fact, his whole life seemed to 
be a continuous sadhafi^ (religious practice). 

But this did not preclude him from playing occasionally vrith the 
children who ran about in the courtyard of the monastery and sometimes 
invaded the temple in order to tease old Kachenla, who good-naturedly 
would pretend to chase them among the low benches and the little tea- 
tables of the temple hall. His friendly little eyes would twinkle in such a 
way that even his most threatening gestures could not frighten the small- 
est of the little urchins, who would pull his flapping robes and scream 
with pleasure when die old man made an attempt to catch him. 

In spite of his old age 1 never saw Kachenla unoccupied; whether he 

Would glide about the temple on two square pieces of felt, in order to 

keep the floor polished, or whether he would attend to the hundreds of 

utter-lamps, water-bowls, and other altar-vessels, which had to be kept 

^ ean and shining and filled with their various ingredients — ever was he 

^y in the service of the temple or in the performance of his spiritual 

'es: reading the sacred texts, reciting prayers for the welfare of all liv- 

48 The Way of the White CloUDS 

ing beings, and performing the daily rituals for their protection and well, 
being. On special occasions he would be making small clay images of 
great beauty, and I was fascinated to see how every phase of the work 
from the mixing and kneading of the clay, the modelling or pressing into 
forms, to the drying or baking in the charcoal fire and the subsequent 
gilding or painting (or both) of the delicate details, every process was 
accompanied by mantras and prayers, invoking the blessings of the 
Enlightened Ones and the beneficent forces of the universe, present in 
earth and air, water and fire, i.e. in al! the elements which support our life 
and serve win the accomplishment of our work. Thus even a manual 
occupation was turned into a ritual of profound meaning and an act of 
devotion and meditation, whose forces would saturate even the material 
objects created in this way. 

What Kachenla taught me in his humble way was more than I shall 
ever be able to convey in words. His devotion and his utter humility pre- 
pared my mind for the meeting with my Guru — in fact, he was part and 
parcel of the Guru who was ever present in his mind and so inseparably 
united with him that the gratitude and veneration which I feel towards 
my Guru includes Kachenla. 

He looked after my welfare as if 1 was his own son. He taught me: 
the first words of Tibetan by pointing at things and pronouncing their 
names. In the morning he would bring me warm water — a luxury in 
which he himself would not indulge and which none of the other monks 
could afford — and while doing so he would say chu tsawo. He would 
share with me his beloved so-cha (Tibetan butter- tea), which was sim- 
mering the whole day long on his httle charcoal stove behind which he 
had his seat. That 1 relished this strange concoction of Chinese tea, 
slightly 'matured' butter, soda, and salt — which few non-Tibetans seem 
to be able to stomach — must have been due to Kachenla's overwhelming 
kindness. And how important it was to get accustomed to this indispens- 
ible and nourishing drink I realised in my later wanderings on the frozen 
highlands of Tibet. 

Before enjoying his morning tea Kachenla would take a pinchful or 
black seeds, arrange them on the palm of his left hand in the form of ^ 

Three Visions 49 

roion, and while reciting the mantra for protection from all evils, he 
uld drop them into the charcoal fire. On other occasions he would 


nkle some incense upon the charcoal and describe with various 
,' yfjfijl gestures (mudra) of his hands a variety of symbolical gifts 
which he offered to the Buddhas, at the same time pronouncing a for- 
mula of dedication for each of them. This was done in such perfect and 
naturally flowing movements that 1 could almost see the various objects 
appearing before my eyes and that I had no doubt of the sincerity with 
which they were given. There was nothing theatrical or pompous or arti- 
ficial in these little rituals. They seemed to be the natural expression of 
the man's inner life, as natural as the breathing of his lungs or the beat- 
ing of his heart. He moved among the multitude of erdightened beings, 
as well as among gods and demons, as naturally as among humans and 
animals, giving to each of them the recognition or attention due to them, 
In the evenings Kachenla would generally come into my quiet cor- 
ner in the temple with a lit butter-lamp, sit down before me on the floor, 
and motion me to take out paper and pencil; and with infinite patience 
he would recite and dictate one prayer after another and make me repeat 
it until 1 caught the right pronunciation and intonation. It never both- 
ered him that I could not understand a single word in the beginning, 
though he pointed out the image of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas con- 
cerned, so that I was not left entirely without guidance and could con- 
nect the words with a definite mental picture. 

He seemed to be confident that he transmitted to me something that 
was of infinite value, whether I knew it or not; and to say the truth I expe- 
rienced a similar satisfaction, because I was convinced that a gift given 
with such infinite love and devotion was valuable through this very fact, 
3na, indeed, I felt that something was streaming over from the old man to 
"le that filled me with happiness, though I could find no reasonable expla- 
nation for it. It was the first time that— without knowing it — I experienced 
e power oi mantra, of sacred speech, in which the transcendental sound 
° the spirit that dwells in the human heart is perceived. And because it is 
e sound of the heart it cannot be heard by the ear or understood by the 
^^n. But this I did not know yet, though 1 began to experience it. 

50 The Way of the White Clouds 

Later on I was able to understand the contents and the meaning of 
those prayers, but this knowledge did not surpass the initial benefit I had 
derived from them, and now I know that more important than the intel- 
lectual meaning of the words were the circumstances under which thev 
were transmitted and the spiritual purity and conviction of the transmitter 



Religious Practice and 
Ritual Symbolism 


\DER KACHENb\'s KINDLY GUIDANCE [ soon learned to become con- 
scious of many of the small things to which formerly I would not have 
given any importance or attention, and which yet proved to be very use- 
ful as means of keeping the mind tuned to a higher level and in conso- 
nance with one's aspirations, by making one's movements and behaviour 
part of one's sadhana (religious practice) and meditation, 

1 learned how to unwrap and handle a sacred book— treating it vwth 
the respect due to the embodiment of wisdom — ^how to turn the pages 
or the loose sheets of which the books consisted, without upsetting their 
order— and how to look upon each letter of the alphabet as a mantrtc 
symbol, so that even a discarded or damaged piece of writing was not to 
s thrown away carelessly, lest it might be trampled underfoot. To dis- 
pose ot such things there was a special little structure outside the tem- 
pe which looked like a wayside shrine but was meant for depositing 
banted pieces of writing or any ritual objects that had served their 

52 The Way of the White Clouds 

I learned how to move about within the precincts of the monast 
always in the direction in which the planets move around the sl 
nifying that one should always feel oneself in the presence of the Buddhib' 
the Enlightened One, who used to be honoured by circumambulation Ml 
this direction, as being the spiritual sun, the illuminator of mankind. 

Thus, even if I merely wanted to cross over the courtyard to 
buildings on my left side (when leaving the temple), I had to turn to>'! 
right and circumambulate the whole temple in order to reach my des^* 
nation. And while doing this I had to pass rows of copper cylinders pri> 
which the Great Mantra of Six Syllables, OM MANl PADME HUKf^j 
was embossed and which contained thotisands of repetitions of the samfe 
mantra, written on long rolls of thin but extremely durable Tibetan paper. 

As in the preparation of clay images and seal (ts'ha-ts'ha), these rolls 
had been prepared with special rites and as an act of devotion, with the 
intention to bestow blessings to all those whose minds are susceptible to 
good thoughts and the effects of spiritual influences. 

While passing, I would give each of these 'prayer-wheels' a quick jerk 
and at the same time repeat the mantra in my heart, as Kachenia had 
taught me, because no Tibetan who has any deeper knowledge of his reli- 
gion is so crude as to believe that a mere mechanical action can benefit 
him, or that with every turn of the drum as many thousands of prayers as 
are written on the paper roll rise up to heaven. This silly nonsense is 
mainly the invention of Westerners, who feel themselves superior by ridi- 
culing the religious customs of other peoples, without understanding 
their psychological approach or the origin of those customs. 

The Tibetan is not out to 'cheat the gods' by placating them with 
sham prayers, or to escape the trouble of exerting himself and escaping 
the responsibility for his own deeds and conduct (karma). Prayers in the 
Buddhist sense are not requests to a power outside ourselves and for per- 
sonal advantages but the calling up of the forces that dwell within our- 
selves and that can only be effective if we are free from selfish desires. 
In other words, Buddhists do not put their faith in the power of gods, 
residing in some heavens beyond, but they beUeve in the power or 
motive and the purity of faith (or purity of intention). 

Three Visions 53 

priate 1 

if a simple peasant installs a mmi-cho-khor (which is a more appro- 
name than prayer-wheel) in the brook or channel that brings water 
his village and his fields, with the motive of blessing the water and all 
, ^^0 partake of it — whether man or animals, down to the smallest 
atiires and plants — then this act of sincere faith is as good and valid 
that of the Christian priest who by his blessings converts ordinary 
water into 'holy water'. And, apart from this, the sound of the httle bell, 
which the prayer- wheel emits with each revolution, is a reminder for all 
who hear it to repeat the sacred mantra in their own mind. 

But what is the origin of the revolving wheel? The 'turning of the 
Wheel of the Dharma' (cho-ki khor-h khor-ba) is a metaphor known to 
every Buddhist, meaning 'the setting in motion of the forces of the 
Universal and Moral Law', and in turning the prayer-wheel he becomes 
conscious of the supreme law which the Buddha proclaimed when he set 
the Wheel of the Dharma rolling 2,500 years ago. For the Buddhist it is 
not sufficient that this act has been performed once by the Enlightened 
One— every single human being that strives for Enlightenment must 
repeat this creative act by realising it in his own mind, 

The profundity and the cosmic parallelism of this symbol will easily 
be understood if we realise that the life of the whole universe is depen- 
dent on rotation: be it the rotation of stars and planets around their own 
axis or the rotation of planets around a central sun, or the simOar move- 
ments of atoms. If the mere rotation of a dynamo can produce the power 
of electricity (an altogether inexplicable phenomenon), and if the turn- 
ing of the human mind around a particular subject of his consciousness 
can produce a state of concentrarion that can lead to world-shaking dis- 
coveries or to the realization of higher dimensions or Perfect 
t-nlightenment, is it imder such circumstances to be wondered if there 
is a belief among the Tibetans that the beneficent forces which were 
Concentrated in the ritual act of preparing the contents of the prayer- 
fiee! are somehow retained even in its material form and are transmitted 
'"" ^'^tivated when they are set in motion? If matter can be impregnated 
psychic energies — as has been demonstrated by experiments in 
P^ycriometry, which has been defined as the 'faculty of divining from 

54 Tm Way of the White Clouds 

physical contact or proximity the qualities of an object or of persons, etc 

li.e. forces, events, or conditions], that have been in contact with it' 

then we must admit that the Tibetan heUef is not quite so absurd as it 
might have appeared in the first instance. But even though a thing might 
be psychometrically effective, and even beneficent in a certain way, I ajj] 
convinced that without our conscious co-operation no spiritual profit 
can be gained through any mechanical or materia] device. But whatever; 
helps us to concentrate our mind or to achieve that 'inner turning about* 
in the deepest seat of our consciousness, of which the Lahkavatara Sutra 
speaks — in fact, whatever puts us into a creative or intuitively receptive 
frame of mind — is worthy of our attention, whether it be a 'prayer- 
wheef, a rosary, or any other device. Those who think that prayers can 
be delivered by anything else but the human heart do not know what 
prayers are- — and still less the meaning of a mantra, in which no powers 
outside ourselves are implored or placated , So there is no question 
gaining favours or 'cheating the gods'. On the contrary, the mani-hhor-eo 
is an expression of supreme faith in the infinite power of goodwill and 
love that may act through an infinite number of means; through the 
thoughts of the wise, the single-hearted devotion of simple minds, nay, 
even through a child's toy. 

All these thoughts came flooding through me during my frequent 
circumambulations around the temple and in tlie grounds of the 
monastery which — though hardly a mile from the httle Tibetan settle- 
ment of Ghoom — seemed to belong to an altogether different world, 
separated as it was from the village by a steep terraced hill, crownefl 
by whitewashed Chortens {stu-paAike religious monuments), and sufr 
rounded by a grove of tall white prayer-flags. Each of the flagpoles was 
about twenty-five feet in height and surmounted by the symbols of sun, 
moon and fire, or a flaming sword or trident. The white flag-cioth, upon 
which prayers and auspicious symbols were printed, was about two feet 
wide and ran along the length of the pole, starting from about four or 
five feet above the ground. Each of these prayer-flags was an offering 
of a devotee (or a family) as a blessing and a reminder of the Dhanos 
to all who approached it or lived within its sight. 

Three Visions 55 

During the greater part of the day the whole hill was generally hid- 
n a huge cloud, so that lamps had to be lit at noon inside the build- 
while the outside was wrapped in thick white fog. One felt as if the 
h le place was floating on a cloud and driven by the ghostHke white 
.[ gf innumerable prayer- flags standing guard over the monastery and 
. rnany srn^'l sanctuaries scattered over the hillside. But, far from 
heine depressing, the fog rather heightened the mysterious atmosphere of 
the place and gave one a feeling of protection, seclusion, and security, a 
feeling of being far away from the vicissitudes and hustle of ordinary 

human life. 

When wandering about on this magic hill it appeared to me that the 
buildings materialised out of nowhere, having no more substance than 
my own mind, while 1 myself moved about invisible to others like a dis- 
carnate spirit. Everything took on an air of supernatural animation, and 
the general silence seemed to heighten the effect of the strange sounds 
that pervaded the air in swelling and ebbing cadences. I had never heard 
such sounds before; they were produced by the peculiar vibrating move- 
ment of the long, narrow prayer- flags in the constant breeze that came 
up from the Indian plains, some seven and a half thousand feet below 
(and incidentally produced the eternal cloud by condensing the warm 
moist air when it suddenly came in contact with the cold prevailing in 
higher altitudes). Mingled with these strange sounds was the silvery tin- 
kle of the great prayer-wheel, which was housed in a small building next 
to the temple and was kept in motion by a blind old man, who accom- 
panied the rhythm of the bell with the hum of his incessant recitation of 
the sacred mantra. 

A little farther up the hillside the deep sound of a ritual drum 

emerged during certain hours of the day from a small temple. I was 

^tawn to this little building by this sound and its rhythm, which was 

onetimes interrupted by the crash of cymbals. When coming nearer, I 

^ard the sonorous voice of a monk, reciting to the rhythm of the drum, 

as 1 did not dare to disturb him, it took me some days until I found 
opportunity of approaching him and asking his permission to enter 

snctuary that was othenvise not open to the public. 

56 The Way of the White Clouds 

I soon began to understand the reason. It was dedicated to the i 
rible and awe-inspiring deities, the forces of dissolution and transfer 
tion, which appear destructive and frightening to those who cHng to Uie' 
things of this world and to their own limited existence, but which prove 
to be the forces of liberation to those who accept them and make use of 
them in the right spirit, by realising their true nature. They are (he 
removers of obstacles, the liberators from bondage, the symbols of the 
ultimate mystery of self-transcendence in the ecstasy of breaking 
through the darkness of ignorance. 

They are the embodiment of the highest knowledge, which like a 
blinding flash would destroy those who are not yet prepared for it, hke 
the youth who lifted the veil in the Temple of Sais. It is for this reason 
that many of the images of this temple are veiled and only initiates are 
allowed to enter it alone. To them these forces or aspects of reality are 
as much symbols of Enlightenment as the compassionate embodiments j 
of Buddhas and Bodhlsattvas. Indeed, they are one in their ultimate 
nature, Tlie universal law is beneficent to those who accept it, terrible 
to those who try to oppose it. Therefore the forces of light (the forces 
that ui^e us towards Enlightenment) appear in fearful forms to the ene- 
mies of light and truth, for which reason those forms are called 
Protectors of the Law (cko-kyong gon-po) and are invoked as tutelary 
deities by those who have received initiation and realised their meanings 

But there was one more mystery to be solved for me in this 
monastery, which seemed to be connected with a third sanctuaiy, biggef 
than the Gonkhang, but small compared with the other buildings. It was 
perfecdy square, with a yellow-coloured, curved Chinese temple-rooi 
and a closed glass veranda in front. Due to the sloping ground the veran- 
da rested on sdlts, so that one could not look into the interior of the 
building, and the only door, that led to the veranda from the back, wsS 
permanently closed. 

What intrigued me especially was that this building was connectea 
with the main temple below by a garland of silvery-white seed-pods. 
When asking Kachenla about it, he told me with awed voice that the 
'Great Lama', who was one with the Buddhas, was engaged there in 

Three Visions 57 

ritation. He spoke in whispers, as if in the presence of the great 

ind though I could not make out the details of his explanation, 
Lama, anu >■' & 

who this Lama was, 1 began to wonder whether the powerful atmo- 

, of this place, and the spiritual transformation which 1 began to 

oerience, had something to do with him. The fact that Kachenla, 

hose goodness and sincerity had made a deep impression upon me, 

Doke with such veneration of this Lama, aroused in me the desire to 

become his pupil, and when I mentioned this to Kachenla he approved 

of it immediately and promised to talk to the abbot, who might be able 

to convey my wish in due time. 

Three Visions 59 


The Guru Appears 


XE OR TWO WEEKS PASSED BY and I did not know whether the abbcif 
had succeeded in passing on my request, when one day, after returning 
from my meditation cave at the back of the hill, below the chort£tis, I 
found on my place in the temple a huge mango of the most costly and 
rare variety, growing only in the plains and not yet in season at that time 
of the year. I could hardly believe my eyes, nor could I understand how 
it got there, until Kachenla came, beaming with pleasure and pointirjg 
up in the direction of the meditation-cubicle (is'hang-khang), and tola 
me it was a gift from the Great Lama. I have never received a more pre- 
cious gift, because it told me that my wish had been granted, that 1 hati 
been accepted as a disciple. 

Kachenla shared with me my happiness, and no matter how lor^ 
would have to wait [ Imew it was worth waiting even for a lifetime to n 
a real Guru, i.e. one who not only imparted intellectual knowledge o ^ 
who could awaken the inner forces of one's ovm mind by the power 
his spiritual achievements and realisation. 



The term 'guru'i& generally translated as "teacher", but actually it has 

nuivalent in any Western language, because a Guru is far more than 

acher in the ordinary sense of the word. A teacher gives knowledge, 

a Guru gives himself. The real teachings of a Guru are not his words 

, w'hat remains unspoken, because it goes beyond the power of human 

oeech. The Guru is an (KS|«rer in the truest sense of this word, i.e. one 

who infuses us with his ov™ living spirit. 

And consequently the term 'cheht' means more than an ordinary 
DUpil, who goes through a course of instructions, hut a disciple who has 
established a profound spiritual relationship with the Guru, a relationship 
that is founded on the act of initiation, during which a direct 'transference 
of power' takes place and is embodied in the sacred formula {mantra} 
through which this power can be called up by the Chela at any time and 
through which a permanent contact with the Guru is maintained. 

The 'power' of which I speak here is not a force that overwhelms 
one's mind, but the power that makes one participate in an experience 
belonging to a higher state of consciousness and realisation, which gives 
one a foretaste or glimpse of the aim towards which we .strive, so that it 
is no more a vague ideal but an experienced reality. Such power can only 
be created through a life of meditation and becomes intensified with 
each period of complete seclusion, like the cumulative force of the 
waters of a dammed-up river. 

This became apparent to me on the day when the Great Lama — 
whose name did not yet mean anything to me at that time, but who was 
none other than the famous Tomo Geshe Rimpoch^ — emerged from the 
Is hang-khang after his many weeks of silent meditation. 

From the early morning 1 noticed an uncommon stir in tbe mona- 
stery, whose population suddenly seemed to have doubled or tripled. 1 
'" not know from where all those monks, whom I did not remember to 
■^ve seen before, suddenly had come, but apparently they belonged to 
^ monastery, though they did not live within its premises. Even those 
^ni I knew seemed to look different, not only because all of them 
""^ their best robes but also because they all looked exceptionally 
""^shed and clean. 

60 The Way of the White Clouds 

The long rows of seats in the temple hall were filled to the last 
place, and some new rows had been added. The huge cauldrons in the 
adjacent kitchen building were filled with boiling tea and soup, to he 
served in the intervals during the service in ihe temple. The temple hat] 
was lit up by more than a thousand bulter-iamps, and bundles of 
incense-sticks wafted clouds of fragrant smoke into the air and wove 
bluish veils around the golden images high above the congregation. 

Suddenly the deep, thundering sound of alp-horn-like tubas, punc- 1 
tuated by the slow rhythm of bass-drums and accompanied by the vibrat- 
ing voices of oboes, was heard from outside, the doors of the temple 
swung viride open, and Tomo G^she Rirapoche, flanked by two Lamas in 
full ornate and high ceremonial hats, entered the temple. A large orange- 
coloured silken shawl {representing the upper garment or civaTam of an 
orthodox Buddhist monk) was draped around him and a prayer-carpci 
was spread before his feet. He raised his hands with joined palms above j 
his head in salutation of the Buddhas, knelt dovvTi on the carpet, and proSr 
trated himself with his forehead on the ground. This he repeated three 
times, while the choir of the assembled monks chanted the formulas of 
refuge in deep melodious voices which formed a rhythmically moving 
background to the continued blasts of the radongs (the twelve-foot-long 
bass-horns) outside the temple. 

After the Rimpoche had finished his devotions the tall pointed yel- 
low cap, the symbol of his high office, was put upon his head, and then 
he slowly moved through the middle of the hall and ascended the high 
throne, opposite that of the Umdz^, the leader of the choir and the head 
of the monastery in his absence. While he moved through the hall a deep 
silence fell upon the congregation and all sat motionless as if spellbound 
by the magic presence of this one man, who seemed to fill the whow 
temple with the accumulated power gained through a long period of con- 
centration and complete absorption, 1 now began to understand what 
Kachenla meant when he said that the Great Lama had become one 
with the Buddhas. 

As soon as he was seated the Umdze began to chant the litui^ 
a voice so deep as to make one wonder whether it came from a human 

Three Visions 61 

at or from the very depths of the earth. After a few bars of solo chant 

, (.pioir of monks and novices joined in, the higher voices of the 

gr harmoniously blending with the deeper ones of the older monks 

d the bass of the leader ol the choir Sometimes the chant would end 


bruptlv and only the voice of the Umdze would be heard, and then 
acain the entire congregation would fall in and continue until another 
climax had been reached with a clash of cymbals and an acceleration of 



Tibetan Sacred Music 


HE SOUL-STtRRING QUALITV OF Tibetan ritual music which accompa- 
nies and often precedes the liturgy is not based on melody but on rhylhm 
and pure sound -values; the latter in the sense that the different instru- 
ments do not try to imitate the variations and movements of a humafli 
song or its emotions, but each of them represents the tonal value of A 
fundamental quality of nature, in which the human voice is merely one 
of the many vibrations that make up the symphony of the universe. This 
symphony does not follow the laws of Western musical harmony, and yet 
it achieves an effect that is far from disharmonious, because each sound 
has its fixed place and corresponds to the others in a way that establishes 
an unmistakable parallelism on different levels. * 

I am not a musician, so as to be able to describe or to analyse Tibetan 
music in technical terms. But I am deeply moved by music, and therefore 
1 can only describe my own reaction. Moreover, the few references I have 
read about Tibetan sacred music are so scantv and inadequate that I have 
come to the conclusion that either Western terminology is unsuitable W 

Three Visions 63 


the nature of Tibetan music or that those who have attempted to 
idea of it were not able to enter into its spirit. 
To do this one has to experience the reli^ous as well as the natural 
keround from which diis music grew, and this is only possible if one has 
r fid in those surroundings and has taken part In the spiritual and emo- 
rional life of which this music is the most immediate expression, Tibetan 
Buddhism regards man not as a solitary figure but always in connection 
with arid against a universal background. In the same way Tibetan ritual 
music is not concerned with the emotions of temporal individuality, but 
with the ever-present, timeless qualides of universal life, in which our per- 
sonal joys and sorrows do not exist, so that we feel in communion with the 
very sources of reality in the deepest core of our being. To bring us in touch 
with this realm is the very purpose of meditation as well as of Tibetan 
ritual music, which is built upon the deepest vibrations that an instrument 
or a human voice can produce: sounds that seem to come from the womb 
of the earth or from the depth of space like rolling thunder, the mantric 
sound of nature, which symbolise the creative vibrations of the universe, 
the origin of all things. They form the foundation as well as the background 
from which the modulations of the higher voices and the plaintive notes of 
the reed instmments rise like the forms of sentient life from the elementary 
forces of nature- — ^which are nowhere more apparent tlian in the gigantic 
mountain ranges and in the vast, lonely highlands of Tibet. 

Just as the bass-voice of the precentor forms the basis of the choir, 

from which the liturgy starts and to which it sinks back in a peculiarly 

sliding way at the end of each part of the recitation, in the same way the 

ntige twelve-foot radongs form the basis and the starting-point of the 

orchestral music. They are always in pairs and are alternately blown in 

uch a way that the sounds of the one merge into the other without break- 

g lEs continuity and at the same time producing the effect of gradually 

eilmg and ebbing tides of an ocean of sound. And on the surface of this 

an the breeze of individual life creates and plays with a multitude of 

^es and wavelets which, like the high-pitched tremolo of die oboes, 

vacity and melody to the vastness of the ocean, whose sound seems 

n^t of the all-embracing OM, the prototype of all mantric sounds. 

64 The Way of the White Clouds 

It is in imitation of this sound that mantras are recited in that pecu 
liar, deep bass-voice with which the Umdze begins and conducts th 
liturgy. The liturgy, after all, is mainly mantric in character, especially tk* 
opening and closing passages of each section. Certain important numtm 
are accompanied by hand-bells and damarus (small, hour-glass-shaped 
hand-drums, which can be played with one hand). 

In contrast to the more or less static sound of the radongs, the bass- 
drums and the big cymbals introduce a dynamic element into the 
orchestra. Not only does the rhythm change according to the metre of 
the recitation, but — what is more important from the musical and emo- ' 
tional point of view, as it creates a feeling of liberation and a release froai ! 
a slowly mounting tension — towards the end of each section the rhythm 
is accelerated until it merges into one great finale, in which the big cym- 
bals by a pecuiiar rotating movement produce triumphantly upsur^g 
sound, rising above the thundering rumble of the bass-drums, and end- 
ing in a mighty clash. After this a new slow rhythm marks the beginnina 
of another section of the liturgy. 

If the radong or the human bass-voice represent the primeval cos- 
mic sound, in which we experience the infinity of space, the drum rep- 
resents the infinity of life and movement, governed by the supreme law 
of its inherent rhythm, in which we experience the alternating cycles of 
creation and dissolution, culminating in manifestation and liberation. 

While melody plays only the ephemeral part of the passing moods 
of individual life, the rhythm (of the bass-drum in particular) gives the 
real significance and structure to the music. With the drum, therefore, 
the Tibetan (and perhaps the East in general) associates quite different 
emotions than the West, where it is not regarded as a basic or indepen- 
dent musical instrument. The importance of the drum from the veiy 
beginnings of Indian civilisation may be seen from one of the most sig- 
nificant similes of the Buddha, in which he compared the eternal law M 
the universe (dharma) with the rhythm of the drum, when in his firs* 
utterance after the attainment of enlightenment he spoke of 'the drunfi 
of immortality' (amata-dundubhin) which he wanted to make heard 
throughout the world. 

Three Visions 65 

Since I could not follow yet the details of the liturgy and the par- 

• lar service which was conducted that morning in the presence and 

Aer the guidance of Ibmo Geshe Rimpoche, my whole attention was 

■ en to the effects of the music and the meaning it conveyed to me. The 

. gpiring atmosphere, which prevailed all through the service, put me into 

state of greater receptiveness than ever before. I had attended during 

the last weeks many liturgic services and ceremonies in the temple, but 

never had I witnessed them in such perfection and complete harmony All 

who took part in it seemed to be moved by the same spirit — united, as I 

felt in the bigger consciousness of the great Guru, so that they acted 

and chanted in perfect unison, as if merged into one body. 

All this moved me all the more as during the last years in Ceylon I 
had been starved of all musical inspiration, which is entirely absent in 
Southern Buddhism (Theravdda) on account of the mistaken view that 
music is merely a form of sense-pleasure. In consequence of this the 
religious life had taken on a dry, intellectual form of expression, in which 
together with the lower also the higher emotions were suppressed and all 
negative virtues were fostered to the extent that no great personality 
could arise- — i.e. rise above the level of the accepted norm. Book-knowl- 
edge had become more important than experience, the letter more 
important than the spirit. 

No wonder, therefore, that it was believed that no Araham (realised 

saints) could arise after the first millennium of the Buddhist era, in other 

words, that for the last 1,500 years the Buddhadharma in Ceylon had 

existed only in theory, or at the best as a belief, since (according to the 

mhalese themselves) Ceylon had not produced a single saint during 

t »s long period and it was no more possible to enter into the higher 

tes of dhyana or direct spiritual insight. It was, therefore, impossible 

discuss deeper experiences of meditation, as it was regarded pre- 

erous to assume that anybody could actually realise any of the states 

R jj consciousness of which the sacred texts speak so often. Thus 

ism had become a matter of the past, a creed or a distant ideal 

J , ^ ^'hich one could strive by leading a moral life and commitring 

^an as many sacred texts as possible. 

Three Visions 67 


Meeting with 
THE Guru 



I ow GREAT, THEREFORE, WAS MY JOY to find before my very eyes 
living embodiment of those far-off ideals: a man who impressed all those 
who came in touch with him not merely by his learning but by his mere 
presence, and thus gave proof that what the sacred texts teach can be 
realised here and now, as in the days of the Buddha. 

What greater opportunity could fate offer me than meeting such ft 
man and coming into living contact with the spirit that had moved thtf 
Buddhas and saints of the past and would inspire those of the future; 

Soon my first meeting with the Guru came about. It took place in 
one of the little shrine-rooms on the upper floor of the Lhabrang (the. 
main residential building of the monastery) which served as his private 
apartments whenever he stayed at Yi-Gah Cho-Ling, and wfiich even dur- 
ing his absence were regarded as the monastery's innermost sanctuaty- 
Like in the temple, the Great Abbot's seat is a place of special sanctityr 3 
it is here that he performs his daily devotions and spends many hours 
meditation, even during the night, which he spends in a cross-legS 
position in the confined space of his seat, which allows him neither to 




nr>r to Stretch out. The high back of this box-like, slightly raised 
1, jjon seat bore the emblem of the Lama's high office, the Wheel 
f he Law. and was surmounted by the traditional canopy with a seven- 
loured volant, representing the aura of the Buddha. 

The whole room breathed an atmosphere of peace and beauty, the nat- 
ral outflow of a mind to whom hartnony is not merely an aesthetic plea- 
but the adequate expression of a life devoted to the realm of the spir- 
. gxquisite religious paintings, minutely executed and mounted on old 
Chinese brocades, harmonised with the mellow colours of hand-woven 
Tibetan rugs which covered the low seats behind lacquer- topped, delicately 
carved and painted Chogtses. On the opposite side golden images of the 
finest worlonanship rested in glazed shrines, flanked by dragons and crovmed 
by multi-coloured, carved cornices, and on the narrow ledge before the 
images stood silver bowls filled with clear water and butter-lamps of chased 
silver. There was not a single object in the room that was not connected 
with the symbols and functions of religious life and practice, and nothing 
that could have been regarded as the Guru's personal possession,' In fact, 
long after he had left the body of his present incarnation, when, according 
to the Guru's special instructions, 1 had the tmique privilege to dwell in this 
hallowed room, 1 found everything in it as it had been in the Guru's pres- 
ence—even the silver-mounted jade teacup and the ritual vessels, beside 
vajra-sceptre and bell, on the Civ3gtse before his seat. 

But all these details fused into one general impression of supreme 

peace and harmony on diat first day, when I bowed down before the Guru 

*tid his hands lay on my head; hands whose lightest touch sent a stream of 

iiss through one's whole body, nay, one's whole being, so that all that one 

intended to say or to ask, vanished from one's mind like smoke into blue 

t'n moving from one monastery to ihe other he would talte with him only the bare 
^ ics lor the joumey. To him a cave was as good as a palace, and a palace as good 
Use f u '^ ^ ^'^ cared for riches and comforts, as little was he afraid of making 

yg^, ^'^' He was neither attached to comfort not to asceticism. He knew that the 
gifts h '^^^^"^'^'^ '^S" ^^ as great a hindrance as the vanity of possession. Whatever 
W Uti|- j"^*"'^^ ^'^^ devotees were either distributed among those who were in need 
ine maintainance of temples, monasteries, libraries, or similar purposes. 

68 The Way of the White Clouds 

Three Visions 69 

air. Merely to be in this man's presence seemed to be enough to dissolve ii 
problems, to make them non-existent, like darkness in the presence of [inU. i 

As he sat on his meditation -seat under the canopy, clad in the sim 
pie maroon -coloured robes of a Tibetan monk, 1 tound it diFfjcult 
determine his age, though he must have been already about sixty-fjim 
years old at that time. His short-cropped hair was still dark and his body 
looked sturdy and erect. His clean-shaven face showed the features ofij 
strong character, but his friendly eyes and bis mouth that was slighUv 
turned up at the corners, as if ready to smile, gave me an immediate fee!^ 
ing of reassurance. 

It is a strange fact that nobody ever succeeded in taking a photo- j 
graph of Tomo G^sh^ Rimpoch^, though many people tried to do so suihj 
reptitiously, because they knew that he never allowed anybody to take a] 
picture of him. Those who tried found out that their films had tume 
into blanks or were blurred beyond recognition or that something 
happened to the films. Whatever happened, the Guru's face was ne 
visible. He detested any land of hero-worship and did not want his per- 
son made into an object of veneration. 

On the day on which he formally accepted me as his Chela, he saidi 

'If you vidsh me to be your Guru, do not look upon my person as the 
Guru, because every human personality has its shortcomings, and so long 
as we are engaged in observing the imperfections of others we deprive 
ourselves of the opportunities ol learning from them. Remember thai 
every being carries within itself the spark of Buddhahood (bodhicUta), but 
as long as we concentrate on other people's faults we deprive ourselves ol 
the light that in various degrees shines out from our fellow- beings. 

'When searching for a teacher, we surely should search for one wtw 
is worthy of our trust, but once we have found him, we should accept 
whatever he has to teach us as a gift of the Buddhas, and we should locw 
upon the Guru not as one who speaks wdth his own voice but as 
mouthpiece of the Buddha, to whom alone all honour is due. Tneretor i 
you bow dovm before the Guru, it is not the mortal personality o\ 
teacher that you worship, but the Buddha, who is the eternal Guru 
who reveals his teaching through the mouth of your human teacrte 


-, livins link in the chain of initiated teachers and pupils who have 

mttted the Dharma in an unbroken line from the times of Sakyamuni. 

^^Q transmit to us the teachings of the Buddha are the vessels of the 

nh mia an*^ ^s far as they master the Dharma and have realised the 

nharma within themselves, they are the embodiment of the Dharma. 

'It is not the robes, nor the body, nor the words that make the Guru, 
hut that which lives in him of truth and knowledge and light (bodhi). The 
more he possesses of this, and the more his outer conduct and appear- 
ance is in harmony with it, the easier it is for the Chela to see the 
Buddha in his Guru. Therefore he should be as careful in his choice as 
the Guru in his acceptance of a Chela. 

'However, one should never forget that in every living being hod- 
hicitta is present as a potentiality (I, therefore, rather prefer to call it a 
"spark" of enlightenment-consciousness than a "thought" of enlighten- 
ment, which only arises when this latent spark becomes fully conscious) 
and that only our own bUndness prevents us from recognising this. The 
peater our imperfections, the more we are inclined to see the faults of 
others, while those who have gained deeper insight can see through 
these faults into their essential nature. Therefore the greatest among 
men were those who recognised the divine qualities in their fellow- 
beings and were always ready to respect even the lowliest among them. 
As long as we regard ourselves superior to others or look down upon 
the world, we cannot make any real progress. As soon, however, as we 
understand that we live in exactly that world which we deserve, we shall 
recognise the faults of others as our own— though they may appear in 
itterent form. It is our own karttm that we live in this "imperfect" world, 
n'ch in the ultimate sense is our own creation. This is the only attitude 
icli can help us to overcome our difficulties, because it replaces fruit- 
^ negation by an impulse towards self-perfection, which not only 
es us worthy of a better world but partners in its creation.* 

e Guru then went on to explain some of the preconditions and pre- 

T exercises of meditation for bringing about this positive and cre- 

1 ude: Unselfish love and compassion towards ail living beings was, 

6 'O him, the first prerequisite of meditation, as it removed all self- 

70 The Way of the White Clouds 

created emotional and intellectual limitations; find in order to gam;i 
attitude one should look, upon all beings like upon one's own tnoti 
one's own children, since there was not a single being in the univ^sej 
In the infinity of time had not been closely related to us in one 
another. In order to be conscious of the preciousness of time one 
realise that any moment might be the last of this life and that the 
tunity which it offers might not come again easily Finally he pointed' 
that what we learned from books about meditation was not comp; 
the direct transmission of experience and the spiritual impetus that; 
ing Guru could give us, if we open ourselves to him in all sincerity. 

To this purpose one should imagine the Buddha in the form of 
Guru, and having done so to a degree that one feels his very presencci 
should visualise him seated in the posture of meditation above one's 
and finally merging into one's own person, to take his seat on the 
throne of our heart. For, as long as the Buddha is still imagined outsid.' 
ourselves, we cannot realise him in our own life. The moment, howevr-:, 
we become conscious of him as the light in our innermost being,- tli . 
Mantra OM MANI PADME HUM begins to reveal its meaning. becwiK 
now the lotus' ipadma) is our own heart, in which the jewel' (mani), naofeii 
the Buddha, is present. The OM and the HUM, however, repre^ni ibf 
universe in its highest and deepest aspects, in all its forms of appeaiant. 
and experience, which we should embrace with unlimited love and corr- 
passion like the Buddha, Do not think of your own salvation, but m»i' 
yourself an instrument for the liberation of all living beings. Once 0- 
Buddha has become awakened within you, you are no more able to ^^ 
other than in accordance with his Law. Therefore it is said in t. - 
Bodhicaryavatara: 'As soon as the thought of Enlightenment takes rool ^■ 
him, the miserable one who is fettered by passions to the prison o &> 
tence, becomes immediately a son of the Buddhas, he becomes wo , > 
veneration for men and gods. As soon as this thought has taken posses- 
of this unclean body it becomes transformed into the precious jew 
Buddha's body Therefore take hold of this ehxir which causes sucn ^^^ 
derful transformation and which is called the thought of Enlignt^" 



T WAS MY GREAT GOOD LUCK that 1 had not only been well prepared by 
Kachenla's patient teachings but that I had found a friend in a learned 
Mongolian Lama, who knew English and helped me with my Tibetan 
"Studies in exchange for Pali and practice in English. He had studied for 
^out twenty years in one of the great monastic universities near Lhasa, 
where he acquired the degree of 'G^she', and he had subsequently worked 
^ilh the well-known scholar von Stael-Holstein in Peking. His name was 
nubden Sherab, though he was generally referred to as 'Gesh^la'. 

With him as interpreter I was able to converse with the Guru, 

■r*" gn-^as I was to find out soon— the Guru was in no need of an inter- 

f V^ fir. as he was able to read my thoughts like an open book. As he knew 

1 Had devoted the greater part of my adult life to the study of 

ism, he did not waste time in explaining doctrinal points, but 

. ^ '■^ight to the practice of meditation, which he regarded as more 

ant than all theoretical knowledge. It was. indeed, also the most 

'P^^ant thing to me. 

72 The Way of the White Clouds 

So far 1 had practised meditation following my own intuition as well 
as certain instructions which I had found in the sacred texts^ — especially 
in the Satipatthdna-Sutta (which in those days had not yet been popu- 
larised in the modem, rather one-sided fashion of the Rangoon School). 
Ail the more I felt eager to see the further steps and to be introduced 
into the traditional methods which could guide one step by step into the 
deeper realms of meditative experience. 

On the day on which Tomo G^sh^ Rimpoche formally accepted me 
as his Chela in a special ritual of initiation, in which I received my first 
mantra, I realised one of the most important things that hitherto had 
been lacking in my religious life: the impetus of a spiritual force that 
required no philosophical argument or intellectual justification, because 
it was not based on theoretical knowledge, but on fact and direct expe- 
rience, and thus gave one the certainty that what one was striving after 
was not merely an abstract idea, a mere shadow of a thought, but an 
attainable state of mind, the only 'tangible' reality of which we can speak. 

And yet the experience through which this 'tangible' reality is trans- 
mitted is so intangible that to describe the details of an initiation and the 
essential experiences connected with it would be as inadequate as describ- 
ing in words the contents or the impact of music. Indeed, any description 
of Factual details would destroy the very basis of the emotional appeal and 
significance, because 'emotion', in the word's uruest meaning, is that which 
moves our mind, intensifies and awakens it to a higher life and a wider 
awareness, which finaUy turn into Enlightenment, a state of pure Light — 
which at the same time is pure, unhindered, infinite movement and high- 
est tranquillity. Movement is the nature of the mind as much as it is the 
nature of tight. All that tries to arrest, to hinder, or to confine the free, infi- 
nite movement of the mind, is ignorance— whether it be caused by con- 
ceptual thought, desires, or attachments. Tranquillity is not standstill, it 
does not consist in stopping the mind, but in not obstructing its movement 
by artificial concepts {or by breaking its flow by dissecting its movement 
into momentary phases in the futile attempt to analyse its nature). This 
does not mean that we should give up thinking or conceptual thought — 
which would be impossible — but that we should not get caught up in it. 

Three Visions 73 

Just as a single note in a melody has no meaning in itself but only 
in relationship to preceding and following notes — i.e. as a moment in a 
meaningful or organic movement, which cannot be held on to without 
destroying the melody — in the same way we cannot stop thinking or hold 
on to a particular concept without destroying its value. The moment we 
try to analyse, to conceptualise, or to rationalise the details and experi- 
ences of initiation, we are dealing only with dead fragments, but not with 
the living flow of force, which is expressed in the Tibetan word 'dam- 
ts'hig', the inner relationship between Guru and Chela and the sponta- 
neous movement, emotion, and realisation on which this relationship is 

There is nothing secret in the process of initiation, but everybody 
has to experience it for himself. By trying to explain what goes beyond 
words we only succeed in dragging the sacred down to the level of the 
profane, thus losing our own datn-ts'hig without benefiting others. By 
glibly talking about the mystery, we destroy the purity and spontaneity of 
our inner attitude and the deep reverence which is the key to the tem- 
ple of revelations. Just as the mystery of love can only unfold when it is 
withdrawn from the eyes of the crowd, and as a lover will not discuss the 
beloved with outsiders, in the same way the mystery of inner transfor- 
mation can only take place if the secret force of its symbols is hidden 
from the profane eyes and the idle talk of the world. 

What is communicable are only those experiences that belong to 
the plane of our mundane consciousness, and beyond this we may be 
able to speak about the results and conclusions to which our experiences 
have led us, or about the teachings in which the experiences of former 
generations and of our Gurus were summarised. 1 have tried to do this 
in a previous book of mine, and I will, therefore, confine myself in the 
present volume as far as possible to my personal impressions and the 
most memorable events and per,sonalities that had a lasting influence on 
my inner life. 

Among those personalities Tomo G^she Rimpoche was undoubtedly 
the greatest. The inner bond which was created on the day on which 1 
received the abhiseka, my first and therefore most important initiation, 

74 The Way of the White Clouds 

became a constant source of strength and inspiration. How much the 
Guru would be able to help me by his presence, even beyond his death, 
this I guessed as Httle in those days as I was conscious of the fact that 
he was one of the most highly revered religious teachers of Tibet and 
that for millions of people his name was equated with the highest attain- 
ments on the Buddha's spiritual path. 

My ignorance of his position, however, had the advantage that it 
enabled me to observe impartially and uninfluenced by others some of 
the extraordinary faculties of the Guru, which convinced me that he 
really possessed the yogic powers (stddki) which traditionally were 
ascribed to the saints of the past. In fact, it all came about quite by 
chance, when one day my Mongolian friend and I were discussing with 
the Guru certain aspects of meditation, as we often used to do. Our 
questions were mostly concerned vrith problems arising out of practical 
experience. In the course of this it happened that my friend had some 
personal questions to ask, and since I could not follow the trend of the 
discussion, I allowed myself to let my thoughts wander in other direc- 
tions. In the course of this it came to my mind that the day might not 
be far when the Guru would have to leave in order to return to his main 
monastery beyond the border, and that years might pass before I had 
another opportunity to sit at his feet. And in a sudden impulse I for- 
mulated in my mind the following request; 'Please give me a visible sign 
of the inner bond that unites me with you, my Guru, something that 
beyond all words reminds me daily of your kindness and of the ultimate 
aim: be it a small image of the Buddha blessed by your hands or what- 
ever you might think fit . . .' Hardly had I pronounced these words in 
my mind when the Guru, suddenly interrupting his talk, turned to me 
and said: 'Before 1 leave 1 shall give you a small Buddha- image as 

I was thundersrtuck and hardly able to stutter a few words of 
thanks — partly from joy and partly from being taken aback at the effect 
of my thought. At the same time I could not help feeling a little ashamed 
that I had dared to put the Guru to the test in such a direct way; because 
as little as 1 would have dared to interrupt the Guru's talk with audible 

Three Visions 75 

words, would I have dared to do this even in thoughts, if I had really 
believed that he could hear them as clearly as if I had uttered them 

That the Guru reacted as he did, even while his attention was 
absorbed by other things, proved to me that he was able to perceive other 
people's thoughts not only when his mind was directed towards them or 
as the result of a conscious effort, but that he possessed the faculty 
which in the Buddhist Scriptures is described as the 'divine ear' or the 
faculty of clairaudience, which enabled him to hear and to respond to 
thoughts that were directed to him, as other people would hear spoken 
words. And, what was more, 1 had not addressed him in Tibetan but in 
my own language, which shows that what was audible to the Guru were 
not the words but their meaning or the impulse that prompted them. 

Wlien finally the day of leave-taking came I found myself in a state of 
^eat tension. Weeks had passed since that memorable talk, but on no other 
occasion had the Guru mentioned this subject again, and I naturally had 
not dared to remind him, knowing full well that he was as conscious of his 
promise as I myself. Since he knew how much it meant to me, 1 could 
only think that perhaps he wanted to test my patience and my faith in 
him, and that made me all the more determined to remain silent. 

But when during the last days of his stay at Yi-Gah Cho-ling all his 
time was taken up by people who came to receive his blessings before he 
would leave, 1 felt afraid that the Guru might be too occupied to remem- 
ber my request or that other circumstances had prevented him from car- 
rying out his intention. 

How great was therefore my surprise and my joy when during our 
last meeting — even before I could say a word about this matter — he 
handed me a small but exquisitely finished terracotta statue of Buddha 
Sakyamuni and told me that he had kept this image in his hands during 
his daily meditations. 

Now 1 realised the greatness of his gift and the reason for its delay, 
and while receiving it from his hands, it was only with the greatest effort 
that 1 controlled my tears. 1 bowed down, unable to speak, and then 1 felt 
his hands resting on my head with great tenderness; and again a wave of 

76 The Way of the White Clouds 

bliss streamed through my whole being and gave me the certainty that I 
would never be separated firom the Guru, though a thousand miles might 
lie between us. 

The little image has since been my constant companion: it has 
accompanied me over countless snow-clad passes in and beyond the 
Himalayas, it has roamed with me the deserted highlands of the Chang- 
Thang and the fertile valJeys of South and Central Tibet. It has saved me 
in difficult situations in Western Tibet, when the Guru's seal, with which 
it bad been consecrated, gave evidence of the fact that I was not a 
Chinese agent, but a personal pupil of Tomo Geshe Rimpoch^; and in 
1948, it pacified the armed tribesmen who surrounded our camp with 
hostile intentions and left with the Guru's blessings, only to come back 
with gifts and asking that also their women and chOdren and their flocks 
might be blessed. 

But there is something more to this httle image, something that is 
as important to me as the Guru's seal and benediction: namely the fact 
that it was not created by some unknown artisan, but by the hands of my 
Guru's humblest and most devoted disciple Kachenla, whose remem- 
brance is for me inseparable from that of Tomo Geshe Rimpoche, 
During the years that elapsed before the Gurus return to Yi-Gah Ch6- 
Ling, Kachenla remained my faithful friend and Gurubhai (i.e. one who 
has become a brother by having been initiated by the same Guru), and 
whenever 1 came back to Yi-Gah Cho-Ling — either to stay in or near the 
monastery — it was Kachenla who would receive me and look after me, 
especially when later on a younger caretaker was appointed for the main 
temple, while Kachenla took charge of the Guru's private apartments 
and their shrines. Thus, when according to the Guru's wishes 1 made use 
of the privilege to stay in those hallowed rooms, it was again Kachenla 
who surrounded me with his love and care and made me feel more than 
ever that the Guru was with us, as in the days of our first meeting. 

On THE Way of 
THE White Clouds 


'efore settling down at Ghoom— where later on 1 had taken a soli- 
tary little country house, in order to live undisturbed in the vicinit>' of the 
monastery^ — the urge to follow the Guru beyond the snow-covered passes 
into the forbidden land beyond the horizon was such that soon I found 
myself on the caravan road across the mountains to have my first glimpse 
of Tibet. 

Though it was late in the season and I knew that I could not pro- 
ceed far, as otherwise the passes might get blocked by snow and prevent 
my return vrithin the time that was at my disposal (and within the 
restrictions of a limited travelling permit), 1 shall never forget the first 
impression of the 'promised land' — for that was what Tibet had become 
to me since the Guru had left. 

The journey had a dream-hke quality: rain, fog, and clouds trans- 
formed the virgin forest, the rocks and mountains, gorges and precipices 
into a world of uncannily changing, fantastic forms, which appeared and 
dissolved with such suddenness that one began to doubt their reality as 

78 The Way of the White Clouds 

well as one's own. Mighty waterfalls hurled from invisible heights into an 
equally invisible bottomless depth. Clouds above and clouds below the 
narrow path, surging up and sinking again, revealing views of breathtak- 
ing grandeur for one moment and blotting them out in the next. 

Trees appeared like many-armed giants with long grey beards of 
moss, entangled in creepers and Festooned with delicate light green gar- 
lands that swung from tree to tree. In the lower altitudes blossoming 
orchids and ferns sprouted from tree-trunks and branches, while an 
impenetrable undergrowth hid the ground from view. Clouds, rocks, 
trees, and waterfalls created a fairyland worthy of the linagination of a 
romantic Chinese landscape painter, and the small caravan of men and 
horses moved through it like miniature figures in a vast landscape scroll. 

Up and up the caravan went, through one cloud-layer after another 
What was yesterday our sky, lay today at our feet like a vast turbulent 
ocean, at the bottom of which the human world was hidden. It was like 
a journey through different world-planes into the Far Beyond, The 
ascent seemed to have no end — indeed, even the sky was no more the 
limit! — and each stage revealed a new type of landscape, climate, and 

The exuberant, moist-warm, leech-infested, and fever-laden tropi- 
cal virgin forest, in which ferns grew to the size of trees and bamboos 
exploded like green fireworks into gracefully curved bunches of feathery- 
leaved tall stalks, gave way to the more sober forests of subtropical and 
temperate zones, where trees regained their individuality and flowers 
were able to compete with the lighter undergrowth until they formed 
carpets of bright yellow, orange, and purple colours under the sombre 
needle-trees of weatherbeaten alpine forests. 

Soon even these were left behind, and we entered the near-arctic 
zone, in which only stunted fir and dwarf rhododendron, besides heather, 
mosses, and lichen, could survive in a world of titanic rocks, snow- 
covered peaks, and deep green lakes, among which low-hanging clouds 
and sudden bursts of sunshine created a constantly changing play of 
light and shadow. The landscape was in a continual state of transforma- 
tion, as if it was being created From moment to moment. What was here 

Three Visions 79 

a minute ago had disappeared in the next, and a new feature of the land- 
scape revealed itself before our eyes. 

And then came the great miracle — a miracle that repeated itself 
and thrilled me each time I crossed over to Tibet: on the highest point 
of the pass the clouds that in huge masses surged angrily and threaten- 
ingly dark against the mountain walls, dissolved into thin air as if by 
magic, the gates of heaven were opened, and a world of luminous colours 
under a deep blue sky stretched before one's eyes and a fierce stm lit up 
the snow-covered slopes on the other side of the pass so that one was 
almost blinded by their brilliance- 
After the cloud- and fog-veiled landscapes of Sikkim it almost went 
beyond one's capacity to take in so much colour and light. Even the deep 
colours of the shadows seemed to radiate, and the isolated white summer- 
clouds which blissfully floated in the velvety dark blue sky and between 
the far-off purple-coloured mountain ranges only enhanced and intensi- 
fied the feeling of the immensity and depth of space and the luminosity 
of colours. 

It was in this moment, when for the first time I set eyes upon the 
sacred land of Tibet, that I knew that from now on I would follow the 
Way of the White Clouds into this enchanted land of my Guru, to learn 
more of its wisdom and to find inspiration in the immense peace and 
beauty of its nature. I knew that from now on I would ever be drawn 
back into this luminous world and that my life would be dedicated to its 

Like many a pilgrim before me, 1 solemnly circumambulated the 
cairn that marked the highest point of the pass, and, repeating the 
Guru's mantra, 1 gratefully added a stone to the monument as a token of 
gratitude for having been safely guided up to here, as a pledge for the 
future pursuance of the path I had chosen, and as a blessing to all the 
pilgrims and travellers who would pass this way after me. And then the 
words of a Chinese stanza, ascribed to Maitreya, the future Buddha, 
when he roamed the world as a wandering monk, came to my mind; 
'Ahne I wander a thousand miles . . . and 1 ask my way from the white 
clouds. ' 

80 The Wat of the White Clouds 

All the way down into the Chumbi Valley I was filled with happi- 
ness. Soon the snow gave way to carpets of flowers and the storm- 
beaten crippled fir trees to magnificent forests of needle-trees with birds 
and butterflies flitting about in the sunny, clear atmosphere. The air felt 
so unearthly light and exhilarating that I could hardly contain my joy, 
though I was conscious that soon I would have to turn back into the 
sombre shadow-world on the other side of the pass and to descend again 
into the steamy tropical jungles. But I fell confident that sooner or later 
I would be able to follow the way of the white clouds beyond my 
present horizon, on which the white pyramid of the sacred mountain 
Chomolhari, the throne of the goddess Doije Phagmo, seemed to beck- 
on me. 

And, indeed, through circumstances of the most unexpected kind 
— which, when looking back, 1 can only conceive as the effect of a 
directing force, both within me as in those who were instrumental in 
removing all existing difficulties— [ soon found myself again on the car- 
avan path into the unknown regions beyond the Himalayas. 

This time, however, my aim was the north-western part of Tibet, 
and in the spring of 1933 I joined for the first part of my journey a cara- 
van in the Yarkand Sarai at Srinagar, travelling through Kashmir, Baltistan, 
and Little Tibet (Ladak), which latter was formerly part of the kingdom 
of Guge. Leaving the caravan at Kargil and my travel-companion, the 
well-known Indian scholar Rahula Sankrityayana (who at that time was 
still a Buddhist monk), at Leh, I travelled on alone, accompanied by 
only two Tibetans, whose horses carried my scanty luggage and food- 

During the previous weeks I had hardened myself to the climatic 
conditions, sleeping in the open without a tent, protected against snow 
and rain only by a more or less waterproof mtmda (a large felt rug) which 
1 spread over my camp-cot, Rahula was inclined to regard the latter as a 
luxur}', until when crossing our first pass over the main Mimalayan range 
we got into a thunderstorm, accompanied by rain and sleet, which finally 
turned into a heav^' snowfall during the night. The next morning, when 
peeping out from under my heavy, snow-covered and solidly frozen 

Three Visions 81 

namda, 1 could not discover my companion — until he emerged shivering 
and rather crestfallen from what had appeared to me as a snowdrift. 

Fortunately on the whole the weather was diy and sunny, in fact the 
sun proved to be fiercer than in India, though on account of the cold air 
one did not realise it until one's skin came off in flakes from face and 
hands in spite of the use of protective ointments. 

However, now I was on my way to the Chang-Tliang, the vast north- 
em highlands of Tibet, the country of blue lakes, gold- and copper- 
coloured hills and wide valleys with green grazing-grounds, where the 
nomads of the north live with their flocks and their black yak-hair tents. 
1 felt fresh and rested, after having spent some time in the hospitable 
monasteries of Ladak, and now I looked forward to the uncharted soli- 
tudes of the land beyond the snow-covered mountain ranges that 
stretched between the upper reaches of the Indus and the Karakorum. 

A pass of more than 18,000 feet lay ahead of us, and we followed a 
vride, slowly rising valley The sun, which for weeks without end had 
mercilessly beaten down upon the arid country, had been hidden behind 
dark clouds since the early hours of the morning, and a cold drizzling 
thin rain lashed with a thousand fine needles against our faces. 
Everything had suddenly taken on a sinister, threatening aspect, and the 
valley, leading up into the darkness of clouds and flanked by the rocky 
teeth of mountains whose peaks were lost in the gloomy vapours, 
appeared like the open mouth of a gigantic monster 

The two men who accompanied me seemed gripped by the same 
mood. Nobody spoke a word. Everybody was absorbed in his own 
thoughts, and even the horses were walking on mechanically in a dream- 
like state. 1 felt rather uneasy when thinking of the coming night and the 
prospect of being caught in a blizzard while crossing the dreaded pass, 
one of the highest on our present journey. 

The Rock Monastery 


-VTE IN THE AFTERNOON we reached the entrance of a gorge from 
which the final ascent of the pass was to start. At the foot of a group of 
ragged rocks, piled one upon the other on the flank of a steep mountain, 
there appeared to be a few stone hovels, whose cubic forms were hardly 
distinguishabie from the tumbled rocks. A strange contrast, however, 
was provided by innumerable whitewashed chorten, religious monu- 
ments which have their origin in the ancient stupas of India, consisting 
of a cubic base, a hemispherical or vase-shaped middle piece, and a long 
conical spire of brick-red disks, crowned with the symbols of sun and 

Millions of such monuitiients are scattered all over Tibet. They are 
found wherever human beings live or have lived, and even on dangerous 
passes, at the entrances of precariously constructed suspension bridges, 
or on strange rock formations near the caravan routes. The great number 
of chortens which appeared here, as if the rocks had been transformed 
into these shapes by magic, indicated the vicinity of a temple or a 

Three Visions 83 

monastery. As I had heard of a very ancient rock monastery, situated in 
one of the gorges of these mountains, I followed the narrow path lead- 
ing through the chortens, and soon I found myself in a maze of huge 
boulders and towering rock-walls. 

The path became steeper, and finally the horses refused to go on 
and had to be left behind. But now masonry appeared, and out of the 
rocks there developed a group of high cubic buildings with balconies 
protruding here and there from their sloping walls. It was difficult to say 
where the rocks ended and the architecture began, since they were fit- 
ted into each other as if the one had grown out of the other. 

Hoping to find some shelter for the night, I climbed on through a 
labyrinth of rocks and buildings, but the farther I proceeded the more I 
lost hope. No living being was to be seen anywhere, not even one of those 
dreadful watchdogs which generally rush at any stranger who approaches 
a Tibetan dwelling, be il a house, a monastery', or a nomad's tent. 1 did not 
dare to enter any of these apparently uninhabited buildings. 

Near each entrance I observed a small stone pyramid, and each of 
them was crowned with a flat, plate-like stone slab, upon which a small 
round stone had been placed. I was just about to ask the one of my two 
men, who liad accompanied me, while the other had remained behintl with 
the horses, whether these structures were a land of miniature chorten, 
when he picked up one of the small round stones and let it faU upon the 
slab, From which he had taken it. The slab emitted a clear, glassy sound. 
So this was the house-bell! 1 could not help admiring the ingenuity of 
these simple people. 

We sounded several of these resonant slabs, but no response came. 
So we climbed on until we reached a little courtyard, which on one side 
was bordered by a veranda-like covered passage. The odier side consisted 
of a temple fa<;ade, built into the rock, which projected Hke a roof over 
it, while the side opposite the entrance was formed by a two-storeyed 
building (with open verandas) behind which strangely eroded rock for- 
mations rose into the sky In the middle of the court)'ard stood a tall 
white prayer-flag. It was the courtyard of a monastery. But even here not 
a living soul! 

84 The Wat of the White Clouds 

Nevertheless I felt that finally we were somewhere where one could 
spend a peaceful night and find shelter from rain and cold. Suddenly I 
heard the barking of a dog behind me, and instinctively I looked for an 
exit. But there was nothing of the kind. We were nicely trapped! 

Fortunately the dog was not one of those ferocious creatures as I 
had feared, and I felt even more reassured when it was followed by an 
old friendly looking Lama, who welcomed me with great politeness. I 
told him that I was a pilgrim from a far-off country, and, seeing my 
monastic robes, he opened without hesitation the heavy door at the base 
of the rock temple and beckoned me to follow him. 

He led me through a steep, dark staircase into a big cave. The smooth 
walls were covered with apparently very ancient frescoes. In the mellow 
light of an altar-lamp 1 could see the statue of the great Buddhist Apostle 
Padmasambhava, the founder of the Old Sect (Nying-ma-pa), to which diis 
monastery belonged. Tlie image was flanked by two statues of Bodhisattvas 
and Padmasambhava's two chief disciples, the Indian princess Mandarava 
and the Tibetan incarnate Khadonm (fairy) Yeshe Tshogyal (who are per- 
sistently and wrongly represented as Padmasambhava's two wives!). 

After having finished my puj«, the ritual of devotion, I was conduct- 
ed into a second Lhakhang in the upper storey of the adjoining building. 
Judging from the frescoes, tfiis temple seemed to have been renovated not 
long ago. The central place of the shrine was occupied by the historical 
Buddha Sakyamuni, attended by his two chief disciples Maudgalyayana 
and Sariputra, and flanked by the Buddhas of the past and the future. 

Returning to the courtyard, we found several other Lamas waiting 
there, and after answering the usual questions I was conducted into a 
spacious, rather rough but clean-looking room which, as 1 was told, had 
never been inhabited yet. A steep open staircase led up to it and a win- 
dow opened towards the valley The wall opposite the window was partly 
formed by a natural rock protruding into the room and giving it a rustic 
atmosphere. It reminded me of the close co-operation of man and 
nature, through which this strange Gompa had come into existence. 

While I was still talking to the Lamas, my man carried my luggage 
into the room, and when 1 started unfolding my camp-cot and screwing 

Three Visions 85 

together my primus stove the Lamas settled down around me in a semi- 
circle to enjoy this rare spectacle. Even the open door was filled with 
spectators, who tried to peep in from outside, since there was no more 
space in the room. The unfolding of the camp-bed had already been fol- 
lowed vrith exclamations of surprise and various explanatory comments. 

However, when 1 started to fill the circular contrivance of the primus 
stove with a mysterious water-like liquid the tension of the onlookers 
reached its climax. An awe- inspired silence fell upon the spectators and, 
conscious of the dramatic character of the moment, 1 struck a match and 
lit the spirit. The spectators clicked their tongues with surprise when the 
ghostly flame shot up from what seemed to them plain water. 

They shook their heads, as if doubting the reality of what they saw. 
Certainly this foreign Lama was a master magician! In order to convince 
them of the reality of the fire I asked those who were next to the stove 
to hold their hands over the flame, and it caused great hilarity when each 
of them quickly withdrew his hand and testified that the fire was real. 

However, the miracle had not yet reached its end. When the flame 
suddenly receded after the liquid had been consumed, and in its place 
there appeared around the silencer rows of blue-green fire-beads with a 
light hissing sound, there was no limit to their wonderment. 

[f 1 had flown away through the air with crossed legs this would 
have been an adequate end to the performance and would not have sur- 
prised the people around me at all. But when they saw me nonchalantly 
putting an ordinary cooking-pot upon the magic flame their tension col- 
lapsed hke a pricked balloon and gave place to a laugh of understanding. 
We had reached the human plane again. 

During the preparation of my food, as well as during my meal, all 
eyes rested upon me, and all ingredients were closely scrutinised and 
discussed. When they saw me eat with chopsticks (as was and still is my 
habit) they concluded that I must be a Chinese monk. But even when 
my meal was over they made no move to leave me. So I finally stretched 
out on my camp-bed, turned towards the wall, and feigned sleep. 

Opening my eyes a few minutes later, 1 found myself alone. 


The CHEL^'s Vision 


HE SUN HAD NOT YET SET, SO that it was too early to go to bed, and 
actually I did not feel sleepy. It was agreeable to stretch one's legs after a 
long day's ride, and so I remained at rest. As my eyes fell on the freshly 
plastered wall opposite me, I observed the irregular surface, and it seemed 
to me as if it had a strange life of its own. 

At the same time 1 became conscious that this room, In spite of its 
emptiness, had something that appealed to me in an extraordinary way, 
though [ was unable to discover any reason for it. The gloomy weather 
and the poor prospects for the following day were in no way conducive 
to an elated state of mind. But since I had entered this room my depres- 
sion had vanished and had given place to a feeling of great iimer peace 
and serenity. 

Was it the general atmosphere of this ancient sanctuary, which from 
the cave of a pious hermit had grown in the course of centuries into a 
monastery in which uncounted generations of monks had lived a life of 
devotion and contemplation? Or was it owing to the special atmosphere 

Three Visions 87 

of this room that the change had taken place in me? I did not know, 

[ only felt that there was something about the surface of this wall 
that held my attention, as if it were a fascinating landscape. But no, it 
was far from suggesting a landscape. Tliese apparently accidental forms 
were related to each other in some mysterious way; they grew more and 
more plastic and coherent. Their outlines became clearly defined and 
raised from the flat background. It was like a process of crystallisation, 
or like an organic growth; and the transformation which took place on 
the surface of the wall was as natural and convincing as if 1 had watched 
an invisible sculptor in the creation of a life-size relief. The only differ* 
ence was that the invisible sculptor worked from within his material and 
in all places at the same time. 

Before I knew how it all happened, a majestic human figure took 
shape before my eyes. It was seated upon a throne, with both feet on the 
ground, the head crowned with a diadem, the hands raised in a gesture, 
as if explaining the points of an intricate problem: it was the figure of 
Buddha Maitreya, the Coming One, who already now is on his way to 
Buddhahood, and who, like the sun before it rises over the horizon, 
sends his rays of love into this world of darkness, through which he has 
been wandering in innumerable forms, through innumerable births and 

I felt a wave of joy passing through me, as I had felt in the presence 
of my Guru, who had initiated me into the mystic circle (nuindala) of 
Maitreya and had caused his images to be erected all over Tibet. 

I closed my eyes and opened them again: the figure in the wall had 
not changed. There it stood like a ^aven image, and yet full of life! 

I looked around me to assure myself that 1 was not dreaming, but 
everything was as before: there was the projecting rock in the wall to the 
right, my cooking utensils on the ground, my luggage in the comer. 

Again my glance fell upon the opposite wall. The figure was there — 
or was I mistaken? What I saw was no more the figure of a compassion- 
ately preaching Buddha but rather that of a terrifying demon. His body 
was thick-set and bulky, his feet wide apart, as if ready to jump: his raised, 
flame-like hair was adorned with human skulls, his right arm stretched 

88 The Way of the White Clouds 

out in a threatening gesture, wielding a diamond sceptre (vajra) in his 
hand, while the other hand held a ritual bell before his chest 

If all this had not appeared before me like a skilfully modelled 
relief, as if created by the hand of a great artist, my blood would have 
frozen with terror. But as il was I rather felt the strange beauty in the 
powerful expression of this terrifying form of Vajrapani, the defender of 
truth against the powers of darkness and ignorance, the Master of 
Unfathomed Mysteries. 

While I was stiU under the spel! of this awe-inspiring figure, the dia- 
mond sceptre transformed itself into a flaming sword, and in place of the 
bell the long stem of a toius-flower grew out of the left hand. It grew up 
to the height of the left shoulder, unfolded its leaves and petals, and 
upon them appeared the book of wisdom. The body of the figure had in 
the meantime become that of a well-formed youth, sitting cross-legged 
on a lolus-throne. His face took on a benign expression, lit up with the 
youthful vigour and charm of an Enlightened One. Instead of the 
flaming hair and the human skulls, liis head was adorned with the 
Bodhisattva-crown of the Five Wisdoms. It was the figure of MaiijusrT, 
the embodiment of active wisdom, who cuts through the knots of doubt 
with the flaming sword of knowledge. 

After some time a new change took place, and a female figure 
formed itself before my eyes. She had the same youthful grace as 
Mafiju^rT, and even the lotus, which grew from her left hand, seemed to 
be the same. But instead of wielding the flaming sword her opened right 
hand was resting on the knee of her right leg, which was extended, as if 
she were about to descend from her lotus-throne in answer to some 
prayer of supplication. The wish-granting gesture, the loving expression 
of her face, which seemed to be inclined towards some invisible suppli- 
cant, were the liveliest embodiment of Buddha Sakyamuni s words; 

'Like a mother, who protects her child, her only child, with her own 
life, thus one should cultivate a heart of unlimited love and compassion 
towards all living beings.' 

I felt deeply moved, and trying to concentrate my whole attention 
upon the lovely expression of her divine face, it seemed to me as If an 

Three Visions 89 

almost imperceptible, sorrowful smile was hovering about her mouth, as 
though she wanted to say: 'Indeed, my love is unlimited; but the num- 
ber of suffering beings is unlimited too. How can I, who have only one 
head and two eyes, soothe the unspeakable sufferings of numberless 

Were these not the words of Avalokite svara which reverberated in 
my mind? Indeed, I recognised in Tara's face the features of the Great 
Compassionate One, out of whose tears Tara is said to have sprung. 

And, as if overpowered by grief, the head burst and grew into a 
thousand heads, and the arms split into a thousand arms, whose helping 
hands were stretched out in all directions of the universe like the rays of 
the sun. And now everything was dissolving into light, for tn each of 
those innumerable hands there was a radiating eye, as loving and com- 
passionate as that in the face of AvalokiteSvara; and as 1 closed my eyes, 
bewildered and bhnded by so much radiance, it struck me that 1 had met 
this face before: and now J. knew — it was that of the Coming One, the 
Buddha Maitreya! 

When 1 looked up again everything .had disappeared; but the wall 
was lit up by a warm light, and when ! turned round 1 saw that the last 
rays of the evening sun had broken through the clouds. I jumped up with 
joy and looked out of the window. All the gloom and darkness had dis- 
appeared. The landscape was bathed in the soft colours of the parting 
day Above the green pastures of the valley there rose the brown- and 
ochre-coloured slopes of rocky mountains, and behind them appeared 
sunlit snow-fields against the remnants of dark purple clouds, now and 
then lit up by lightning. A distant rumbling from beyond the mountains 
showed that Vajrapani was still wielding his diamond sceptre in the 
struggle with the powers of darkness. 

Deep below me in the valley I saw my horses grazing, small as toys, 
and not far from them rose the smoke of a camp-fire, where the men 
were preparing their evening meal. From the cave temple came the deep, 
vibrating sound of a big bass-drum. It came like a voice out of the bow- 
els of the earth, like a call from the depths to the light above: the light 
that conquers all darkness and fear of the eternal abyss. 

90 The Way of the White Clouds 

Three Visions 91 

And out of the gladness of my heart words formed themselves 
spontaneously like a prayer and a pledge; 

*Who ait Thou, Mighty One, 

Thou, who art knocking 

at the portals of my heart? 

Art Thou a ray of wisdom and of love, 

emerging from the dazzling aura 

of a silent Muni, 

illuminating those 

whose minds are ready 

to receive the noble message 

of deliverance*? 

Art TTiou the Coming One, 
the Saviour of all beings, 
who wanders through the world 
in thousand unknown forms? 

Art Thou the messenger 

of one who reached the shore 

and left the raft for us 

to cross the raging stream? 

Whoever Thou may be, 
Mighty Enlightened One: 
wide open are the petals 
of my heart, 

prepared the lotus-throne 
for Thy reception. 

Do 1 not meet Thee 
ever where 1 go?- — 
I find Thee dwelling 
in my brothers' eyes; 
I hear Thee speaking 



urus voice; 

1 feel Thee 

in the mother's loving care. 

Was it not Thou, 
who turned the stone to life, 
who made Thy Form 
appear before my eyes, 
whose presence sanctified 
the rite of initiation, 
who shone into my dreams 
and filled my life with light? 

Thou Sun of Thousand Helping Arms, 
All-comprehending and compassionate, 
O Thousand- Eyed One, Thou, 
whose all-perceiving glance, 
while penetrating all, 
hurts none, nor judges, nor condemns, 
but warms and helps to lipen, 
hke fertile summer rain. 

Thou Light! 
Whose rays transform and sanctify 


our weakness even; 
Turning death's poison thus 

into the wine of hfe— 

Wherever in the sea 

of hate and gloom 
A ray of wisdom 

and compassion shines: 
There 1 know Thee, 

O Mighty One! 
Whose radiant light 

92 The Way of the White Clouds 

leads us to harmony. 
Whose peaceful power 

overcomes all worldly strife, 

O Loving One! 
Take this my earthly life 
and let me be reborn 
in Thee!' 


An Awakening and a 
Glimpse into the Future 


HE NEXT MOJLNiNG I WAS AWAKENED by brilhant sunshine. My things 
had been packed in the evening, so that we could start without delay. 
Everything around me seemed to be transformed by the morning sun. 

I would have liked to take leave of the friendly Lamas and to thank 
them for their hospitality. But no living soul was to be seen or heard any- 
where. I decided to wait a little, and in order to pass the time I made a 
sketch of the courtyard. But even after I had finished no sign ot life 
emerged. It was as if the monastery was under a magic spell, due to 
which time had stopped a thousand years ago and life had gone to sleep, 
while nature around went on in its own way and rocks were growing into 
strange shapes, assuming an unusual vitality, ever encroaching on the 
works of man. 

Was it perhaps one of those haunted places, where a long-buried 
past comes to life again and again, and where the lonely traveller sees 
and hears all sorts of strange things, which after some time disappear 
like afitta morgana? 'Well/ 1 thought to myself, 'the monastery at any rate 

94 The Way of the White Clouds 

is still here, and if it should disappear, 1 have at least my sketch!' 

Slowly 1 descended through the narrow lanes between rocks and 
walls, lost in thought about a!! thai had happened during my short stay 
here. My syce, who had come for the luggage, saw my pensive mood and 
said: 'Was Kushog Rimpoche not satisfied with this place?' 

'Indeed,' I said, 'I never Hked any place better than this.' 

'No wonder,' he replied, 'if one sleeps in a consecrated room.' 

'What do you mean?' I enquired with surprise. 

'Don't you remember, Kushog-la, that the old Lama, who led you 
into the room, mentioned that never had anybody dweh in it before?' 

'Yes. 1 remember.' 

Then I will tell you the reason. While you were in the cave temple 
the monks consulted each other whether they should give you that room 
for the night, because it had been dedicated to Chamba, the Buddha 

Suddenly a strange idea struck me. 

What gave them the idea to build a Lhakhang to Buddha Maitreya?' 
I asked. 

'Oh,' said my man, 'don't you know that all over Tibet sanctuaries 
are being built to Chamba, the Great Coming One, through the power 
of a great Lama from the southern part of Tibet?' 

'Do you linow his name?' 1 asked, almost quivering with excitement. 

'1 don't know his name, but I was told that people call him Tomo 

'He is my own Guru!* 1 exclaimed. Did I not tell you?' 1 then 
remembered that he had asked me about my Tsawai-Lama' and that, 
very casually, 1 had replied: 'My Guru's place is more than a thousand 
miles away, you wouldn't know him anyway.' 

