The strength of fire is not defined by the size of wood but by the flow of wind. A shift in wind can change the mood and form of fire. And similarly, the stillness of our mind (which is the ultimate goal of Yoga) is defined by flow of our internal winds. Hatha Yoga Pradipika says, “as wind moves, the mind moves; stillness in one, brings the stillness to other”. The mysterious flower of inner-stillness has been “the goal” of yogis, tantriks, sages and everyone else that are on the path of finding their true essence or the very ground of their being.
Stillness also became the concluding part of my yatra. Every sacred ritual, ceremony, yatra or journey has beginning, middle and end. Even the journey of esoteric Kundalini goes through three stages, in the beginning is the rise of heat in sacrum and lower lumbar spine. The heat is at least ten times more than the heat experienced in sexual arousal. In the next stage the energy of Kundalini travels up through spine. It feels like hot water stream rising up towards the head and it travels like a snake. In final stage, the energy penetrates into the head and the whole body tingles with energetic sensation. One feels very light and hears clicking sounds inside the head as if hundred of tiny lotuses are crackling, unfolding and opening. Nothing externally changes, however the internal life and perception is completely changed, forever.
My yatra began at Fes, Morocco and then continued to Muktinath, Nepal and concluded with the Kora (skt. parikrima) or the circumambulating of Mt. Kailash, Tibet. The ‘Mountain’ in external reality is symbolic of Stillness and it’s visualized image, internally is an archetype of the same.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has written, “…if people are so highly developed spiritually that they can practice their religions effectively by staying in one place, even in some unholy place, then a pilgrimage may not be important for them….Many ordinary people, however, especially those who find religion difficult to practice in a devout way in their normal lives, set off on long journeys with the hope of communicating virtue and gaining merit.” Obviously, I fall into the category of ‘ordinary people’.
Mt. Kailash is considered as a sacred place in five religious traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Ayyavazhi and the Bön Po faith. In Hinduism, it is considered to be the abode of Lord Shiva and as a place of eternal bliss and transformation. To the Buddhist it is the kingdom of Demchok, a wrathful manifestation of Shakyamuni, the Historical Buddha. The Jains believe their saints were emancipated here, and the Bon Po (the ancient religion of Tibet) believe that their founder alighted from heaven here.
The mandala ( or field) of Mt. Kailash is the source of four of the longest rivers in Asia (the Indus, the Sutlej, the Brahmaputra, and the Karnali river, which is a tributary of the Ganges River) and two lakes, the Lake Manasarowar (highest body of fresh water in the world) and Lake Rakshastal. The word Kailash means “crystal” in Sanskrit. The Tibetan name for the mountain is Khang Rinpoche, meaning “precious jewel of snows”. According to one description in the Vishnu Purana, Mount Kailash is the center of the world, its four faces are made of crystal, ruby, gold, and sapphire and and is located at the heart of six mountain ranges symbolizing a lotus.
Every year, thousands make a pilgrimage to Kailash, following a tradition going back thousands of years. Guru Nanak, Nath Yogis, Milarepa, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), 84 Maha-Siddhas, Pandav Kings and many other Indian & Tibetan sages and Kings have come here to meditate (or transition into the next life) in the abode of Mt Kailash and Lake Mansarovar. Milarepa, the Great Tibetan Yogi and Saint said, “There is no place more powerful for practice, more blessed, or more marvelous than this; may all pilgrims and practitioners be welcome!” It is said that one can not go to Mt. Kailash until they are called by the Mountain. My call came two years ago when the vivid image of Mt. Kailash came to me in a dream-journey and since then it has graced me in many visions and lucid dreams.
We started our travel from Kathmandu, passing through Trans-Himalayan high dessert of Western Tibet. Journey through Tibetan High Dessert had a feeling of passing between the worlds. On the way we stopped few nights to acclimatize with high altitude and also visited sacred Tibetan monasteries and caves of yogis to mentally and spiritually prepare for the Mt. Kailash-Kora.
