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Sikkimese Monastic Practices

Sikkimese Monastic Practices

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Sikkimese Monks

Explore a profound discussion on Sikkimese spirituality and monastic traditions through a candid conversation between the author Sujit Chakraborty and his first guru, Yapo Sonam Yongda.

Recently, say about a month ago, I was sitting in his room with Yapo Sonam Yongda. Though he happens to be my first guru in learning Sikkimese spirituality, and despite the great difference in our ages, it is a matter of pride for me that he takes me more as a friend than a pupil, though I still remain just that.

During his convalescence after a debilitating surgery, I often visited him in his New Sikkim House abode in New Delhi. And discussions were varied and a sort of “free-fall” if you like. Thus it is that one day, the issue of our current Chogyal Prince Wangchuk Tenzing Namgyal came up.

I happened to mention that the reclusive, renunciate prince wanted reforms within the Sikkimese monastic system.

Yapo’s Logic

Yapo usually does not merely “talk”. He launches himself into a tirade, which he did, and asked me whether I think monks could should marry and raise a family.

I said that so far as I know, monks of the Tibetan Buddhism denomination are not supposed to have a sex life. Yapo kept silent for a few seconds and then, as expected, “launched” himself on me!

“Suppose a monk does not marry… who will take care of his ill health when he falls ill? What is your answer?” Of course, I had none, and even if I did so, for me hearing him was more crucial rather than boastfully exhibiting my meager knowledge.

“Tell me, who will take care of his health? Even before that, today it has become very difficult to find new, young monks. The youth do not want to become monks, because survival is so difficult without money in a cash-driven economy.

“Then, the other question is, who will conduct his cremation after his death if has no progeny?” I nodded my head solemnly, trying to figure out which way the wind was turning.

Suppressed Volcanos

Then he landed me an “uppercut” in pugilistic terms. “Suppressing sexual urge is very difficult, so what will happen if a monk cannot do that and indulges in illicit sexual relations within his family, or goes to sex workers?

“And aren’t there very knowledgeable and well-honoured monks who are married but are spiritual masters?”

Well, I do not know about sex workers, but the names of many so-called Hindu godmen have come up who have proven histories of sexscapades, or have even raped women, and men, to boot. I know those scandals are true.

Let me here digress to clear my position: I am not proposing any ethical or behavioural changes in Sikkimese monkhood. As a student of history, I am neither capable of nor interested in that. All I am desirous to put on paper is the need for a feminine consort within the system of monkhood, whether in Sanatan Dharm or Buddhism.

Seventeenth Karmapa

I remember a sort of litany of snide comments when one of the claimants to the seat of the Karmapa, Trinley Thae Dorjee, got married: “Ah! So sex finally wins!” was the basic trend of the social media outcry.

But I soon found out about the abysmal lack of knowledge of those who scripted those ignorant comments.

(Here, let me be clear: there are two claimants to the seat of the Karmapa: Ugyen Thinley Dorjee and Trinley Thae Dorjee. My personal faith in one of them apart, till the time that the claim of one over the other is finally settled, they, for me, are just two claimants.)

So, one of the two Karmapa claimants decided to get married. I know the real reason he did, but here I am not going to support or decry him. The moot question is, can a high reincarnate soul get married, with all the entailing physical aspects of that act?

Unity of Opposites

Now look at it this way. Very few visitors to Pemayangtse Monastery take the stairs to the first floor, where there are nine or so manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava. The very first one on your right as you enter that hall is an exquisite golden, combined idol of the Guru in communion with his consort in a sitting position.

Incidentally, in his biography, various scholars have held that Guru Padmasambhava had five consorts. I do not know with which consort that idol had been visualised. But that is not very important to me at least.

I have to date not forgotten the beatific look in the eyes of both, the Guru and his consort: it was not lustno way!

At first sight, it would look at a Kamasutra idol so vividly sculpted on the outer walls of the Konark Sun Temple and even inside the Jagannath Temple in Puri. Since I had prior knowledge of this kind of imagery, I was not the least distracted by such “sexuality” inside a Buddhist temple.