Now my experience ot the previous evening took on a new signifi- 
cance, and suddenly it dawned upon me: Tliis was my second initiation! 

Wliether it was due to the Guru's direct influence (as in the events 
of Chorten Nyima and other, similar cases, of which I came to know 
later on), or due to the ripening of the seeds which he had sown into my 
mind, one thing was sure, namely that it was no mere coincidence. 

Three Visions 95 

For the first time I now realised what the Guru had meant when he 
spoke to me of the 'kerim', the creative state of meditation. 'One day you 
will be able to see the transcendental bodies [Tibetan; long-kti; Sanskrit: 
sumhhoga-kdya] of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which are the powers of 
light within you, but which now only exist as faint ideas in your mind. 
When they have become to you as real as what you now believe to be the 
material world around you, then you will understand that the reality of 
the inner and the outer world are interchangeable, and that it depends 
on you in which of the two you want to live: whether you want to be a 
slave of the one or the inheritor and master of the other.' 

More dian ever I felt the nearness of the Guru, and I was so elated that 
I did not even feel the exertion while climbing that formidable pass, which 
I had dreaded so much the previous day My thoughts went on in a steady 
flow, as if an inner voice was speaking to me and revealing bit by bit the 
solutions of many problems which had troubled my mind for a long time. 

! now realised what I had dimly felt during my first stay at Yi-Gah 
Cho-Ling, namely that the images and frescoes around me were not 
merely beautiful decorations of aesthetic value but representations of a 
higher reality bom from visions and inner experience. They were put 
into as precise a language of forms as is contained in a geographical map 
or a scientific formula, while being as natural in expression and as direct 
in appeal as a flower or a sunset. 

Was it not this language of forms which opened the gates to the 
mystery of the human soul and its hidden forces, a language that would 
be understood by all who were honestly knocking at this innermost gate, 
if only a little guidance was given? 

Since my Guru had opened my eyes to this mystery, was it not my 
duty to pass on to others what I had received? 

Indeed, I now saw clearly the message which he had communicated 
to me through this vision; and out of the wish to convey to others what 
I had seen and experienced the idea was bom in me to follow the way of 
the Lama-artists of yore and faithfully to reproduce in line and colour the 
traditions of a great past, which had been treasured in the temples and 
mountain fastnesses of Tibet, 

96 The Way of the White Clouds 

It was from this very journey that 1 brought back my first simple 
tracings of the stone engravings of the 'Eighty- Four Siddhas', or medieval 
Buddhist Mystics, which later on were housed in a special hall, dedicated 
to my work in the Municipal Museum of Allahabad. 

And as if some invisible hand had guided me and had made come 
to pass everything necessary for the fulfilment of this desire, on my way 
I hit upon one of the ancient temples, founded by Lotsava Rinchen 
Zangpo, in which for the first time I saw some of the magnificent fres- 
coes and statues of the early eleventh century A.D. 

I was so deeply impressed by this unique art that 1 lost no time in 
collecting whatever information 1 could get concerning the history of 
Western Tibet. Thus I learned that Rinchen Zangpo was one of the great- 
est torch-bearers of Buddhism in Tibet, equally great as scholar, builder, 
artist, and saint. A substantial part of the sacred scriptures of Tibet 
(Kanjur and Tanjur) was translated by him from Sanskrit in collaboration 
with Indian scholars, a work which earned him the highly prized title 
Lotsava (the Translator) . While spreading the Buddha's teachings in word 
and script, he built monasteries, temples, and shrines wherever he went. 
His main activities were in and around Tholing and Tsaparang (see the 
Historical Appendix). Tholing was the most important monastery and seat 
of learning in Western Tibet and remained so until the recent Chinese 
invasion, while Tsaparang was abandoned centuries ago. 

The last-mentioned fact aroused my interest, because in a climate 
like that of Tibet I had good reason to believe that a considerable part of 
the earliest works of art could still be found among the ruins, and that 
the very remoteness and solitude of the place would make it possible to 
investigate and explore undisturbed whatever had survived the ravages of 
man and time. All the information that 1 could gather convinced me that 
this was the very place where 1 could study in peace, and retrieve some 
of the glories of the past. Thus the idea of an expedition to Tsaparang 
was born, though many years had still to pass before my dream could 
become reality. 



Pilgrim Life 

The Nature of 
THE Highlands 


E HAD CROSSED THE FEARED 18,000-foot pass in perfect ease and 
under a cloudless sky. The sun was so hot during the ascent that I had 
discarded my warm things, but hardly had we entered the shadows on 
the other side of the pass when we were plunged into icy cold, that made 
me regret not having kept my warm clothing at hand. Tibet is a country 
where one is ever up against the unexpected and where all accepted 
rules of nature seem to be changed. The contrast between sunshine and 
shade is such that if for any length of time one part of one's body would 
be exposed to the sun, while the other remained in the shade, one could 
develop simultaneously blisters, due to severe sunburn, and chilblains 
due to the icy air in the shade. The air is too rarefied to absorb the sun's 
heat and thus to create a medium shadow temperature, nor is it able to 
protect one from the fierceness of the sun and its ultra-violet rays. 

The difference in temperature between sun and shade can be as 
much as 100° Fahrenheit, according to some observers, and I can well 
believe it, for when riding I often found my Feet getting numb with cold, 

100 The Way of the White Clouds 

while the backs of my hands, which were exposed to the sun while hold- 
ing the reins, got blistered as if I had poured boiling water over them, 
and the skin of my face came off in flakes, before [ got sufficiently accli- 
matised. In spite of applying various ointments, my lips cracked open, so 
that eating and drinking became difficult and painful, but fortunately 
after three or four weeks my skin grew sufficiently sun-resistant to make 
me immune against these troubles for the rest of my journey Even 
Tibetans, except those who live permanently in the open air, like herds- 
men, farmers, or muleteers, often wear face -masks when travelling to 
protect themselves from the fierce sun and the still fiercer winds, which 
at certain seasons sweep over the highlands, carrying with them clouds 
of fine stinging sand that penetrate even the heaviest clothing. To meet 
a caravan or a group of masked and armed men somewhere in the wilder- 
ness, far away from the haunts of men, was a rather frightening experi- 
ence, as one never could be sure whether the masks were worn merely 
for protection against the inclemencies of the climate or For hiding the 
faces of robbers who, especially in times of unrest, infested the more 
remote regions of Tibet. i 

However, I was not unduly worried about these things at that time 
(though I knew that fighting was going on in neighbouring Chinese 
Turkestan), because after leaving the last check-post on the Ladakh side 
at Tankse I branched off from the caravan route into the no-man's-land 
which stretched from the region of the great lakes, Pangong and Nyak- 
Tso, towards the Aksai-Chin plateau. In those days there were no fron- 
tiers between Ladakh and Tibet in this region. It was one of the few 
spots in the world where man and nature had been left to themselves 
without interference of man-made 'authorities' and governments. Here 
the inner law of man and the physical law of nature were the only 
authorities, and I feit thrilled at the thought of being for once enrirely on 
my own, alone in the immensity of nature, facing the earth and the uni- 
verse as they were before the creation of man, accompanied only by my 
two faithful Ladakhis and their horses. The horses more or less deter- 
mined the choice of our camping-places, as we could stop only where 
there was sufficient grazing ground for them as well as water. 

Pilgrim Life 101 

In spite of the feeling of small ness in the vastness and grandeur of 
the mountain landscape, in spite of the knowledge of human limitations 
and dependence on the whims of wind and weather, water and grazing- 
grounds, food and fuel and other material circumstances, 1 had never felt 
a sense of greater freedom and independence, i realised more than ever 
how narrow and circumscribed our so-called civilised life is, how much 
we pay for the security of a sheltered life by way of freedom and real 
independence of thought and action. 

When every detail of our life is planned and regulated, and every 
fraction of time determined beforehand, then the last trace of our 
boundless and rimeless being, in which the freedom of our soul exists, 
will be suffocated. This freedom does not consist in being able 'to do 
what we want', it is neither arbitrariness nor waywardness, nor the thirst 
for adventures, but the capacity to accept the unexpected, the unthought- 
of situations of life, good as well as bad, with an open mind; it is the 
capacity to adapt oneself to the infinite variety of conditions without los- 
ing confidence in the deeper connections between the inner and the 
outer world. It is the spontaneous certainty of being neither bound by 
space nor by time, the ability to experience the fulness of both without 
clinging to any of their aspects, without trying to take possession of them 
by way of arbitrary fragmentation. 

The machine-made time of modem man has not made him the master 
but the slave of time; the more he tries to 'save' time, the less he possesses 
it. It is like trying to catch a river in a bucket. It is the flow, the continuity of 
its movement, that makes the river; and it is the same with time. Only he 
who accepts it in its fulness, in its eternal and life-giving rhythm, in which 
its continuity consists, can master it and make it his ovwi. By accepting 
time in this way, by not-resisting its flow, it loses its power over us and we 
are carried by it like on tlie crest of a wave, without being submerged and 
without losing sight of our essential timelessness. 

Nowhere have I experienced this deeper than under the open skies 
of Tibet, in the vastness of its soHtudes, the clarity of its atmosphere, the 
luminosity of its colours and the plastic, almost abstract, purity of its 
mountain forms. Organic life is reduced to a minimum and does not play 

102 The Way of the White Clouds 

any role in the formation and appearance of the landscape or interfere 
with its plastic purity, but the landscape itself appears like the organic 
expression of primeval forces. Bare mountains expose in far-swinging 
lines the fundamental laws of gravitation, modified only by the continu- 
ous action of wind and weather, revealing their geological structure and 
the nature of their material, which shines forth in pure and vivid colours. 

The roles of heaven and earth are reversed. While normally the sky 
appears lighter than the landscape, the sky here is dark and deep, while 
the landscape stands out against it in radiating colours, as if it were the 
source of light. Red and yellow rocks rise Like flames against the dark 
blue velvet curtain of the sky 

But at night the curtain is drawn back and allows a view into the 
depth of the universe. The stars are seen as bright and near as if they 
were part of the landscape. One can see them come right down to the 
horizon and suddenly vanish with a flicker, as if a man with a lantern had 
disappeared round the next corner. The universe here is no more a mere 
concept or a pale abstraction but a matter of direct experience; and 
nobody thinks of time other than in terms of sun, moon, and stars. The 
celestial bodies govern the rhythm of life, and thus even time loses its 
negative aspect and becomes the almost tangible experience of the ever- 
present, ever-recurring, self-renewing movement that is the essence of all 
existence. As the sky is hardly ever hidden by clouds, man never loses 
contact with the celestial bodies. The nights are never completely dark. 
Even when there is no moon a strange diffused light pervades the land- 
scape, a truly 'astral' light, that reveals the bare outlines of forms without 
shadows or substance and without colour, yet clearly discernible. 

Even the waters of rivers and brooks rise and fall in accordance with 
this celestial rhythm, because during the twelve hours of daytime the 
snow on the mountains melts due Co the intensity of the sun's rays (in 
spite of the low temperature of the air), while at night it freezes again, 
so that the supply of water is stopped. But as it takes the water twelve 
hours on the average to come down from the mountains, the higln tide of 
the rivers begins in the evening and ebbs off in the morning. Often the 
smaller water-courses dry out completely during the daytime and appear 

Pilgrim Life 103 

only at night, so that one who unknowingly pitches his tent in the dry 
bed of such rivuJet may suddenly be washed away at night by the rush- 
ing waters. (It happened to me, but fortunately 1 managed to save myself 
and my equipment.) 

The great rhythm of nature pervades everything, and man is woven 
into it with mind and body Even his imagination does not belong so much 
to the realm of the individual as to the sou! of the landscape, in which the 
rhythm of the universe is condensed into a melody of irresistible charm. 
Imagination here becomes an adequate expression of reality on the plane 
of human consciousness, and this consciousness seems to communicate 
itself from individual to individual till it forms a spiritual atmosphere that 
envelops the whole of Tibet. 

Thus a strange transformation takes place under the influence 
of this country, in which the valleys are as high as the highest peaks of 
Europe and where mountains soar into space beyond the reach of 
humans. It is as if a weight were lifted from one's mind, or as if certain 
hindrances were removed. Thoughts flow easily and spontaneously with- 
out losing their direction and coherence, a high degree of concentration 
and clarity is attained almost without effort and a feeling of elevated joy 
keeps one's mind in a creative mood. Consciousness seems to be raised 
to a higher level, where the obstacles and disturbances of our ordinary 
life do not exist, except as a faint memory of things which have lost all 
their importance and attraction. At the same time one becomes more 
sensitive and open to new forms of reality; the intuitive qualities of our 
mind are awakened and stimulated — ^in short, there are all the condi- 
tions for attaining the higher stages of meditation or dhyana. 


The Living Language 
OF Colours 


each time I returned to Tibet) was in a certain way similar to that which I 
experienced during my first stay at Yi-Gah Cho-Ling, though on a bigger 
scale, because here the connections with the world I had been familiar 
with were completely severed, and the physical effects of high altitude, 
climate, and living conditions greatly contributed to this psychological 
change. The spiritual importance of this change is not lessened by 
explaining it on the basis of physical reactions. Yoga itself is based on the 
interaction of physical, spiritual, and psychic phenomena, in so far as the 
effects of breath-control (prSmySma} and bodily postures (asana) are 
combined with mental concentration, creative imagination, spiritual 
awareness, and emotional equanimity. 

The rarefied air of high altitudes has similar effects as certain exer- 
cises of pranayama, because it compels us to regulate our breathing in a 
particular way, especially when climbing or walking long distances. One 
has to inhale twice or thrice the quantity of air which one would need at 

Pilgrim Life 105 

sea-level, and consequently the heart has to perform a much heavier 
task. On the other hand the weight of one's body is substantially 
reduced, so that one's muscles seem to lift one almost without effort. 
But precisely this is a source of danger, because one is not immediately 
conscious that lungs and heart are at a ^eat disadvantage, and only the 
fact that one is very soon out of breath, and that the heart begins to race 
in a frightening manner, reminds one that it is necessary to control one's 
movements carefully Tibetans themselves walk very slowly, but at a steady 
pace, bringing their breath in perfect harmony with their movement. 
Walking, therefore, becomes almost a kind of conscious hatha-yoga or 
breaching exercise, especially when accompanied by rhythmic recita- 
tions of sacred formulas (mantras), as is the habit with many Tibetans. 
This has a very tranquillising and energising effect, as 1 found from my 
own experience. 

At the same time 1 realised the tremendous influence of colour upon 
the human mind. Quite apart from the aestheric pleasure and beauty it 
conveyed — which 1 tried to capture in paintings and sketches — there 
was something deeper and subtler that contributed to the transformation 
of consciousness more perhaps than any other single factor. It is for this 
reason that Tibetan, and in fact all Tantric, meditation gives such great 
importance to colours. 

Colours are the living language of light, the hallmark of conscious 
reahty. The metaphysical significance of colours as exponents and sym- 
bols of reality is emphasised in the Bardo Thodol (The Tibetan Book of 
the Dead, as it is commonly known), where transcendental reality is indi- 
cated by the experience of various forms of light, represented by bril- 
liant, pure colours, and it is interesting that a serious modem thinker Uke 
Aldous Huxley has come to the conclusion that colour is the very 'touch- 
stone of reality'. 

According to him, our conceptual abstractions, our intellectually 
fabricated symbols and images, are colourless, while the given data of 
reality, either in the form of sense- impressions from the outer world or 
in the form of archetypal symbols of direct inner experience, are 
coloured. In fact, the latter 'are far more intensely coloured than the 

106 The Way of the White Clouds 

external data. This may be explained, at least in part, by the fact that our 
perceptions of the external world are habitually clouded by the verbal 
notions in terms of which we do our thinking. We are for ever attempting 
to convert things into signs for the most intelligible abstractions of our own 
invention. But in doing so we rob these things of a great deal of their native 
thinghood. At the antipodes of the mind we are more or less completely 
free of language, outside the system of conceptual thought. Consequently 
our perception of visionary objects possesses all the freshness, all the 
naked intensity, of experiences which have never been verbalised, never 
assimilated to lifeless abstraction. Their colour (the hallmark of given- 
ness) shines forth with a brilliance which seems to us preternatural, 
because it is in fact entirely natural in the sense of being entirely unso- 
phisticated by language or the scientific, philosophical, and utiHtarian 
notions, by means of which we ordinarily re-create the given world in our 
own dreary human image.' 

The Tibetan landscape has 'all the naked intensity' of colour and 
form which one associates with a preternatural vision or prophetic dream, 
which distinguishes itself from ordinary dreams by its super-real clarity 
and vividness of colours. It was precisely in a dream of this kind that for 
the first lime I saw colours of such luminosity and transparence in the 
form of mountainous islands that rose from a deep blue sea. I was filled 
with incredible happiness and thought to myself: these must be the par- 
adisical islands of the southern sea, of which 1 have heard so much. But 
when later I actually saw some of these lovely palm-fringed islands of the 
south I found none of those colours I had seen in my dream. 

But when I came to Tibet I recognised those colours, and the same 
happiness came over me as in that unfoi^ettable dream. But why should 
I have seen those mountains rising out of the deep blue sea? This puz- 
zled me for a long time, until one day we were travelling through a hot, 
narrow gorge, hemmed in by light yellow rocks which not only intensi- 
fied the glare of the midday sun but captured its heat to such an extent 
that one could have imagined travelling somewhere in the tropics or 
through a gorge in the Sahara, instead of at an altitude of more than 
14,000 feet. It was so warm that during a halt by the side of a placidly 

Pilgrim Life 107 

flowing stream I could not resist the temptation to take off my clothes 
and enjoy the luxury of a bath and a swim — much to the astonishment 
of my Ladakhi companions! I felt greatly refreshed, but the effect did not 
last long, as the gorge became hotter and hotter the farther we proceeded, 
and even the water of the stream became steadily less until it disap- 
peared in a shallow lemon-yellow lake. After that the gorge became nar- 
rower and completely dry — and with it our spirits. We just trudged 
wearily along, and I was wondering how long we would have to contin- 
ue in this fashion when suddenly a strange phenomenon stopped me in 
my tracks. At the far end of the gorge the rock-walls receded, and a radi- 
antly blue object flashed into sight. It was as luminous and as sharply set 
off from the background as the surface of a cut jewel from its gold set- 
ting, and it emanated an intensely blue Hght, as if it were illuminated 
from vrithin. It was so utterly unexpected and different from anything I 
had seen that 1 simply gasped, unable to find any reasonable explanation 
or connection with what I saw. 1 felt so baffled and excited that 1 called 
out to my companions, fearing to be the victim of a hallucination: 'Look 
there! What is that? Look!" 

Tso! Tso! Pangong-Tsol'they shouted, and threw their caps into the 
air triumphantly, as if they had conquered a mighty pass; and indeed 
there was a Uta-tse, a pyramid of scones, left by previous travellers to 
mark this auspicious spot, from which the first glimpse of the great 
Pangong Lake could be had. We too added our stones, grateful to be 
released from the oppressiveness of the gorge. But 1 still could not 
believe my eyes. Impossible,' I thought. 'This cannot be water. It looks 
like some unearthly, self-luminous substance!' 

But soon we were out of the gorge and its deadening heat, and before 
us stretched a lake like a sheet of molten lapis lazuli, merging into intense 
ultramarine in the distance and into radiant cobalt blue and opalescent 
Veronese green towards the nearer shore, fringed with gleaming white 
beaches, while the mountains that framed this incredible colour display 
Were of golden ochre, Indian red and burnt sienna, with purple shadows. 
Yes, this was the luminous landscape of my dream, rising out of the blue 
waters in brilliant sunshine under a deep, cloudless sky! 

108 The Way of the White Clouds 

The mountains to the left had sharp-cut, almost stereonnetrical 
forms; those on the opposite side formed a range of softly modelled 
giants, crowned by eternal snows and mighty glaciers, known as the 
Pangong Range, running parallel to the fjord-like Pangong and Nyak-Tso 
Lakes, which form an almost consecutive sheet of water of more than 
100 miles length. The two lakes are actually a submerged valley, divided 
merely by what probably was an ancient rock-fall. 

When reaching our next camping-ground at the foot of the snow- 
range, a little above the lake, I felt so inspired by the colours of the lake 
and the mountains and the immense rhythm that pervaded this land- 
scape that I forgot hunger and tiredness and immediately returned to the 
place from where i had the first overwhelming impression of the lake 
and the glaciers above it. So 1 walked back a few miles with my drawing- 
board, papers, and a box of pastels, munching some dry kulchas' on the 
way, until I found the spot that I had marked in my mind while passing 
it, but where 1 had not dared to delay, as I did not know how far the next 
camping-place might be. I worked fast and with such enthusiasm that I 
finished two or three sketches in a short time, keeping in mind that I 
should be back in camp before sunset. But my excursion almost ended 
in disaster. Retracing my steps towards the camp, 1 suddenly found 
myself confronted by a raging stream that had not been there before! 
In my eagerness to get to my sketching place I had not noticed that 1 
had crossed several shallow beds of dried-out water-courses. Now the 
melted waters from the glaciers came rushing down and threatened to 
cut off my retreat. Knowing that every minute was precious, I splashed 
through the icy waters, and after thus crossing two or three water-courses 
in succession I finally reached the camp somewhat out of breath, but 
happy to have succeeded in capturing something of the unforgettable 
beauty and freshness of my first impressions of this memorable lake. 

1 . Kulckas are a kind of hard, sweetened buns, made of unleavened flout, milk, and 
sugar, baked in an oven. They can be k(;pt almost indefinitely, being perfectly dry, and 
therefore useful as an emergency ration. I got a sackful of them prepared in Leh and 
Found them moi;t useful. 


Dreams and 

Reminiscences in 

the l^nd of the 

Blue Lake 


HE FOLLOWING DAYS we traveDed along the shore of the lake at the 
foot of the snow mountains, whose far-flung slopes gradually flattened out 
and formed an almost even stretch of land above the lake, interrupted only 
by dry beds of mountain streams. Very few streams had a continuous flow 
of water, so that grazing-grounds were few and far between and paradoxi- 
cally we suffered from lack of water during the greater part of the day, in 
spite of having miles and miles of water at our feet. But first of all the shore 
was not always in our reach, as the ground over which we travelled was 
slightly raised and suddenly broke off into the lake, except for such places 
where the water-courses from the glaciers had carved out shallow beds, 
along which one could approach the pebbled or sandy beaches — and sec- 
ondly, even if one reached the shore, there came a greater surprise: the 
water was undrinkable because of its high content of magnesitim! 

This too was the reason for the incredible clarity and colour of the 
water. The magnesium, though colourless in itself, kept the water 

I to The Way of the White Clouds 

absolutely free from organic matter or any form of life, whether pjant or 
fish or crustaceans, and consequently the water was so transparent that 
on windless days, when the surface of the lake was as smooth as a mir- 
ror, it was impossible to see where the water ended and the beach began. 
I still remember the shock when for tbe first time I approached the edge 
of the water, and 1 suddenly feit its icy touch, because I had not noticed 
tbat the pebbles, which looked no different from those on the dry beach, 
were already under the water. The water was as invisible as the air! Only 
when it got deeper, the ground assumed a greenish- blue tinge and finally 
disappeared in the luminous blue that made this lake such a wonder. 

The colours of the lake and its surroundings never ceased to fasci- 
nate me. In the evenings, when the waters of the glaciers flowed into the 
lake, they would form lighter streaks on the dark blue surface, while the 
mountains would glow in orange, red, and purple tints, under a sky of 
the most sublime gradations of rainbow colours. 

The weather suddenly became mild, almost sirocco-like, and one 
day we crossed a blindingly white and intolerably hot sand desert (mixed 
with pebbles), stretching for miles between the slopes of the snow 
mountains and the lake. Though it was in the middle of July, 1 never 
expected such heat at an altitude of 14,000 feet. But, as 1 said before, 
Tibet is a country of surprises and contrasts: one day one may be in a 
blizzard and the next in a hot desert or in a sandstorm. 

Not long after we had left the 'burning desert' we came upon a lovely 
oasis of blossoming shrubs and grassland watered by a placidly winding 
stream that meandered through a wide, slightly undulating plain 
between the lake and the receding mountains. The blossoms of the 
shrubs reminded me of heather, both in form and colour, but the stems 
of the shrubs were sturdy enough to supply us with ample firewood, a 
luxury which we had not enjoyed for many days, having had to content 
ourselves with scanty yak-dung that we picked up on the way, or with the 
roots and twigs of thorny shrubs found near water-courses or in tbe dry 
beds. Dry yak -dung was rare, because we were off the beaten track, but 
even on the caravan route nobody would pass by a precious piece of yak- 
or horse-dung without picking it up for the evening camp-fire. 

Pilgrim Life i i i 

The value of yak-dung cannot be easily imagined by those who have 
never lived in Tibet or in the woodless regions of Central Asia. It is the 
main fuel of the country and burns almost smokeless with a hot, steady 
flame. Since I had only as much kerosene as the basin of my primus 
stove could hold, 1 could use the latter only in emergency cases or on 
rare occasions, like in the rock monastery. Since then I had not had a 
roof over my head, though shortly after crossing the Chang- La we had 
camped near villages. But after Tankse we had not found any human 
habitations except for a few huts near a cultivated patch of barley at the 
foot of the Pangong Range. 

Thus fuel was always a major problem and as important as the water 
and the grazing-grounds for the horses. To find all these necessities of 
life combined in this uninhabited oasis was a pleasant surprise. So we 
settled down to a blazing camp-fire in a little depression near the vend- 
ing stream, protected from wind and cold. It was a most idyllic spot, with 
a superb view of the snow mountains on the one side and the big i^ord- 
hke lake on the other. 

I felt so happy and carefree that 1 decided to camp here for a few 
days, to explore the surroundings, and to devote myself to painting and 
sketching, as well as to some quiet spells of meditation. Here in tbe utter 
stillness and solitude of nature, far from the haunts of man, under the 
open sky and surrounded by a dream landscape of 'jewel mountains', I 
felt at peace with myself and the world. 

Strangely, there was no feeling of loneliness in this solitude and no 
need for talk or outward communication, ft was as if consciousness itself 
was stretched and widened out to such an extent that it included the 
outer world landscape and space and human beings — those present as 
well as those with whom one was connected in the past; indeed, the past 
seemed to rise into the present on its own accord. This latter tendency I 
observed especially when there was even the slightest increase in humid- 
ity, when the air became heavy or sultry, when there was a tendency to 
cloud formation, and even more so when the sky was overcast. 

But even before any visible signs appeared I found that my dreams 
had a direct connection with the changes of atmosphere, so that 1 could 

I 12 The Way of the White Clouds 

almost with certainty predict sudden changes of weather. I remembered 
the popular saying that if you dream of dead people it will rain. I took 
this to be a mere superstition, as 1 could not see any reasonable con- 
nection between the dead and the rain. But now I observed that when* 
ever 1 dreamt of a person who was very dear to me and who had been 
intimately connected with my childhood, but who had died some years 
ago, rain was to follow exactly within three days. GeneraUy there was not 
a cloud in the sky and not the slightest indication of any change in tem- 
perature or humidity when such a dream occurred, but with unfailing 
regularity a heavy rainfall, a thunderstorm, or a blizzard would follow. 
Due to the comparative rarity of rain in this part of the world 1 observed 
these facts for the first time during this journey, and from then on I made 
good use of them. Whenever travelling in Tibet in later years 1 took 
notice of my dreams and regulated my itinerary accordingly. 

My own explanation for this phenomenon is that our consciousness 
is sensitive to atmospheric pressure and that with increasing 'heaviness' 
(whatever it may be due to) our consciousness descends into the deeper 
layers of our mind, into our subconsciousness, in which the memories of 
our individual past are stored up. The greater the pressure, the farther we 
go back into the past, and this is revealed in our dreams by meeting again 
those persons who were closest to us in our childhood and who, in the 
majority of cases, passed away by the time our childhood had become a 
remote remembrance. In the high altitudes of Tibet one not only 
becomes more sensitive to these things but one is also more conscious of 
one's dreams. Tibetans themselves rely a great deal on their dream con- 
sciousness and they are seldom proved wrong in their judgement. 

Besides dreams they have many other methods of contacting the 
deeper layers of their mind: meditation, trance, certain forms of oracles, 
and various natural and 'supernatural' (psychic) portents. All these meth- 
ods have been tried out for millenniums, and their results have been 
found sufficiently satisfactory to guide people in their daily life. Tibetans 
would be greatly surprised if one would doubt these facts, which are 
matters of practical experience and have nothing to do with beliefs or 
theories. To them the attempts of modem psychologists, who try to 

Pilgrim Life 1 13 

'prove' extrasensory perception by scientific methods, would appear 
crude and laughable; one might just as well try to prove the existence of 
light which is visible to all but the blind. The circumstances under 
which these modern experiments are carried out are in themselves the 
greatest hindrance to their success. In their attempt at 'objectivity' they 
exclude the emotional and the spiritually directive elements of the 
human mind, without which no state of real absorption or concentration 
can be created. Their very attitude bars the doors of psychic perception. 

In Tibet the capacity of concentration and self-observation, as well 
as our psychic sensitivity, is increased a hundredfold in the vastness, 
solitude, and silence of nature, which acts like a concave mirror that 
not only enlarges and reflects our innermost feeling and emotions but 
concentrates them in one focal point: our own consciousness. Thus 
there is nothing to divert the mind from itself, not even the grandeur of 
nature, because nature never interferes, but on the contrary stimulates 
and heightens the activity of the mind. iVIind and nature enter into co- 
operation rather than into competition. The immensity of nature and its 
timeless rhythm reflect the similar properties of our deepest mind. 

It is mostly the effects of other minds that interfere with our 
consciousness, the quiet scream of inner awareness, of thought and imag- 
ination, reflection and contemplation. In the uninhabited or sparsely 
inhabited regions of the world the mind expands unobstructed and unde- 
fleeted. Its sensitivity is not blunted by the continuous interference of 
other mind activities or by the meaningless noise and chatter of modem 
life, and therefore it can enter into communication with those minds that 
are spiritually attuned to it, either by affection or by sharing certain expe- 
riences of the inner life. 

This explains the frequency of telepathic phenomena among the in- 
habitants of Tibet — not only among the highly trained, but even among 
the simplest people. I am reminded here of an incident which Sven 
Hedin reports in one of his travel-books. On his way into the interior of 
Tibet he had to cross a vast stretch of uninhabited territory with his car- 
avan. Before setting out he met some nomad herdsmen who knew the 
territory, and with great difficulty he persuaded one of two brothers to 

114 The Way of the White Clouds 


act as a guide for his caravan. He was a shy young man and declared that 
he was not accustomed to travel in a 'crowd' and that he would guide the 
caravan only under the condition that he would be allowed to go ahead 
alone, as otherwise he would not be able to concentrate on the land- 
marks and the direction of the route. Sven Hedin respected his wish, 
and the caravan followed him without any difficulties or untoward inci- 
dents, until one day the young man fell ill and died under inexplicable 
circumstances. There was no other choice for the caravan but to return 
the same way they had come. But while they were still several stages 
away from the place from where they had set out with their young guide 
his brother came to meet them, and before anybody could tell what had 
happened he said that he knew that his brother was dead and described 
the spot and the exact circumstances under which he had died. He had 
seen it with the mind's eye! 

In this case a close relationship favoured the telepathic contact 
between two individuals. But I remember a case that concerned me per- 
sonally and in which a third person acted as a transmitter or medium 
without my co-operation or knowledge. After a year's travelling in 
Western Tibet without postal communications I was worried about my 
aged foster-mother, fearing that she might be seriously ill or that she 
might have died in the meantime. Li Gotami thereupon — without telling 
me about it — consulted a Tibetan friend of ours, who was well trained 
in Tan trie methods of meditarion, to perform a Mo or oracle, according 
to an ancient book of omens in his possession. The answer was that my 
foster-mother was alive and that there was no cause for worry, but that 
her legs were swollen and caused her much trouble. I was somewhat 
sceptical about this answer, because it did not seem to have any con- 
nection with any of her former ailments. But a few weeks later I received 
a letter which proved that the Mo had been correct. 

Solitude itself seems to produce a simUar effect as certain medita- 
tional or yogic exercises; it automatically removes distraction by outer 
influences and thus creates a state of dwelling within oneself, a state of 
natural concentration. Whatever thought-object comes before one's 
mind, it takes on a greater reality and plasticity and can be held and con- 

PiLGRiM Life 1 15 

templated with full attention. The past is telescoped into the present and 
the present shows itself not as a dividing line between a past that had 
died and a future that has not yet been bom but as a single aspect of the 
co-existent and continuous body of living experience in four dimensions. 

In the detachment of this solitude 1 could see how httle in our Hfe 
depends on brain-made decisions and how much on apparently insignif- 
icant events and impressions which suddenly reveal the inner direction 
of our essential being. We generally look upon these insignificant 
impressions and events as 'accidents', happening vrithout apparent cause 
or connection with ourselves, without noticing that these impressions 
and events gained importance merely because they set free forces which 
were at work in us all along, but which we did not notice because our 
intellectually thought-out plans overshadowed the steady flow of our 
inner life and the driving forces of our soul. 

My cliildhood dreams hovered about the snow-clad peaks of the 
Andes and the majestic sohtudes of the Bolivian highlands with their 
clear-cut sculptured mountains which were the haunts of many of my for- 
bears, the birthplace of my mother, and the scene of many adventurous 
stories of travels by mule and llama caravans with which my grandmother 
used to regale me to my infinite pleasure, while the other family members 
around me discussed the affairs of their mines in the mountains of 
Quechisia; of my grandfather's early days at Cochabamba or the exploits 
of my great-grandfather, one of the leading generals in the war of hbera- 
tion and brother-in-arms of Bolivar, for whom he won a decisive victory, 
which earned him the highest honours and the title of Field Marshal de 

However, it was not this that impressed me, but the vastness of 
those bare mountains of the Bolivian highlands and the secrets they bore 
in their depths: a hidden world of treasures of gold and silver and bis- 
muth, of which I had seen wonderful specimens and which attracted me 
more by their beauty than by their value, of which I had no conception. 
To explore this mysterious world in the depths of the earth, and to live on 
those enchanted highlands of eternal sunshine and wide horizons, I 
decided to become a mining-engineer to carry on the Family tradition. 

I 16 The Way of the White Clouds 

But while growing up I discovered that F was not so much interested 
in the depths of the earth as in the depths of the mind. So, instead of 
engineering 1 turned to philosophy. And since philosophy was for me 
identical with a quest for truth, I was less interested in systems, i.e. in 
academical forms of philosophical thought, than in its religious expres- 
sion and reahsation. I was deeply moved by Plato's discourses which 
appealed to me both by their poetic beauty and their religious attitude. 
Among modern philosophers Schopenhauer had a profound influence 
upon me, and this led me to the Christian mystics as well as to the 
Upanishads and to Buddhism. 

At the age of eighteen I began to write a comparative study of the 
three world religions, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, in order to clar- 
ify my own mind and to decide my own religion, because it did not seem 
to me reasonable to accept a faith just because my forefathers had fol- 
lowed it or because it was accepted by the society in which I lived. To 
me religion was a matter of conviction and not merely a matter of behef 
or convention; and in order to be convinced I had to know. 

Therefore, in order to find out the merits of these three great reli- 
gions and the degree in which they were able to convince me of their 
truths, I set out on a more or less detailed study of their teachings. But 
since Islam did not seem to add any substanrially new ideas to the com- 
mon tradition of Judaism and Christianity, the former soon dropped out 
of the contest, and only Christianity and Buddhism remained. At the out- 
set of my study I had felt more or less convinced of the superiority of 
Christianity (though not of the Christian Church), but the further I pro- 
ceeded the more I found myself in agreement with Buddhism, until it 
became clear to me that Buddhism was the only religion 1 could follow 
with the fullest conviction. Thus, the book which resulted from my stud- 
ies in comparative religion was exclusively devoted to the teachings of the 
Buddha, and I was its convert, hi spite of its somewhat immature char- 
acter the book was published not only in Germany but also in Japan, as I 
found out on my arrival in Ceylon eight years after its first appearance. 

What brought me to Ceylon was the conviction that here I would 
find the purest tradition of Buddhism and an opportunity to gain deeper 

Pilgrim Life 1 17 

experience in meditation and to continue my F^li studies, which I had 
begun in my home at Capri as well as at the University of Naples which, 
thanks to the generosity of King Chulalongkorn of Siam, possessed a 
complete set of the F^li Canon in Siamese script. 

Ceylon proved indeed fruitful in many respects, and under the 
friendly guidance of Nyanatiloka Mahathera, the founder and abbot of 
the idyllic island monastery of Polgasduwa (near Dodanduwa), who was 
one of the greatest Pali scholars of his time, I found ample opportunity 
to continue my studies and to get first-band experience of the monastic 
life and tradition of the Theravada School of Southern Buddhism. 1 was 
greatly impressed by the kindliness of the Sinhalese people and the high 
standard of discipline and education among the monks. But something 
was missing — and wfiat it was I discovered only when suddenly a new 
horizon of religious experience was opened to me at Yi-Gab Cho-Ling, 
and the great Guru stepped into my life. 

Now 1 could clearly see the pattern of my life and its hidden roots. 
I could see that this pilgrimage into the unknown was a coming home to 
the land of my dreams — and that dreams are more real than the plans of 
our brain, provided they are dreams that mirror the deepest yearnings of 
our soul, the very centre of our being, and not only our fleeting desires 
and ambitions which hide behind the reasons of our intellect. How true 
are Santayana's words: 

'It is not wisdom to be only wise — 
And on the inner vision dose the eyes — 
But it is wisdom to believe the heart,' 

Here 1 was in the land of 'turquoise lakes and golden hills' under the 
flowering shrubs of an unknown oasis, sitting by the camp-fire with two 
strange men, the only human beings besides me in the immensity of 
these uninhabited mountain regions, while our horses were grazing con- 
tentedly and their silvery bells tinkled assuringly through the night. 

When the moon rose I left the camp-fire and retired to a small clear- 
ing among the shrubs, out of sight and earshot from the camp, placed 
Tomo G^she's little Buddha-image (which 1 carried with me in a little 

118 The Way of the White Clouds 

shrine) before me on a piece of elevated ground and entered into silent 
communion with the Guru. If in the previous days my thoughts had often 
dwelt in the past, now they were fully directed upon the Way that lay 
before me and the Guide that was ever present, 1 do not know how long 
I remained in this happy state of contemplation and inner communion. 
But suddenly clouds appeared over the glaciers, and I returned to the 
camp. The next day a mild rain descended upon us like a blessing. 


Moving Slopes and 

THE Riddle of the 

Horses' Hoofs 


IFTER A DAY OF WELL-DESERVED REST near the camp-fire, that kept US 
comfortable, even though it was raining, the sun broke through again, 
and I started out to explore the northern end of the lake. Having been 
absent for a whole day, the sun seemed to be hotter than ever and the 
cloudless sky even more intensely blue (if that were possible! ^ — a per- 
fect day for painting. 

So I set out, as lightly clad as possible, and vrith no other burden 
than my sketching materials. 1 had had a good breakfast, so that I could 
dispense vrith provisions for the excursion, and since my riding-boots 
were being repaired by my companions, I wore my Indian sandals. It was 
a wonderful feeling to move so light and carefree through the sunny 
landscape and the clear crisp air into pathless, untrodden regions, with 
a feast of colours spread out before me. The wonder of the lake fasci- 
nated me as on the first day, and my idea was to move along the eastern 
shore as far north as possible, in order to get a full view of the great 

120 The Way of the White Clouds 

Pilgrim Ufe I2i 

expanse of water and the southern snow mountains along which we had 
travelled the previous days. 

Skirting a promontory I — -for the first time — sighted a group of 
kyang, a kind of wOd horse which are extremely shy and elusive and 
move about vWth the graceful gait of deer. They resemble zebras in size 
and shape, but not in colour; their heads are bigger than diose of horses, 
in proportion to their body; their coat is light brown, like that of a deer, and 
their belly is white, which makes them more graceful and slim-looking. 
They are creatures of wide spaces; they perish in captivity, because they 
cannot endure the loss of their freedom and refuse to take food gathered 
by human hands. Thus nobody cries to catch or to domesticate them, 
nor are they hunted for their meat, since the killing of animals goes 
against the Buddhist code of morality 

Hunting is not regarded as a sport in Tibet, but a crime, and when- 
ever the slaughter of domestic animals becomes necessary due to scarci- 
ty of food during the winter, the herdsman prays for forgiveness from the 
animals and performs rites for their rebirth in a better state of life. Killing 
even the lowliest creature is always regarded as an evil and therefore 
avoided as far as humanly possible under the difficult circumstances of 
life in Tibet, where fruit and vegetables are almost unknown (except for 
the fertile, carefully irrigated valleys of Eastern and Central Tibet) and 
where tsampa (roasted barley Hour) is the only staple food. Fishing is 
regarded as particularly offensive, because fish being small (at least as 
known in Tibet), a great number have to be killed to make a proper meal, 
and the same holds good for birds. Birds, hares, marmots and other small 
creatures are therefore exceptionally fearless of human beings, and I 
remember a case when a hare remained quietly in its lair until I touched 
it, while birds often walked into our tent to inspect the interior, and lit- 
tle, tnarmot-like 'tailless rats' popped in and out of the ground to see 
what was going on in the camp that suddenly had sprimg up in their 
peaceful territory, 

Bui the kyang always kept at a respectable distance from human 
beings, being shy by nature and perhaps being warned by the sight of 
humans riding on horseback, 1 was thrilled to see them here for the first 


time, and, crouching behind a boulder, I observed them for a while 
before proceeding on my way In the extensive grasslands around 
Manasarovar and in many parts of the Chang-Thang they move about in 
enormous herds of hundreds of animals, and it is a grand sight to see 
such a herd galloping over the wide undulated plains of the highland. 

Skirting the promontory, I descended into an open plain, the greater 
part of which was covered with a snow-white encrustation, consisting of 
magnesium crystals and hiding a swamp, reminding me of the treacher- 
ous cliotts or salt-lakes of the Sahara into which one can walk for a good 
distance before reaching the actual water, and where people are sud- 
denly swallowed by the muddy groimd that unexpectedly gives way 
under their feet. 

I made a wide detour around this swamp and climbed over a range 
of low hills which still separated me from the shore of the lake. The 
shore proved to be a boulder-strewn narrow ledge of rock that fell per- 
pendicularly into the lake. There was no place to walk between the boul- 
ders. They were so tightly packed that one had to jump from boulder to 
boulder in order to avoid getting one's feet wedged between them. But I 
was fresh and eager to get on, and so in spite of these obstacles I cov- 
ered a good distance along the shore, and the more I proceeded, the 
more magnificent was the view. 

But finally the boulders gave way to a steep, smooth-looking slope 
of about forty-five degrees that ended abruptly where the ledge broke off 
into the waters of the lake, I confidently stepped upon the slope, think- 
ing that my troubles would be over, but hardly had 1 put my feet upon it 
than the whole slope started to move downwards, being a mixture of 
sand and rubble in a state of exact and precarious balance, which on the 
slightest provocacion would turn into a landslide. There was not much 
time to think, as I was moving inexorably nearer to the precipice and to 
a plunge into the icy waters of the lake, which would probably have 
frozen me before I could have swum ashore — apart from the fact that 
the shore consisted of a sheer rock- face with nothing to hold on to, in 
order to pull oneself out of the water. 1 did the only thing that was pos- 
sible, namely to keep running and jumping forward as quickly as 1 could 

122 The Way of the White Clouds 

before being caught in the momentum of the landslide that rumbled 
behind me like a pursuing mountain demon hard on my heels. By keep- 
ing a diagonal, sHghtiy upward, course, 1 managed to keep on the level 
and to reach firm ground on the other side of the moving slopes. 

Even the boulder-strewn ledge appeared to me now as a welcome 
road. At least I could move in safety and at my own pace. But while tak- 
ing a little rest among the boulders I made a strange discovery: innumer- 
able hoofs of horses were stuck between the boulders and rock debris 
between them, and not a single one of them was turned upside-down. It 
looked as if a whole horse caravan or a herd of horses had been literally 
swept off their feet, leaving only their hoofs behind. But how was this 
possible? Could an avalanche have done it? But no, there were no snow- 
peaks above, nor such high mountains in which avalanches could form — 
quite apart from the fact that in these parts of Tibet snowfall is negligi- 
ble. Even if a blizzard of unimaginable force could have killed a whole 
herd of horses and swept away their bodies, their skeletons would cer- 
tainly be seen in the clear water of the lake, which was so transparent that 
one could see every pebble on the bottom for a considerable distance 
right below the place of the catastrophe. But not even a splinter of a bone 
was visible either in the water or among the stones and boulders! Even if 
wolves or birds of prey might have devoured the carcasses they could not 
have done this without leaving a trace. They would have left the skulls oj 
at least the teeth behind! And why should all the hoofs stand upright just 
broken off at the fetlock? What horror could have caused a whole herd of 
swift -moving horses to perish in this mysterious fashion? 

Whatever it was, I had no time to worry about it, especially as I was 
eager to find a vantage-point from where I could get an adequate picture 
of this part of the lake against the snow mountains. So I pushed on until 
1 came to a lovely, almost circular, bay, bordered by a dazzling white 
beach, against which the water looked like a smooth green -blue opal. On 
the opposite side of the bay a rocky spur jutted into the lake, providing 
just the type of vantage-point 1 had been looking for. But, as so often in 
Tibet, I underestimated the distance, and though I walked at a good 
speed, it took me a considerable time before I reached the other side of 

Pilgrim Life 123 

the bay. While I was painting, big thunder-clouds were rising over the 
glaciers, but 1 was too absorbed in my work to pay much attention to 
them, except as a welcome addition to my composition. 

By the time 1 had finished my painting, the sun had been swallowed 
by the rising thunder-clouds, and in the gathering darkness I suddenly 
reaUsed that it was not only due to the clouds that the light was failing, 
but because the sun was setting. I hurried back along the beach of the 
bay but, by the time I had reached the other side, lightning and thunder 
rolled overhead, the air grew chilly, and the daylight was fading fast. 

And then I remembered the moving slopes and the horses that had 
perished mysteriously just before reaching them. The danger of the mov- 
ing slopes must have stopped them in their course, while night and storm 
prevented them from turning back and they were frozen to death. Or were 
there dangers, even worse than that, of which I knew nothing? The com- 
plete disappearance of even their skulls and skeletons down to the tiniest 
bone could not be explained by the presence of carnivorous animals, for 
even wolves would not swallow everything, and why should they, when 
they could gorge themselves on the flesh of a whole herd of horses? 

The rough nature of the ground had already convinced me that even 
before the landslide, which had caused the moving slopes, had occurred, 
this shore could not have been a possible caravan route; moreover the 
presence of smaller hoofs showed that there were young ones among the 
horses, which would not have been included in a caravan unless it was 
one of people fleeing before an enemy. Whatever it was, I had no time 
to lose. 1 had to get over the moving slopes before it was completely dark. 

Fortunately the thunder-clouds disappeared as quickly as they had 
come. The sky was still overcast, but no rain fell and the clouds began to 
separate. With the last, faintest trace of daylight I reached the moving 
slopes, and though I was not able to see more than the general outlines of 
the ground over which I passed, 1 managed to get across with a supreme 
effort. I felt like resting and sat down for a short while, to recover my 
breach, but then I was worried by the thought of wolves and other unseen 
dangers, especially the danger of falling asleep and exposing myself to the 
cold of the night with not even a blanket to protect me and no chance to 


124 The Way of the White Clouds 

regain my warmth once the chill would have penetrated my body 1 was 
so lightly clad that only movement could keep me warm, and so up I 
jumped, conscious that it now was a matter of life and death. 

1 had not eaten anything since the morning, nor had I had a drop of 
water since leaving camp; and now hunger and thirst began to assail 
me — especially the latter. What an irony of fate: to have mUes and miles 
of clear water right at my feet and not to be able to find even a drop to 
quench my thirst. The temptation to take shelter in one of the caves 
which I had noticed on my way was counteracted by the fear that wolves 
might lurk in them, and as I had neither matches nor anything that could 
have served to make a Fire, the thought was quickly dismissed. The great- 
est temptation, however, was the urge to sit down and to rest, and only 
the thought that once I sat down I would never get up again gave me the 
determination to move on as long as my legs would support me. 

It was no longer possible to pick my way between the boulders that 
covered the ground for uncounted miles ahead of me; night had com- 
pletely overtaken me; and yet to my amazement I jumped from boulder 
to boulder without ever slipping or missing a foothold, in spite of wearing 
only a pair of flimsy sandals on my bare feet. And then I realised that a 
strange force had taken over, a consciousness that was no more guided by 
my eyes or my brain. My limbs moved as in a trance, with an uncanny 
knowledge of their own, though their movement seemed almost mechan- 
ical. 1 noticed tilings only like in a dream, somewhat detached. Even my 
own body had become distant, quasi-detached from my will-power I was 
like an arrow that unfailingly pursued its course by the force of its initial 
impetus, and the only thing 1 knew was that on no condition must I break 
the spell that had seized me. 

It was only later that 1 realised what had happened: that unwitting- 
ly and under the stress of circumstance and acute danger I had become 
a lung-gom-fa, a trance walker, who, oblivious of all obstacles and 
fatigue, moves on towards his contemplated aim, hardly touching the 
ground, which might give a distant observer the impression that the 
lung-gom-pa was borne by the air (lung), merely skimming the surface of 
the earth. 

Pilgrim Life 125 

One false step or a single slip on these boulders would have sufficed 
to break or to sprain a foot, but I never missed a step. I moved on with 
the certainty of a sleep-walker — though far from being asleep. I do not 
know how many miles of this boulder-strewn territory I traversed; I only 
know that finally I found myself on the pass over the low hills with the 
plain and the magnesium swamp before me, and that by that time a star 
in the direction of the snow range was visible, so that I could take it as 
a guiding point in the otherwise featureless expanse before me. I did not 
dare to divert from this direction and still under the influence of the 
'speir i went rlglit across the swamp without ever breaking through. 

But where was the camp? Surely 1 could not be very far from it, and 
a camp-fire could easily be seen even from one or two miles' distance. I 
climbed one of the low shrub-covered hillocks, but nowhere could I see 
even the smallest glow. Surely my companions would not have allowed 
the fire to go out or even left the camp in search of me or for any other 
reason? And what other reason could there be, unless they had been 
attacked by robbers? They certainly could not have made away with my 
belongings, leaving me stranded in the wilderness without Food and 
proper clothing and blankets, though nobody in the world could have 
held them responsible. 1 simply had walked into the wilderness and 
never returned! But no, this was nonsense! How could I ever think such 
a thing! He It ashamed that such a thought could invade my mind^ — but 
being in a state of utter exhaustion I was not able to control my fear. It 
was more Okely that 1 had missed the direction, and in that case it was 
best to walk on until I reached the stream and then to follow it up until 
1 reached the camp-site. 

Fortunately the direction which I had taken proved to be correct, 
and when I was almost despairing of ever reaching camp 1 suddenly saw 
the glow of the fire in a depression below me, 1 tried to shout, but my 
throat was too parched and my voice did not carry far enough to be 
heard. But the joy of being saved gave me new strength, and a few min- 
utes later 1 walked into the camp and sank down by the fire, while my 
companions, happy to have me back, busied themselves around me to 
give me food and drink, I felt like a lost son come home and never did I 

126 The Way of the White Clouds 

enjoy a camp-fire and the company of human beings more than on this 

memorable night. 

Until the present day I have been unable to find a solution to the 
mystery of the horses' hoofs, though 1 have told this experience to many 
people and asked their opinion about it- But for the other, more per- 
sonal, experience 1 found a satisfactory explanation when I learned more 
about the psychic phenomena of lung-gom, of which I found the first 
description in Alexandra David- Neel's hook, and further evidence, when 
many years later 1 visited (together with Li Gotami) one of the main 
training centres of this yogic art not far from Shigatse in a side valley of 
the Nyang-chu, the famous monastery of Nyang-to Kyi-phug, 


Trance Walking 
AND Lung-gom Training 


HE FIRST EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT of a lung-gotn-pa that reached the 
West is probably the graphic description which Alexandra David-Neel 
gave in her famous book With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet. One day, 
while crossing a vride table land, she noticed in the distance a moving 
black spot which aroused her curiosity, since she was travelhng through 
uninhabited territory, and had not met any human being for almost two 
weeks. Her field-glasses revealed the moving object to be a man, who 
'proceeded at an unusual gait and especially with an extraordinary swift- 
ness'. When he came nearer she 'could clearly see his perfectly calm 
impassive face and wide-open eyes with their gaze fixed on some invis- 
ible far-distant object situated somewhere high up in space. The man 
did not run. He seemed to lift himself from the ground, proceeding by 
leaps. It looked as if he had been endowed with the elasticity of a ball 
and rebounded each time his feet touched the ground. His steps had 
the regularity of a pendulum,' 

128 The Way of the White Clouds 

PfLGRiM Life 129 

When I read this account a few years after my above-related expe- 
rience I immediateiy was reminded of what had happened to me on the 
shores of the Pangong Lake. Her description exactly coincided with my 
own experience. Beginners in the art of lung-gom are often advised to fix 
their mind not only on a mentally visualised object, namely the aim 
towards which they want to move, but to keep their eyes fixed on a par- 
ticular star, which in some cases seems to produce a hypnotic effect. 
Even in this detail I had unwittingly conformed to the rules, and I clearly 
reached a condition in which the weight of the body is no more felt and 
in which the feet seem to be endowed with an instinct of their own, 
avoiding invisible obstacles and finding footholds, which only a clairvoy- 
ant consciousness could have detected in the speed of such a movement 
and in the darkness of the night. 

Alexandra David-Neel thinks that a kind of anaesthesia deadens the 
sensations that would be produced by knocking against the stones Or' 
other obstacles on the way. But this seems not to be the case, otherwise 
the lung'gom-'pa would find his feet bruised and swollen afterwards, 
which apparently is not so, as I have learned from my ovm experience. 
Neither can I subscribe to the view that it is due to a remainder of nor- 
mal consciousness, which keeps one aware of the obstacles in one's way 
Just on the contrary, it is the noninterference of normal consciousness 
which ensures the immunity of the trance walker and the instinctive 
sureness of his movements. There is no greater danger than the sudden 
awakening to normal consciousness. It is for this reason that the lung- 
gom-fa must avoid speaking or looking about, because the slightest dis- 
traction would result in breaking his trance. 

The deeper meaning of lung-govi is that matter can be mastered 
by the mind. This is illustrated by the fact that the preparatory exercises 
are mainly spiritual, i.e. consisting in strict seclusion and mental con- 
centration upon certain elementary forces and their visualised symbols, 
accompanied by the recitation of mantras, through which certain psy 
chic centres (Skt. : cakra) of the body, which are related to those forces 
by their natural functions, are awakened and activated. 

Just as in the tum-mo practices, which result in the production o' 

'psychic beat' (for reference see pp. 159 ff. in Foundations of Tthetan 
Mysticism), the adept has to concentrate upon the element 'Bre' in its 
corresponding psychic centre and in all its phenomenal and essential 
qualities and psychic implications, so in the case of lung-gom the adept 
is required to concentrate on all the phenomena, aspects, and functions 
of the vital element air. 

Gom (sgom) means meditation, contemplation, concentration of 
mind and soul upon a certain subject, as well as the gradual emptying of 
the mind of all subject-object relationship, until a complete identifica- 
tion of subject and object has taken place. 

Lung {rlun) signifies both the elementary state of 'air' (Skt.: vayu) as 
well as the subtle vital energy or psychic force (Skt. : -pram). Just as the 
Greek word 'fneuma' can signify air' as well as 'spirit', so lung can be 
applied to the element 'air' and to those bodily functions which represent 
the material side of our vital principle, as exemplified by the process of 
breathing and tbe faculty of movement, as well as the currents of psy- 
chic energy resulting in various states of consciousness. 

In combination with gom, the word lung can only be applied to the 
prana of various meditational practices, connected with the control of 
vital functions of the human body through the finer forces of the mind. 
In other words, the lung-gotn-pa is not a man who has the faculty to fly 
through the air (a belief that has its origin in the wrong interpretation of 
the word lung), but one who has learned to control his pram through the 
yoga-practice of pramyama, which starts with the simple function of 
conscious breathing and makes it the basis of a profound spiritual expe- 
nence, resulting in a transformation of the whole psycho-physical organ- 
ism and of the very personality of the practitioner Forces and faculties, 
which are present in every human individual, are re-channelled and con- 
f^entrated in a new direction. 

Thus lung'gom could be aptly rendered with 'concentration on the 

dynamic vital principle'. It reveals the dynamic nature of our physical 

^''ganism and of all material states of aggregation — not in the sense of 

^ self-sufficient dynamism, but as something that depends on the co- 

Peration and interaction of various forces and ultimately on the funda- 

130 The Way of the White Clouds 

mental (and universal) faculties of consciousness. Thus, a direct influ- 
ence is possible upon the bodily functions and their respective organs, 
so that a psycho-physical co-operation is established: a parallelism of 
thought and movement, and a rhythm that gathers all available forces 
into its service. 

If one has reached the point u'here the transformation of one force 
or state of materialisation into another one is possible one may produce 
various effects of an apparendy miraculous nature, as, for instance, the 
transformation of psychic energy into bodily movement (a miracle that 
we perform on a smaller scale every moment, without being conscious of 
it), or the transformation of matter into an active state of energy, result- 
ing at the same time in a reduction of weight or the apparent elimination 
or reduction of the power of gravitation. 

In the original system of Buddhist meditation the attainment of 
magic power is a mere by-product and is looked upon rather as a danger 
than as a stimulus on the higher path, which aims at liberation and 
abhors the exhibition of occult forces. The peculiar conditions of Tibet, 
however, have sometimes made it necessary to make use of these pow- 
ers to a certain degree, especially when nature placed unsurmountable 
obstacles in the way of the adept or his desire to be of service to his 

Thus tum-mo may at the same time serve as a protection against the 
excessive cold during the hard Tibetan winters, to which Yogis are 
exposed in their caves and hermitages high up in the bare mountains, 
where fuel is almost unobtainable. However, it should be noted that this 
is far from being the purpose of tum-mo, which is purely spiritual, namely 
the attainment of inner unification or integration, which brings about 
the state of enlightenment and the wholeness of being. 

In a similar way lung-gotn is only one of the many ways of liberation, 
though it may under certain circumstances help an individual to move 
speedily over vast distances, which, in a country where communications 
are beset with many difficulties, assumes a particular importance. It may 
happen that people take to this training, spurred by the ambition to 
obtain spectacular magic powers. But the sacrifice that is demanded of 

Pilgrim Life 131 

them is so great that anyone who is able to go through the full training 
must be a man of extraordinary character and spiritual qualities. And 
such a man, the more seriously he pursues his exercises, will soon lose 
all his initial pride and ambition, because his whole training is based on 
the giving up and not on the strengthening of his ego, in which pride and 
ambition have their origin. 

This has been illustrated by many of the popular stories of the 
famous eighty-four medieval Siddhas (literally: 'Accomplished Ones'), 
many of whom set out with the idea to acquire supernatural powers for 
their own benefit, and who in the process of it, or by the time they had 
realised them, had lost interest in such mundane aims, because they had 
overcome that very sense of ego which was the source of their desires. 

Here only one example, the story of Siddha Kadgapa: There was 
once a robber, who met a yogi and asked him how he could become 
invincible. The yogi answered: There is a stupa in such and such a place. 
Go there and circumambulate the sanctuary with the image of 
AvalokiteSvara for three weeks, reciting the mantra and performing the 
sadhana, which I will give you, If you do this with full devotion and 
unfailing concentration, without diverting your mind, then at the end of 
the third week a deadly black snake will emerge from the stiipa. You must 
immediately seize the snake behind the head, and if you have faithfully 
carried out your sddhana, the snake will not harm you, and you wiU 
obtain the power of invincibility.' 

The robber thanked the yogi and did as he was told. He devoted 
himself heart and soul to the indicated exercise, and when the fearful 
snake finally emerged from the hollow niche of the stu^pa he seized it 
behind the head, and lo! he held in his hand the invincible Sword of 
Wisdom. He had no more use for miraculous powers and became a 
saint. Since then he has been known as Siddha Kadgapa, 'the Saint with 
the Sword'. 

Pilgrim Life 133 


Nyang-to Kyi-phug 



ILL THAT I SAW and ieamed at the lung-gom training centre of Nyang- 
to Kyi-phug (noA'Stod kyid-phug), which means 'the Happy Cave in the 
Upper Nyang Valley' (near Shigatse), confirmed my conviction that the 
aim of lung-gom goes far beyond the attainment of magic powers, like 
trance walking or levitation, and that this training is certainly not a play- 
ground of personal ambition or aggrandisement, because the first thing 
that is demanded of a prospective lung-gom-pa is complete anonymity. 

When entering the ts'hang-khang, the meditation cubicle, he has as 
good as died to the world; his name, his family, or even the place from 
where he came, is not revealed to anybody He has given up his past, and 
when after many years he emerges from his cubicle, nothing of his for- 
mer personality has remained and nobody knows who he was. He is like 
a new-born being, one who has not only died to his past, but one who 
has consciously gone through death and has been reborn to a new life, a 
life purified from all personal attachments and wholly dedicated to the 
welfare of his fellow-beings. 

This is also borne out by the popular behef that lung-gom had its 
origin in a saint's attempt to overcome death by sacrificing his own self- 

This saint was the famous historian Buston, who was bom near Shigatse 
in 1289 and was the Great Abbot of the monastery of Shalu, which 
became the first training centre for lung-gom. Not far from this place 
lived a great magician, known as Yungton Dorj6 Pal, who cried to propi- 
tiate the Lord of Death (gSiwrje, pron. 'Shinj^'; Skt. Yama) in a special rit- 
ual in order to persuade him to spare the life of human beings for twelve 
years. The Lord of Death consented under the condition that somebody 
would offer his own life as a compensation (the underlying thought 
being that one life offered willingly was worth thousands of lives surren- 
dered under compulsion). None of those present during this fearful rit- 
ual were ready to sacrifice themselves, except Buscon (pron. 'Buton'), 
This revealed to the magician that this saintly man was the only one 
capable of performing this ritual, and therefore, instead of accepting his 
offer, he enjoined upon him and his successors the duty to perform the 
same ceremony every twelve years. 

As it was necessary to invite to this ceremony the terrible tutelary 
deities of the main sanctuaries of the Central Provinces of Tibet, 
(dBus) and Tsang (gTsm), and only a messenger who is fearless of death, 
and able to perform the pilgrimage to these sanctuaries within twenty- 
four hours, is suitable for this task, the training of lung-gom was instituted 
at Samding and Nyang-tcj Kyi-phug, from where the runners were 
despatched alternately every twelve years. 

This is the story which I heard at Kyi-phug and which has also been 
related by Alexandra David-Neel. I was not able to visit Samding, but 
some years ago 1 came across a very moving report by Sven Hedin,' in 
which he describes a cave in a valley 'above Unga and Pesu', in which a 
Lama was immured, and which he visited on a cold winter day The cave 
was at the foot of a rock-wall and was called Samde-phug. It had neither 
window nor door, but a spring welled up in its interior and its water 
emerged from a small opening under the wall, which closed the mouth 
of the cave. 

1 ■ Published in the magazine Die Koralk and also in his took Ahetiteuer in Tibet. My 
subsequent translation is made from an extract of the original article. 

134 The Way of the White Clouds 

'When three years ago this mysterious Lama Rimpoch^ had coni^ 
to Linga, he had taken a vow before the monks of the monastery to m 
for ever into the darkness. By consulting the holy scriptures, the date of 
the immurement had been fixed. On that day all the monks assembled 
to convey him to his grave. Silently and solemnly, like a funeral, the ' 
monks moved through the valley, slowly, step by step, as if they wanted 
to prolong the last minutes in which the unknown hermit could still see 
sun, light and colours. He knows that he leaves the world for ever, that 
he will never again see the mountains which hold vigil at his grave. He 
knows that he will die in the cave, Forgotten by all. 

'After the entrance of the cave has been walled up, the light is extin- 
guished for him, for ever. He is alone and will never hear a human voice 
again, only the closed-in echo of his own. But when he says his prayers, 
there will be nobody who listens to them, and when he calls, nobody will 
answer. For the brethren, who have buried him alive, he is already dead. 
The only bond between them and the immured hermit is the duty to sup- 
ply him with his daily food. A bowl of tea and tsamfa is daily given him 
through the little opening under the wall, which is so thick and solidly 
built that neither a sound nor a ray of light reaches the hermit. The only 
way to ascertain whether he is alive or dead is to observe whether the food 
has been consumed or not. If for six days the food remains untouched, the 
wall has to be broken open. This had already been done in previous caseSj 
as for instance three years ago, when a hermit, who had spent twelve years 
in the cave, died; and fifteen years ago, at the death of another one, who 
at the age of twenty entered the cave and lived there for forty years.' 

Sven Hedin then pictures to himself the endless years in total dark- 
ness, which the immured hermit has to endure. 'He cannot count the days, 
he only feels the cold of the winter and the milder air of the summer, but 
soon he Forgets to count the years. The only thing he counts are the beads 
of his rosary and with them his prayers. But finally, after many long years, 
someone knocks at the entrance to his cave. He opens his arms, to receive 
the friend for whom he has been waiting so long: it is Death! The bhnd her- 
mit, who through decenniums had lived in impenetrable darkness, suddenly 
sees a brilliant light. . . , He is freed from the cycle of life and death.' 

Pilgrim Life 135 

This dramatic account haunted me for a long time, and I often won- 
dered whether any human heing could possibly endure a life in total 
darkness and complete absence of fresh air, deprived even of move- 
ment^ — quite apart from the psychological effect of being cut off from all 
human contact. Could anybody really believe that by shutting out the 
light of the sun he could find the inner light or attain to Enlightenment? 
Did not the Buddha himself condemn the extremes of asceticism as 
much as he condemned the extreme of worldly pleasures? 

Physical self-immolation, as a means for attaining one's own salva- 
tion, has never been regarded a virtue by Buddhists. And Tibetans, in 
spite of their belief in supernatural and transcendental powers, show a 
lot of common sense in their daily life as well as in their religious train- 
ing methods. They are eminently practical people, and their conception 
of religion is neither gloomy nor suicidal. 

Thu is borne out even in a place like Nyang-to Kyi-phug, which is 
known for the seriousness of its practices and the strictness of its rules. Li 
Gotami and I visited this place in 1947. All that we saw there thoroughly 
refuted the idea that lung-gom has to be practised in complete darkness 
{as even Mme David-Neel seems to heheve') and under inhumanly un- 
hygienic condirions. Quite on the contrary we found to our pleasant sur- 
prise that the meditation cubicles, which rose on the slopes of the ascend- 
ing valley, just above the main temples and shrines of the monastery, were 
well-kept and built in a most sensible and practical way, as much widi a 
view to preserve the health of body and mind as to ensure the complete 
silence and seclusion of the hermits. 'Mem $ana in corpore sano. 

Each cubicle was built in such a way as to give access to air, water, 
and sun, to allow for physical exercise as well as for the contemplation 
of infinite space, the wide open sky with its heavenly bodies, its wan- 
dering clouds and the moods of the seasons. These hermitages were not 
meant to be places of self-torture or penance, but as abodes of peace and 

1 . 'After dieir seclusion in darkness for three years, those monks . . . proceed to SKalu 
where they are immured in one of the grave-iike huts. . . .' {With Mystics ami Magicians 
in Tibet, Penguin, p. 191.) 

136 The Way of the White Clouds 

undisturbed meditation. Far from being grave-like, they were meant to 
be places conducive to happiness, as even the name Kyi-phug, 'the 
happy cave', indicated; and the general impression I had, was such that 
J felt a strong desire to retire myself one day into one of these cubicles 
for a longer spell of introspection and unbroken sddhana. fl 

Gomchens were not precluded from taking with them into their 
cubicle books, images or thankas, related to their sadhana, or things con- 
nected with their daily rituals, like vajra, bell and damaru, the usual altar- 
vessels and butter-lamps, as well as a little chogtse on which to place 
them. From this it became clear that the Gomchen's time would be care- 
ftjlly regulated and fully employed by study, worship, and meditation, 
interrupted by regular physical exercises, meals, and the necessary httle 
chores in preparing them and in keeping body, place, and utensils clean. 

There was a little kitchen with a few pots and pans, to heat the butter- 
tea which is an indispensable part of the normal Tibetan diet (it is almost 



Pilgrim Life 137 

impossible to swallow dry tsam-pa\) and to prepare simple meals, because 
devotees often brought merely raw materials which, like other gifts of pre- 
pared food, would be placed into the little opening at the bottom of the wall, 
next to the sealed entrance of the hermitage. Next to the kitchen was a small 
room, through which the water of a brook had been channelled, providing 
water for all domestic purposes and serving at the same time as a W.C. 

The actual meditation chamber was airy and spacious, with a wide- 
open skylight. It rather resembled a courtyard, surrounded by a covered 
gallery, of which one side was vWder than the others and served as a sleeping- 
and-sitting place (indicated by a raised stone or mud platform, on which a 
mattress or meditation rug could be placed), while the other wall-spaces 
were used for stacking up fuel, a very important item in a cold climate like 
that of Tibet, where hot tea is the only way to keep one's body warm in a 
cold room. Fuel in Tibet is far too precious to be used for heating a room, 
and in this case the open skylight would have made it impossible anyway 
Besides the fuel, which was used in these hermitages, was not the usual 
yak-dung, in which often worms or beetles are found (and which therefore 
would not be suitable for one who is engaged in generating love and com- 
passion towards al! living beings), but consisted either of brushwood or of 
a fungus-like woody growth — perhaps a hardened kind of giant moss — that 
was found in big hemispheric clumps on the surrounding mountain slopes. 
It was said that this fuel did not contain any animal life. 

A [adder led from the courtyard', or rather through the skylight, on 
to the flat roof of the galleries, which thus formed a terrace on which the 
Gomchen could walk around. This perambulatory, however, was screened 
from the outside world by a high parapet, so that the Gomchen's medita- 
tion and privacy would not be disturbed even while taking exercise. 

'lliis perambulatory corresponds to the chankama (from F^li: ccmka- 
mati, to pace up and down) of ancient Buddhism, as used even to the pres* 
ent day in the countries of Southern Buddhism (like Ceylon, Burma, and 
lliailand), where monks are accustomed to pace up and down while med- 
itating or memorising and reciting sacred scriptures. For recluses, practis- 
ing lung-gom, these perambulatories are mainly used to keep physically fit, 
as they provide the only opportunity for regular walking in the open air. 


Physical Exercises 


'ther physical exercises which are performed during the lung- 
gont training consist in jerking the body up from the meditation-seat with 
legs crossed and without using the hands. Before each jerk the lung~gom^ 
■pa fills his lungs with air. By repeating this exercise several times in suc- 
cession every day during a long period he is able to jump higher and 
higher, while his body is said to become lighter and lighter. What is 
important is that deep breathing and physical drill are combined. I have 
not seen this exercise performed, nor do I remember that it was men- 
tioned at Nyang-to Kyi-phug, but according to information which 
Alexandra David-Neel gathered elsewhere in Tibet it appears that these 
exercises are used as a test for proficiency in lung-gom. 'A pit is dug in 
the ground, its depth being equal to the height of the candidate. Over 
the pit is built a kind of cupola whose height from the ground level to its 
highest point again equals that of the candidate, A small aperture is left 
at the top of the cupola. Now between the man seated cross-legged at 
the bottom of the pit and that opening, the distance is twice the height 

PiLGRin Life 139 

of his body . . . The test consists in jumping crosslegged . . . and com- 
ing out through the small opening at the top of the cupola. I have heard 
Khampas declare that this feat has been performed in their country, but 
1 have not myself witnessed anything like it.'' 

As 1 said, I have not found any confirmation of this custom in Nyang- 
tfi Kyi-phug, but strangely enough 1 found a parallel to it in John Blofeld's 
description of a Meng-Goong or tribal magician in a Miao village in 
Northern Thailand. The magician was seated, facing the shrine of ances- 
tor demons, 'on a bench some three feet high, thumping a drum and inton- 
ing a ritual in a voice full of power, but frighteningly inhuman. Now and 
then, an extraordinary, indeed a really awful, thing would happen. With a 
frightful scream, he would shoot about four feet into the air and land back 
upon the bench with such force that it quivered threateningly. Such a 
movement by a seated man whose legs never once straightened for the jump 
was so uncanny that I actually felt a cold sweat start from my pores. "^ 

This eyewitness account by a well-known and reliable author proves 
two things; first, that the feat described by Tibetans is not beyond the 
realm of possibility, as it might appear to a critical reader; and, secondly, 

Lung-gom HERMfFAGE (section) 

1. With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet. Penguin, p. i91. 

2, People of she Sun, Hutchinson, p. 126. 

lAO The Way of the WHtTE Clouds 

that more than mere muscle-power is involved in this feat. Tibetans see 
in it an act of levitation, though only of a momentary nature, made pos- 
sible through the extreme lightness and will-povifer of the lung-gom-pa. 

However that may be, the fact that a similar custom should be 
found in Eastern Tibet and in Northern Thailand seems to me signifi- 
cant and confirms my impression that the jumping practice is not an 
original and essential part of the lung-gom training but something super- 
imposed upon It, Tlie real origin of lung-gom is, as we have mentioned 
already, the ancient Indian practice of pramyama (an essential feature of 
both Hindu and Buddhist yoga-systems) in which physical drill never 
played any role. Nor do those who undergo this training bury themselves 
alive or take a vow 'to go for ever into darkness'. This is quite foreign to 
Buddhism, which does not favour 'eternal vows'. There is nothing in the 
world that is not subject to change or transformation, least of all a 
human being. Even the vows of monkhood are not 'eternal' or irrevoca- 
ble. Those who find that they are not suited for a monk's life, or those 
who feel that they cannot profit by it, are free to return to the normal life 
in the world. The life in monasteries, hermitages, or in complete seclu- 
sion, is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. If, therefore, Sven 
Hedin reports that his enquiry, whether the monk who daily brought the 
food to the immured hermit, was able to converse with the latter, was 
answered with; 'No, he would thereby draw upon himself eternal damna- 
tion, and the three years (which the Lama had spent in the cave) would 
not be counted as merit,' then, quite clearly, Sven Hedin puts his own 
Christian way of thinking into the mouth of his Tibetan informant. 

Buddhism does not believe in 'eternal damnation' and does not 
regard self-mortification as meritorious, or spiritual gain dependent on 
vows or the duration of certain exercises. The Buddha himself gave up 
the life of extreme asceticism when he found that it did not lead to the 
expected result. And he proved that in a single flash of insight more wis- 
dom may be acquired than in years of self-mortification. 

Therefore the length of time to be spent in complete seclusion 
depends on the capacity and the progress of the practitioner, who is 
under no compulsion to continue his exercise if his health or his 

Pilgrim Life [^1 

endurance fails. At Nyang-to Kyi-phug the periods of seclusion are care- 
fully graded.' The shortest periods are from one to three months, the 
middling ones from one to three years, the longest nine years. The latter 
is regarded as a full course for the attainment of lung-gom, though natu- 
rally, if the practitioner decides to continue, nobody will prevent him. 
But in order to prevent frauds and false claims the only entrance to the 
meditation cubicle is sealed by the authorities of the place, either by the 
abbot or some high government official, or both, and the seal cannot be 
broken without the knowledge of the authorities concerned. The longer 
the period, the greater is the importance that is attached to it. 

