Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is a small town with no more than five thousand inhabitants and consists of two or three streets with houses painted white. There is a market square in the center of the city, where traders from India, China, Turkestan, Kashmir and various parts of Tibet come to exchange their goods for Tibetan gold supplied by the locals.
An old, empty palace rises on a hill overlooking the entire city; in the middle of it is the spacious two-story residence of my friend, the vizier Surajbal, the governor of Ladakh, the most handsome Punjabi who received his philosophical education in London.
To diversify my stay in Leh, he arranged a large polo match in the market square ( Polo is a favorite game of the emperors of the Mughal dynasty, brought to India 900 years ago by Muslim conquerors ) and in the evening, dances and games were arranged in front of the terrace of his house.
A multitude of fireworks shed a brilliant light on the crowds attracted by the performance. They formed a large circle, in the middle of which a group of performers, disguised as devils, animals and sorcerers, frolicked, fluttered, jumped and circled in a rhythmic dance to the monotonous music of two long trumpets accompanied by a drum.
The hellish noise and the incessant screams of the crowd tired me terribly. The show ended with the graceful dances of Tibetan women who, whirling and swaying from side to side, reached our windows and made low bows, greeting us with clanging bracelets of brass and bone on crossed wrists.
At the beginning of the next day, I went to the large monastery of Himis, which, in a picturesque setting, is located on the top of a cliff overlooking the Indus Valley. It is one of the main monasteries in the country, supported by donations from local residents and subsidies from Lassa. On the way to it, crossing the Indus along the bridge, near which numerous villages nestle, you can find endless dams covered with stones with inscriptions, and chortens, which our guides tried to bypass on the right side. I wanted to turn the horse to the left, but the Ladakhs immediately forced me to return, leading my horse by the bridle to the right and explaining to me that this was the custom of their country. I tried to figure out the origin of this superstition, but to no avail.
We continued our way to the gonpa, which was crowned with a tower with jagged parapets visible from afar, and found ourselves in front of a large door, painted in bright colors, – the entrance to a vast two-story stately building, which contained a courtyard paved with small stones.
To the right, in one of its corners, was another painted door, bound with copper plates. This is the entrance to the main temple, the interior of which is decorated with drawings of idols and where you can see a huge image of the Buddha, framed by many lesser deities.
To the left is a veranda on which a huge prayer wheel is installed, and here all the lamas of the monastery with their abbot gathered for our arrival. Several musicians sat under the veranda holding drums and long trumpets. On the right side of the courtyard, a series of doors led into the monks’ quarters, which were completely decorated with sacred drawings and decorated with small prayer wheels topped with tridents with ribbons and painted in red and black.
In the middle of the courtyard were two tall masts, from the tops of which hung yak tails and long paper ribbons inscribed with religious precepts. Prayer girouettes decorated with ribbons could be seen along all the monastery walls.
There was general silence, everyone was anxiously awaiting the beginning of some kind of religious sacrament. We took our seats on the veranda not far from the llamas. Almost immediately, the musicians made soft monotonous sounds from their long pipes, which were accompanied by a strange-looking round drum attached to a stick fixed in the ground.
With the first sounds of a mournful song performed to this bizarre music, the doors of the monastery opened wide, admitting about twenty people, disguised as animals, birds, devils and monsters of all kinds. On their chests they wore fantastic images of demons and skulls, embroidered with multicolored Chinese silk, while long multicolored ribbons covered with inscriptions hung from their headdresses, shaped like conical caps. On their faces, they wore masks with skulls embroidered in white silk.
Dressed in this way, they slowly walked around the masts, from time to time raising their arms up and throwing a kind of spoon into the air with their left hand, part of which was a piece of a human skull, framed by hair removed, I am sure, from enemy scalps.
Their procession around the masts soon turned into some kind of continuous jumps. After a long roll of the drum, they suddenly stopped, but only then to move again, threateningly waving into the sky small yellow sticks decorated with ribbons.
In conclusion, having greeted the abbot lama, they approached the entrance to the temple, followed at the same moment by other participants in the masquerade, whose faces were hidden by copper masks. Their costumes were made from multicolored, embroidered fabrics. In one hand, each held a tambourine, and in the other tinkling little bells. A ball hung from each tambourine, which, with the slightest movement of the hand, hit the sonorous skin of the instrument.