The dreamscapes of high dessert are impossible to describe, even with photos or brush, the beauty that sun paints is very evocative and amazingly beautiful. The hostile terrain of dessert, mixed with expansive vistas, haunting solitude, and emptiness forces us to withdraw in meditative states. This was time for me to be free of worries, free of what is next or what might be… and let go of all the baggage and get to simply who i am, right now, in present moment, with no expectations or regrets whatsoever. The ‘acclimatization journey’ helped me in creating an internal space by learning to let go of everything that would not have helped me in getting to Mt Kailash and that includes my ‘sense of achievement’ and pride.
Someone, once told me, “You can’t grab God. You just have to become still and empty. Then God will have place to enter.” Lama Govinda wrote, “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.” The sacred mountain can invoke supreme bliss in us, but it is not easily gained. One has to be completely empty and humble then only transformation happens.
One thing that I wanted to work with while doing Mt. Kailash-Kora was my ‘fear of non-accomplishment’. I have a deep fear that if I am not accomplishing something than I will fade away. This fear has kept me busy, productive and materially comfortable. On the other side, it has created dislike in me for ‘non-productivity’, and sometime I become ‘edgy and mean’ if planned things go ‘out of control’ or become unproductive. The worst aspect of this fear is the expectation of having a ‘productive meditation’ session! I wish to transform this ‘fear’ into ‘openness and equanimity’ to all aspects of life.
The Kailash-Kora starts and ends from a small town called Darchen. This is also where we had the first sight if Kailash. The winds and clouds had created a formation of giant spinal column in the sky and one end of it was pointing directly to Mt. Kailash. As if the winds were reminding us that Mt. Kailash is crown chakra of earth and we were in its mandala.
In the morning after a short walk along the mountain we came at the first prostration point of the the kora from where we can see the south face of Mt. Kailash. There is a Chorten, and Tarbocje (flagpole) which is being replaced every year in a saga dawa festival (celebrated on the day of Buddha’s enlightenment). All around are prayer flags, mani stones, and over the cliff is sky burial place of 84 Maha-Siddhas.
The first day’s journey through valley was breath-taking, the giant mountains on both side felt like the walls and pillars of an endless cathedral. The wind was chilly, crisp and growing in strength as I got closer to the end-point of first day. The end point of the first day was about 20 km up the valley and 200 meters higher in altitude near Dirapuk Monastery, opposite the majestic north face of Mt. Kailash.
In couple of hours the weather started to get worst, it started to rain and which quickly became snow. Wind was roaring and it’s whispering become harsh shrills. The Mt. Kailash became invisible, covered with thick veil of fog and snow. Next day was a rest day, however, everyone was worried about day-after which was suppose to be most difficult one. We all hoped for better weather.
The night was filled with most vivid dreams. The whispers and shrills of outer winds were working on the inner winds and mind was lit with brilliant show of light, sound and color. As if all my wrathful fears were being transformed into peaceful forces. All night I tried to lay still and witness the inner battle however, it became increasing overwhelming and I remember passing-out to other side.
Next day morning, sky was dark and there was no sign of Mt. Kailash. The snow and chilling wind continued, everyone was worried. People prayed and meditated in their own way for clear and nicer weather. My mind was calm and still. Something had changed inside and somehow I knew that everything will be fine by tomorrow. I was not ‘edgy’ and there was no eagerness to do something or ‘be productive or try to solve the problem’. The mountain had settled inside me.
The time had come to uncover and discover the Stillness of the Sacred Mountain and it’s relation to my inner Stillness. I continued to enjoy my inner Stillness and by after noon the sky became clear. The north face of Mt. Kailash was shining with all its glory and splendor. Although I was wearing five layers of clothing over my physical body but the Stillness of mountain was able to cut through everything (including any illusions—physical, mental, or emotional) and touch my heart directly. Standing in front of north face of Mt. Kailash, I understood something without reason or explanation. I have come home to myself, in complete Blissful Stillness. Stillness is the source of all movement. Blissful Stillness is the nature of Self [Ayam Atam Shantah]. Stillness is the central core of our being.