At the time of my investigation, seven hermits were in retreat at 
Nyang-to Kyi-phug. One of them had been shut in there for three years 
already He was expected to leave his meditation cubicle in six years. 

Nobody is allowed to speak to the lung-gom-'pa or to see any part of 
his person. Tlie latter rule is to ensure his complete anonymity. When 
receiving alms through an opening near the bottom of the wall, next to 
the sealed entrance, even the hand of the hermit is covered with a sock 
or a cloth bag, so that he may not be recognised even by a scar or any 
other particular sign or shape of his hand. The same small opening, 
which 1 measured as being 9 in. x 10 in., is said to be used as an exit by 
the lung-gont-pa after completion of his nine years' practice in uninter- 
rupted seclusion and perfect silence. 

It is said that his body by that time has become so light and subtle 
thai he can get through an opening not wider than a normal man's span, 
and that he can move with the speed of a galloping horse, white hardly 
touching the ground. Due to this he is able to perform the prescribed 
pilgrimage to all the main shrines and sajictuaries of Central Tibet 
(U-Tsang) within an incredibly short time. 

After having performed this pilgrimage the hmg-gom-fa finds a suit- 
able retreat or hermitage of his own, where he spends the rest of his life, 
preaching, teaching, meditating, and pursuing his various religious duties 
in accordance with his own particular sadham or the requirements 

1. Nobody enten on such a venture unless he is adequately prepared by his Guru. 

142 The Way of the White Clouds 

of others. He will bless and inspire all those who come to him, heal the 
sick, and console those who are in distress. Healing is mainly done 
through the power of the spirit, either by performing special rites and 
the lading on of hands, or by the preparation of healing potions or con- 
secrated pills {nl-hu, pron, 'ribu'}, which play a similar role as the con- 
secrated bread or host in the Eucharist. Healing powers are ascribed to 
all religious functions, and, therefore, the more saintly a man, the greater 
is his capacity to heal or to endow consecrated objects with beneficent 


Healing Powers 


HE HEALtNG POWER of saints is not only a Tibetan belief, but a general 
human experience. Christ, according to the testimony of the EvangeHsts, 
was first and foremost a healer (which is the exact equivalent of the 
German word 'Heilund', the most frequent epithet given to Christ), who 
convinced people not by arguments and sermons but mainly by the 
power of his saintly personality, which aroused such faith in those who 
came in contact with him, that they were healed even of long-standing 
and apparently incurable diseases. 

The relationship of faith and healing power is reciprocal. Faith is 
the capacity to receive; the power of the spirit, the capacity to commu- 
nicate, to pour out and give from the accumulated fruits of inner experi- 
ence, that have matured in the stillness of a composed and devoted 
mind. Healing power and faith are like the positive and the negative pole 
of the same force, and where the former exists the latter will be aroused 
as a natural concomitant. But even the reverse is possible: faith may 
become a power in itself which, like a vacuum, draws all surrounding 

144 The Way of the White Clouds 

forces into itself, and thus endows the object or the person with which 
it is connected with the forces towards which it tends. 

Religious leaders depend as much on the faith of their adherents as 
their adherents depend on the initial inspiration which they receive from 
their leaders. Once this mutual process has started, it grows like an ava- 
lanche. The combined forces of those whose faith is directed towards a 
religious leader or an incumbent of a high religious office (which normally 
is due to the outstanding qualities of the individual in question) make 
him a centre of forces which go far beyond those of his own person or 
separate individuality. It is for this reason that we should not expect reli- 
gious leaders taken out of their surroundings and their spiritual and tra- 
ditional background — ^like many of the high Lamas who fled from Tibet 
and are compelled to live in completely uncongenial surroundings, in a 
kind of spiritual vacuum — to display the same super-individual forces 
which centred upon them before they were deprived of their natural 
conditions of life and of the contact of those who had faith in them. 

Unless we understand the mutual relationship between faith and 
spiritual forces we shall regard the healing powers of a saint either as 
miraculous or as self-deception. But what we call miraculous is nothing 
but 3 short cut in the interaction of natural forces, i.e. a direct action 
from mind to mind, without the usual round-about way via the senses 
and material agents. Faith merely acts as a conductor, which makes this 
short cut possible. Just as electricity- — ^which is potentially present every- 
where — becomes effective only in the presence of a conductor, so spiri- 
tual power becomes effective only in the presence of faith, be it faith in 
a divine power, or a human Guru, or faith in an ideal or in one's ovm 
inner reality. 

As long as we are convinced that the mind is not merely a product 
of physical functions or chemical reactions, but the primary fact of life, 
the builder of the body and not its slave, so long it is only natural to 
ascribe health to a balanced, harmonious mind and to ascribe diseases 
to mental disorders or spiritual disharmony Even the earliest Buddhist 
scriptures described the mind as the forerunner of all things (mane 
puhbmgama dhamma), the conditio sine qua non of all that exists. 

Pilgrim Life 145 

Tibetans, therefore, rather than trying to cure physical symptoms, 
endeavour to go to the root of all disease by curing the mind. This can 
be done either by the direct influence of a saintly personality or through 
certain means which help the transference of power or a stimulation of 
faith through the medium of consecrated objects, symbols and rites, etc, 
all of which are intended to guide the mind in a certain direction. 

Whether we believe in the psychometric properties of matter in 
general or the possibility of impressing it with certain qualities through 
conscious concentration, the fact is that there is a constant interaction 
between mind and matter, or even between different forms of material 
aggregation, which, after all, only represent more or less stabilised or 
'bound' states of energy. The idea of transubstantiation, therefore, is not 
only the basis of the Christian Eucharist, but of all rites of consecration, 
in which certain substances are exposed to the penetrating power of spir- 
itual concentrarion, as produced in the course of certain magic rites or 
in the long years of silent meditation to which Gomchens are accus- 
tomed in Tibet. 

ITius, Tomo G^she Rimpoch^, when emerging from his twelve- 
year-long period of lonely meditation, had become a healer of such 
power that the ribus (pills) which he distributed freely to all those who 
came for his blessing were sought after all over Tibet and are nowadays 
more precious than pearls. When I received three of these ribus after my 
initiation Geshe Tubden Sherab, who had assisted me, begged me to 
share them with him, and related how in the case of a serious illness, 
when doctors had been unable to give him relief, he had been cured 
instantaneously by one of these rihus. Not realising at that time the 
deeper significance of the Guru's gift — thinking of it merely in terms of 
a medical remedy, of which I did not feel any great need at that time 
(besides having more faith in Western medicines) — I gave away two of 
these precious ribus; and since it never came to my mind to replace them 
on later occasions, when I could have asked for them, only one has 
remained in my possession. It was only many years later that I realised 
their value. 

The following episode may illustrate the importance attached to 

146 The Way of the White Clouds 

these ribus. When returning from Western Tibet in 1949, together with 
Li Gotami, we were surprised to find a small but well-equipped Tibetan 
temple containing a full set of the Sacred Scriptures (Kanjur and Tanjur] 
as well as an enormous prayer-wheel, in Rampur, the capital of Bashar 
State, which was ruled by a Hindu Maharaja. Since the population of 
Rampur was purely Hindu, we were wondering who could have built and 
endowed this sanctuary, until we were informed that it was the Maharaja 
himself who had done it, in the fulfilment of a vow. 

This is the story we were told: The Maharaja had been childless for 
many years, and without an heir his dynasty would have come to an end. 
Though he had consulted many learned Brahmins and performed vari- 
ous religious rites to propitiate the gods, he had not been biessed vrith 
an heir. One day a well-known Lama and his retinue passed through 
Rampur on a pilgrimage to Mount Kaiias, and since his fame had spread 
wide and far and thousands of people came to have his darshan, the 
Maharaja invited him to his palace and, telling him of his predicament, 
promised to build a temple for Buddhist pilgrims and to furnish it with 
a complete set of Tibetan Sacred Scriptures if through the Lama's bless- 
ings an heir would be born to the throne. 

The Lama promised his help, but he made one condition, namely 
that the Maharaja would provide him with a place where he could rerire 
for meditation, perform the necessary rites, and prepare the consecrated 
ribus for the Maharaja and his consort. The Maharaja, thereupon, had a 
special pavilion built in the palace grounds and gave strict orders that 
nobody should be allowed to approach the pavilion or to disturb the 
Lama during the performance of his religious rites. 

However, one of the servants could not master his curiosity, and in 
the darkness of night he crept to the door of the pavilion in order to peep 
through die keyhole and to find out what the Lama was doing there all 
by himself. Apparendy he had heard of the 'wonderworking' ribus and 
wanted to explore the secrets of their composition, as it was said that 
they contained many precious substances, obtained from supernatural 
sources. But when he managed to peep inside the pavilion he beheld the 
Lama, surrounded by a host of super- human beings, celestial as well as 

PlLCFiiM Im 147 

demonical, so that he fainted with fright. People found him the next 
morning at the foot of the steps leading to the entrance of the pavilion. 
When he came to himself he was raving as if in a fever and died within 
a few hours. After this, nobody dared to approach the pavilion, and for 
many days and nights the Lama was absorbed in his devotions. Only the 
sounds of bell and damaru and of the Lama's sonorous incantations were 
heard from lime to time. 

On the appointed day the Lama emerged from the pavilion, gave his 
blessings and the consecrated ribus to the Maharaja and his consort — 
and before the year was out an heir was born to them. In gratitude to the 
saintly Lama, the Maharaja fulfilled his vow and built the promised tem- 
ple. He sent a special delegarion to Tibet to have the Sacred Scriptures 
printed and to fetch the necessary altar-vessels and whatever else was 
necessary for the completion of the temple and die performance of reli- 
gious services. 

After having paid a visit to the temple, we were inspecting the beau- 
tiful Tibetan pavilion in the palace grounds, in which the Lama had lived 
during his retreat. We asked the caretaker, who showed us around, 
whether he remembered the name of the Lama. His answer was; 'Tomo 
Geshe Rimpoch^.' 

All along the road from Tibet we heard miraculous stories about the 
pilgrimage of Tomo G^sh^ Rimpoche, who had given new faith and hope 
to thousands of people, and who had healed the sick and encouraged the 
downtrodden. In the village of Poo, on the Tibetan frontier, a dying giri 
was brought to him on a stretcher. She had been ill for a long time and 
her condition was such that her people were afraid to carry her, lest she 
might die on the way. However, the villagers had such faith in the pow- 
ers of Tomo G^sh^ that they persuaded the girl's parents to take the risk. 
When they arrived with the stretcher at the Lama's place almost the 
whole village was assembled there. 

Under their very eyes, at the command of Tomo G^sh^, the girl 
opened her eyes, got up from the stretcher, and after having received the 
blessings of the Lama she walked out of the house as if she had never 
been ill. The girl was still alive during our stay at Poo, and numerous eye- 

148 The Way of The White Clouds 

witnesses vouchsafed for the truth of this event. We had no reason to 
doubt these reports- — even if Tomo Geshe had not been our ovwi Guru — 
because there was hardly a place through which he had passed during 
that memorable pilgrimage where people did not speak about him with 
veneration and glowing eyes — though many long years had passed since 
then — and the Guru himself had given up his body in the meantime. 

Though popular imagination may have woven a veil of legends over 
many of the actual events, the fact of his healing powers and the tremen- 
dous impact of his personality upon the people stood out clearly and 
unmistakably from all the stories that came to our ears. Even during his 
lifetime he had become a legend, but to all those who had come into 
actual contact with him it became clear that there is more truth in the 
legends growing around a saint's life than our critical intellect may sus- 
pect, and that even in our times saints are walking the face of the 
earth^ust as in the day of Buddha Sakyamuni or Christ, Mohammed or 
St, Francis of Assisi. 

The example of Tomo G^sh^ Rimpoch^ shows convincingly that 
even those who go through the most severe practices of yoga training, liv- 
ing in complete solitude for years on end, do not thereby lose their inner 
bonds with their feliow-beings, nor their functions and usefulness in 
human society. Indeed, they played a far greater role and had a deeper 
influence on the spiritual life of Tibet than those who were exclusively 
engaged in verbal teaching or literary work. 

In Tibet the function of a religious teacher is not so much the 
proclamation of a doctrine or the elucidation of the commonly accepted 
teachings of traditional Buddliism but the demonstration that the highest 
religious aims can be realised and that the ways towards their attainment 
are practicable. Even a silent hermit may act like a beacon of spiritual 
light in the darkness of ignorance and illusion. The very fact of his exis- 
tence, the very fact that he can exist in the light of his own inner realisa- 
tion, is sufficient to give courage and confidence to others. 

Solitary confinement is regarded as the greatest punishment for the 
average individual. The untrained mind breaks down under the weight 
of prolonged confinement in solitude. Those who emerge unscathed 


from such an ordeal prove that they possess an unusual reserve of 
strength. Such strength, however, is not a matter of physical or mental 
robustness, but of a spiritual self-sufficiency that presupposes an unusu- 
ally rich and active mind and a discipline that can only be acquired 
through a long and careful training, 

Tibetans, therefore, are right when they show greater trust and 
respect to those who have proved their moral and spiritual strength in a 
solitary life of meditaUon and religious practice than to those who are 
merely good speakers or clever intellects. Only a man who knows how to 
unlock the treasures of the inner worid can dare to renounce the outer 
one. To do this he must have the key that unlocks these treasures, and 
this key consists in the practice of his sadhana, in which he has been 
trained under the guidance of his Guru. 

Through the Guru's tmntra he remains in touch with him and with 
the hierarchy of his spiritual predecessors; through his sadhand he enters 
into contact with the inner world. And slowly, bit by bit, this inner world 
unfolds itself, takes on greater and greater reality, and finally surrounds 
him like a celestial ntandala, in whose centre he experiences a bliss that 
surpasses all the pleasures of the world which he left outside his cubicle 
or his cave. 

There is no time for him to be idle. His days are filled^not in pas- 
sive waiting for death or for visions to come^ — but in the crearion, con- 
solidation, and re-integration of a new world, built from the universal 
and ever-present form-elements of a deeper and vaster reality In the 
process of this creative activity the adept frees himself from the last 
traces of attachment or clinging to any particular form or 'Gestalt', 
because the whole orchestra of creative possibilities is at his disposal, 
and as little as a great conductor will cling to any phase of his cre- 
aUons — because he is their master and can produce them whenever he 
wiU — so the adept will know himself as the sovereign creator of ail forms 
and at the same time the silent centre of the universe. 


The Hermit Abbot 
OF Lachen 

I ROM THE FOREGOING chapters it will be clear that the deepest sources 
of inspiration are not the big monasteries or the great monastic colleges 
and universities (like Sera, Drepung, and Ganden. the greatest seats of 
learning in Tibet), but the humble hermitages, tucked away in the folds 
and cracks of mighty mountains, or in lonely valleys and in inaccessible 
canyons, or perched on high cliffs like eagles' nests, or scattered over the 
solitudes of remote highlands and along the shores of placid lakes, far 
away from the tracks of caravans and the noise of trading camps and 

It was in these hermitages that saints and sages of Tibet found their 
inspiration, and it is to these hermitages that those who want to tread the 
path of wisdom and liberation return again and again. It is for this reason 
that every monastery possesses a number of isolated cubicles for medita- 
tion, as well as mountain retreats (ri-khrod, pron. 'rito') and hermitages. 

The greatest hermit of Tibet was the poet-saint and yogi Milarepa 
(Mi-la-ras-pa), who spent the lai^er part of his life in caves and in the 

Pilgrim Life tSl 

most inaccessible mountain fastnesses — and up to the present day his 
followers (in the Kargyiitpa Order) lay greater stress on silence and med- 
itation than on book knowledge and learned discussions. His life is per- 
haps the best example for the profound influence that even the most 
unworldly hermit may exert upon the world at large. His contributions to 
the cultural and religious life of Tibet are unrivalled in their originality 
and spontaneity, their beauty and their sense of dedication. 

An outstanding example among modem hermits is the Abbot of 
Lachen, better known as 'the Gome hen of Lachen', who had his her- 
mitage on the border between Northern Sikkim and Tibet. The Bad of 
Ronaldshay (later Marquis of Zetland), a former Governor of Bengal, has 
written admiringly about the Gomchen: 'Over a period of twenty-six 
years he had been in the habit of retiring from the world from time to 
time and living a life of sohtary meditation in a remote cave — high up 
and difficult of access, among the cliffs of an inhospitable mountain 
tract above the path to Thangu. One of those periodic retirements from 
the world had been extended over a period of five years, during which 
time he had seen no human being and had kept body and soul together 
on a minimum of food.' 

This was written almost thirty years ago, in the book Lands of the 
Thunderhoh, in which the Earl of Ronaldshay describes his conversation 
with the Gomchen, from which he had the impression that the latter had 
reached the state of liberation. 'This at least is certain', he added, 'the 
motive which impels men to leave their fellows, and for years on end, 
spurning the weakness of the Flesh, to live a life of solitary confinement, 
must be an extraordinary powerful one. That such lives excite admiration 
and respect is equally certain.* 

People may ask whether such tremendous effort and achievement 
would not have benefited the world more if the hermit had returned to 
the haunts of man and propagated the wisdom which he had acquired. 
This would have been in keeping with the example of many other spiri- 
tual leaders. But the hermit's way was different. 

One day a Western scholar approached his cave and asked to be 
admitted as a chela (disciple). The hermit pointed to another cave in the 

152 The Way of the White Clouds 

vicinity and answered; 'Only if you will stay in that cave for three years 
without a break.' The chela accepted this condition and stayed on for 
three years, enduring patiently the hardships and utter isolation of three 
Himalayan winters with arctic temperatures. 

The chela was none other than the famous French Orientalist and 
explorer Alexandra David-Neel, whose books on Tibet were so outstand- 
ing that they were translated into all the major languages of the world. 
The profound knowledge that informed these books, which for the first 
time gave an objective account of hitherto unknown spiritual practices 
and psychic phenomena, were the direct outcome of these three years of 
study and meditation under the Great Hermit, who thus— with unfailing 
certainty — had chosen the right medium for broadcasting his message 
over the entire world, without himself ever leaving his far-off retreat 
among the snows of the Himalayas. With this 'message' I do not mean a 
message of any personal nature or the propagation of any particular doc- 
trine, but a message which opened the eyes of the world to the hitherto 
hidden spiritual treasures of Tibetan religious culture. If the Gomchen 
had not had this aim at heart he would never have consented to be 
Alexandra David- Neel's Guru and to spend three years in teaching her 
all that which enabled her to enter Tibet and its inner life. One of the 
main gains of her life in the solitude of those years has been expressed 
by her in the following significant words: 'Mind and senses develop their 
sensibility in this contemplative life made up of continual observations 
and reflections. Does one become a visionary or, rather, is it not that one 
has been blind until then?' 

This is really the crux of the matter: the contemplative hermit, far 
from closing his eyes and being dead to the world, opens them and 
becomes wide awake; far from blunring his senses, he develops a higher 
awareness and a deeper insight into the real nature of the world and of 
his own mind. And this shows him that it is as foolish to run away from 
the world as to run after the world: botii extremes having their root in the 
illusion that the 'world' is something separate from ourselves. It is this 
lesson which the Gomchen taught his disciple, a lesson which in the 
philosophical language of Buddliism is based on the mystery of sunyata, 

Pilgrim Life 153 

the inconceivable nature of the Plenum-Void. It is the same lesson 
which he taught me — though in a very different way — when I visited 
him in his mountain retreat near Thangu, at an altitude of about 1 3,000 
feet in the Central Himalayas. The Maharaja of Sikkim, whose guest I 
was during my stay in Sikkim in 1937, had been kind enough to give me 
his own men and horses, to equip my little caravan with all necessary 
provisions, and to allow me to make use of all rest-houses and monas- 
teries in which I might choose to stay on my journey to the northern 
extremity of his realm in order to meet the Great Hermit. It had been my 
ardent desire to meet him, and as he was already over seventy years old, 
I felt that there was no time to lose, I did not mind a two weeks' journey 
on horseback through the most mountainous region of the world (Sikkim 
is said to have the greatest number of mountains above 24,000 feet com- 
pared to any other area in the world of similar size), if thereby I would 
have a chance to meet face to face a man who had such a profound influ- 
ence on the spiritual life of his country, I even did not mind the risk of 
finding his hermitage closed against any visitor, as it happened so often 
when he was engaged in a long period of meditation. A further risk was 
that the winter was fast approaching, and, indeed, the day before 1 had 
set out on the last stage of the journey a heavy snowfall had almost 
blocked the road. I was warned to wait until yaks could be procured, 
since the horses might not be able to negotiate the snow-drifts. But I was 
impatient of further delay, feeling that it was a matter of now or never, 
and so I pushed on and succeeded in getting through, in spite of all 

I put up in a horribly cold and draughty wooden rest-house not far 
below the hermitage of the Gomchen, and since it was too cold and too 
late to do anything else, I retired as soon as possible, hoping to meet the 
hermit in the course of the next morning. 

But before I could fall asleep a strange thing happened; I had the 
sensation that somebody took possession of my consciousness, my will- 
power and my body — that 1 had no more control over my thoughts, but 
that somebody else was thinking them — and that, slowly but surely, I 
Was losing my own identity. And then 1 realised that it could be none 

154 The Way of the White Clouds 

other than the hermit, who, by directing his attention upon me, had 
entered my body and taken possession of it, probably quite unintention- 
ally, due CO the power of his concentration and my own lack of resistance 
in the moment while 1 was hovering between the waking and the sleep- 
ing state. There was nothing aggressive in his presence — on the contrary, 
it gave me some Idnd of satisfaction and a sense of wonder to yield to its 
irresistible magnetism and growing power. 

1 feit like a meteor, drawn into the orbit of a bi^er celestial body — 
until it dawned upon me that once 1 allowed myself to 'fall' without 
reserve, the impact wouJd be my inevitable end. And then, suddenly, a 
terror seized rae, the terror that neither this body nor this mind would be 
mine any more, the terror of losing my own identity for good, and of 
being pushed out of my own body, irrevocably: the indescribable, inex- 
pressible fear of emptiness — to be blown out like a candle — to fall into 
the Nameless Void, a void from which there could be no return! 

And with a last effort of self-preservation, by the veiy strength of this 
terror, I jerked myself from my bed on to my feet and, struggling tena- 
ciously against the power that still seemed to hold me, I lit a candle, 
grabbed my drawing-board and a piece of charcoal {which I always kept 
handy during the journey), and, in order to assure myself of my own real- 
ity, I started frantically to draw a self-portrait in front of my shaving-mirror. 
No matter that the temperature in the room was below freezing-point — 1 
had to do something and do it quickly! And as I got into the work the 
strange power left me! When the sketch was finished I had regained my 
self-control, went to bed, and slept peacefully until next morning. 

After breakfast 1 climbed up to the hermitage, where the Gomchen 
received me with a friendly smile. After exchanging the usual polite 
questions and sipping hot Tibetan butter-tea, which he poured into my 
wooden cup from the eternally simmering teapot, 1 told him how deeply 
I was impressed by his chela's works, and that 1 had often wondered how 
she had been able to endure the hardships of an anchorite's life for so 
many years. He beamed when I mentioned her name, enquired about 
her whereabouts, and brought out an old yellowed newspaper cutting 
with Alexandra David- N eel's picture on it, recalling the time of her dis- 

PiLGRiM Life 155 

cipleship and praising her endurance and strength of character. 

He asked me about my own Guru, and when he learned that it was 
Tomo Geshe Rimpoch^ (who at that time had already passed away), he 
took my Guru's small Buddha-image, which I had been showing him, 
from my hands and reverently placed it on his head. 'He was a great 
Lama,' he said, 'a very great Lama!' 

When I told him about my earlier training in Ceylon he laughingly 
pointed to his pigtail and asked me what the Buddhists in the South 
would think of him, since he had never shaved his head and had been a 
married man throughout his life, though his wife had died many years 
ago. 'Well,' I said, joining in his laughter, 'even the Buddha had a wife 
and child and never shaved his head; and yet he attained Enlightenment 
within the same life! I But you are right — most people judge by appear- 
ances and external circumstances. They do not know that it is not the 
robe or the shaven head but the overcoming of selfish desires that make 
a saint.' 

'And the knowledge that springs from the experience of ultimate 
reality in meditation,' the Gomchen added. 'Mere goodness and morality 
without wisdom is as useless as knowledge without goodness.' 

This brought us to the subject of meditation and its various meth- 
ods and experiences, and in this connection 1 was almost on the point of 
mentioning the happenings of the previous night. But as I felt slightly 
ashamed of my terror, when faced with the experience of falling into the 
abysmal void, I let the opportunity pass and merely asked him to write 
some suggestions in my meditation booklet, which for many years had 
served me as a kind of breviary during my journeys. 

He hesitated a moment, saying that he was old and that his hand 
was no more steady, but then, suddenly taking a bamboo-pen and dip- 
ping it into his home-made ink, he filled a page with Tibetan characters. 

There!' he said. 'Here is your subject for meditation: The Eighteen 
Kinds of Voidnessl' 

So he was aware of what had happened to me the previous night 
and what I had tried to hide! I was deeply moved. And when leaving the 
Great Hermit, after having received his blessings, I feit that I had not 

156 The Way of the White Clouds 

only met him in the flesh but in the spirit: in a manner which revealed 
bpth his spiritual power and his human kindness. 

I was never to see him again — for he soon followed my own Guru. 
But whenever I contemplate the self-portrait which I did on that mem- 
orable night I itnow that it is not only myself but the Hermit as well — 
and that, though it seems to have my features, it looks at me with the 
eyes of him who had realised the Great Void. 

Thus my journey had not been in vain, and I returned with gratitude 
in my heart — both towards the Gomchen as well as towards the Maharaja, 
who had made this journey possible for me and who, in doing so, 
expressed his own high esteem and veneration for the Great Hermit. I 
shall never forget the peace of his hermitage amidst the eternal snows 
and the lesson he taught me: that we cannot face the Great Void before 
we have the strength and the greatness to fill it with our entire being. 
Then the Void is not the negation merely of our limited personality, but 
the Plenum-Void which includes, embraces, and nourishes it, like the 
womb of space in which the light moves eternally without ever being 

Miraculous Escape 
AND Floating Lights 


EFORE RETURNING TO Gangtok I visited the Maharaja's monastery of 
Podang. The old abbot, a man with a remarkably beautiful and spiritu- 
alised face, remembered Alexandra David-Neel from the time she had 
stayed in this monastery. 1 occupied the same room in which she had 
lived and where a strange voice had warned the young Maharaja (the 
predecessor of the Maharaja Tashi Namgyal, who ruled at that time) of 
his impending end and the failure of his intended religious reforms. Like 
many young men with Westernised ideas, he felt it his duty to free his 
country from what he thought mere superstitions, without realising that 
this would only have resulted in the disruption of all traditional values. 
That these were still aHve, though perhaps hidden under the weeds 
of popular beliefs and customs (as only natural in a countiy inhabited to 
the greater part by primitive jungle-folk), became apparent to me when 
meeting the learned Bermiak Rimpoch^, the brother of the Maharaja's 
private secretary, the Kazi of Bermiak. Both the Rimpoch^ and his brother 
(with whom I have been connected through bonds of friendship for 

158 The Way of the White Clouds 

many years) convinced me that if any religious reform was necessary in 
their country it could only spring from a reassessment of those cultural 
and traditional values upon which Tibetan Buddhism was based, but 
never through the introduction of alien ways of thinking, even though 
they might be nearer to the historical sources of Buddhism. But histori- 
cal facts and considerations never play any decisive role in religious life, 
which depends far more on experience and creative imagination than on 
abstract 'truths' and logical thoughts. The legendary figure of the Buddha, 
as conceived in the minds of poets and devotees, the very image of the 
Buddha, as created by countless generations of artists and as a result of 
inner vision and contemplation, has had a far greater influence on the 
development and life of Buddhism than all philosophical theories which 
tried to interpret religious experience in terms of rational thinking, sys- 
tems, and laws. Such interpretations were not without value; on the con- 
trary, they are a necessity for the thinking mind, whose function it is to 
experience and reason. 

On the way to Podang my trip almost came to a bad end. During the 
steep ascent to the monasterv' through tropical jungle I had dismounted 
from my horse, a lovely white steed, which, as the syce had told me, was 
the Maharajas own riding horse, and had it led behind me together with 
the horse of my personal attendant (cook-bearer) who had likewise dis- 
mounted. The path was narrow, leading along yawning precipices and 
deep gorges. I therefore had warned the syce to be careful and to lead 
the horses one behind the other. For some time everything went smoothly 
and I enjoyed the wild scenery of rocks and jungle, but when the path 
made a turn at a particularly precipitous corner, and I was just about to 
give another warning to the syce, I found, when looking back, that the 
horses were walking side by side. But before I could open my mouth the 
horse which was on the inner side of the bend pushed the Maharaja's 
white horse over the edge. 

I was almost frozen with terror when 1 saw the white form disappear 
into the gorge, and the cries of the syce confirmed my worst fears — the 
horse was lost! I rushed back to the spot from where it had fallen, steel- 
ing myself for the horrible sight of the poor creature's mangled body at 

Pilgrim Life 159 

the bottom of the gorge. What would the Maharaja say and what would 
happen to the syce, through whose negligence all this had happened? 
Weeping and lamenting, he had meanwhile started to climb into the 
gorge and 1 myself hurried after him. Halfway down we saw the white 
body of the horse caught in a clump of bamboo and precariously dan- 
gling over the lower part of the precipice. It did not stir, as if conscious 
that one uTong movement would hurde it to its death — or was it that the 
legs were broken? The suspense until we reached the place was almost 
unbearable, and equally indescribable was our relief and joy when we 
found that the creature was hale and hearty, and not a limb was broken 
or hurt. We all felt that a miracle had happened^ — -and it was almost as 
great a miracle that we succeeded in getting the horse off from its pre- 
carious perch and out of the gorge. With a prayer of thanks in our hearts 
we continued our ascent, and when the monks of Podang heard what 
had happened they praised the invisible protectors who had so obviously 
saved us from disaster, > 

On my return to Gangtok, where the Maharaja had put the Maharani's 
residence, Dilkusha, at my disposal, since the Maharani was staying in 
her retreat a few miles outside Gantok, I utihsed the opportunity to 
study many valuable details of Tibetan art and ritual in the beautiful new 
temple near the Palace, as well as to have certain text copied from man- 
uscripts and block-prints at Enche Gompa. The monks in both these 
places were very friendly and helpful. I also had special recommenda- 
tions from Enche Kazi, a Sikkimese nobleman, to whose family estate 
the last-mentioned monastery and temple belonged. 

I had lived in his house as a guest during my first stay at Gangtok 
in 1 932 during my first short trip to Tibet. Both he and his wife had been 
very kind to me and had accepted me in their house as if I were a mem- 
ber of their family. It was on this occasion that I learned that in this very 
same house Lama Yongden had lived and served as a young boy, thus 
earning his livelihood and his education, since he came from a poor fam- 
ily. Ench^ Kazi and his wife were greatly surprised when I told them of 
Yongden's career as a Lama and traveller and the fame he had earned as 
A collaborator and co-author with Mme David- Neel, It was in Ench^ 

160 The Way of the White Clouds 

Kazi's house that she had met him and decided to take him with her with 
the Kazi's consent. It was a decision that completely changed \bngdens 
as well as her own life and helped to make Tibet known to millions of 
readers all over the world. Future events showed that Enche Kazi's house 
was indeed a place in which destinies were shaped. 

On the day of my departure from Gangtok, the Maharaja had 
arranged for an early lunch on the veranda of his palace, and 1 was 
delighted to find that the table was laid only for the two of us, and that 
thus I had an opportunity of having an informal and quiet talk with His 
Highness on religious matters. It was a lovely day, and while looking out 
over the valleys and mountains, spread out before us in all their dazzling 
beauty, I pointed to a far-away range of hills, where 1 had observed bright 
lights moving about at great speed during the previous night, when sit 
ting on the veranda of Dilkusha. 

'I never knew that there was a motorable road in those hills,* I said, 
'or is it that a new road is under construction there?' 

The Maharaja looked at me vnth surprise. 

'What makes you think so? Tliere is no road whatever, nor is there 
any project to build one. The only motorable road that exists in my coun- 
try is the one by which you came from the Tista Valley.' 

I then told His Highness about the swift-moving tights, which 1 had 
seen gliding over that range and which I had taken for the headlights of, 
motor- vehicles. ^ 

The Maharaja smiled, and then, lowering his voice, he said: 'Many 
strange things happen here, and f generally do not like to speak about 
them to outsiders, because they would only think me superstitious. But 
since you have seen it with your own eyes, I may tell you that these lights 
have no human origin. They move about over the most difiicult ground 
with an ease and speed that no human being could attain, apparently 
floating in the air. Nobody has yet been able to explain their nature, and 
1 myself have no theory about them, though the people of my country 
believe them to be a kind of spirit. However that may be, the fact is that 
1 have seen them moving right through the palace grounds towards the 
site where now the temple stands. This was always a sanctified place. 

Pilgrim Life 161 

and some people say that there had also been a cremation-place or a 

cemetery here,' 

Feeling that the Maharaja had touched on something that meant 
more to him than he liked to say, I did not press him further, confining 
myself to the assurance that, far from ridiculing the beliefs of the people, 
1 respected their attitude in trying to give a higher significance to the 
many inexplicable phenomena that surround us, instead of looking upon 
them as meaningless mechanical processes devoid of any connection 
with animated life. Why should physical laws be regarded as an antithe- 
sis of conscious life if our own corporeality shows itself as a compromise 
of spiritual and physical forces, of matter and mind, of the laws of nature 
and the freedom of the individual? Our consciousness makes use of elec- 
tric currents in nerves and brain, thoughts emit vibrations similar to those 
of wireless transmitters and can be received over vast distances by sensi- 
tive conscious organisms. Do we really know what electricity is? By know- 
ing the laws according to which it acts and by making use of them we still 
do not know the origin or the real nature of this force, which ultimately 
may be the very source of life, light, and consciousness, the divine power 
and mover of all that exists. It is the uhimate mystery of protons, neu* 
trons, and electrons of modem science, before which the human intellect 
stands as helpless as the primitive tribesman before the visible phe- 
nomena of nature. We certainly have no reason to look down upon the 
animistic beliefs of primitive man, which only express what the poets of 
all times have felt: that nature is not a dead mechanism, but vibrant with 
life, with the same life that becomes vocal in our thoughts and emotions. 

The phenomenon of floating lights has also been observed on the 
sacred mountain of Wu Tai Shan in China, whose Tibetan name is 
Ri-bo-rtse-lnga, 'the mountain of the five peaks', dedicated to the 
Embodiment of Wisdom, the Dhyani-Bodhisattva ManjusrT. On the 
Southern peak of this mountain there is a tower from which pOgrims can 
nave an unimpeded view. However, this tower is not meant to admire the 
landscape, but to give the pilgrims an opportunity to witness a strange 
phenomenon, which many people suppose to be a manifestation of the 
Bodhisattva himself. 

162 The Way of the White Clouds 

A vivid description of this phenomenon has been given by John 
Blofeld, who spent many months on the sacred mountain: 'We reached 
the highest temple during the late afternoon and gazed with great inter- 
est at a small tower built upon the topmost pinnacle about a hundred 
feet above us. One of the monks asked us to pay particular attention to 
the fact that the windows of this tower overlooked mile upon mile of 
empty space. Shortly after midnight, a monk, carrying a lantern, stepped 
into our room and cried: "The Bodhisattva has appeared!" The ascent to 
the door of the tower occupied less than a minute. As each one entered 
the little room and came face to face with the window beyond, he gave 
a shout of surprise, as though all our hours of talk had not sufficiently 
prepared us for what we now saw. There in the great open spaces beyond 
the window, apparently not more than one or two hundred yards away, 
innumerable balls of fire floated majestically past. We could not judge 
their size, for nobody knew how far away they were. Where they came 
from, what they were, and where they went after fading from sight in the 
West nobody could tell. Fluffy balls of orange-coloured fire, moving 
through space, unhurried and majestic — truly a fitting manifestation of 


Death and 

1, The Wheel of Lije. Rider & Co. (London, 1959), p. 549 f. 

The Guru's Passing 


ETURNING FROM Gangtok, 1 Stayed in Tomo G^sh^ Rimpoch^'s pri- 
vate apartments at Yi-Gah Cho-Ling. It was as if time had stood still in 
the little shrine- room which I inhabited and in which nothing had 
changed since my first meeting with the Guru. His seat, with his heavy 
cloak carefully arranged on it in an upright position, looked as if he had 
just stepped out of it, and on the chog^e in front of the seat stood his 
Jade cup filled with tea, together with his ritual implements, such as 
vajra, bell, and rice-vessel. The central butter-lamp before the carved 
shrine with the golden image of Dolma burned with its steady, timeless 
flame, which Kachenla, undeterred by age and cheerful as ever, tended 
with loving care. 

To him the Guru was ever present, and daily he would prepare his 
seat, shake and refold his robe, fill up his teacup (before he would sip 
his own tea), polish and replenish the water-bowls and butter-lamps, 
light the incense-sticks, recite the formulas of worship and dedication, 
and sit in silent meditation before the shrines, thus performing all the 

166 The Way of the White Clouds 

duties of a religious life and of a devoted disciple, Serving the Guru was 
to him the highest form of divine service — it was equal to serving the 

Not a speck of dust was allowed to settle on the seats and chogtses 
or on the carvings of the shrines and altars. The floor looked like a mirror, 
and the thankas and the lovely brocades, in which they were mounted, had 
lost none of their softly vibrating colours. The handwoven rugs on the 
low seats, the wall-hangings above them, the dark brown cloth that was 
stretched across the ceiling, and the silken canopies above the Guru's 
seat and the main shrines, edged by rainbow-coloured volants, gave me 
the feeling of being in the tent or 'yurt' of a nomad-patriarch or ruler of 
old, somewhere in Central Asia — far away from our present world and 
time. I could teef in this room the traditions of a millennium, intensified 
and sublimated through the personality that filled this place with its liv- 
ing presence. 

A similar Feeling had assailed me during our last meeting at Samath, 
when the whole place had been turned into a Tibetan encampment, and 
at night the camping-ground under the mango-trees was illuminated 
with countless oil-lamps in honour of Tomo G^she and his retinue. He 
himself was staying in a big tent in the centre of the mango-grove, and 
in the soft li^t of the oil-lamps and the glow of camp-fires, whose 
smoke was hanging like transparent veils between the trees and the 
tents, the grove seemed to me transformed into an oasis far away in the 
heart of Asia, with a caravan of pilgrims resting after a long desert jour- 
ney. It was indeed one of the last stages in the Guru's life-journey — a 
leavetaking from the sacred places of the Buddha's earthly career. It was 
Tomo G^sh^'s last pilgrimage to India in 1935-6, accompanied by many 
of his disciples and received everywhere with great enthusiasm, though 
he himself shunned all personal honours and public attention. 

When passing through Calcutta on his way back to Yi-Gah Chfl- 
Ling and to Tibet, the papers in Calcutta carried the following report: 'A 
famous Lama, who ranks fourth after the Dalai Lama, is staying in 
Calcutta at present. The Venerable Geshey Rim-po-che is on his way to 
Tibet after completing his pilgrimage to the Buddhist sacred places in 

Death and Rebirth 167 

North India. Supernatural powers are ascribed to the seventy-one-year- 
old Lama. He spends the greater part of his time reading the sacred 
texts, discoursing with his disciples, or being absorbed in meditation. He 
shuns the public, hardly ever leaves his room, and is said never to sleep. 
He is accompanied by a retinue of forty Lamas. They visited Sarnath, 
Gaya, and Rajgir. In Sarnath he and his retinue dwelled in tents.' 

The idea that Tomo G^sh^ never slept was caused by the fact 
that — -as I menrioned before — he never used to lie down, but remained 
in the posture of meditation all through the night, thus never losing con- 
trol over his body even in sleep, which, according to the highest form of 
meditational practice, becomes a natural continuation of sadhana on a 
different level of consciousness. Though there is no doubt that Tomo 
Geshe's spiritual powers were far above those of the ordinary (i.e. 
untrained) man, he would have protested against the term 'supernatural' 
and still more against giving publicity to such things. In fact, when 
reporters tried to satisfy their curiosity about magic powers and mystic 
rituals in Tibetan Buddhism he broke off the conversation, pointing out 
that these things would not help them in understanding the essential 
teachings of the Buddha. 

Thus the reporters had to content themselves with the externals of 
the pilgrimage, which was organised and led by Sardar Bahadur Ladenla, 
who had served the thirteenth Dalai Lama in various capacities and had 
been given by him the rank of General. They mentioned that Tomo 
Gesh^ and Ladenla had gilded the Buddha-image in the new temple of 
Samath as an act of devotion, and that the Maharaja of Bhutan had sent 
with them a beautifully worked canopy of silver for the image. 

1 found this newspaper report in the diaries of Baron von Veltheim- 
Ostrau, who personally paid a visit to Tomo G^sh^ Rimpoche during his 
stay in Calcutta on the 2nd of February 1936. Due to the many visitors 
who tried to see the Lama, he was not able to talk to him. 'In the midst 
of people's goings and comings he [the Lama] was the only resring pole. 
He was seated on a rug, smiling and silent. The old man made an 
extremely dignified impression, ripe with knowledge and wisdom, like 
One who was already approaching the state of transfiguration.' 

168 The Way of the White Clouds 

Death and Rebirth 169 

And this, indeed, was the case, because the ultimate phase in Tomo 
GSsh^'s life and his conscious transition into a new one, which took 
place the following year, was truly a 'state of transfiguration', a triumph 
over death. 

Kachenla told me all that had happened during the Guru's last days; 
and later on, in 1947 during a visit at Dungkar, Tomo Geshe's main 
monastery in the Tomo Valley of South Tibet, we heard the details about 
his passing away from those who had been present. The Guru had made 
it known that he would soon leave his body, which had become a burden 
to him. 'But,' he said, 'there is no reason for you to feel sad, 1 do not for- 
sake you, nor my work for the Dharma; but instead of dragging on in an 
old body. I shall conic back in a new one, I promise to return to you. You 
may look out for me within three or four years.' 

Not long after this announcement he retired for a longer spell of 
meditation and gave instructions to be left undisturbed, though he 
remained in his usual quarters within tbe monastery. He soon entered a 
state of deep absorption and remained in it for many days. But when ten 
days had passed, and the Guru was still sitting motionless on his seat, his 
attendants began to be worried. One of them held a mirror near to his face, 
and when it was found that the surface of the mirror remained unclouded 
they realised that he had stopped breathing: he had left his body during his 
meditation and had consciously passed over the threshold between life 
and death — or, more correctly, between one life and another. 

He had left his body, before death could snatch it away from him, 
and directed his consciousness towards a new germ of Hfe, that would 
carry on the impetus of his will and form itself into a new instrument of 
the attainment of his ultimate aim and the fulfilment of his Bodhisattva 
Vow, which might be summarised in these words: 'Whatever be the high- 
est perfection of the human mind, may I realise it for the benefit of all 
living beings. Even though 1 may have to take upon myself all the suf- 
ferings of the world, I will not forsake my aim and my fellow-creatures 
in order to win salvation for myself only' 

This vow is based on a deep understanding of the root of suffering 
and its cure. The root of suffering is man's egohood, which separates him 


from his fellow-beings and from the sources of reahty. How can he over- 
come this suffering? 'Basically, there can only be two answers. One is to 
overcome separateness and to find unity by regression to the state of 
unity which existed before awareness ever arose, that is, before man was 
bom. The other answer is to he fully bom, to develop one s awareness, 
one's reason, one's capacity to love, to such a point that one transcends 
one's ovm egocentric involvement, and arrives at a new harmony, at a 
new oneness with the world.'' 

The former is the way of the average Hindu mysric, especially the 
strict Vedanrin. who wishes to return to the oneness of the uncreated 
(brahman), to dissolve his individual soul in the All-Soul. The latter is the 
way of the Bodhisattva, the way towards Buddhahood. The first is the 
way of asceticism and world-negation (worid illusion), the second is the 
way of life-acceptance (of individual values) and world -transcendence, 
or world-transformation — because whether the world is experienced as 
sarhsara or nirvana depends on the spiritual development or state of real- 
isation of the experiencing subject; it is not a quality of the world. It is 
for this reason that in the Mahayana, and even more so in the Vajrayana 
of Tibet, satnsara is equated with nirvana. 

The puipose of Buddhist meditation, therefore, is not merely to 
sink back into the 'uncreated' state, into a state of complete tranquillisa- 
tion with a vacant mind; it is not a regression into the "unconscious' or 
an exploration of the past, hut a process of transformation, of transcen- 
dence, in which we become fully conscious of the present, of the infinite 
powers and possibilities of the mind, in order to become masters of our 
own destiny, by cultivating those qualities which lead to the reaUsation 
of our timeless nature: to enlightenment. Thus, instead of contemplat- 
ing a past that we cannot change, upon which we cannot have any more 
the slightest influence, meditation serves to sow the seeds of final liber- 
ation and to build already now the bodies of future perfection in the 
image of our highest ideals. 

1 ■ Erich Fromm, Zcti BuMism aid Psychoanalysis. Allen & Unwin (London, 1960) p. 87, 




I HE CREATION OF the 'im^e' of OUT highest ideals is tlie real 'magic', namely 
the power that acts, forms, and transfomis. An ideal, therefore, can only act 
if it is represented by a symbol — not merely a conventional sign or a mere 
allegory, but a valid, living symbol that can be visualised, experienced, felt, 
and realised by our whole being. It is for this reason that Tibetan Buddhism 
lays such stress on visualisation of the symbols of Buddhahood — which are 
as numerous as its qualities — <jn the contemplation of images, nutndaks, 
rmntras, etc. All these diings are not so much objects of worship but aids, 
instruments of visualisation, througji which the sadhaka becomes one with 
his ideal, is transformed into it, becomes its embodiment. 

This is what first and foremost a 'tulku' is meant to be. He is not a 
'phantom',' nor an 'avatar' of a god or a transcendental being that takes 
on human form. If, for instance, the Dalai Lama is regarded to be the 

1, A translation based on a Nindly philological interpretation of the Tibetan terni 'sprwl', 
which means the power of transformation, the creative power of the mind, which can 
result in the formation of ephemeral phantom-forms as well as in material reality. Even 
this reality is 'real' only in the context of time, i.e. only in a relative sense. 

Death and Rebirth 171 

lulku of AvalokiteSvara, it does not mean that a divine being, or a Buddha 
or Bodhisattva, has descended from heaven and appears in the shape of 
man, hut rather that a divine idea has been realised in a human being to 
such an extent that it has become its living embodiment. And having 
thus overcome the limitations of a merely individual existence by realis- 
ing its universal background, or, as we might say, its eternal source, a 
tulku reaches beyond the frontiers of death by establishing a conscious 
continuity between his consecutive hves. 

This continuity enables him not only to utilise the fruits of his former 
knowledge and experience but to proceed consequently on his chosen 
path in the pursuit of enlightenment and in the service of his fellow- 
beings. According to the law of Karma none of our actions and thoughts 
is lost. Each of them leaves its imprint on our character, and the sum 
total of one life creates the basis for the next. But as long as people are 
not conscious of this continuity they vrill act only in conformity with 
their momentary necessities, desires, and petty aims, identifying them- 
selves with their present personality and span of life, thus floundering 
from existence to existence without direction and therefore without a 
chance of ever breaking the chain reaction of cause and effect. 

Only if we realise that it is in our hands to bridge the chasm of death 
and to determine and direct the course of our future life in such a way 
that we can pursue or accomplish in it what we regard our highest task, 
then only can we give depth and perspective to our present existence and 
to our spiritual aspirations. The torn and tortured human being of our 
time, who Icnows neither his infinite past, nor the infinity of his future, 
because he has lost the connection with his timeless being, is like a man 
suffering from incurable amnesia, a mental disease which deprives him of 
the continuity of his consciousness and therefore of the capacity to act 
consistently and in accordance with his true nature. Such a man really 
dies, because he identifies himself with his momentary existence. 

There is a well-known spiritual exercise in Tibet, practised by those 
who have been initiated into the Bardo-teachings (concerning the inter- 
mediate states of consciousness between life and death or between 
death and rebirth), which has the purpose of penetrating into the centre 

172 The Way of the White Clouds 


of our being, into which consciousness retreats in the moment of physi- 
cal death, thus anticipating the experience of the transition from one hfe 
to another. It is not a question of calling up the past or anticipating the 
future, it has nothing to do with the remembrance of former lives or the 
divination of a future existence, it is the full recognition of that which is 
present already and in which the germs of future possibilities are con- 
tained. He who recognises them in their true nature obtains mastery 
over their hidden forces and can direct them in such a way that in the 
moment of death, when they are freed from their bodily bonds, they will 
maintain the given direction and ensure the conscious continuity of their 
directing impulse by projecting it into a new vessel of life. 

While the ordinary, i.e. untrained, man is overtaken and overpowered 
by death, those who have brought both body and mind under control are 
capable of withdrawing from the body on their own accord, v/ithout under- 
going the suffering of a physical death-stru^le; in fact, without losing con- 
trol of their body even in this decisive moment. 

This was demonstrated in the case of Tomo G6sh€'s passing away 
by the fact that his body remained unchanged and erect in the posture 
of meditation even after he had left it. Nobody knows the exact day on 
which this happened. It may have been several days before the mirror 
was held before his face, because even after that the body remained in 
the same position for several weeks, as testified also by Mr. H. E. 
Richardson, the British Envoy to Lhasa at that time. A few weeks after 
he had heard of Tomo Geshe's death he was passing through the valley 
in which Dungkar Monastery is situated, and as he had known the 
Rimpoche during his lifetime, he interrupted his journey and rode up to 
the Gompa, which stands on an isolated hill in the middle of the fertile 
valley. He was very politely greeted by the abbot, who, before be could 
even express his condolences, told him that the Rimpoche was giad to 
receive him. Somewhat taken aback and wondering whether he had per- 
haps been misinformed about Ibmo Geshe's passing away he followed 
the abbot to the Rimpoche's private apartments. How great was his sur- 
prise when entering the room to find Tomo Gesh^ sitting in his usual 
seat. Before he could give vent to his astonishment he realised that it 

Death and Rebirth 173 

was only the Rimpoche's body, though the abbot seemed to have a dif- 
ferent idea about it, since he acted exactly as if he were in the living 
presence of the Rimpoche, Announcing Mr. Richardson's visit, he asked 
the latter to be seated and said — as if repeating the words of the 
Rimpoche's inaudible voice: The Rimpoche welcomes you and asks: have 
you had a good journey, and are you in good health?' And in this way a com- 
plete conversation ensued between the Rimpoche and Mr. Richardson, 
while tea was served, and everything seemed to be as usual, so that the 
visitor almost began to doubt his own senses. It was a most fantastic expe- 
rience, and if Li and 1 had not heard it from Mr. Richardson's ovm lips, 
when we met at Gyantse a few years later, I would have found this diffi- 
cult to believe, 

It is hardly necessary to mention that it was not the abbot's inten- 
tion to pretend to be in mediumistic contact with Tomo Geshe's spirit. 
He was simply acting in accordance with his conviction of the Guru's 
presence. As long as the sacred vessel of the Guru's mind — in the form 
of his body, which apparently was stiU controlled and kept upright by the 
power of his will^ — was present, the abbot had to treat it with the same 
respect which had been due to it during his liferime. 

It may be difficult for the Westerner to put himself into the feelings 
of a pious Tibetan, and still more to understand the attitude of those to 
whom life and death are not contradictory opposites, but only two sides 
of the same reality It is due to this that Tibetans show far less fear of 
death than most other people. The necromantic aspects of prehistoric 
religions and their survival in certain traditions and rituals of Tibetan 
Buddhism — in which the symbols of death, like skulls, skeletons, corpses, 
and all aspects of decay and dissolution, are impressed upon the human 
mind — are not means to create disgust for life but means to gain control 
over the dark forces which represent the reverse side of life. We have to 
make ourselves familiar with them, because they have power over us 
only as long as we fear them. To propitiate the dark forces does not mean 
to pacify them or to bribe them, but to give them a place in our own 
mind, to fit them into the order of the universe of our experience, to 
accept them as a necessary part of reahty, which teaches us not to get 

174 The Way of the White Clouds 

attached to any particular form of appearance and thus liherates us from 
bodily bondage, 

I do not know how long the body of the Guru remained in his seat, 
I only remember that the Abbot of Dungkar and aU who had been pres- 
ent stressed the fact that the body had shown no signs of decay and that 
many weeks (if not months) had passed before the entombment took 

When a person has attained a high degree of realisation or, as we 
may say, saintliness, it is assumed that the material components of the 
body have been transformed to a certain degree by being saturated with 
psychic forces, which continue to exert a beneficial influence on their 
surroundings, and especially on those who open themselves to those 
influences on account of their devotional attitude and sincere faith. The 
same forces are believed to retard the natural decay of the body — a 
fact that has been observed also among the saints of other religions {even 
under the most unfavourable circumstances in tropical climates, as in 
the case of St Francis Xavier of Goa). The world-wide belief in the value 
of relics is based on such facts as well as on the above-mentioned belief 
in the psychometric qualities of matter under the impact of great spiri- 
tual forces. 

It is for this reason that the bodies of saints and great Lamas (like 
the Dalai and Panchen Lamas) are not cremated or otherwise disposed 
of, but preserved in reliquaries of gold and silver in the form oickonem. 
Such a chorten was built for Tomo Geshe too, and its magnificence is as 
much a monument to Tomo Geshe's spiritual attainments as to the love 
and veneration in which the people of Tibet held him. As soon as his 
passing away became known, thousands of people from near and far 
streamed to Dungkar Gompa to pay their last respects and to bring gifts 
of gold and silver and precious stones as a contribution to the memory 
of the great Guru. Even the poorest insisted on adding their share: some 
of them would give their turquoise ear-omaments, or their rings and sil- 
ver bangles, others their coral beads and necklaces; some would even 
give their silver charm-boxes studded vrith precious stones — nothing was 
too good or too gr*sat a sacrifice for such a great cause: to create a wor- 

Death and Rebirth 175 

thy shrine, which would remind future generations of the great Guru 
and would make them partake of his spirit's lingering presence. The peo- 
ple's enthusiasm seemed to know no bounds. The amount of gifts in the 
form of valuables, money, and ornaments was so great that a two-storey- 
high chorten of silver was built, embossed with golden scroll work, stud- 
ded with coral, turquoise, onyx, agate, lapis-lazuli, garnet, topaz, and 
amethyst and the like. The best gold- and silversmiths were employed to 
create a work of great beauty and perfection. 

The lower part of the chorion was big enough to form a room, in 
which the mummified body of Tomo G^sh6 could be enthroned in full 
regalia and with all his ritual implements on a little table (ckogtse) before 
him, as in life. The chorten was housed in a specially built high-ceilinged 
hall, the walls of which were covered with beautiful frescoes of Buddhas, 
Bodhisattvas, and saints, among them the famous Eighty-four 
Accomplished Ones (Siddhas). 

Before the body was prepared' for the final installation in the 
chorten a stylised yet life-like gilt statue was modelled after the actual 
body and features of the Guru by one of the traditional image-makers, 
and a replica was placed in the Lhakhang of each of Tomo Geshe's main 
monasteries, below and at the side of the central Maitreya statue, which 
he himself had erected during his lifetime. He is represented in the 
Dkarma-desana-mudrd, the gesture of 'showing the Dharma': the right 
hand is raised with the palm outwards, like in Amoghasiddhi's gesture of 
fearlessness and blessing, but thumb and forefinger are joined to form a 
circle — it is the gesture that indicates the highest form of blessing, the 
gift of truth, from which fearlessness is born. 

1 . The Tibetan method of mummification consists in draining all liquids from the body 
by Iceeping it for some time in a container closely packed with salt. Iti order to clean the 
inner organs, quicksilver is poured through the mouth. After the body is dried (in the 
posture of meditation) it is covered with bandages to ensure its steadiness and to give a 
grounding for a coating of clay or lacquer and gold, which converts it in^i. a statue and 
makes it impervious to climatic influences. 



I Of 

I OME GfiSHfe RiMPOCHfe had promised to return to his monaster}' and 
to his pupils in due time, and his promise came true. Little, however, did 
I think that his rebirth would take place in the very house in which 1 had 
been staying as a guest during ray first trip to Tibet, the very same house 
which I revisited during my pilgrimage to the Great Hermit: the house 
of Enche Kazi at Gangtok. It was from his own mouth that I learned the 
details of Tomo Gesh^'s rebirth and of his discovery a few years later 
with the help of the great State Oracle in Lhasa. 

Knowing Ench^ Kazi as a sincere and deeply religious man, I can 
vouchsafe for the truthfulness of his report of which Li Gotami also was 
a witness. In spite of the fact that he had reason to be proud of being the 
father of a Tulku, his story was tinged with sadness, because he had lost 
his vrife soon after die child was born,' and a few vears later, when it 

1 , tt is a common belief in Tibet that i Tulku's mother generally dies soon after his birth, 
and I remember several cases where this was so — the present DaJai Lama being a great 
exception. Aiso the mother of Buddha Sakyamtini, Queen Maya, died a few days after 
she had given birth to the Future Buddha. 

Death and RESfRtH 177 

became apparent that his son was none other than the rebirth of Tomo 
G^sh^, he had to give up his only child. It was only in the face of over- 
whelming evidence and for the sake of the boy's happiness, who himself 
wanted to 'return to his monastery, that the father finally gave in and 
allowed him to he taken to Dungkar Gompa. 

The Maharaja himself had pleaded with the father not to interfere 
with the boy's higher destiny, which was clearly indicated by the findings 
of the Great Oracle of Nachung and confirmed by the boy's ovm utter- 
ances and behaviour. The latter had always insisted that he was not 
Sikkimese but Tibetan, and when his father called him '^-chung' (little 
son) he protested, saying that his name was Jigme (the Fearless One). 
This was exactly the name which the Oracle at Lhasa had mentioned as 
the name under which Tomo G^sh^ would be reborn. 

The fact that the State Oracle had been invoked shows how much im- 
portance was attached to the finding of Tomo G^sh^'s rebirth. Apparently 
the local oracle at Dungkar had not been able to give a clear indication or 
had advised the authorities to seek further clarification from Nachung. The 
latter, indeed, had been most specific by pointing out not only the direction 
where the child would be found but by giving a detailed description of the 
town and the locality in which he was bom. From all these details it became 
clear that the tovm could only be Gangtok. Furthermore, the year in which 
the boy was bom and the exact age of the father and the mother was given, 
as well as a description of the house in which they lived and of the trees 
that grew in the garden. Two fruit-trees, which stood in front of the house, 
were particularly pointed out as a characteristic feature of the place. 

Thus, a delegation of monk-officials was sent to Gangtok, and 
armed with all these details they found the boy, who was then about four 
years old. As soon as the monks approached the house and entered the 
garden, the boy called out: 'Father, my people have come to take me back 
to my Gompa!' And he ran to meet them, jumping with joy — rather to the 
embarrassment of the father, who was not yet prepared to give up his 
oniy son. But the latter pleaded uith his father to let him go, and when 
the monks spread out before him various monastic articles, like rosaries, 
vaJTos, bells, teacups, wooden bowls, damarus, and other things which 

178 The Way of the White Clouds 

are in daOy use in religious rituals, he immediately picked out those 
objects which had helonged to him in his previous life, rejecting all those 
which had been deliberately mixed up with them^though some of them 
looked far more attractive than the genuine articles. 

The father, who saw all these proofs and remembered the many 
signs of the boy's extraordinary intelligence and unusual behaviour 
which had often surprised him, was finally convinced and — though it 
was with a heavy heart — he finally gave his consent that the boy should 
go with the delegation to his monastery in Tibet. 

On his journey to Dungkar Gompa the party met the Amchi, the 
Tibetan doctor who had treated Tomo Geshe during the last years of his 
life, and the boy, recognising him, called out: 'O Amchi, don't you know 
me? Don't you remember that you treated me when I was sick in my pre* 
vious body?' 

Also in Dungkar he recognised some of the older monks and, what 
was most remarkable, the little dog who had been his special favourite 
in the last days of his previous life recognised him immediately and was 
beside liimseLf with joy at being reunited with his beloved master. 

Thus Tomo G^sh^ had fulfilled his promise, and people again 
streamed from near and far to Dungkar Gompa to pay their respects to 
the Guru and to receive his blessings. The little boy impressed everybody 
with his self-assured and dignified behaviour when he sat on his throne 
in the great hall of the temple, conducting rituals, presiding over the 
recitations on festive occasions, or receiving pilgrims and blessing them — 
while otherwise he was natural and spontaneous like any other boy of his 
age. But during religious functions it was as if through the innocently 
pure and transparent features of the child the face of a man, mature in 
years and wisdom, could be seen. And soon it became clear that he had 
not forgotten the knowledge which he had acquired in his previous life. 
His education was nothing but a rehearsal of his former knowledge, and 
he progressed so quickly that soon there was nothing left that his tutors 
at Dungkar could teach him. Thus, at the age of seven he was sent to 
Sera, one of the great monastic universities near Lhasa, for higher stud- 
ies and for obtaining again hts degree of Doctor of Divinity (G6sh6), 

Death and Resirth 179 

All this may appear incredible to the critical Westerner, and I admit 
that I myself would have found it difficult to believe had I not come 
across similar cases, which not only proved that the idea of rebirth was 
more than a mere theory or an unfounded belief, but equally demon- 
strated the possibility of remembering important aspects or achievements 
of former lives. The scientist who only believes in physical heredity never 
asks himself what the fact of heredity actually means. It is the principle 
of preservation and continuity of acquired characteristics which finally 
results in the faculty of conscious remembrance and conscious direction 
under the guidance of organised knowledge, i,e. through co-ordinated 
experience. Heredity, in other words, is only another name for memory, 
the stabilising principle and the counter-force of dissolution and imper- 
manence. Whether we call memory a spiritual or a material property or a 
biological principle is beside the point, because 'material', 'biological', and 
'spiritual' signify only different levels on which the same force operates or 
manifests itself. All that matters is that it is both a form-preserving as well 
as a form-creating force, the connecting linlt between the past and the 
future, which finally manifests itself in the experience of the timeless 
present and of conscious existence. The simultaneousness of preservation 
and creation is achieved in the process of continuous transformation, in 
which the essential elements or form-principles remain present like an 
ideal nucleus out of which new forms crystallise according to inherent 
laws and under the influence of external stimuli. 

If, as is obvious, no physical or purely materialistic or scientific explana- 
tion is possible, and we have to admit that an unknovm force is the agent 
that forms and determines the conception, formation, and development of a 
new physical body and its consciousness, according to the inherent directive 
impulse of that force — then nothing could be a more natural explanation 
than to ascribe this impulse to an already existing individualised conscious- 
ness, which in the moment of its release from its bodily basis (as in death) 
or from the dominance of physical functions (as in states of trance, or deep 
absorption and concentration) seizes the still undifferentiated, pliable, and 
receptive germ of life as the material basis of a new individual organism. 
Even if we want to take into account physical heredity, since die parents of 

180 The Way of the White Clouds 

a new being provide the 'material' out of which the new organism is formed, 
this would not contradict its capacity to respond to the impulse of a con- 
scious force, especially if the latter is in tune with the qualities of the former 
or the circumstances under which the 'material' originated. It is not the 
material on which an organism feeds, or which it takes from its surroundings 
to build up its bodily frame, which determines its nature, but the formative 
force of consciousness (in its widest sense), which transfonns the crude 
material. It goes without saying that there must also be a certain affinity 
between the assimilating organism and the material of which it makes use. 
If heredity would proceed in a purely biological manner tlirough permuta- 
tions of chromosomes and the like there would be no point in the development 
of an individual consciousness, capable of reflective thought and higher rea- 
son and the awareness of its own existence. The instinct of an animal would 
serve its purpose far better, and any mental development beyond this level 
would appear meaningless. 'Due to his reflecting mind, man has been lifted 
above the animal world and demonstrates throu^ his mind that nature in 
him has put a high premium on the development of consciousness' (C. G. 
Jung). Indeed, the whole gigantic process of biological development tlirough 
millions of years seems to have had no other purpose than to create the nec- 
essary conditions for the manifestation of higher consciousness. 

To the Buddhist consciousness is the central factor, from which all 
other things proceed and without which we would neither have a notion of 
our own existence nor of a world around us. Whether the 'world around us' 
is a projection of our consciousness or something that exists in itself, and 
only appears to us in the form in which we experience it, is of secondary 
importance. U does not change the fact that it is our consciousness which 
by its selective faculties of perception and co-ordination determines the 
type of world in which we live. A different kind of consciousness would 
create a different world around us, whatever the existing — or non-existing 
— raw material of the universe may be. It is only in our consciousness 
that we get at the root of it, and only through our consciousness can we 
act upon it. We cannot change the world other than through our con- 
sciousness — which is the world as well as that which transcends it: 
sarksdra and nirvana, bondage and liberation. 

Death and Rebirth 181 

Consciousness is based on two functions; awareness and the stor- 
ing up (or preservation) of the fruits of experience, which we call mem- 
ory. Consciousness as a storehouse oi experience by far outweighs con- 
sciousness as awareness. While the latter is momentary and more or less 
limited to one object, the former is universal and not affected by time, 
persisting even while we are not aware of it. It is for this reason that the 
Vijmnavadins defined the deepest consciousness as dlaya-vijnana or 
'store-consciousness', in which not only the experiences of our present 
hfe, but those of all our 'ancestors', reaching back into the infinity of 
time and space, are preserved, and which therefore is ultimately a con- 
sciousness of universal character, connecting the individual with all that 
exists or ever has been in existence or may come into existence again.' 

Consciousness is a living stream which cannot be caught in the ves- 
sel of a narrow ego, because its nature is that of movement, of flowing; 
and flow means continuity as well as the relationship between two lev- 
els or two poles. Without this polarity there can be no movement, no life, 
no awareness — and without continuity no meaningful relationship. The 
greater the distance or the difference between these two levels or poles, 
the more powerful is the stream or the force that results. The highest 
consciousness is the product of the widest range of experience: the 
amplitude between the poles of universality and individuality. 

The average consciousness, however, is confined to the narrow cir- 
cle of temporal aims and desires, so that the great flow is hampered and 
diverted, its energy scattered and the resulting light of awareness 
dimmed. When individuality thus loses its conscious relationship with 
universaUty and tries to become an end in itself by clinging to its momentary 
existence, the illusion of a changeless separate ego is created, the flow 

I. Mere awareness without relationship to former experience, without the process of 
identification and co-ordination, is as futile as a merely automatic reaction (as found in 
lower forms of life). Systems of meditation, which claim to practise 'mere awareness', are 
pure seif -deception, because it is impossible to be fully conscious of anything, without 
reference to previous experience; and even, if this were possible, no spiritual or any other 
gain would result from it! It would merely be a temporary regression into a state of veg- 
etative or animal-like existence which, if persisted in, would lead to a state of mental 
stagnation and unjustified self-complacency. 

182 The Way of the White Clouds 

is arrested, and stagnation sets in. The cure for this is not the suppres- 
sion of individuality but the realisation that individuality is not the same 
as egohood (in the above-mentioned sense) and that change, which is a 
natural and necessary condition of life, is not arbitrary or meaningless 
but proceeds according to an inherent and universal law, which ensures 
the continuity and inner stability of movement. 

Individuality is not only the necessary and complementary opposite 
of universality but the focal point through which alone universality can 
be experienced. The suppression of individuality, the philosophical or 
religious denial of its value or importance, can only lead to a state of 
complete indifference and dissolution, which may be a liberation from 
suffering, but a purely negative one, as it deprives us of the highest expe- 
rience towards which the process of individuation seems to aim: the 
experience of perfect enlightenment or Buddhahood in which the uni- 
versality of our true being is realised. 

Merely to 'merge into the whole' like the 'drop into the sea', without 
having realhed that wholeness, is only a poetical way of accepting anni- 
hilation and evading the problem that the fact of our individuality poses. 
Why should the universe evolve individualised forms of life and con- 
sciousness if this were not consistent with or inherent in the very spirit 
or nature of the universe? The question remains the same whether we 
see the universe with the eyes of a scientist, as an objective universe of 
physical forces, or with the eyes of a Buddhist, as an emanation or pro- 
jection of a spiritual force, subjecrively experienced as an all-embracing 
universal 'store-consciousness' {ahya-vijmna). The very fact of our indi- 
vidual existence must have a meaningful place in the order of the uni- 
verse and cannot be brushed aside as a deplorable accident or a mere 
illusion — whose illusion? one might ask. 

However, more important than our intellectual reasoning are the ob- 
servable facts which — long before any explanations were offered by either 
religion, philosophy, or psychology — ^led to the conviction not only of a sur- 
vival of individual consciousness beyond death in some higher or lower 
realms beyond our own but of a rebirth in this our human world. 1 will, there- 
fore, relate two outstanding cases that came under my personal observation. 


U Khanti.the Seer 
OF Mandalay Hill 

^' THE YEAR 1929, during a pilgrimage in Burma, I was staying for some 
rime at Mandalay together with the Venerable Nyanatiloka Mahathera of 
the Island Hermitage near Dodanduwa in Ceylon, where I had under- 
gone my novitiate as a Brahmachari. Nyanatiloka Tliera had come to 
Burma a short time after my arrival at Rangoon to pay his last respects 
to his old Guru, U Kumara Mahathera, who had just passed away in the 
little monastery of Kyundaw Kyaung, where Nyanatiloka had received 
his ordination twenty-six years before. The body of the revered teacher 
was kept in a dragon-protected richly adorned teakwood sarcophagus 
filled with honey to preserve the body until the preparations for the cre- 
mation had been completed. Since this might take a year or more in 
accordance with Burmese custom, it was not possible for us to wait for 
this opportunity, and therefore Nyanatiloka decided to join me during a 
part of my pilgrimage upcountry. After travelling for about two weeks on 
a trading steamer on the Irrawaddy, visiting on the way the ruined city of 
Pagan, with its thousands of temples and pagodas, we finally reached 
Mandalay, which we made our headquarters for the time being in order 

184 The Way of the White Clouds 

to visit the many places of religious and historical interest in and around 
the town. • t> 

The most sacred place of Mandalay is a rocky hill which rises 
steeply on the outskirts of the town from the otherwise flat country. The 
hill is covered with temples, pagodas, and innumerable smaller shrines 
and sanctuaries, connected by a long flight of roofed stairs, which lead 
from the foot to the top of the hill. One of the most remarkable sights, 
however, when approaching the hill, is two groups of hundreds of small 
pagodas (altogether more than one and a half thousand!) presided over 
by a big central pagoda in each group. 

The origin of these enormous building activities goes back to King 
Mindon Min, who reigned over Burma from 1851 till 1878. Inspired by 
a dream, he abandoned his former capital Amarapura and founded 
Mandalay, which he adorned with magnificent palaces and religious 
monuments. Being an ardent Buddhist, he wanted to follow in the foot- 
steps of a former king, who had caused the teachings of the Buddha to 
be inscribed on golden tablets, which were boused in a beautiful temple. 
This, however, only aroused the cupidity of the neighbouring Chinese, 
who invaded the country and carried away the golden tablets. King 
Mindon Min, dierefore, decided to have the sacred texts carved on 
heavy marble slabs, which would attract neither invaders nor thieves, 
and which would preserve the teachings of the Buddha in their purity for 
all coming generations. At the same time they should be freely accessi- 
ble to all people who wanted to know the word of the Buddha— not only 
scholars and priests but also the common man. For this reason each sin- 
gle slab was housed in a separate open shrine, a miniature pagoda-like 
temple, in which people could study undisturbed any part of the innu- 
merable sacred texts not only in the original Pah, but also in Burmese 

Thus the King built the Kuthawdaw Pagoda, surrounded by 799 
smaller pagodas, each executed with the same meticulous detail, hous- 
ing the complete canonical texts (Ti^itaha}. A similar 'city of pagodas' 
was to be built for the even more numerous commentaries of the sacred 
scriptures, but the King died before this work could be started. His suc- 

Death and Rebirth 185 

cessor, King Thibaw, was more interested in his sumptuous court and his 
numerous concubines, and was soon overthrowm by the British, who 
annexed his kingdom. Thus, King Mindon Min's work was forgotten, and 
even the sanctuaries on the Mandalay Hill fell into disrepair. Pilgrims 
hardly dared to approach them because of robbers who often waylaid 
them on the deserted hill. 

But one day a lonely pilgrim, whose heart burned wdth the pure 
flame of faith, felt so deeply grieved at seeing the desecration and decay 
of this place — which, according to Burmese belief, was once visited by 
the Buddha himself, that he decided to devote his life to the sacred hill 
and not to leave it until it had been restored to its former glory. Though 
he had no worldly possessions beyond his begging-bowl and the dark red 
robes of an ascetic, he had implicit faith in the powers of the spirit, and 
without worrying over the ways and means to achieve his purpose he sat 
down on the summit of the hill, in the shelter of one of the dilapidated 
sanctuaries, and devoted himself to meditation, unconcerned for his 
safety or his livehhood. Nobody could rob him, because he possessed 
nothing worth robbing. On the contrary, the pilgrims who saw him 
engaged in silent meditation began to bring gifts of food. When no pil- 
grims came he went hungry, when food was offered he ate. But slowly 
more and more people were encouraged and attracted to visit the sacred 
hill, when the news spread that a hermit lived on its top among the ruins 
of ancient shrines. 

His mere presence seemed to re-sanctify the so- long-deserted place 
and soon people offered their help to repair the shrines and even to build 
new ones, as well as places where pilgrims could rest and meditate. 
Thus, temples, statues, halls, and pavihons, and covered stairways con- 
necting them, grew up one after another, and the more the work pro- 
ceeded, the more means were put in the hands of liim who possessed 
nothing, but who seemed to command all the riches of the world. Not 
content with having restored the Mandalay Hill to its old glory and sanc- 
tity, he soon started on an even more ambitious undertaking; to complete 
the work, which King Mindon Min had not been able to accomplish in 
his liferime: by having a complete set of the Great Commentaries to the 

186 The Way of the White Clouds 

Holy Scriptures of Buddhism engraved on marble slabs and by building 
a second city of pagodas', even bigger than that of the Kuthawdaw, in 
which to house them. 

After having accomplished this gigantic task, U Khanti, the Hermit 
of Mandalay Hill, who by now was known as \4aha-Yathi, the 'Great 
Rishi" (or 'Seer'), decided that it was not sufficient to preserve the sacred 
scriptures in stone and to make them accessible to those who could visit 
the pagoda shrines, but that they should be made accessible to the whole 
world by printing the complete canonical and important post-canonical 
literature of Buddhism. This was so enormous a task that no publisher 
or printer could have undertaken or financed such a venture. But the 
Great Rishi was undaunted. His power seemed to be limitless. Within a 
short time he was able to build his own up-to-date printing press at the 
foot of the hill, and at the time Nyanatiloka Thera and myself were stay- 
ing at Mandalay an enormous amomit of books, covering almost the 
whole of the above-mentioned literature, had been published in well- 
printed and neatly hound volumes. Even in Ceylon, with its more 
advanced book production, many of the important l^li texts, especially 
those of the Abhidhamma, dealing with the philosophical and psycho- 
logical aspects of the Buddhist doctrine, were not available in printed 
form in those days. 

After hearing of U Khanti's achievements we naturally were anxious 
to meet him, and so one mormng we set out to pay a visit to the Rishi of 
the Mandalay Hill. We lived outside the town at a considerable distance 
from the sacred hill, so that we had to take a tonga (a two-wheeled horse- 
cart) to reach our destination. But when we arrived there we were 
informed that the "Yathi' (Rishi) had left in the early morning for a place 
some twenty to twenty-five miles distant in order to supervise the 
restoration of an ancient Buddhist monument. 