These new performers walked around the courtyard several times, marking each circle with a deafening rumble, which was made by all tambourines sounding in unison. They ended by running to the temple door and grouping themselves on the steps in front of it.
Then there was a general silence, soon broken by the appearance of a third company of disguised men, their huge masks depicting various deities, each had a third eye in their foreheads. The procession was led by Tkhlogan-Poudma-Jungnas, literally “he who was born in a lotus flower”, accompanied by another mask in rich robes with a large yellow umbrella covered with patterns.
His retinue consisted of various luxuriously dressed gods: Dorje-Trolong, Sangspa Kourpo (in fact, Brahma himself) and others. These actors, as the lama sitting next to us explained, represented six classes of beings capable of mutation – gods, demigods, humans, animals, spirits and demons.
On either side of these gravely advancing characters were other masks in silk robes of stunning colors. They wore golden crowns with six rows of floral designs topped with pointed tops, each holding a drum. They walked around the masts, laid three times to the sound of harsh, discordant music, and finally sat down on the ground around Thlogan-Poudma-Jungnas, who immediately, with delicious gravity, put two fingers into his mouth, uttering a piercing whistle.
In response to this signal, young people dressed as warriors came out of the temple. They wore hideous green masks decorated with little triangular flags, short shirts, and anklets of ribbon-adorned bells. Making a hellish noise with their tambourines and bells, they circled around the gods sitting on the ground. Two large men, who accompanied them and dressed in tight clothes, played the role of jesters, performing all kinds of grotesque movements and comic stunts. One of them, dancing all the time, constantly hit the drum of his friend. This aroused the delight of the crowd, which rewarded his antics with bursts of laughter.
A fresh cast of actors joined the crowd, representing the greatest powers of the Divine. Their costumes consisted of red mitres and yellow pantaloons. They carried the same bells and tambourines and took their places opposite the gods.
Some of the last performers entered the stage wearing red and brown masks, with three eyes painted on their chests. Together with the previous actors, they divided into two groups and, to the accompaniment of tambourines and ordinary music, performed a wild dance – rushing forward, retreating, circling in a round dance, and speaking in columns, filling the pauses with low bows.
After a while, this amazing performance, terribly tired of us, gradually began to calm down. The gods, demigods, kings, people and spirits rose and, accompanied by all the other participants in the masquerade, went to the entrance to the temple, from where several men in amazing costumes depicting skeletons emerged with extraordinary solemnity. All these exits were organized in advance, and each had its own special meaning.
The crowd of dancers gave way to these funeral-looking creatures who made their way ceremoniously towards the masts. There they froze in place, fingering the pieces of wood hanging from the sides in such a way as to perfectly imitate the sound of jaws.
They walked around the courtyard three times, marching to the rhythm of the intermittent beat of the drums, and finally drew on a religious song. Once again, working with artificial jaws, they lowered their “teeth” to the ground and, having twisted a little more unpleasantly, froze in place.
At this moment, the image of a human enemy, made of a semblance of plaster and placed at the foot of one of the masts, was raised and smashed into pieces; the oldest spectator handed out these pieces to the skeletons as a sign of their uncomplaining readiness to join them soon in the cemetery.
The show came to an end and the abbot came up to me and asked me to accompany him to the main terrace to taste the collet that poured in a river on the occasion of the holiday. I accepted his offer with pleasure, as my head was buzzing with the prolonged performance, which I had just witnessed.
Crossing the courtyard and going up a staircase decorated with rows of prayer wheels, we passed two rooms lined with idols and went out onto the terrace, where I sat down on a bench opposite the most venerable lama, whose eyes were shining with intelligence. Then three monks brought us jugs of beer, filled small bronze cups, which they first brought to their abbot, and then to me and my companions.
“Did you like our little holiday?” The lama asked me.
“I found it very interesting! – I answered. – In fact, I am still impressed by what I saw. But in truth, I had no idea that Buddhism in religious ceremonies can appear in such a bizarre form. “
“No religion,” the lama replied, “has more theatrical ceremonies than ours. But this ritual part of it in no way violates the fundamental principles of Buddhism. We see them as a practical means of maintaining love for the one Creator and submission to Him in ignorant crowds, just as parents use a doll to win the affection and obedience of their child. Among the people, or rather, among the uneducated masses, we see the children of our Father. “
“But what is the significance,” I continued, “are all these masks, costumes, bells and dances — in a word, the whole show, which is clearly carried out according to a certain program?”