And yet, I was perplexed and wanted to know the essence of it. Yapo was then – and this was in 2000 – in the Pemayangtse Complex, so I went and asked him, but he skirted the topic repeatedly. Finally, he relented many months later.

The reason I did not want to talk about this is that people will misinterpret this. This is the unification of two forces, the earth and the sky, the yang and yin, the positive and negative; male and female.

“It is the unity of these two opposites that releases a level of energy that neither could have done without this communion with the consort,” Yapo said and looked gravely at me to find any trace of nasty thoughts in me.

“Well,” I said, “had you not told me, you’d have no one to explain this if charges of ‘carnalitywere raised against the Guru.” He smiled.

Sanatan Dharm

This concept is rooted very deeply in the cosmology of Sanatan Dharm, which politicians for their recent nefarious intentions call “Hinduism”. It lies in the science of Sanatan Dharm’s concept of the origin of the universe, or multiverses as the modern term goes.

This says – and I shall explain this basic concept in very brief – that there was nothing called this physical universe. Instead, there was a complete void.

This Void, however, defies our physical idea of a void, a vacuum, as nothing exists in it. But this void was that Ultimate Consciousness. Param Brahma (and not to be confused with the deity named Bramhaa, the deity of Creation.)

This Consciousness wished to play a game. But no game can be played alone, so it manifested itself in two forms: Purush and Praikriti, or what can be called Male and Female, but not entirely so

Then what was that? These two manifestations of Ultimate Consciousness were completely interlinked, with Purush being predominantly Consciousness, and Prakriti being predominantly creative energy. And yet, Purush was not devoid of energy, and neither was Prakriti devoid of Consciousness.

Out of Prakriti took shape the visible, physical universe that one could feel, hear, see, smell, or taste. But there remained one thing: the urge in every aspect of Creation to see the re-merger of Purush and Prakriti, which would be the final resolution of non-duality.

Buddhism’s Roots

There’s no gainsaying that Buddhism has its roots deep inside Sanatan Dharm. This was obliquely acknowledged by Sakya Muni Buddha himself. When some disciples approached him to explain the “Maitry” principle, Gautam Buddha told them of a “very ancient” Bodhisattva named Arak, who was born a Brahman but attained sanyas and attained Buddhahood and spread the teaching named “Araka-Jataka”.

Hence, Buddha, as we know him today, had been a human being, but the idea of a Buddha was there since the time of the Indus-Saraswati Valley Civilisation. Hence, the Bodhisattva as a concept was much older than Gautama Buddha himself, for he was preceded by 120 Bodhisattvas, as said in Mahabharat.

Obviously, Buddhahood was a state of equanimity that did not start with Sakya Muni Gautam.

Thus it is, that Tantrayana Buddhism as a later derivative of Hinayana and then Mahayana Buddhism also inherited such eternally valid concepts of Purusha and Prakriti and their communion.

(Of course, maybe the redoubtable, highly scholarly Mr Mandeep Lama might read into this piece a “Brahmanical” attempt to “Sanskritise” everything. Well, I was born a Brahman but am not Brahmanical at all!)

One could point out to Lord Krishna, who craved for Radha all the time. In folklore, Radha was his “mami”, or maternal aunt, so, Ahem! Here’s proof of adultery of a person claiming to be God?

Not at all. It is the same essence of each aspect of Ultimate Consciousness yearning for the other aspect – Purusha seeking Prakriti  to retain the balance in Creation. Folklore was used merely as a tool to bring to the laity this highly complex philosophy and cosmology of a very high scientific order.

As one Nobel laureate in nuclear physics had said: “When I teach quantum physics, I feel I am teaching Vedanta.”

Shiv and Sati

Lord Shiva – as Rudra  had his consort, Sati, and they had their son Ganesha too. In fact, when Sati gave up her life because Lord Shiva was insulted by her father, Shiva was so enraged at the loss of his feminine aspect that he started a Pralay Nritya, called the Tandav, that would destroy the entire creation.

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So Lord Vishnu deployed the famous “Sudarshan Chakra” that cut up the body of the dead Sati Shiva was carrying on his shoulders; Vishnu cut it into fifty-one pieces, and wherever one such piece fell, that place became a “Shakti Peeth.”