It goes without saying that we felt greatly disappointed, especially 
as it was uncertain whether we could find another opportunity of meet- 
ing him, because we had a rather busy programme before us. 

Reluctantly we climbed back into our tonga, but hardly had the 
horse turned, when a motor-car came from the opposite direction. 

Death and Rebirth 187 

stopped right before the entrance of the covered staircase leading to the 
crest of the hill, and a tall red-robed figure emerged from the car. There 
was something incredibly impressive in the appearance and the quiet 
movements of this noble figure, unhurried and self-assured with the nat- 
ural dignity of a bom king or a great leader of men. We immediately felt; 
this must be the Great Rishi — and without hesitation we stopped the 
tonga, got out again, and went hack to the gate, where we were told to 
our great joy that, against all expectations, U Khant! had suddenly 
returned, and that we would be able to see him. We were led into an 
open pavilion, and there, surrounded by a number of Bhikkhus and other 
attendants, the Great Rishi received us. Again 1 could not help feeling 
how his personality stood out from all the others who were present, and 
how he, who was not an ordained member of the Bhikkhu Sangha {the 
orthodox Order of Theravada Monks), commanded respect even fi-om 
those who regarded themselves the exclusive custodians of the 
Buddhadharma and superior in ecclesiastical rank. He received us smil- 
ingly and with great politeness, bowing to Nyanatiloka as an Elder 
(Thera) of the Sangha, and invited us to sit down, while giving orders to 
his attendants, who served us with tea and sweets. In the meantime he 
answered questions from his secretaries, who from time to time 
approached him with papers or asked for instructions, but all this went 
on so quietly and unobtrusively that it never seemed to interrupt his 
attention towards us or to disturb the flow of our conversation. He was 
greatly interested in the activities of the International Buddhist Union, 
of which Nyanatiloka was the President and 1 myself the General 
Secretary. When speaking about our plans to make the 'Island 
Hermitage' of Dodanduwa into an intemarional centre of Buddhist cul- 
ture and the necessity to make Buddhist literature more accessible to 
the world, I was just about to mention our special interest in the 
Abhidhamma literature and our difficulties in procuring the necessary 
books. But before I could make any such remarks he turned to one of his 
attendants, who thereupon disappeared in the direction of a building 
nearby, which, as we later reahsed, housed his press and his bookbind- 
ing department. Within a few minutes some servants appeared with 

188 The Way of the White Clouds 

stacks of books in their arms. 'Here is a present for you,' the Rishi said 
with a smile, and motioned the servants to spread the books out before 
us. How can I describe our surprise! They were exactly the volumes 
which were missing in our Dodanduwa library: a complete set of 
Abhidhamma texts! We were absolutely overwhelmed and almost 
speechless at the promptness with which the Tathi' had divined our 
secret wish and his kindness at presenting us with such a valuable gift. 

When he saw our joy he offered us also the other sets of books 
which he had printed in his press — ail of them beautifully bound with 
gold-embossed leather backs — but they were too many to take with us in 
our tonga—and so they were sent to our place on the following day As 1 
see from old newspaper cuttings of those memorable days in Mandalay, 
we received books to the value of more than 700 Rs., a sum which today 
would amount to not less than 3,000 RsJ This was indeed a gift worthy 
of a king, and we were moved beyond words. 

After we had taken leave from the Rishi, some Bhikkhus of his 
entourage accompanied us through the innumerable sanctuaries of the 
hill, which gave us an idea of the magnitude of the work that had been 
accomplished here and which yet was only a Fraction of the activities of 
this remarkable man. In the course of our conversation, one of the 
Bhikkhus told us that the Tathi' had left Mandalay Hill in the early 
morning in order to supervise the building activities at a distant place, as 
we had been informed on our arrival. But in the middle of his inspection 
work he suddenly announced that he had to return immediately to 
Mandalay, as there were some people who had come from far away to see 
him. And without further delay he got into his car and asked the driver to 
go as fast as possible. And, as if he had forseen it, he arrived exactly at the 
moment we were about to leave! 

Now we realised that our meeting was not merely accidental, and 
when we told the Bhikkliu how surprised we had been when the Rishi 
gave us exactly those books which we had had in mind — before we even 
could mention them — ^he said in a voice, vibrant with emotion and deep 
conviction: 'Don't you know who he is? He is the rebirth of King Mindon 

Death and Kebirth 189 

I must confess that T had no doubt that it was so. In fact, it only 
confirmed what i had felt from the first moment 1 set eyes upon the 
noble figure of the Rishi. There was something royal in his bearing, 
something that commanded respect, if not veneration. His appearance, 
his deeds, and his whole personality were to me a greater proof than 
what factual investigations could have produced. His life and his 
actions showed unmistakably that he possessed unusual psychic and 
spiritual powers, among which the remembrance of his former birth and 
the aspirations of his previous life seemed to be the driving force of his 
personality, a force that gave a heightened meaning to his present exis- 
tence. To him the knowledge of the past was not a dead weight or a hin- 
drance but a greater incentive to act and something that aroused his 
sense of responsibility for the completion of a task which had been left 
unfinished. It was like the fulfilment of the vow of a Boddhisattva, who 
retains the continuity of his consciousness over many hves and deaths 
on account of an aim that is bigger than the horizon of a single human 
existence. It is our higher aspirations and our ultimate aim that make us 
immortal — -not the permanence of an immutable separate soul, whose 
very sameness would exclude us from life and growth and from the infi- 
nite adventure of the spirit and condemn us for ever to the prison of our 
own limitations. 


MaungTun Kyaing 

OooiVER THAN I expected I came across a second case of pre-natal 
remembrance which was even more remarkable, because it offered 
ample means of verification—though for my own person it matters Httle 
whether we can prove the fact of rebirth or not. as it seems to me the 
most obvious and natural thing in the world, in accordance with reason, 
fitting into the evolutionary tendencies of all organic life, as the discov- 
eries of biology and depth-psychology have revealed. 

It was in Maymyo, the summer capital of Burma in the northern 
Shan States, where Nyanatiloka Thera and myself had gone to escape 
the heat of Mandalay, that we heard of a little boy whose name was 
Maung Tun Kyaing and who was in full possession of his pre-natal 
remembrance and knowledge, so that even the Governor of Burma (Sir 
Henry Butler) had called him to his Residency in Maymyo in order to 
convince himself of the truth of this extraordinary phenomenon. The lit- 
tle boy created such a favourable impression upon the Governor and all 
who were present during that memorable interview that he was encour- 
aged to visit even the prisons all over the country, so that he miglit bring 

Death and Rebirth 191 

light and hope to those who were in the greatest darkness. Since then he 
was moving from place to place, and thousands of people were listening 
to him wherever he went. 

However, his present whereabouts were not known, and as I had 
decided to continue my journey northwards through Upper Burma and 
from there into China (Yunnan), I took leave from Ven, Nyanatiloka, 
returned to Mandalay, and travelled up the Irrawaddy to Bhamo, from 
where the caravan route into Yunnan started. I put up in a kyaung 
(monastery) near the so-called Bell Pagoda and was housed in a spacious 
temple hall, where I set up my camp-bed for the night. It gave me a 
somewhat eerie feeling to find myself alone in the night with three silent 
marble Buddha statues smiling down upon me in a strange place, among 
strange people. There was nobody who Itnew English in that monastery. 
Before retiring I had tried to find out what the time was in order to set 
my watch, which had stopped because I had forgotten to wind it. But 
nobody seemed to be able to give me any information. Consequently I 
had no idea how long I had slept when 1 woke up the next morning and 
found people coming into the hall, They carried buckets full of water, 
and before I could quite grasp where I was and what they wanted they 
rushed towards the Buddha-images and with several well-aimed throws 
emptied the buckets over them, as if the temple was on fire. I had no 
idea what was the purpose of this strange perfonnance and expected any 
moment to share the fate of the Buddha-images, when to my great relief 
the people left as unexpectedly as they had come, without taking the 
least notice of me. 

It was only afterwards that I learned that this was the day of the 
water festival, on which it is customary to 'bathe' the Buddha-images as 
well as to throw water at each other in the streets — only those in yellow 
robes being exempted. Only this had saved me from a cold douche, 
apparently. At any rate, I thought it expedient to get up and be prepared 
for further developments. These came soon in the form of a watchmaker, 
who explained that he had been sent for to repair my watch. The poor 
fellow had come all the way from the town to this out-of-the-way 
monastery because he had been told that my watch was out of order. 

192 The Way of the White Clouds 

Death and Kebirth 193 

When 1 cleared up the misunderstanding and convinced him that my 
watch was in perfect working order he had a good laugh and assured me 
that he did not mind having come all the distance, since it had given him 
the opportunity of making my acquaintance. I, on my part, assured him 
that [ was equally pleased to have found somebody who knew English. 
In the meantime tea was brought, and we settled down to a firiendly 
talk, in the course of which 1 mentioned what I had heard about Maung 
Tun Kyaing, wondering whether I might have a chance to meet him one 
day. "Why,' said the watchmaker, 'there is nothing simpler than that. 
Maung Tun Kyaing Is just here in Bhamo and will be preaching in a 
neighbouring monastery today,' 

'What a strange comcidence!' 1 exclaimed, 'that my way should have 
brought me here exactly on this day without having the sHghtest indica- 
tion that Maung Tun Kyaing was even in this part of the country. It 
seems that my mere wish was sufficient to bring about its fulfilment.' 

'Surely it is the right wish,' he said, 'that draws us to the right place. 
Nothing of importance happens accidentaUy in our life. 1 am sure that 
even our meeting here, though due to a misunderstanding, was not 
merely accidental, but a necessary link to bring about the fulfilment of 

your wish.' 

'1 agree with you,' 1 said, 'and I am certainly most grateful to you for 
having come here and having given me this information. 

When I arrived at the monastery where Maung Tun Kyaing was 
staying he was addressing a vast audience that filled the entire courtyard 
in front of the temple. It was an astonishing sight to see a small boy 
speaking with the ease and self-assurance of a practised speaker, his face 
radiant with happiness and his voice clear and melodious like a hell. 
Though I could not understand a word, it was a joy to hear this voice, 
that seemed to come straight from the depth of his heart like the song of 
a bird. 

After the sermon, to which all present had listened with spellbound 
attention, 1 was introduced to the little boy, who was accompanied by his 
father and his younger brother. Both the boys were clad in yellow robes, 
though they did not yet officially belong to the Sangha, being below the 


age of admission, Maung Tun Kyaing looked to me hardly more than six 
years old, and his younger brother about five. But 1 was told that Maung 
Tun Kyaing was eight years old, while his brother was seven. But what a 
difference between the two! The younger brother looked like any other 
normal child of about that age; Maung Tun Kyaing, however, was of 
exceptional beauty. I have seldom seen such absolute purity and radiance 
in a human face, combined with an expression of uncommon intelligence 
and alertness. He was not in the least embarrassed when I examined the 
various auspicious signs of his body, which the father pointed out and the 
interpreter explained to me in detail. To aU my questions the boy 
answered without hesitation and in perfect naturalness. 

His story, mostly told by his father, a simple, very sincere man, was 
verified by Maung Tun Kyaing and all who were present, monks as well 
as laymen, and seemed to me the most interesring and significant verifi- 
cation of the idea of rebirth and the fact of pre-natal remembrance. 
Fortunately I had taken with me notepaper and pencil, so that I was able to 
take notes of all important details of the interview, which now lies thirty- 
four years back. Consulting my notes, this is the story of Maung Tun 
Kyaing as it emerged from this interview: He was the son of very poor, 
illiterate mat- weavers. When he was four years old the father took him 
and his younger brother to a fair in a neighbouring village. On their way 
they met a man with a bundle of sugar-cane, which he wanted to sell at 
the fair. Seeing the two little boys and realising that the father was too 
poor to buy anything, he offered a piece of cane to each boy But while 
the smaller one greedily put the cane into his mouth, Maung Tun Kyaing 
exhorted him not to eat before having expressed his gratitude to the giver 
in form of a blessing. ('Sukhi Iwtu' — -'May he be happy!'- — is the appro- 
priate Pgi\ formula, used by monks.) While admonishing him thus, it was 
as if the gates of his memory were suddenly opened, and he asked his 
father to lift him on to liis shoulders, because he wanted to preach to the 
people on the virtue of giving (the first of the 'ten great virtues' of the 
Buddhist religion). The father, good-humouredly, lifted him up on to his 
shoulders, thinking it nothing more than a childish whim. But to his and 
the bystanders' surprise the little boy began to preach a most beautiful 

194 The Way of the White Clouds 

Death and Rebirth 195 

sermon on the blessedness of giving, as even a religious teacher could not 
have done better. The people in the street began to crowd around the lit- 
tle preacher, and the father was bewildered at the sudden change that 
had come over his littie boy. The latter, however, was undaunted and said, 
after he had finished his sermon: 'Come, Father, let us go to my Khyaung.' 

'What do you mean by your Khyaung?* 

'The monastery over there; don't you know?' 

'I don't remember that you have ever been there,' retorted the father, 
'but nevertheless let us go and see it." 

When they arrived at the monastery they met an elderly monk, who 
in fact was the abbot oFthe Khyaung; but Maung Tun Kyaing seemed to 
be absorbed in thoughts and simply looked at him without observing the 
customary forms of greeting, so that the father scolded him and said: 
'Will you not pay your respects to the venerable Thera>' Whereupon the 
boy greeted the monk as if he were his equal— instead of prostrating 
himself in the prescribed manner. 

'Don't you know who 1 am?' asked the abbot. 

'Certainly 1 know!' said the boy without the slightest hesitation. And 
when the Thera looked at him in surprise the boy mentioned the Thera's 


'How do you know? Did somebody tell you?' 

•No,' said the boy. 'Don't you remember me? I was your teacher, U 

The abbot was taken aback, but in order to test him he asked the 
boy: 'If that is so, what was my name before I entered the Order? If you 
know it you may whisper it into my ear." 

1 . Once a person enters ihe Order, he enters a new hie. receives a new name, and never 
uses his former one again. To address a member of the Sangha by his former lay-name 
would he an insult, and even to ask him about it and his family would be disrespectful, 
because one who has entered the 'family of the Enlightened Ones' can no longer be 
regarded from the point of view of blood relationship, social background, caste, or class, 
all of which he has left behind. In this connection it may be recalled that when the five 
ascetics, who had abandoned the Buddha before his enlightenment, because he had 
given up his extreme self-mortification, ventured to address the Buddha by his family 
name, he rebuked them for doing so. 

The boy did so. And when the Thera heard his name, which nobody 
knew, except those who had grown old witli him and had knouTi him 
intimately, he fell at the boy's feet, touched the ground with his forehead, 
and exclaimed with tears in his eyes: 'Now 1 know, you are indeed my 

And he took him, together with his father and his httle brother, into 
the monastery, where Maung Tun Kyaing pointed out the room which he 
had occupied in the eastern wing of the building, the place where he 
used to meditate, the particular image before which he used to hght can- 
dles and incense, and many other details which the old Thera remem- 
bered. After all, it was not so many years ago that U Pandeissa had been 
the abbot of Yunkhyaung, as the monastery was called. 

The most significant thing, however, was that Maung Tun Kyaing 
not only remembered the general circumstances of his previous life but 
that he had retained even his former knowledge. When the Thera 
showed him some of the ancient E^li scriptures the boy proved to be able 
to read and to understand them, though he had never had any schooling 
and had been brought up in a home where nobody knew how to wxite or 
read — let alone the knowledge of Pali. If there had been any doubt about 
his pre-natal remembrances here was a clear proof. 

When the father and the two children were about to return to their 
village, which was situated on the bank of the same river (the Irrawaddy, 
if 1 remember rightly) as the monastery, the abbot suggested that they 
should take one of the boats which belonged to Yunkhyaung, They went 
down to the river, and as there were several boats to choose from, the 
abbot asked Maung Tun Kyaing which of them he would like to use, and 
without hesitation the boy pointed out one of them, which he said was 
his own. 

Burmese boats are generally painted with vivid colours and with 
eyes on their prow, giving them the individuality of a living being, in 
accordance with the animistic beliefs of ancient Burma, that all things 
possess a life of their own or are the abodes of spirits ('Nats'). But as he 
who knows the 'name' of a thing thus animated and identified with the 
indwelling Nat gets power over it, the name is not revealed to strangers. 

196 The Way of the White Clouds 

Death and Rebirth 197 

and therefore not painted on the boat. The name is only known to the 
owner and his family or his friends. 

The abbot, therefore, said: "You claim that this Is your boat, but do 
you know its name?' The boy immediately mentioned the correct name. 
After all these proofs nobody doubted that Maung Tun Kyaing was 
the rebirth of U Pandeissa, the former abbot of Yunkliyaung, and every- 
body wanted to hear him preach. From all sides he received invitations 
and his people were afraid that his health might break down under the 
strain, but he said: The Buddha spent innumerable lives in self-sacrificing 
deeds, striving to attain enlightenment. 1 too, therefore, should not spare 
any pains in striving after Buddhahood. Only by attaining the highest aim 
can 1 work for the benefit of all living beings.' 

His sermons were so inspiring that people by the thousands came 
to hear and to see him, and once it so happened that a monastery col- 
lapsed under the weight of the crowd-but fortunately without killing 
anybody, because monasteries in Burma are mostly built of wood, rest- 
ing on high stilts, and when the structure gave way there was still enough 
time for the people to get out. 

Soon Maung Tun Kyaing's fame reached the ears of the Governor 
of Burma, who at that time was Sir Henry Butler. While in his summer 
residence at Maymyo he sent for the boy in order to convince himself 
whether the stories, which he had heard about Maung Tun Kyaing's 
extraordinary gifts and his remembrance of his former life, were true. 

Maung Tun Kyamg nol only acquitted himself most creditably but 
gave a masterful exposition of the religious tenets of Buddhism, and Sir 
Henry was so pleased with the little boy that he presented him with a 
box of sweets and a hundred-rupee note. Neither Maung Tun Kyaing nor 
his father had probably even seen such a big note or possessed such a 
sum— hut the boy refused to accept it— because, as he said, he could 
not sell the Dharma and, besides, Buddhist monks are not allowed to 
accept money But he explained that he could accept the sweets, as the 
rules allowed a Bhikkhu to take food that was offered to him. Though 
these rales were not yet binding on Maung Tun Kyaing, who on account 
of his young age could not yet be a member of the Buddhist Order, he 

inwardly regarded himself a Bhikkhu, as he had been in his previous life 
and as he would continue to be in this. 

Maung Tun Kyaing, however, also wanted to give a present to the 
Governor, and the only thing he possessed was his rosary. He carefully 
unwound it from his wrist and handed it over to Sir Henry, who was 
greatly touched by this gesture and smilingly accepted the gift. 'But now 
you must tell me how to use this rosary,' he said, whereupon Maung Tun 
Kyaing explained: 'This is to meditate on the three marks of existence, 
"anicca" (impermanence), "dukkha" {sufiefmg), and "anatta" (egolessness).' 
And then he explained the meaning of these three words in detail. 

To hear these profound truths from the mouth of a little child greatly 
impressed the Governor. How was it possible that a little boy at the age 
of four could speak with the wisdom of an old man? And he spoke not 
like one who had been taught to repeat words which he himself could 
not yet fully understand— on the contrary, he spoke with such conviction 
and sincerity that Sir Henry was visibly moved and encouraged the boy 
to bring his message to all the people of Burma. 'You should go from one 
end of the country to the other,' he said, 'and preach to high and low, 
even to the prisoners in the jails, because nobody could touch the heart 
of the people deeper than you. Even the hardest criminal would melt in 
the presence of such genuine faith and sincere goodwill.' 

And thus it happened that even the gates of the jails were opened 
to Maung Tun Kyaing, and wherever he went he inspired the people with 
new religious fervour, strengthening their convictioris and filling them 
with fresh life. 


The Mind that 
Conquers Death 


FTER HAVING MET and talked to Maung Tun Kyaing and his Father, 
as well as to many others who were intimately acquainted with them, I 
could understand the tremendous effect which Maung Tun Kyaing's 
words and presence had upon the people. And it struck me as significant 
that again— as in the case of the Great Rishi of Mandalay Hill— it was 
the Bodhisattva-Ideal, the directedwess' towards a spiritual goal, which 
alone can convert consciousness into a one-pointed, unified vital force 
that had spanned the chasm of death and had given the impetus that 

1 . Directed consciousness, accortlmg to Buddhist psychology, is that which has 'entered 
the stream 'towards liheration or enlightenment, in which its universal nature a reaNsed. 
Undirected consciousness allows itself to be driven hither and thither hy blind urges and 
external sense-stimuli. On account of its dependence upon the external world, it is called 
mundane consciousness (lohya), while directed consciousness is called supramundane 
(JofeMitefa). The justification of the term directed' is borne out by the fact that the tran- 
sition from worldly to supra-worldly consciousness is called 'entry into the stream' 
[sotapatti] and that one who finds himself in this phase of development is called 
'sotafianrnz' (one who has entered the stream), (Cf. my The Psychological Attitude of Early 
Buddhiit Philosophy. Rider & Co. (London, 1961), p. 80.) 

Death and Rebirth 199 

linked one life to the other in an ever-widening awareness of its respon- 
sibility and its all-embracing aim. 

This linking up of lives was not achieved by clinging to the past or 
by a morbid curiosity about former existences by means of hypnotic 
trances or other abnormal psychic states, but by the forward-looking pur- 
posefulness of a directed mind, based on the insight and realisation of 
the universal nature of consciousness, rather than on the personal aspects 
of an individual past. The latter may appear automatically before the 
mind's eye in the process of meditation, especially in states of deep 
absorption, but they should never be pursued for their own sake. 

As an example 1 may mention here the Buddha's experience, which 
led to his final enlightenment, and in which his awareness in ever- 
widening circles, beginning with the remembrance of his former lives 
(but without giving undue importance to their individual features), pro- 
ceeds to the realisation of how living beings come into existence, how 
they appear in ever new forms and conditions, according to their inborn 
or acquired tendencies, their subconscious desires and their conscious 
actions — and after having thus traced life to its very origins, he observed 
the origination and dissolution of whole world-systems in endless cycles 
of materialisarion and reintegration, follovwng each other like a cosmic 
systole and diastole. 

Only in such a cosmic vision can the individual path be seen in its 
proper perspective, from which it derives both its meaning and its value. 
Unless this perspecuve has been established, either mentally or through 
direct experience, pre-natal remembrances would prove to be only a bur- 
den, a useless and unnecessary encumbrance of the mind. It would nulli- 
fy the very justification of death, namely its faculty of freeing us not only 
from a worn-out body, but even more so from an overcrowded intellect, 
from the ml of habits, of hardened opinions and prejudices, from the 
accumulations of inessentia] memory details, which bind us to the past 
and prevent any fresh approach to the pmblems of the present, stifling our 
awareness and spontaneity vis-^-vis new situations and wider relationships. 

Directedness and spontaneity of consciousness may appear to be 
mutually exclusive, for which reason some of our modem apostles of 

200 The Way of the White Clouds 

'spontaneous living' and "intuitive thought' deceive themselves and oth- 
ers with the idea that any form of logical thought, of purposefulness, 
intention, or spiritual direction — in fact any form of striving to overcome 
one's limitations, be it through meditation or any other practices — are all 
forms of preconceived ideas with which we violate our intuitive genius. 
All this is very attractive to those who need a fashionable excuse for not 
exerting themselves, for merely drifting through life, mistaking whims 
and unpredictable behaviour for signs of spontaneity, laziness for a sign 
of detachment, and indifference towards moral values or towards the 
weal and woe of others for a sign of equanimity. 

But the seeming contradiction between concentration and intu- 
ition, between directedness and spontaneity, is only due to thoughtless 
generalisations which have no foundation in experience or reality. 
Reality, therefore, seems paradox in terms of such abstract terminology, 
as, for instance, if we practise 'one-potntedness' or concentration in 
order to arrive at universality and all-inclusiveness (the very opposite of 
one-pointedness'), or if we have first to achieve individuality before we 
can experience universality. 

We have to turn from a wayward, chaotic consciousness, from a 
mind that is agitated or diverted by ail kinds of ephemeral objects and 
illusions, to a directed, i.e. co-ordinated, harmonised consciousness, 
which is not directed towards any particular point or limited object, but 
which consists so-to-say in the integration of a]\ directions and points. 
'One-pointedness' {ekagratd) does not necessarily mean 'to be directed 
towards something' (towards one particular object), but rather to be 
mentally and spiritually unified, like the rays of the sun in one focus. The 
focus of a lens is not directed towards anything: it simply unites the scat- 
tered rays of the sun and re-creates the complete picture of the sun in 
one point; and this point, though it has no extension in space, does not 
abrogate the infinity of each ray which passes though it. Here we have 
the practical demonstration of the paradox, how the finite (the point) 
and the infinite (the rays) can be combined and co-exist. 

The 'one-pointedness' of our consciousness is similar to the focalisa- 
tion of a lens: it can be utilised for bringing a particular object into focus, 


Death and Rebirth 201 

or for the focalisation of consciousness itself, by excluding any particular 
object and just letting consciousness rest in itself, integrated in its own 
awareness. In such a state one is not 'holding on to anything' or 'concen- 
trating on anything', the mind is completely free from object-awareness or 
from the interference of will-power or intellectual activity, 

For most people, however, it is necessary first to free themselves 
from the multiplicity of objects and sense-impressions by concentrating 
or focussing their attention on one object, and when they have thus suc- 
ceeded in eliminating all outer and inner disturbances, then even this 
object can be dropped — or rather it disappears by itself by losing its 
object'-character the moment the meditator has become one with it — 
and the state of intuitive receptiveness and perception has been 
attained, a state in which we are no more bound by forms and objects or 
by aims and intentions. 

Meditation in Buddhism comprises both the preliminary states of 
thinking and reflecting and concentrating on a chosen subject {parikrama 
bhavana) as well as the states of attainment of complete integration 
{affana bhavana) and intuitive awareness or spiritual vision (dhyana). 
Intuition, however, is based on repeated experience, and experience is 
based on practice. Only when practice has led to a complete mastery of 
any subject or any technique, so that they no more require our conscious 
attention, only then is it possible to rely on our intuition and to act spon- 
taneously and effortlessly like a virtuoso, who masters his instrument 
(including his mind) to such an extent that he can compose or improvise 
with complete freedom without ever violating the laws on which the har- 
mony of his creation is based. 

Just as lower organisms serve as building materials for higher ones, so 
also die stored-up experiences of the subconscious or automatic functions 
serve the higher purposes of the mind. Living cells turn into hard bones to 
support the structure of the body; and most of the bodily functions, like 
heart-beat, digestion, breathing, etc., have become automatic. If all these 
functions were dependent on our conscious effort all our energies and our 
attention would be absorbed by them, and no intellectual or spiritual life 
would be possible. As little, therefore, as we should attempt to reverse 

202 THE WAV OF THE White Clouds 

automatic functions into conscious ones, should we attempt to revive the 
details of previous existences, from which repeated deaths have freed us, 
by converting the experience-value of each life into a quality of our char- 
acter or an ability of our mind. Only those remembrances, which through 
the very force of their meaningfulness and direction towards an aim have 
retained their value, can have significance tor our present life, and perhaps 
for our future ones too— provided the aim, or the idea that inspired us, was 
wide enough to include a future beyond the span of one lifetime. 


The Case of 
Shanti Devi 



HE DIRECTEDNESS OF our Consciousness, however, is not only depen- 
dent on the strength of our spiritual aim but to a certain extent on the 
intenseness of our emotions, especially when these are connected with 
a religious aim, a sacred duty, or a deep human relationship, based on a 
pure and selfless love. If such emotions are very strong at the moment of 
death they may result in carrying their remembrances consciously into 
the next following life, where they will be particularly vivid in early child- 
hood, before new impressions and experiences can replace them. 

A case of this type came to my knowledge in the winter of 1935-6. 
A litde girl named Shanti Devi, who lived in Delhi with her parents, 
insisted that she was married and that her husband, Kedamath Chaubey, 
together with her son, were staying at Muttra, a town about 8o miles dis- 
tant from Delhi. When the girl first began to talk in this way she was 
barely three years old and nobody took much notice of it, assuming that 
it was just playful childish talk, imitating grown-ups. But when the girl 
was about eight years old, and still persisted in her talk about husband 
and son, her grand-uncle, Professor Kischen Chand, began to suspect 

204 The Way of the White Clouds 

that there was more to it than childish imagination. He found out that 
in the very locality of Muttra described by Shanti there was indeed a per- 
son answering to the name of Kedarnath Chaubey. The Professor lost no 
time in getting in touch with him and related all that the girl had said. 
The news came rather as a shock, as Kedarnath had married again in the 
meantime; and there was also the fear that someone might be playing a 
trick upon him and the Professor. As, however, all the facts were fitting, 
he finally agreed to meet Shanti at her parents' house. 

On the 13lh of November 1935 Kedarnath Chaubey with his sec- 
ond wife and his ten-year-old son arrived in Delhi, Shanti had not been 
informed of their coming. As soon, however, as she entered the room in 
which her parents and their visitors were assembled she recognised 
Kedarnath as her husband and the boy as her son. She embraced the 
child with tears in her eyes, using the very terms of endearment which 
her former husband remembered so weO. If there had been any doubt in 
his mind as to Shanti's identity the last trace of it was removed. She also 
reminded her former husband of small intimate occurrences, known 
only to him and to her. The proof was complete. 

Now other people too became interested in the case, and Deshbandhu 
Gupta, the President of the All-Indian Nev«>paper Editors' Conference and 
Member of Parliament, took up further investigations in order to convince 
himself of the truth of Shanti's alleged pre-natal memories. He therefore 
took her to Muttra and asked her to show him and to the others who 
accompanied them the way to her former home. They took a tonga and 
Shanti led the part>' with absolute assurance through the many narrow lanes 
and winding roads of the town to the very house where she had lived with 
her husband. But she at once remarked that the colour of die house had 
been changed. 'I remember that it was painted yellow, not white, as it is 
nowl' she exclaimed. This was correct. Kedarnath had left the house after 
her death, and the new residents had painted it white. Kedarnath thereupon 
took the party to his new residence, and afterwards Shanti led them to her 
former mother's house. There too she immediately noticed certain changes. 
There was a well in the garden,' she said, 'what has happened to it?' She 
pointed out where it had been, and when the place was dug up, die well was 

Death and Rebirth 205 

found under a big stone slab covered with earth. She also recognised her 
former parents and her former father-in-law. an old Brahmin, bent with age. 
Shanti's remembrances had proved correct in every detail. 

She would have liked to stay with her former son, but she realised 
that she could not take him away from his father; and as to her former 
husband she knew that she could have no more claims upon him, since 
he had married again. 

Thus, the realisarion dawned upon her that the bonds of marriage 
and motherhood cannot be maintained beyond death, whose very func- 
tion it is to free us from those bonds and the sufferings of separation and 
remembrance, without destroying whatever we may have gained by our 
capacity to love and to serve others, so that we may meet those whom we 
loved under new conditions and in new forms, without being encumbered 
by the limitations of former relationships and the memories of an irre- 
trievable past. And this realisation made her tum to the more permanent 
values of a spiritual life in which all our loves and longings are sublimated 
into a deeper sense of compassion for all that lives: into the faculty to share 
the joys and sorrows of all with whom life brings us into contact. 

Shanti Devi has never married again, but she dedicated her life to the 
service of others. She became a highly qualified teacher in a Delhi high 
school. Friends who know her personaDy told me that she leads an intensely 
religious life and plans to found an ashram, where she can devote herself 
completely to her sadham and to those who share her religious ideals. 

Now, one might ask, why do such things happen so often in the East 
and not in the West? My answer is that they happen as often in the West as 
in the East; the only difference is that the West does not pay any attention 
to them, because diey do not fit into the mental attitude of the average 
Westerner, whose religion teaches him that entirely new beings come into 
existence at birth, and that those same beings, who were non-existent liefore 
their physical conception, would go on existing for eternity ever after, while 
those who have discarded this view as being inconsistent uith logic and 
common sense have generally come to the opposite conclusion, namely that 
beings which did not exist before birth (or conception) will also not exist 

206 The Way of the White Clouds 

after death, thus equating living beings with their physical existence and 
denying any possibility of pre-nataJ existence or survivaJ after death, except 
in the form of physical heredity. But if we examine this mechanism of phys- 
ical heredity we soon discover that the combinations and permutations of 
chromosomes, etc., are not sufficient to explain either the transference of an 
infinity of hereditary details, nor the distinct uniqueness of each indi- 
vidual— even if it has originated from the same hereditary material (as in the 
case of children from the same parents) — which shows that an individual is 
not only the sum total of the qualities of its progenitors. Very clearly an 
unknown factor is involved in the formation of a new physical oi^anism, a 
directing creative force beyond all possibilities of observation or scientific 
analysis, a principle that cannot be reduced to a mathematical formula or a 
mechanistic theory. The real difficulty for the mechanistic theory is that we 
are forced, on the one hand, to postulate that the germ-plasm is a mechan- 
ism of enormous complexity and definiteness, and, on the other, that this 
mechanism, in spite of its absolute definiteness and complexity, can divide 
and combine with other similar mechanisms, and can do so to an absolutely 
indefinite extent without alteration of its structure . . . The mechanistic 
theory of heredity is not ortly unproven; it is impossible. It involves such 
absurdities tlint no intelligent person who has thoroughly realised its mean- 
ing and implications can continue to hold it' (J. S. Haldane). 

Yet in spite of these absurdities of current scientific idea, which are 
as unsatisfactory from a spiritual point of view as the former religious 
beliefs from a logical point of view, the average Westerner clings to his 
prejudice against the idea of reincarnation and thus fails to observe the 
ample proofs that are daily offered to him in various forms and through 
many phenomena which until now have remained inexplicable. 

Among the latter the phenomenon of child prodigies defies all laws 
of science as well as of current psychology. No amount of scientific knowl- 
edge can explain the spontaneous knowledge and even technical skill of 
such children. Unless we admit the possibility of remembrances from 
skills and experiences or knowledge acquired in a former existence there 
is no reasonable explanation for such phenomena. A genius does not fall 
from heaven, but is, as all other things in this world, die product of a long 

Death and Rebirth 207 

evolution of trial and failure and final success tluough long practice and 
experience. How othervuise could one explain that a barely four-year-old 
child could master spontaneously the intricacies of a complicated musical 
instrument like the spinet, and the even more intricate and subtle rules of 
musical composition, without having been taught or trained, as it hap- 
pened in the case of Mozart, Beethoven, and other prodigies. Mozart com- 
posed minuets at this early age and gave public performances at die age of 
seven at the court of the Empress Maria Theresa and in many other 
places, Beethoven, even before he had reached the age of four, had already 
composed three sonatas. He too gave concerts at the age of eight. Handel, 
Brahms, DvoFak, Chopin, and other great composers and musicians per- 
formed similar feats to perfection at an incredibly early age. 

Many such cases could also be quoted from the fields of literature, 
mathemarics, and other sciences, Voltaire at the age of three knew by 
heart all of Lafontaine's fables and Stuart Mill at the same age mastered 
the Greek language and ai six he wrote a history of Rome. William 
Thomson (Lord Kelvin) at the age of eight or nine solved mathematical 
problems without the aid of grown-ups and at ten he entered the uni- 
versity. One could multiply such examples ad infinitum. 

In addition to this, new evidence of pre-natal remembrances has 
been found in recent times by means of hypnosis. ITie results were all the 
more astonishing as they had not been expected or intended. They were 
merely a by-product of medical treatment, in which hypnosis was used for 
different purposes. The most outstanding of these cases was that of Edgar 
Cayce, an American, born in Kentucky in 1877, who later on became the 
founder of the well-known Cayce Foundation at Virginia Beach (Virginia), 
In his youth he had lost his speech on account of a psychosomatic con- 
striction of the throat. After all known medical remedies and methods of 
treatment had proved ineffecrive he agreed to be treated by a hypnotist, 
who put him into a deep trance. And here it happened that not only his 
voice returned but apparently also his former knowledge of medicine, 
because during his trance he was able to give a correct diagnosis of his 
case and to describe in detail the necessary treatment in professional 
terms, though in his waking state he knew nothing of these things. 

208 The Way of the White Clouds 

The treatment which he had revealed in his trance was so successful 
that other people too came to him for advice when professional doctors 
were at their wits' end. Again it was a great success, and his prescriptions 
were of such technical perfection and ingenuity that only a man of vast 
medical and pharmaceutical experience could have formulated them. 
Some of his remedies were entirely unknown to the professional world and 
contained ingredients and comhinations that had never been used before. 
But the cures which he effected through them proved the correctness of 
his prescriptions. More and more people came to him for help, and he 
helped them without ever accepting any fees, probably because he felt this 
strange faculty of his as a gift from heaven. He had no knowledge of Eastern 
doctrines of rebirth or of a universal store-consciousness or of meditational 
practices to induce trances. Yet after a short time he found out that he could 
put himself into a trance state without the help of a hypnotist. He had dis- 
covered the secret to dive into his subliminal depth -consciousness at will. 

Once while he was in trance he was asked whether reincarnation was 
a fact, and without hesitation he answered in the affirmative. When, after 
he had returned to his normal state of mind, he was told about it he felt 
greatly upset, because he feared that the idea of reincarnation was incom- 
patible wdth his Christian beliefs and that perhaps he was in the g?ip of 
some evil power. It was only after penetrating deeper into this matter 
through his trances, as well as through informing himself of the main ideas 
of Eastern teachings, that he set aside his fears and consented to continue 
to use his gifts for the benefit of aU those who sought his help. Their num- 
bers, however, were steadily increasing; and since he was able to treat even 
people who lived far away, his work finally spread over the whole of the 
United States and even to foreign countries. Edgar Cayce died in 1945, 
leaving behind him a big and prosperous institution to cany on his work and 
the ideas which inspired it. Though Cayce might never have heard of a 
Bodhisattva, he certainly acted tike one, and perhaps it was this hidden 
quality in him which enabled him to make use of his pre-natal knowledge. 

Though modem psychology is slowly catching up with the East by 
recognising the 'unconscious' part of our psyche (which perhaps would be 
better called our depth-cansciousness) as the repository of various types of 

Death and Rebirth 209 

pre-natal remembrances (individual, collective, racial, universal), more or 
less corresponding to the Buddhist idea of the alaya-vijfiarm, it has not yet 
dared to admit the possibility of a conscious connection between consec- 
utive forms of existence in the development of a self-perpetuaring individ- 
ual consciousness. In other words, it has not yet dared to recognise the 
possibility of rebirth. Due to this, even such cases as the above-quoted 
assume the character of either freakish or miraculous, but in any case 
'abnormal', occurrences, due to which they lose their general significance 
for the human world. A phenomenon that cannot be integrated into the 
general aspect of the world or brought into relationship with other con- 
stituents of our experience can neither be evaluated nor utilised as a step 
towards a deeper understanding of the world and of ourselves. 

There certainly is no dearth of facts or reasons for the justification of the 
idea of rebirth and the possibility of pre-natal remembrances. Even in observ- 
ing the behaviour and die spontaneous talk and ima^nadon of children at an 
early age, we would probably find that there are as many cases of pre-natal 
remembrance in the West as in the East. We seldom realise how much of 
what we call 'imagination' is a faint echo of remembrances — -just as our 
dreams have their roots not only in the events of our present life but very often 
in the deeper layers of our 'depth-consciousness' in which the remembrances 
of our pre-natal past (which widens out the farther we descend, so as finally 
to include remembrances and experiences of a supra-individual, universal 
nature), are preserved in the form of archetypal 'pictures' and symbols. 

But prejudice is the greatest enemy of objective observation and cre- 
ative thought, while an awareness of yet unexplored possibilities will open 
our minds to new perspectives which reveal new facts. Then suddenly 
phenomena which seemed to be unconnected with the rest of our world 
and our experiences, and thus inexplicable in any natural way, fall into 
place, so that finally we wonder how we could pass by them without 
recognising their real significance or perhaps without seeing them at all. 

Even by accepting the idea of rebirth or consciousness-survival as a 
theory or working hypothesis, an enormous amount of factual material, 
whose existence we failed to observe, would disclose itself before our very 
eyes and give to our Ufe a new dimension of reality and a deeper meaning. 


A Message 

loR MYSELF REBIRTH is neither a theory, nor a belief, but an experience. 
This experience came to me towards the end of my childhood — however, 
in a way that I was not able to recognise its nature. It was only much 
later (at the age of about twenty-one) that 1 realised the actua! source of 
what I had taken for 3 product of my youthful imagination. I was living 
at that time on the island of Capri, and among my friends there was the 
son of a weli-knovm local landscape painter. This friend, as well as his 
mother, were great devotees of Padre Pio, in whom the miracle of St 
Francis of Assisi had repeated itself: he had received the stigmata, and 
though he had done everything possible to conceal the fact that the 
wounds of his hands began bleeding during every Friday Mass, he had 
not been able to prevent the news of his miracle from spreading through 
the whole of Italy. People in Capri were greatly impressed by this occur- 
rence, and among the more sophisticated it led to a new interest in 
occult powers and current theories about them. 

One day my friend told me that he and his mother and a few oth- 
ers were holding spiritistic seances, and he invited me to take part in 

Death and Rebirth 21 1 

them. As a Buddhist I did not hold a high opinion about such things — 
not because I denied the possibility of occult powers, but because I 
found the theories as well as the practices of spiritists crude and unsat- 
isfactory. On the other hand I welcomed the opportunity to gain some 
factual knowledge in this matter. So I accepted the invitation and attended 
one of these seances. 

We all sat around a heavy table in a softly lit room, keeping our 
hands spread out before us on the table, lightly touching its surface in 
the prescribed manner, and when the table began to move, one of the 
participants proposed to put questions about the fonner lives of those 
present. The answers were, as often in such cases, too vague to be of 
much interest and besides beyond any possibility of verification. When 
the questioner enquired about my past the table tapped out a name that 
was obviously Latin, and nobody among those present had ever heard it. 
I too was puzzled, though I had a faint remembrance of having casually 
read the name in a bibliography as being the pseudonym of a compara- 
tively lesser- known author, whose actual name I could not recall. 
Anyway, I did not take this answer seriously, nor was I impressed by the 
whole procedure, because it seemed to me unlikely that any intelligent 
being, whether in the form of a 'spirit' or any other conscious entity, 
should stoop to answer idle questions of this kind and to communicate 
them in such a primitive and clumsy manner. If they wanted to contact 
human beings they certainly would be able to discover more adequate 
means of communication. It seemed to me more likely that the forces 
invoked by such means were none other than those of the participants' 
subconsciousness. It therefore seemed to me unlikely that through them 
anything could be revealed that was not already in them, i.e. in their sub- 
conscious or unconscious psyche. About the latter, however, I had not 
yet a clear conception, as i was not yet familiar with the idea of the alaya- 
njnana. 1 therefore dismissed the matter and gave it no further thought. 

Some time later 1 happened to read to another friend of mine, a 
young German archaeologist, a story which I had written in my child- 
hood and which I had conceived as part of a mystic novel, in which my 
religious convictions and inner experiences were symbolically expressed. 

212 The Way of the White Clouds 

My friend was a few years older than myself and I greatly valued his 
knowledge of art and literature and his mature judgement. 

After 1 had been reading for sonic time he suddenly stopped me and 
exclaimed; "Where did you gel this from? Did you ever read — ' and there 
he mentioned the same name that had puzzled me and the other partic- 
ipants of the aforementioned seance. 

'Now, this is funny,' I said, 'this is the second time that I hear this 
name.' And then I told him how it had turned up in that seance. 

My friend thereupon explained to me thai this author had written a 
similar novel, but had never finished it, because he died young, suffer- 
ing from the same ailment that had led me to a sanatorium in the Swiss 
Tessin, where we first had met. Not only the background of my story and 
the ideas expressed in it were similar to those of this author, but even the 
style, the imagery, the symbols, and the use of certain typical phrases. 

I was surprised and assured my friend that 1 had never read a word 
of this author. And this was no wonder, because, as 1 learned now, he had 
died a century ago and was not popular enough to be included in the nor- 
mal high-school curriculum. Greatly impressed by my friend's words, 1 
decided to order the works to which he had referred. But before 1 could 
get them (since they were not available in Italian bookshops) another 
strange thing happened. 

One day I was invited to a birthday party, where, as usual in Capri, 
people of various nationalities were present. Among them was a German 
scholar who had just arrived on the island for a short stay and whom I 
had not met before. When entering the room where the party was held 
I noticed an expression of utter surprise on the face of the newcomer, 
and even after 1 had been introduced to him 1 felt constantly his gaze 
upon me. 

A few days later 1 met the hostess again and asked her; "Who was 
the gentleman to whom you introduced me during your party? I wonder 
why he stared at me all the time. I never met him before and do not 
remember even his name.' 

'Oh, you mean Dr. So-and-so! Well, he has left already Bui I can 
tell you what interested him so much in you. He is writing the biography 

Death and Rebirth 213 

and editing the works of a German mystic writer and poet who died a 
century or so ago. When you entered he could hardly master his sur- 
prise — as he told me later on — -because the similarity between you and 
the only existing portrait of the poet from the time when he was about 
your age is so striking that it almost gave him a shock.' 

But a further surprise was in store for me. 'When the books 1 had 
ordered finally were in my hands I recognised not only substantial parts 
of 'my story' but found certain passages UteTally identical with my own 
childhood writings! And the more 1 read, the more 1 began to realise that 
I read my own innermost thoughts and feelings, expressed in exactly the 
words and images which I myself was wont to use. But it was not only 
the world of my imagination which I found mirrored in every detail; 
there was something even more important, because it related to what I 
had conceived as my present life-work, the outline of a morphology of 
human thought and culture, resulting in a magic vision of the universe, 
I myself had drawn up such a plan with youthful optimism and had 
started to work on it in various fields (art, archaeology, religion, psychol- 
ogy, philosophy, etc.), hoping to collect and to co-ordinate the necessary 
material in the course of my life. But soon I found that the frame of the 
plan was too wide and that even a lifetime would not be sufficient to 
complete such an encyclopaedic work. Thus 1 was finally forced to con- 
fine myself only to such subjects for which I was best qualified by tem- 
perament, training, and inclination. Looking back upon my life, 1 now 
know that this was the right thing to do, and that what is left will be con- 
tinued or accomplished in another life. 

It is this certainty which fills me vnth confidence and peace, and 
allows me to concentrate unhurriedly on whatever task the present 
demands. No work of importance, that one's heart is bent upon with 
single-minded devotion, will remain unfinished. This is what Tibet has 
taught me, where the saints and Siddhas of old kept on returning through 
ever new incarnations, in ever new forms until the present day — thus 
confirming what first came to me as a faint remembrance or message 
from the past and grew in the pursuance of a distant aim into an inner 

"214 The Way of the White Clouds 

Death and Rebirth 215 

It is not my ideal to be reborn for ever in this world, but neither do 
I believe that we can abandon it before we have fulfilled our task in it— 
a task which we may have taken upon ourselves in some remote past, 
and from which we cannot run away like cowards. 

1 knew that it was something greater than merely the desire to 
escape from the dangers and troubles of life that prompted me when 1 
chose to lead a monk's life for twenty years, though I did not bind myself 
to the vows of the Bhikshu Sangha and its innumerable rules. 1 have 
never believed in them — as little as the Buddha did, who merely said 
'Come' to those who wanted to follow him, without ever using the ster- 
ile formulas of a stereotyped ordination questionnaire, and who was 
ready to free the Sangha from the accumulated dross of petty rules, as 
reported in the Mahaparinibbana-Sutta of tlie Digha-Nikaya. 

When 1 chose the way of a lone and homeless pilgrim {'Anagarika' 
means a 'Homeless One') I did so in the conscious pursuance of an aim 
that allowed me neither to make myself 'at home' in the security of a 
monastic community nor in the comforts of a householder's life. Mine 
was the way of the Siddhas: the way of individual experience and respon- 
sibihty, inspired and supported by the living contact between Guru and 
Chela though the direct transference of power in the act of initiation — 
which is more than a mere routine ritual of prescribed formulas or a set 
of prearranged questions and answers, but depends as much on the 
Guru's spiritual powers or attainments (siddhi) as on the Chela's pre- 
paredness or receptivity. While an ordination can be performed, irre- 
spective of the attainments of those who perform the ritual, initiation 
can only be given by one who has himself realised the power which he 
wants to bestow, and can be received only by those who have sincere 
faith and an earnest desire for truth. 

It is for this reason that in the Vajrayana initiation is valued higher 
tfian ordinarion, as may be seen from the famous biography of Tibet's 
poet-saint Milarepa, who for the sake of being granted initiation by 
Marpa, his great Guru, underwent years of toil and suffering. While 
Milarepa was a Yogi of high accomplishments and a cehbate {though he 
never entered the Bhikshu Sangha, nor did he ever wear the robes of this 



Order, preferring the simple, undyed cotton cloth, for which reason he 
was called Repa, 'the Cotton Clad'), his Guru was a married man, but 
one of the greatest initiates of his time, being a pupil of the Mahasiddha 
Naropa. The latter had been one of the leading lights of the Buddhist 
University of Vikramasrla in Bengal, a Brahmin by birth, and an hon- 
oured member of the Bhikshu Sangha. But in spite of all his learning and 
his virtuous life, he had not attained realisation! When he met Tiiopa. a 
wandering Yogi and teacher of the Mahamudra doctrine, who had 
attained the state of liberation, Naropa renounced his honoured posirion 
and his monastic robe, in order to follow the Siddha and to be inidated 
into the Mahamudra doctrine, and its mystic meditation. The following 
words of Tiiopa may give an indication of its nature: 

'When mind has no place where it can stop (and become limited) 
the Mahamudra [lit. 'the Great Attitude'] is present. By cultivating such 
an attitude one attains supreme enlightenment.'' 

In other words, the Mahamudra is the universal attitude of the 
mind, which by nature is infinite and all-embracing. Therefore Tiiopa 
says; The jewel-casket of original mind, free from selfish passions, 
shines like the [infinite] sky'- 

Thus the Siddhas had rediscovered the direct way of spontaneous 
awareness and realisation of the universal depth-consciousness, which 
had been buried under the masses of scholasdc learning, abstract phOo- 
sophical speculation, hair-splitting arguments, and monastic rules, in 
which vinue was not the natural product of higher knowledge but of mere 
negation. TTie self-complacency of negative ^-irtues was a greater hin- 
drance on the way towards enUghtenment than the passions themselves, 
which, through insight into the real nature of the mind, could be trans- 
formed and sublimated into the forces of liberation. This is the key to the 
seemingly paradoxical saying of Tiiopa: The true nature of passions has 
turned out to be the sublime knowledge of emancipation.' Only a man 

I - Mahamudrafoiesa (Tib. Phyag-rgfa-chen-fx>hi-man-nag}. 

2. Acmtaya-mahamtdra (Tib.. Phyag-Tg)a.chen-po-bsam-gyiS'mi-kkyab-pa). Quoted by H 

V Guenther in Origin and Spirit of the VajrayaTta (Stepping Stones, Kalimpong). 

216 The Way of the White Clouds 

who is capable of great passions is capable of great deeds and great 
accomplishments in the realm of the spirit. Only a man who had gone 
through the fire of suffering and despair, like Mitarepa, could have 
accomplished the highest aim within a lifetime. 

It was the protest of the Siddhas of India, the mystics and sages of 
Tibet, the Ch'an Patriarchs of China and the Zen Masters of Japan, that 
rejuvenated the religious life of Buddhism and freed it from the shack- 
les of mediocrity and routine and widened its scope beyond the confines 
of an exclusively monastic ideal — because, as Lin Yutang rightly says: 
The human desire to see only one phase of the truth which we happen 
to perceive, and to develop and elevate it into a perfect logical system, is 
one reason why our philosophy is bound to grow stranger to life. He who 
talks about truth injures it thereby; he who tries to prove it thereby 
maims and distorts it; he who gives it a label and a school of thought kills 
it; and he who declares himself a believer buries it,' 



New Beginnings: 


4 •- 

OiNCE MY JOURNEY to the highlands of Western Tibet (Chang-Thang) 
and Ladakh, from which 1 had brought back a complete set of tracings of 
the Eighty-Four Siddhas as well as of various Tibetan temple frescoes, my 
interest in the mystic path of the Siddhas, their teachings, their partly his- 
torical, partly legendary biographies and their iconography had steadily 
grown — and with it my determination to visit the temples of Lotsava 
Rinchen Zangpo in the deserted capital of the ancient Kingdom of Gug^, 
where t hoped to find the remnants of Tibet's earliest and most accom- 
plished tradition of religious ait. 

Six years had passed since the vision in the ancient rock monastery 
on the way to the Chang-Thang had opened my eyes to the importance 
of creative visuaUsation in the process of meditation, and therewith the 
role of religious art which, far beyond all aesthetic values, contained the 
key to the secrets of mandalas, the unfoldment of spiritual vision, the 
meaning of sadhana (meditative practice), and the parallelism between 
the inner world of man and the universe around him. 

I had utilised these six years by studying the religious life and litera- 

220 The Way of the White Clouds 

Southern and Central Tibet 221 

ture of Tibet, collecting all possible information about Rinchen Zangpo's 
work and his role in the restoration and stabilisation of Buddhism in 
Western Tibet after the fail of Langdarma. But in the midst of my prepa- 
rations for a new journey to Western Tibet the Second World War broke 
out and shattered all my hopes for a speedy realisation of my plans. 

Tsaparang seemed to have receded into an unreachable distance. But 
in the meantime 1 had found an ally for my plan in Li Gotami, who joined 
my work and my life after many years of Friendship, inspired by our com- 
mon faith in Buddhism and her particular interest in Tibetan art. We had 
first met at Rabindranath Tagore's International University, Santiniketan, 
Bengal, where I was a lecturer in the postgraduate department, and where 
she studied Indian Art for twelve years (first under Nandalal Bose, and 
later under Abanindranath Tagore) as well as the techniques of Tibetan 
fresco and thanka painting under Tibetan artists, while I introduced her to 
die intricacies of Tibetan iconography and religious thought, which final- 
ly led her to join with me the Kargyiitpa Order as my wife (gSang-yum) and 
companion in the Dharma {dharma-sShini). Tomo G^she Rimpoche 
seemed to have foreseen this, because he had given her his blessings dur- 
ing his last visit to Samath and prophesied — when she asked him whether 
she would be successful in her art — -that she would achieve great success 
if she would devote herself to the Buddha-Dharma. 

Our religious marriage was performed by Ajo Rimpoche, who presided 
over the Monastery of Tse-Choling in the Chumbi Valley. A Lama friend of 
mine of many years standing had introduced us to this venerable patriarch, 
who at that time was eighty-four years old and known as a great master of 
meditation igom-chen)' The reverence which he commanded in Southern 
Tibet, as well as in Sikkim and Bhutan, was reflected in the magnificent 
two-storeyed temple which he huiit with the willing help and contributions 
of his numerous devotees. Though he had lavished a fortune worthy of a 
king on the buildings, statues, frescoes, collections of religious books, and 

I. Wfien he was 105 years old he had the distinction of being the first Lama to receive 
the Indian Prime Minister. Jawaharlal Nehru, on Tibetan soil during the latter's journey 
to Bhutan, which at that time was on\y accessible through the Chumbi Valley of 
SoLithcm Tibet. 

precious thankas, he himself had no personal possessions and lived in a liny 
wooden cottage below the temple buildings in utmost simplicity. 

Like the Hermit Abbot of Lachen and many of the Siddhas before him, 
he was a married man, and his wife was a real 'Damema' (bdag-med-ma), 
which means 'the Selfless One', as Marpa's wife was called, a mother to all 
who came within the charmed circle of her and her Guru -husband's life. 
Ajo Rimpoche was one of the successive reincarnations of the Siddha 
Dombi-Heruka of the eighth century A.D., who had renounced a throne 
in order to lead a life of meditation in the solitude of the forest, where 
finally after many years he attained realisation and became a Siddha. 
And as at that time he had returned to his people as a spiritual guide and 
a living example of his realisation, he became a teacher of men in many 
subsequent reincarnations, ever mindful of his vow not to abandon the 
world as long as living beings were in need of his help. To receive his 
blessings and initiation into one of his particular sadhanas was an expe- 
rience that gave a new impetus to our spiritual life. 

There could not have been a more perfect continuation of the inspi- 
ration and guidance 1 had received from Tomo G^sh^ Rimpoche. In fact, it 
seemed to me as if all subsequent initiations into various meditative prac- 
tices and teachings of the Vajrayana {the 'Diamond Vehicle'), which we 
received in the course of the next two years of our pilgrimage in Southern, 
Central, and Western Tibet, were part of a complete system of interrelated 
meditational experiences, which crystallised into a perfect mandala, a magic 
circle, containing all the major aspects of Tibet's religious life. 

Strangely enough, it was during my first stay at Yi-Gah Cho-Ling that 
a Sikkimese friend had presented me with a thanka, containing the main 
symbols of diis mawhla: Buddha Sakyamuni in the centre; above him 
Amitabha, the embodiment of Infinite Light; below him Padmasambhava, 
the revealer of the Bardo Thodol and of the mystic teachings of the 
'Direct Path'. The two upper comers of the thanka were occupied by 
ManjusrT, the embodiment of Transcendental Wisdom, and Tara (Tib.: 
Dolma'), 'the Saviouress' (the active counterpart to the Transcendental 
Knowledge of MaiijuSri) — while AvalokiteSvara, the embodiment of 
Compassion, and Vajrapatii, the powerfiil Protector of the Dharma and the 

222 The Way of the White Clouds 

Southern and Central Tibet 223 

Master of its Mystic Teachings, filled the corresponding lower corners. 

Just as the Buddha Sakyamuni, as theAdi-guru (or first teacher) of our 
era, occupies the central position in this thanka, so the first Guru always 
occupies a central position in the Chela's heart. But this does not preclude 
him from sitting at the feet of other teachers who might benefit him in the 
absence of his Tsawai Lama (lit. 'Root Lama'), because there is no competi* 
tion between real Gurus, just as there is no competition between different 
aspects of realit>' or truth. Each teacher can only reveal what he himself has 
experienced, or realised, of what he himself has become the embodiment. 
No single teacher can exhaust all aspects of truth or of ultimate reality; and 
even if this were possible each teacher has his own individual approach 
towards this ultimate aim, and it depends not only on the accomplishments 
of the Guru, but equally on the character and capabilities of the pupil, 
which particular methods are helpful to him. As the ultimate aim of all 
methods is the same, there can be no contradiction or disharmony between 
them, though it would be foolish to jump from the one to the other with- 
out having attained a certain measure in any of them. 

A real Guru's initiation is beyond the divisions of sects and creeds: it 
is the awakening to our own inner reality which, once glimpsed, deter- 
mines our further course of development and our actions in life without 
the enforcements of outer rules. Initiation, therefore, is the greatest gift a 
Guru can bestow, a gift that is regarded infinitely more precious than any 
formal ordination on entering the state of monkhood (or any other orga- 
nised religious society), which can be performed at any time, without 
demanding any spiritual qualification, neither of those who perform it, nor 
of those who receive it — provided the candidate is willing to obey the pre- 
scribed rules and is not barred by mental, moral, or physical deficiencies. 

A Guru can give only as much as he has realised himself, and in order 
to transmit his own experience he must be able to renew or to re-create i 
each time he performs the Wangkur idhang-bskur) rite. This requires an 
extensive preparation — not just an intellectual one, like that of a school or 
university teacher, who prepares himself by assembling all relevant data 
his subject and by mapping out a logical way of presenting those data 
the most convincing way— the preparation of a religious teacher con 

putting himself in touch with the deepest sources of spiritual power 
through intense meditation, during which he becomes the embodiment of 
the force or quality which he wants to transmit. Such a preparation may 
take days or weeks, according to the nature of the forces involved and the 
more or less intricate character of their creative symbols which have to be 
awakened in the consciousness of the recipient who on his part is required 
to prepare himself by purifying his mind and directing his attention to the 
teachings, ideas, or aims of the sought- for initiation. 

Without this double preparedness of Guru and Chela the rite of ini- 
tiation would be a mere farce, and no really great teacher will ever lend 
himself to such a thing. As long as the tradition of Tibet was unbroken, and 
its guardians and promoters lived in the security of their age-old traditions, 
upheld by institutions and by a society in which the values they represented 
were understood and respected, the temptation to lower the standard or the 
conditions under which initiations were to be granted was hardly present. 
But after the terrible holocaust and the religious persecution which fol- 
lowed the Chinese invasion of Tibet all bonds with the past were broken, 
and those who fled were thrown into an unfamiliar world, where all that 
had been sacred and infallible truth to them was neither known nor recog- 
nised. And thus, partly from a desire to spread the Dharma and partly from 
the wish to justify their position as religious leaders or ecclesiastical digni- 
taries, many of them felt justified to perform such rites even for those who 
had no knowledge of their meaning, in the hope that at least some spiritual 
benefit might come to the recipients of these rites as long as it awakened 
or strengthened their faith. In this way a rite that originally was meant to 
confer initiation into a profound spiritual experience became devoid of its 
essential meaning, and all that was left was a gesture of blessing, which 
•^'ght lead those who are not conversant with the traditional background 
to the conclusion that this is all there is to it. 

The 'transference of the power of Amitayus, the Buddha of Infinite 
^'te , for instance, is used as a communal rite {known as 'Tsi^wang') in a 

'nuiar way as the communion in the Catholic Church, or as a certain 
vpe of paritta -ceremony in Theravada Buddhism, in which the 'life-giving' 

^'fir is sanctified and charged with the forces of mantric invocations, 

224 The Way of the White Clouds 

recited by a group of monks or lay-devotees, and given to those who are 
ailing or in danger of death. 

The tse-wang of Amitayus {tse-dfag-tn^), however, can be turned 
into a proper rite of initiation {wang-kur) — ^what it was originally meant 
to be — if the initiator prepares the Chela for the conscious participation k' 
and understanding of the details and symbols of the ritual.' As a result 

the initiate in the course of time is enabled to invoke the life 


forces of Amitayus for himself and others, by practising the sadhana of 
Amitayus and by transforming his mantric formula into the visual and 
spiritual unfoidment of all those properties of which Amitayus is the 
embodiment, until the devotee realises these qualities within himself 
and has become a true vessel of them. Only when he has achieved this 
can he transmit the spiritual forces engendered by this realisation. 

Ajo Rimpochfi was one of those rare masters who were fully conscious^ 
of these facts. He spared no pains in preparing himself and every smallest 
detail for the initiation he bestowed upon us. The initiation altar itself was , 
a work of art, built up with meticulous care, according to the rules of reli- 
gious tradition, in which beauty is the natural and spontaneous outcome 
of its indwelling spirit — and not of an intended aesthetic effect. The self- 
conscious element of an an that is divorced from life or meaning is 
unlaiown in Tibet. Tlie altar represented a perfect maridala of significant 
symbols, and Ajo Rimpoche explained their meaning and function, so that 
we could fully understand their significance and the part they played in the 
ritual. But what we appreciated most was the way in which he instructed 
us in the details and teclinique of the particular type of meditation and 
creative visualisation into which we were initiated and which we were to 
practise daily with the tnantras bestowed upon us. It is only from the stand- 
point of creative visualisation (dhyanaj, guided and sustained by the living 
power of the inner sound {mantraj and crystallising into the universal order 
of a numdala, that we can understand the significance of rehgious art in 
Tibet and especially the meaning of thankas and frescoes. 

1 . Any wang given ivithout religious instructions and guidance (as to ssdhanS) is not 
initiation and cannot establish agunt^hela relationship. 






T H A 

L. Zllimg 





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•■'■"'s^' Central Tibet /-Kyangphu 

_Ji^ Mt. Everest 


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Map of Covintla's expedition to Western Tibet 

Preceeditig pttge: Lama Govintlii in Tibet, Tsang Province 

Ahm Tttwtan Nomad C'tmpic, Wesiern Tibei (See pp. RC'-H ' ) 

liighi l-amii Schiilaf t>\ V'tindi-n. Rirmg l*(ird,i1i Monusim, I'Kiiri pMnga 





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Crossing the Kali Rivcr in die Himalayas, Kumaori {See pp. 2/2-79) 

U'ft^ BuiidK. Western Tibet 

Pacing jKigtf; In the Ruins of 
Tsfwriing l&f pp. i29-30) 



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Interlude at 
dungkar gompa 

Les Purgj-al from Kjuk {Seefp. J57-5-9i 

■JiNCE THE TTME of the passing away of Tomo Geshe Rimpoche I had 
not felt a similar upsurge of religious emotion and the feeling of deep 
relationship which characterises the bonds between Guru and Chela; in 
fact, Ajo Rimpoche was not replacing my first Guru, but became 
another link connecting him with me, by strengthening and completing 
what 1 had received during my apprenticeship at Yi-Gah Cho-Ling. And 
here I must also remember with gratitude the impetus which we 
received from my Guru-bhai,' the abbot of Dungkar Gompa, who admin- 
istered Tomo Geshe's chief monastery during his absence and the minor- 
ity of his reincarnation, who at that time was studying at Sera near 
Lhasa. His hospitality and kindness during our stay at Dungkar Gompa 
were both touching and reassuring, because it demonstrated the toler- 
ance and the mutual respect that exists between the different branches 
of Buddhist tradition in Tibet, where all initiates are honoured, irre- 
spective of the sect or school to which they belong. 

I- 'Gum-bhat' means a religious brother having the same Guru. 

226 The Way of the White Clouds 

We were given a beautiful little Lhakhang, a kind of private chapel, 
as used by incarnate Lamas or higli dignitaries— as our dwelling-place. 
But since, according to the rules of the Gelugpa Order (which maintains 
strict celibacy), no woman can stay overnight within the walls of the 
monastery, Li Gotami was offered for the nights a litde room in an out- 
house just at the entrance of the monastery The Nyerpa (steward) very 
innocently said to us: 'Anila' need not be afraid to be alone; she will sleep 
with the Lama to whom the room belongs,' Before any misunderstanding 
could occur I assured the Nyerpa that 1 would stay there myself with 
Anila during the night, as it would be too difBcult to separate our luggage, 
and that only during the daytime would we stay in the Lhakhang. The 
Nyerpa, naturally had meant no offence, because in Tibet, where dwelling 
space is limited and the climate cold, it is customary for pilgrims or trav- 
ellers of both sexes to spend the night together in any available room 
without the slightest embarrassment. 

A short time later we had an opportunity to observe this for our- 
selves. The room in which we used to sleep had a kind of flimsy wood- 
en partition open at one end and more a symbolical than factual barrier 
between the two parts of the room, which remained, anyway, open to 
view. The Lama whose guests we were during the nights slept on one 
side of the partition, while we occupied the other. He was a very kind 
and considerate person, who respected our privacy and made us feel 
quite at home in our little nook. 

During the days of die Losar (the Tibetan New Year Festival), howev- 
er, crowds of people from the Tomo- and Amo-chu Valleys congregated at 
the monastery, and all those whose homes were too far away to return there 
for the night remained in the Gompa, while their women-folk spent die 
ni^ts in the available outhouses. In this way we and our good host found 
our quarters invaded by a lot of women, who without further ado spread 
themselves on every available bit of floor-space on both sides of the partition. 
During our later travels we had more opportunities to observe the 
naturalness and the unrestricted hospitality of Tibetans, to whom prud- 

I . Ftalite address of a nun or a LaiWs wife. 

Southern and Central Tibet 227 

ery is unknown, so that women without the slightest embarrassment 
would undress down to the waist in order to wash their hair and the 
upper part of their body on warm summer days, and some of them would 
even work in the fields during harvest-time, stripped to the waist, when 
the sun got uncomfortably hot in the valleys. 

It goes without saying that this applies mainly to the common peo- 
ple and not to the more sophisticated Lhasa society, with whom we came 
in contact during our prolonged stay at Gyantse, where for some time we 
inhabited the beautifully decorated Yabshi-Piinkhang, a palatial building 
of one of the aristocratic families of Lhasa, connected by marriage with 
the royal house of Sikkim, On the whole one can say that the position of 
women in Tibet was very high. They played a leading role in all walks of 
life, except political, governmental, or ecclesiastical affairs, which in the 
Tibetan theocracy were closely interwoven. 

Women were managing business and family property, they generally 
were the inheritors of family holdings, which were not to be divided, but 
had to be passed on intact from generation to generation, thus prevent- 
ing the fragmentation and depreciation of the already scarce arable land, 
mostly depending on artificial irrigation. It was mainly due to these eco- 
nomic reasons that Tibetans had to find ways and means to keep the 
population strictly in proportion to the existing sources of livelihood. 
This was achieved partly by the system of polyandry — ^which prevailed 
mainly in the desert-like regions of Western and Northern Tibet — partly 
by the custom that at least one son of a family, and very often a daugh- 
ter too, would join a monastery as a monk or a nun respectively 

Both monks and nuns were highly respected, especially those who 
had acquired some degree of learning or proficiency in meditation and 
in the performance of religious rituals. Among Tibetans knowledge was 
almost as highly prized as sanctity, and very often both were combined 
to a remarkable degree. Among the Gelugpas (the only exclusively celi- 
bate sect of Tibetan Buddhism) intellectual knowledge, based on the study 
of traditional religious literature, including history, logic, philosophy, poetry, 
and in certain cases also medicine and astrology, was given particular 
prominence, while among the I<argyutpus proficiency in meditation and 

228 The Way of the White Clouds 

spiritual experience was regarded as more important than book-knowledge 
and the art of debating. While the Gelugpas had to qualify themselves 
through a long course of studies in one of the monastic universities (like 
Drepung, Ganden, or Sera), the highest qualification of a Kargyiitpa con- 
sisted in his ability to spend long periods in complete seclusion in caves, 
hermitages, meditation chambers, etc., during which he could put into 
practice what he had learned from his Guru and through the study of a 
limited number of religious texts which served as a guide for his partic- 
ular sadhana. 


The Two Siddhas 
OF Tse-Choling 

T WAS ASA Gomchen and as a teacher in meditation that Ajo Rimpoche 
had gained his prominence and had finally become recognised as the spir- 
itual head of the monastery, whose abbot had died many years before and 
whose small Tulku (who at our time was about nine years old) now looked 
upon him for guidance until the time of his maturity, when again he would 
take over the full responsibilities as abbot of Ts^-Choling. Ajo Rimpoche 
was one of the Repas or 'Cotton-Clad' followers of MUarepa, who did not 
wear the usual dark red robe of a monk, but a white shawl (zen) with broad 
red stripes; and like Milarepa he had not cut his hair, but wore it coiled up 
on his head. In his ears he wore the white, spiral-shaped conch-rings of 
the wandering ascetics (nial-hbyor-pa) or Yogi- Siddhas of old. 

Also the young Tulku was the reincarnation of one of the ancient 
Siddhas, namely of Saraha, who had been one of the great mystic poets of 
his time (seventh century A.D.). But in contrast to Ajo Rimpoche he wore 
the usual monastic robes; and his personal tutor, a scholarly and extremely 
kindhearted man who looked after the little boy with the tenderness of a 
mother, was a fully ordained Gelong (bhikshu). Also the Umdze, the leader 

230 The Way of the White Clouds 

of the choir, who assisted Ajo Rimpoch^ during our initiation, was a 
Gelong, while the majority of the inmates of the monastery were manried 
people, who wore the usual red monastic robe, but lived with their fami- 
lies in separate little houses, scattered around the Gompa, They assem- 
bled in the main Lhakhang for religious services, which on festival days 
were presided over by the small TuJku of Saraha, who in spite of his ten- 
der age performed his high office with great dignity and composure. 

h was strange to see how in this little boy childlike innocence and age- 
old wisdom seemed to be combined, and how the child in him could sud- 
denly change into the behaviour of a wise old man, or again revert to the 
naturalness of a lively little boy. His tutor told us that he rapidly regained his 
former knowledge, reciting whole books by heart, and the Umdze gave us a 
detailed account of how he found his way back to his former monastery. 

He was bom in a village just below Dungkar Gompa and as soon as 
he was able to speak he began to talk about a monastery on a hill, where 
he had lived as a monk. When he persisted in this talk, people took it for 
granted that he meant Dungkar Gompa, which could be seen from his 
village, but he resolutely rejected this suggestion. By chance the Umdze 
of Tse-Choling heard about this boy, who was then between three and 
four years of age, and since the Tulku of Tse-Choling had not yet been 
discovered, the Umdze, accompanied by some senior monks, went to the 
village where the little boy lived and, without revealing the purpose of 
their visit, they managed to meet him and to get into talk with him while 
he was playing about the house, Tibetans love children, and there was 
nothing exceptional in the friendly interest that some travelling monks 
might take in a httle boy. The Umdze canried with him a bag with ritual 
articles, as most Lamas do, when on a journey, and among these articles 
there were also some that had been used by the former abbot of Tse- 
Choling. Under some pretext or other the Umdz^ opened the bag and 
allowed the boy to examine its contents, taking out one thing after another. 
When seeing the interest with which the boy contemplated each object, 
he asked him if he would like to have some of them, and what he would 
choose. Without hesitation the boy picked out a slightly damaged bell, 
though there was another undamaged one of the same type, 'Wliy do you 

Southern and Central Tibet 231 

want that old thing,' asked the Umdz^, 'when there is a much better one*? 
Won't you have the nice new one?' 

'No,' said the boy, '1 would rather have my old bell.' 

'How do you know this is your bell?' asked the Umdz6 with some 

3ecause one day it fell dovm and got chipped at the rim,' and saying 
this the boy tumed the bell upside-dowTi and showed the Umdz^ that a tiny 
piece of metal was missing in the inner rim. Tlie incident which the boy had 
mendoned was later on confirmed by the Former abbot's old servant, who 
was still alive. He also confirmed the boy's observation that in the rosary 
which the boy had recognised as his own, a turquoise which had formed 
the end of the 1 08 beads was missing. Every single object that had belonged 
to the former abbot was immediately recognised by the boy, who firmly re- 
jected all other things, though many of them were identical in shape. 

The most remarkable thing, however, happened when the little boy, 
who was now accepted as the TuUcu of the fomier abbot, was brought 
back to Ts^-Chfiling. When entering the Labrang (as the abbot's resi- 
dence is called) he said: This is not the place I used to live in. I remem- 
ber it was on top of a hill.' He was correct, the Labrang in which the old 
abbot had lived and passed away had been higher up on a spur above the 
present monastery, but a fire had destroyed the biiilding which, like most 
houses in this part of Tibet, was a structure of half stone half wood, sur- 
mounted by a wide roof of wooden shingles, weighed down with stones, 
similar to the chalets of the Austrian or Swiss Alps with which the sur- 
rounding landscape had much similarity. 

Like at Dungkar Gompa we were given a beauriftil Lhakhang for the 
duration of our stay at Ts<!-Choling, but in accordance with the more liber- 
al attitude of the ICargyiJtpa Order, which embraced both married and celi- 
bate Lamas and Trapas, Li Gotami was not required to leave the precincts 
of the monastery at night, and thus both of us stayed together in the spacious 
shrinc-room, in which a life-size statue of Padmasambhava was enthroned 
as the central figure, flanked by the numerous volumes of his and his 
followers' esoteric teachings. They are known as Termas {gTer-ma means 
'treasure'), because like treasures they had been hidden underground or in 

232 The Way of the White Clouds 

caves during times of danger and persecution or — as tradition says — until 
the time was ripe for their understanding and rediscoveiy by later adepts of 
the ancient mystic lore. The Bardo Thbdol (Bar-do Thos-grol), which has 
become famous as one of the great works of religious worid-literature under 
the title The Tibetan Book of the Dead, is one of the Termas. 