“We have several such holidays a year,” the lama replied. – Mysteries are presented and actors are invited to take part in them. They are given complete freedom with regard to movements and gestures, and are instructed to adhere only to certain details and outline of the main idea.
Our mysteries are nothing more than pantomimes designed to show the gods enjoying such veneration, which gives a person as a reward a purity of soul and faith in immortality.
The actors receive their costumes in the monasteries and play following general instructions that allow complete freedom of action. The effect they produce is really impressive, but only one of our people can perceive the meaning of these ideas. You also, as I understand it, resort to similar actions, which, however, in no way change your principles of monotheism. “
“Forgive me,” I said again, “but surely the many idols with which your gonpas are filled are in flagrant violation of these principles?”
“As I have already said,” answered the lama, “a person lives and will always remain in his childhood. He understands everything, sees and feels the greatness of nature, but still is not able to understand the Great Spirit, which creates and animates everything.
A person is always looking for what is available to his senses; he never managed to believe for long in what eluded the material senses. He always did everything possible to find direct ways of his communication with the Creator, who created so much good and at the same time, as man mistakenly believes, so much evil.
For this reason, man admired every manifestation of nature that has a beneficial effect. A striking example of this is the ancient Egyptians, who idolized animals, trees and stones, wind and rain.
Other nations, equally mired in ignorance, realizing that rains do not always bring rich harvests, and animals may not obey their masters, looked for direct mediators between themselves and the great mysteries of the incomprehensible power of the Creator. Therefore, they created idols whom they considered impartial in relation to the world around them and whose mediation they constantly turned to.
From the most distant centuries to the present day, I repeat, man has always been drawn to what is accessible to sensations. The Assyrians, in search of a path that could lead them to the feet of the Creator, turned their gaze to the stars and looked at them with admiration, although they were out of reach. The Gebras ( Parsis. Approx. Trans. ) Have retained a similar belief to this day.
Because of his insignificance and blindness of reason, man has become unable to comprehend the invisible and spiritual thread that connects him with the great Divinity. This explains the weakening of his divine principle and the reason for his eternal desire to own tangible things.
We see an illustration of this in Brahmanism, whose followers, indulging in love for external forms, created – not immediately, but gradually – a whole army of gods and demigods. At the same time, man never dared to attribute divine and eternal existence to visible images, created by his own hands.
Perhaps the people of Israel have demonstrated, more openly than any other nation, a human attachment to everything in particular. For, despite a number of amazing miracles created by their Great Creator – which is the same for all nations – they could not refrain from creating God out of metal at the very time when their prophet Moses asked the Almighty for them.
Buddhism has gone through similar changes. Our great reformer, Shakyamuni, inspired by the Supreme Judge, comprehended the true greatness and indivisibility of the Master. For this reason, he openly separated himself from the Brahmins and their doctrines of polytheism, preaching the purity and immortality of the Creator and doing everything possible to depose the images, which were believed to be created in His image.
The recognition that he and his disciples met among the people caused serious persecution by the Brahmins, who, contrary to the laws of the Almighty, treated people very despotically, creating gods only in order to expand the source of their personal income.
Our first holy prophets, whom we gave the title of Buddhas – that is, sages and saints, since we consider them to be the embodiment of the one Great Creator – from ancient times lived in different countries of the globe. Since their sermons were directed primarily against the tyranny of the Brahmins and their vicious transformation of religion into a common means of profit, the prophets found a huge following among the lower strata of the population of India and China.
Among these holy prophets, Buddha Shakyamuni, who lived three thousand years ago and with his teachings led the whole of China on the path of one true and indivisible God, was honored with special worship, as well as Buddha Gautama, who lived two and a half thousand years ago and converted almost half of the Hindus to that the same faith.
Buddhism is divided into several directions, differing only in some religious rites, but the foundations of their doctrines are the same everywhere. We Tibetan Buddhists are called Lamaists ( “Known in China as” Fo “ ) because we split from the Foists about fifteen centuries ago. Since then, we have been part of the followers of Fo Shakyamuni ( In traditional Buddhism, the name “Shakyamuni” (Sage of the Shakya clan) refers to Gautama Buddha (563-483 BC )), who first collected all the laws established by various Buddhas during the great schism of Brahmanism.
