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xEurasia Odyssey


NEPAL | Monday, 11 November 2013 | Views [5598]


 Pharping is a small village SW of Kathmandu and one that if one didn’t know what was there would be easy to overlook as there are just a couple of dirt roads with vending stalls for local trade. Outside of the town on the hillside, though, are three very important sacred sites: a major Vajrayogini temple, one of Padmasambhava’s Meditation Caves with his (or Vishnu’s depending on one’s faith) footprints in a stone in front of the cave, and a self-arising Tara below the cave complex.  Because of this wealth of sacred tradition, there are a number of new Tibetan Buddhist monasteries being built across the area, including one with a large 100 ft. Padmasambhava that dominates one of the hillsides. The monastery with the statue above it is still under construction, but a guesthouse that is part of it is open.  The statue was started five years ago and the workers estimate it will be at least another two before it is finished. The lead monk on the project died a couple of years ago and the new one is trying to find additional funds.  So far the Taiwanese have supported the project.  When it is finally unveiled it will be a very impressive addition to the landscape as it towers over all of the temples and monasteries in the region.

 I first visited Pharping’s Vajrayogini Temple and the Meditation Cave about ten years ago.  Not much has changed with Vajrayogini, but a lot has with the Meditation Cave and the Self-Arising Tara site due to the influence of the fairly new Tibetan Buddhist Monastery just below the sites.  The Temple complex still has buildings that do need to be renovated as the bricks are falling apart, but the temple itself has been cleaned in the intervening years as have the statuary inside some of which have also been repainted.

On the lower level of the Temple, which is known as Gandakoti, there is a central Ayra Lokesvara with Sakyamuni Buddha on the left from the viewer's perspective, and a Blue furious deity on the other side.

On the second floor is the image of red Vajrayogini, who is often hidden behind a locked silver plated door. I was a bit upset to see cockroaches crawling on her..

Keith Dowman writes about her image at this site:

… this image of Vajra Yogini is the embodiment of pure awareness, and is a speaking Yogini.  She is an image of the heart-vision of Pham-thing-pa and others….

Pham-thing Yogini, Uddhapada Yogini, Indra Yogini, or Nil Tara (to the Hindus), call her what you will, is red in color with one foot firmly planted upon Mahesvara on the ground, while the other is raised straight into the sky pulled up by her left arm which presents a skull=cup to her mouth; a katvanga ( a trident protruding from a skull o a stick) rests on her shoulder and in her right hands she holds a hooked knife slightly away from her side.  To her right and left are Baghini and Snighini, the Tiger and Lion-headed Yoginis. Another three images with identical iconography are found in the northeast corner of the same first floor of the Bahal.(52)

There is an image of Vajrasattva above the entrance on the Torma capped by Chephu and flanked by two manbirds.  The adjacent building’s upper floor is used for tantric rituals while the ground floor is used for storage.

There are a number of reasons why Vajrayogini is worshipped in Pharping. The first is that Padmasambhava visualized her here when he stopped in Nepal on his way to Tibet and meditated in a number of caves for about 12 years. He ordered the construction of a shrine to his vision of her.  Then in the 11th C Phamthingpa, came from here. Pharping may be a corruption of his name. He was a Buddhist scholar and is mentioned in the Blue Annals, the primary source for Tibetan Buddhist history.  He was invited to Tibet to bring initiations for Vajrayogini, Kalachakra and Chakrasambhava mandalas.  He was Marpa’s teacher for three years and he initiated the famous translator and Milarepa’s teacher in the Chakrasambhava rites. He also started the Chakrasambhava initiations in the Kathmandu Valley. His Sanskrit name is Bagiswarkirti. 

Another reason is that this temple is in the Bahi style of monastery, which is associated with Vajrayogini. There are two monastic styles in the Kathmandu Valley, Bahi and Baha; the Bahi must have a temple to Vajrayogini, who is considered a wish-fulfilling goddess. In addition to the local people, Newari Bajchacharyas come to Pharping’s Vajrayogini to practice their mantras.