That Ajo Rimpoch^ had accommodated us in one of the chief sanc- 
tuaries of Ts6-Choting was more than merely a sign of hospitality and 
trust; it meant that he had accepted us not only as honoured guests but 
as members of his spiritual community. We were touched at the thought 
that while the Guru himself lived in a bare room of his modest little cot- 
tage, we were housed in a spacious pillared and richly decorated 
Lhakhang, fit for a king rather than for two humble Chelas. 

One side of the Lhakhang was formed by a single long window, 
stretching from one wall to the other, made of small glass panes, like a 
glassed-in veranda, so that one had a free view over the spacious court- 
yard and the buildings of the monastery which rose in tiers on the gentle 
slope of the mountainside between tall fir trees, chortens, and prayer- 
flags. We could see the Lab rang, where the little Tulku lived in a lovely 
shrine-room covered with precious thankas, and we could also see his 
tutors little bungalow, that looked like a doll's house with its elegantly 
fashioned woodwork and bright colours. 

In the evening the tutor and the little Tulku would walk around the 
chortens and temple buildings, reciting their prayers, rosaries in hand: the 
tutor walking gravely ahead and the little boy cheerfully trailing behind. 
Sometimes he would be more interested in the birds or in a litde puppy that 
crossed his way and had to be picked up and caressed — and then the tutor 
would suddenly turn back and gently remind him of his prayers, though one 
could see that he could quite understand a tittle boy's attraction for birds 
and puppies and his urge to play He certainly was an understanding man, 
and we never saw him being harsh, though we knew that the education oi 
a Tulku was generally much more strict than that of other novices. 

Saraha Tulku was in every respect an extraordinary boy, and even it 
we had not known that he was a Tulku we would have easily picked hira 
out from a crowd of ordinary boys by his exceptionally intelligent face, his 

Southern and Central Tibet 233 

bright eyes, and his gentle and yet natural behaviour. When he sat on his 
raised seat during a ceremony in the temple he was entirely the 
'Ritnpoch^'; and when he received us in his private Lhakhang he did this 
with a charming mixture of dignity and hidden curiosity. When Li Gotami 
made a portrait of him in his lovely shrine-room against a row of beautiful 
thankas and surrounded by ritual objects, as befitting his ecclesiastical 
rank, he showed keen interest in the progress of her work and lost all his 
initial shyness, enjoying the newness of the situation and chit-chatting 
freely whenever there was a pause in the work. At the same time he proved 
[o be an excellent model, sitting motionlessly in the same posture as long 
as the work required, without the slightest sign of impatience or tiredness. 

One day, after a heavy snowfall, while we were admiring the view 
From our Lhakhang window, we suddenly saw some naked figures 
emerging from the Labrang, joyfully jumping about in the fresh snow 
and finally rolling in it as if in a white feather bed, while we were fairly 
shivering in our big but unheated 'royal abode'. The naked figures were 
no others but our little Tulku and two other boys of his age, who greatly 
enjoyed themselves in the snow. After having rolled in the snow they 
would quickly retire into the Labrang — probably to warm themselves — 
and then they would emerge anew to repeat the same performance over 
and over again until they had had their fill. 

We were glad to see that with all learning and discipline, bodily 
training and youthful play were not neglected in the boys' education, and 
that there was no prudery in spite of the religious nature of their 
upbringing. We suppose that these snow-sports had something to do 
with preparing the boys — and especiaUy the Tulku — for the training in 
Tummo, during which they must prove their capacity to resist cold by 
producing their own psychic heat through the mastery of body and mind 
'n Yogic exercises. However, since we did not know whether we would 
cause embarrassment on mentioning that we had observed the boys in 
their playful enjoyment, we refrained firom questioning the tutor or dis- 
cussing the matter with any of the other inmates of the monastery. 

We also found plenty of work to do besides our devotional practices, 
3s there were books to study, notes to be taken, woodcuts to be printed 

234 The Way of the White Clouds 

and some outstanding frescoes to be copied or traced in outline. I was 
specially interested and delighted to find that the main upper Lhakhang 
(opposite our own), which was dedicated to Vajradhara (Dorj^-Chaftg), 
theAdibuddha of the Kargyiltpas (corresponding to Kuntu-Zangpo, Skt. 
SanuLntabhtidra, of the Nyingmapas), was decorated with excellent fres- 
coes of the Eighty-Four Siddhas. This gave me another opportunity of 
collecting further tracings and notes, a valuable addition to my former 
work on this important iconographical and historical subject. 

Also outside the monastery there was plenty to do in the way of 
sketching and photographing. We certainly had not a dull moment, and 
in between we had ample opportunities of discussing religious questions 
with Ajo Rimpoche, the Umdze, the httle Tulku's learned tutor (Gergen) 
and some of the Trapas. Outstanding among the latter was the Konyer 
(sgo-nyer)^ who was in charge of the main Lhakhangs, performing the 
daily offerings of water, light, and incense, and keeping everything clean 
and shining. He did this conscientiously, as a sacred duty, and with such 
devotion that he had developed a permanent swelling on his forehead 
from knocking it on the ground during his daily prostrations before the 
many images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, saints and Gurus, and the 
terrifying embodiments of the mighty protectors or tutelary deities of 
the faithful, the Yidams, the Masters of super-human mysteries, like 
Mahakala or Vajrabhairava (Tib.: Dorje-hjigs-byed), Kalacakra, Hevajra, 
Yesh^-Gombo, Demchog {hDe-mchog, Skt.: Mahasuhha] and others. The 
latter is one of the special Yidams of the KargytJtpas (though in equally 
high esteem with the Gelugpas and other sects, being the main symbol 
of one of the most profound meditational systems — to which 1 myself 
devoted a year of intense study), and it was for this reason that a special 
Lhakhang, adjoining that of Padmasambhava, in which we lived, had 
been dedicated to Demchog and the great mandala of his deities. 

At Dungkar Gompa we even found a complete plastic model of this 
mmdala with all its intricate details and all the 164 deities minutely executed. 
Unfortunately the model, which was placed in a comer of the main temple 
hall, was encased in a framework of wood and glass, which made it difficult 
to study the details and impossible to take a satisfactory photograph. 




\T Dungkar we had hoped to meet Tomo G6sh6's little Tulku, who 
was about the same age as Saraha's at Tse-Chdling, But on our first visit 
in 1 947 he was still at Sera, where in spite of his tender age he had been 
sent for higher education, having successfully absorbed all the studies 
that his tutors at Dungkar had to offer him. All learning was merely a 
remembering and brushing up of Kis previous life's knowledge. But there 
had recently been disturbances at Sera in the wake of a political 
upheaval, due to an attempt on the life of the Regent, who headed the 
government of Tibet during the Dalai Lama's minority, and the people in 
Dungkar, as also Tomo G^sh^'s father in Gangtok, were worried as it was 
impossible to get a clear picture of the situation and it was thought to be 
perhaps better to call him back, unless conditions became more safe. 
Everything seemed to be shrouded in mystery, and the farther we pro- 
ceeded into Tibet the more mysterious it became. 

At Pharl we found the palace of Reting Rimpoche sealed and empty 
(except for a giant mastiff, who almost tore us to bits when we approached 
the courtyard to have a look at the place). Reting Rimpoche had been the 

236 The Way of the White Clouds 

previous Regent, who had discovered the present Dalai Lama and had 
resigned the regentship under politicaJ pressure a few years before. One 
day — it was in April 1947 — a bomb of Chinese make exploded when a 
parcel addressed to his successor was opened by a curious servant, and 
immediately the suspicion fell upon Reting Rimpoche, who was accused 
of conspiracy against the new Regent and of being in league with the pro- 
Chinese faction of the Tashj Lama, who had fled to China many years 
before in a conflict with the regime of the thirteenth Dalai Lama. 

Summoned to Lhasa, the Reting Rimpoche — against the warnings 
and entreaties of his monks— had accepted the challenge, but while 
awaiting his trial in the Potala he suddenly died. According to what we 
were told, he was found dead one morning in the apartments to which 
he was confined, sitting in the posture of meditation and without any 
sign of violent death. His teacup, however, was found embedded in one 
of the hardwood pillars of his room, and, what was more, the teacup had 
been turned inside-out! Nobody could explain how this could have hap- 
pened, but all were convinced that it was due to the Rimpoche s spiritual 
power. It was said that he had gone into a trance and consciously (eft his 
body, or, as others said, that he had willed himself to die. 

What actually had happened, and whether the Rimpoche had really 
been guilty, never became Imown. The common people, as well as diose 
members of the aristocracy with whom we came in contact, seemed to think 
him innocent, thou^ foreign observers in Lhasa were inclined towards the 
opposite opinion. But it was characteristic of the general attitude of Tibetans 
that even though the government had arrested the Rimpoche and con- 
fiscated his estates his framed photo^aphs were displayed in prominent 
places in almost every house that we visited, and also in many shops. 

To the average Tibetan it seemed unthinkable that a Tulku, who had 
been the ruler of Tibet for many years, who had been instrumental in 
discovering the fourteenth Daiai Lama due to his spiritual vision, and 
who had renounced power on his own accord, because a significant 
dream had indicated that it was time for him to retire from the world — 
that such a man should be guilty of a common crime. Reting Rimpoche, 
the head of one of the oldest monasteries (Rva-sgreng, pron, 'Reting'), 

Southern and Central Tibet 237 

founded by Atisha's famous disciple Bromston (bom in 1002), had been 
recommended for the regentship by the thirteenth Dalai Lama himself, 
shortly before his death, though Reting Rimpoche was only twenty-three 
years old at that time and of delicate frame. He seemed to have been a 
mixture of mysdc vision and worldly ambition, according to what people 
who had known him told us. Apparently he was torn between two 
worlds. His tragic end remains for ever the secret of the Potala. 

When the news of it reached Reting Gompa the whole monastery 
rose in rebellion and overpowered the government guards who had occu- 
pied it during the Rimpoches absence. Thereupon a military force was 
sent from Lhasa, and in the ensuing fight the monastery was destroyed, 
while the surviving monks fled all over the country. 

But this was not yet the end of the tragic events. Reting Rimpoche 
had been a graduate of Sera, one of the biggest and most powerful 
monasteries of the Gelugpas, only three miles from Lhasa. Enraged by 
the happenings at Reting, a section of the monks of Sera rose against the 
government, and only after a bombardment by artillery was peace 
restored, though the causes of unrest were srill existent and it seemed as 
if future events had already thrown their shadows over this otherwise so 
peaceful land. 

These were the conditions which agitated the minds of all those 
who feared for the safety of the little Tulku of Tomo Geshe Rimpoche 
at Sera. 

In the meantime we were occupied with our studies in the great 
monasteries and temples of Gyantse — the Pai-khorlo Chdde and espe- 
cially the Kumbum, the Temple of the Hundred Thousand Buddhas' — 
while awaiting our Lamyig (an official pass entitling one to transport facil- 
ities and basic provisions while travelling in Tibet) and our authorisation 
to work in the ancient monasteries and temples of Rinchen Zangpo in 
Western Tibet. We were too busy to give much attention to political 
affairs, and, moreover, we had given an undertaking to the political offi- 
cer at Gangtok not to divulge any information about inner political events 
in Tibet. So we left things well alone, avoiding any expression of opinion 
and taking no sides— neither for nor against Reting Rimpoch6— though 

238 The Way of the White Clouds 

one thing we could see very clearly, namely that power and religion could 
not go together in the long run, and that the greatest danger for Tibet lay 
in the accumulation of power in those monasteries in which thousands of 
monks were living together as in an ant-heap and where the most pre- 
cious thing of a truly religious life was lost: the peace of solitude and the 
integrity and freedom of the individual. 

Even in the great monastic city which dominated the secular town 
of Gyantse we could see the deterioration of standards which is 
inevitable wherever human beings are crowded together, and we all the 
more appreciated the wisdom of Milarepa and his followers, who preferred 
lonely retreats and small religious communities to vast institutions of 
learning, where book-knowledge became more important than the forma- 
tion of character and the development of wisdom and compassion. 

In the past the Sakyapas, who took their name from Sa-skya ('tawny 
earth') Monastery south-west of Shigatse (founded A.D. 1071), had become 
the most powerful religious organisation and finally became the rulers of die 
whole of 1 ibet. TTie political power, however, was the very cause of their 
downfall, because force creates counter- forces. They were finally over- 
thrown by the Gelugpas, who, with the consolidation of the Dalai Lamas in 
Lhasa, took over both the spiritual and the temporal power in Tibet. TTieir 
monasteries ^ew into cities in which up to i 0,000 monks were residing. 

They reminded one of the ancient monastic universities of Nalanda 
and Vikrama^ila, which centralised the religious and cultural life of 
Buddhism to such an extent that they offered an easy target to the 
Mohammedan invaders, who by the destruction of these powerful institu- 
rions annihilated the Buddhist religion in India, while Hinduism that was 
neither centralised nor dependent on monastic organisations survived, 
because its tradition was carried on within the intimate circles of priestly 
families or pious householders, and by independent individuals who chose 
the life of wandering ascetics or formed themselves into small groups of 
Chelas around a Guru, Even the destruction of temples cannot destroy a 
religion in which every house has its own little shrine and where in every 
family there is at least one who is able to carry on the religious tradition. 

It was only a few years later, shortly after we had left Tibet, that his- 


tory repeated itself: the great monasteries of Tibet became the first tar- 
get of the communist invaders, and if Buddhism is to survive at all in 
Tibet it will be only in hidden hermitages, far away from towns and 
trade-routes, and in those families in which religious life does not 
depend on monastic organisations and institutions, but where the flame 
of faith is handed down from generation to generation, as I have seen 
especially among Nyingmapas, Kargyiitpas, and other smaller groups of 
Tibetan Buddhists, following strictly the personal Guru-Chela tradition 
in preference to the mass education in big monastic institutions. 

As I said, the events of the future threw their shadows ahead. The with- 
drawal of the British from India, and die fear that China might try again to 
claim ovedordship over Tibet, created a feeling of uncertainty — diough at 
that time nobody thought that the danger would come from the communists, 
who were still fighting the Kuomintang— and it probably was for this reason 
that the government of Tibet did not dare to judge Reting Rimpoche in an 
open trial or to reveal the facts and their political implications. 

We ourselves had almost forgotten these events and it seemed that 
Sera had settled down to its normal peaceful life, since no further news 
had l>een received from there. Moreover, during the festive season in 
autumn, everybody from the Regent down to the smallest official, from 
the Dalai Lama down to the simplest Trapa, and from the most prominent 
citizens down to the humblest servant, enjoyed a variety of public enter- 
tainments: mystery-plays in the monasteries, theatrical performances of 
religious legends (like stories concerning the former lives of the Buddha) 
by professional actors in the courtyards of big family mansions (but open 
to all and sundry without entrance fee), picnic-parties in richly decorated 
tents at beauty spots around the town or near monastic mountain retreats, 
and last but not least, popular horse-racing, arrow-shooting, folk-dances 
and similar amusements, enjoyed by rich and poor. The Tibetan has as 
great a zest for life and pleasure as for religion, and he knows how to com- 
bine the two and thus to 'make the best of both worlds'. ' 

1. That the Tibetan hves in constant fear of demons is one of those silly remarks which 
have been repeated ad nauseam by those who know nothing of Tibetan mentality or those 
who need an excuse for trying to convert Tibetans to their own brand of superstitions. 

240 The Way of the White Clouds 

But soon the intense cold of the approaching winter put a stop to 
most outdoor entertainments, and everybody went about in fur caps and 
winter clotlring, though the sun was as radiant as ever and the skies Hke 
deep blue velvet. But the ground and the ponds were frozen, and even 
the swift-flowing river was bordered with ice. 

It was then that we heard a rumour that the little Tuiku of Tomo 
Geshe had left Sera and was on his way home to Dungkar. He was 
expected to break his journey at Gyantse and to rest there for a few days 
before proceeding to his monastery. But so often had we heard such 
rumours diat we did not give them much credence, especially since 
peace seemed to have been restored at Sera. 

One day we were returning from the Temple of the Hundred 
Thousand Buddhas' (Kumbum), where I was copying inscriptions and 
fresco details of iconographic interest, while Li Gotami took photo- 
graphs of some of the most beautiful statues (of which some were repro- 
duced in my Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism). It was a particularly cold 
and windy day, and we were muffled up in our heavy Tibetan clothes like 
everybody else. While hurrying through the main bazaar, which we had 
to cross daily on our way to and from the walled monastic city, we saw 
two or three monks coming from the opposite direction apparently on 
their way to the Pal-khorlo Chode. One of the Trapas carried a little boy 
on his shoulder, who like him was clad in the usual dark red monastic 
robes. We would probably have passed the group without taking any 
notice of them had it not been for the unusual behaviour of the little boy, 
who suddenly straightened himself, raised his head, and looked at us 
intensely, as if stirred by a sudden impulse or surprise — while neither the 
monk who carried him, nor those who accompanied him, took the slight- 
est notice of us. In fact, we were indistinguishable from other Tibetans 
in the street, and our eyes, which might have given us away as foreign- 
ers, were hidden behind dark glasses. The latter were very popular 
among Tibetans as a protection against the glaring sun as much as 
against the penetrating particles of sand and dust during windy days and 
sandstorms. When passing us the boy seemed to get more agitated, turn- 
ing round in the arms of the monk who carried him and looking at us 

Southern and Central Tibet 2^11 

with undisguised attention — as if trying to remember somebody whom 
he knew, but whom he could not identify. Now it was our turn to be puz- 
zled — and suddenly it came to us like a flash that the little boy might be 
the Tulku of Tomo Geshe Rimpoche. 

But in the meantime we had left the group already a good distance 
behind us, and though Li urged me to turn back and to run after them, 
t somehow felt that this was not only against Tibetan etiquette, but more 
so that this was not the place nor the time for such a momentous meet- 
ing. To stop them in the middle of the bazaar in the icy wind, with a 
crowd of curious onlookers — no, this was not how I would like to meet 
my old Guru — even though he was in the disguise of a mere child. I 
wanted this to take place in quiet surroundings and in silence, so that I 
would be able to listen to my own heart and to the spontaneous reaction 
of the little Tulku. No, [ would not have liked to desecrate this precious 
moment by vulgar curiosity and empty polite talk! 

We therefore decided first to make sure that we had not been mis- 
taken in our surmise and to find out the place where the little Tulku 
was staying, so that we could pay him a visit early next morning, I was 
deeply stirred at the thought of our meeting, and we both wondered 
whether the boy would be able to recall the past clearly enough in 
order to re-establish the old contact. After all, he was already nine 
years old, and the impressions and experiences of his new life would 
certainly have replaced most of his pre-natal remembrances. 

We hurried back to our quarters, and soon we found out that it was 
indeed Tomo G^sh^'s Tulku whom we had met on his way to the tem- 
ple. But when next morning we went out to meet him we were informed 
that he and his party had left before sunrise! 

We were deeply disappointed, but we consoled ourselves with the 
thought that we would meet him certainly at Dungkar on our return jour- 
ney, and that there we would not only have the opportunity of a quiet talk 
but of living for some time in his own surroundings and in daily contact 
with him. 




low DIFFERENTLY THINGS tum out from what we expect! When a few 
months later we arrived at the Monastery of the White Conch, Tomo 
G^sh^ Rimpoch^ had left for a tour of his monasteries in the DarjeeUng 
district, and by the time we got back to India he had returned again to 
Sera, which people thought safe enough now^ — not suspecting the terri- 
ble fate that hung over this place and the untold sufferings it would bring 
to the young Tulku. However, I will relate these happenings in a later 
chapter and confine myself first to the events nearer at hand. 

Due to various reasons we stayed several months longer at Gyantse 
than intended, but our time was well spent and we took the opportunity 
to visit numerous monasteries and mountain retreats (ri-khrod, pron. 
'rito') in the nearer and farther surroundings, besides making as thorough 
a study of the famous Kumbum as possible within the time at our disposal 
(the amount of iconographic material contained in it could not have been 
exhausted in a lifetime!) and attending many religious ceremonies and 
festivals, including the famous monastic dances and mystery-plays with 
all their splendour of gorgeously brocaded costumes, the fantastic vivac- 


ity of their masks, their magic gestures and movements and the sonorous 
musical accompaniment, in which the voices of divine and demoniac 
powers seemed to contend with each other in a vast arena of soaring 
mountains and monumental architecture. 

1 had attended similar performances at Yi-Gah Cho-Ling, Hemis, 
and a number of smaller places— the most impressive at Hemis (Ladakh), 
where the mystery-plays continued for three days in succession and 
where thousands of people, who had come from near and far (many of 
them trekking for many days to attend the festival), camped in and 
around the monastery, situated in a wild mountain scenery of fantastic 
beauty. Here, where people in those days had not yet come in touch with 
the outer world, where people had never seen a vehicle on wheels, where 
the mere mention of railways or steamships aroused an incredulous 
smile, and where aeroplanes or the Hke had never been heard of — it was 
here that one could see and participate in the feelings which these mystery- 
plays aroused, 

They were far from being merely theatrical performances: they were 
the coming to life of a higher reality through magic rites, in which beings 
from the spiritual world were propitiated and invited to manifest them- 
selves in the bearers of their symbols, who for the time being divested 
themselves of their own personality, by going through a ritual of purifi- 
cation and making themselves instruments and vessels of the divine 
powers which their masks represented. These masks, which seemed to 
take on a life of their ovm under the strong Tibetan sun and in the meas- 
ured rhythmic movements of their bearers, were not only of a benevo- 
lently 'divine' nature but embodied likewise the terrible guises which 
those powers assumed in the outer world as well as in the human heart: 
the powers of death and destruction, the terrors of the great unknown, 
the powers of demoniacal fury and hellish illusion, of fearful spectres 
and sneering demons of doubt, which assail us on our way from birth to 
death and from death to rebirth, until we have learned to face life and 
death with the courage that only the compassion for our fellow-beings 
and insight into the true nature of phenomena can give us. Unless we 
are able to recognise all these fearful and terrifying appearances as 

244 The Way of the White Clouds 

emanaiions of our own mind and transformations of the force that wili 
ultimately lead us towards enlightennfient we shall wander endlessly in 
the rounds of birth and death, as it is said in the Bardo Thodol (The 
Tibetan Book of the Dead). 

Thus the mystery-plays of Tibet are the representations of this 
supernatural, or better, super- human world that manifests itself in the 
human soul and would overpower it if no adequate expression could 
be found. 'ITie mystery- plays of ancient Egypt as well as those of the 
Dionysian cult sprang from the same source. And just as in Greece 
the theatre developed from the mystic Dionysian dances, so the Tibetan 
religious plays had their origin in the ritual dances of the magicians, in 
which symbolical gestures (miWra) and incantations (mantra) served the 
purpose of warding off evil and creating beneficial influences. 

As with the Greeks the performance takes place in the middle of 
the audience. There is no separate or elevated stage, but the plays are 
performed in the main courtyard of the monastery, which is generally 
surrounded by galleries in which the most prominent people are seated, 
while the others are crowded in the remaining space in the courtyard 
and on all the available roofs round about. The imposing architecture, 
the gorgeously decorated galleries and the colourful gay crowd form a 
natural and most beautiful setting, which is as inseparable from the 
dances as the architecture from the landscape and the spectators from 
the performers. The very fact that the latter were not separated from the 
spectators by a stage, but moved ihiough and within the crowd, empha- 
sises the oneness of spectators and performers in an experience in which 
the boundaries between the natural and the supernatural, the profane 
and the sacred, have been eliminated, so that the spectators become as 
much a part of the play as the actors, participating in and fully respond- 
ing to the magic, mind-created reality of a higher dimension. Their 
expectancy and implicit faith, their spontaneous reactions and emotions, 
seem to create a kind of integrated consciousness, in which performers 
and spectators are merged and lifted up to a level of spiritual experience 
that otherwise would have been unattainable and inaccessible lo them. 

What an unforgettable sight to see the super-human fibres of 

Southern and Central Tibet 245 

saints and of celestial and demoniacal beings emerge from the dark cave- 
like portals of the main temple, majestically descending the long flight 
of steps down to the courtyard, accompanied by the thundering blasts of 
twelve-foot-long horns and the slow rhythm of deep ketde-drums. 
Thousands of people who occupy every inch of ground round the open 
space in the centre of the courtyard, as well as the open verandas, bal- 
conies, and roofs of the adjoining buildings, hold their breath in spell- 
bound silence. Step by step the awe-inspiring figures descend: under the 
multi-coloured royal umbrella Padmasambhava himself, the great apos- 
tle and master of all magic arts, followed by the various forms and incar- 
nations which he assumed in his multifarious activities in the service of 
mankind: as Buddlia-Sakyamuni, as king, as scholar, as Yogi, as monk, 
and in his terrible forms: as the subduer of demons and protector of the 
Sacred Law, etc. In measured dance-steps and with mystic gestures they 
circle the open space around the tall prayer-flag in the centre of the 
courtyard, while the rhythmically swelling and ebbing sounds of a full 
monastic orchestra mingle with the recitation of holy scriptures and 
prayers, invoking the blessings of Buddhas and saints and glorifying their 
deeds and words. Clouds of incense rise to heaven and the air vibrates 
with the deep voices of giant trombones and drums. 

But while those awe-inspiring figures solemnly wheel around, the 
almost unbearable tension and exaltation, which has gripped the specta- 
tors, is suddenly relieved by the appearance of two grotesquely grinning 
masks, whose bearers are aping the movements of the sacred dancers 
and seem to mock the Buddhas and even the terrifying Defenders of the 
Faith. They are weaving in and out of the solemn circle, gaping into the 
faces of the dancers, as if defying and ridiculing both the divine and the 
demoniacal powers. These, however, seem to take no notice and move 
on with unperturbed dignity. 

The effect is astonishing: far from destroying the atmosphere of 
wonder and sacredness, the juxtaposition of the sublime and the ridicu- 
lous rather seems to deepen the sense of reality, in which the highest and 
the lowest have their place and condition each other, thus giving per- 
spective and proportion to our conception of the world and of ourselves. 

246 The Way of the White Clouds 

By experiencing the opposite pole of reality simultaneously, we actually 
intensify' them. They are like the counterpoints in a musical composi- 
tion; they widen the amplitude of our emotional response by creating a 
kind of inner space through the distance of simultaneously experienced 
opposites. The wider the amplitude, the greater the depth or intensity of 
our experience. Tragedy and comedy are for ever interwoven in the 
events of our life, seriousness and a sense of humour do not exclude 
each other; on the contrary, they constitute and indicate the fulness and 
completeness of human experience and the capacity to see the relativity 
of al! things and all 'truths' and especially of our own position. 

The Buddha's sense of humour — which is so evident in many of his 
discourses — is closely bound up with his sense of compassion: both are 
bom from an understanding of greater connections, from an insight into 
the interrelatedness of all things and all living beings and the chain reac- 
tions of cause and effect. His smile is the expression of one who can see 
the 'wondrous play of ignorance and knowledge' against its universal 
background and its deeper meaning. Only thus is it possible not to be 
overpowered by the misery of the world or by our own sense of right- 
eousness that judges and condemns what is not in accordance with our 
own understanding and divides the world into good and bad. A man with 
a sense of humour cannot but be compassionate in his heart, because his 
sense of proportion allows him to see things in their proper perspective. 

In the Tibetan mystery-plays all states of existence are present: the 
worlds of gods and men, of animal-headed monsters and hungry spirits, 
the spectres of death and annihilation and the human and super-human 
incarnations of love and compassion, through which all forms of exis- 
tence are freed from their limitations and reunited with that greater life 
that encompasses all. 

The struggle between the forces of light and darkness, between the 
divine and the demonic, between the titanic forces of decay and disso- 
lution and the innate urge for eternal life — this struggle is depicted both 
on the historical as well as on the timeless plane of the human soul. The 
coming of Padmasambhava and his victory over the black magicians and 
the host of evil spirits, whom the latter tried to appease with bloody sac- 

Squthern AND Central Tibet 247 

rifices, both human and animal, is the main subject of the first day's per- 
formance in the monasteries of the Old Schools (Nyjngma, Kargyiid, and 
Sakya), while the Gelugpas depict the slaying of King Langdarma in the 
bow-and-arrow dance of the hermit, who appears in the guise of a black 
magician, attired in the robes and the black skull-surmounted hat of the 
Bbn priests, as described in the historical appendix of this book. 

More important, however, than the historical allusions are those related 
to The Tibetan Book of the Dead {Bardo Thodol), Padmasambhava's great- 
est work, which makes it clear that all the gods and demons, tJie forces 
of light and darkness, are within us, and that those who want to conquer 
the Lord of Death will have to meet him and to recognise him in the 
midst of life. Then Death will appear as the revealer of the ultimate mys- 
tery of life, who under the guise of the terrible bull-headed King of 
Death, and accompanied by all the frightful spectres that a terrified 
human conscience can conjure up, slays the demon of egohood and self- 
ishness and thus performs the only sacrifice that the Buddha recognises: 
the sacrifice of one's own 'ego'. The Lord of Death {yama-raja) is none 
other than the Great Compassionate One, Avalokitesvara. Thus the 
bloody sacrifices of the past were replaced by that of our own little self 
that has held us in bondage for aeons and will keep us in the unceasing 
rounds of birth and death until we have grown beyond it and freed our- 
selves from its clutches. 

Padmasambhava, one of the wisest teachers of all time, thus gave a 
new meaning to the magic ritual that had been handed down by the B5n 
priests from times immemorial, when sacrifices of blood seemed to be 
the only way to appease the gods and the dark powers of the universe 
that threatened man's very existence. Now the human heart had become 
the stage of the universe, and instead of a living human being or an ani- 
mal, the effigy of a man, made of coloured dough, was carried into the 
arena by skeleton-like cemetery ghouls, who performed a wild dance 
around it, imtil the Lord of Death and his frightful rerinue appeared on 
the scene and drove them away. 

And now follows the most dramatic and significant part of the 
sacred dances (forming the highlight of the second day of the mystery- 

248 The Way of the White Clouds 

play of the Old Schools): the Lord of Death, wearing the dark blue mask 
of a three-eyed, skull-crowned bull of frightful size and appearance — a 
blood-filled skull-bowl in one hand and swinging a broad-biaded battle- 
sword in the other — dances with ever-quickening steps and increasing 
ferocity around the prostrate human figure in the centre of the court- 
yard, until he whirls around at such speed that his features become a 
mere blur and his sword a bundle of flashes. The drums accelerate their 
rhythm to a crescendo of thunder — and at that moment the sword 
strikes the effi^, dismembers it, and scatters the parts in all directions. 
Now a wild scramble ensues, in which the host of demons pick up the 
scattered parts of the effigy and, after having devoured some morsels of 
it, throw the remainder into the air and among the spectators, who like- 
wise take part in the sacrificial feast. 

It is difficult to give an idea of the realistic and at the same time fan- 
tastic effect of this intermingling of the natural and the supernatural. 
The masks — over-life-sized and expressively stylised in form and colour 
— seem to be animated in the most uncanny way and more real than the 
human beings who wear them or the sj>ectators who have completely 
surrendered themselves to the spirit of the play. All of them participate 
in an experience that transcends their present state of existence and 
seems to lift them beyond the frontiers of death: where the gates of all 
the worlds and forms of rebirth are opened, and where at the same time 
the path that leads beyond them appears before the inner eye or is felt 
as an upsurge of longing towards the ultimate aim of liberation and 

Now performers and spectators are welded into one and have both 
become active participants in a magic rite, which initiates them into one 
of the most ancient mysteries which is the origin of all religious life and 
the beginning of the awakening of man. 


The State Oracle 
OF Nachung 


I HE MYSTERY OF DEATH was the greatest challenge to the human mind 
and the birth of religion. It was through death that man became con- 
scious of life. A great biologist (Lecomte de Noiiy) once said that 'the 
greatest invention of Nature is death'. In other words: even from a bio- 
logical point of view, death is not a negation of life, but one of the means 
to add a new dimension to life and thus to raise it to a higher level. 

Unbroken physical continuity is a characteristic property of the low- 
est organisms, the most primitive and undeveloped forms of life, because 
physical continuity fetters the organism to the rigid laws of matter and the 
dictates of once-estabhshed patterns, whose inherent repetitiveness pre- 
vents any deviation from the norm and thus becomes the greatest stum- 
bhng block in the way of development and further evolution. 

Death, on the other hand, is the characteristic feature of the higher 
forms of existence, which achieve the survival of acquired properties and 
experiences through a new form of propagation, that relies no more on 
division, but on integration, no more on a merely physical, but on a psy- 

250 The Way of the White Clouds 

chic, continuity, capable oF building a new organism according to its own 
individual impetus — unhampered by the rigid accumulations of obsolete 
or worn-out materia! form-elements. 

Similar to the transition from a purely physical to a predominantly 
psychic survival and continuity' is the next step, which so far has only 
been achieved by the most highly developed individuals: it is the step 
from the unconscious to the conscious (and finally to the consciously 
directed) sun'ival through the art of spiritual projection (powa), 

Hou'ever, before man could visualise the possibility of this step, he 
had already realised the importance of death as a key to the mysteries of 
a greater life. Out of this realisation grew the cult of the dead, the earli- 
est form of religion. It stimulated man to build the first enduring monu- 
ments of architecture (in contrast to the frail and transitory dwellings for 
the living); monimients that were not the outcome of necessity and want, 
of momentary needs or temporal utility, but of a will towards eternity, a 
spiritual urge that pointed towards a reality beyond temporal existence. 

Thus the origin of religion was not the fear of death, but the recog- 
nition of death as the great transformer and initiator into the true nature 
of man's innermost being. Tlie fear of death could only originate at a 
time when human consciousness had hardened into an extreme form of 
individualism, based on the illusion of being a permanent entity, a self- 
existing soul or ego that separates one being from the other, and living 
beings from dead things: thus drawing a line between life and death, a 
line that finally becomes a boundary, an impenetrable wall, towards 
which life rushes headlong — only to be annihilated in the impact. 

But at a time when human beings had not yet lost the connection uith 
their origins and their surroundings, in a world in which man was still in 
touch with the subtle forces of nature, the spirits of the departed, the realms 
of gods and demons, in short: in a world in which there was nothing thai 
could be conceived as lifeless, death was not the contradiction to life, but a 
phase in the movement of life's pendidum, a turning-point. Like birth. The 
pendulum swings from birth to death and back from death to birth. 

The movement of life's pendulum, however, is not confined to one 
plane only; it can swing on an infinite number of planes, move in all 

Southern and Central Tibet 25! 

dimensions of consciousness, according to its inherent momentum or 
according to the conscious impetus that it may receive in that infinites- 
imaliy small fraction of timelessness at its turning-point, that js, between 
death and rebirth, or between one realm of existence and another. It is 
this timeless 'moment', in which those who have learnt to look inwards, 
who have practised introspection and developed their inner vision 
through sadhana and dhyarta, will be able to perceive the realms of exis- 
tence open or adequate to them, and to direct their mind consciously 
towards the plane that offers the greatest chances for the realisation of 
their highest aspirations, as explained in the Bardo Thodol. 

These various realms to which we normally have access only at the 
turning-point of our life, i.e. at the moment of death, can be contacted 
also by inducing artificially a state of catalepsy or suspended animation, 
in which man goes temporarily through the process of death, relinquish- 
ing the dominion over his body and the consciousness of his own indi- 
viduality. This is a state of trance, which can be created either by auto- 
hypnosis or by certain yogic practices or through powerful rituals, in 
which inner and outer stimuli combine to release super-individual 
forces, normally dormant in the deeper layers of the human psyche and 
not accessible to the intellect. 

These rituals, which were known to the magicians, shamans, and 
'sorcerers' of old, i.e. people who had power over the human mind and the 
key to its hidden forces, were retained even after the advent of Buddhism 
in Tibet, though modified sufficiently to fit into the general frame of 
Buddhist ideas and traditions. Padmasambhava, himself a great master of 
Lhis secret science, made wise use of it and thus fought the Bon shamans, 
who tried to prevent the spread of Buddhism in Tibet with their own 
weapons. At the same time he respected the local deities and incorporated 
them into the Buddhist system as 'Protectors of the Sacred Law'— just as 
Buddha Sakyamuni had done with the Hindu deities of his time. 

These Protectors (Skt.: dharmapak, Tib. chos-skyang) were invoked 
in a special temple at Samye, Tibet's oldest monastery, which had been 
built by Padmasambhava. In this temple the high priest or Choje (chos- 
Tji) was said to be possessed by the ancient gods or guardian spirits of 

252 The Way of the White Clouds 

Tibet whenever the elaborate liturgical service in their honour was per- 
formed. On these occasions the Choje fell into a trance, during which the 
gods spoke through him and answered the questions that were submitted 
to them during the ritual. Thus the oracle of Samy^ was established. 

Strangely enough, the Gelugpas — who were the farthest removed 
from the tradition of the ancient Nytngmapas and who are generally sup- 
posed to have reduced the elements of magic ritual, which had been 
taken over from pre-Buddhist times — ^noc only took over the oracle- 
tradition from Samy^ but raised it to the level of a state institution. This 
happened under the great fifth Dalai Lama, when the Gelugpas were at 
the peak of their power. It was at this time that the Nachung {gNas- 
chung) Oracle was attached to the famous monastery of Drepung {hbras- 
sfungs) and recognised as the State Oracle of Tibet. It was regarded as 
the highest authority and its advice was sought whenever there was a dif- 
ficulty in finding the reincarnation or Tulku {sfrul-sku) of a high Lama (as 
in the case of the Dalai Lama and of Tomo G^sh^ Rimpoche), or when- 
ever a political decision of great importance was to be made. Even the 
Dalai Lamas were guided by the pronouncements of the Great Oracle, 
whose predictions proved to be of astonishing accuracy 

The institution of oracles, however, did not remain confined to 
Nachung. Many of the more important Gelugpa monasteries had their 
own oracles, whose high priests occupied an important place in the reli- 
gious hierarchy. But all of them had to be confirmed by the State Oracle, 
after having gone through a strict training and a gruelling test. Special 
temples were devoted to their rituals, and everything that was connected 
with them was of such magnificence that they could vie with the most 
beautiful shrines of Tibet. Like the main temple of Lhasa (the so-called 
'Jokhang') and the chapel of the Dalai Lamas on top of the Potala, the 
sanctuary of Nachung is covered with a golden roof. 

The name Nachung {gNas-chung) literally means 'Small Place', and 
its origin is explained in a popular story, A mighty magician, who lived in 
the upper reaches of the Kyi-chu {sKyid-chuy — the river that flows past 
Lhasa — forced a powerful spirit into a small box, wfiich he threw into 
the river When the box floated past the monastery of Drepung, one of 

Southern and Central Tibet 253 

its monks, who happened to be in the valley below the monastery, saw 
the box, and wondering what it might contain, he pulled it out of the 
river and opened it. At that moment the spirit escaped from his 'narrow 
confinement* {gNas-chung) with a terrifying noise, and assuming the 
form of a dove, flew towards a small grove and took his abode in it. In 
order to propitiate the spirit and to prevent him from doing harm, a sanc- 
tuary was built on the spot where the dove had alighted, and since that 
time the officiating Lama of that temple became possessed by the spir- 
it, whenever the latter was invoked. 

However, the fact that the Nachung Oracle is possessed not only by 
one but by six deities or Protectors (chos-skyong) clearly indicates that it 
has its origin in the ancient oracle of Samye. The above-menrioned leg- 
end was probably meant to hide this fact at a time when the power of 
the Gelugpas was replacing the influence of the older schools. The well- 
meant reforms, the systematisation of tradition and the centrahsation of 
spiritual and temporal power, could not succeed without the sanction 
and inclusion of older traditions, whose linowledge and ability to deal 
with psychic or super-human powers had won them the confidence and 
the support of the people. 

This must have been the motive that caused the fifth Dalai Lama 
to reestablish the oracles in their former importance and to give them an 
honoured position within the Gelugpa Order, by equipping these sane- 
tuaries in the most magnificent way. As if to placate the dark and 
untamed powers of a primordial world, the place and every object con- 
nected with the secret ritual had to be of the purest and most precious 
materials and in strict accordance with the rules of an age-old magic 
symbolism. All ritual implements were of gold or silver, adorned with 
precious stones, the walls were covered with frescoes, painted with gold on 
a black background, and a band of mantric inscriptions in raised golden 
letters in the sacred mystic script of the tenth or eleventh century 
(hintsa) encircled the sanctuary in which the divine or demoniacal forces 
were to manifest themselves. The golden throne of the oracle, on a 
raised platform between red-lacquered pillars, was beautifully carved 
and richly decorated with gems, like coral, onyx, turquoise, garnet. 

254 The Way of the White Clouds 

amethyst, agate, etc. Life-size images of the six Spirit-Kings, fierce, awe- 
inspiring, daemonical figures, wielding various weapons, yarded the 
sanctuary. Replicas of these weapons were placed before the oracle- 
priest during his trance, and the weapon seized by him indicated which 
of the six tutelary spirits or 'Protectors of the Sacred Law' had taken pos- 
session of his body, transforming him into the living image of the invoked 
deity, who now spoke through his mouth. 

Noljody, who has not witnessed this transformation, can imagine the 
weird, almost frightening effect of it; because what happens here seems to 
contradict aU laws of reason: a man changing before your very eyes into 
another being, taking on a different personality, physically and mentally 
His features completely change, and his head as well as his body seem to 
grow in size — the latter developing a super-human strength, equal to that 
of half a dozen men. If ever there has been the materialisation of a spirit' 
in broad daylight— here it is. It is the materialisation of forces which— 
much as our intcUect tries to deny or explain them away— can be seen and 
felt by all who are present during these rites. The whole atmosphere of the 
sanctuary seems to be changed with an irresistible power, which commu- 
nicates itself even to the most detached observer. 

Whatever may be the explanation of these phenomena, one thing is 
sure: here is no deception, no mere make-believe (which, indeed, would 
go beyond human endurance), but a psychic reality, a last survival of a tra- 
dition that reaches back into the dawn of humanity. Tibet is (or was) prob- 
ably the last country in which the knowledge oF diese primeval psychic 
forces had not only been preserved, but in which the dangers inherent in 
them had been mastered and directed into safe channels, due to the wis- 
dom and the tactful guidance of Buddhist saints and sages. Tliough the 
origin of these traditions and rituals has nothing to do with Buddhism, 
Buddhists could not afford to disregard them, as long as they played a vital 
role in the spiritual life of the people. However unpalatable certain aspects 
of reality may be, they have to be faced as facts and met at their ovm level. 
Problems cannot be solved by disapproval but only by facing them. 


The Oracle of 
dungkar gompa 


'URING OUR FIBST VISIT to Dungkar, Li Gotami and myself had been 
admiring the beautiful oracle-temple (chokyong-lhakhang) with its mag- 
nificent golden throne and its fierce images and frescoes. But we had not 
been able to get any information about its functions, nor whether the 
oracle-priest was in residence or on what occasions he would go into 
trance. We had the feeling that the young Trapa, who showed us around, 
was reluctant to speak about these things and that — since we had only 
recently arrived from the outside world beyond the passes and were not 
yet known to him — he obeyed the usual rules of secrecy which apply to 
the cult of the fierce and terrible powers. 

But there were so many other things that occupied our attention that 
we did not press him. Moreover, we had been so warmly received by the 
abbot and the other inmates of the monastery, that we felt sure nothing 
would be hidden from us in the long run. The abbot was glad to find in 
me a brother disciple (guru-bhai) of Tomo G^sh^ Rimpoch^ and insisted 
that we should stay at Dungkar for a longer time on our return from 
Central Tibet. We gladly accepted this invitation, because we felt that the 

256 The Way of the White Clouds 

spirit of Tomo G^sh^ was still pervading the whole place and was alive in 
the minds of all who dwelled here. This showed itself in the kindliness of 
the monks, the sense of order and cleanliness that prevailed everywhere, 
the discipline without harshness that governed the monastic life, and the 
courtesy that was shown to us by all, from the highest to the lowest. All 
religious duties were meticulously observed, everybody went about his 
appointed task, and the little boys who received their education in the 
monastery seemed to be happy and well treated. Sometimes Lobonla, as 
the abbot was called, would wobble along holding one little tot with each 
hand, and whenever the little ones would feel homesick, he would con- 
sole them like a good mother. Lobonla himself was not in good health, 
and he moved about vrith difficulty, partly due to arthritis or rheumatism 
and pardy because of his heavy bulk. 

We were, therefore, all the more touched when on our return 
Lobonla and a group of senior monks received us with great cordiality at 
the main entrance of the Gompa. In spite of his difficulty in climbing 
steps (and staircases in Tibet are generally very steep) Lobonla insisted 
on showing us personally to our quarters and entertaining us there with 
tea and sweet Tibetan bread. 

The day after our arrival was the great Prayer Festival (mon-lam), 
and from all neighbouring valleys people were streaming towards the 
monastery while the monks were busy with preparations for the main 
celebration, which was to take place in the evening and during the night. 
In the morning the Pratimoksha ceremony (confession), in which only 
Gelongs (Bhikshus) take part, was celebrated in the main temple. We 
therefore remained in our private chapel. 

Shortly before noon we heard from the Chokyong Temple the 
booming of kettle-drums and saw a crowd pressing forward towards its 
entrance. Wondering whether some important function was taking place 
there or that perhaps the Oracle was in action, we hurried down to the 
courtyard, dived into the crowd and following the maelstrom of human- 
ity we found ourselves soon pushed up the steps of the temple into the 
vestibule and finally into the hall of the sanctuary. Before we knew how 
it happened we stood before the throne of the Great Oracle! 

Southern and Central Tibet 257 

It was all so utterly fantastic and surprising that we could only stare 
at the majesric figure that occupied the golden throne and was clad in 
magnificent brocades and crowned by a jewel-studded golden tiara with 
the three eyes of the all-seeing spirit. A shining golden breast-plate, the 
magic mirror, engraved with the sacred syllable 'HRl', was suspended 
from his neck. Like a vision of one of the legendary emperors of old, a 
mighty ruler of a vanished worid, resplendent with all the attributes of 
power, the figure was of almost super-human size and appearance, and 
for a moment we wondered whether it was a statue or a living giant. At this 
moment the full orchestra of radongs and clarinets, c>'mbals and kettle- 
drums rose to a crescendo, while the deep voices of a choir of monks 
chanted invocations to the powerful protectors, punctuating their recita- 
tion with bells and danrnms. Clouds of fragrant smoke rose from various 
censers, and the crowd stood in petrified attention, everybody's eyes riv- 
eted upon the majestic figure on the golden throne. His eyes were 
closed; his feet, in big ceremonial Tibetan boots, were firmly planted 
before him on the ground. 

But suddenly a tremor seemed to pass through them, as if emanat- 
ing from the ground, and slowly increasing in intensity, until his legs 
were trembling violently and his body was seized by convulsive move- 
ments, apparendy gripped by a current of tremendous power rising up 
within him and filling his mortal frame. It was as if the dark powers from 
the depth of the earth, the chthonic powers that governed humanity 
before the dawn of history, had seized his body and threatened to burst 
It. It was a frightful sight, this struggle between the human body and the 
unknown power that was taking possession of it, until the mortal man 
was transformed into a being of another world. Even his facial features 
had changed completely and seemed to have become that of another 
person, nay of a terrifying deity. 

Now one of the senior monks, the Master of the Protocol, steps 
upon the raised platfonn and approaches the throne in order to present 
the questions which the deity is expected to answer. The questions were 
previously written on bits of paper and tightly folded. 'The Master of the 
Protocol is waving each of them before the spirit-eyes of the Oracle's 


The Way of the White Clouds 

Southern and Central Tibet 259 

tiara, while a number of sturdy monk-attendants hold and support the 
swaying body of the oracle-priest. But hardly has the Master of the 
Protocol stepped back from the dais when— like a giant roused to action 
—the oracle-priest jumps up, hurling his attendants aside with super- 
human strength, and launching forward from his throne, he grasps a sword 
from a collection of ritual weapons at the foot of the platform, and, as if 
fighting an invisible enemy, the blade flashes in all directions with 
incredible speed and force. It is a temfying spectacle, which holds every- 
body spellbound in spite of the fear that the sword may descend upon 
the crowd before the throne and that human heads may fly in the blind 
fury of battle, in an unbridled dance of destruction let loose by powers 
beyond human control. 

Those nearest to the throne shrink back in horror; but before any- 
thing can happen, five or six of the monk-attendants— selected for their 
strength— try to take hold of the frenzied figure of the oracle-priest, in 
order to draw him back upon the throne. But the latter does not seem to 
notice them, and for some time they are tossed about tike mere children, 
until by the sheer weight of their bodies they succeed in moving the 
struggling giant back upon his throne, where finally he collapses, utterly 
exhausted, breathing heavily, with sweat running down his unnaturally 
bloated face and foaming at the mouth, uttering strange sounds, as if try- 
ing to speak. 

Now the Master of the Protocol steps forward again, with a writing- 
board in his hand. Bending down near to the mouth of the oracle-priest, 
he takes down the words that finally form themselves on his lips. While 
the message of the Oracle is being written down, a hushed silence pre- 
vails, except for the subdued voices of psalmodising monks in the back- 
ground. Though the fierceness of the deity seems to have abated, its 
power still pervades the entire hall of the temple, submerging ail indi- 
vidual thoughts and feelings in the awareness of its presence. Only utter 
surrender can appease the unseen power that dominates all minds and 
can break the hypnotic ban that has gripped each and everybody in the 
congregation, and now the people surge forward and throw themselves 
at the feet of the Oracle to pay homage to the Sacred Protector of the 

Law and to receive his blessings. We ourselves could feel how we were 
lifted out of our own consciousness and seized by an upsurge of uncon- 
trollable emotion, so that we threw ourselves like the others at the feet 
of the Oracle, oblivious of anything else around us, except the reality of 
a power beyond our understanding. 

The oracle-priest slowly recovers. Monks support him on both 
sides. A chalice with tea is put to his lips, and he sips a little to revive 
himself. From the background sounds the hum of reciring monks. The 
rhythm of drums and cymbals is slow and quiet, and the excitement of 
the crowd has ebbed away 

However, soon the rhythm is accelerated, the music grows in vol- 
ume, the voices in urgency, and after some time the oracle-priest falls 
into trance again and is seized by anotlier of the six Spirit-Kings, as 
revealed by the weapon which he chooses when the trance has reached 
its climax. I do not remember how many of the trances we witnessed or 
how many had gone before we entered the temple. I only Itnow that all 
the six Chokyongs took possession of the oracle-priest or Chosj^ (chos- 
rjd) one after another, and that at the end of each trance he was 
stretched out as if dead and finally had to be carried away in an uncon- 
scious state. How any human body could endure for hours on end the 
terrible strain of such violent trance-states was more than we could 
understand. Surely nobody could endure this unless he was genuinely 
seized in a state of deep trance; and nobody would expose himself to the 
danger of relinquishing his body to an unknown power, unless he was 
convinced of the necessity or the value of his sacrifice; because this it 
was: the crucifixion of a human being, sacrificed on the altar of primeval 
powers in the service of a hi^er ideal to which even those powers had 
to submit for the welfare and guidance of men, who still were stru^ling 
in the meshes of samsaric life. 


The Life Story of 
AN Oracle- Priest 


io GREATER CONTRAST could be imagined than that between the tense 
and overpowering atmospliere that prevailed in the sombre Chiokyong 
Temple during the invocation of the Oracle and the festival of the first full 
moon on the fifteenth day of the new Tibetan year ico4nga-mchod-^ chen- 
po), which was celebrated in the evening of the same day and continued 
until late into the night. Here the Buddha reigned supreme, and happiness 
was reflected on all faces. Since die early morning elaborate preparations 
had been going on, creating a sense of joyftil expectation and a festive mood, 
similar to that of Christmas Eve in Western countries. The similarity was 
heightened by the fact that the celebrations took place during a winter ni^t 
(February) in the warm and cheerfiuJ light of more than a thousand butter- 
lamps in the big courtyard of the monastery, which had been turned into a 
vast hall, having been covered with a temporary roof of tent-canvas, to keep 
out the snow which had started to fall in the afternoon. The whole two- 
storeyed front of the main temple was hidden under an enormous silk- 
applique thanka, fastened under die eaves of the roof and reaching almost 
to the ground. Tlie central figure of this thanka was the Buddha Sakyamuni, 
benignly smiling down upon the large congregation of monl« and the happy 

Southern and Central Tibei 


and colourful crowd of men and women, clad in their best garments and 
decked out with all their traditional jewellery. In front of this thanka a huge 
altar had been erected, on which hundreds of butter-lamps were burning, 
illuminating an elaborate structure of highly artistic decorations and offer- 
ings, representing flowers, fruits, animals, gods, and human beings, as well 
as many auspicious religious symbols, flanked by golden dragons — all beau- 
tifully modelled, down to the smallest detail, and delicately coloured, as if 
made of the finest porcelain. But, as we discovered later, all thus — except 
for the dragons — ^was made of butter! 

The monks who recited the Monlam Prayers were arranged in three 
groups, forming three sides of a rectangular open space before the altar. In 
the centre of the row facing the altar was the empty throne of Tomo G^sh^ 
Rimpoch^ with his robes folded upright on their cushions, and to the left 
of it was the raised seat of Lobonla, the present abbot. But where was the 
Choj^? We looked around among the rows of the monks, but we could not 
discover him. Immediately the prayers were over, we asked some of the 
monks whether the ChOje did not take part in the prayers, whereupon one 
of them pointed to a monk standing near us and said: 'Here he is! Did you 
not recognise him?' Indeed, we had not, and at first we could hardly 
believe that this simple Trapa could be the same person whom we had 
seen on the golden throne of the Oracle only a few hours before! 

But during the following weeks we often enjoyed his company and 
learned to know him as a kind-hearted and humble man. We soon were 
on friendly terms with him, and this enabled us to learn much about his 
life, his training as Chdj^ (chos-rje) or High Priest of the Oracle, and his 
own inner attitude towards the strange phenomena which manifested 
themselves through him. 

However, during this memorable night we had no opportunity of 
approaching him, and we enjoyed to the full this 'festival of lights' with its 
prayers and blessings for the welfare of all living beings, so similar in spirit 
to that of Christmas with its feelings of joy and goodwill and innocent rev- 
elry. The latter came towards midnight at the end of the religious cele- 
bration and consisted of a rider-dance, in which colourfully costumed and 
masked young men were prancing about on hobby-horses, which they han- 

262 The Way of the White Clouds 

died so well that every movement was true to hfe and that one had to make 
an effort to realise that the riders were not seated on real horses. The heads 
of the hobby-horses were realistically made of wood or papier-mache while 
a cloth-covered bamboo structure suggested the body of the horse and hid 
the legs of the dancer. It was amusing and beautiful to observe this scene 
of youthful enjoyment, and it seemed to be the most natural thing to see 
the giant figure of the Buddha smiling down upon the scene. How far away 
was all this from the deadly pessimism that Westerners associate with the 
teachings of the Buddha! It was a perfect ending to a perfect day during 
which we had traversed the whole gamut of human emotions. 

The crowd slowly melted away, most of the people remaining within the 
precincts of the monastery during the night. Most of the men were housed 
in the monastery proper, wliiie women and children were accommodated in 
the outhouses. All of them appeared like one big family, rich and poor, clergy 
and laity; all of them were united through the strong bond of faith in the com- 
mon destiny of man and the supreme power of the Enlightened Ones. It is 
this that enables the Tibetan to stand up against the demoniacal powers and 
dangers of an unseen worid and to meet them fearlessly We were fortunate 
in being able to discuss uath the Choje himself many of the questions which 
were uppermost in our mind after the experience of the Oracle. 

On the following day he paid us a visit in our private chapel. He was 
still suffering from the after-effects of his trance and complained that his 
whole body was hurting. He asked whether we had any medicine to relieve 
the pain, and we gave him some aspirin, which he gladly accepted. But to 
our surprise he refused to take tea or anything to eat, because, as he 
explained, it was his rule never to accept food or even tea prepared by oth- 
ers. He lived on a very simple and strictly vegetarian diet and prepared 
everything with his ovm hands, because he had to be exceedingly careful 
to preserve the purity and perfect balance of his body. Any mistake in his 
diet, any uncleanliness in body or mind, could have fatal consequences, 
and only by a life of austerity, devotion, and discipline could he protect 
himself from the dangers to which anybody who offered his body to the 
Spirit-Kings of the Great Oracle would be exposed. 

Our first question was whether he remembered any of the answers 


that had come through him during the previous day's invocation of the 
Oracle. 'No,' he said, 'I know nothing of what happens during the trance. 
But when I come back to my normal state my whole body is in pain and 
I feel completely exhausted. It always takes days for me to recover.' 

'But what made you accept the position of a Chdj^, if it is so dan- 
gerous and painful? Was it that you had any natural inclination towards 
spiritual things or mediumistic abilities?' 

'Oh no, not in the least! I had a wife and children and earned my liveli- 
hood as a muleteer on the caravan route between Sikkim and Lhasa. 1 was 
a very simple man and 1 had no ambitions. In fact, my comrades looked 
down upon me, because I was shabbily clothed and did not care for clean- 
liness. I led a rough life, but I was quite happy, though 1 was poor and could 
neither read nor write. I had a little house at Phari, where 1 lived with my 
family when 1 was not on tour. And it was there that one day I fell ill. 
Nobody knew what it was, and i got worse and worse, until I was so weak 
that my wife thought 1 would die and called a Lama to read the prayers and 
to prepare me for death. But while the Lama recited the invocations to the 
powerful Protectors of the Sacred Law, the Chokyongs, I was suddenly pos- 
sessed by them— though 1 myself knew nothing about it, nor about the con- 
tents of the recitation— and when I came to, the Lama told me that my hfe 
would be saved if I were willing to serve the Chokyongs, who had chosen 
me as their vehicle. However, I did not want to leave my wife and my chil- 
dren. But the Lama told me: "If you die, you will have to leave wife and chil- 
dren too; but if you will serve the higher powers, you will not only save your 
life, but your wife and your children will not have to starve." My wife agreed 
that the Lama was right, and so I gave in and promised to dedicate my life 
to die Dharma, and especially to the Great Protectors, if they would save 
me from death. From the moment I had taken the vow, I became better and 
soon recovered completely But whenever those invocations were recited I 
fell into trance and was seized by the divine powers,' 

'Did you go through a special training before you were appointed to 
the Great Oracle; or had you to pass certain tests, before being recog- 
nised as Chtijd?" 

'Indeed! To make sure that my case was genuine and neither imagina- 

264 The Way of the White Clouds 

lion nor fraud, I was sent to Lhasa and confronted with the Great Oracle of 
Nachung. We were made to sit side by side during the invocation, and only 
after various trials and a careful observation of all symptoms was I admitted 
as a candidate for the priesthood of the Oracle. J had to take the vows of 
celibacy and observe all the rules of the Vinaya. From then on 1 wore mon- 
astic robes and was given special tutors, who taught me to read and write 
and instmcted me in the Scriptures, I had to observe special rules of cleanli- 
ness and diet. My life was completely changed and more stricdy regulated 
than that of an ordinary monk, because the smallest transgression or mistake 
in my conduct mi^t make me vulnerable and lead to my destmction by the 
very powers to whom 1 had devoted myself, to whom 1 had surrendered my 
body and my life. It was only after a long and severe training that I was finally 
declared fit and was sent to Dungkar Gompa, where the throne of the 
Oracle had become vacant. And 1 have been here ever since.' 

The thought that this intelligent, polite, refined-looking monk, who be- 
haved with the quiet self-assurance of a bom aristocrat, could ever have been 
an ordinary mule-driver was something that we could not imagine. But peo- 
ple who had known him previously confimied it and told us that he had not 
only been an ordinary muleteer but one who was exceptionally uncouth and 
rough, so that he was an object of ridicule. When he returned from Nachung 
his former associates could not recognise him, and everybody who had known 
him before wondered how such a complete transfomnation was possible. 

A few days later we were invited by him to tea in his private apart- 
ments. He was a most charming host, and we admired not only his perfect 
manners, but even more so the meticulous cleanliness and orderliness of 
his rooms and his little kitchen with its gleaming copper utensils, in which 
he prepared his food. 

The longer we knew this man, the more we liked him. He was nei- 
ther proud nor bigoted and was ever ready to help us in our studies. In 
fact, he was more open-minded than most Tibetans towards research 
work, and he allowed me to make tracings of inscriptions in the Oracle 
Temple; and what was more: he allowed Li to photograph and to sketch 
him in his full regalia on the golden Throne of the Oracle, a unique 
favour, never granted to anybody else before. 


Magic as Method and 
Practical Knowledge 


HAT IMPRESSED US particularly was the objective attitude and 
almost scientific precision with which Tibetans handle occult matters and 
psychic phenomena, which in Western countries are either products of 
sentimentality, morbid curiosity, or superstidous beliefs, as demonstrated 
by most spiritist seances, which mainly rely on neurotics or 'psychic' women, 
who are abnormally sensirive and therefore prone to all sorts of subcon- 
scious influences and illusions. Tibetans, on the contrary, seem to avoid 
abnormally sensitive or psychic' types and prefer to train perfectly normal, 
robust individuals, who neither boast of special 'spirituality' nor of psychic 
faculdes and are not prompted by personal ambition. 

Hugh Richardson, the British Envoy to Lhasa (mentioned before), 
told us an extraordinarily interesting case of a Lhasa aristocrat, a man 
who was known as a very jolly and sociable person, who one fine day, to 
his and everybody's surprise, was appointed to succeed the High Priest 
of the State Oracle of Nachung. He had never shown any spiritual lean- 
ings nor any mediumistic faculties, but was a healthy man in his best 
years, who enjoyed life like anybody else. As the appointment had been 

266 The Way of the White Clouds 

made through a pronouncement of the State Oracle, it could not easily 
be disregarded, and so the gentleman submitted to the demands of the 
Oracle. He gave up his former position (as far as 1 remember, he held an 
administrative post in the government service), retired to Nachung, 
where he was initiated into the mysteries of the Great Oracle, and on the 
day of his formal installation he promptly fell into trance and was seized 
by the presiding spirits of the temple. Mr Richardson, who had known 
him well for many years, told us that the change that had taken place in 
this man was so extraordinary that one could hardly believe him to be the 
same person. But nobody knew what had happened to him during his 
initiation that had brought about this extraordinary transformation. 

It is certain that here forces are at play about which we know nothing 
yet and whose functions have remained the secret of the few institutions 
which have preserved some of the most ancient traditions of reli^ous magic. 

Another strange feature of these Oracles is their connection with 
nature. Not only are they connected with certain localities in which ter- 
restrial forces seem to be concentrated, but it also appears that they have 
a certain influence over or relationship to natural events. Some of them 
are therefore invoked in times of natural calamities, as for instance in the 
case of severe droughts and faiUng harvests, or of blizzards and hail- 
storms. Though it is difficult to see the connections between psychic 
phenomena and climatic conditions, 1 could not help observing that the 
claims of Tibetan 'weather- makers' — their predictions (in form of yearly 
forecasts) as well as the effects of their magic rituals — were justified by 
facts, or on so great a number of strange 'coincidences', that it is difficult 
to think of them as products of mere chance. It is also hard to believe 
that people should persist for centuries in keeping up such institutions 
and relying on such magic performances, if the results had not justified 
their existence. 

As an example I may mention here the Oracle of Gadong, situated 
in a side valley of the Kyi-chu, about four hours' ride to the south of 
Lhasa, This Oracle is said to have special power over the weather. TTie 
well-known traveller and writer Amaury de Riencourt was allowed to 
witness an important invocation of this Oracle (though disguised in 

Southern and Central Tibet 267 

monastic robes) during his stay at Lhasa as the guest of the British - 
Indian Mission there. There had been a long period of exceptionally dry 
weather, so that the crops were perishing and the country was threatened 
by famine. In this calamity the Gadong Oracle was invoked, Riencourt s 
eyewitness report deserves special attention for its detached objectivity 
and careful observation. Being a newcomer and unacquainted with 
Tibetan Buddhism, he was neither spiritually nor emotionally involved in 
the things that happened in his presence. But the facts which he wit- 
nessed were sufficient to impress him profoundly The first thing that 
completely took him by surprise was the visible transformation of the 
Oracle Priest: "Very gradually, blood appeared to withdraw from his 
changing features and his flesh looked as if it w^ere melting away While 
the thudding and shrilling of the music went on, I saw with stupefaction 
the bone structure of his face protrude as if it were becoming a death 
mask, a mere skull covered with thin grey skin. It was an unbelievable and 
petrifying metamorphosis of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde ... I was stunned, 
stupefied by this weird ceremony, not so much by the colourful pomp as 
by some indefinable conviction that I had seen a real occult perform- 
ance.' Bui his greatest surprise came when he was about to retire the 
same night after the invocation: 'Rain was pouring down in bucketfuls 
and til under was rolling up the entire valley of Lhasa.' He concludes his 
report by saying; '1 had begun to understand by now that there is more 
to psychic forces than meets the eye of Western man. The performanc- 
es of the Oracles had opened to me the gates of a new and entrancing 
world which the Tibetans have explored thoroughly — a world which lies 
between the higher forms of religious research and the everyday preoc- 
cupations of earthly life: the mysterious world of magic and psychic 
forces, the universe of Yoga and of what lies beyond death.'' 

As mentioned before, all these things have intrinsically nothing to 
do with Buddhism, and also Tibetans regard them more in the way of 
natural phenomena of which they make use, just as a Westerner makes 
use of electricity, without connecting this equally mysterious force with 

1 . Amaury de Riencourt, Lm World. Victor Gonanc2 (London, 1951), pp. 245 ff. 

268 The Way of the White Clouds 

his religious beliefs by attributing it to a personal god or a cosmic intel- 
ligence. Though to the Tibetan there is no difference between the realm 
of nature and the realm of the mind, he recognises the difference 
between the mundane and the supramundane, between worldly and reli- 
gious activities, without, on the other hand, excluding the interaction of 
both in a realm between these extremes. It all depends on the degree in 
which one is conscious of the inner relationship between the many, 
apparently disconnected, phenomena, by discovering the common laws 
that govern their activities, 

A magician, therefore, according to Tibetan ideas, is not necessarily 
a particularly religious man, but rather one who knows how to make use 
of the laws that govern the parallelism of psychic and cosmic forces. If 
he is a religious man, he will use his knowledge for the benefit of all 
beings, if he is not, he will use them only for the benefit of himself, or 
those who are of use to him. It is this that distinguishes 'white' from 
'black' magic, though both are based on the same principles. Like sci- 
ence, magic powers are neither good nor bad in themselves: it entirely 
depends on the use we make of them. 

Return to 
Western Tibet 

The Sacred 


HERE ARE MOUNTAINS which are just mountains and there are moun- 
tains with personality. The personality of a mountain is more than merely a 
strange shape that makes it different from others — -just as a strangely shaped 
face or strange actions do not make an individual into a personality 

Personality consists in the power to influence others, and this 
power is due to consistency, harmony, and one-pointedness of character. 
If these qualities are present in an individual, in their highest perfection, 
then this individual is a fit leader of humanity, either as a ruler, a thinker, 
or a saint, and we recognise him as a vessel of divine power. If these 
qualities are present in a mountain we recognise it as a vessel of cosmic 
power, and we call it a sacred mountain. 

The power of such a mountain is so great and yet so subtle that, 
without compulsion, people are drawn to it from near and far, as if by the 
force of some invisible magnet; and they will undergo untold hardships 
and privations in their inexplicable urge to approach and to worship the 
centre of this sacred power. Nobody has conferred the title of sacredness 
on such a mountain, and yet everybody recognises it; nobody has to 

272 The Way of the White Clouds 

defend its claim, because nobody doubts it; nobody bas to organise its 
worship, because people are overwhelmed by the mere presence of such 
a mountain and cannot express their feelings other than by worship. 

This worshipful or religious attitude is not impressed by scientific 
facts, like figures of altitude, which are foremost in the mind of modern 
man. Nor is it motivated by the urge to conquer' the mountain. Instead of 
conquering it, the religious-minded man prefers to be conquered by the 
mountain. He opens his soul to its spirit and allows it to take possession 
of him, because only he who is im-pired or 'possessed* by the dj^e spirit 
can partake in its nature. While the modem man is driven by ambition and 
the glorification of his own ego to climb an outstanding mountain and to 
be the first on top of it, the devotee is more interested in his spiritual uplift 
than in the physical feat of climbing. To him the mountain is a divine sym- 
bol, and as little as he would put his foot upon a sacred image, so little 
would he dare to put his foot on the summit of a sacred mountain. 

To see the greatness of a mountain, one must keep one's distance; 
to understand its form, one must move around it; to experience its 
moods, one must see it at sunrise and sunset, at noon and at midnight, 
in sun and in rain, in snow and in storm, in summer and in winter and 
in all the other seasons. He who can see the mountain like this comes 
near to the life of the mountain, a life that is as intense and varied as that 
of a human being. Mountains grow and decay, they breathe and pulsate 
with life. They attract and collect invisible energies from their sur- 
roundings: the forces of the air, of the water, of electricity and magnet- 
ism; they create winds, clouds, thunderstorms, rains, waterfalls, and 
rivers. They fill their surroundings with active life and give shelter and 
food to innumerable beings. Such is the greatness of mighty mountains. 

But even among the mightiest there are some of such outstanding 
character and position that they become symbols of the highest aspira- 
tions of humanity, as expressed in ancient civilisations and religions, 
milestones of the eternal quest for perfection and ultimate realisation, 
signposts that point beyond our earthly concerns towards the infinity of 
a universe from which we have originated and to which we belong. 

In the dust-filled valleys and low plains of our daily existence we 

Beturn to Western Tibet 273 

have forgotten our connections vrith stars and suns; and therefore we 
need the presence of these might)' signposts and milestones to shake us 
up and arouse us from the slumber of self-complacency Not many are 
there who hear the call or feel the urge to rise from under their thick 
blanket of petty self-interests, of money-making or pleasure-hunting, but 
the few whom the call has reached, and in whom the longing for greater 
things is still awake, form a steady stream of pilgrims who keep aJive the 
tradition and knowledge of these sources of inspiration. 

Thus it is that above all the sacred mountains of the world the fame of 
Kailas has spread and inspired human beings since times immemorial. TTiere 
is no other mountain comparable to Kailas, because it fomis the hub of the 
two most important ancient civilisations of the world, whose traditions 
remained intact for thousands of years: India and China. To Hindus and 
Buddhists alike Kailas is the centre of die universe. It is caUed Mem or 
Sumenj, according to the oldest Sanskrit tradition, and is regarded to be not 
only the physical but the metaphysical centre of the world. And as our psycho- 
physical organism is a microcosmic replica of the universe, Mem is repre- 
sented by the spinal cord in our nen^ous system; and just as the various centres 
(Skt.: cakm) of consciousness are supported by and connected with die spinal 
cord (Skt.; mem-dajida), from which they branch out like many-petalied lotus- 
blossoms, in the same way Mount Mem fonris die axis of die various planes 
of supramundane worlds. And as die psycho-physical microcosm of man is 
crowned by the higliest centre of consciousness, the thoiLsand-petalled loins 
of die mind (Skt.: sahasrara cakra), so Meru or Kailas is sumiounted by the 





274 The Way of the White Clouds 

invisible temple of the highest transcendental powers, which to each devotee 
appear in the form that symbolises to him the higliest reality. Thus to Hindus 
Kailas is the seat of Shiva, while to Buddhists it represents a gigantic Mandala 
of Dhyani-Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as described in the famous Demchog 
Tantra: the 'Mandala of Hi^est Bliss'. 

This is not the place to go into the metaphysical or psychological 
intricacies of Hinduism and Tantric Buddhism. The question, however, 
which spontaneously comes to everybody's mind is: why or how was it 
that of all the mighty mountains of the Himalayan and Transhimalayan 
regions this very peak was thus honoured and by common consent 
recognised as the centre of the world? 

A glance at the map, which shows the position of Kailas on the high- 
est elevation of the Tibetan highland and its relationship to the river sys- 
tem of the Indo-Tibetan region, will give an immediate explanation. 
Kailas forms the spire of the 'Roof of the World', as the Tibetan plateau is 
called, and radiating from it, like the spokes from the hub of a wheel, a 
number of mighty rivers take their course towards the east, the west, the 
north-west, and the south. These rivers are the Brahmaputra, the Indus, 
the Sutlej, and the Kamali. All these rivers have their source in the Kailas- 
Manasarovar region, which forms the highest tier of the Tibetan plateau. 

In ancient scriptures these rivers are described as outlets from the 
Manasarovar Lake at the foot of Mount Kailas, and they are said to encircle the 
sacred area seven rimes before flowing in the various direcrions, thus paying 
homage to the throne of the gods, according to the ancient rite of circumam- 
bulation (Skt.: pmdakshina). The Tibetans call the Brahmaputra, the source of 
which is in the east of the Kailas- Manasarovar re^on, 'Tamchog-Khambab': the 
river 'flowing out of a horses mouth', Tlie Sudej, whose source is in the west, is 
called 'Langchen-Khambab', i.e. the river 'flowing out of an elephant's mouth', 
The Indus, whose source is in the north of Kailas, is called 'Seng^-Khambab', 
i.e, the river 'flowing out of a lion's moutli'; and the Kamali in the soudi (which 
becomes die Go^ in the plains) is called 'Magcha-Khambab', i.e. the river 
'flowing out of a peacock's mouth'. These animals are the 'vehicles' or throne- 
symbols of fbur of the Dhyani-Buddhas. The river names thus indicate that they 
are regarded as parts of a universal numdah, of which Kailas is the centre. 

Return to Western Tibet 275 

It is through these rivers that the religious and cultural relations 
between Tibet and India are established. This is specially apparent in 
the case of the Indus and the Brahmaputra, which, like two gigantic 
arms emerging from the Kailas- Manasarovar region, embrace the entire- 
ty of the Himalayas and the whole of the Indian subcontinent, the Indus 
flowing into the Arabian Sea in the west, the Brahmaputra into the Bay 
of Bengal in the east. 

In actual fact not all the four rivers have their sources at the slopes 
of Kailas or in Manasarovar, but their valleys lead towards the plateau 
which is dominated by Kailas, thus making this mountain the signpost of 
the crossroads which connect the south, the north, the east, and the west. 

Take away a few thousand feet from the altitude of Mount Everest, or 
of any of the other famous big mountains of the Himalayas, and nothing 
outstanding would remain of them; they would simply disappear from the 
map and mei^e into the myriad of unknown or unnoticed peaks and moun- 
tain massifs. But even if one would take away a few thousand feet of Mount 
Kailas it srill would retain its importance, its unique central position in the 
general pattern of mountain ranges and the river systems of Tibet and India. 

The mountain stands so completely isolated in the centre of the 
Transhimalayan range that it is possible to circumambulate it within two 
or three days; and its shape is so regular as if it were the dome of a gigan- 
tic temple, rising above a number of equally architectural forms of bastions 
and temple-shaped mountains which form its base. And as every Indian 
temple has its sacred water-tank, so at the southern foot of Kailas there are 
two sacred lakes, Manasarovar and Rakastal, of which the former is 
shaped like the sun and represents the forces of light, while the other is 
curved like the crescent moon and represents the hidden forces of the 
night, which^ — as long as they are not recognised in their true nature and 
directed into their proper channels — appear as the demonic powers of 
darkness. 1 hese ideas are also expressed in the names of the two lakes, 
'Manas' (Skt.) means mind or consciousness: the seat of the forces of cog- 
nition, of light, and finally of enlightenment. 'Rakas' or, more correctly, 
'Rakshas', means demon, so that Rakastal means 'Lake of the Demons'. 

