My Pilgrimage to the Temple on The Rock

By pure chance, I ran into one of my relatives, a nephew, in the Songtsam Hotel dining room in Lhasa where I was staying in May of 2019. Champa is a very likable and charming fellow and when we he picked me up in his gleaming new BMW the next day, we soon decided we would go the Phapungkha Temple the following day.

 For some reason, I have always been particularly intrigued by the name Phapungkha in a way I never understood. I soon discovered why.

 Phapungkha, our destination, turned out to be a spectacularly beautiful temple perched on a gigantic three- story boulder, a short 45-minute drive from Songtsam Hotel. I noticed there were many Tibetan parents and grandparents buying hand stitched cotton tubes stuffed with Tsampa - roasted ground barley flour- that Tibetans eat as a staple in their grain- based diet. These tubes were being sold to pilgrims who had come to the temple to pray and make offerings to Thon Mi Sambhota. This was a surprise bonus for me!

  Thon Mi was a revered genius who, according to legend, braved the horse caravan journey from Tibet to India seventeen times, in order to study Sanskrit and create the Tibetan script and grammar that made it possible to share the written word of the Buddha. He is credited and honored for developing the written Tibetan language that made it possible to translate the precious 108 volumes of Kangyur (direct teachings of Buddha) and 225 volumes of the Tengyur (commentaries and explanation of Kangyur) that make up the Buddhist Canon. Wow! I could not have wished for better luck in finding a meaningful pilgrimage. Thon Mi’s extraordinary dedication and hard work were responsible for transforming Tibet into the Buddhist culture it became and changed Tibet forever. Thanks to Thon Mi, Tibet became a sanctuary where Buddha Dharma and Buddhist wisdom has been preserved and thrived through-out the centuries.

 I noticed there were many parents and grandparents making offerings at the Phapungkha Temple. I was enamored to discover they were making offerings to Thon Mi Sambhota and inviting his blessing for their sons, daughters and grandchildren for the upcoming All China National University Entrance Exams. This is an anxiety-charged week in a nation of 1.4 billion people. Everyone knows this exam will “make or break” the careers of the multitudes in China.

 After this exciting discovery, our next step was to search for Thon Mi’s statue among the many statues of deities in the temple. We lucked out again by getting the help of the monk in charge who kindly led us to the image of the great sage. My nephew and I were finally in front of Thon Mi’s enshrined image. We lit butter lamps and prayed to Thon Mi with folded hands. I was moved by his life size presence. His large eyes depicted great intelligence, and learned as he was, Thon Mi seemed a physically powerful man. I know he had to be physically fit to cross those high passes across the Himalayas so many times!

 I was mesmerized by Phapunkha temple. I also wondered about the great translator’s work habits. Did he move about different spaces in and around the cave? Did he build a retreat house or study space on the rock? I left full of questions but profoundly grateful to have had the chance to visit a remarkable man who changed Tibetan culture forever.

Tashi

Tashi Delek! Help us Celebrate The Year of the Boar with a unique exhibition of Hand Painted Treasure Chests and Furniture of Tibet.

Tashi delek! Tibetan New Year, Losar, has begun and we welcome the year commonly referred to as The Year of the Pig. I prefer, however, to call it the Year of the Boar; the wild pig, that is free from domestication. Why? Because we need to be brave like the wild boar, ready to take on the challenges of a more chaotic environment in the year ahead and the foreseeable future.

 In Tibetan, pig or phakpa can be a pun to mean another phakpa, arhat in Sanskrit. In Buddhism, an arhat is a foe winner or enlightened being who has extinguished the three poisons of passion, aggression and ignorance rooted in one's ego. In more secular terms, from a Chinese perspective, the pig is a symbol of wealth. Given the contrast between the worldly and other worldly perspectives of these two cultures, we, at InnerAsia along with our partner, Pompanoosuc Mills, makers of handcrafted furniture in Vermont, decided to celebrate the Tibetan New Year with an exhibition of a unique collection of antique Hand Painted Treasure Chests and Furniture from Tibet.

 One can imagine that just surviving the long and circuitous route each of these pieces of furniture took traveling from Tibet, across the Himalayas to the hills of Vermont, was an amazing feat. If these chests and pieces of furniture could talk, we would undoubtedly hear many tales of narrow escape from broken legs and scratched faces. But fortunately, they survived the long journey.

In viewing this collection, you will see how an ancient civilization situated high above the clouds with a scarcity of rich forest land and a limited variety of dense timber was able to draw upon creative vision, artistic skill, brilliant sense of color and spiritual aspiration to create beautiful treasure chests and stunning pieces of furniture. These beautiful examples of 18th - 20th century Tibetan material culture provide a legacy of Tibet’s artistic heritage for posterity.

The Losar opening reception of the Exhibition of Hand Painted Treasure Chests and Furniture of Tibet will take place in March. Check out this blog site for more information and photos. Hope you can join us and best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous start to The Year of The Boar.

 Tashi Delek

Tashi

February 3, 2019

 

 

 

 

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It’s Losar…New Year

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New Year’s Offerings

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Tashi Delek!

Gangchen Carpets of InnerAsia, Born of their Habitat in the Tibetan Highlands

The Tibetan nomads lived a simple life, high up in the mountains that feel close to the sky. My master weavers and I worked several years with the folks at the village of Namkhaze, which means “Top of the Sky”, in an outstanding weaving center that became one of Khawachen, our production center in Lhasa’s, satellite factories in Tibet. We provided them with thorough and comprehensive training and our exacting specifications.In return, we guaranteed them cash purchase for our Gangchen designs.

 I loved the Namkhaze factory because it was perched up high, close to the sky. When we took a break from work, we drank copious amount of butter tea and gazed down at clouds floating below us. We also had the most spectacular view of the Yamdro Lake, which is said to be shaped like a scorpion. We argued how it is and is not quite the scorpion shape it is supposed to be while relishing a chow-down of their most famous yaksha kampo or dry yak meat. It was so good, the Dalai Lama’s kitchen always had a steady supply of Namkhaze dry yak meat that had perfect texture and taste. The dry meat was easily chewable and disintegrated into a wonderfully savory taste that would satisfy the most discerning epicurean. The reason, according to those who lived there was, “our yaks feed on healthy herbs, and the sun and wind of Namkhaze bring the yak meat’s fiber to perfection.” No one would ever use any hot sauce with dry yak meat from Namkhaze. But if they did and were caught, they would be chased down to Yamdro lake.

What does all this have to do with Gangchen Carpets you may ask? Just look at Andy Wang’s photographs to see the close connection between the beauty of the Tibetan Highlands, the special breed of its Highland sheep, and their fabulous wool fiber. See the source of inspirationfor Gangchen Carpets yourself.

By the way, don’t let the attitude of Namkhaze or the pronunciation of Gangchen intimidate you. Just repeat Gang Chen out loud 108 times. Your final version will be just right and may even win a prize.

Cheers,

Tashi

September 2018

The Horse Caravan to Nurture the Body and the Soul

It was 1954 and I was just 10 when I found myself part of a glorious horse caravan journey from Chamdo to Lhasa, and Lhasa, all the way to Kalimpong, India. Not only was I able to connect first hand with the legendary stories I’d heard throughout my childhood but in the process, I developed a few good ones of my own to share with eager listeners.

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