Tag Archive: Buddhism

Five caves. Buddha images counting over 150. Standing. Reclining. Seated. Statues. Paintings. Buddha images everywhere. On the cave walls. On the cave ceiling. All over. As in all over. This is certainly the largest, and best-preserved cave temple complex cum Buddhist monastery in Sri Lanka. A pilgrimage site for over 22 centuries, the caves are NOT natural caves but actually caves CARVED out of rocks. Try imagining monks working and carving these cave shrines! Over the years, arched colonnades were carved out, ceilings painted with intricate images of Buddha, some cave entrances gilded. Much were developed in stages. And present-day Dambulla is just breath-taking. I meant that aesthetically, and physically, physiologically. ūüė•Gawd, it’s so hot and humid in here!

You need to take off your shoes going into the cluster of 5 cave shrines. You may wrap a skirt or shawl around your shorts too. But be sure you get a fair price for having your shoes stored. The guy manning the operation seems to be quoting a wide range of storage rates. It was a good day for business for him. Then there’s the story of a king who hid himself in this cave temple where some statues and paintings date back to the first century B.C. When King Valagamba returned to his throne in Anaradaphura after a 14-year exile, he had this rock temple complex built to thank the Buddhist monks who prayed, meditated and protected him from his enemies.

Walking barefoot, I felt some discomfort walking on this hot, humid day. True enough, I went back to our hotel with a blister on my sole. And I’m sure the blister had nothing to do with the uphill walk to reach the holy rock complex. The hot and uneven ground we walked on must have done it on my delicate soles. Oh well. Meanwhile, this UNESCO Heritage Site continues to draw in curious tourists. The Sri Lankans are deeply rooted in Buddhism and these cave shrines prove it. The statues have not lost their color, and the ceiling paintings and murals are very impressive.

We were soaking, dripping in sweat by the time we were done. The downhill exit was most welcome because of the afternoon breeze. Monkeys were all around. The crowds just enough — to show homage, but without bumping each sweaty bod against another sweaty bod. Just be sure you bring wet wipes or better, a wet face towel to wipe all that grime, dust and sweat off your face and limbs. And bring a bottle of water! Having said that, be sure to wear comfortable clothes intended for a real humid afternoon. Only the magnificent Buddha images kept me from bailing out of this cave complex!



Zilukha is the “biggest nunnery” in Bhutan, yet I would never consider it huge by any standards. ¬†But it may have the best¬† location. ¬†It is perched on a promontory overlooking the Tashichhoedzong or¬†Thimpu Dzong and its surrounding golf course. From the roadside, ¬†we walked up a wide dirt path to reach this nunnery with no gates, no doorbells, no guards. ¬†Just sleeping dogs. ¬†



The Path to Female Monkhood?



Female Monks? ¬† Yes, many women — some young girls, even toddlers — from poor families enter the nunnery. ¬†The ones I saw at¬†Zilukha Nunnery in the Drubthob Goemba¬† were likely as old as 70 and as young as 4. ¬†I was honestly surprised to find the young ones, and initially thought they were orphans under the care of the nuns.



Zilukha Nunnery



Our tour guide explained that some of these children were left behind by their poor parents. ¬†A refuge from extreme poverty. ¬†Yet I wasn’t exactly sure it is a refuge. ¬†The nuns we found here can certainly do with some comforts. ¬†Having seen the magnificence of the Dzongs in Paro, Thimpu and Punakha, ¬†the Zilukha Nunnery appears almost like a disheveled garage or storage room in one of these dzongs. ¬†The shrine is very small, and the nuns pray and chant their mantra in a narrow space where a giant prayer wheel occupies easily a tenth of the entire room. ¬†The nearby one-storey building serves as their sleeping quarters and I can imagine these nuns must sleep in cramped quarters there. ¬†



The Living/Sleeping Quarters of the Zilukha Nunnery

Entrance To The Prayer Room



Once we stepped inside the Prayer Room, ¬†we felt almost guilty barging in as the nuns were busy praying and chanting. ¬†The elder of the nuns allowed 2 photos of them doing their spiritual chores — chanting mantras and spinning prayer wheels. ¬†The area is a bit cramped. ¬†Two lines of nuns face each other while a giant prayer wheel is spun by one of the younger, stronger nuns. ¬†The 4 year old happily , yet quietly sat on the lap of the grey-haired nun. ¬† This nun with greying hair, looking so undecided between chanting and chewing her betel nut, while caring for the toddler-nun. ¬†I spotted red-stained teeth, ¬†and some chewed bits threatening to drip on the sides of the older nun’s mouth. ¬†



Just Two Photos Inside the Prayer Room.

Two Lines of Nuns Facing Each Other in This Narrow Corridor.



I wish I was able to take a better shot of the grey-haired nun and the toddler nun. ¬†I dared not appeal for a 3rd shot, guilty as we were to have arrived at a sacred hour. ¬† As young girls enter the nunnery to escape poverty as well as to gain education, ¬† I wonder if some of them feel “forced” to take this option. ¬†Sure, they are here to seek “enlightenment” but I am more inclined to think they are here or were sent here ¬†to escape from the harshness of ¬†a difficult, deprived life. ¬†



This Is The View From Zilukha Nunnery. Not Bad!

As with the monks,  people seek spiritual guidance from these nuns.   As such,  they spend their time gaining spiritual knowledge to prepare them for this religious work.  Some of them may have felt deprived in their early life, but they all look forward and appreciate the newfound social status to be gained from being a nun.  In a country like Bhutan where Buddhism seamlessly blend with everyday life and the national character,  monkhood has its place.  