The solar and lunar symbolism of the sacred lakes is illustrated in 

276 The Way of the White Clouds. 

Tibetan pictures, like the one on page 278, by showing the sun-disk in 
the sky above the circular shape of Manasarovar, and the waning moon 
above the crescent-shaped RakastaJ. 

These sun and moon symbols are used in every Tibetan scroll-paint- 
ing (thang-ka) in which Buddhas, deities, or saints are depicted. Sun and 
moon signify the two streams or currents of psychic energy, which move 
upwards to the right and to the left of the central channel or median 
nerve' of the spinal column. In Yogic meditation these two currents are 
integrated in the central channel and rise through it from one psychic 
centre or level of consciousness to the other, unril the integrated stream 
reaches the highest multi-dimensional level of an enlightened con- 
sciousness. As Mount Kaiias corresponds to the spinal column, it repre- 
sents the axis of the spiritual universe, rising through innumerable 
world-planes (indicated by the actual horizontal stratification of the 
mountain, which is as regular and disrinct as that of an Indian temple), 
from the human to the highest divine level, while the two lakes are 
looked upon as the reservoirs of the two streams of psychic energy.' 

Our picture (p. 278) also sliows that Manasarovar is on a higher level 
than Rakastal, wliich is geographically correct and coincides with tlie fact 
that the former represents the highest, the latter the lowest (but equally 
important) cakra or centre of psychic force. The one is the root and foun- 
dation of all our inner forces, the other the blossom and fruit of realisation. 
The one stands at the beginning, the other at the end of spiritual evolution. 

It is for this reason that according to the oldest Buddhist tradition the 
descent of the Bodhisattva into his last life — in the fulfilment of his vow to 
attain final enlightenment, or Buddhahood — is connected with Manasarovar. 
According to this tradition, Queen Maya dreamt that the couch on which 
she rested was borne by the guardian gods to the Anotatta Lake (the I^li 
name for Manasarovar) and was bathed in its sacred waters, whereupon all 
human impurities were removed from her, so that the future Buddha could 
enter her womb. He descended from the direction of Mount Kaiias, appear- 

1 . Details about the currents and centres of psychic energy may be read in my 
Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism. 

Return to Western Tibet 277 

ing like a white elephant in a cloud. This shows diat even from the very 
beginnings of Buddfiism, Kaiias and Manasarovar were held in the highest 
esteem and that the Buddhists fully shared in a tradition which goes back to 
Vedic times, if not to the very beginnings of human civilisation. 

According to Hindu tradition it was Brahma himself who created 
Manasarovar and the divine Jambu tree which — -though invisible to 
human eyes — -grows in its centre. For this reason our world was called 
'Jambudvipa' by the ancients; and it is said that due to the fruits of this 
divine tree the waters of Manasarovar are turned into a life-giving elixir. 
The Tree of Life in the Lake of Supreme Consciousness — what a pro- 
found symbolism, and how reminiscent of the Tree of Knowledge in the 
biblical story of the Paradise! Certainly there is no place on earth more 
exalted and worthy to be identified with it than the Kailas-Manasarovar 
region, which the Tibetans call 'the navel of Jambudvipa [our human 
world], the centre of all countries, the roof of the earth, the land of jewels 
and gold, the source of the four great rivers, dominated by the crystal 
pagoda of Kaiias and adorned by the magic turquoise disk of Manasarovar'. 

The place from where the pilgrim starts his circumambuiation of 
Mount Kaiias is seen in our picture as a deep cleft or gorge to the left of 
the sacred mountain. It is the entrance to the western Valley of Amitabha'. 
The pass to the right of Kaiias, which is marked by a small stone pyramid 
(below the sun-disk), is the Dolma-La, the pass of Tara, the highest point 
( 1 8,600 feet) on the pilgrim's route. The dark triangle below it is a small 
lake, called Gaurikund by the Hindus and Thugj6-chempoi Tso, 'the Lake 
of the Great Compassionate One", by the Buddhists, We shall hear more 
about these places when dealing with the parikmrtta, the pilgrimage 
around the sacred mountain, in the third chapter, 

The Tibetan original of our illustration contained many more details 
which, however, had to be sacrificed for the sake of clarity and in keep- 
ing with our purpose, i.e. to provide an ideal view of the Kailas- 
Manasarovar region, as seen from the direction of the Gurla Pass, from 
which the pilgrim approaches the holy land, and which is the only place 
from where both the two lakes and Kaiias can be seen simultaneously. 
The proportions of the picture are not those of optical but of mental per- 

278, The Wat of the White Clouds 

spective, as seen by the minds eye. However, the forms, though stylised, 
are more true to reality than any photograph with its unavoidable distor- 
tions of angles and foreshortening of masses. 

it is interesting to note that even the geographical position of the 
two lakes corresponds to their relationship to light and darkness, day 
and night. Manasarovar is in the east, at the beginning of the day, 
Rakastal in the west, at the beginning of the night. In Tibetan 
Manasarovar is called Tso Mapham', the lake of the invincible forces of 
the Buddhas (who are also called 'Victors'), while Rakastal is called 

Brush drawing of a Tibetan thanka-painting 

Return to Western Tibet 279 

'Langag Tso' or, more correctly, 'Lha-nag-Tso', the Lake of the Dark Deities. 

Consequently the Tso Mapham is surrounded by a number of 
monasteries and retreats, while the other lake is completely deserted of 
human habitation, and in spite of its scenic beauty a strange and uncan- 
ny atmosphere seems to hover over it. Though it is held in fear, it is as 
sacred as its sister- lake, because even those powers which appear to us 
terrifying and destructive, or hidden in the darkness of the depth, are as 
divine as those which we worship as embodiments of light and goodness. 

The interrelationship of these forces — solar and lunar energy, con- 
scious and subconscious forces, the principles of light and darkness, 
mate and female energies, action and contemplation, emptiness and 
form — is the great discovery of Tantric philosophy He who reahses its 
truth is fit to worship the awe-inspiring Master of Kailas, whether he 
sees him in the form of Sliiva, the destroyer of this world of illusion, or 
in the form of Demchng, who like Shiva tears asunder the elephant-hide 
of ignorance and whose twelve arms signify the twelve links of the for- 
mula of dependent origination, taught by the Buddha Sakyamuni. 

Only he who has contemplated the divine in its most awe-inspiring 
form, who has dared to look into the unveiled face of truth without being 
overwhelmed or frightened — only such a person will be able to bear the 
powerful silence and solitude of Kailas and its sacred lakes, and endure 
the dangers and hardships which are the price one has to pay for being 
admitted to the divine presence on the most sacred spot on earth. But 
those who have given up comfort and security and the care for their own 
lives are rewarded by an indescribable feeling of bliss, of supreme happi- 
ness (as symbolised by Demchog, Skt.; Mahasukha). Their mental faculties 
seem to be heightened, their awareness and spiritual sensitivity infinitely 
increased, their consciousness reaching out into a new dimension, so that 
many of them see wonderful visions and hear strange voices and fall into 
trance- like states, in which all their former obstructions and difficulties 
disappear like in a flash of light that suddenly lights up what was hidden 
hitherto. It is as if their individual consciousness, which obscured or dis- 
torted their views or their conception of the world were receding and giv- 
ing place to an all-embracing cosmic consciousness. 


The Land of 
THE Gods 

In order to understand the full significance of Mount Kailas and its 
extraordinary surroundings one has to see it not only geographically, cul- 
turally, or historically but first and foremost through the eyes of a pUgrim. 
In order to do this, we have to divest ourselves of the narrow confines of 
our personality and especially from the intellectual prejudices of 
Western education, because the experiences with which we are dealing 
here are too great and timeless to fit the stage of a purely personal occur- 
rence or a description of accidental happenings. On our way to the 
sacred mountain Li Gotami and 1 felt ourselves merely as a link in the 
eternal chain of pilgrims, who since times immemorial travelled the 
lonely and perilous paths of an untamed mountain world and the limit- 
less spaces of the Tibetan highland. The only thing that appeared signif- 
icant to us, was our taking part in that supra-personal experience which 
surpassed by far all individual thoughts and feelings and raised us to a 
new level of awareness. 

So let us follow the nameless pilgrim: Imagine him leaving the 
fertile plains of India and toiling for some 200-300 miles over endless 

Return to Western Tibet 281 

mountain ranges, through steaming hot valleys and over cold, cloud- 
covered passes, fording wild mountain streams, where a slip of the foot 
means certain death, or crossing the thundering abyss of a torrential 
river, clinging precariously to a shaky reed-rope of uncertain age. 
Imagine him travelling through gorges, where stones are falling from 
invisible heights and where waterfalls seem to rush down straiglit from 
the clouds. Imagine him negotiating overhanging cliffs on narrow moun- 
tain paths and sharp-edged rock-ledges which cut into his sore and tired 
feet. Imagine all this, and see him finally on the top of the Lipulekh Pass, 
v\Tapped in the icy mists of its perpetual summer cloud-cap. 

Suddenly the clouds lift and the pilgrim looks down the other side 
into a country of eternal sunshine, with mountains that have nothing of 
that sombre heaviness of the Himalayas, but seem to be made of the 
purest, almost transparent, pastel colours: yellow, orange, red, purple, 
set into a deep blue velvet sky The contrast is so surprising that the pil- 
grim almost forgets the dark, heavy clouds still threateningly hanging 
over his head and breathing their icy air upon him. 

However, he soon gets down into the wide open valley, and only 
now realises fully the difference of the world he left behind from the 
world he has entered; the valleys which he left were lined with sombre 
fir-forests, the ground was covered with grass, moss and ferns, flowers 
and shrubs; dark rocks were towering above the green valley and were 
lost in the heavy monsoon clouds which hid the snow -peaks; while here 
the vivid colours and the chiselled forms of rocks and mountains stand 
out in brilliant clearness, divested of any trace of vegetation, like the 
world on the first day of creation when only heaven and earth were fac- 
ing each other in primeval purity. 

Farther down the valley, along the winding river, there appear green 
patches of grassland and small yellow fields of barley, which form a strik- 
ing contrast to the otherwise barren landscape. They are almost an 
anachronism, so to say, foreshadowing a stage in the development of cre- 
ation which should appear millions of years later, as it is not yet existent 
in the surrounding nature. 

Human habitarions appear, and they are as strange as the land- 

282 The Way of the White Clouds 

scape: plain cubic forms, huddled together, and behind them the huge 
rock-bastions of a table mountain, with cave-dwellings built into the 
rock-face and with castles and monasteries on its summit. 

It all looks weird and forbidding and as antediluvian as the land- 
scape. And high above all this rise in the background the dazzling snow- 
peaks of the Gurla Mandhata Range. Very different from the rugged 
peaks of the Himalaya in the south, the Mandhata Range forms one 
plastically moulded massif which if it could be seen from the air would 
appear in the form of an immense swastika. The broad central ridges are 
covered with one solid cap of snow and ice, extending without a break 
for some twenty miles, while between the arms of the swastika huge gla- 
ciers find their way downwards. 

It is this vast range which separates the district and valley of Purang 
from the Kailas-Manasarovar region. Thus, the pilgrim has to skirt the 
wide slopes of the Swastika Mountain, until in a steady ascent he has 
reached the Gurla Pass which leads over one of the prolonged arms of 
the swastika. 

There are no more difficulties in the form of natural obstacles, but 
as so often where nature is kind and gentle, man is not. The power of the 
Tibetan Governor of Purang does not reach farther than the inhabited 
part of the valley Once the pilgrim is out of that region, he is a fair prey 
of robbers who waylay the lonely traveller or the unarmed caravan with 
impunity. The rumours and gruesome reports which come to the ears of 
the pilgrim in Purang are such that only those who have courage and 
faith will proceed farther, while the timid ones will either have to wait 
until they find others with whom they can join up for protection or they 
will have to be satisfied with visiting the sanctuaries in the lower valley 
of Purang, leading into Nepal. 

However, this will hardly be the case with any of the numerous 
Hindu sanyasins who year after year go on this greatest and holiest ot all 
pilgrimages and who for the sake of their faith undergo untold hardships 
and privations. It is difficult enough, even for those who can afford to 
hire horses or yaks to carry tents and provisions, etc., and who them- 
selves can ride for the greater part of the journey But those who possess 

Return to Western Tibet 283 

nothing but what they carry on their own backs, who travel without pro- 
tection against rain and wind, snow and freezing cold nights — to say 
nothing of protecdon against robbers and many unforeseen dangers — 
those courageous pilgrims deserve our highest admiration. Many of them 
never return, and those who do have given proof of supreme faith and 
endurance. They return to their country with shining eyes, enriched by 
an experience which all through their life will be a source of sU'ength and 
inspiration, because they have been face to face with the Eternal, they 
have seen the Land of the Gods. 

Anybody who has looked down from the Gurla Pass upon the 
Kaiks-Manasarovar region can testify that this is not an exaggerated 
expression. Already one day's march before reaching this pass, at the 
western flank of the Swasrika Mountain, there appears over the softly 
undulated hills, which are the continuation of one arm of the swastika, 
something that looks like the rising full moon in the dark blue sky; it is 
the shining ice-dome of Kailas! 

It looks so unreal, so utterly beyond all earthly things, that the pil- 
grim forgets all his worries and fears, and is filled with but one desire: to 
reach the pass and to reassure himself of the reality ot this wondrous 
apparition. His feet seem to have grovm wings, they have lost all their 
tiredness. The rhythm of mantras and songs is on his lips, and only one 
thought lives in his mind, the thought of the great Darshan. the sacred 
vision, of which he has just had the first glimpse. 

Now no evil powers can have any more influence; the vision he has 
seen, nobody can ever take from him. He is suddenly filled with such 
perfect confidence and inner security that he feels as if he were sur- 
rounded by a magic armour which no outer force can break or destroy. 

Thus he reaches the last camping-place before the final ascent to 
the pass. He spends the night happily at the foot of a glacier, from which 
a crystal-clear brook emerges, watering a lovely green carpet of welcome 
grazing-ground, studded with sturdy, fuel-giving shrubs and little flowers. 
It is one ot those natural camping-grounds where everything seems to 
welcome the tired wanderer; where sparkling water invites him to drink, 
where there is food for yaks and horses, fuel for a friendly camp-fire, and 

284 The Way of the White Clouds 

soft ground to rest upon, protected by near hillsides and rocks. 

With dawn the pilgrim is up again and, after a simple meal, he starts 
for the final ascent, vibrating with inner joy and expectancy. Today is the 
dawn of the great day when, for the first time, he will behold the Land 
of the Gods, the day when he will cross the threshold of the Promised 
Land and realise the aspiration of a lifetime. 

And yet when the pass is reached, and he Einatly stands on the 
sacred threshold, all his expectations are surpassed. Who can put into 
words the immensity of space? Who can put into words a landscape that 
breathes this immensity?— where vast blue lakes, set in emerald-green 
pastures and golden foothills, are seen against a distant range of snow 
mountains, in tlie centre of which rises the dazzling dome of Kailas, the 
'Jewel of the Snows', as the Tibetans call the holy mountain. 

Indeed, it dominates the whole vast landscape, which is spread out 
at the feet of the pilgrim like a map. The clarity of the air is such that 
the eye can see for more than a hundred miles, and every form and 
colour appears clear and distinct, as if seen by eyes endowed with the 
super-human perception of infra-red rays. 

It certainly is one of the most inspiring views of this earth, a view, 
indeed, which makes the beholder wonder whether it is of this world or 
a dreamlike vision of the next. An immense peace lies over this dixdne 
landscape and fills the heart of the pilgrim, making him immune to all 
personal concerns, because, as in a dream, he feels one with his vision. 
He has gained the equanimity of one who knows that nothing can hap- 
pen to him other than what belongs to him already from eternity. 

There is no more need even for any 'armour , because he is both the 
dragon and the knight, the slayer and the slain, the demon and the God. 
And while the pilgrim touches the holy ground with his forehead and 
adds a few more stones to those heaped up by previous pilgrims, in token 
of their devotion and happiness to have been granted the reahsation of 
their life's dream, there is only one prayer in his mind: 'May I never for- 
get it! May I ever be able to keep this realisation alive within me!' And 
again and again he will touch the ground with his forehead, circumam- 
bulate the pyramids of stones of which each stone signifies a prayer and 

RETURN TO "Western TtBEx 285 

a blessing of those who preceded him— whose brotherhood he has 
entered today 

There are many religious Orders in this world. Orders with rules 
and regulations, with dogmas and rituals, with vows and initiations. But 
the brotherhood of those who have performed the pilgrimage to Kailas, 
who have gone through the trials of dangers and hardships, and were 
rewarded vrith the glorious vision of the sacred land, has received an ini- 
tiation of the most profound nature. Tlie invisible bond which unites 
them needs no vows, no dogmas, and no rituals. It consists in their com- 
mon experience, the lasting effect of which is stronger than any man- 
made rules and distinctions. 

Thus the pilgrim siowly descends into the Land of the Gods; but he 
is no more the lonely, frightened individual of previous days; he feels 
himself in the company of a host of invisible companions — the spiritual 
brotherhood of fellow-pilgrims — and surrounded by the many subtle 
influences which seem to hover over this region, and which, in accor- 
dance with the various religious traditions, have been described as the 
presence of Gods, or Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. 

How little does modern humanity know of these things! How child- 
ish the efforts of those who think it below their intellectual dignity to 
admit the reality of spiritual powers and try to explain them away with 
high-sounding scienrific phrases, or by discarding any experience of such 
realities as superstitions and hallucinations. As if the last word of science 
were also the last word of truth, and as if there was no other reality than 
that of science! Science is admirable in its own realm, but it is applica- 
ble as httle to spiritual phenomenon as to any creative form of art. 

Due to our exclusive concentration upon and culdvarion of our 
intellectual faculties we have neglected and, to a great extent, lost our 
psychic sensitivity Therefore, to speak of deities, Gods, Buddhas, and 
Bodhisattvas in any other than that of poetical or metaphorical 
usage is to expose oneself to the charge of superstition. Yet to the pilgrim 
they are real enough to make him immune to dangers, and to raise him 
beyond the fear of death and suffering, which neither poerical artistry 
nor scientific knowledge can achieve. 

286 The Way of THE White Clouds 

It is necessary to keep these facts in mind iF we wish to understand 
and appreciate the experiences of the pilgrim. 

The excitement of the first impact between him and his new. sur- 
roundings is gradually giving place to an exalted serenity. 

While Kailas, The jewel of the Snows', is disappearing behind a cap 
of cumulus clouds, which are gathering around its dome with the 
progress of the sun and its increasing warmth, the sacred lakes become 
the almost exclusive centre of the pilgrim's attention. He cannot stop 
admiring their radiating blueness and wondering at the strange play of 
nature which seems to impress him with all the symbols of ancient tradi^ 
tion— behind him the Mountain of the Swastika (the symbol of eternal 
creativeness), in f^ont of him the two lakes, of which Rakastal (the lake 
of the terrifying deities of darkness) appears to the left in the form of a 
crescent, while the round shape of Manasarovar, to the right, is reminis- 
cent of the sun (the Lord of the Day and the peaceful deities of light). 

This combination of signs is one of the favourite Tibetan symbols, 
shown like this: 

The sign of the swastika, moreover, is repeated on the southern side 
of Kailas. First it appears as a mighty cross which di\'ides the ice-dome 
into four quarters. When coming nearer, the smaller arms or 'hooks' of 
the swastika become visible (especially the horizontal ones). 

Within a Few hours after leaving the Gurla Pass the pilgrim reaches 
the shores of Manasarovar and experiences the glories of his first sunset 
over the sacred waters. The blue of the lake changes into Veronese green 
near the beach and appears deep ultramarine in its centre. The light, 
evening clouds are aflame with al! the colours of fire. They are low and 
are swiftly moving and changing. Somerimes they seem to burst like fire- 
works, cascading in fiery streams into the now purple waters of the lake, 
or shooting up like rockets and dissolving into a rain of fire. 

Return to Western Tibet 287 

And while the pilgrim, spellbound and overawed, watches this 
divine spectacle, the animals come out of their dwelling-places to watch 
the stranger. Birds come fearlessly to his feet, little creatures come out 
of their holes to greet the pilgrim, hares sit up with cocked long ears, 
scrutinising him with astonishment, and even hyangs (a kind of wild 
horse, resembling a zebra in stature, but of plain browTi colour with a 
white belly) graze peacefully and undisturbed in his vicinity. 

It is the unwritten law that nobody is allowed to kill or to hurt the 
animals inhabiring this region, and, as if the animals were conscious of 
their divine protection, they behave as they were supposed to behave in 
a long-forgotten paradise. And the pilgrim, who since the beginning of 
this day has moved as if in a dream, from wonder to wonder, begins to 
realise that if there is a paradise anywhere in this world it is here. 

According to Tibetan belief, which is shared by most of the Indian 
pilgrims, the very water of Manasarovar, as well as its colourful sands 
and pebbles and some strange variety of fish, is said to have medicinal 
properties of some kind of magic healing power. Naturally, nobody would 
think of catching or killing the fish or the numerous vrildfowl (hathsa) 
which inhabit the lake, but during great storms the waves dash against 
the shores with such force that many fish are thrown upon the beach, 
where they die and dry up, so that pilgrims can pick them up and take 
them away as a much coveted medicine. 

The low hills and plains around the lakes are covered with low 
shrubs and miles and miles of pastures, where thousands of kyangs and 
yaks, as well as the flocks of sheep and goats of the nomads, find wel- 
come grazing-grounds. 

Also, among the plants of this region are many herbs of medicinal 
value and others which can be used as incense and which are highly val- 
ued for their wonderful fragrance. All these things are regarded as 
'■prasads', as the gifts of the gods to the pilgrim. There are many other 
'prasads, each of them pertaining to a particular locality. 

Among the pebbles of Manasarovar there is a dark red variety which 
is as smooth as silk to the touch, beautifully polished, and shaped by the 
action of the waters through hundreds of diousands of years. They are 

288 The Way of the White Clouds 

not too hard, so that they can be scraped with a knife. Tibetans mix the 
stone-nour thus obtained with milk, and use it as a medicine as well as 
a charm in all kinds of afflictions. 

On the eastern side of the lake are the so-called jewelled sands, 
composed of 'five varieties of precious substances', which have been 
described traditionally as turquoise, coral, crystal, gold, and silver. 
Whatever they are, they certainty look very beautiful, scintillating in many 
colours, and they are peculiar in that they are found only for a short 
stretch along the eastern coast, and that they are astonishingly heavy. In 
spite of this they are only found as a thin layer on top of other sands. 

On the western shore of Manasarovar. especially on the narrow isth- 
mus between Manasarovar and Rakastal, there are the golden sands'. 
They are of the most lovely orange^ellow colour, and actual gold has been 
found among them. The biggest find, so far, was a lump as big as a dog, 
and the place where it was found is stOl called 'Serkyi' ('the golden dog'). 
However, the Tibetans, tike the ancient Incas of Peru— with whom 
they have many characteristics in common— are of the opinion that any 
gold found in this sacred soil belongs to the gods, and should not be mis- 
used by greedy men. So it happened that when the lump of gold of the 
size of a dog was unearthed nobody dared to keep it, and it was there- 
fore sent to the Dalai Lama at Lhasa. When the Dalai Lama, however, 
came to know that it was taken from the Land of the Gods he immedi- 
ately sem it back and had it buried again at the spot where it was found. 
Nowadays only a small mound remains of the stiipa which was erected 
there in commemoration of 'the golden dog'. 

The ''prasads', which nature offers freely to the pilgrim, are certainly 
more valuable than any amount of gold which— if Lhasa had fallen into 
the temptation of prospecting and digging for it— would have turned the 
Land of the Gods into a hell of infernal greed and murderous passion. 
Though robbers may lurk at tfie approaches to the holy land, and even 
enter it in the guise of harmless pilgrims or travellers, they at least abstain 
from deliberate killing on the sacred soil and in the presence of powers 
which, even if they cannot understand them, they at least fear and respect. 


The Last Trial 





iR SO MANY weeks, if not months, of trudging through narrow val- 
leys and gorges and cloud-covered mountains it seems almost unbeliev- 
able to the pilgrim to look over miles and miles of open water, surrounded 
by green plains, soft hillocks, and shining snow-peaks in the distance, 
under a clear sunny sky. He is filled with unspeakable happiness and 
continues his journey after many a deep drink from the sacred waters of 
Manasarovar, which is like nectar to both his mind and body. 

In the shelter of hills the sun bums almost with a summerly heat, 
which one hardly expects at 15,000-foot altitude. Only in the shade the 
coolness and crisp ness of the air remind the pilgrim where he is, and 
warn him of the possibiUty of a sudden hail or snowstorm which might 
unexpectedly sweep down from the icy walls of the Himalayan range in 
the south. 

The approach of such a storm, however, is a spectacle which in 
itself is of such grandeur that even the temporary inconvenience to the 
pilgrim cannot preclude him from admiring the majestic beauty of the 
unloosed elements of nature. The change of the whole landscape and its 

290 The Way of the White Clouds 

colours is sudden and surprising, as if it were all a magic play. 

Due to the altitude and its pure, rarefied air, all colour contrasts are 
incredibly heightened, distances are eradicated, space becomes tele- 
scoped and at the same time intensified. 

A mountain range, twenty miles away, suddenly turns indigo-blue, 
and seems to race towards you like a big dark wave, not more than five 
miles away The ultramarine-blue waters of Manasarovar turn into a 
purplish hue in the centre and bottle-green towards the shores. Cloud- 
shadows are flitl:ing over the agitated waters, and soon the whole lake 
looks like a huge opal in which all colours fight for supremacy. Clouds 
piled upon snow mountains look like mountains piled upon clouds, 
because the contours and formations of the mountains merge into dark- 
ness, and the clouds stand clear-edged and super-plastic in the sky. 

But the pilgrim is irresistibly drawn towards the ultimate goal of his 
pilgrimage, the mysterious Kailas, the hidden Jewel of the Snows. Only 
in the morning and in the evening hours does its dome become entirely 
visible and free from clouds, and thus, morning and evening, the pilgrim 
reverently bows down in the direction of the sacred mountain, repeating 
his tnantras and calling up all the forces of light inhabiting this cosmic 

When crossing the isthmus between the two lakes he looks back for 
the last time upon the sunny Manasarovar, and soon finds himself near 
the northern shore of Rakastal. A strange, uncanny atmosphere seems to 
hover over the placid blue waters of the long, comparatively narrow lake, 
an atmosphere of utter loneliness and severity, which never occurred to 
him on the shores of Manasarovar. 

It is difficult to find an explanation for it, because the landscape 
surrounding Rakastal is of superb beauty- — the soft, red-brown hill at 
both sides and the mighty, snow-covered massif of the Curia Mandhata 
(the Swastika Mountain) give an impressive and colourful frame to the ^ft 
deep blue lake. And yet a feeling of sadness weighs down the beauty, and ' 
the very inexphcability of it makes it all the more uncanny. Apparently 
others have felt the same, and this feeling must have been so strong that 
nobody dared to build monasteries or hermitages, as on the shores of 

Return to Western Tibet 291 

Manasarovar. TT^ere are mysteries which man is called upon to unveil 
and there are others which are meant to be felt, but not to be touched' 
whose secrecy must be respected. Rakastal is one of these 

Much has been told and written about Manasarovar, but hardlv 
anythmg is known about Rakastal. And yet it is Rakastal which receives 
the waters that come directly from Mount Kailas, and there is even a 
communication between Manasarovar and Rakastal, so that, when the 
waters of the Manasarovar {the surface of which ,s fifty feet higher) flow 
over they find an outlet through a channel which leads to Rakastal 

I h,s ,s regarded as a very auspicious event, portending better con- 
ditions m the world, but characteristically this has not happened for 
many years, and the channel has almost completely dried up, so that the 
pilgrim can cross it without even wetting his feet. Tibetans are rather 
worried about this and fear that worse times, of which the already 
increasing insecurity gives them a foretaste, are yet to come 

The pilgrim now has to traverse the vast plain between the north- 
ern shores o Rakastal and the foot of Mount Kailas. This wide grassy 
Plam, which looks as friendly and innocent as a summer meadow I the 
meetmg place of many caravan routes from east and west, north and 
south, and is therefore the favourite haunt of robbers and invading tribes 
of nomads from the northern steppes (Chang-Thang), Besides this the 
piam IS mtersected by dozens of swift^flowing streams and many treach- 
erous swamps, m which the pilgrim may get stuck if he tries to cut 
straight across the country in order to avoid the danger of being waylaid 
on tiie caravan routes. 

But he keeps his mind and his eyes fixed on the sparkling Jewel of 
he Snows, which is now straight before him, completely dominating the 
landscape. After fording the last shallow rive, the plain rises in a gentle 
sbpe towards the foothills of Kailas, whose dome now disappears behind 
them, while the red buildings of a monastery and the white dots of many 
tents around it come into sight. 

Camp-fires of pilgrims, traders, beggars, and nomads welcome the 
P.ignm into this haven of safety it is strange to be again in human soci- 
ety, agreeable to be able to replenish the scanty provisions-but his heart 

292 The Way of the White Clouds 

is still with the silent solitudes of the lost paradise, the hallowed shores 
of Manasarovar, while his mind is eagerly looking forward to initiation 
into the mysteries of Kailas. 

He experiences again that joyful tension of the night before cross- 
ing the threshold of the Land of the Gods ai the Gurla Pass, but at the 
same time he feels that the days which lie ahead of him will tax his 
strength and endurance, both mentally and physically. 

Nobody can approach the Throne of the Gods, or penetrate the 
Mandala of Shiva or Demchog, or whatever name he likes to give to the 
mystery of ultimate reality, without risking his life— and perhaps even 
the sanity of his mind. He who performs the Parikrama. the ritual cir- 
cumambulation of the holy mountain, with a perfectly devoted and con- 
centrated mind goes through a full cycle of life and death. 

He approaches the mountain from the golden plains of the south, 
from the noon of life, in the vigour and full experience of life. He enters 
the red valley of Amitabha in the mild light of the sinking sun, goes 
through the portals of death between the dark northern and the multi- 
coloured eastern valleys when ascending the formidable D6lma-La, the 
Pass of Tara, the Saviouress— and he descends, as a new-bom being, 
into the green valley of Abobya on the east of Kailas, where the poet- 
samt Milarepa composed his hymns, and from where the pilgrim again 
emerges into the open, sunny plains of the south, assigned to the 
Dhyani-Buddha Ratnasambhava, whose colour is that of gold. 

Tlie pilgrim who actually walked over the 'golden sands' in the south 
feels that here he is moving through a gigantic MandaUt, miraculously 
created by nature, in which colours and shapes speak to him in the sym- 
bolic language in which the experiences of meditation have been handed 
down from the dawn of humanity. « 

Entering the narrow valley on the western flank of Kailas, the place 
assigned to Amitabha, whose colour is red, he finds himself in a canyon 
of red rocks, the structure of which is so architectural in appearance that 
the pilgrim feels as if he is walking between rows of gigantic temples. 
^rhey are adorned with elaborate rock-cornices, pillars, and ledges, and 
high above them there appears suddenly the dazzling ice-dome of Kailas. 

Return to Western Tibet 293 

Its shape is remarkably regular, as if it had been sculptured out of 
one immense block of ice, and towards the west two deep hollows, like 
the eyeholes of a perfectly shaped white skull, look mysteriously down 
upon the pilgrim, who is thus reminded of the terrible aspects of Shiva 
and Demchog (Mahasukha) who are both adorned with skulls, symbol- 
ising the wisdom of sunyata, the realisation of the emptiness and transi- 
toriness of all phenomena. 

Buddhist monks and hermits, who wanted to contemplate this 
aspect of the sacred mountain, built a small cave-monastery in the oppo- 
site rock- face, on which it appears to the pilgrim like a swallow's nest. 
Before the valley turns to the north-east is a rock rising thousands of feet 
sheer from the bottom of the valley, shaped like the sacred Nandi buU, 
with its head raised towards the summit of Kailas, as if looking lovingly 
at its master. 

Reaching the northern side of the mountain, the colour of the rocks 
and the structure of the foothills abruptly change. They seem to be com- 
posed of a predominantly dark conglomeration of stones, which deprives 
them of the clear-cut architectural quality of the rocks and mountains 
lining the red valley of Amitabha. 

But there is one outstanding feature which makes up for these short- 
comings: the foothills suddenly step aside and give the pilgrim the full 
view of Kailas in all its grandeur. The view is absolutely overwhelming, 
and, according to the scriptures, it is on this spot that those who are ini- 
tiated into the rituals and meditations of the respective Tantras should 
perform their devotional practices on the great Mandala of Supreme Bliss. 

Those who do so are favoured not only with the 'darshan' of the holy 
mountain in the indescribable beauty of a gigantic domed temple of per- 
fect symmetry and brcathtaldng splendour, but also with a splendid vision 
{darslum ) of their bhta-devata, the deity or ideal of their heart, be it in the 
divine forms of Shiva and Parvati, or of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or any 
other significant symbol connected with this place and its compelling 

Sometimes thunder-clouds and blizzards envelop the holy moun- 
tain, and the pilgrim has to wait For days until the fury of the elements 

294 The Way of the White Clouds 

has abated and the veil of whirling clouds has been drawn aside. Then 
the mountain will suddenly appear in all its pristine purity, with its daz- 
zhng white dome, its blue-green ice-falls, violet-blue shadows and dark 
purplish rock-faces, a spectacle so overpowering as to defy words. 

The mountain is so near that it seems to the pilgrim as if he could 
just walk over and touch it—and at the same time it is intangible in its 
ethereal beauty, as if it were beyond the realm of matter, a celestial tem- 
ple with a dome of crystal or diamond. And, indeed, to the devotee it is 
a celestial temple, the throne of the gods, the seat and centre of cosmic 
powers, the axis or hub which connects the earth with the universe, the 
super-antenna for the ineux and outflow of the spiritual energies of our 


What the pilgrim sees with his naked eyes is only the sub-structure 
and emanation of something much more grand and far-reaching. To the 
Tibetan the mountain is inhabited and surrounded by thousands of med- 
itating Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, radiating peace and bliss, and sowing 
the seeds of light into the hearts of those who want to liberate them- 
selves from the darkness of greed, hatred, and ignorance. 

The two hills between which Khang Rimpoch^ (Kailas) appears are 
called the hills of Vajrapani and ManjusrT, i.e. they are regarded as the 
seats of the Wielder of the Diamond Sceptre (commonly translated as 
'thunderbolt'), who fights against the powers of darkness and decay— the 
diamond being the symbol of the indestructible— and of the Bodhisattva 
of learning and active wisdom, who, with the flaming sword of knowl- 
edge, cuts through the knots of ignorance and prejudice. 

At his side is the hill of Avalokitesvara, the Boddhisattva of com- 
passion, the Patron of Tibet, while next to the hill of Vajrapani, on the 
north-eastern side of Kailas, rises the hill of Dolma (Tara), who is said to 
have been bom out of a tear of Avalokitesvara when he grieved over the 
suffering of this world. These hills stand like sentinels (like four pyra- 
mids) at both sides of Kailas, seen from this main place of worship. 

While experiencing all these wonders, the pilgrim leaves the sacred 
spot like one whose whole being is in a stare of ecstasy and transforma- 
tion. But this transformation cannot be successfully completed so long 

Return to Western Tibet 295 

as he carries about his old ego. He has to go through the gates of death 
before entering the valley of Aksobhya on the east, where he will be 
reborn to start a new life. This is his last trial. 

While climbing up to the high pass of Dolma, which separates the 
northern from the eastern valley, he comes to the place where he 
beholds the Mirror of the King of Death (Yama), in which all his past 
deeds are reflected, On this spot he lies down between huge boulders in 
the position of a d)'ing man. He closes his eyes and faces the judgement 
of Yama, the judgement of his own conscience in the remembrance of 
his former deeds. And with them he remembers all those who were dear 
to him and who died before him, all those whose love he was unable to 
repay; and he prays for their happiness in whatever form they may have 
been reborn. And as a token of this he leaves little relics of their earthly 
days on this hallowed spot — a small piece of cloth, a strand of hair, a 
pinch of ashes from the funeral pyre, or whatever he could preserve for 
this last service to his beloved dead. 

After he has thus made peace with the past and has gone through 
the gates of death he crosses the threshold of his new life on the snow- 
covered pass of the all-merciful mother Dolma. And lo, at his feet there 
is a lake of the purest emerald colour (which is the colour of Dolma or 
Tara) in the midst of rocks and snows. In Tibetan it is called the Lake of 
Mercy while Hindus call it Gaurikund. In it the pilgrim receives his first 
baptism as a new-bom being. 

Now he has passed his last trial, and all anxieties and hardships are 
over. Many a pilgrim has died from exertion on the ascent to the terrific 
altitude of nearly 19,000 feet, where a blizzard can freeze a man vrithin a 
few minutes and where every gasp of breath has to be husbanded as if it 
were the elixir of life. But death is not feared by the devotee who dies in 
the presence of the gods on the most sacred soil; because he will die in 
the most exalted moment of his life, thus realising his highest aspiration. 

The friendly valley of the eastern Dhyani-Buddha, Aksobhya, wel- 
comes the pilgrim with lovely green camping-grounds and silvery streams 
of crystal-clear water. As a last remembrance of past trials he sees a 
strange upright rock, in the shape of an axe, on his way down to the val- 


The Way of the White Clouds 

ley. It is the emblem of the King of Death, and it is called the axe of 
Karma. To the pious pilgrim it has lost its power through the mercy of 
Tara, the Saviouress, because mercy is stronger than Karma; it washes 
away our past deeds in the tears of compassion for all suffering beings. 
Sharing the suffering of all leaves no place for one's own suffering, and 
finally results in one's growing beyond one's own little ego. 

Tliis has been taught by the Buddha as well as by many of his fol- 
lowers and especially by Tibet's great poet-saint, Milarepa, of whom 
many remembrances still live in the Eastern Valley, especially in the cave 
of Dzundulphug. In this cave he sang and meditated, and the pilgrim is 
shown the imprint of his hand on the ceiling of the cave, which now 
forms the sanctuary of a litde monastic hermitage. 

The story goes that Milarepa found the cave too low and pushed the 
rock ceiling up with his bare hand. But his force was such that the ceil- 
ing went up too high, so that the cave became too cold and draughty in 
winter. So he went on top of the rock and pressed it down with one foot 
until it was in the proper position. Up to the present day an imprint ot 
his foot is visible on the top of the rock. 

Another little story is told about him in connection with a B6n 
priest, a black magician of the pre-Buddhist faith of Tibet, He chal- 
lenged Milarepa that through his magic power he would be able to reach 
the summit of Mount Kailas. Milarepa replied that he could do the 
same. 'Let us see,' said the magician, 'who will reach it first'— and he 
started to climb up. 

It was very early in the morning, the sun had not yet risen, and 
Milarepa said that he would rest a little. Those who had been present 
when the magician had challenged him grew worried and implored him 
to hurry after his adversary. Milarepa, however, was unruffled and did 
not move from the spot. 

The magician had almost reached the top of Kailas. and was jeering 
at Milarepa, when the first ray of the sun touched the summit of the holy 
mountain. This was the moment for which Milarepa had been waiting. 
Through the mighty power of his concentration he immediately became 
one with that ray, and before the magician realised what had happened 

Return to Western Tibet 297 

the figure of Milarepa appeared on top of Kailas. 'HaJlo!' he called out to 
the magician, who was panring and puffing below him, 'don't exert your- 
self!' and the magician, who saw himseif defeated, got such a shock that 
he dropped his magic drum (damaru). 

It leaped down in big bounds, and each time it bounced against the 
ice-dome of Kailas it emitted a loud tone and left a deep cut on the sur- 
face of the dome. Tang — -tang— tang,' it went, to the great hilarity of all 
onlookers. And up to the present day a perpendicular line of stair-like 
impressions are to be seen, forming the vertical axis of the big swastika 
on the southern face of the dome of Kailas. 

Many such stories, full ol humour and religious significance, have 
grown up around the figure of Milarepa. But he himself was an histori- 
cal personality of great charm and achievements, who left the greatest 
poetical legacy of Tibet in his 'Hundred Thousand Songs'. His life was 
perhaps the most remarkable that any saint has ever lived. He went 
through all the depths and heights of human existence, and after the 
most dramatic struggles he finally attained realisation. He was not only 
a follower of the Buddha, but he himself attained to Buddhahood. This 
is all the more significant and encouraging as his life is well authenti- 
cised, in spite of numerous legendary stories which grew up around his 
personality later on, 

He was lucky enough to have a learned and capable disciple, who 
wrote dovm the songs and became at the same time his biographer. His 
name was Rechung. Thus Milarepa 's message has been kept alive by his 
spiritual descendants, the patriarchs and followers of the Kargyiitpa 
Sect. Both the monasteries at the northern and eastern ideas of Kailas 
belong to this sect and are hallowed by the remembrance of Milarepa. 

Strange as it sounds, Hindu pilgrims generally identify Milarepa 
with Shava, probably because both are depicted as asceUcs with long 
hair and lean bodies of white colour In the case of Milarepa this white 
is sometimes greenish, because it is said that due to his living mainly on 
nettles during the years of his hermit life in the wilderness of the snow- 
mountains his body took on a greenish tinge. He used to boil these net- 
tles in an earthen pot which was his only earthly possession. One day 

298 The Way of the White Clouds 

even this pot broke, but Milarepa, instead of grieving over this loss, com- 
posed a hymn in which he said: 'Even this earthen pot has become a Gum 
to me, it has taught me the law of the impennanence of all worldly things 
and lireed me from my last attachment to them.' 

It is interesting to note that nettles are still eaten by the poor, and 
they abound and thrive especially in the surroundings of Kailas. 

So, on his way round the holy mountain, the pilgrim is constantly 
leminded of Milarepa when passing by luxuriantly growing patches of 
nettles. And many a pilgrim will sing one of Milarepa 's songs, popular all 
over Tibet, in praise of the solitudes and the life of renunciation, or in 
praise of the Buddha and his Guru, Marpa, The Translator. 

And thus the pilgrim passes through the last part of the Eastern 
Valley which is Uke a fairyland of colours. Some of the rocks are flaming 
red, others dark blue and green, and next to them vivid orange and light 
yellow ones. It is as if, before leaving Kailas, the pilgrim were presented 
with samples of all the varieties of coloured rocks which he admired dur- 
ing the Parikrama. 

Finally, he emerges from the valley into the open plains untjj he 
reaches again the starting-point of the Parikrama, at the little monastery 
ofTarchen. While passing numerous mmi-walls, composed of thousands 
of stones upon which pious devotees have carved the mantra Ont mani 
■padme Hum, in praise of the Buddha Avalokitesvara, who is the Jewel 
{mani) which should reside in the Lotus (padma) of the devotee's heart, 
the pilgrim adds his own stones in gratitude for what this pilgrimage has 
given to him, and as a blessing to the pilgrims who will come after him: 
'Sukhe Bhavantu!' (May they be happyl) 


A Bon Monastery 


. I AND I WERE still filled with the presence of PCailas when after a day's 
journey to the west we came to a place which stood out from the rest of the 
bndscape by its vivid red colour, as if it had been marked by nature as a hal- 
lowed spot. And, indeed, it was a place of great sanctity, that once every year 
came to life during an important religious festival, commemorating the birth 
of Sakyamuni Buddha in the full-moon night of June, On this nig^t a won- 
drous sight is seen by those who are present; the full moon rises like a fiery 
dome over the icy crest of Kailas, and as the moonbeams trace the outline 
of the sacred mountain on the red slope, 'heaven' and 'earth' are connected, 
and as if the realm of divine beings, inhabiting the "Throne of the Gods', 
were projected in a flood of light into the world of man. Tlie Enlightened 
Ones and their retinue are believed to descend on the rays of the moon and 
assemble on the red carpet of earth to bless the faithful by their luminous 
presence. It is like a rite of transcendental communion, a rite subtler than 
any man-made ritual, a tmly universal Mass, in which the light is the body 
and the life-blood of the divine, the human heart the chalice.' 

1 . This is probably the origin of the popular belief that once every year all the Buddhas 
and Bodhisattvas assemble in a remote valley on the TLbetan highland. 

300 The Way of the White Clouds 

The very soil on which this 'mass' is celebrated every year is hal- 
lowed, and when we camped there for one night we experienced an 
extraordinary sense of profound peace and bliss. In the morning each of 
us collected a handful of the red earth as a remembrance of the sacred 
spot and as a last farewell gift of Kailas. 

Four days after we had left Kailas we entered a deep valley, bor- 
dered by perpendicular rock-walls. The floor of the valley was flat and 
green, and a shallow river, the beginning of the Langchen-Khambab, 
wound its leisurely way through it. Towards evening we saw the gleam- 
ing white walls of a monastery, standing out against a dark rock-face 
pierced with the caves and galleries of rock-dwellings. The whole scene 
was reminiscent of the Valley of the Kings near Thebes, with its cubic 
Egyptian temple structures at the foot of bare table mountains, whose 
rock-walls contained numerous galleries with the tombs of the Pharaohs, 
The only thing that surprised us was the apparent newness and neatness 
of the whitewashed, red-bordered buildings, which rose like a fortress 
Out of the lonely, otherwise uninhabited, valley. 

The leader of our caravan of eight yaks (we had to carry provisions 
for a year's travel in the wilderness with scant chances of replacing our 
stores) told us that the monastery had been rebuilt recently, because a 
few years before during the incursions of Mohammedan raiders from 
Turkestan the Gompa had been pillaged and burnt, and the inmates had 
either been killed or ill-treated. The abbot himself had been stripped 
naked and beaten, but left alive. After the destruction of the monastery 
he had taken refuge in the cave-dwellings and ancient meditation cham- 
bers above the Gompa, and there he had remained even after the build- 
ings had been restored. 

We had looked forward to being comfortably housed in one of the 
monastery buildings, but contrary to our expectations nothing stirred 
when we approached the Gompa — a most unusual thing in a country 
where people never hide their curiosity and where the arrival of a cara- 
van is an important event. Not even a dog barked, and that could only 
mean that the place was uninhabited. So we pitched our tents outside 
the walls near the river and prepared for the rught. 

Return to Western Tibet 301 

The next morning we sent our caravan leader to the abbot in order 
to announce our visit, and after we had received his reply we were led up 
a narrow path to the foot of the rock-face, from where a staircase led 
inside the rock, until we came to a trapdoor which was opened at our 
approach, and after a few further steps we found ourselves in a well -lit 
cave in front of the abbot. He was seated on a high throne, framed by a 
decorative wooden arch. The whole structure reminded me somewhat of 
a concierge's box with a counter-window and was in strange contrast with 
the neolithic style of a cave-dwelling. The walls of the cave were covered 
with minutely executed frescoes of innumerable miniature Buddha- 
figures which, as we discovered only after a closer inspection, proved to 
be a tapestry of colour reproducrions, printed on small paper sheets and 
skilfully pasted on the walls of the cave. The same prints had been used 
over and over again, but the repetition of the same figures in regular 
sequences rather heightened the decorative effect and were quite in keep- 
ing with the traditional frescoes of the Thousand Buddhas', seen in many 
of the ancient temples and grottoes. The mellow light that came through 
the open window of the cave helped to harmonise the colours, so that one 
could mistake them at first sight for original frescoes. The abbot, in spite 
of the rather theatrical setting, was a simply dressed middle-aged man 
with an intelligent face and dignified behaviour. 

After exchanging the customary pleasantries and sipping some but- 
tered tea we finally came to the main point of our visit, namely the 
necessity of getting transport for the next stage of our journey, since the 
caravan that had brought us here was to return to Purang, from where 
we had started almost a month ago. Generally people are reluctant to 
venture beyond the territory with which they are familiar and it is there- 
fore necessary to assemble a new team of people and animals for every 
stage of the journey, which generally means from one inhabited place to 
another. In the sparsely inhabited parts of Western Tibet this may mean 
anything from a few days to one or two weeks' distance, and once one 
has reached the end of the stage, the people are anxious to return home 
vrith their animals as quickly as possible, without waiting whether or 
when the travellers may be able to find further transport. 

302 The Way of the White Clouds 

The abbot, though friendly, declared that he could not supply us 
with transport, as there were neither yaks nor men available in this sea- 
son, and when we pointed out that we held a Lamyig from Lhasa, which 
entitled us to transport and food supplies at the local prices, and when we 
showed him the document, he laughed derisively, as if it was a big Joke, 
and we felt that his attitude changed from friendliness to defiance. 
Apparently he wanted to show us that he would not take any orders from 
the Lhasa authorities. We began to wonder what might be the reason for 
his antagonism against Lhasa and so we tried to appeal to his sense of reli- 
gious duty to help us in our predicament. But he declared that the few 
able-bodied people at his disposal and their yaks were busy with the har- 
vest somewhere down in the valley, and that he could not do anything 
about it. We could feel that there was no point In pressing our demand 
and showed instead of this our admimtion for the artistic way in which he 
had decorated the walls of his cave. It was then that we learned that he 
had been several times to India and that on these occasions he had 
ordered a number of paintings to be reproduced. He also had some 
important texts of the Sacred Scriptures printed there and showed us 
some specimens. Though the titles looked familiar to me, they contained 
strange names and nmntras, which made me doubt whether these could 
be Buddhist texts. But since I had no chance to inspect them more closely, 
I thought it wiser to keep my doubts to myself and merely to express my 
admiration for the good work he had done for the propagation of the 
Dharma and for the high quality of the colour reproductions. Apparently 
he had spent large sums to gel all these things done, and I could not help 
wondering how a man living in a lonely cave in the wilderness of these 
remote mountain -tracts could have collected the funds not only to 
rebuild his monastery, but to engage in cultural and Lterary work of this 
kind. Only a man of high reputation and far-reaching influence could 
achieve all this. But who were his followers and where were his disciples? 
Except for a few nuns who, as we were told, lived in some of the other 
caves, there was nobody around anywhere. All the more were we keen to 
see the monastery and when we mentioned this he readily agreed to 
instruct the Konyer {caretaker) to open the gates and to show us round. 

Return to Western TiaEi 303 

So we took our leave and returned to our tent, whUe our caravan 
people packed up their belongings and left in a hurry-^as if afraid to 
have us on their hands. Even money could not induce them to go farther, 
and so we were left alone between the ominous-looking rock-face and 
the deserted monastery. It all seemed very weird to us. A big well-built 
monastery without a living soul in it, an abbot and a few nuns hiding in 
caves, and nobody around who could give us any information or assis- 
tance. And stranger still was the fact that the abbot had not offered us 
shelter in the monastery, though he knew that we were Buddhist pil- 
grims — or was it precisely because of this? 

The next day the Konyer came to our tent and, though we were 
reluctant to leave it without a guard, we followed him to the Gompa, 
trusting that anyway no human beings were around, who might take the 
opportunity to steal our precious stores or any other useful things in our 
equipment, which would be an irreplaceable loss. 

When approaching the Gompa we observed outside and right in 
front of it a low, long building that seemed to contain a row of narrow 
ceDs. From the position we might have concluded that it was a kind of 
outer sanctuary, like a mani-wall, placed there for circumambulation. 
But to our surprise we were told that it was a row of latrines, which were 
used on festival days by the pilgrims and worshippers camping outside 
the monastery. This was certainly a very praiseworthy innovation and 
showed the abbot's appreciation for modern hygiene. But we still could 
not help wondering why this structure had been placed just in the front 
centre of the Gompa. Or was it perhaps a symbolical way of saying that 
'cleanliness is godliness'? 

Our next surprise was that the Konyer led us in an anti-clockwise 
direction around the monastery, which in any other place would have 
been regarded as highly improper, if not an insult to the sanctuary. 

Since it is only the B6n-pos who reverse the direction of the circum- 
ambulation or who pass a shrine or a sacred place (as for instance Mount 
Kailas] with the left shoulder towards it, our suspicion that the abbot 
was not 3 Buddhist but a Bon-po was confirmed, and when we entered 
the main temple our last doubt vanished, because everything we saw 

304 The Way of the White Clouds 

seemed to be a reversal or at [east a distortion of Buddhist tradition. 
Thus the swastika sign of the B6n-pos points to the left, whiJe the 
Buddhist one points to the right. On the other hand the Bon-pos have 
copied almost every feature of Buddhist iconography. They have their 
own Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, their own fierce 'Protectors' and deities 
of sky and earth; their names are different, but otherwise they are hard- 
ly distinguishable from their corresponding Buddhist originals. The same 
can be said of the Bon -Scriptures, which are more or less an imitation of 
the Buddhist ones, sometimes even bearing the same titles (like the 
Prafiaparamita texts), but ascribing them to different authors, giving 
them a different setting and different mantTas {instead of 'Om numi 
padme hum hn, for instance, 'Om ma-tn-mu-ye-sa-U-du). The main 
deities of the Bon-pos were originally those of the sky, the embodiments 
of space and light, of infinity and purity; thus it was easy to identify them 
with the Buddhist system of Dhyani- Buddhas and to take over the com- 
plete symbolism of Buddhist tradition (thrones, animal vehicles, ges- 
tures, body-colours, haloes; implements like vajra and bell, sword and 
hook, spear and arrow, skull-bowl and magic dagger, etc.). The impact of 
Buddhism upon Bon ism was so overpowering that the latter could only 
survive by adopting Buddhist methods and interpreting its doctrine in 
Buddhist terminology, so that Bonism, as it survives today, is hardly more 
than an off-shoot of Buddhism, or merely another sect of Lamaism. This 
seems to be how the common man in Tibet feels about it, as we could 
see from the way in which our caravan people spoke to us about this 
monastery. It never appeared to them as non-Buddhist, but merely as 
'different' from the other better-known sects; and this was the main rea- 
son that made us reluctant to think of it as a Bon-monastery, though the 
province of Shang-Shung, ip which it is situated, is known as the origi- 
nal home of the Bon-pos. 

Before entering the main Lhakhang we observed among the fres- 
coes of the porch the familiar 'Wheel of Life'. But instead of the usual 
twelve divisions with the pictorial representations of the twelve links of 
the Buddhist formula of Dependent Origination (pratityasamutpada) 
there were thirteen divisions, the addirional one depicting the state of 

Return to Western Tibet 305 

samadhi or dhyana in the form of a meditating Buddha-like figure, inserted 
between 'death' and the beginning of a new incarnation. 

Entering the assembly hall of the Lhakhang, we expected to find 
ourselves facing the main image. Instead of this we were facing an empty 
wall with the throne of the abbot in its centre. The wall, however, did not 
cover the whole width of the hall, but left two narrow passages to the 
right and to the left that gave access to a corridor behind the wall which 
contained a row of over-iife-size statues of what appeared to us images 
of the five Dhyani- Buddhas. But their gestures did not fit their colours, 
nor were the symbolical animals of their thrones in accordance with 
them, nor were their emblems. A figure that looked like Amitabha, for 
instance, had white as its body-colour, instead of red, and was seated on 
an elephant throne, instead of peacock throne, and his name was 'Shen- 
iha 0-kar' (gShen4ha hod-dkar), 'the God Shen of the White Light'. We 
had to crane our necks in order to see the images properly, because only 
a narrow passage was left between the statues and the wall screening 
them from the main hall. Why the images were screened from the hall 
and the congregation, and why they were placed behind the abbot's seat, 
remained a riddle to us. But there were so many strange things in this 
place, that it was not possible to go into further details unless we were 
forced to stay here for a longer time, which we fervently hoped would not 
be the case. 

However, we were impressed by the neatness and solidity of the 
buildings, which had the compactness of a fortress and reflected the 
power of a well-trained mind. But what moved him to rebuild this place, 
if there was nobody to live in it and if he himself preferred to remain in 
his cave^ And where was the community that could support and main- 
tain such a monastery in this remote valley? All these questions moved 
us while we were returning to our tent. We had hardly reached it when 
we saw a dog dashing out of it — and found to our dismay that the food 
we had prepared for the day was gone! 

The lesson was not lost upon us, and we never left the tent alone 
again. Though this was a great handicap, because it meant that we could 
never go out together, we found sufficient subjects for sketching and 

3()6 The Way of the White Clouds 

photographing around our tent— apart from the many little chores that 
regularly crop up on rest days— to keep us busy for one or two days more. 
Yet we began to feel worried, wondering how long our enforced stay here 
would last, because we could ill afford to waste our precious time, and 
our equally precious stores, without getting nearer the main object of our 
journey: the ruins of the ancient city of Tsaparang and the temples of 
Rinchen Zangpo. We had already spent a year in Central Tibet in order 
to secure the permission of the Lhasa authorities for a proper study of 
the temples and monasteries founded by or attributed to Rinchen 
Zangpo, belonging to the period of the tenth and eleventh centuries A.D. 
(roughly 750-1050) and it was essential to do as much work as possible 
before the onslaught of the winter and before political events could 
upset our plans. 

However, our patience was finally rewarded by the unexpected visit 
of the abbot to our tent. We welcomed bim warmly and now he seemed 
to be an entirely different man. His proud aloofness and the slightly sar- 
casric smite with which he had listened to our demands and perused our 
Lamyig had given place to a friendly expression and a genuine solicitude 
for our difficulties. We on our pari stressed the fact that we were 
dependent on his kindness and that we would be grateful for any help 
he could give us. We did not mention the Lhasa authoriUes nor the 
Lamyig again, but told him that we had been greatly impressed by all 
that we had seen during our visit to his Gompa, and now he began to 
open out and promised to send us a number of yaks and some people 
who could look after them and who knew the difficult territory ahead of 
us. We had imagined — ^judging from the maps — that we could travel 
comfortably over green meadows or shrubland along the banks of the 
Langchen-Khambab, as we had done on the last stage before getting 
here. But now the abbot explained to us that the river flowed through a 
deep, inaccessible gorge, and that by following the course of the river we 
would have to cross innumerable deeply intersecting ravines and side 
valleys, formed by generally dry water-courses, which with every rainfall 
would turn into raging torrents within a matter of minutes. He therefore 
advised us to travel over the highland, following the ridge of the moun- 

Return to Western Tibet 307 

tain range to the north that separates the Gartok Valley from that of the 
Langchen-Khambab. This meant that we had to give up the idea of visit- 
ing one or two ancient monasteries of Shang-Shung, in which we might 
have found more information about the origin of Bon, but the danger of 
further delay was too great, and so we resisted the temptation and fol- 
lowed the abbot's advice. There was also another advantage in avoiding 
inhabited places: it gave us an opportunity to cover a bigger distance in 
one leap without changing the caravan. 

The abbot was as good as his word, and the next day two men came 
and offered their yaks and their services. They were rather old and 
decrepit-looking, and we noticed that both of them were limping. But 
they told us that all the younger and stronger people were engaged in 
harvesting and that therefore they had reluctantly agreed to come with 
us at the Rimpoch^s request. After inspecting our luggage and assessing 
the number of yaks we required, we finally came to terms with them — 
though at a considerably higher price than we had bargained for. But 
there was no other choice, since we could not risk further delay. 

We started the following morning and were glad to be on the move 
again. The whole day we were travelling uphill. There was no track and 
the two old fellows, limping along and from time to time consulting each 
other, did not seem to be quite sure as to the direction or their where- 
abouts. Towards evening we reached the endlessly undulating ridge of 
the mountain range, here and there strewn with enormous boulders, as 
if giants had scattered them in the fury of battle. There was no recog- 
nisable landmark anywhere, and finally we realised that our caravan 
leaders had lost their bearings altogether. Everybody was e.vhausted, and 
this was aggravated by the altitude of more than 16,000 feet, but there 
was no chance of pitching camp, because there was not a drop of water 
to be foimd anywhere. 

Our caravan had been increased by a wandering Trapa and a little 
girl of about twelve years, who claimed to be a nun and had attached her- 
self to the caravan in the hope of food and warmth by the camp-fire. It 
had become bitterly cold and neither a rock-shelter nor any shrubs for 
fuel were in sight; and everybody's throat was parched after the incessant 

308 The Way of the White Clouds 

climb under a merciless sun, which had only lost its fierceness with the 
approaching evening. 

On the eastern horizon we got a last glimpse of the white dome of 
Kailas, while the southern horizon was filled by the glittering snows of 
the Himalayas, dominated by what appeared like a second Kailas, the 
sacred mountain of the Menla-Buddhas (the Great 'Healers': bcom-ldan- 
hdaS'sman-hla], called Khang-men. h was a magnificent, breath taidng 
view, that made us feel as if we were floating high above the world on a 
petrified sea of softly swelling and ebbing mountain waves. 

But, alas, we were too exhausted to enjoy this view for long, and 
when finally we found a trickle of water between an outcrop of tumbled 
boulders we had hardly sufficient strength left to pitch om' tent, to pre- 
pare some hot tea, and to eat some dry chapaties, which we had pre- 
pared the evening before. Li had got fever and could hardly eat, and in 
the night we were shivering with cold, in spite of keeping on all our 
clothes and wrapping ourselves in all available blankets. The water 
which we had coDected in a basin for the morning was solidly frozen and 
the bottle with the sacred water of Manasarovar had burst! This was our 
first taste of what was in store for us in the winter, if we delayed too long. 

Our men, the Trapa, and the little beggar-girl seemed to be none the 
worse for having spent the night without shelter or cover, and we could 
not help admiring them. As soon as the sun had risen, the Trapa per- 
formed the ceremony of offering water and light, while reciting prayers 
and blessings for all living beings. As his bell rang out in the crisp morn- 
ing air and the sun rose victoriously over the Far-off mountains, we too for- 
got the rigours of the night and were filled with the joy of a new day. 


The Valley of 
THE Moon Castle 


, FEW DAYS LATER, when emerging at the rock-gate of Kojomor from 
the lonely highlands, everybody heaved a sigh of rehef at leaving the 
inhospitable wilds for warmer and flatter regions. We looked down upon 
a vast expanse of gently rolling lowlands, bordered by the snows of the 
Himalayas in the south, and we imagined that now we would be able to 
travel along the Langchen-Khambab without further obstacles. But 
hardly had we reached what seemed to be the floor of the vast valley 
when suddenly we found ourselves at the edge of a plateau, looking 
down into a labyrinth of canyons, thousands of feet deep. We felt that 
we had come to the very end of the world and that there was no other 
choice left but to turn back. How could our heavily loaded yaks and 
horses ever negotiate the sheer, almost perpendicular, walls of these 
canyons, which were so deep that we could not even see their bottoms? 
And how should we ever get out of this labyrinth, which stretched from 
horizon to horizon and might take days or even weeks to traverse? But 
before these questions could be answered the first men and pack- 
animals had already disappeared into a gap at the edge of the plateau, 

310 The Way of the White Clouds 

through which a narrow path led down into the nether world, into the 
gaping bowels of the earth. The 'path' was only discernible to experi- 
enced caravan leaders who were familiar with the terrain — and even 
these people seemed to rely on some sixth sense, especially when sud- 
denly the faint track disappeared in the debris of disintegrating rocks and 
boulders or in steep sand-falls (generally at exactly forty-five degrees), on 
which the whole caravan, fully loaded pack-animais included, would 
slide down in the pious hope of being arrested in time before they 
reached the next perpendicular rock-face. Woe to the bold traveller who 
should try to cross these regions without a guide! Even if he were lucky 
enough to descend into one of these canyons without losing either his 
life or his luggage, it would be much more difficult for him to get out 

I sUll remember how during our first camp at the bottom of one of 
these canyons we tried to guess how the caravan would proceed the next 
morning. After thoroughly examining the surroundings, we came to the 
conclusion that, since we were encircled by sheer cliffs on all sides, we 
could only get out by wading along in the water of the shallow but swift- 
flowing stream, until we reached an opening in the cliffs or an inter- 
secting side valley However, the next morning we climbed — yaks and 
all— over the very cliff that we had ruled out as the most inaccessible of 
all! How we did it is still a miracle to me. But somehow we succeeded 
in finding footholds here and there, pulling up the animals one by one, 
and finally emerging on a narrow ledge, which jutted out from an almost 
perpendicular rock-wail and was interrupted by occasional sand-falls 
that started to move as soon as one set foot on them. 

Fortunately we soon came on safer ground, but when after some 
hours' travelling we reached the actual canyon of the Langchen-Khambab, 
we were faced by a long, swaying rope-bridge. Its main support was two 
steel-cables, hanging side by side, and upon them short planks and sticks 
were fastened with ropes and wires. There was nothing to hold on to, nei- 
ther a rail nor even a single rope to steady oneself. The yaks had to be 
unloaded and every piece of luggage had to he carried separately over the 
bridge that was precariously swaying more than a hundred feet above the 

Return TO Western Tibet 311 

swirling, icy-cold waters of the river. After all the luggage had been 
dumped on the other side the yaks were supposed to cross the bridge 
one by one, but they wisely refused to step on the shaky planks — and we 
wondered how we could get out of this dilemma. But our people proved 
to be more resourceful than we expected. They managed to get the yaks 
down to the river- bank, drive them into the water and to direct them 
with shouts and stone- throwing to swim across the river. The current 
was so strong in the middle of the river that we were afraid the animals 
would be swept downstream, where the steep banks would have made it 
impossible for them to get out of the water. But thanks to the stone- 
throwing the yaks were prevented from turning downstream and safely 
reached the other bank. Finally we ourselves had to cross the bridge, and 
we did so with our hearts in our mouths. No wonder that innumerable 
prayer-flags and strips of cloth adorn all the bridges of Tibet! People rely 
more on the strength of their prayers than on that of the bridge. At any 
rate it seems safer to commend oneself into the hands of higher powers 
and to be prepared for the worst. 

In spite of all these dangers and troubles we were richly rewarded 
by the indescribable grandeur of the canyon country which unfolded 
itself in all its fantastic beauty the deeper we penetrated into this region. 
Here the mountain scenery is more than merely a landscape. It is archi- 
tecture in the highest sense. It is of awe-inspiring monumentality, for 
which the word 'beautiful' would be far too weak, because it is overpow- 
ering by the immensity and abstract purity of its millionfold repeated 
forms that integrate themselves into a vasi rhythm, a symphony in stone, 
without begirming or end. 

One's first reaction is that this cannot be the work of nature only, 
the result of a mere play of blind forces, but rather the consciously com- 
posed work of a super-arrist, on a scale so vast that it staggers the human 
mind and takes away one's breath. What is so surprising, however, is not 
the variety of forms but the precision and architectural regularity with 
which certain motifs and patterns are repeated and gradually integrated 
into bigger units in an ever-ascending rhythm, till the whole vast scene 
thunders in the upsurge of one oveipowering movement. 

312 The Way of the White Clouds 

Thus, whole mountain ranges have been transformed into rows of 
gigantic temples with minutely sculptured cornices, recesses, pillared gal- 
leries, bundles of bulging cones, intersected by delicate ledges, crowned 
with spires, domes, pinnacles, and many other architectural forms. 

Some of these mountains look like the most elaborately carved 
Hindu temples in the styles of Khajuraho, Bhuvaneshvar, or Konarak, 
others like South Indian gopurams, others again like Gothic cathedrals 
or fairy-tale castles with innumerable spires and towers. 

Due to the rarefied air of these altitudes, every detail is clearly 
defined and visible even from ver^' great distances, while colours attain 
a brightness and purity unloiown at lower levels. The shadows them- 
selves appear in luminous colours, and the generally cloudless Tibetan 
sky forms a deep blue backdrop, against which the rocks stand out in 
fierce yellows and reds and all shades of copper and ochre, changing to 
all the colours of the rainbow at the magic hour of sunset. 

How the wonders of this Tibetan canyon country, covering hun- 
dreds of square miles, could have remained unknown to the world is 
almost as surprising as seeing them with one's own eyes. And it is all the 
more astonishing since these Tibetan canyons offer an additional attrac- 
tion to their natural beauty: the hidden treasures of a great past, which 
comes upon the traveller like the revelation of a magic world, in which 
dreams have been turned into reality under the spell of secret spiritual 
forces that reigned over this country for almost a millennium and still 
pervade it in a subtle way. Here the castles of the Holy Grail, the imag- 
inary troglodite cities of the moon, the mountain fastnesses of medieval 
knights, the cave sanctuaries of secret cults, with their treasure of art 
and ancient manuscripts, come to life, 

Indeed, they do not belong merely to the past. The lofty hermitages 
of pious anchorites, clinging to the rocks like swallows' nests, and the 
proud monasteries and temples on mountain-tops or in secluded valleys, 
still keep the flame of faith and ancient tradition alive. 

Yet this is a dying country, a country slowly crumbling into dust, like 
those regions of Central Asia which a thousand years ago were flourish- 
ing centres of civilisation and which have turned into deserts, like the 

Return to Western Tibet 3I3 

Gobi or the Takla Makan. Western Tibet, and especially the region of 
Ngari Khorsum, which even less than a thousand years ago was able to 
support a substantial population and a highly developed civilisation, is 
nowadays almost denuded of human hfe except for a few oasis-hke set- 
tlements where irrigation permits the cultivation of barley or wheat. 

The gradual desiccation of Western Tibet springs probably from the 
same causes that created the deserts of Central Asia. Geologists tell us 
that the Himalayas are steadily rising and that consequently the regions 
beyond their mountain bastions get less and less rainbearing clouds. 
Many of the big glaciers on the Tibetan side of the Himalayas and in the 
interior of Tibet are, according to them, remnants of the last glacial age, 
since the present annual rate of snovi^all does not suffice to explain their 
existence. ' 

Large regions of Tibet, therefore, live on the ice reserves stored up 
from prehistoric times, and when these reserves are exhausted the coun- 
try will turn into a perfect desert, for even now the rainfall is not suffi- 
cient for the cultivation of crops or for the growth of trees. One may 
wonder how erosion can be such a prominent feature in the Tibetan 
landscape if rain and snowfall are so insignificant. The answer is that the 
differences in temperature between day and night, sunlight and shadow, 
are so great that they can crack the hardest rocks and reduce the might- 
iest boulders to sand. Under these conditions even occasional showers, 
or the waters of melting snow, together with the fierce winds which 
sweep over the higher altitudes at certain seasons, are sufficient to com- 
plete the work on a grand scale. 

How comparatively quickly the process of desiccation and the cre- 
ation of desert-like conditions takes place can be understood when one 
realises that only 600-700 years ago certain species of big conifers used 
to grow in regions where nowadays trees are as unknown as in the 
antarctic— or when one comes upon the ruins of cities and mighty cas- 
tles, which even 500 years ago must have been teeming with life and 
activity, supported by fertile districts and provinces and a flourishing 
population. They were the abodes of kings and scholars, feudal lords and 
rich traders, skilful artists and craftsmen, who could bestow their gifts 

314 The Way of the White Clouds 

and talents upon temples and monasteries, libraries and religious monu- 
ments. We read in Tibetan chronicles of images of silver and gold, and 
we can believe that these reports were no exaggerations when we see the 
amount of gold that was used in the plating of temple-roofs, in the gild- 
ing of large clay and metal images, and in the decoration of temple halls 
and their extensive frescoes, in which gold was lavishly employed. As in 
the days of the ancient Inca Empire, where gold was regarded as the 
exclusive property of the Sun-God, so in ancient Tibet gold was thought 
to be fit only for the glorification of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and their 
teachings, which sometimes were actually written in gold and silver, and 
Qlimiiiiated with miniatures on a gold ground. 

It is difficult to imagine the religious fervour of those times, which 
transformed the inaccessible wilderness of mountains and canyons into 
a paradise of peace and culture, in which matters of the spirit were 
regarded as more important than worldly power and possessions, and 
where half the population could dedicate itself to a life of contemplation 
or to the pursuit of culture for the benefit of all, without suffering from 

When James Hilton in his famous novel Tiw Lost Horizon described 
the Valley of the Blue Moon' he was not so far from reality as he himself or 
his readers might have thought. There was a time when in the far-off can- 
yons of Western Tibet there was many a hidden 'Valley of the Blue Moon' 
where thousands of feet below the surface of the surrounding highlands, 
accessible only through some narrow rock-clefts and gorges, known only to 
the local inhabitants, there were flower-bedecked gardens, surrounded by 
trees and fields of golden wheat and fertile pastures, through which, like sil- 
ver veins, flowed the water of crystal-clear mountain streams. There were 
lofty temples, monasteries and casdes, rising from the surrounding rock- 
pinnacles, and thousands of neatly carved cave-dwellings, in which people 
lived comfortably, without encroaching on the valuable, fertile soil. HTiey 
lived in a climate of eternal sunshine, protected from the cold viinds of the 
highlands and from the ambitions and the restlessness of the outer world. 

On our way to Tsaparang we had the good luck to be stranded in 
one such valley, aptly called the Valley of the Moon Castle (Dawa- 

Return TO Western Tibet 3|5 

Dzong). The caravan that had brought us was in such a hurry to return 
that before we could even find out whether there was a chance of fur- 
ther transport we were left alone in the strange valley without a living 
soul anywhere in sight. The caravan people did not even care to camp 
for the night, but simply dumped our luggage (and ourselves) near a shal- 
low stream at the bottom of a wide canyon, surrounded by fantastic rock 
formations which rose before us like the bastions and towers of a 
primeval giant fortress. 

By the time we had set up our tent, stowed away our numerous bags 
and boxes, unpacked our camping equipment, and prepared our evening 
meal, the sun had set and the world shrank to the space of our four sheets 
of canvas. The-darkness that enveloped us was like a protective cloak, and 
when we woke up next morning and looked around, the idea of being 
stranded here for an uncertain time did not upset us in the least; in fact 
we were inwardly rejoicing at having an opportunity to explore and to 
sketch this incredible place, which looked more like an illustration of 
Jules Verne's JoKmey to the Moon than anything seen on this earth. 

It may be that others might have felt oppressed by the loneliness 
and strangeness of the place, but to us it was just paradise; an enchanted 
world of rock formations which had crystallised into huge towers, shoot- 
ing up thousands of feet into the deep blue sky, like a magic fence 
around an oasis, kept green by the waters of springs and mountain 
brooks. A great number of these nature-created towers had been trans- 
formed into dwellings — nay into veritable 'skyscrapers' — by the people 
who had lived here many hundreds of years ago. They had ingeniously 
hollowed out these rock-towers from within, honeycombing them with 
caves, one above the other, connected by inner staircases and passages, 
and lit up by small window-Hke openings. Groups of smaller rocks were 
rounded like beehives and served as single cave apartments. A number 
of cubic buildings between them seemed to be the remnants of monas- 
tic settlements, of which the main buddings stood on the rest of a rocky 
spur, jutting out into the valley and dividing it into three arms. 

The centre of the crest was crowned with temples, stiipas (chorten), 
monasteries, and the ruins of ancient castles, whence one couid get a 

316 The Way of the White Clouds 

beautiful view into the valley, bordered by phalanxes of rock-towers ris- 
ing up, row after row, like organ-pipes and perforated by hundreds and 
hundreds of cave-dwellings and their windows. 

The greatest surprise, however, was to find the main temple not 
onlv intact but actually covered with a golden roof that gleamed in the 
wilderness of rocks and ruins like a forgotten jewel— -a reminder and 
symbol of the splendour and the faith of a past age, in which this valley 
was inhabited by thousands of people and ruled by wise and pious kings. 
The remnants of ancient frescoes showed that this temple had been 
built towards the end of the tenth century — almost a thousand years ago. 

Now, except for a few herdsmen, who grazed their sheep and goats 
on the green pastures of the valley, we seemed to be the only human 
beings around that deserted city of troglodytes. 

