On 7 June 2011 Yonten and I left Bangkok for Chengdu. Superficially, the trip looked like other trips we have taken over the past ten years the period of which we traveled together to do linguistic fieldwork, receive transmission from our teachers, pay homage to sacred sites, and visit foundation projects, friends and relatives. But this time it’s different, as we are heading to a holy mountain of which we know very little and I’m supposed to do prostrations there.
It has been my aspiration to visit a site blessed by Buddha Tonpa Shenrab, and to pay respect to the Kongbo Tonpa image built and consecrated by my root teacher Kundrol Mongyal Lhasay Rinpoche. In addition, my other Bonpo Dzogchen teacher Latri Khenpo Geshe Nyima Dakpa Rinpoche asked me to do pilgrimage at Mt. Bonri, upon hearing my plan to write a book on pilgrimage. But most of all, I wanted to make great merit while building the Tara Great Stupa for Peace and Harmony (Yungdrung Kolek Choten) back home in Thailand.
On 7 June Yonten and I were late boarding the plane. It was a hectic morning in Bangkok and busy day in Chengdu. That evening we managed to visit Kundrol Mongyal Lhasay Rinpoche at his resident. Rinpoche rejoiced in my aspiration to prostrate around Mt. Bonri.
Mt. Bonri is associated with Buddha Tonpa Shenrab. It is the most important site in Tibet he visited more than a ten thousand years ago to collect his seven horses back from the Mara – Demon Chabpa (Khyabpa) Lagring. Going there is to remember his noble deed in transforming the Mara’s mind into compassionate mind like that of Buddha.
We prostrated at Jokhang Temple and visited many holy sites in Lhasa. One of them is Nyethang Tara Temple, the starting point of my pilgrimage in 2007. I received a red silk, which used to cover the image of Speaking Tara, from the temple. In Lhasa we were fortunate to meet a Bonpo expert Geshe Drachung (Dbra khyung) Kesang Norbu, who just returned from Kongbo. He has been doing research on the mountain and has written a map and a book as a passport to the holy mountain.
Having met Geshe Kesang Norbu and heard stories of Mt. Bonri, we were confident in traveling there. Unlike my previous prostrating pilgrimage between Nyethang and Samye, Yonten was relaxed and prepared little for this trip. He said it was my second time, so he had no worries. Geshe Kesang Norbu took us to see Shensay Rinpoche, a master and prince from the lineage of Buddha Tonpa Shenrab. He kindly blessed my pilgrimage and the Stupa project. He also gave me and Yonten a short transmission of Sridpe Gyalmo practice.
“There is no other merit than building a great stupa. I congratulate you in doing this wonderful work. There will be obstacles but with determination and unfailing faith, the project will be a success,” Shensay Rinpoche, Lhasa.
On 10 June we left Lhasa for Pa-I, a once military basis that has bloomed into a bustling city in Nyingtri Prefecture. It took 7 hours to get there. The next day we visited a juniper tree which according to scientific research is supposed to be the tallest one in the world. It is called “King of Cypress,” aged 2800 years. For Bonpo practitioners, this tree is associated with the deity Taklha.
We continued our journey to Kongbo, or another name Nyingtri, where Mt. Bonri is situated. We first interviewed the head monk of Kushug Monastery. The name of this monastery is given after the kushug, sacred juniper tree believed to be planted by Buddha Tonpa Shenrab. The tree is protected by a wall with a tiny door. In general, it is not open for pilgrims, so we cannot tell from outside how large the trunk is and how old it is. But the guardian monk opened this door for me at the end of my journey. So I could prostrate around the tree as well as dedicate the merit of my pilgrimage there, making the end point exactly at the same spot I began.
After talking to the monk, we went to Nyingtri to see an Amdo family who opened a hotel for pilgrims in town. It turned out that the son of the family Dondrup would join us as our pilgrimage assistant. His willingness to help at the instant he knew that I would do prostrations around the mountain is adorable. After having a Chinese lunch at a local restaurant, we went back to Kushug Monastery. I would do my first prostrations at the Kushug. The route of my prostrating circuit was advised by Latri Nyima Dakpa Rinpoche, who told me to be satisfied with the limited period of time I have. It was the most blessed spot to start my prostrations. And indeed it is the blessed spot. As soon as I started reciting a Chamma mandala text, a rainbow halo appeared around the sun and at one point stayed above the sacred juniper. A child cried out: “Rainbow”. I made several mandala offerings with heart filled with joy.
Pilgrimage story to continue…