Later, the Mongolian hutuktu translated the books of the great Buddha into Chinese, receiving the title “Go-Chi” – the mentor of the king as a reward from the emperor of China – a title that was assigned to the Dalai Lama of Tibet after his death and which has since this post.
Our religion is professed by two monastic orders – red and yellow. The former, who recognize the authority of the Panchen residing in Tashi Lumpo, the head of the civil administration of Tibet, may marry. And we are yellow monks who have taken a vow of celibacy, and our direct ruler is the Dalai Lama. Apart from this point of difference, the rituals of our two orders are the same. “
“And in both there are mysteries like what I saw today?”
“Yes, with very few differences. Previously, these holidays were held with the greatest solemnity and splendor, but since the conquest of Ladakh, our monasteries have been plundered more than once and our wealth has been taken from us.
Now we are forced to be content with white vestments and bronze dishes, while in Tibet proper one can see golden vessels and fabrics embroidered with gold ”.
“During my recent visit to the gonpa, one of the lamas told me about a certain prophet, or, as you would say, Buddha, after the estate of Issa. Can you tell me something about its existence? ” I asked, wanting not to miss the opportunity to start a conversation on a topic that worries me so much. “
“Issa’s name is highly respected by Buddhists,” my host replied. “But not many people know about him, with the exception of the abbot lamas who read the scrolls concerning his life. There are countless Buddhas like Issa, and the 84,000 extant manuscripts contain details of everyone’s life; but not many have read even a hundredth part of them.
Acting according to the established custom, each student or lama visiting Laos must donate one or more copies to the monastery to which he is assigned. Our gonpa, like others, already has a large number of them. Among them you can find chronicles about the life and deeds of Buddha Issa, who preached the sacred doctrine in India and among the children of Israel and was put to death by the pagans, whose descendants have since accepted the commandments that he preached and which we believe you have learned.
The Great Buddha, the Soul of the Universe, is the embodiment of Brahma. He is almost incessantly at rest, keeping in himself everything that exists from the beginning of time, and his breath revives the world. Having left a man to rely on his own forces, he nevertheless in some eras comes out of his inaction, assuming a human form, in order to save his creations from the inevitable destruction of shy; li.
During his earthly existence, the Buddha creates a new world from divided peoples. And, having completed his task, he leaves the Earth, regaining his invisible state and life in perfect bliss.
Three thousand years ago, the great Buddha incarnated in the famous prince Shakyamuni, thereby continuing the series of his twenty incarnations. Two and a half thousand years ago, the great Soul of the world reincarnated again in Gautam, laying the foundations of a new kingdom in Burma, Siam and on various islands.
Shortly thereafter, Buddhism began to spread in China – thanks to the efforts of the sages who did their best to spread the sacred doctrine. And during the reign of Ming Ti from the Han dynasty, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-three years ago, Shakyamuni’s commandments were universally recognized by the people. Simultaneously with the arrival of Buddhism in China, its commandments spread among the Israelis.
About two thousand years ago, the perfect Being, once again emerging from its inaction, incarnated in a newborn baby from a poor family. It was His will for the child to enlighten the ignorant in simple words about eternal life – by his own example, returning people to the path of truth, opening the way for them that really leads to the attainment of moral purity.
When he was still a boy, this holy child was brought to India, where until adulthood he studied the laws of the great Buddha, who eternally dwells on not shy; demons. “
At this point, my interlocutor began to show clear signs of fatigue, starting to twist his prayer cylinder as a sign that he wanted to end the conversation. So I hurriedly asked the following questions: “In what language are the major scrolls about the life of Issa written?”
“The documents about his life, brought from India to Nepal and from Nepal to Tibet, are written in Pali and are now in Laos. But there are copies in our language, that is, in Tibetan, in this monastery. “
“How is Issa treated in Tibet? Is he considered a saint? ” I asked.