I remembered the interview with Marie Louise von Franz’ first meeting with C. G. Jung (from “Matter of Heart” DVD): “He told that story which you can read in the Memories, about this girl who was on the moon and had to fight the demon, and the black demon got her. And he pretended, … he told it in a way as if she really had been on the moon, and it had happened. And I was very rationalistically trained from school, so I said indignantly, but she imagined to be on the moon, or she dreamt it, but she wasn’t on the moon. And he looked at me earnestly and said, yes, she was on the moon. I still remember looking over the lake there and thinking either this man is crazy or I am too stupid to understand what he means. And then suddenly it dawned on me – he means that what happens psychically is the real reality. And this other moon, this stony desert which goes round us, that’s illusional, that’s only pseudo-reality. And that hit me tremendously deeply. When I crawled rather drunk into bed, because he gave us a lot of Burgundy, that evening I thought it will take you ten years to digest what you experienced today.”
“What happens psychically is the real reality”. The truth about being human is that each one of us is always free to choose what meaning we attach to any given experience, internal or external. It is we who choose to be ‘victim’ or be larger than our fears. Wrathful and peaceful both are part of us and we give meaning to each one. Hopefully, meaning we choose is helpful to us and benefits all beings.
The next day of the Mt Kailash kora was the most difficult as soon as I passed Dirapuk monastery and crossed the Lha-Chu river, the route became increasingly treacherous. The steep path filled with fresh snow and frozen ice which eventually thinned out – as did the air into the Shiva-Tsal. Shiva-Tsal is the place where people come to die and transform it is littered with clothing and shanks of human hair that pilgrims leave behind to symbolize their death.
After passing through Shiva-Tsal I started to make my way up the Drolma-La, to re-born. The path was filled with several inches of snow and frozen ice. I have not idea how I got up to Drolma-La pass (18,600ft) it was as if some wind carried me through it and the next thing I know, I was taking a rest in a tea tent down in the valley crowded with jovial Tibetans and some of the people from my group. The journey that day continued tracing the Dzong-Chu river until we came to our tent which was set two kilometers before the where Milarepa had meditated. That night I had most peaceful sleep. The temprature in the night dropped to freezing -15C.
The last days’ walk continued through valley which was filled with mani prayer walls, inscribed yak skulls and beautiful gorge. It ended into the mid-day sun at Darchen. Next day we were enjoying the mirror like magnificence of Lake Mansarovar. The beauty, solitude of Lake Mansarovar was very soothing and refreshing to my heart. It helped to digest the experience of Mt. Kailash-Kora. Few days later we took flight back to Kathmandu from Lhasa.
In Kathmandu, while strolling through ancient towns of Bhaktapur and Patan and looking at beautiful temples, I realized that they feel kind of empty and lifeless. After experiencing the mind expanding vistas of Tibet, liveliness of monasteries, Stillness of Mt. Kailash and luminosity of Lake Mansarovar, these seemed meaningless to me. I also noticed that I did not turn away from the eyes of hungry beggars, or avoid breathing the polluted air, as I had done before. Aversion seem to have been replaced by openness and equanimity, and more receptivity to the continuum of suffering and bliss present in the unfolding of life. Yatra has made me a ‘traveler’ out of a tourist.
I am sure that His Holiness is right when he says that people can practice their religion and transform themselves effectively by staying at home. However for me, the life and practice came vividly alive through this yatra and immersion in the energy of different sacred places forced me to let go much of my baggage. The words of Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi and saint, went through my mind: “Just to leave home (place of familiarity and habitual life) is half the Dharma.”
Ayam Atma Shantah – Nature of Self is Blissful Stillness.
sarve bhavantu sukhinah – May all be Happy and Blissful.