 The Guru Rinpoche cave above the Vajrayogini site is overseen by Tibetan monks and has been entirely remodeled. The footprints outside the entrance to the cave have been raised from the ground and placed waist level on a shrine in the form of a stupa.  The cave entrance now has a wooden frame with small prayer flags and the rock sides have Tibetan images etched onto the side near where the great Guru’s fingerprints are said to be. Inside where even a decade ago it was a dark empty cave there are now lights, a new marble countertop for articles of worship, pictures of gurus and even a donation box.

 Padmasambhava was a “red cap” and older Newari priests who have obtained the appropriate initiations are allowed to wear the “mukuti.” The main initiation for the senior most monk in Kathmandu is known as ‘Uddiya Dopuli,’ which refers to Padmansambhava’s cap.  Newari Buddhists are more familiar with Padmasambhava under his Newari name, Uddyana Bacharya, which is yet another indication of the confusion that outsiders can have when trying to study the sacred images and people in this valley.  They all have multiple names. 

The Pharping site is related to Sankhu in that the eternal flame that burns at the Sabkhu site needs a spark from Pharping’s fire to keep going.  There are two other Vajrayogini sites, one in Patan, which is a small stupa with a locked gate by the window, so we couldn’t see her image, and one in Kathmandu.

 Perhaps the most impressive site in the complex is the Self-Arising Tara & Self-Repairing Ganesha.  These are stone images that are said to have been self-created. The Tara started off very small in the 1970s and grew to the size she now is.  It is an incredible image. There is another smaller image starting to appear just above her.  Ganesha is considerably larger as befits the elephant god, and he is said to have self-repaired after someone tried to extract his image from the stone wall.  They chipped away at him so that pieces broke off and his stomach had a hole in it.  The damage has been partially repaired and they say the god did it himself. 

The images of Ganesha and Tara are on the stone wall.  In the past decade or so, there has been a temple constructed around them, with cabinets containing bronze sculptures of the 21 Taras above and to the sides of the stone wall and beautiful new paintings of each of the 21 on the three remaining walls.

 After leaving Pharping proper, our next stop was the oldest Tibetan monastery in the Pharping region, which is also a site for Vaishnavites, Thatar Rinpoche. The central hall has a Guru Rinpoche/Padmasambhava in the middle with a red Vajrayogini on the right side from the viewer’s perspective, and a Yidyam Dharmapala on the other.  Outside there is a rock which is covered with red paste that is supposed to be Chaumuda, one of the 8 Matrikas. 

Vishnu is worshipped as Narayan just outside the monastery. There is another Padmasambhava meditation cave with a small Saraswati figure above the entrance which has been added within the last couple of centuries.

The lead lama of this monastery is 102 years old and I was told is just now experiencing trouble getting around. 

The cliff where the cave, temple and monastery are is also known as Yanglesho where, according to Dowman, the Second Buddha Mahaguru is said to have subdued gods, spirits and demons and ‘the Hindus believe that this is the residence of Sesa Narayana, both the Naga ‘Remainder’ and Vishnu.” (48)

 One of the last stops of the day was at the youngest of the Matrikas, a shrine to Malaxmi.  She was originally just a stone, but, as is often the case, one of the Malla Kings constructed a temple around her.  The Eight Matrika shrines were originally by cremation sites, but the cremation site here has since been moved as have most of the other ones.

 Pharping is a reminder that what we see with our senses is not necessarily the truth.  What is there today is a dusty dirt road with houses that are in serious need of repair.  Yet this is a place where great things are said to have happened that benefited all humankind.  The spirit of that greatness lives on in these hills, while the daily life of the people remains much the same as it was 3,000 years ago - except that now everyone has a cell phone, even the barefoot farmer who struggles behind his oxen digging new trenches in the earth with a wooden plow. 




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