What a powerful silence! What an overwhelming loneliness! A 
silence which was full of the voices of the past, a loneliness that was alive 
with the presence of countless generations of those who had built and 
inhabited this ancient city A great many of the caves had served as med- 
itation chambers and as permanent abodes of hermits and monks, so that 
the whole place was saturated with a spirit of religious devotion and a life 
of contemplation. The very rocks appeared as in an upsurge of ecstasy. 

Like a magnetised piece of steel, which retains its magnetic force 
for a very long time, in the same way this place seemed to have retained 
an atmosphere of spiritual power and serenity, so that one forgot all cares 
and fears and was filled with a deep sense of peace and happiness. 

We had been camping here already for a week, but time seemed to 
stand still in the valley of the Moon Castle, so that we were quite obliv- 
ious of its passage. We had been told that Dawa-Dzong was the seat of 
a Dzongpbn, a governor of a district or a province. But his 'Dzong' {his 
'Fortress' or 'castle') consisted of nothing but a little house, tucked away in 
a grove of willows in the main canyon at the foot of the ruined city, which 
was hidden in a side canyon, whose entrance was banred formerly by a 
strong wall, now mostly in ruins. To our disappointment the Dzongpon 
was on tour in his district, and nobody loiew when he would return, not 
even his wife, who was alone in the house with one or two servants. 

Return to Western Tibet 317 

When we told her our transport problem she assured us that she would 
gladly help, but that the yaks were grazing in the highlands and there was 
nobody to catch them and to bring them down, since her husband had 
taken his men with him. According to Tibetan custom a Dzongpon 
always travels with an anmed escort, not only as a matter of safety but 
more as a matter of prestige. So we had to resign ourselves to an indefi- 
nite delay— though this time we did not mind it so much. 

One evening, when returning from a sketching excursion, while Li 
was guarding the tent (we took it in turns), an old Lama emerged from one 
of the half-ruined buildings near the golden-roofed temple. He greeted me 
with a friendly smile, though probably no "less surprised to meet a 
stranger than I was. 

After a few words of greeting we slowly circumambulated the tem- 
ple, from time to time setting in motion the prayer cylinders fixed here 
and there into small recesses in the outer walls of the building. Behind 
the cylinders pious hands had stuffed loose pages of old manuscripts, 
which apparently had been picked up among the debris of crumbling 
temple buildings or stupas, since it is the custom never to destroy or to 
deface even the smallest fragment of the holy scriptures. 

You are a Lama,' the old man suddenly said to me, as if thinking 
aloud, 'but not from this part of the country. Are you able to read our holy 

"Certainly 1 am.' 

Then read what is written here'— and he pulled out a manuscript 
hidden behind one of the prayer cylinders. 

I read; '1 w\\\ act for the good and the welfare of all living beings, whose 
numbers are as infinite as the expanse of the sky so that, by following the 
path of iove and compassion, I may attain to perfect enlightenment,' 

The old Lama's face lit up and he looked straight into my eyes, say- 
ing, as he grasped both my hands, like one who has found a long-lost 
brother: 'We are travelling on the same path!' 

No more words were necessary — and while the rocks were lit up by 
the sinking sun, like fiery sentinels, 1 hastened towards the little tent in 
the vaJlev below. 

318 The Way of the White Clouds 

Arriving there, Li told me thai a messenger had come during my 
absence, to let us know that the yaks For which we had been waiting so 
long had been finally secured and would be reaching us within a day or 

This was good news — but with a sudden sadness we realised that 
never again would we see the golden roof of that ancient sanctuary, 
where for a thousand years pious monks had followed the path of light, 
and where I had found a friend — a nameless friend and companion in 
the spirit — whose smile would always be present in my memory of the 
profound peace and happiness we found in this enchanted valley. 


Arrival at 



;R THE Valley of the Moon Castle and the awe-inspiring canyons 
on the way to Tholing we feared that Tsaparang would perhaps come as 
an anticlimax or at least as something that could not compete with the 
natural wonders through which we had passed. But when, on the last lap 
of our journey — while emerging from a gorge and turning the spur of a 
mountain — we suddenly beheld the lofty castles of the ancient city of 
Tsaparang, which seemed to be carved out of the solid rock of an isolated, 
monolithic mountain peak, we gasped with wonder and could hardly 
beheve our eyes. 

As if woven of light the city stood against the evening sky, enhaloed 
by a rainbow, which made the scene as unbelievable as a fata morgana. 
We almost feared that the scene before us might disappear as suddenly 
as it had sprung up before our eyes, but it remained there as solid as the 
rock on which it was built. Even the rainbow — in itself a rare phenome- 
non in an almost rainless country like Western Tibet — remained steady 
for quite a long time, centred around the towering city hke an emanation 
of its hidden treasures of golden images and luminous colours, in which 

320 The Way of the White Clouds 

the wisdom and the visions of a glorious past were enshrined. 

To see our goal after two long years of pilgrimage and uncertainties, 
and more than ten years of painstaking preparation, and moreover to see 
it enhaloed and transfigured like this, appeared to us more than a mere 
coincidence: it was a foreboding of greater things to come, of discover- 
ies of far-reaching importance and of a work that might well occupy us 
for the remainder of our lives. It was a pledge for the ultimate success of 
our efforts and a confirmation of our faith in the guidance of those pow- 
ers that had led us here. 

We reached the abandoned city in the evening and took shelter in 
a crude stone hut that had been built in front of a cave, in which the only 
permanent inhabitants of this former capital of the kingdom of Gug6 
were living: a shepherd with his wife and child, who served as a care- 
taker of the three remaining temples that had survived the ravages of time. 
His name was Wangdu, and since he was miserably poor, he was glad to 
have an opportunity to earn a little money by supplying us with water, 
brushwood, and milk. So we settled dovini in the little stone hut, whose 
interior was so rough and dark that it gave us the feeling of living in a half- 
finished cave. But the mere thought of being in Tsaparang transformed 
this miserable hovel for us into a most acceptable dwelling-place. 

On that memorable first evening— it was on the 2nd October 
1948- — 1 wrote in my diary: 'It was my dream for many long years to see 
Tsaparang and to save its crumbling treasures of art and religious tradi- 
tion from oblivion. For ten years 1 have been striving towards this aim, 
against heavy odds and against the sound opinions of others, who 
thought I was chasing after castles in the air. Now the dream has come 
true — and now 1 begin to understand another dream 1 had more than 
thirty years ago: 1 dreamt of a wooden tower that stood on a mountain- 
top. It was an old tower, and wind and weather had peeled off its paint. 
I felt sad when I saw this, because I recognised the tower as that from 
which 1 had often admired the beautiful landscape, in which I spent my 
boyhood days. Suddenly I saw the Buddha coming towards me, carrying 
a pail with paint and brushes. Before 1 could give expression to my sur- 
prise, he handed me the pail and the brushes and said; "Continue and 

Return to Western Tibet 321 

preserve this work of mine!" A great happiness came over me. and sud- 
denly I understood that this tower of vision was the symbol of the 
Dharma, which the Buddha had erected for all those who want to see 
beyond the narrow horizon of their mundane world. But what 1 did not 
know at that time was that it was actually through brush and colour that 
I was meant to serve the Buddha-dharma and to save some of its most 
beautiful monuments from oblivion,' y 

And still less did I know that 1 would have a gifted and eager helper 
in the form of Li Gotami, who like me was devoted to the Enlightened 
Ones and inspired by the great works of Buddhist art. of which Ajanta 
and Tsaparang seemed to be the noblest and most accomplished. Only 
people to whom the spiritual life was more important than material com- 
fort, to whom the teachings of the Buddha was a greater possession than 
worldly goods and political power, could have achieved such works. 
which transformed barren nature into a manifestarion of inner vision and 
crude matter into representations of transcendental reality 

We felt overwhelmed by the power of this reality when on the fol- 
lowing day we entered the halls of the two big temples, the White and 
the Red Lhakhang {as they were called according to the colour of their 
outer walls), which had remained intact amidst all the destruction. The 
over-life-size golden images, gleaming amidst the warm colours of the 
frescoed walls, were more alive than anything we had seen before of this 
kind; in fact, they embodied the ver>^ spirit of this deserted city: the only 
thing that time had not been able to touch. Even the conquering hordes 
that caused the downfall of Tsaparang had shrunk from defiling the 
silent majesty of these images. Yet it was apparent to us that even these 
last remnants of former glory were doomed, as we could see from the 
cracks in the walls and leaks in the roofs of these two temples. Parts of 
the frescoes had already been obliterated by rain-water or the water of 
melting snow seeping here and there through the roof, and some of the 
images in the White Temple (which were made of hardened clay, coated 
with gold) were badly damaged. 

The frescoes were of the highest quality we had ever seen in or out- 
side Tibet. They covered the walls from the dado (about two and three- 

322 The Way of the White Clouds 

quarter feet from the floor) right up to the high ceiling. They were lav- 
ishly encrusted with gold and minutely executed, even in the darkest 
corners or high up beyond the normal reach of human sight, and even 
behind the big statues, in spite of the minute execution of details, some 
of the fresco-figures were of gigantic size. Between them middle-sized 
and smaller ones would fill the space, while some places were covered 
with miniatures not bigger than a thumb-nail and yet containing figures, 
complete in every detail, though only discernible through a magnifying 
glass. It soon became clear to us that these paintings were done as an act 
of devotion, irrespective of whether they would be seen or not; they were 
more than merely decorations: they were prayers and meditations in line 
and colour. 

And as we traced as many of these frescoes as time and opportunity 
allowed, we began to experience the magic of these tines, which enshrined 
the heart-beat and the living devotion of the artists who had dedicated 
themselves to this work. Merely to trace these delicate lines accurately 
demanded the most intense concentration, and it was a strange sensa- 
tion to relive the feelings and emotions of people who had lived almost 
a millennium before us. It was like entering their very bodies and per- 
sonalities, their thoughts and feelings, and thus reliving their innermost 
life. It showed that not only inner emotion can be expressed by outer 
movement — be it in the form of brush- lines or in the movements of 
dance, gestures, mudras and asanas— -but that equally the faithful repe- 
tition of such outer movements could induce emotions and experiences 
similar to those which originally created those movements. 

Thus, while becoming more and more absorbed by our work, we 
seemed to relinquish our own identity, taking on the personalities of 
those who had dedicated themselves to a similar task centuries ago. 
Maybe we ourselves were the rebirths of some of those artists, and this 
inner connection had drawn us back to the place of our former activities. 
Every day, for three months, before starting our work, we would perform 
our pujS with light and water offerings (signifying consciousness and 
life) and recite the formulas of refuge and self-dedication at the feet of 
the golden Buddhas. And with every day their presence would become 


Return to Western Tibet 323 

more and more powerful, until it filled us with a perpetual inspiration, 
so that we forgot hunger and cold and all other hardships and lived in a 
kind of trance that enabled us to work from sunrise to sunset almost 
without interruption and with a minimum of food. 

As time passed the cold became more and more intense, especially 
inside the temples, into which the sun coidd not penetrate. When filling 
the seven altar-bowls with water from the morning fuja, the first bowl 
would already be solidly frozen by the time the last one was being filled, 
though it took hardly five seconds to fill each bowl. The temple walls 
were so cold that it became almost impossible to touch them without 
suffering excruciating pain, so that even tracing became a torture. Li had 
to keep her bottle of Chinese ink inside her amphag to prevent it from 
freezing and had to breathe from time to time on her brush to thaw the 
ink which tended to get solid after a few strokes. This was particularly 
annoying, especially during the last days of our stay when every minute 
counted; and I remember once when she wept in despair on account of 
the excessive cold that made it almost impossible for her to hold the 
brush, her tears were frozen before they could reach the floor and 
bounced up from it as beads of ice with a thud. 

As I worked on the bigger figures of Dhyani-Buddhas and 
Bodhisattvas, I was able to work with pencil and cont^ on a less trans- 
parent and slightly more rough-surfaced paper; but 1 had to battle with 
the disadvantage that the greater part of my subjects were higher up on 
the walls and that I had to build a rough kind of scaffolding on pyramids 
of stone blocks (collected from the debris outside the temples), which 
had to be dismantled and rebuilt at least once or twice every day accord- 
ing to the progress of my work. It was a back-breaking job, and balanc- 
ing precariously on top of this pyramid or on the rungs of a roughly made 
ladder, inserted into and kept together by the stones of the pyramid, I 
soon found my feet getting frozen, so that I had to climb down from time 
to time to get my circulation going and to warm up in the sunshine out- 
side. We also had to thaw out our hands there, by placing them on the 
iron bands, with which the temple doors were fortified and which caught 
and intensified the warmth of the sun to a remarkable degree. 

32-4 The Way of the White Clouds 

Another difficulty was the lack or rather the uneven distribution of 
light in the Lhakhangs. Tibetan temples are built in such a way that the 
light falls directly upon the main image through a windov*' high up on the 
opposite side or through a kind of skylight between the lower and the 
raised central roof. In this way the reflection from the golden face and 
body of the statue fills the temple with a mild light, sufficient to admire 
the frescoes and the other objects in the hall, but not for the drawing or 
painting of small details. Moreover, the light thus reflected from the cen- 
tral image is not stationary but highlights different parts of the temple at 
different times, according to the position of the sun. On account of this 
we had to follow the light from one place to another or to reflect it with 
white sheets into dark corners or places where the pillars, supporting the 
roof, obstructed the light. 

Often one had to abandon the work on which one was engaged and 
rush to another part of the hail or even to another temple where the light 
was just favourable, and this process had to be repeated until all the 
details of each panel were traced and recorded. Photography under these 
circumstances was particularly difficult, and even Li, a one-time Associate 
of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, who took all the pho- 
tographs in these temples, had a hard and sometimes nerve-racking 
time, because we had no flashbulbs nor any other modern appliances. In 
those days photographic material was very scarce, colour films were not 
available, and we had to be glad to get ordinary films for our good old 
cameras, which had served us well for one or two decades, Li's little 
Kodak No, I, series 3, with its old-fashioned bellows, but an excellent 
lens, certainly proved its value (as the results have shown), though it 
required exceedingly long exposures (without a light-meter!), for which 
Li had an unfailing 'hunch' and which brought out the plastic values of 
statues far better than any flashlight could have done. However, some of 
the frescoes were so unevenly lit that it was impossible to get good 
results. Even the statues could only be photographed with the help of 
skilfully placed reflectors and after day-long observations of the different 
light-elfects. The photographs of these statues are, next to our fresco 
tracings, the most valuable records of our Tsaparang Expedition. 

Return to Western Tibet 325 

Among the frescoes of Tsaparang, those representing the life of 
Buddha Sakyamuni are the most remarkable and beautiful. They are the 
oldest and most complete frescoes of the Buddha's life that have come 
to light hitherto. Even Ajanta, which until now held the pride of place in 
the world of Buddhist painting, has almost only scenes from the leg- 
endary lives of the Buddha's previous incarnations and very few scenes 
that can be related to the life of Sakyamuni. All the more were we 
thrilled to find the frescoes of Tsaparang so complete and with few 
exceptions in such excellent condition. Even the passage of centuries 
had not been able to dim their rich colours or to efface their deUcate 
line-work. The colours looked as fresh as if they had been painted in our 
lifetime and not eight or nine hundred years ago. 

The life of the Buddha was depicted in each of the two main tem- 
ples, called the White and the Red Temple (Iha-khang dkar-po and Iha- 
klmng dtnaT-poj. The White Temple (so called because its outer walls 
were whitewashed) was the older of the two, and contained a colossal, 
rather archaic-looking statue of Sakyamuni made ol beaten and heavily gilt 
metal sheets. Tlie apsis in which the statue was housed was decorated 
with finely executed frescoes, depicting the life of the Buddha. The dif- 
ferent scenes were interwoven in such a way that various incidents 
would appear in one and the same composition. Tlie space of each com- 
position was determined by the available wall-surface on both sides of 
the apsis. Unfortunately half of them were washed away by rain- or 
snow-water on account of a badly leaking roof. 

In the Red Temple, however (so called because its outer walls were 
painted dark red), nearly all the frescoes were intact, and those that were 
missing or in poor condition were just the ones which had escaped 
destruction in the Wliite Temple. This was extremely lucky, as it enabled 
us to get a complete record of the traditional pictorial representation of 
the life of the Buddha. 

I will not go here into the details of these frescoes, since they will 
be the subject of a separate publication, in which Li Gotami's faithful 
tracings and colour-renderings will be reproduced. While she was occu- 
pied with the panels of the Life of the Buddha, I worked alternately 

326 The Way of the White Clouqs 

(according to the conditions of light) on the hig figures above them, as 
well as on the frescoes of the White Temple, which represented two sets 
of Dhyani-Buddhas, each of whom was surrounded by a retinue of 
twelve figures, symbolising different aspects of meditation: altogether 
1 30 figures, out of which sixty-five were set into floral designs, while the 
other half was set into highly decorative architectural backgrounds. 

The monumental Buddha-figures in the frescoes of the Red Temple 
(above the Life of the Buddha series) would have been of less interest, due 
to their rather stylised and conventional forms (more or less adhering to 
the same pattern, so that they distinguished themselves only by their dif- 
ferent mudras and the colour of their faces), had it not been for the elab- 
orate decoration of their thrones, which contained a wealth of Buddhist 
symbols, woven into charming arabesques and architectural designs. 
These thrones alone would justify a book on Buddhist symbology! 

With all these treasures of beauty spread around us, we worked 
from morning to evening, obsessed with the premonition that we would 
probably be the last people from outside Tibet who had the privilege to 
see and to record these unique works of art, and that one day our trac- 
ings and photographs would be all that is left of them. We were particu- 
larly privileged, since probably never before in the history of Tibet had 
an official permission been given, to make tracings directly off the walls 
of such religiously and historically important sanctuaries. We strained to 
the limits of our capacity to trace every line with the utmost accuracy 
and to record the colours as faithfully as possible. As to the latter, we 
were helped by pieces of painted stucco that had fallen from damaged 
frescoes and which now served us as a colour-key and enabled us to 
reproduce the frescoes in their original colours, according to our sys- 
tematic and detailed notations on each of our fresco tracings. 


Critical Days 


E FELT CONFIDENT that if we were allowed to work without distur- 
bance or interference from outside for a long enough time (but not less than 
three or four months) we could bring back a complete and authentic record 
of almost all the important frescoes. But at the same time we were only too 
conscious of the fact that our activities would sooner or later arouse the sus- 
picion of the provincial authorities or of simple-minded people, who could 
not understand the reason for our prolonged stay in the desolate ruins of a 
deserted city or the nature of our work, and who therefore might fear that 
we were agents of a foreign power (China in particular) or that we were 
engaged in some sort of black magic or treasure-hunting. The ancient mon- 
uments of Tibet were always regarded as the repositories of secret forces, 
on which the safety and prosf)erity of die country depended. Nobody was 
worried if they decayed and fell to pieces — this was the natural way of all 
things — as long as those powers were not disturbed or revealed to those 
who might utilise them for their own purposes. 

The first inkling of trouble came to us in the second week of our stay 
at Tsaparang with the arrival of a nun, who — as we soon found out — ^was 
a member of the household of the provincial governor, the Dzongpon of 

328 The Way of the White Clouds 

Tsaparang, who, however, had his permanent residence in Shangsha, sev- 
eral days' journey away from Tsaparang, which he visited only once or 
twice a year on his official tour of inspection and tax-coileciion. A mod- 
est building, not far from our cave-tike dweUing, served him as temporary 
headquarters during his brief \'isits. It was here that the nun had put up, 
and this invested her with some sort of prestige and authority. 

She suiprised us while we were at work in one of the temples. She had 
come there in the company of a Trapa, who was in charge of the Chamba 
Lhakhang (the Temple of Maitreya) a short distance below the ruined city 
The nun began to question us in a somewhat haughty manner, which made 
us suspect that she had probably been sent out to Tsaparang to spy on us 
and to report to the Dzongpcin about our activities. We tried to explain to 
her the nature of our work, but she did not seem to understand its purpose 
and finally declared that if we tried to continue with it, she would see to it 
that we would no longer be supplied with water and fuel (in the form of 
brush-wood), which until now had been (etched daily from the valley by 
Wangdu. This would have meant the end of our stay in Tsaparang! We 
showed her the authorisation from the Lhasa Government, which allowed 
us to work and to study in the temples and monasteris of Rinchen Zangpo 
without let and hindrance and without any time-limit, but we could see that 
even this did not allay her suspicions. How did we get such an exceptional 
authorisation? And who knew whether the document was genuine? 

At this moment my thoughts turned to Tomo Gesh^. Who else 
could come to our rescue but the Guru who had set me on the path that 
had led us to Tsaparang and whose name had opened so many doors to 
us and removed so many obstacles! It was in my capacity of being a per- 
sonal Chela of Tomo G^shiJ Rimpoche that I had applied to the Lhasa 
authorities for permission to work at Tsaparang. Though I did not expect 
that a simple nun in this remote comer of Tibet would have heard of 
Tomo G^sh6 1 mentioned that he was our Guru and that we both had 
been staying at Dungkar Gompa only last year 

When she heard this, her whole attitude changed and she 
explainedr 'I myself come from Dungkar and Tomo Geshe Rimpoche is 
my Tsawai Lama! How wonderful!' 

Return to Western Tibet 329 

Now the ice was broken, and when we mentioned the names of var- 
ious inmates of Dungkar Gompa, whom she too knew, personal contact 
was finally established and we invited her to come to our quarters at 
Wangdu 's cave, where we showed her the photographs which Li had 
taken at Dungkar, Now that she could convince herself with her own 
eyes of the truth of our words, no doubts remained, and when I showed 
her Tomo Geshe's seal underneath the little image, which I had received 
from him and which I always carried with me, she reverently bowed 
down to receive the Gum's blessings. 

This incident was a timely warning, as it had shown us how precar- 
ious our situation was. We therefore continued our work with an even 
greater sense of urgency than before, and took greater precautions to 
keep our activities as secret as possible. Fortunately it happened very 
rarely that travellers passed through Tsaparang, as it was off the main 
caravan route, which ran along the other side of the valley of the 
Lane hen- Kiiambab. But whenever it happened, we could either hear or 
see the people, before they were able to climb up to our temples, and in 
the meantime we could pack away our working materials and devote our- 
selves to other studies, which rendered us less conspicuous. 

We had experienced similar difficulties in Gyantse. Though the 
Labrangtse (the administrator of the monastic town) had given us permis- 
sion to study to sketch, and to take photographs in the temples and 
monasteries under his jurisdiction, he was greatly afraid of the reactions of 
the common people, who might regard the tracing of frescoes as sacrile- 
gious, because one could not avoid putting ones hand upon the faces of 
Buddhas and other sacred personages while tracitig ihem. A Buddha- 
image (or that of a great saint or a Bodhisattva), whether in the form of a 
painting or of a statue, becomes an object of veneration from the moment 
the eyes are opened (by inserting the pupils) with appropriate mantras, by 
which the image becomes imbued vinth life' and spiritual significance. 

Tibetans are particularly careful where sanctuaries of powerful tute- 
lary deities are concerned. They look upon them Uke modem nations would 
look upon a nuclear power-plant, on which the security and strength of the 
country may depend and from which outsiders are kept away, for their ovm 

330 The Way of the White Clouds 

security as well as tor tliat of the nation, and they try to keep these instal- 
lations secret. To Tibetans, likewise, certain sanctuaries of their powerful 
protectors are of similar importance, and they are hidden from the eyes and 
guarded from the interference of those who are neither initiated nor 
engaged in their service, hecause the powers invoked in these sanctuaries 
demand a very precise ritual and knowledge of sadhana, so that any disre- 
gard or ignorance in this direction might bring about calamities. 

As an example I may mention an experience we had during our stay 
at Tholing, the greatest and historically most important monastery of 
Western Tibet, founded by Rinchen Zangpo under the patronage of the 
Kings of Guge. It was the venue of the famous religious council in A.D. 
1050, on which occasion AiTsa was received by the aged founder. Not far 
from the monastery of Tholing there is a hill with the ruins of the ancient 
castles of the JCings of Guge the conveners of the great council. Even in 
its present state the hill looks very impressive with its remnants of 
palaces and temples, towers and battlements, standing against the mon- 
umental mass of a table mountain in the background. 

When we expressed our intention to visit this place, the Abbot of 
Tholing assured us that there was nothing worth seeing, since all the 
palaces and temples had been thoroughly destroyed and that neither 
frescoes nor statues had survived. He was so emphatic about it that we 
could not help feeling that for some reason or other he wanted to pre- 
vent us from going there. Nevertheless we decided to make a day's excur- 
sion to the hill, if only for the purpose of sketching and taking photos of 
the picturesque surroundings. 

The abbot was right in so far as we found no traces of ancient fres- 
coes among the ruined buildings. But on the highest point of the hill we 
found a tali building perfectly intact and with a big Tibetan padlock hang- 
ing from the closed entrance. Naturally, we were intrigued to linow what 
the building contained and why the abbot had hidden its existence from 
us. Its red colour and its shape suggested a temple, and the fact that it 
was locked proved that it was still in use, but not open to the public. 

It was not difficult to climb on to the roof from one of the adjacent 
walls, and as the si^light was only closed from the outside with wooden 

Return to Western Tibet 331 

shutters, without being locked, we could open them and look inside. We 
almost jumped backward, because we found ourselves face to face with 
a gigantic, many-headed monster, whose lowest head was that of a black 
bull. There were other ferocious faces protruding on both sides of the 
bull's head. Between its horns, at eye- level with us, a red demoniacal 
face stared at us; however, on the very top of this frightful pyramid of 
heads appeared the peaceful countenance of Manjusrt, the Dhyani- 
Bodhisattva of transcendental knowledge. 

The gigantic figure with which we were confronted was that of the most 
powerful and dreaded Yidam Yamantaka, the Slayer of Death. The meaning 
of this fantastic figure is as profound as it is awe-inspiring. The God ol Death 
(Yama) is represented in his terrible form as a bull-headed deity, while in real- 
ity he is none other than the merciful Avalokitesvara who, in the stem form 
of the Lord and Judge of the Dead, holds die Mirror of Truth before deluded 
human beings, purifies them through the sufferings of purgatory, and finally 
leads them back to the path of liberation. iManjuSri, however, embodies the 
transcendental knowledge that death is ultimately illusion and that those 
who identiiy themselves with the ultimate reality the plenum-void [sunyatd) 
of their inner centre, overcome death and are liberated from the chains 
ofsamsdra, the rounds of rebirths in the six realms of delusion. 

According to a popular legend, a saintly hermit, who had been med- 
itating for a lifetime in a lonely cave, was about to attain complete liber- 
ation, when some robbers entered his cave with a stolen bull and killed 
it by severing its head, without being aware of the hermit's presence. 
When they discovered that the latter had been a witness of their deed, 
they killed him too by cutting off his head. But they had not counted on 
the supernatural power which he had acquired during his life-long 
penance. Hardly had they severed the head of the hermit when the lat- 
ter rose, joined the bull's head to his body and thus transformed himself 
into the ferocious form of Yama. Deprived from reaching the highest aim 
of his penance and seized by an insatiable fury, he cut off the heads ot 
the robbers, hung them round his neck as a garland and roamed through 
the world as a death -bringing demon, until he was vanquished by 
Manjusri in the form of Yamantaka, 'the Ender of Death'. 


332 The Way of the White Clouds 

From a deeper point of view Yamantaka represents the double nature 
of man, who shares his physical nature, his instincts, drives, and passions 
with the animals, and his spiritual nature with the di\nne forces of the 
universe. As a physical being he is mortal, as a spiritual being he is immor- 
tal. If his intellect is combined with his animal nature, demonic forces are 
bom, while the intellect guided by his spiritual nature produces divine 
qualities. Yamantaka combines in himself the animal, the demon, and the 
god, the primordial power of life in its aspects of creation and destruction, 
and the faculty of knowledge which ripens into the liberating wisdom. 

We had never seen such a monumental figure of Yamantaka, nor had 
there been an opportunity to photograph even a smaller statue of this 
kind, because generally it is too dark in the sanctuaries of the fearful 
deities and, moreover, women are not supposed to enter them. Li, there- 
fore, took this rare opportunity to take a photograph of the Yidam's heads, 
that protruded beyond the lower roof of the temple on which we stood, 

'What a pity that I cannot get the whole figure,' lamented Li, when 
we climbed down from the roof. 'Let us have a look at the lock!' 

Well, she had a good look at it and decided that it could be opened 
with a httle prodding, I tried to dissuade her, but before I could explain 
ray reasons, she succeeded with her little penknife and resolutely 
entered the temple. 

'There is nobody about,' she countered. 'We are miles away from any 
inhabited place, and there is no living soul in these ruins.' 

We stood for a few moments in awed silence before the gigantic black 
figure of Yamantaka, whose blackness is the colour of death and whose 
penis is erect, because procreation and death are inextricably bound up 
with each other. It is for this reason that Yama, die Lord of Death, holds die 
Wheel of Life in his claws. But while contemplating this tremendous con- 
ception of super-human reality — beyond the realm of beauty or ugliness — 
1 could not suppress a feeling of danger at the back of my mind. 

'Take your photo, and let us get out quickly,' 1 urged. 'One never 
knows whether somebody is not lurking round the corner. We might 
have been followed, and I do not like to think of what might happen to 
us if we were found here.' 

Return to Western Tibet 333 

Li saw the point, and after having taken a quick exposure we hur- 
ried out of the temple, snapped the lock, and walked down the lane by 
which we had come. Hardly had we turned the corner of the temple 
when we almost collided with the Abbot of Tholing. who apparently had 
been informed of our excursion and had followed us, accompanied by a 
servant. We greeted him with a somewhat exuberant joy — and our joy 
was not at all false, because we realised the danger we had escaped by a 
hair's breadth! 

Had we been only one minute later 1 doubt whether we would have 
ever been allowed to proceed to Tsaparang. 

After the encounter with the nun we continued our work undisturbed 
for about two weeks, happy that the danger had passed. Our happiness, 
however, came to a sudden end one evening, when returning from our work. 
We heard the sound of a drum coming from the valley, and the sound came 
nearer and nearer, as if a procession was slowly moving up the hill. Imme- 
diately we felt that new troubles were ahead and that our solitude would be 
broken. Indeed, soon we saw armed horsemen riding up from the foot of the 
hill, and Wangdu informed us that the Diongpon of Tsaparang had arrived. 

The following day, instead of working in the temples, we called 
upon the Dzongpon and explained the purpose of our stay in Tsaparang 
and the nature of our work. The Dzongpon Ostened politely, hut did not 
seem to be convinced, and when we showed him our official papers, he 
told us that he could not take the responsibility of allowing us to work in 
the temples, unless he had received confirmation from Lhasa that the 
seals and signatures were genuine. When we asked how long it would 
take to send a messenger to Lhasa, he replied that it would take about 
two months to reach Lhasa and that an answer might take four to five 
months altogether By that time our provisions would be exiiausted and 
there was very litde chance to replenish them locally— except for raw 
wheat, which we had to grind ourselves for our daily chapatis! Yet I kept 
up a stiff front and told the Dzongpon that we had no objection to a ver- 
ification of our papers and that we would not mind waiting for an answer 
here in Tsaparang, while pursuing our studies. 

334 The Way of the White Clouds 

Thereupon he tried to make but that we weire only entitled to work 
in the temples and monasteries founded by Rinchen Zangpo and that the 
temples of Tsaparang were not founded by him, but only those of 
Tholing, where we might go and work. 

I could now see that for some reason he wanted to prevent us from 
staying at Tsaparang, and I was at a loss how to prove that the Lhakhangs 
here were indeed founded by Rinchen Zangpo. 

'But,' 1 said, 'I myself have read in ancient Tibetan books that these 
temples are mentioned among those built by Rinchen Zangpo.' 

'Which book, for instance?' he demanded. 

I realised the trap and knew that unless I could cite an authority big 
enough lo be known and recognised by him I would not be able to impress 
him. I, therefore, did not mention the History of the Kings of Guge, but 
rather had a blind shot: Tou wiU find the reference in your greatest histo- 
rian's book 7 lie Blue Rec:ords (Dep-ther sNgon-fo) by gZon-nud Pal-ldan.' 

This obviously impressed him and convinced him that 1 was not un- 
familiar with Tibetan literature. At any rate, he was not able to refute my 
contention; and feeling himself on uncertain ground, he preferred to 
drop the matter, saying that he would let us know his decision later 

Before taking our leave, 1 casually enquired whether it was possible to 
reach the summit of die Tsaparang rock on which the ruins of the royal 
palaces were situated, since we had not been able to discover any trace of 
a path or staircase leading there. TTie Dzongpdn immediately assured us 
that the rock had become inaccessible on account of rock-falls which had 
completely obliterated the path that formerly led up to the summit. Besides 
this, he added, there was nothing but empty walls left of the palaces. 

The memory of Tholing was only too fresh in my mind, and 1 was 
sure that he was keen to conceal the truth from us. I, therefore, did not 
show any further interest and merely remarked that it might have been 
pleasant to admire the view from there. Thus we dropped the matter and 
took our leave. 

We relumed to our hovel disheartened and depressed, because we 
felt that the Dzongpon was bent on preventing us from staying and work- 
ing here. iNow only a miracle could save us. Unable to do anything, we 

Return to Western Tibet 335 

were so worried that we could hardly close our eyes during the night. 
Neither our money nor our provisions would enable us to wait all 
through the winter for an answer from Lhasa, especially as we had to 
consider the long and arduous journey back to India through unknown 
and probably difficult territory. We spent hours in silent meditation, feel- 
ing that only the intervention of higher powers could help us. 

And indeed, they did help us! The next morning, instead of receiving 
orders to quit Tsaparang, as we had feared, the Dzongpon himself called on 
us, accompanied by servants with gifts of food, and explained that the nun, 
who had met us some time ago, had spoken to him and convinced him that 
we were genuine Nangpas ('Insiders', i.e. followers of the Buddha) and per- 
sonal disciples of Tomo Geshe Rimpoch^, whom he himself regarded as 
one of the greatest Lamas of Tibet and as his personal Guru, He felt sorry 
to have distrusted us, but now that he knew that we and he were 'Guni- 
bhais, he would permit us to continue our work, pro\lded we could finish 
it within about a month, so that we could leave in time before the passes to 
India would be closed, because he would not like to take die responsibility 
of having us stranded here during a long and hard winter. 

Though it seemed to us unlikely that we would be able to complete 
our work in so short a time, we promised to do our best, hoping that 
according to the usual vague Tibetan rime-conceptions, the month could 
be slightly stretched. Tlie main thing was to keep the Dzongpon in a good 
mood, though actually he had no right to set a dme-limit to our work. 
Once he had left, he probably would forget about us, and if not, we might 
try to get another rime-extension, even if it was only a week or a few days. 

Fortunately the Dzongpon, after having provided us with another 
Lamyig for our return to India, left two days later When taking leave, he 
expressed the hope of meeting us at Shipki, a village at the foot of the 
pass leading to India, where he would stay for some time at the end of 
the next month, We wished him a good journey and happily returned to 
our work, which had been interrupted for so many days. 


The Lama of Phiyang 

Hardly had we returned to our Lhakhangs when the Dzongpon of 
Rudok arrived, accompanied by the Abbot of the Sakya Gompa of 
Phiyang They reached Tsaparang in the evening, and the next morning 
the Phiyang Lama came up to the Red Temple just after we had finished 
our fuja and were about to start our work. The Lama, an elderly man 
with a friendly face, fringed by a thin white beard, immediately 
impressed us as a person of sincere goodwill and religious devotion. His 
outward simplicity, his natural yet dignified bearing, and his quiet way of 
speaking made us instinctively feel that we had nothing to fear from him 
and that his questions were born of genuine religious interest and not 
from any motive of distrust. Sitting down in the warm sun outside the 
Red Temple, he immediately engaged me in a religious talk. After 
enquiring to which Cho-lug (sect or tradition) we belonged, he revealed 
that he himself-though being the head of a Sakya Gompa-was a fol- 
lower of the I^rgyud and Nyingina traditions. I told him of our Karg>'ud 
Guru as well as of Tomo Geshe Rimpoch^, whereupon he said'. 'What 
does it matter what school one follows, as there is only one thing that 

Ketuhn to Western Tibet 337 

really matters: the practice of meditation.' Then he quoted a verse 
expressing these thoughts, which began with the words: 'Without 
meditation [sgo^n] there is no Dharma [cfios], and wherever the Dharma 
is found, there is also meditation.' 

I felt strangely elated in the presence of this old man, who was sit- 
ting humbly with us on the bare ground before the entrance of the tem- 
ple, clad in his unassuming travelling robes, which did not distinguish 
him from the poorest Trapa, There was no curiosity in his talk; he was 
not interested in personal questions, from where we came and where we 
went from here or what we did, but only in matters of spiritual life and, 
most of all, in meditational practice. I could see that he was a man of 
great learning, but one who had left behind him the ambitions of mere 
scholarship, because he had realised the essence of the Buddha's mes- 
sage in his own life. 

For the first time we did not feel sorry to interrupt our work, 
because since leaving our Gurus' monasteries in Southern Tibet, we had 
not met anybody of real spiritual attainment, which like the natural per- 
fume of a flower makes itself known unobtrusively and quietly, pervad- 
ing its surroundings, irrespective of whether people pay attention to it or 
not. We could not say why, but Phiyang Lama's presence radiated such 
peace that all our troubles and anxieties seemed to be blown away; our 
race against time, which had kept us in perpetual tension, had suddenly 
stopped and we felt happy and contented, as if time had ceased to exist. 
Nothing seemed to matter as long as we were in Phiyang Lama's pres- 
ence, and we only wished that he could stay longer with us. But he told 
us that he was on his way to India on a pilgrimage to the holy places and 
that he had accepted the Dzongpon of Rudok's invitation to travel in his 
company only as long as they were following the same direction. 

After we had returned from the temples in the company of Phiyang 
Lama, the Dzongpon joined us in our little hut, and since he was quite 
a pleasant young man, lively and full of eagerness to hear of our travels 
and especially of all the society people of Central Tibet whom we had 
met in various places, Li took out the photographs of our friends and 
acquaintances, many of whom were known to him. He was particularly 

338 The Way of the White Clouds 

interested in the photos of young ladies, and Li had some difficulty in 
dissuading him from keeping some of them, by explaining that she had 
no right to pass them on to others without having the permission of the 
persons concerned. Phiyang Lama was amused by the young man's 
enthusiasm, but he did not spoil his fun in any way, seeing how much 
the Dzongpon enjoyed talking about people and places of which he had 
pleasant remembrances and which he sorely missed in his far-off outpost 
at Rudok, not far from the Pangong Lake. 

What a contrast between these two people: the gay young-man 
about town' and the quiet old sage! Yet they seemed to make good travel- 
ling companions: the young one by his good-natured jollity, the old one by 
his tolerant understanding of human nature and his unshakable equa- 

They were leaving the following day, and when Phiyang Lama came 
to say goodbye to us, we felt genuinely sorry. In order to express our feel- 
ings in a more tangible way, we wanted to present him with a beautiful 
reproduction of the famous Samath Buddha (of the sixth century A.D,), 
which we had brought with us as a special gift for some high Lama, with 
whom we might come in touch on our journey But to our surprise the 
Rimpoche declined our gift in all kindness, and we felt that his words 
were sincere and true, when he said: '1 thank you for your kindness, but 
t really do not need any outward picture of the Enlightened One, 
because the Buddha is ever present in my heart.' And then he blessed us 
and took his leave. 

We suddenly felt a strange sense of loneliness, as if somebody 
whom we had knovm for long, somebody who was deeply connected 
with our own life, had left us. If it had not been for our work, we might 
have asked his permission to accompany him on his pilgrimage. Little 
did we know that our wish would be fulfilled in a manner we could not 
have dreamt of and which confirmed our first impression: that we had 
met a man with unusual spiritual attainments and the capacity as well as 
the will to transmit them to others. 


A Race against 
Time and Obstacles 


HE MOMENT PHrtANG Lama had left, time became again a reality and 
the race against it began anew. By now it had become clear to us that not 
only every day, but every minute of our working time, was precious. We 
would get up with the first ray of the sun that penetrated our cave-like 
dwelling through the chinks between the rough stone-blocks that formed 
its walls, and we would return only when it became too dark for our work 
in the temples and the sun sank behind the rocks. We dared not waste 
a moment on a midday meal and only cooked and ate after sunset. 
Sometimes we would even work on our tracings and notes in the light of 
a candle before going to sleep, as long as the warmth of our hot evening 
porridge kept our fingers from freezing. The temperature in our little 
room never rose above freezing-point, and often it happened that, when 
we neglected our cup of hot tea for a few minutes while talking, the tea 
would be frozen sohd in the meantime. 

To wash our hands and faces, we had to break the ice in our wash- 
basin, which froze over immediately after it had been Filled from the 
wooden keg, which Wangdu brought every day from the stream in the 

340 The Way of the White Clouds 


alley and which had to be kept in his cave near the fireplace. Since fuel 
{consisting mainly of brushwood, rarely of yak dung) was scarce and had 
to be brought from a considerable distance down in the valley, it would 
only be used for cooking on the common fireplace between our cubicle 
and the cave entrance. 

Our main food consisted of chapaties vtath a little rancid butter, 
which we had bought at Tholing Gompa at an exorbitant price, and in 
the evening we added to this a porridge of sweetened milk and wheat- 
flour. When finally even the Tholing butter came to an end. we had to 
send the Trapa of the Chamba Lhakhang first to Tlioling and later, when 
the Gompa too was short of butter, to the Dogpas (nomadic herdsmen) 
of the Chang-Thang. The good man came back from there after a month 
with only two balls of somewhat 'mature' butter, sewn into raw hide (with 
the hair inside), weighing a little more than a pound each! 

But the Buddhas of the Lhakhangs were feeding us with such inspi- 
ration that we gave little thought to physical food. Yet we could not help 
observing that our stores were diminishing at an alarming rale. We then 
discovered that there was a big hole in the wall, just behind the place 
where we kept our bags with foodstuffs. We quietly repaired the wall and 
moved our food to a safer place— out of reach of anybody who might 
thrust his arm through the hole. 

For a few days everything went well, but then we noticed that pil- 
ferage was going on again. Could it be that the padlock, with which we 
locked the heavy wooden door of our cubicle every day before we left for 
our work, was opened in our absence? To make sure, we sealed it every 
morning. We never found the seal broken, nor anything wrong with the 
walls; but again foodstuffs were pilfered. We were sure that it could only 
be Wangdu or one of his friends or relatives, who came to visit him from 
time to time; but it was a riddle to us how anybody could get into the 
room without either opening the door or breaking through the wall. This 
latter possibility, however, had to be ruled out, because it would take too 
long (especially as the one or the other of us made a point ol suddenly 
turning up at odd hours) and would leave traces, which we would be 
quick to detect, since we had been alerted by the previous experience. 

Return to Western Tibet 34! 

Besides Wangdu, there was his brother-in-law, who served us alter- 
nately with him, because he claimed that he should also have an oppor- 
tunity of earning some money However, what first seemed to be a 
friendly arrangement between the two men developed into a kind of 
rivalry, and one day they quarrelled, and each of them tried to oust the 
other from our service. We were just inside the room, when a fight 
before our door started. Apparently each of them tried to push the other 
away and prevent him from entering. Suddenly, with a mighty crash they 
literally fell with the door into the room — and now we saw to our dismay 
that the door had come off from the hinges! So this was the solution of 
the riddle: every day, after we had locked the door and sealed the lock, 
the thief had simply lifted the door out of its hinges, taken whatever he 
wanted from our bags and put the door back, Tlius, when we came back 
in the evening, we found our lock and its seal intact. From now on we 
sealed the hinges every day and this was a complete success. No more 
foodstuffs were stolen. 

Meanwhile a month and a half had passed and nothing was heard 
of the Dzongpon of Tsaparang who probably was now far away on the 
road to Shipki. Not finding us there, he would send for us, and by that 
time another month might have passed, which would allow us to finish 
our main work. On the other hand it might happen that the passes were 
already closed by heavy snowfalls in the outer Himalayas — in which case 
there would be little sense in trying to force us to return to India. We cared 
very little what might happen, as long as we could get on with our work, 

It was in the middle of December when the feared blow fell One 
evening a number of rough-looking fellows arrived and ptit up in Wangdus 
cave, carousing noisily half the night. On the following morning a rather 
sinister-looking one-eyed man (the other had been blown out in a fight 
on the Chang-Thang, as we learned later) called on us and informed us 
that the Dzongpon had given orders that we had to leave Tsaparang and 
that he had been ordered to escort us to the frontier pass. 

Since several of our panels were only half finished, I told the man 
that we would be ready to leave Tsaparang, if only the Dzongpon would 
give us a few days more to finish the work in hand. In order to play for 

342 The Way of the White Clouds 

time, I immediately wrote a letter to the DzongpQn and sent it off with 
one of his servants. I did not expect a Favourable reply, but t knew that 
it would take at least a week for the man to return with the Dzongpon's 
answer. The latter, as we learned from his men, had come back from 
Shipld and was staying at Shangsha, his usual headquarters. 

It worked out exactly as I had expected; the messenger came back 
after one week, and this was just sufficient for us to finish our work. Li 
had completed her set of frescoes of the Life of the Buddha and I had 
traced practically all the frescoes of the White Temple and most of the 
big ones above the Life of the Buddha in the Red Temple, Li had also 
succeeded in tracing a most interesting series of panels, representing 
scenes from the inauguration of the temple, which give a very good idea 
of contemporary life and show what the people, who built the temple, 
looked like. 

One day after the messenger had returned, both the temples were 
sealed on the Dzongpon's order It was a sad day, when we celebrated our 
last puja in each of these temples before the golden images that had 
smiled their blessings upon us daily for almost three months. Now that 
we took leave of them, it was like saying goodbye for ever to our dearest 
friends. To us they had been living embodiments of wisdom and com- 
passion. They had given us courage and inspiration, and we had lived 
and worked under their protection. They had taught us the Dharma in 
wordless sermons of beauty, that would be enshrined in our hearts and 
live in us as the noblest vision of ultimate perfection. We left the tem- 
ples with deep gratitude. Our task had been fulfilled and what we had 
gained, no worldly power could take away from us. 

The Discovery of the 

Secret Path and 

THE Temple of the 

Great Mandala 


iFTER THE TEMPLES had been sealed we had for the first time suffi- 
cient leisure to wander about among the ruins and in the surroundings 
and so we utilised this opportunity for sketching and taking photos. 
There was no dearth of beautiful motifs, and since our main work was 
accomplished, we felt free to devote ourselves to our own creative 
impulses with a good conscience. It was the only positive way to get over 
[he sadness of leave-taking and to fill the emptiness that suddenly 
yawned before us. 

While Li was busy sketching near the chortens at the back of the 
hill, I was exploring again the ruins which rose above the temples 
towards the foot of the isolated perpendicular rock, on which the castles 
of the kings were silhouetted against the sky, inaccessible and proud like 
the Castle of the Holy Grail. Again and again 1 could not help feeling 
that one last unsolved mystery was hidden among the ruins of the kings' 
palaces and that this was the reason why the Dzongpon tried to prevent 
us from staying longer at Tsaparang, fearing that one day we might find 

344 The Way of the White Clouds, 

ways and means to get to the summit or to discover the secret path, if 
there was one. 

These were the thoughts that went through my head while 1 was 
roaming about in a maze of ruined buildings, when finally I came to a halt 
at a steep rock and decided to give up the search. 1 was just about to turn 
back when I noticed three boulders, resting one upon the other at the foot 
of the rock, and suddenly it occurred to me that they could not have 
fallen like that by chance. Surely they could only have been placed in this 
way by human hands. But for what purpose? Was it merely to mark a cer- 
tain spot or to indicate a certain direction to be followed, or did it serve a 
more immediate, tangible purpose, namely to reach something that oth- 
erwise would have been out of reach? I stepped on the boulders and 
stretched my hand upwards. And lo! My searching hand suddenly fitted 
into a small cavity, which I had not been able to detect from below. And 
now, while I drew myself up with one hand, my foot found a similar hold 
on the rock and my other hand reached a ledge, so that I could pull 
myself farther up, until 1 found myself at the lower end of a steeply rising 
gully, that seemed to have been eroded by rain-water. Scrambling up over 
the rubble that covered the ground, I soon came upon a flight of steps, 
which convinced me that I had found the beginning of the ancient stair- 
way leading up to the palaces of the kings. 

However, my joy was short-lived, since 1 soon lost myself again in a 
labyrinth of ruins, so that I finally had to return to my starting-point. 
There was only one alternative left, namely to follow a steep ravine, half 
filled viath fallen masonry. This proved to be a success, because now 1 
found another flight of steps, better preserved than the previous one. It 
led to a spacious plateau and from it rose the perpendicular rock-wall of 
the summit of Tsaparang, towering several hundred feet above me. 1 
searched in vain for a continuation of the staircase. So, probably, the 
Dzongpon had been right, when he told us that the way that once had 
led up to the castles had been completely destroyed. 

But having come as far as this, I wanted at least to investigate the 
numerous caves which yavraed at the base of the rock-wall, for 1 hoped 
to find remnants of frescoes or at least some ancient clay seals which 

Return to Western Tibet 345 

were often deposited in such caves. But there was nothing of the kind. 
Instead of that 1 found what 1 had least expected: one of the caves 

proved to be the entrance to a tunnel that led upwards in a wide curve 
inside the rock, from time to time lit up by narrow openings in the outer 
rock-wall. With a beating heart I followed the tunnel, climbing higher 
and higher, filled with the greatest expectations and at the same time 
with a lurking fear to come again to a dead end or to be faced with some 
unsurmountable obstacle. 

How great was, therefore, my joy, when I stepped into the Hght of 
the sun again and reahsed that I was standing on the very summit of 
Tsaparang, which for so long we had believed to be inaccessible. The 
view was in itself worth all the trouble of the climb, I could see now that 
the rocky spur, on which Tsaparang was built, had been carved out by 
two deep canyons, leading into the main canyon of the Langchen- 
Khambab, above which a vrildly serrated range of rocky mountains rose 
into the clear blue sky like a non-ending procession of gothic cathedrals 
with innumerable towers and needle-sharp spires. Behind them 
appeared here and there snow-covered peaks, and in the bright sunlight 
the whole landscape scintillated in the most transparent colours. 

I felt as if I was standing in the centre of an immense mandala com- 
posed of unearthly colours and forms: a centre towards which all those 
forms and colours seemed to stand in a significant inner relationship, so 
that it became a focus of all those forces of heaven and earth that had 
shaped its surroundings. It is this geomantic principle according to 
which all great sanctuaries of Tibet have been built, in fact all seats of 
power, in which the spiritual element was always given predominance 
and was sought in perfect harmony with nature. Thus the castles of 
kings or other sovereign rulers were simultaneously strongholds of reli- 
gion and sanctuaries of the Great Protectors and their secret cults. (They 
were 'secret' in the sense that they could only be performed within the 
circle of those who were trained through years of sadhana and qualified 
by initiation, from which nobody was barred who was willing to fulfil the 
necessary preconditions and to abide by its rules.) 

Conscious of all these facts, I wandered through the ruins of 

346 The Way of the White Clouds 

palaces and temples, silent witnesses of a great past, of great triumphs 
and tragedies, of human ambitions and passions, of worldly power and 
religious devotion, There was an eerie stillness in this place suspended, 
as it seemed, between heaven and earth — ^and perhaps, therefore, par- 
taking of both: of the ecstasies of divine inspirations and the cruel 
sufferings of human greed and lust for power. Moving about as in a 
dream, in which past and present were interwoven into a fabric of four- 
dimensional reality, I suddenly stood before the half-open door of an 
almost completely preserved building, which by some miracle had 
escaped the general destruction. 

With a strange feeling of expectancy I entered into the death-like 
stillness of a ha If- dark room, in which the secrets of centuries seemed to 
be present and to weigh upon me like the fate of an unfulfilled past. 
When finally my eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, my pre- 
monitions became certainty: I stood in the Holy of Holies of a mystery 
temple, the chamber of initiation, in which the great mandah, 'the 
Sacred Circle of Highest Biiss', {dPal hKhor-lo bDem-chog) is revealed 
before the eyes of the initiate, in all its manifold forms of celestial splen- 
dour, divine figures and cosmic symbols. 

It was Tomo Geshe Rimpoch^ who had brought me in touch for 
the first time with the mysterious world of this mandala, and under his 
guidance it had become for me a living experience. For almost a year it 
formed the centre of my religious life — and even then I realised that 1 
had only lifted a tiny comer of the veil that hides the supreme realisa- 
tion of this profoundest of all profound Tantras, one of the earliest 
introduced in Tibet at the rime of Padmasambhava and held in the 
highest esteem by Gelugpas as much as by the older sects of Tibetan 

It contains the complete process of a world creation from the deep- 
est centre of consciousness — the unfoldment of forms from the formless 
state of undifferentiated emptiness {§unyata) and unlimited potentiality 
^through the germ-syllables of the subtle elementary principles and the 
crystallisation of their essential forms and colours into a concentric 
image of the universe, spread out in ever widening rings of materialising 

Return to Western Tibet 347 

worlds. Their essential and timeless centre is represented by the symbol 
of Mount Meru, the stable axis and the ideal cross-section of the uni- 
verse, in which the hierarchy of divine beings and realms of existence— 
the increasingly intensified and purified manifestations, or higher dimen- 
sions ofcomciousness—are present. 'A miniature world is evolved, seething 
with elemental forces working in the universe as cosmic forces and in 
man as forces of body and spirit. Most of the quantities in this elaborate 
notation are taken from the body of indigenous religious teaching and 
mythology. Some are so universal and transparent that it reveals some- 
thing, even to the outsider, of the force of this symbolical structure, and 
makes him intuitively feel that here we are assisting in the unfolding of 
a great spiritual drama, sweeping the mind up to heights of exaltation 

and nobility'' 

The realm of these higher dimensions is symbolised by a celestial 
temple, composed of the purest and most precious materials and con- 
taining the mandah of highest bliss and supreme realisation, in which 
the spiritual hierarchies are anranged in concentric steps, rising towards 
the centre, in which the ultimate reality becomes conscious in the union 
of the divine figure of Demchog ('Highest Bliss') and his consort or Prajm 
(transcendental knowledge) in the form of Doijg Phagmo. 

With the upper pair of his twelve arms, signifying the knowledge of 
the twelvefold formula of Interdependent Origination. Demchog tears 
apart the elephant-hide of ignorance, with his four faces, shining in the 
colours of the four basic elements {mahabhuta) of the universe, he per- 
meates and encompasses the four directions of space with the four 
divine qualities of love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. 
Each face has three eyes, because his vision penetrates the three worlds 
(the world of sense-desire, the world of Pure Fonn, and the world of 
Non-Form) and the three times (past, present, and future). Tlie colour 
of his body is blue, because it represents the infinity, changelessness, 
and all-inclusiveness of space, as well as the ultimate principle of the 
metaphysical 'emptiness', the Plenum Void of S«nyaf«. 

I . From an article on the ■Srichakra-Sambhara-Tantra' by Johan van Manen, reprinted !n 
Shakti and Shakta by Sir John Woodroffe (Luzac, London, 1929), 

348 The Way of the White Clouds 

Dorje Phagmo's body is red, to signify her passionate devotion to the 
good of all beings. She has only one face, which expresses the oneness 
of all things, and only two arms, which signify the two aspects of truth, 
the ultimate and the relative. She is naked because she is free from 
obscuring illusions. Her legs encircle the divine body of Demchog, who 
holds her in close embrace, indicating their complete and inseparable 
union in body and spirit, the oneness of supreme bliss and wisdom. 

And all the divine figures, assembled around them in ascending 
steps, are likewise embraced by their wisdom-holding consorts, so that 
they appear like reflections of the centra! and highest truth on different 
levels of reality, and all of them are engaged in the same cosmic dance 
in the ecstatic experience of highest bOss, which flows from the union of 
prajiia and upaya: Wisdom and the means towards its realisation through 
active compassion and unselfish love. In fact, each of the figures embod- 
ies a certain quality or stage on the path of perfection, which is traced 
step by step in this profound and universal meditation. 

What must be done to make this meditation into a reahty? Every 
concept in it must be vivified and drenched with life and power. Every 
god in it must be made into a living god, every power manipulated in it 
made into a potency. The whole structure must be made vibrant with 
forces capable of entering into sympathetic reladon with the greater cos- 
mic forces in the universe, created in imitation on a lower scale within 
the individual meditator himself. To the religious mind the universe is 
tilled with the thoughts of the gods, with the powers of great intelli- 
gences and consciousnesses, radiating eternally through space and really 
constituting the world that is. "The worid is only a thought in the mind 
of God." It must take years of strenuous practice even to build up the 
power to visualise and correctly produce this meditation as an internal 
drama."' It is for this purpose that elaborate models of the mandala are 
built up, in which the whole spiritual universe is minutely modelled with 
evei^ detail and hundreds of divine and demonic figures, from the jewel- 
studded temple on the summit of Mount Mem down to the eight great 

i . Johan van Manen, in his aforementioned essay. 

Return to Western Tibet 349 

cemeteries, the places of death and of initiation, in which Yogis and 
Siddhas underwent spiritual rebirth and transformation by experiencing 
the process of dying and overcoming the illusion of death. Because in 
order to be reborn the initiate has to go through the portals of death. 

Remembering all this I stood upon the threshold of the temple, gazing 
with trepidation and expectancy into its dark interior. Slowly bit by bit the 
details of the mmdaia stepped out of the darkness. But wliat had happened? 
The innumerable figures of divine beings, which had inhabited the mcm^la, 
lay scattered in a wild heap all over the half-crumbled structure. The sanc- 
tuary had obviously been desecrated by pillaging hordes after the fall of 
Tsaparang at the collapse of the Gug6 Dynasty. Yet the crude forces of \'io- 
lence had not been able to destroy the atmosphere of sanctity in this ancient 
place of initiation. The walls were still covered with frescoes of great beauty 
and depth of colour "fhey revealed a mystic dance of many-armed, many- 
headed deities, ecstatically embracing their consorts, terrible and awe- 
inspiring, beautiful and frightening at the same time; a revelation to the 
initiate, a horror to the ignorant intruder. Here life and death, creation and 
destruction, the forces of light and darkness, seemed to be inextricably inter- 
woven in a cyclonic movement of transmutation and liberation. 

I opened the door of the temple as wide as possible, but the light 
was not sufficient to take photographs of the frescoes, though I had my 
camera with me. But among the figures scattered over the mandala, 
there was a Heruka (a heroic, four-armed form of Demchog), embraced 
by his knowledge-inspired Khadoma, and in these figures the moment, 
or, better, the timeless state of ecstasy in perfect union of Love and 
Wisdom, which results in Highest Bliss, was expressed with such con- 
summate beauty, that I felt moved to lift the divine pair out of this chaos 
of destruction and carried it outside the temple, where I could take a 
photograph. I felt sorry to put the figures back into the temple, where 
surely they would perish with the rest of the doomed sanctuary, but I was 
glad to preserve at least a fraction of their beauty on my film for others 
to see and for myself as a lasting remembrance. 

Before I closed the door of the temple behind me, I cast a last 
glance into the sanctuary and repeated the mantras with which the real- 

350 The Way of the White Clouds 

ity of the great mandala of Demchog are invoked, mantras that a millen- 
nium ago were recited in this very place and brought to life the great 
\isions that were enshrined in this temple. In the certainty that soon 
even the last traces of this mandda would disappear, I was glad that I 
had been allowed this last glimpse and enabled to relive something of 
the spirit to which this place had been dedicated. The sanctity of such a 
place cannot be revived by outer renovation, but only through the inner 
action of devotion and the power of the mind, through which the cre- 
ative faculty of mantras is realised. 

I stepped again into the bght of the sun, filled with grateful joy that 
even my last wish in Tsaparang had been fulfilled and that the mission I 
had set out to accomplish had been successfully completed. Before 
entering again the rock-tunnel on my way down, I surveyed for the last 
time the immense landscape and the ruins and canyons below me. And 
there, deep down, 1 saw a small human figure moving about and recog- 
nised Li sketching near the chortens at the foot of the hill. I called out to 
her— oblivious of the risk I took— and after looking about her in surprise, 
not knowing from where the sound of my voice came, she finally looked 
up and discovered me standing al the edge of the rock, on the very top 
of Tsaparang. She gave me a sign not to reveal my presence, since the 
Dzongpon's men might be lurking around, and 1 could only hope that my 
voice had not given me away 1 dived at once into the rock-tunnel and 
hunied down as quickly as possible. 

Since Li too wanted to see the Demchog Lhakhang, we both 
climbed up again the next morning, and though we had tried to avoid 
attention, by first starring in a different direction, the Dzongpon's men 
apparently had become suspicious, wondering where we had disap- 
peared, and sent Wangdu in search of us. Hardly had we left the 
Demchog Lhakhang after a short piija and after Li had hurriedly taken 
some photos, when Wangdu emerged from the rock-tunnel, visibly agi- 
tated, because in all probability he had been instructed by the Dzongpon 
to prevent us from getting to the palaces of the kings and the hidden 
sanctuary. The fact that also he had denied more than once that there 
was any access to the summit of Tsaparang was sufficient proof for us. 

Keturn to Western Tibet 351 

However, we could not blame him for this, and we assured him that the 
Dzongpon would never come to know about it, if he would keep it from 
the DzongpOn's servants. This reassured him greatly, and in the after- 
noon he even consented to open for us the small Dorje-jigj^ Lhakhang 
(the temple of Vajra-bhairava [Tib.: rDorie hjtgs-hyed], a synonym for 
Yamantaha), which we had avoided so far, since we had assured the 
Dzongpon that we only wished to work in the main temples, dedicated to 
the peaceful deities. After our experience in Tholing, we knew only too 
well the Dzongpon's fear of arousing the wrath of the fierce deities if he 
would allow us to work in their sanctuary, which was just above the Red 
Temple. It was always locked, not only because it housed the powerful 
Protectors, but also because it served as a kind of store-room for all the 
most valuable metal images, which had been salvaged from various sanc- 
tuaries in the ruins of Tsaparang. The place really was a treasure-trove of 
the most exquisite metal statues we had ever seen. The execution of the 
many-armed fierce deities, many of them joined by their consorts (yum), 
was of the highest quality and showed a perfection in the treatment of 
metal that has never been surpassed anywhere in the world. But these 
priceless works of art were so crowded together in the small dark room 
that Li could take only very few photographs. Yet we were grateful even 
for this glimpse of these rare treasures. 

Now nothing more remained for us but to start packing our things 
and to prepare for the long journey back to India. Though we felt sad, we 
knew that we had done all that was in our power and that our efforts had 
been richly rewarded. 

354 The Way of the White Clouds 

mi^ty snow-peaks and completely cut off from the outer world. This proved 
a blessing in disguise, because it was a real 'Shangrila', in which we spent 
almost a quarter of a year of unalloyed happiness in the company of simple 
but most lovable people and at the feet of the last of our Tibetan Gurus. 

However, before we could reach this oasis of peace we still had half a 
month's journey before us. Just when we were nearing the safety of the main 
caravan road, we were informed that it was already closed. We had no means 
of ascertaining whether this was so or not, hut the villagers, who informed 
us, declared themselves ready to guide us and to carry our luggage through 
the frozen gorges of the Langchen-Khambab. It was only during the coldest 
part of the winter that it vras possible to travel through these gorges, wiiich 
were so deep and narrow and threatened by rock-falls that no path could 
be made between the swirling waters of the river and the steep rocks 
which hemmed it in on both sides. Thus, it was only when the river was 
completely frozen that its surface could be used as a rough track, though 
it was impossible to employ yaks or horses. The reason for this soon became 
apparent: there was not even a path leading down into this tremendous 
canyon which cut through mountain-walls that rose not less than 8,000 feet 
on both sides of the roaring river. Moreover, no pack-animal could have 
walked on the ice, which due to the turbulence of the water did not form an 
even surface, but followed the shapes of the waves and cataracts underneath 
when it was not broken into a jumble of ice-blocks and -floes. 

We therefore had to engage some twenty people for our lu^age from 
the last village, where we had been staying for two days in order to visit a 
small but fantastically situated monastery on top of an isolated mountain, 
that looked as if it had been thrown up by a gigantic force and had 
become solid before it could fall back into the depth from which it had 
been hurled. The name of the monastery was Pekar Gompa, Pekar being 
one of the ancient, probably pre-buddhistic, telluric deiries of Tibet, who 
had been retained as a protector of the country and the Buddhist faith. 

The Dzongpon's man, who had turned up again, after some days' 
absence, apparently did not like to risk life and limb in the treacherous gorges 
of the Langchen-Khambab, especially as he might not be able to get back 
before the end of the winter if a sudden snowfall should block even this route. 

Return to Western Tibet 355 

So he took a tearfrjl leave from u^-probably thinking that we were going to 
our doom; or was it merely that he had had too much chang? At any rate we 
felt glad to leave him behind and to move on with a crowd of cheerful and 
friendly people, in whose company we felt safer in spite of the uncertainties 
of the days before us. The dangers of nature seemed to us always preferable 
to die unreliability of low characters, like this Dzxingpon's servant. 

When, after a few miles from the village, we came to the edgp of the 
canyon, we all just slithered dovra a series of steep sand-falls till we reached 
the bottom of the gorge, several thousand feet below the level from which 
we had started. It then occuned to us that we had taken an in^vocable step, 
because it would have been impossible to climb up again on these moving 
sand-faUs. especially with our heavy luggage! I don't know what we would 
have done, if the river had not yet been sufficiently frozen to bear our weight 
and the impact of falling luggage, when people slipped and crashed on the 
ice together with their loads. TTiis happened every few moments, because 
the ice was as smooth as a mirror, but unfortunately not even, so diat we, 
without loads, could hardly walk a few steps without falling. 

Thus very litde progress was made on that day and when the 
evening came, we pitched camp on a narrow boulder-strewn sriip of dry 
land. That night we felt for the first time comfortably warm— partly due 
to the lower altitude and the protection from wind, but also because the 
sky had become slightly overcast, as if a change of weather was immi- 
nent. There had been a lovely sunset, and our camp, surrounded by yel- 
low reed-grass, was enveloped in a warm glow, which heightened our 
feeling of comfort and almost made us forget the ice of the river and the 
hazards of our trek. We were filled with a strange, unaccountable happi- 
ness, which made us oblivious of the past and the future and fully aware 
of the peace and the luminous beauty around us. Just as when we were 
stranded in the Valley of the Moon Castle, we experienced a kind of 
euphoria due to the utter strangeness of the situation, in which the 
world we had known ceased to exist, so that we felt a kind of release 
from all that had been or would be, and from all responsibility of deci- 
sions, accepting quietly and completely what was around us, a world in 
Vifhich we were entirely thrown back upon ourselves, as if we were the 

356 The Way of the White Clouds 

only people alive in the universe. The wonders of a journey consist far 
more of such intangible experiences and unexpected situations than of 
factual things and events of material reality. 

Thus, to us this camp, though it happened in the middle of winter, 
remains in our remembrance the 'summer camp', as we called it that 
evening on the Langchen-Khambab, before we had retired into our tent. 
But how great was our surprise when we woke up the next morning and 
found ourselves snowed in and surrounded by a real winter landscape! 
We rubbed our eyes, awaking from our summer-dream and trying to cope 
with this new situation. Would we be able to continue our journey, and 
if not, what then? But we found our people quite unperturbed. They 
seemed to have slept in the snow as soundly as we in our tent. We could 
not help admiring them for their hardiness and their cheerful acceptance 
of all circumstances — and this reassured us greatly. In spite of the snow, 
the air appeared to us mild and pleasant. It demonstrated to us again the 
fact that in Tibet snowfalls seldom occur when it is very cold, and that 
snow therefore is welcome as a sign of milder weather. 

After the intense cold of the highlands, where everything was 
frozen, but no snow was to be seen anywhere, except on the highest 
peaks, we now reahsed with astonishment how much less we felt the 
cold in this really wintry snow landscape — the mere sight of which 
would have made us shiver under normal circumstances, considering 
that Li was born and bred in Bombay on the shores of the Arabian Sea 
and that I myself spent the greater part of my life in tropical and sub- 
tropical countries. Our Tibetans definitely enjoyed the snow: in fact all 
along this river-trek they were exceedingly cheerful, and when we came 
to a place where there was a grove of small trees (a sight many of our 
highland Tibetans had never seen in their life) they got so excited over 
such an abundance of wood that they built big fires and sang and danced 
half the night. We too were caught up in the general spirit of merriment 
and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, while preparing a mammoth amount 
of chapaties, hstening to their songs and sharing their simple pleasures. 
We had all become one happy family! The whole scene was truly fantas- 
tic: the blazing fires in the snow, the colourful costumes of the people 

Return to Western Tibet 357 

distributed in groups among the rocks and under the white tracery of 
twigs and branches, and all this in the wildest imaginable mountain 
scenery, which in its grimness formed the utmost conUast to the light- 
hearted playfulness of these brave people. Tliey certainly were tlie merriest 
group we had ever travelled with, and the young women among them 
seemed to be as tireless as the men, in spite of carrying heavy loads all 
through the day over ice and boulder-strewn ground. They all slept on 
the snow, as if it was a featherbed, with no other protection than two 
sheepskins (the hair turned inside). Between those skins most of them 
slept naked, with their clothes rolled up as a pillow, a custom which we 
had also observed in other regions of Tibet. Even the women would strip 
down to the waist without concern. Probably they found it rather 'inde- 
cent' of us that we went to sleep with all our clothing on. 

The snow— far from impeding our progress, as we had feared the 
morning after the heavy snowfall— was actually helping us, l>ecause now we 
were able to walk on the ice widiout slipping all the time, though, on the 
other hand, we had to be more careful of hidden crevices in the ice. Farther 
down the river- probably due to the stronger current— the ice was ripped 
open in many places, and if anybtjdy had faUen into a crevice, nobody could 
have saved the unlucky person, because the current would have pulled the 
body under the ice before any help could be given. Fortunately we got 
through without an accident, and when after our six-day trek on the frozen 
river we finally emerged at the village of Tyak, near which the Lotsava 
Rinchen Zangpo was bom. we felt quite sorry that our adventure had come 
to an end and even more so that we had to leave our friendly companions. 

We now travelled on with Sherab, who arranged new teams of yaks, 
horses, and people from village to village, which was not difficult, as we 
were again on the regular caravan road. At Shipki we found no sign of 
the Dzongpon of Tsaparang, though we pitched our tent in the courtyard 
of the house which served him and other Tibetan officials as a tempo- 
rary residence. We crossed the Shipki Pass without incident, in spite of 
high snow, and descended into the happy valley of Poo, our little 
'Shangrila'. which we reached towards the end of January. 


The Happy Valley 

Too LOOKED LIKE any other Tibetan village ^d the people too were the 
same as on the other side of the Shipki-La. though the political frontier, 
dividing Tibet and India, was drawn across the pass. This, however had 
no meaning to the people on both sides, who spoke the same language 
practised the same religion and who moved freely to and fro, while hav- 
ing practically no contact with the population on the Indian side of the 
mam Himalayan Range, which was still five days* journey away from here 
We had hoped to find a post office here, but we were informed that 
an Indian mail-runner came only once a month, and when we asked 
when we could expect the next one we were informed: 'In spring when 
the passes over the Himalayas are open again.' When would this be?' we 
asked with some trepidation. 'Oh, in about three months' time!' 

It was then that we realised that it would be four months before we 
could return to India, because the joiirney from here to the plains or the 
first bigger town, i.e. Simla, would take another month. We would not 
have minded this, if it had not been that both our money and our provi- 
sions had come to an end, and we wondered how we would pull through 

Return to Western Tibet 359 

for so many months! However, this was no problem for the good old man 
who was in charge of the rest-house {which had been provided for the 
officials of the Public Works Department, in charge of the caravan road 
across the Shipki-La) and who very kindly gave us the permission to put 
up there on his own responsibility, since we could not communicate with 
the authorities. 'And if you are short of money,' he continued, 'I will give 
you as much as you need. You can return it to me when the mail comes 
or whenever it is convenient to you.* 

'But we are complete strangers to you, and we have no means of 
establishing our bona fides,' we countered, whereupon he simply said: 'It 
is my duty to help you and, moreover, I trust you.' 

His name was Namgyal and though he did not distinguish himself 
outwardly from the other villagers, wearing the rough, undyed home- 
spuns and little round caps, characteristic of the inhabitants of these 
Himalayan valleys, he was highly respected in his community as a Nyingma 
Lama and a man of great religious devotion and knowledge. He treated 
us as if we were members of his own Family, because, as he put it, we all 
belonged to the Arya-kula, 'the noble family of the Buddha'. He missed 
no opportunity of discussing religious subjects with us and Sherab, and 
he even brought us some of his rehgious books, his most valued posses- 
sions, so that we could read and study them. Among them were the 
Bardo Thodol, the Mmi Kahbum, and works dealing with the early history 
of Buddhism in Tibet and especially with Padmasambhava and the three 
great kings, Songtsen Gampo, Tisong Detsen, and Ralpachan. He would 
tell us, besides, many popular stories, of which he had a great repertoire, 
or he would read to us from one or the other of his books and discuss or 
explain points of particular interest. 

The Mmi Kahhum affected Sherab particularly, and one morning he 
came to us with tears in his eyes. He had read about the fate of those 
who had committed the sin of Idlling living beings, and he confessed that 
he had committed such a sin by setting traps for foxes. We consoled him 
by telhng him that there is no sin that cannot be overcome and wiped 
out by a change of heart. He promised never to commit this sin again 
and was deeply moved when Namgyal spoke about the Buddhas' com- 

360 The Way of the White Clouds 

passion and their self-sacrificing acts on their way to Buddhahood. 

One day Namgyal invited us to his house and showed us his medi- 
tation and prayer-room (on the top floor), which contained the house altar 
with various images and thankas and a proper Lama's seat under a multi- 
coloured canopy. His wife, an old and shrivelled lady, but with a face that 
showed strength and character, sang for us religious songs with a voice so 
beautiful, mellow, and tender, that one forgot her age. They both were 
ardent devotees of Padmasambhava, who seemed to be always present in 
their minds. To them Padmasambhava was none other than Sakyamuni 
Buddha in a new form and appearing to men in different disguises, com- 
passionate as well as fierce, according to their needs. He was the ever- 
present protector and guide, who would stand by his devotees in danger 
and inspire them in their meditation. He was the special protector and 
friend of all animals and might even take their shape. Once, when the 
landscape was covered in deep snow, we heard the song of a bird. 'It is 
Him!' Namgyal said with great earnestness. On the tenth day of every 
Tibetan (lunar) month he was believed to descend among men and his 
devotees kept themselves ready on that day to receive him in mind and 
heart and in whatever form he might approach. Innumerable stories 
about him went from mouth to mouth, and they were all told in such a 
way as if they had happened quite recently. In fact, nobody thought of 
Padmasambhava as a figure of the remote past, but as somebody who had 
just passed through this valley and might return any moment. For the first 
time we reaUsed the tremendous impact that Padmasambhava had on the 
Tibetan mind. He certainly was one of the most powerful personalities of 
Buddhist history. The miracle stories that grew up around him are noth- 
ing but the reflection of the unbounded admiration which his contem- 
poraries and disciples felt for him, and if modern historians try to dismiss 
Padmasambhava as a 'sorcerer and a chariatan' or as a 'black magician', 
they only show their complete ignorance of human psychology in general 
and of religious symbolism in particular. 

