Introducing a reality such as Lahaul is not an easy task but here is Lama Yangjor narrating one dimension of it with much ease. Lama Yangjor is the head monk of Maning Gompa (Monastery) in Gondhla village of Tinan Valley in Lahaul. We are grateful to him for that early morning walk to Sila gompa and the cave. It was a delightful exchange of many interesting conversations and perspectives spanning from religious and spiritual status of Lahaul to the ongoing socio economic and cultural processes of change unfolding in the valley. He had many critical perspectives on the issue and in fact sees them as closely interlinked. Now when we reflect on our conversations, perhaps the ideas we exchanged were foundational to our interest in the idea of a sacred landscape and understanding this unique interplay of religion and environment in a geography like Lahaul. Maybe it helps us better in contextually situating the changing times.
The more we visit Lahaul, the more we reflect on every trip, the more curious we get about prevailing religion and environment dynamics. Personally, we would like to approach it through understanding the ordinary, by which we mean ordinary people and their everyday religious life. We have also been intrigued by the recent scholarship on ‘sacred landscape(s)’, so many of the questions we have been thinking on are informed by reading recent works on sacred geographies in Nepal, Tibet and in the North East of India. There is a surge of thoughts such as what it implies for ordinary people to inhabit a particular religious territory, ways in which everyday religion is practiced, in what different form etc. Our attempt is to contextually locate these questions in Lahaul as inspired by the critical knowledge emerging from other Himalayan frontiers.
On our recent trip to Lahaul last month, an aunt of ours who lives in Gondhla shared how pleased the villagers are to have Lama Yanjor as their head monk. He is young, enthusiastic and approachable. This is evident in his efforts to render religious teachings accessible to the villagers, especially women. He has diligently translated religious teachings originally in Bhoti to Hindi and prepared a prayer guidebook to enable women to lead the chanting sessions he organises regularly at Maning gompa. We still recount his confident voice as he stated the following lines, “Ab toh aurate apne aap mantras bol leti hain hain” (Now women are able to chant mantras all by themselves). Curious, we inquired on nature of the teachings and he very patiently explained how and why the essence of all Buddhist teachings is to inculcate ethical values and develop that awareness by cultivating inner values of truthfulness and compassion. Besides really breaking down the religious meanings, there are more practical things such as positioning fingers when preparing and lighting the traditional butter diyas (lamps), significance of the morning, evening and night offerings to the Buddha and household protector deities, correct way to perform prostrations, or what it simply means to chant “Om Mane Padme Hum”. For Lama Yanjor, imparting religious knowledge and services to ordinary people is one way of practicing Dharma and the only way to ensure religious continuity in Lahaul. He strongly feels that spiritual empowerment will make people resilient against change, be it of any nature.
As we meditatively climbed uphill, he shared an interesting tale on Sila Cave, and the famous yogi Gyalwa Gotsangpa. It’s a tale commonly narrated to children by elders in Lahaula households but we are told, there are several on Gyalwa Gotsangpa in the local oral tradition.
The book “Garsha, the heartland of Dakinis” published in the year 2011 by the Young Drukpa Association at Keylong elaborately documents this peculiar spiritual history of Lahaul. An excerpt from the book for those interested. “Gotsangpa stayed at Gandhola and visited many caves around where he made further progress, gaining powerful realisation. Monks and villagers offered him food and clothing yet he would reply, “I do not need more than I have,” although he possessed nothing except an exceptional spiritual strength, brought forth by his profound devotion. It is said that he sanctified the whole of Garsha with the radiance of his meditation and that he established all its inhabitants on the path to liberation.”