In fact, there are four primary Shakti Peeths, the first mentioned being at Mata Vimala Mandir in Jagannath Puri, where Sati’s foot fell.

Shakta, Shaiva, and Vaishnava are cults said to be antagonistic  often violently  to each other, but just such a Shakti Peeth is Puri, the ultimate abode of the Vaishnav god Jagannath. How come?

In this respect, I was stunned as I listened to experts during the Live telecast of the Puri Ratha Yatra this year. Inside Jagannath’s chariot, there were nine other deities, first and foremost of whom was Devi Vimala, a tantric goddess. How come?

The Jagannath legend has it that it is the deity Vimala who cooks the meals, or bhog’ for Lord Jagannath every day. How come?

In a major article on Jagannath Dham, author Gunjan Ghosh writes about this strange unity of opposites.

“Jagannath is the Lord of the Universe. He is the Male principle. In Jagannath Dham, he is referred to as Darubrahma. But can the male principal stand alone without Shakti by his side? In Jagannath Dham, Maa Vimala is that Shakti of Daru Brahma,” Ghosh writes.

Here I must clarify, lest readers think of Daru as liquor. In the ancient Sanskrit language, Darumeans “Wooden”, and indeed, the idol of Jagannath is made of wood.

Ghosh writes further that Maa Saarada, consort of Thakur Ramakrishna Paramhans, was at a time in Varanasi, and her ‘mind-son’, Swamy Brahmanandji came to see her. At that point, one of Maa Sarada’s aides asked him: “Maa is asking why we have to offer prayers to Shakti before every other puja?”

Brahmanandji said: “Because Maa is the one who holds the key to the ultimate knowledge of Brahma. If she does not bless us with her kindness and hands over that key, then who will open that door?”

Many aspects of Tantrism have been “Vaishnavised” in Jagannath Dham. In fact, the Shaktas, or Shakti worshippers, believe Maa Vimala is the Bhairavi and her Bhairav is Lord Jagannath.

Hence, in Sanatan Dharm, Shakti and Brahma are united at all times. When they are separated, that will destroy the universe, as almost happened when Shiva danced the Tandav when Sati was taken away from him.

Certain sects of Tantrics in India practice what is called Vaamaachaar, or the communion with the female. In this, the practitioner sits atop a corpse and unites conjugally with a young woman. But the rule is, that he should be able to control his ejaculation, for if he fails, he can go insane. And many have actually lost their minds completely. Because ejaculation is not the action that Tantra allows.

This is the principle of unity of opposites. Just think of it: could you have electrical energy turning on your lights and fans if the charge had only positive or only negative?

That is a huge mystical secret!

The Tantra Weapon

It is this Tantrism that Guru Padmasambhava had taken to Tibet from Nalanda, to mow down resistance to Buddhism by Bonists. Which is not surprising at all. For, among all the places that Sati’s body pieces fell on being chopped by Vishnu come places that were at one time one land but that now have different names, such as in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, andTibet.…

No wonder Tantrism found a huge centre in Tibet, right down to the time of Jetsun Mila, or Milarepa – though he did not marry but had a lifelong devoted female follower  and even further down to modern times.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it started with the Guru himself. As I said, Guru Padmasambhava had five consorts: Mandarva and Kalasiddhi, both from India; Shakyadevi from Nepal; Yeshey Tsogyal from Tibet; and Tashi Khyidren, who has been mentioned as the Himalayan consort.

It will be noticed that none of his consorts were mere women: they were highly realised beings and helped the Guru in various phases of his Tantric praxis. So to put down taking consorts to a later-day perversion and degeneration of Tantrayana Buddhism may not hold water.

To recall, our own very revered His Holiness the 4th reincarnation of Dodrupchen Rinpoche had his own consort. And she too had not been just an ordinary woman. For at their dizzying heights of existence, it will not be carnality for them, but uniting with Shakti.

However, I am not entitled in any manner to even vaguely suggest that the practices of such spiritual giants can hold good for ordinary Sikkimese monks. That is for much higher pandits of the denomination to decide.

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