Would anybody, with any sense of fairness, dare to call Christ 'a sor- 
cerer or a charlatan', because he turned water into wine, healed the incur- 
able, roused the dead, exorcised evil spirits, defied Satan, resurrected 

Return to Western Tibet 361 

from the grave after having been crucified and ascended to heaven in full 
view of his disciples? Why, therefore, should one ridicule the story of 
Padmasambhava 's resurrection from the pyre, his victory over demons or 
whatever other miracles are ascribed to him? In fact, when missionaries 
came to Poo (many years ago) and told the people that Christ had sacri- 
ficed himself on the cross for the sake of humanity and had risen from 
the dead, they accepted this without hesitation and exclaimed: 'It was 
Him!', thoroughly convinced that Christ and Padmasambhava were actu- 
ally the same person. Thus the missionaries finally had to give up, not 
because they were rejected, but because their teachings were readily 
accepted as a confirmation of those very truths which Sakyamuni and 
Padmasambhava and many other Buddhist saints had taught. 

To us, certainly, Padmasambhava came to life, more than ever before, 
during our stay in Poo, where his memory was as fresh as if he had been 
here only a few days ago and might turn up any moment again. 

iVlany great Lamas had passed through this valley on their pilgrim- 
age either from Tibet to the holy places in India or from India to iVIount 
Kailas. One of the most prominent among them was Tomo G^sh^ 
Rimpoche. whom Namgyal remembered udth special veneration, because 
it was here that he had restored to life the girl that had been ailing for years 
and who on his command 'took her bed and walked away*, to the open- 
mouthed surprise of those who had carried her on a stretcher and in the 
presence of the whole village. It was here that he exorcised the man who 
was possessed by a spirit and showed mercy even to that spirit by asking 
the villagers to build a small shrine for him as a dwelling-place, so that 
he would find rest and would no more trouble anyone. Modem people 
might look upon this as pure superstition; however, the effect proved the 
soundness of Tomo Geshe's advice: the man was cured and all his suf- 
ferings came to an end — whatever their actual cause might have been. A 
psychologist would probably be able to find a reasonable explanation in 
modem terminology for such phenomena and he would also admit that 
Tomo Geshe found the right remedy. 

While listening to these and many other strange happenings, we 
came to hear a lot about the spirits that were supposed to inhabit certain 

362 The Way of the White Clouds 

localities. There was a group of old cedar trees not far from the village — 
the only trees in the otherwise bare landscape — and we were wondering 
how they could have survived not only the rigours of the climate (at an 
ahitude of almost 9,000 feet), but even more the depredations of man in 
a place where wood was scarce and people had to roam far and wide to 
find fuel or wood for building, Namgyal explained that these trees were 
sacred and nobody would dare to touch them, because they were the 
abode of gods, and when we asked him how people knew this, he 
answered that they came and spoke to them and had even sometimes 
been seen. He said this in a matter-of-fact way, as if it was the most ordi- 
nary thing in the world, so that we felt almost guilty of ever having 
doubted such a possibility To question such simple facts would have 
seemed to him the height of ignorance, and so we left it at that, little sus- 
pecting that one day we ourselves would witness the presence of these gods. 
Tibetans are far more sensitive to psychic influences than most 
Westerners. They have not yet lost the capacity to communicate with the 
powers of their depth-consciousness or to understand their language, as 
revealed through dreams or other phenomena. One day Namgyal came 
and told us that he had seen in a dream a rainbow over our bungalow and 
that this could only mean a lucky event, hke the arrival of some saintly 
person. And, indeed, the next day a Lama arrived and put up in a tittle 
outhouse belonging to our compound. We only saw him from a distance, 
while dismounting from his horse; and both the man as weD as the horse 
seemed tired from a long journey The Lama s robes were old and worn 
and the horse was limping and half blind. We were told that the Lama 
had returned from a long pilgrimage and would have to stay here until 
the passes were open. 

Since the weather was cold and cloudy we had remained in our 
room, but the following day the Lama himself called on us accompanied 
by Namgyal. How great was our joy and surprise when we recognised the 
Lama as our good old Abbot of Phiyang of whom we had taken tender 
farewells at Tsaparang, not expecting ever to meet him again, We had 
regretted this all the more, as we felt that here was a man from whom 
we could learn a peat deal, especially in the field of meditational prac- 

Return to Western Tibet 363 

tice, and we felt almost cheated by fate that we should lose this rare 
opportunity the very moment it came our way 

Whether Phiyang Lama had foreseen that we were destined to meet 
again or not, one thing is sure: he had read our thoughts at that time, 
because now, before we could even mention our secret wish, he offered 
to instruct us in the most advanced methods of Tantric Sadhana and 
Yoga practices. 

As our room was not only bi^er but warmer than Phiyang Lama's, 
since we kept a big fire going the whole day, thanks to Sherab's untiring 
concern for our well-being, Phiyang Lama came daily with Namgyal 
(who thus became our Guru-bhai) to instruct us and discuss our prob- 
lems. It was a most fruitful time, because never was a teacher more 
eager to give from the wealth of his own experience than this new Guru 
of ours, who thus continued the good work of Tomo Geshe and Ajo 
Rimpoch^, for which we shall ever remember him vinth deep gratitude. 
And in this gratitude we must include also our Guru-bhai Namgyal, who 
helped us in so many ways, and our faithful Sherab, who looked after us 
like a son, so that we could dedicate ourselves completely to our reli- 
gious studies and practices. 

When the news of Phiyang Lama's arrival and continued stay spread 
among the Poopas, many came to receive his blessings and finally the vil- 
lagers requested him to perform a Tsewang for the whole community. 
The ceremony was to take place in the spacious courtyard between 
Phiyang Lama's quarters and our bungalow. A few days before the great 
ceremony he retired into his room — ^much to our regret, as we missed 
our daily meetings— though we understood that he required some time 
of solitude and intense concentration in order to prepare himself and to 
call up those forces which he wanted to communicate to others. But 
then it seemed to us that another Lama had joined him, probably to 
assist him during the forthcoming ritual, because we heard another voice 
much deeper than his own from time to time coming from his room. The 
long and sonorous recitations of the new voice were sometimes inter- 
rupted by Phiyang Lama's voice, but neither he nor the other Lama were 
ever seen outside. We were greatly intrigued as to who the new Lama 

364 The Way of the White Clouds 

could be, but nobody could give us any information. So, one or two days 
later, while passing Phiyang Lama's door, we heard again the voice of the 
other Lama, and since the door was wide open, we glanced inside. To 
our surprise we saw no other person in the room but only Phiyang Lama. 
He seemed to be oblivious of our presence, and the strange voice came 
out of him so deep and sonorous, as if another person was speaking 
through him. We quickly withdrew from the door. 

When the great day came, a high throne was erected in the courtyard 
between our bungalow and the outhouse. The throne stood against a high 
revetment wall, covered with a decorative cloth curtain, while the court- 
yard was festively decorated with multicoloured bimting and streamers. 
Phiyang Lama in the full regalia of an abbot was seated on the throne, his 
head covered with the tail red cap worn by the Nyingma and Kargyiitpa 
Orders, to which he originally belonged, though being now the head of a 
Sakya-Gompa. Nobody could have reco^ised in him the poor old pilgrim, 
who might have been taken as a mendicant friar on the day of his arrival. 
The man on the tl"u-one had the bearing of a king and the voice of a lion. 
His face was that of an inspired prophet, and every gesture expressed dig- 
nity and power. Whoever was present could feel that here was a man who 
not merely implored or invoked some unseen power, but one who had 
become that power, by having generated or focalised it within himself in a 
state of complete and sustained absorption and oneness with a particular 
aspect of transcendental reality He had become the very embodiment of 
Tsepam^ (Tse-dpag-med}, the Buddha of Infinite Life. His vision had 
become visible and communicable to all who attended the ritual, which 
held everybody spellbound and in a state of spiritual elation. The rhythm 
of mantric incantations and mystic gestures was like the weaving of a 
magic net, in which the audience was drawn together towards an invisible 
centre. ITie sense of participation was heightened when everybody 
received Tsepame's blessings with a few drops of consecrated water and a 
small ts^-ril, a red consecrated pill of sweetened tsampa, representing the 
Wine and Bread of Life. 

It was the most beautiful eucharistic rite we had ever witnessed, 
because it was performed by a man who had truly given his own blood 

Return to Western Tibet 365 

and flesh, sacrificed his own personality, in order to make it a vessel of 

divine forces. 

Never had 1 reahsed more thoroughly the importance of ritual in 
religion (and especially in community worship) and the folly of replacing 
it by preaching and sermonising, Ritual— if performed by those who are 
qualified by spiritual training and sincerity of purpose— appeals both to 
the heart and to the mind, and brings people in direct contact with a 
deeper and richer life than that of the intellect, in which individual opin- 
ions and dogmas get the upper hand. 


Final Initiations 


ER THE TS£WANG Phiyang Lama continued his daily instructions 
and finally crowned them by giving us in short succession two esoteric 
initiations which conipleted the circle (mandala) of our previous initia- 
tions and introduced us to many new aspects of meditative practice 
heionging to the most ancient tradition of Tibetan Buddhism as pre- 
served by the Nyingmapas {lit.: The Old Ones'). Thus we began to 
understand the various esoteric aspects of Padmasambhava, which have 
created such a sorry confusion among Western scholars, who neither 
understood the symbolic language of Padmasambhavas Biography nor 
that of h,s teachings, and who mixed up descriptions of mystic experi- 
ence with historical facts and legendary accretions. 

Jn these initiations all the psychic centres (cakm) were employed 
and activated, a process which 1 have tried to describe to some extent in 
my Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism. The different forms in which 
Padmasambhava appears depend on the psychic level from which he is 
viewed or on which he is experienced. His name, 'Lotus-born', indicates 
his spiritual birth from the 'lotus' or one of the psychic centres in the 

Return to Western Tibet 367 

movement of his enlightenment or in the process of his spiritual realisa- 
tion, which has to be re-enacted by each of his devotees, i.e. by all who 
have been iniriated into his teachings and his way of ultimate liberation. 

Thus Phiyang Lama not only became the last of our Tibetan Gurus, 
but he gave us the unique opportunity of experiencing for ourselves the 
completeness and harmony of Tibetan Buddhist tradition, marked by the 
great streams of Nyingmapa, KargyUtpa, and Gelugpa hierarchies, each 
of which had contributed valuable religious experience to the mainstream 
of Buddhist life. Though some of the powerful monasteries had been 
drawn into political rivalries (an inevitable concomitant of power) which 
were utilised by nations and warlike tribes beyond the borders of Tibet 
and disturbed the peace of the country, the validity of different religious 
traditions was always recognised. Reformers like Atj^a, Tsongkhapa, and 
others never rejected the traditions of earher sects, but tried to synthe- 
sise their teachings and only criticised the faults of those among their 
followers, who had fallen from the high standard of their owm professed 
ideals, and insisted on a re-establishment of those standards and the per- 
sonal integrity of every member of the clergy. 

Before Phiyang Lama left Poo he performed a very remarkable cer- 
emony which culminated in a baptism or puriBcation through fire, so to 
say a counterpart or natural complement to the Ts^wang, the purifica- 
tion and spiritual renewal through the Water of Life. 'This ceremony (me- 
dbang) was remarkable for two things: for the unexpected interference of 
the local gods and for the way in which all the participants were actual- 
ly enveloped by the flames of the fire, without anybody being hurt. 

The procedure was as simple as it was ingenious and impressive, 
WTiile Phiyang Lama intoned the mantras of consecration, he held an 
earthen bowl with fire in his left hand, and with the other he threw a fine 
incense powder (made of some local shrub or tree-bark) through the 
open flame, issuing from the bowl. The powder ignited instantly, and 
being thrown in the direction of the devotees, who were sitting in a 
group before the Lama, the fire enveloped them for a moment in a Flash- 
like flame that vanished before it could bum anybody 

However, the first part of the ritual was more important, and it was 

368 The Way of the White Clouds 

here where the gods of the locality stepped into action. The ritual was 
concerned with the warding off and destruction of e\il forces by the 
sacrificial fire, which was lit over the mandala of the five Dhyani bud- 
dhas, enclosed in a hexagram formed by two intersecting equilateral tri- 
angles, set in a square whose comers were protected by two vajra-hilted 
semi-circular chopping- knives. The firewood was carefully built up 
around the mandala, and the whole structure rested on a raised platform 
in the centre of the open place in front of the Mani Temple. The Lama's 
throne stood with the back to the Mani Temple, facing the fire-altar, and 
the people sat around in a wide circle. 

During the first part of the ceremony the Lama remained on his 
high seat, reciting mantras and invocations and wielding his magic dag- 
ger ifhurhu) in various directions. He then descended from his throne 
and lit the sacrificial fire, into which ghee or oil was poured, so that it 
burned with a clear, smokeless flame. While chanting further invoca- 
tions, he circled the sacred fire in a measured dance. In spite of his age 
and his heavy robes, he moved about with perfect ease, and every step 
and every mudra was in harmony with the rhythm of his chant. His deep 
voice never wavered, his movements never faltered. His body seemed to 
be carried by a force generated and guided by the mind and maintained 
by a state of unshakable concentration. 

It was in the middle of this liturgical dance that we observed a stir 
among the people sitting at the foot of a row of chortens, which formed 
one side of the square. A tall man got up, his body trembling and his eyes 
fixed as if in a trance. The people around him were visibly perturbed, 
and we felt that something strange and unforeseen was going to happen, 
something that had to do with the struggle between invisible opposing 
forces. Was it that the forces of darkness felt challenged and had risen 
to contend for supremacy? 

The man's movements became more convulsive and somebody 
whispered; 'He has been seized by one of the gods!' No doubt the man 
was possessed, and nobody dared to interfere when, as in a trance, he 
moved towards the fire-altar, confronting the Lama and imitating his 
movements, as if challenging or mocking him. Everybody was horrified. 

Return to Western Tibet 36? 

If the man succeeded in breaking up the ritual, disaster might follow. 
Two super-human powers seemed to face each other, measuring their 
strength. The tension became almost unbearable. 

But the Lama, without missing a single step, without interrupting 
his incantarions, moved on unperturbed, as if the possessed man were a 
mere phantom. The latter, however, persisted in his antics and handed 
to the Lama some scraps of paper or cloth, which he had snatched from 
one of the chorteni. The Lama, without interrupting his movements, 
took them one by one and dropped them into the fire. 

Now the spell was broken, and the possessed man rushed back 
towards the choitens and dashed his head against the stone foundation 
on which they stood, so that the blood spurted from his skull. It was a 
horrible sight, and we feared any moment to see the man's brains spilled 
on the ground. People now tried to hold him back and restrain him from 


370 The Way of the White Clouds 

killing himself; others were running about, shouting for wine and 
weapons to pacify the gods or whatever spirit hatl entered the man's 
body. His wife was weeping with fear. Apparently something was hap- 
pening beyond anybody's control. 

In the meantime the sacred dance had come to an end, and now the 
Lama enquired into the matter and was told that the local gods apparently 
objected to the performance of the ritual, as they had inhabited this place 
since time immemorial, even before the advent of Buddhism. The Lama 
immediately understood the situation and agreed that the gods should 
speak through the possessed man, who was their appointed medium. 

By now a bowl of wine (or chang) and the emblems of the gods in 
the form of various weapons had been brought. The medium drank the 
wine and pierced his cheeks with iron spikes, and finally placed two 
swords upright on the ground, inserted their sharp points into his eyes 
and, leaning on them, he thus supported the weight of his body. A slip 
or the slightest loss of balance and his eyes would be gouged out, while 
the swords would penetrate his brain. It was too gruesome to contem- 
plate! If I had not seen even more gruesome things of this kind among 
the Aissaouas in Northern Africa — I would not have believed my eyes. 

After the medium had gone through all these tests of faith and 
devotion — or whatever the underlying meaning of these self-inflicted 
tortures or proofs of immunity might be — it seemed that the gods were 
satisfied and were ready to speak. The man sat down, trembling in every 
limb, but slowly quieting down. And now the gods spoke through him. 

What they said was that, though this place was their rightful abode, 
they had neither been consulted nor invited to this ritual. If their per- 
mission and consent had been asked, they would have felt satisfied. They 
felt offended, because this common courtesy had not been shown to 

The Phiyang Lama, towards whom these complaints were directed, 
answered, with great presence of mind and without losing his compo- 
sure^ that he had not intended to exclude anybody from the ritual, to 
which ail beings of goodwill of all the realms of existence were welcome, 
but that, if he had known that this place was inhabited by them, he 

Return to Western Tibet 371 

would have asked their permission and consent and would have invited 

them moreover to participate in this ritual for the benefit of all living 
beings. He, therefore, asked them to forgive this unintended offence and 
to give their consent to the completion of the ritual, as well as to partic- 
ipate in it for the benefit of all the people inhabiting their realm. 

The gods accepted the apology and consented to the continuation 
of the ritual, which now proceeded without further disturbance. 

This incident showed us again that invisible forces, whether we call 
them gods or spirits, divine or demoniacal powers, that influence the 
human mind, are not merely abstractions or the outcome of a sick mind, 
but realities with which every religion and psychology has to cope, I 
could very well understand now the type of forces against which 
Padmasambhava had to fight, and that such forces could only be con- 
quered or subdued by calling up counterforces in the human mind, 
which is exactly the function of ritualistic magic, or magic ritual. We are 
dealing here with spiritual realities, not with theories, with actual forces, 
and not with religious doctrines. Modem psychology had to accept the 
facts of hypnotism, autosuggestion, extrasensory perception, telepathy, 
mediumism, psycho-kinesis, faith-healing, and the uncanny powers of 
our depth-consciousness — irrespective of whether it fitted into the pre- 
vailing scientific theories or not. And likewise Buddhism, whether it 
accepted or denied the value of these phenomena, had to cope with 
them on their own level. 

Seen from this point of view, it becomes clear why Padmasambhava 
succeeded in establishing Buddhism in Tibet, while Santarakshita, an 
equally great scholar, but not a man of practical experience and insight 
into other people's minds, was not able to succeed. He confined himself 
to the teaching of ideas and doctrines, trying to convince people intel- 
lectually, appeahng to their reasoning powers, but he had nothing with 
which to oppose or to convert the subtle forces of the mind below the 
threshold of the intellect. 


The Magic Smith 


TER THE FIRE baptism was over we enquired about the man through 
whom the gods had spoken and were told that he was a blacksmith, who 
after the death of the previous medium (who like him was a blacksmith) 
had been appointed by the gods. 'How did this happen?' we asked. 'Was 
the man of a particular religious character or did he possess particular 
psychic qualities or inclinations for spiritual things?' 'No, he was just an 
ordinary man, leading a normal life, but some time after the previous 
"Speaker of the Gods" had died, he was suddenly possessed one day, an<f 
since then the gods have spoken through him.' 

Apparently there was always one man in the village who was thus 
called upon by the gods and had to accept this office. And he usually 
belonged to the blacksmith community. Is it that people who are mainly 
occupied with fire and metal are particularly vulnerable to the influences 
of psychic powers or are we here confronted with prehistoric traditions, 
going back to the times when metals for the first time were extracted 
from the stone and a new age of human history was dawning? At that 
time metal was regarded as having magic qualities and those who 

Return to Western Tibet 373 

extracted and Fashioned it were masteis of a magic art. Heinrich Zimmer 
speaks in this connection of 'the magic smith', who released the world 
from the Stone Age. The hero who can draw the iron sword from the 
stone is not necessarily a great warrior, but always a powerful magician, 
lord over spiritual and material things.' 

This prehistoric tradition seems to have been preserved in many 
parts of the world, in Africa as well as in the Hindu communities of the 
southern Himalayas, to give only two examples. This tradition has noth- 
ing to do with any particular reOgion, but seems to follow psychic prac- 
tices — older than any known religion — in which the telluric forces of 
nature as well as the not yet conscious forces of the human psyche are 

1 found the most astonishing phenomena of this kind among the 
Aissaouas, a Mohammedan sect of mystics in North Africa, whose male 
members (consisting mainly of metal-workers, iron- and copper-smiths) 
used to meet every Friday in a special kind of mosque, reserved for their 
ecstatic religious practices. As a young man I was living among them for 
some time, wearing the usual Arab clothing, and thus I had several occa- 
sions to attend their religious meetings — though they were not averse to 
people of different faiths as long as they respected their religion and 
their customs. 

Though their trances were self-induced with the help of ritual invo- 
cations, accompanied by the rhythm of drum-beats and slow swinging 
movements of their bodies, the effect was very similar to what we had 
seen at the fire ritual: once the trance had been achieved, another power 
seemed to take over and to make the body invulnerable to injury. 
Whatever name we may give to this power — whether we ascribe it to 
Allah or to certain faculties of that universal consciousness in which all 
living beings partake in the centre of their being and to which man may 
gain access, if he is ready to forget his little ego — ^what is important is to 
understand the power of the mind over matter, even in the crude forms 
in which this power may be applied on a primitive human level. To the 
Aissaouas the demonstration of the invulnerability of those who are 
filled with the thought of God, to the exclusion of all other thoughts, by 

374 The Way of the White Clouds 

repeating the sacred name (or bija-mantra) of God (Allah), is a means to 
intensify their faith and an assurance of final redemption. I 

The ritual begins with rhythmic chanting of invocations to the 
sound of drums, dunng which the participants, standing in two rows 
facmg each other, are swaying to and fro. The men of each row have thei^ 
arms mterjocked, so that they sway hke one body. From time to time a 
man would break out of the row, throw off his upper garments and strip 
down to the waist, whereupon the Imam, who presided over the func 
t.on, would hand him one of the weapons, which were kept ready alone 
one of the walls of the mosque. Most of the weapons consisted of iron 
spits of various length, with sharp points at one end, while the other was 
set mto a hemispherical piece of wood, with the flat surface outside 

TTie purpose of these wooden ends (instead of a handle) became appar- 
ent when the Imam with a wooden sledgehammer began to drive the irons 
through various parts of die body of each of the men who approached him 
h was a fVightluI sight to see the iron sink into the Oesh inch by inch- but 
apparently the people experienced no pain, nor did 1 ever see a drop of 
b ood. I obsen^ed veiy closely a man who had an iron spit driven through one 
cheek and saw it coming out through the other one widiout a trace of blood 
and 1 was later on told that if blood came, it would be a sign that the person 
concerned had not attained the state of immunity, because his faith had not 
been strong enough or he had failed to concentrate on the name of God 

Some people were pierced by a number of such irons, but even then 
they continued swaying and dancing in unbroken ecstasy, until they col- 
lapsed with exhaustion. Wherever they fell, they remained lying on the 
floor and the Imam immediately threw a white shroud over them They 
had died the ntual death and were later on to be revived through a sacred 
formula, which was whispered into their ears by the Imam 

TTiere were many different kinds of self-torture, or mther of exercises 
to prove the strength of faith and the completeness of surrender to God 
(because the idea was not to inflict pain, but to show that faith is 
stronger than pain). I remember, for instance, a man who threw himself 
with h,s full weight upon the sharp blade of a sword as if to disembowel 
himself. Yet the skin of his belly was not even scratched' 

Return to Western Tibet 375 

But more uncanny than all these feats was the transformation of 
men into animals, like pigs, dogs, and goats, [ do not mean to say that 
the bodies ot men changed into those animals, but their consciousness, 
their movements, their behaviour had so completely become that of ani- 
mals that even though their human form was srill there, one could clearly 
see them in their respective animal-forms. They moved on all fours and 
[hose who had become goats would, for instance, eat cactus leaves with 
long, sharp spikes, without hurting themselves. Others were eating bro- 
ken glass and some would even swallow live scorpions — which almost 
made my stomach turn. 

Finally the whole mosque was a pandemonium of dancing and 
swaying men. pierced with irons, raving animals and 'dead bodies' strewn 
all over A mad ecstasy seemed to have gripped everybody in the mosque 
and was growing to such intensity that I felt it was dangerous to remain 
sane — as anybody who did not share the common frenzy might be run 
through with a spear or a sword, as being an alien element, an obstacle 
or denial of the state of consciousness that had seized everybody except 
the Imam, who administered weapons and withdrew them when the 
lime had come. 

In the end everybody, including the 'animals*, had succumbed to 
exhaustion and were covered with shrouds, as all the others who had 
fallen before them, and the mosque looked like a battlefield, strewn with 
the bodies of the 'dead'. The Imam now went from body to body, whis- 
pered the sacred words into their ears, and one after the other got up, as 
if nothing had happened. After the weapons had been pulled out, not 
even a scar remained! 

When later I enquired why people — instead of entering a higher 
state of consciousness during their ecstasy — -should degrade themselves 
to such an extent as to fall back into a state of animalhood, 1 was told 
that this was an act of humility, because the lower one makes oneself, 
the greater one can experience the glory of Allah by contrast. 

I could see their point of view, though I could not share it. Like every 
virtue, so even humility and faith, when carried to the extreme, cease to 
be virtues. Self-abasement, which also in early and medieval Christianity 

376 The Way of the White Clouds 

was often carried to extremes, has never had a place in the Buddhas 
teaching, where self-reliance and responsibility for one's own actions 
replaced self-mortification and extreme asceticism, favoured by many of 
the Buddha's contemporaries. Nevertheless, even the followers of the 
Buddha have not always been able to avoid extremes, though the teach- 
ing of the Middle Way is a constant reminder and an efficient corrective. 
Phiyang Lamas understanding and tolerant handling of the critical 
situation that arose during the fire ceremony showed that he was a wor- 
thy representative of that Middle Way, with a deep insight into the 
nature of the human mind. 


Farewell TO Tibet 


I OWARDS THE END of April news came that the passes were opening 
and that the caravan road had been dug out from the avalanches which 
had blocked it during the previous months. The hour of parting came 
near, and while we were assembling our caravan and preparing for our 
final return to India, Phiyang Lama set out for his Gompa in the district 
of Tsaparang, Before our beloved Guru left, he bade us to return to Tibet 
some day and to stay vidth him at his monastery. He gave us his 'Soldeb' 
igsol-hdebs), a beautiful prayer composed by him, as a last gift and guid- 
ance. Whenever reciting it, we would be united with him in spirit. 

On the morning of his departure we wanted to accompany him for 
a few miles, as a mark of respect and gratitude, but he firmly declined to 
accept this honour and insisted on walking alone. We bowed to his will, 
prostrated ourselves and received his last blessings. We all (Sherab 
included) had tears in our eyes when we saw him walking along the road, 
a solitary pilgrim; — poorer even than on the day of his arrival, because his 
horse had died some weeks before. When grazing on the steep hillside, 
a short distance from our place, it had fallen into a deep ravine, proba- 

378 The Way of the White Clouds 

bly due to its one blind eye. The Lama's few belongings had been carried 
ahead by some of the villagers, who had volunteered for this last labour 
of love for the Guru vi'ho had given so much to the village by his pres- 
ence and his selfless service. 

As soon as the solitary figure had disappeared from our eyes, I 
turned into the house and began to recite the Soldeb in order to get over 
the pangs of parting, and lo! — -without knowing how it happened — the 
deep voice of the Guru sounded from my own chest! Li and Sherab 
came running in wonder and I heard them shouting; 'Has the Guru 
returned?' And then they saw me, and I could only say; 'Only his voice 
has returned!' Since then the voice has come back whenever I remem- 
bered the Guru, our beloved Lama of Phiyang. 

Finally our caravan had been arranged after the usual delays and 
negotiations. We had asked Sherab to come with tts, but he was afraid 
to venture into lower altitudes. Even in winter he often used to strip to 
the waist when working — especially when splitting big logs of fire-wood, 
which he had purchased from the villagers. He regarded Poo as a warm 
climate and an altitude of 9,000 feet was to him the lowest limit beyond 
which be would not dare to descend. He told us that he looked upon us 
as his father and his mother, and that he would like to serve us in every 
capacity. But he would die if he went into the lowlands of India, like so 
many of his countrymen who had never returned. 

On the last day before our departure be carved a beautiful prayer- 
stone with the inscription 'Om ftumi padme Hum '. We went with him to 
the Msriiwall, where he deposited the tablet, while praying to be reborn 
vrtth us in a future life, so that he might be able to serve us again. He then 
turned round to hide bis tears and went away quickly, without looking 
back, because — as he had told us beforehand — if he did not go quickly 
and without looking back, it would break his heart. 

The last to say goodbye to us was our dear friend and Guru-bhai, 
Namgyal. 1 embraced him and we both thanked him for all that he had 
done for us. 

And so we left our 'Shangrila', the Valley of Happiness, and 
returned to the world, not knowing that Tibet's hour of fate had struck 

'FlETURN to Western Tibet 379 

and that we would never see it again, except in oiir dreams. But we knew 
that the Gurus and the treasures of memory that this unforgettable 
country had bestowed on us would remain with us till the end of our 
days and that, if we succeeded in passing on to others even a part of 
those treasures and of our Gurus' teachings, we would fee! that we had 
repaid a Uttle of the debt of gratitude that we owe to Tibet and to our 

This is why this book had to be written and why we are determined 
to dedicate the rest of our lives to the completion of the work that fate 
entrusted to us at Tsaparang and to convey to the world in word, line, 
and colour the immortal heritage of Tibet. 

Epilogue 38t 



JlNCE IT WVVS Tomo Gesh^ Rimpoch^ who opened to me the gates of 
Tibet, it is only fitting that I close this story of my Tibetan pilgrimage 
with a few words about his new incarnation, the present Tulku, Jigmg 
Nagawang Kalzang Rimpoch^. 

After our brief encounter at Gyantse at the end of 1947, we had not 
been able to catch up with him, and by the time we reached India he 
was again on his way to Sera, where conditions were regarded as safe 
enough tor him to continue his studies. He remained there until 1959, 
when he passed his final examination as Geshe and was thus confirmed 
in his former title. 

Hardly had he left Sera to take up his residence at Lhasa when the 
people rose against their Chinese oppressors and saved the Dalai Lama 
from becoming a prisoner or a tool of the Communists, who had tried to 
pose as the liberators of the poor— a lie that was once and for ever 
exploded, when it was exactly the 'poor' who, in spite of all inducements 
offered to them during the first years of Chinese occupation, revolted 
against their self-styled 'liberators'. 

During these terrible events irmumerable people came to Tomo 
Geshe Rimpoch^ who had been all the time in close collaboration with 
the Dalai Lama's supporters, seeking solace and encouragement. As in 
his former life, he lavishly distributed his life-giving 'rihus' to all who 
asked for his help and his blessings. Many of the Khampas, who had 
heard of Tomo Geshes fame and the miraculous powers ascribed to his 
Villus', threw themselves fearlessly into the struggle for the liberation of 
the Dalai Lama and their beloved country. 

The Chinese soon began to fear Tomo Gashes 'ribus' as much as the 
bullets of the Khampas. They arrested him and threw him into prison, 
where they tried to break his spirit by exposing him to the most inhuman 
conditions and humiliations, forced labour for sixteen hours a day on a star- 
vation diet, demanding of him the lowest and dirtiest services and alternat- 
ing this with the strictest solitary confinement without air and light. 

Not long afterwards, people who had fled from Tibet reported that 
Tomo Geshe had been killed by the Chinese, who — as we were told — 
had poured boiling coal-tar over him, whde he was sitting in meditation. 
According to their story, he had died without a word of complaint or a 
sign of fear. 

We were deeply distressed, and the idea that our Guru should have 
chosen to return in a human body, only to die a martyr's death, before 
even having a chance to fulfil the mission for which he had come back, 
seemed to us a particularly cruel and senseless fate. 

How great, therefore, was our joy when in 1961 we read a report 
ihat under diplomatic pressure from the Government of India and the 
personal interference of the Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru, the Chinese 
had released the Rimpoche and that he had arrived in Gangtok on the 
24th of June 1961 after more than two years of imprisonment. The rea- 
son for his escape from imprisonment and death was that, being born in 
Gangtok (Sikkim), India could claim him as an Indian -protected person. 
Now we could see the deeper reason why Tomo Geshe, in spite of his 
wish to return to Dungkar Gompa, was not reborn in the Tomo Valley (as 
people might have expected), but just a short distance beyond the fron- 
tier of Tibet! 

382 The Way of the White Clouds 

Epilogue 383 

As 1 was not yet able to undertake the long journey from my pres- 
ent abode in the Western Himalayas to Yi-Gah Cho-Ling or Kalimpong, 
where Tomo Geshe lives alternately in his two main monasteries, I 
requested the Ven. Sangharakshita Thera, Head of the Triyana Vardhana 
Vihara, Kalimpong, to ask the Rimpoch^ whether he remembered me, 
his old disciple, and whether he had recognised me at Gyantse. His 
answer was plain and simple; 'I know him!' 

We shall meet again, as soon as conditions will make it possible. By 
now I have reached the age of my old Guru, while he is now even 
younger than I was when I met him in his previous life. But old or young, 
the inner relationship between Guru and Chela remains, though the 
roles may be reversed outwardly We shall meet again and again, till we 
both have fulfilled our tasks—till we both have become one with that 
ultimate light that Is both our origin and our aim, and that unites us 
through many births and deaths and beyond. 

It is this light that guided me through life, and now that I look back 
upon this life's long road, 1 can see it winding through a wide and varie- 
gated landscape, dominated by a mighty stream, the stream of spiritual 
tradition, that has been flowing from beginningless time and through the 
millenniums of human lives and endeavour. It embodies the experiences 
of untold generations of devotees, seers and singers, thinkers and poets, 
anists and scholars, sinners and saints. The sources of this stream are 
the Enlightened Ones, who ever and again manifest diemselves among 
human beings, likeSakyamuni Buddha, whose message was of such uni- 
versal significance that even after two and a half millenniums we have 
not yet exhausted the depth of its meaning and its manifold ways of 
expression and realisation. 

The particular aspect under which this stream appeared in my life 
was that of Buddhism. Though I was fortunate enough to have had, even 
in early youth, the opportunity of informing myself of the main tenets of 
all great religions, without being influenced or compelled in any one or 
other direction, I chose Buddhism, because it was the very expression of 
my innermost nature and not something forced upon me by circum- 
stances. I certainly was a Buddhist long before I was born! 

However, it is always instructive to see how, at different times, differ- 
ent aspects of the same thing appeal to us. While in youth the rational side 
of Buddhism and the historical figure of the Buddha stood in the fore- 
ground of my religious convicdon, the experiences of later years showed me 
[he shallowness of intellectual reasoning and convinced me of the irrational 
(though not flKti-rational) quality of Reality and of the spiritual character of 
the Buddha, by which the historical impulse of the past is transformed into 
a living force of the present, into a living reality within ourselves. 

in applying the simile of the stream to the development and flow of 
Buddhist tradition through the last 2,500 years since the Parinirvaria of 
Buddha Sakyamuni, a vision flashed through my mind of the journey 
along this mighty river and of the infinite variety of vistas which it 
revealed to me. 1 will try to describe some of them, though 1 am conscious 
of the very personal nature of such a vision and of the inadequacy of 
words and symbols to depict it. 

In the beginning the landscape was dominated by the mighty moun- 
tains of the Four Noble Truths: the Truth of Suffering, the Truth of its 
Causes, the Truth of Liberation, and the Truth of the Path of Liberation. 
The first of these mountains looked dark and sinister and was covered 
with ashes and black volcanic rock, bare of all vegetation, while an omi- 
nous indigo-coloured cloud hovered over it like a pall of doom. 

The second mountain belched forth fire and smoke, and streams of 
incandescent lava licked the sides of the summit with red glowing 
tongues, while a rain of stone and fire crushed and extinguished all life 
around the raging mountain. And a thunderous voice filled the air; 
Verily, I tell you, the world is on fire. It burns with the fire of greed, with 
the fire of hate, with the fire of delusion!' 

The third mountain was bathed in brilliant sunshine and its peak 
gleamed with eternal snow in the deep blue sky-unearthly, pure, far 
beyond the reach of mortals. 

But a fourth mountain loomed beside it. rising in eight lofty steps; 
and from the last and highest of them a multi-coloured radiance issued 
3nd threw a rainbow bridge towards the white, gleaming peak of the 
third mountain that towered above all the others. 

384 The Way of the White Clouds 

And again the Buddha's voice fiUed the air: The path of deliverance 
is found, the Eightfold Path that leads through Right Understanding, Right 
Aspirations, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, 
Right Awareness and Right Meditation to the finaJ liberation of Nirvana.* 

There were lovely groves at the foot of the Mountain of Liberation, 
and many who wanted to prepare themselves for the steep ascent retired 
into their peace and protection from the heat of the fierce sun, and 
devoted themselves to a life of renunciation and contemplation. And 
they built walls around themselves to keep out the world and its dis- 
turbing infiuences. But the more they shut out the world, the less they 
were aware of those mighty mountains, and the sound of the great river 
became fainter and fainter 

Finally, the walls became so high that even the Mountain of Liberation 
was lost to sight. But the recluses preserved the memory of the four moun- 
tains and of the Eightfold Path, leading to the summit of the Mountain of 
Liberation; and they wrote many a learned tome on the dangers and won- 
ders of those mountains. And though the world, which they had shut out, 
stOl fed them and clothed them, they felt that they had become indepen- 
dent of it; and thus there was no more necessity to lea\'e their sheltered 
grove and to set out for a strenuous climb, which only few had attempted 
and even fewer accomplished. And those few had never returned. 

But the river flowed on as ever. 

Thus many a year passed by in this coo! and pleasant grove, until 
one day the call of the river reached some of the recluses, whose yearn- 
ing for liberation had not yet been lulled to sleep. And at the same time 
they also heard the call of the world, the voices of innumerable suffer- 
ing beings inhabiting the river valley, and like them yearning to be free. 
In order to save them all, they built a big ship and set out on the great 
adventure of the river. But the farther they travelled, the more they 
reahsed that the river in some mysterious way carried them towards the 
very aim they had been striving for from the outset and that however 
many pilgrims joined the vessel, there was room enough for all. The ves- 
sel seemed to grow with the number of the piJ^ims. Thus all the world 
was welcome to it, 

Epilogue 585 

And now they also began to realise that the Eightfold Path leads 
right through the world and that its first step is the recognition that there 
is nothing that separates us from our fellow-pilgrims, unless it be the 
illusion of our ovm uniqueness or superiority. A wave of warm love broke 
from their hearts and enveloped their fellow-pilgrims and all that lives, 
until they felt wide and open and free as the sky. 

Their spiritual path and the river had become one and flowed 
towards the setting sun, into which it seemed to merge. And the radi- 
ance of the Waters of Life mingled with the radiance of the Sun of 
Enlightenment; and it seemed as if the lonely mountain of individual 
liberation received its glory only from the reflected light that emanated 
from the river and the setting sun into which it flowed. 

And the radiance of the setting sun was filled with innumerable 
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas: all those who had gone before and all those 
who were still to come— because it is the realm where time is extin- 
guished and past and future are one with the eternal present. Therefore 
the setting sun, towards which the river flows, will never set, and its radi- 
ance will never be extinguished for those who travel along the river 
And so 1 will close this book with an invocation 


Who is meditated upon while facing the setting sun, when the day's 
work is accomplished and the mind is at peace: 


Thou who liveth within my heart. 
Awaken me to the immensity of thy spirit. 
To the experience of thy living presence! 
Deliver me from the bonds of desire. 
From the slavery of small aims, 
From the delusion of narrow egohoodl 

Enlighten me with the light of thy wisdom. 
Suffuse me with the incandescence of thy love, 
Which includes and embraces the darkness, 

386 The Way of the White Clouds 

Like the light that surrounds the dark core of the flame, 

Like the love of a mother that surrounds 

The growing life in the darkness of her womb, 

Like the earth protecting the tender germ of the seed. 

Let me be the seed of thy living light! 

Give me the strength to burst the sheath of selfhood, 

And like the seed that dies in order to be reborn. 

Let me fearlessly go through the portals of death, 

So that I may awaken to the greater life; 

The all-embracing life of thy love, 

The all-embracing love of thy wisdom. 

Kasar Devi Ashram, Kumaon Himalaya, India, November 1964 





I IBET rrSELF, WHEN at the height of its military power in the seventh and eighth 
centuries A.D. (when even China had to pay tribute to Tibet), succumbed to the 
spiritual superiority of a creed which contradicted the very concept of worldly 
power. And what the mighty armies of the Chinese Empire had not been able to 
accomplish was achieved by the subtle influence of two high-minded women, 
who became the consorts of the great Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo (Srong- 
btsan Gam-fo: 629-50 A.D.) and who not only converted him to Buddhism, but 
actively propagated the Dharma in the country of their adoption. The one was a 
princess of the royal house of Nepal, the other the daughter of the Emperor of 
China, who had been defeated by Songtsen Gampo. The Emperor's daughter, 
however, agreed to become Songtsen Gampo's wife only on condition that she 
should be allowed to take with her into 'the country of the barbarians' the pre- 
cious image of Lord Buddha, which was believed to have been made during the 
lifetime of the Enlightened One. and which was regarded as the greatest treas- 
ure of the Imperial Family 

Since the Emperor could not refuse his daughter's hand to so powerful a 
monarch as Songtsen Gampo, he had to yield. And thus the image came to 

388 The Way of the White Clouds 

Lhasa, where it was housed in a wonderful lemple- — tlie famous Jokhang — 
which up to the present day is the greatest sanctuary in Lhasa and, indeed, in 
the whole of Tibet. Miraculous properties are ascribed to the image of the 
Precious Lord (Jovo Rimpoch^ as it is caJled), and in fact it became a focus of 
spiritual power, which soon transformed Lhasa into a Buddhist centre — much 
to the dismay of the priests of the ancient Ban faith, the original religion of 
Tibet, in which the terrifying powers of local spirits and deities were mainly 

However, so long as Buddhism remained restricted to Lhasa and to a few 
temples, the Bon resistance did not show itself much in the open. !i grew in the 
same proportion in which Buddhism spread, untO under KingTisong Detsen' it 
found a skilful leader in the person of his minister Mazhang. 

Though the King was an ardent Buddhist, as his father and his grandfather 
had been, he was not able to oppose Mazhang, who had not only the support of 
the BOn clergy but also a strong following among the aristocracy, many of whom 
still clung to the traditions of the old shamanistic cult. But before Mazhang suc- 
ceeded in his scheme of driving out Buddhism he was killed by his adversaries, 
and now Tisong Detsen redoubled his efforts to place Buddhism on a firm basis. 
For this purpose he invited Indian scholars to teach and to reorganise the new 

Thus the famous Buddhist scholar San tarakshita from the monastic uni- 
versity of Nalanda — which in those days played as important a role in the East 
as Oxford today in the West — accepted the King's invitation. But the opposition 
of the Bons was too strong for him, and he was obliged to return to India after 
a short time. 

But the King did not give up, and when Santarakshita told him of the pow- 
erful Tantric Sage Padmasambhava, he immediately sent messengers to invite 
him to Tibet, Padmasambhava, one of the most colourful and vigorous person- 
alities of Buddhist history, who had studied Tantric Buddhism in the monastic 
universities of Eastern India, was versed in magic as well as in philosophy and 
was tlius able to fight the Sons (who were said to be masters of magic power) 
with their own weapons. 

Instead of merely repudiating the local deities of the Bons, he had the wis- 
dom and understanding of human nature to incorporate them as protectors of 
the Dharma in the Buddhist system. In this way, by respecting the national feel- 
ings and ioyahies of the people and without destroying the ancient traditions of 
the country, he gave a new impetus to Buddliism and succeeded in building the 

! , Khri-srong-lde-btsan. 


first big monastery in Tibet (Samy^-, spelled bSam-yas) after the model of the tmi- 
versity of Otantapuri. The work was started in the year 787 A. D. and completed in 

The last of the great religious kings was Ralpachan (also known as Ti-tsuk- 
de-tsen [khrt-htsugs-lde-btsan], 817-36 A.D.) who, encouraged by the success of 
his predecessor, introduced many reforms in favour of Buddhism. But being too 
impatient in the furtherance of his aims, the Bon opposition flared up again and 
Ralpachan was murdered, while his younger brother Langdarma,' who had 
allied himself with the Bon party, was proclaimed king. 

The latter immediately began to persecute the Buddhists, destroying their 
temples and libraries and killing and driving out their monks and influential 
supporters. It seemed to be the end of Buddhism in Tibet. 

But a hermit who lived in the vicinity of Lhasa and who was said to be the 
incarnation of one of the fierce protecting deities, who had been incorporated 
into the Buddhist faith by Padmasambhava, made an end of this cruel persecu- 
tion. He entered Lhasa in the garb of a 'black magician' of the B6n Order, 
dressed in a black cloak, wearing the black, skull-surmounted hat of that order, 
and riding on a black horse. 

Arriving in the open square before the King's palace, he dismounted and 
began to perform a ritual dance in which bow and arrows were used as symbol- 
ical weapons for subduing evil spirits. The King stepped on to the balcony of the 
palace to watch the dance, when suddenly the black magician let fly one of his 
arrows and killed the King on the spot. 

Before the people could realise what had happened, the black magician 
jumped upon his horse and disappeared in the direction of the Kyi River (on the 
hanks of which Lhasa is situated). By the time the people reached the bank, he 
had crossed the river. But even on the other side nobody could find or had seen 
the black rider on the black horse. What had happened? The rider had turned 
his white-lined cloak inside out, while the black colour with which the horse 
had been dyed had come off in the river, so that a white rider on a white horse 
emerged on the other side. 

Thus the three years of Langdarma's reign of terror came to a sudden end. But 
there was not a single Buddhist institution left in Central Tibet from which the revival 
of the religion could be started, TTiere were not even books from which to teach the 
Dharma, and the few scattered monks, who had survived or dared to return after 
Langdarma's death, were helpless in the face of the dam^e done and widiout the 
backing of a stable monarchy or the leadership of an outstanding personality. 

i. gLang-doT-ma. 

390 The Way of the White Clouds 

The assassination of Ralpachan had been the beginning of the dissolution 
of the Tibetan empire, and after Langdarma's death there was nobody with suf- 
ficient authority to stop the process of decay. ITius Lhasa ceased to be the cap- 
ital of Tibet, which was divided into a number of independent kingdoms and 
principalities of feudal lords. 

E^lkhortsan, the grandson of Langdarma, established a kingdom in Western 
Tibet, which he subsequently divided between his three sons. The eldest received 
the province of Mang-yul, the middle son the province of Purang, and the 
youngest, Detsun-gon by name, received Shang-Shung and the three provinces of 
Guge, of which Tsaparang and Tholing became alternately the capitals. 



I HE SONS AND grandsons of King Detsun-gon were inspired by the same religious 
fervour as their illustrious forefathers, the three Dharmarajas of Tibet; Songtsen 
Gampo, Tisong Detsen, and Ralpachan. So we read in the Tibetan chronicle Pag^ 
sam-jon-zang that King Khore — whose religious name was Lha-Lama Yesh^-fi — 
gave his kingdom to his younger brother, Song-ng^, while he himself and his two 
sons entered the Buddhist Order and became monks, 

Yeshe-o realised that whatever had been preserved of the Buddhist religion 
after the fall of the Lhasa dynasty was in danger of degenerating if a new set of 
religious teachers and adequate translations of the original scriptures were not 
obtained. So he followed the example of Songtsen Gampo, selected a group of 
intelligent young men and sent them to Kashmir to study Sanskrit under com- 
petent teachers for a period of ten years, so that they would be able to translate 
and teach the Buddha-dharma on their return to Tibet. 

But few Tibetans can endure lower altitudes and a warm climate for long. 
Out of the thirteen who had been sent to India by Songtsen Gampo for the 
study of Buddhism, only one had survived the rigours of the climate. The same 
fate befell the group of young men sent out by YesK^-o- Nineteen died before 
their mission was fulfilled, and only two returned to their country. One of these 
was the Lotsava (translator) Rinchen Zangpo, and with him started the revival 
of Buddhism in Western Tibet. 

Appendices 3?*I 

Like Padmasambhava, Rinchen Zangpo was not only a great scholar but a 
great personality, who inspired all those who came in touch with him. Wherever 
he went, he spread the knowledge of the Dharma, built temples and monaster- 
ies, stupa and libraries (to which he himself contributed a great number of 
books), encouraged arts and crafts, and introduced sculpture and fresco-paint- 
ing of the highest order. 

No less than 108 temples and monasteries are claimed to have originated 
under the guidance of this many-sided genius, who himself is said to have been 
a gifted artist. Among the temples ascribed to him are those of Tholing and 
Tsaparang. Their frescoes and statues belong to the finest achievements of 
Tibetan art. 

Yesh^-o was succeeded by King Lhade (his younger brother's son) who 
invited the scholar Subhutri SrT Santi from Kashmir, while two of his sons, 
Shiva-6 and Changchub-6, invited the famous Bengali Pandit DTpankara Sri 
Jnana, one of the leading lights of the university of VikramaSlla, to their resi- 
dence at Tholing. A delegation with rich presents was sent to VikramaSlla, but 
Atisa, as Dlpankara is called in Tibet, declined the invitation, for his services 
were equally needed in his own country. 

Hie King, who then resided at "Fholing and who, according to one tradi- 
tion, is identified with Yesh^-o, thought that his presents had been too small and 
therefore organised an expedition to the northern border of his country, where 
gold could be found. But unfortunately he fell into the hands of his enemy, the 
Kijig of Garlog, whose country lay across the borders and who demanded a huge 
sum as ransom. 

Changchub-S thereupon collected funds for the release of his father but 
when he reached Garlog it was found that the amount was not sufficient. Before 
returning, in order to procure the missing sum, he met his father. The King, 
however, exhorted him not to spend all his gold on an old man like him, who at 
the best had only a few years more to live, but to send it instead to Atfia and to 
tell him that he prized his visit more than his life, which he would gladly sacri- 
fice for the cause of the Dharma. Changchub-t) took leave from his father with 
a heavy heart. He was never to see him again. 

Another delegation was sent to India. When ihey arrived at VibamaSTla 
and told Atlsa all that had happened, the great teacher was deeply moved and 
exclaimed: Verily, this King was a Bodhisattva! What else can 1 do but obey the 
wJt of so great a saint!' 

It was not easy, however, for AtTsa to relinquish his many responsibilities, 
^nd it took him eighteen months before he could free himself from his various 
duties and start for Tibet. Of the gold with which he had been presented, he 

392 The Way of the White Clouds 

kept nothing for himself, but distributed it among the professors and pupils of 
VikramasTla and other religious institutions. 

In the year 1 042 AtTSa reached Tholing and was received by the King, his 
ministers, and the members of the clergy. Among them was also the eighty-five- 
year-old Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo. Being the Elder in the Sangha, Rinchen 
Zangpo remained seated when Atlsa entered the congregation; but after AtTsa 
had delivered his first religious discourse, Rinchen Zangpo was so deeply 
impressed that he got up and paid his respects to him, 

AtTsa spent two years iji Western Tibet and then proceeded to Central 
Tibet, where he succeeded in reorganising the scattered Buddhist groups and in 
re-establishing the purity and supremacy of the Dharma. He founded the 
Kadampa Order, which later on developed into the most powerful sect of 
Lamaism, the Gelugpas. These established the reign of the Dalai Lamas and 
made Lhasa again the spiritual and temporal capital of Tibet. 

Ilowever, Thohng and Tsaparang retained for many a century their impor- 
tance as cultural and political centres of Western Tibet, though Tholing reached 
the peak of its fame in the year 1075, when the great religious council took 
place in the Golden Temple of Tholing under King Tseld^. The greatest schol- 
ars and the highest spiritual dignitaries from all parts of Tibet took part in this 
council, which marked the final triumph and consolidarion of the Buddhist 
revival of Tibet and the beginning of a new era. 

Slowly the scene of political and cultural acrivitj' shifted back to Central 
Tibet, and the last glance of the vanishing splendour of the kingdom of Gugd is 
the report of Padre Andrade, a Portuguese priest, who was the first European to 
penetrate into the Land of the Snows, attracted by the fame of the royal court 
of Tsaparang. 

Padre Andrade reached Tsaparang in the year 1 625 and was received with 
great hospitality by the King, who paid him high honour and, in the true spirit 
of Buddhist tolerance, allowed him to preach his religion. To him a man who 
had travelled round half the world for the sake of his Dharma was certairJy 
worth hearing and deserved the greatest respect. 

Truth cannot harm truth. Therefore, whatever was true in the religion of 
the stranger could only enhance and bear out the teachings of the Buddhas and 
Bodhisattvas. Was it not possible diat in the countries of the West many a 
Bodhisattva (a saint on the way to Buddhahood, or the emanation of an enli^t- 
ened being) had arisen, of whom the people of the East had not yet heard? So, 
out of the goodness of his heart, the King of Gug^ wrote the following letter to 
Father Antonio de Andrade in the year 1625: 

'We the King of the Kingdoms of Pontent^, rejoicing at the arrival in our 

Appendices 393 

lands of Padre Antonio Franguim [as the Portuguese were called in India] to 
teach us a holy law, take him for our Chief Lama and give him full authority to 
teach the holy law to our people. We shall not allow that anyone molest him in 
this and we shall issue orders that he be given a site and all the help needed to 
build a house of prayer,' 

And the King gave even his own garden to the stranger, a gift which under 
the conditions of Tibet, where gardens are scarce and a rare luxury, was more 
than a mere polite gesture. 

But, alas, the King in his unsuspecting goodness did not know that the 
stranger had come not merely to exchange true and beautiful thoughts with 
those who were striving after similar ideals, but to destroy what others had 
taught, in order to replace it by what he regarded as the sole truth. The conflict 
was inevitable and took forms which none of the protagonists of the ensuing 
drama-who both believed sincerely in the righteousness of their intentions- — 
had foreseen. 

The King's favours aroused the suspicions of the Lamas, which were con- 
firmed by the uncompromising attitude of the stranger, and soon the discontent 
spread and the political opponents of the King saw their opportunity. 

While Padre .Andrade, encouraged by his success in Tsaparang, proceeded 
to Lhasa in order to extend his activities over the whole of Tibet, a revolt broke 
out, the King was overthrown, and with him the Gug^ dynasty and the glory of 
Tsaparang came to an end. Around 1650 the kingdom of Guge disappeared 
from the map of Tibet and came under the domination of Lhasa. 

When, one hundred years later, Padre Desideri, attracted by the enthusias- 
tic account of Padre Andrade. traveOed to Tsaparang in the hope of continuing 
or reviving the former's mission, he found the city abandoned and in ruins — and 
so it is to the present day. The roofs of palaces and monasteries have fallen in, 
but the main temples are still well preserved and their frescoes have retained 
tJieir glowing colours and their minutely executed line-work. The golden statues 
stand, as if protected by the magic of their beauty, wrapped in the silence of 
centuries, dreaming of the times when Buddhas and great saints inhabited the 
earth, or as if waiting for the advent of the Great Loving One, the Buddha 
Maiireya, who will bring again the message of peace and goodwill into the strife- 
torn human world. 


Abhidhamma [exis, 186, 187, 188 
Aissaouas, the (Dervish sect in North 

Africa), !5, 370. 373 
Ajanta, 321, 325 
Ajo Rimpoch^, 220, 221, 224, 225, 

229-30, 232, 234, 363 
Afesobhya, Buddha, 32, 295 

Valley of, 295 
Allahabad, Municipal Museum of, 96 
Amarapura. 184 
Amchi (Tibetan dcx:tor), 178 
Amitabha. Buddha, 32, 221. 305 

Valley of, 277, 292. 293 
Amitlyus, Buddha. 223-24 
Aino-chu Valley, 226 
Amoghasiddi. Buddha, 33, 175 
Andes, the, 1 1 5 
Andrade, Padre. 392, 393 
Anotatta Lake. See Manasarovar Lake 
Atrsa (Cfipankara Srt Jfiana), 367, 391-92 
Avalokitesvara, 89, 131, 17i, 221, 247, 
298,331 . . 

Hill of, 294 

Bakistan, 80 

Bardo Th&dol (Tibetan Book of the 

Dead), 105,221,232,244,247, 

Beethoven, Ludwig von, 207 
Beil Pagoda, 191 
Bermiak Rimpochd, 157 
Bliamo, 191 
Bhikkhu Sangha, The. 1S7, 214,215 

Bhutan, Maharaja of, 1 67 

Blofeld, John. 139. 162 

Bolivian highlands, 15, 115 

Bon Monastery. Shang-Shung, 304, 307 

Bon-pos sect, 303^, 388-89 

Bijn- Scriptures, 304 

Brahmaputra (Tamchog-Khambab; river) i 

274, 275 
Brahms, Johannes, 207 
Buddha- D harm a. See Dharma-Buddha 
Buddliist Conference at Darjeeling, 16, 42 
Burma, 13, 16, 137, 183. 184, 190. 191, 

195. 196, 197 
Buston (Great Abbot of the Monastery of 

Shalu), 133 
Butler, Sir Henry (Governor of Burma), 

190, 196 

Capri. Island of, 15, 117, 210, 212 
Cayce, Edgar, 207. 208 
Chamba. See Maitreya, Buddha 
Ghamba Lhakhang (Temple of Maitreya), 

Trapa of, 328, 340 
Ch'an Patriarchs of China, 216 
Chand, Professor Kishen, 203 
Changchub-O, 391 
Chang-Thang (northern highlands of 

Tibet), 16, 76,81, 121,219,291, 

Dogpas of, 340 
Ghaubey, Kedamath (husband of Shanti 

Devi). 203, 204 

396 The Way of the White Clouds 

Chelas, the (disciples), 59, 68, 69. 72, 
73, 151, 152, 154,214,222-24, 
225, 232, 238-39. 328, J82 

Chaje, The (oracle-priest), 255-59 

Chdkyong Temple, 256, 260 

Chomolhari (sacred mountain), 80 

Chopin, Fr^d^ric, 207 

Chorten Nyima, Spring of, 33, 37, 38, 94 

Chulalongkom (King of Siam), 117 

Chumbi Valley, 1 6. 80, 220 

Cochabamba, 1 1 5 

Dalai Lama, The, 11, 43, 166, 167, 170, 
176, 235, 236, 237, 238, 239, 252, 
253. 288, 380.381, 392 
Darjeeling, Buddhist Conference at, 16, 42 
Darshan, The (sacred vision), 42, 146, 

David-Neel, Alexandra (French Orientalist 
and explorer), 126, 127, 128, 133, 
135, 138, 152, 154, 157,159 
Dawa-Dzong (Valley of the Moon Castle), 

Demchog, 234, 279. 292, 293, 347, 348, 
349. 350 
Tantra, 274 
Deideri, Padre, 393 
Detsun-gon, King, 390 
Devi, Shanti, 203-5 

Dharma, The, 11,25, 32-33, 36-37, 53, 
54-55, 64, 69, 168, 175, 196, 220, 
223. 263, 302, 321, 337, 342, 387, 
388,389, 391,392 
Dharma-Buddha, 33, 37, 38, 39, 42, 65, 

Dharma-desana-mudra, 119 
Dhyani-Buddhas, 30, 32, 35. 161, 274, 292, 

Dilkusha (Maharani's residence), 159, 

Dodanduwa, "Island Hermitage" of, 1 6, 

117, 183, 187, 188 
Dolma(hii[of"[ara). 294 
Dolma-La (pass of Tara), 277, 292, 295 
Dombi-Heruka, Siddha, 22 1 
Dorje Phagmo (goddess), 80, 347. 348 

Drepung (monasric community university 

in Tibet), 150,228.252 
Dungkar Gompa, 36, 39, 174, 177, 178, 
225, 230, 231. 234, 264. 328, 329. 
Abbot of, 39, 225, 255 
Oracle of, 255-59 
Dvorak, Antonin, 207 
Diunduiphug, Cave of, 296 

Enche Gompa, 159 
Encne Kazi, Sikkimese nobleman, 
159-60. 176 

Francis Xavier of Goa, Saint. 1 74 

Gadong, Oracle of, 266, 267 

Ganden (monastic university), 1 50, 228 

Gangiok, 157, 159, 160, 165, 176, 177, 

Garlog, King of, 391 
Gartok Valley 307 
Gaurikund, Lake (Thugjg-chempoi Tso; 

Lake of Mercy), 277. 295 
Caya, 167 

Gelugpas (religious sect), 226, 227, 228, 
234, 237, 238, 247, 252-53, 346, 
367, 392, 
Ghoom (Tibetan settle mem), 54, 77 
Gomchens. 17, 136, 137, 145, 151, 152, 

153, 154, 155, 156,229 
Gonkhang, 56 
Great Commentaries to the Holy 

Scriptures of Buddhism, 185-86 
Great Mantra of Six Syllables ( OM 
MANI PADME HUiVl), 52, 70 
Great Void, TTie, 18, 156 
Guge, Kingdom of, 80, 219, 320, 330, 

334. 349, 390-93 
Gupta, Deshhandhu. 204 
Gurla Mandhata Range, 282, 290 
Gurla Pass, 277, 282, 283. 286. 292 
Guru, The, 25, 38, 39, 48, 58, 59, 65. 
66, 67-70, 7], 73-76, 77, 79, 91. 
94,95, 117, 118, 144, 145, 148, 
J 49. 165-66. 168, 173, 174, 175, 

Index 397 

178, 214, 222-23, 225, 232. 238, 
Cyantse (secular town), 173, 227, 237, 
238. 240, 242, 329, 380, 382 

Handel, George Frederick, 207 
Hedin.Svan, 113, 114, 133, 134, 140 
Hemis (Udakh), 243 
Hilton, James (author), 314 
Himachal Pradesii (small Himalayan 
principalities), 352 

Indus River (Senge-Khambab), 81, 274, 275 
International Buddhist Union, 187 
In-awaddy Rivet, 183, 191, 195 

Jigme (Tlie Fearless One). 177, 380 
Jokhang Temple, 252, 388 

Kachenla, 47, 48, 49, 52, 56-57, 58, 60, 

71,76, 165, 168 
Kadampa Order (religious sect), 392 
Kadgapa, Siddha, 131 
Kail as (mountain) (Meru or Sumeru), 1 7, 

18, 146, 273-77, 279, 280, 282, 283, 

284, 285, 286, 290, 291-93, 294, 

296-97. 298, 299, 300. 303, 308, 361 
Kalimpong, 382 
Kargil. 80 
Kargyiitpa Order (religious sect), 151 , 

220, 227-28. 231, 234. 239, 297, 

364, 367 
Karma, Law of, 40, 171,296 
Kamali, River (Magcha-Khambab), 274 
Kashmir, 80 
Khang-men (sacred mountain of the 

Menia-Buddhas), 308 
Khang Rimpoch^, 294 
Khotd, King(Lha-LamaYesh^-6), 390 
Kojomor, rock-gate of. 309 
Kumbum (temple), 237, 240, 242 
Kushog RimpochS, 94 
Kiithawdaw Pagoda, 184, 186 
Kyi-chu River, 252, 266. 389 
Kyundaw Kyaung, Monastery of, 183 

Lachen, Abbot of (Gomchem of Lac hen), 

17, 150-53, 221 
Udakh (Little Tibet), 16, 80, 100, 107. 

monasteries of, 81 
Umyig, the, 237, 302, 306, 335 
Langag Tso. See Rakastal Lake 
Langchen-Khambab, 274, 300, 306, 307. 

309, 310, 345. 354. 556 
Langdamia. King, 22, 220. 247, 389, 390 
Lafikavaiara Sutra, 54 
Lao-tse, 29 
Leh, 80 
Lhabrang, Monastery of Yi-Gah Ch6- 

Ling, 66 
Lhadi5, King, 391 
Lhakhangs (private chapels). 84. 94, 175, 

226. 230-34. 255, 304, 305, 321, 324, 
325, 328, 334, 336, 340, 350, 351 

Lhasa, 22. 34, 37, 71. 176, 178, 225, 

227, 236, 237, 238, 252, 263, 264, 
266, 267, 288, 289, 302 

Liberation, Mountain of, 384 
LiGotami, 17-18, 1 14, 126. 135, 146, 
173. 176, 220, 226, 231, 233, 240, 
321, 323, 324, 325, 329, 332-33, 
337, 338, 342. 343. 350-51, 356, 378 
Linga, 133. 134 
Lin Yutang, 2 1 6 
Lipulekh Pass, 281 

Lohonia. See Dungkar Gompa, Abbot of 
Lord of Death, 133, 247-48, 332 
Losar, The (Tibetan New Year festival), 

Lung-gom, art of, 124. 126, 127-30, 
132-33,135, 136, 137, 138-41 

Magcha-Khambab. See Kamali River 
Mahamudra doctrine, 215 
Mahaparinibbana-Sutta of the Digha- 

NikSya, 214 
Maha-Vathi. See U Khanti 
Maitreva, Buddha, 36, 37, 43, 46, 47, 79. 

87,89.94, 175.393 
Temple of. See Chamba Lhakhang 


The Wat of the White Clouds 

Manasarovar Lake (Anotatta Lake; Tso 
Mapham), 17, 121,274,275 
27^78, 282, 283, 286, 287, 288, 
Mandalay, 183, 184. 188, 190. 19 1 
MandaiayHill, 184, 185, 186, 188, 198 
Mandarava (Indian Princess). 84 
Mang-yuj, Prince of, 390 
Marj Kahbum, 359 
Mani Temple, the. 368 
Mani walls, 298, 303 
Manjusn (the Embodiment of Wisdom) 
Hill of, 221 

Great Mantra of Six SyNables 
Marpa (Guru of Milarepa), 214, 298 
Maudgalvayana (Disciple of §%amuni 

Buddha), 84 
Maurig Tun Kyaing, 190-97 
Maya, Queen, 176. 276 
Maymyo (summer capital of Burma in 
Northern Shan States), 190, 196 
Mazhang, 388 
Meng-Goong (criba) magician in 

Northern Thailand), 139 
Mercy. Uke of. See Gautikund 
Meru. Mount, See Kailas, Mountain 
Mewang ritual, the, 367-7 J 
Milarepa (hermit and poet of Tibet) 150 

Mill, John Stuart, 207 

Mindon Min (King of Burma), 184, 185. 

J Oo 

Monlam Prayers, the, 261 
Montenagro, Field Marshal de (authors 

great-grandfather), IS, 115 
Moon Castle (Dawa-Dzong), Valley of 

the, 309.314,316.319. 355 
Mozart, Wolfgang, 207 
Muttra, 203, 204 

Nachung, Great Oracle of. 37. 177, 

252-53, 264, 265, 266 
Nalanda (monastic university), 238, 388 
NamgyaJ (Nyingma Lama), 359^63', 378 

Naples, University of, 15, |17 
Naropa, Mahassiddha, 215 
Nehru, Pandit JawaharlaJ, 17, 220 
Ngari Khorsum district (Western Tibet) 

Ngawang Kaliang. See Tomo G^she 

Noiiy, Lecomte de, 349 
Nyak-Tso, Lake, 100, 108 
Nyanaliloka Mahathera (Paii schofar). J6 

il", 183. 186. 187, 190, 19! 
Nyang-to Kyi-phug, Monastery of 126 

133, 135, 138, 139. 141 
Nyjngmapas (religious sect). 84 234 
239, 247, 252, 336, 359, 364, 366, 

Otantapuri, University of, 389 

Padmasambhava (Apostle of the Buddha- 
Dharma), 33, 37, 84, 221,231 234 
360-61, 366, 371. 388, 389, 391 
Pagan (ruined city). 183 
Pall. 15, 71, 117, 137. 184. 193 195 

Pal-khorlo Chode, 237, 240 
Palkhottsan (grandson of King 

Langdarma). 390 
Panchen Lamas, 1 74 
Panchen Rimpochd (Tashi Lama). 47 
PangongLake, 100, 107. 108. 128.338 
Pangong Range, 108, HI 
Parikrama, the, 292, 298 
Parinin'lna, 3 1 , 383 
Pekar Gompa, 354 
Phari, 235, 263 
Phiyang, the Lama of, 336-38, 362, 
363-64, 366, 367, 370, 376, 377 
Pio, Padre, 210 „ 

Podang, Maharajah's Monastery of 1 57 
158, 159 ' ' > 

Polgasduwa, Monastery of. ! 1 7 
Poo, Valley of the, 147, 357 358 361 

Index 399 

protocol, Mastei of the, 257, 258 
Purang, valley of. 282, 301, 390 

Quechisia, Mountains of, 115 

Rahul a Sankrityayana (Indian scholar), 80 

Rajgir. 167 

Rakastal Lake (LangagTso), 275-76, 

278, 286, 288, 290, 291 
Ralpachan, King, 359, 389, 390 
Ram pur (capital of Bashar State), 146 

Maharaja of, 1 46 
Ratnasambhava, Buddha, 32, 292 
Rechung (disciple of Milarepa), 297 
Red Temple, the, 30, 325, 326, 336, 342, 

Reting Rimpoch6. 235-37. 239 
Ri-bo-rtse-Inga. See Wu T'ai Shan 
Richardson, Hugh (British envoy to 

Lhasa), 172, 173,265,266 
Riencourt, Amaury de, 266-67 
Rinchen Zangpo, Lotsava, 96, 220, 357, 

temples of, 219, 237. 306. 328, 330, 334 
Ronaldshay Earl of (later Marquis of 

Zetland), 151 
Rudok, Dzongpdn of. 336, 337. 338 
servant of, 353, 354, 355 

"Sacred Circle of Highest Bliss," 346 
Sacred Law, the, 245. 251, 254, 263 
Sacred Protectors of the Law, 258-59 
Sacred Scriptures, the. 146, 147, 302 
Sais, Temple of. 56 
Sakya Gompa, 336 

S%amuni Buddha, 30-32, 38, 69, 75, 84, 
88, 148, 176, 221, 222, 245, 251. 260, 

279. 299, 325, 360, 361, 382, 383 
Sakj'apas, The (religious sect)^ 238 
Samadhi, 38 

Samd^-phug (cave), 133 
Samding, 133 

Samy^. Oracle of, 252, 253 
Samy^ Monastery, 25 1 , 389 
Sangharakshita Thera, 382 
Santarakshita, 371,388 

Santayana, 117 

Sardar Bahadur Ladenla, 1 67 

Sariputra (disciple of Salq'amimi Buddha), 

Sarnath, 166. 167,220.338 
Schopenhauer (philosopher), 116 
Seng^-Khambab. See Indus River 
Sera (monastic university in Tibet), 1 50, 

178. 225, 228, 235,' 237, 239, 240. 

242, 380 
Shangsha, 328 
Shang-Shung, 304, 307, 390 
Sherab, 71, 145, 353, 357, 359, 363, 

377. 378 
Shigatse, 47. 126, 132, 133. 238 
Shipki. 335, 341, 342, 357, 358, 359 
Shiva, 274. 279, 292, 293 
Shiva-tt, 391 
Sikkim, 16-17, 37, 79, 151, 220, 227. 

263, 381 
Maharajah of, 1 53 
Song-ng^, 390 
Songsten Gampo (Tibetan King), 359, 

387, 390 
Spiritof Beauty, 30, 31,32 
Srinagar, 80 

StaSl-Hol stein, von (scholar), 71 
Subhflti §rT$anti (scholar). 391 
^Qrahgama Stitra, 38 
Sutlej River See Langchen-Khambab 
Swastika Mountain, 282, 283,286, 290 

Tagore's University at Santiniketan, 16, 220 

Tamchog-Khambob. See Brahmaputra 

Tankse, 100. Ill 

lara.White, 30, 221 

Tare hen. Monastery of, 298 

Tashi Namgyal, Maharajah, 157, 359-63, 

Tathagata, 31 
Termas, 231 

Thailand, Northern, 139, 140 
Thangu. 151 
Thera vada (Southern Buddhism), 16, 41, 

65, 117, 187.223 
Thibaw (King of Burma), 1 85 

400 The Way of the White Clouds 

Tholing, 96, 319, 330, 334, 340, 351, 390 
Abbot of, 330, 333 

Thomson, William (Lord Keivin), 207 

Thubden Sherab (G^sh^la), 71 

Thugl^-chempoi Tso. See Gaurikund, Lake 

Tibet, 11, 13, 16-19,21-23, 29, 33, 34,37, 
39, 41, 47, 48, 63, 74, 76, 77, 79-81, 
82, 87, 94-96, 99-101, 103, 104, 106, 
110-14, 120, 122, 130, 133, 137-40, 
144-48, 150-52, 159, 160, 166, 168, 
169, 171, 174, 176, 178,213.214, 
216.219-27, 231. 235-39, 244, 
251-52, 254-56, 275, 296-98, 301, 
304, 306, 311, 313-14, 319, 326-28, 
330, 337, 345, 346, 352, 356-61. 367, 
371, 377-79, 380, 381, 387, 388-93 

Tilopa, 2 1 5 

Tipitaka (canonical texts), 1 84 

Tlsong Detsen, King, 359, 388, 390 

Tista Valley, 160 

Tomo G^sh^ RimpochS {Lama Ngawang 
Kalzang. G^sh^), 16, 36-37, 39, 59. 
60, 65, 68, 72, 73, 76. 94, 1 17, 145, 
147-48, 155. 165, 166, 167-68, 
173,174, 175, !76, 177-78, 220, 
221, 225, 235, 237, 240, 241, 242, 
252, 255-56, 26), 328-29, 335, 
336, 346. 361, 363, 380-8] 

Tomo Valley, 36, 226 

Tsaparang, DzongpOn of, 17, 24, 29, 30, 
37, 96, 220, 306, 314, 319, 320, 
333-35. 336, 341, 343, 344, 345. 
377,379,390, 391,392, 393 

Tsawai Lama, 94, 222 

Ts^-Chtiling, Monastery of, 220. 229, 

Tselde, King, 392 

Ts^pam^, Buddha, 364 

Ts^wang, the, 223, 363, 367 

Tso Mapham. See Manasarovar Lake 

Tsongkhapa, 367 

Tulku, 39, 176, 229, 230, 231, 232, 233, 
234, 235, 236, 237, 240, 241, 242, 
252, 380 

U Khanti (hermit of MandaJay Hill), 186, 

187, 198 
U Kumara Mahathera, 183 
Umdzg. the, 60, 61,64, 229 

of Ts^-Chdling, 230-31, 234 
U Pandeissa (abbot of Yunkyaung), !94, 

195, 196 

Vairocana, Buddha, 33 
Vajradhara, Buddha, 234 
Vajrapani (Master of Unfaihomed 

Mysteries), 88, 89, 221 
Hill of, 294 
Vajrayana, 169, 214, 221 
Veltheim-Ostrau, Baron von, 167 
Verne, Jules, 315 
VikramaSlla (monastic iniversity), 215, 

238, 392 
Voltaire, 207 

Wangdu. 320, 328, 329, 333, 339, 340^ 

Wangkur rite, 222 
Wheel of the Dharma, 53, 67 
White Conch, Monastery of the. See 

Dungkar Gompa 
White Temple, the, 321, 325-26, 342 
Wu Tai Shan (sacred mountain), 161 

T&bshl-Pankhang, 227 

Vamantaka, Yidam (Slayer of Death), 331 , 

Yarkand Sarai, 80 
Yesh^ Tshogyal. 84 
Ti-Gah Cho-Ling, Monastery of, 66, 75, 

76,95. 104, 117, 165, 166,221, 

225, 243, 382 
Yoga. 104 

Yongden, Lama, 159 
Yungtftn, Dorj^ Pal (magician). 133 
Yunkyaung, Monastery of, 195, 196 

Zen Masters of Japan, 216 
Zimmer, Heinrich, 373 

Lama Aii^«?^^ v^Snda (1898-1985) was born 
Ermt Lothar Hott; = r ; i Waldheim .Germ any, the son 
of A German father ind a BoUvian mother. In his 

twenties and thirties he became increasingly interested 
in Buddhism, first studying in Ceylon and then in 
Ifadia, making several visits to Tibet in the 1930s and 
4Cls. He spent his final years living in the Bay Area of 
Northenj California. 

JafJwi Jrsigtt hy PkofFaifax Lid. 

Jacket photumph O Cathis tmages 

Autkgr photograph © U Golami G<ivinita Stlfiitt^ 


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