Please do check my other blogs and photos on Bhutan  here in WordPress. Or try my blog series on Bhutan in TravelBlog. Here is the link :  http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/liliram/Trips/17606

Excuse me…… Did you just say THAT PHALLUS belonged to one of your saints?




Yes, THAT is the phallus of one of Bhutan's Favorite Saints. I kid u NOT!



Flanked by hundreds of prayer flags, Chimi Lakhang is a good half hour leisurely walk across fertile rice fields. We passed farmers harvesting their rice and traipsed paddy fields cutting across a village where houses are painted with…..errr, phalluses of one of Bhutan’s favorite saints. ¬†Either that, or you find hanging phalluses swinging by house corners, intended to drive away demons. ¬†



Do You See That Hanging Phallus? It's Meant To Drive Away The Demons.

Chimi Lakhang. A Modest Shrine to Bhutan's Favorite Saint & Divine Madman



Chimi Lhakhang is dedicated to¬†Lama Drukpa Kunley or Drukpa Kunleg (1455 – 1529) also known as ‘The Divine Madman’.¬†He “distinguished” himself for his outrageous behavior and teaching style. Legend goes that the saint used to hit the evil forces with his penis (or cohabited with them) to distract, subdue, and eventually turn them into protective deities. Trust me, this is serious stuff in Bhutan. My own guide claims the Divine Madman “took away the shame” —- i interpret this to mean “malice”—– from them. In many Thangka paintings, the saint is shown holding a “wooden stick with penis head”.




The Power of the Phallus. He is also the Fertility Saint. Guess Why!

Gho-clad Boys Coming Home From School

In Bhutan, I Saw Many Men Caring For Their Babes. Nice.



The Lhakang is just a small pilgrimage site in a rather rural setting. We passed old, modest houses and children posing for photos, ¬†hopping, running around, and playing “kitchen” like many other children in the world. Makes you think children are the same all over UNTIL society/culture imposes itself on them. We were welcomed in a small kitchen where the women were frying rice grains much like our local “pinipig” or rice crisps. The young monks we met at the Lhakang were likewise playing — running and jumping around, swinging by the window sill, or up above munching an apple while seated on a branch of the Buddha tree.




Children Are The Same All Over the World.


I Was Right Underneath This Mini-Monk


Those Are Not Just Rice Crisps. They're MOUNTAIN Rice Crisps.



This is also a pilgrimage site for childless couples. Well, that “Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom” (as they call the saint’s phallus) ain’t called that for nothing. As fertility saint, he is perhaps the only saint in all religions of the world excused for his sexual exploits and inclinations, for which his phallus is identified with its creative power and ability to distract and subdue demons. Think about that!




Just A Half Hour Walk To Get Here, Past Paddy Fields


Walked past many of these houses with painted phalluses!

This Rural Village Gave Us A Glimpse of How Ordinary Bhutanese Live.

Please do check my other blogs and photos on Bhutan  here in WordPress. Or try my blog series on Bhutan in TravelBlog. Here is the link :  http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/liliram/Trips/17606



And by the way, ¬†with all we’ve seen and experienced in Bhutan, we missed something big time. ¬†Not sure if we could have mustered the nerve to watch, but here’s one interesting read for all of you. ¬†Tell me what you think ūüėČ


From Druk Hotel in Thimpu, we drove a good 2 1/2 hours just to get here.  On our way, we passed Dochula Pass with a grand view of the Himalayan mountain range at over 3,000 meters elevation. Then we weaved around the mountains going down, passing cherry blossoms, poinsettia and magnolia trees.  We made a brief stop at Chimi Lakhang and took our lunch in a lovely cafe overlooking paddy fields animated by men and women harvesting rice and gho-clad school boys gingerly walking around the rice fields.  


Punakha Dzong. Where Kings are crowned. Site of the recent wedding of the world’s youngest monarch.



Punakha Dzong Where 2 Rivers Merge



The fortress cum monastery is home to 600 monks, and sits at the confluence of two rivers with the lovely mountains as backdrop. You need a few minutes to savor this view, pinch yourself and get reminded this ain’t a dream, before crossing the bridge adorned with prayer flags.



Then the 2 rivers merge, bubble and froth as ONE RIVER.


As we crossed the bridge, we had our first glimpse of Punakha Dzong’s first courtyard. Climate here is milder, elevation not as steep as in Paro. The wooden staircase leading to the second courtyard is steep though. The same stairway can be pulled up in case of an invasion. Some security feature for this 17th century monolith.




The Approach Via the Lovely Bridge Crossing A "Lively" River


The Wooden Staircase Can Be "Pulled Up" In Case of An Invasion



As we climbed past cherry blossoms, we heard the faint chant and shuffling of hands and fingers from a small group of monks. Nearby, logs crackle from a bonfire set up in the middle of the vast courtyard. What a lovely, nearly surreal sight! This experience is so dreamlike it is deeply embedded in my memory.




Logs Crackle in A Bonfire Set Up in the Middle of the Courtyard


Monks Chanting " Oh Mani Peme Hummmmm"


Buddhism is NOT a religion, according to our guide. He claims it is a philosophy, a lifestyle, where Buddhists firmly believe that KARMA rules, among others. Where much of sufferings in life are rooted in wordly desires and material attachments. I certainly have no problems with these. The universe can definitely do with less hostility, and more compassion, more caring for each living creature.




Two Playful Monks Running Around the Courtyard


What A Lovely Sight!

Do check out my other blogs on Bhutan here in WordPress. Or my blog series in TravelBlog: Mystique of Bhutan. Here’s the link:¬†http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/liliram/Trips/17606