“People don’t know about its very existence. Only the chief lamas who have studied documents about his life know something about him. But since his doctrine does not constitute the canonical part of Buddhism, since his admirers do not recognize the authority of the Dalai Lama, the Prophet Issa is not officially recognized as a saint in Tibet. “
“Are you committing the sin of telling a stranger about these copies?” – I asked a question.
“That which belongs to God,” the lama replied, “also belongs to man. Duty obliges us with all conscientiousness to help spread his sacred word. I don’t know exactly where these documents are now; but if you ever visit our gonpa again, I will be happy to show them to you. “
At that moment, two monks entered, uttered a few words that my translator could not make out, and immediately left.
“I am being called to sacrifice,” said the lama. “I beg you to excuse me.”
Following this, he bowed and, heading for the door, disappeared. I had no choice but to return to the room given to me, where, after a light supper, I spent the night.
The next day I returned to Leh, wondering under what pretext I could visit the monastery again. Two days later, with a messenger, I sent a gift to the High Lama, consisting of an alarm clock, a wrist watch and a thermometer, at the same time informing him of my desire to return to the monastery if possible before I left Ladakh in the hope that he could allow me to see the book, which was one from the subjects of our conversation.
I mapped out a plan to reach Kashmir and later go from there to Himis, but Fate decreed otherwise. As I drove past the hill on top of which the Pintaka gonpa was located, my horse stumbled and I was thrown to the ground so unsuccessfully that I broke my right leg below the knee.
Thus, it was impossible to continue the journey, and since I had no desire to return to Leh or to enjoy the hospitality of the Pintaka gonpa (unhealthy place), I ordered to be carried to Himis, which could be reached in half a day’s slow ride.
An impromptu splint was applied to my injured limb — an operation that caused me great anguish — and they put me in the saddle; one coolie held my leg, and the other led the horse by the bridle. We crossed the threshold of Himis late in the evening.
Hearing about my misfortune, everyone came out to meet me. I was carried with great care to their best chambers and laid on a soft bed, near which stood a prayer wheel. All this took place under the tireless supervision of the abbot of the monastery, who sympathetically shook the hand that I extended in gratitude for his kindness.
The next day, I myself made the best version of the leg splint from small, elongated wooden sticks tied together with ropes; being shy; staying in absolute immobility was so favorable that I was soon able to leave the gonpa and go to India in search of surgical help.
While the monastery servant was constantly spinning the prayer wheel near my bed, the holy abbot entertained me with endless stories, constantly removing my alarm clock and clock from its cases and asking me about their purpose and about how the horses were working.
In the end, yielding to my fervent requests, he brought me two large bound folios with pages yellowed with time and read from them in Tibetan a biography of Issa, which I neatly wrote down in my travel notebook, following my translator. This interesting document is written in the form of individual verses, which are often devoid of sequence.
Within a few days, my condition improved so much that I was able to continue on my way. So, after taking the necessary precautions against a broken leg, I headed back to India via Kashmir. This journey, which took place in slow transitions, lasted twenty days and caused me much suffering.
Nevertheless, thanks to the stretcher kindly sent to me by Mr. Peisho (I take this opportunity to thank him for his generous concern for me) and the decree of the Grand Vizier of the Maharajah of Kashmir, in which the authorities were instructed to provide me with porters, I was able to reach Srinagar, which almost immediately left , as he was in a hurry to reach India before the first snow.
At Murry I met a Frenchman, Count Henri de Saint-Phale, who was making a pleasure trip to Hindustan. All the time we traveled together all the way to Bombay, the young earl showed the most touching attention to my suffering, which caused me a broken leg and fever, which I was then eating.
I cherish the most grateful memories of his kindness, and I will never forget the friendly care that was shown to me upon arrival in Bombay by the Marquis de Maures, the Viscount de Breteuil, Monsieur Monod from the National Registration Bank, Monsieur Moet, the director of the consulate, and other benevolent members of the French colony.
At the same time, I take this opportunity to add a few words of sincere gratitude to the many English friends who, during my stay in India, honored me with their friendship and hospitality – among them Colonel and Lady Napier, Mr. and Mrs. O’Connor, Mr. Hume, Mr. E Kay.
Through Babu Amara Natha
Ascribed to Wazir Wazarat Pindakhass
Signature of the official Hukm Chand
You must provide eight palanquin porters (i.e. stretchers) for Mr. Notovich, Sahib going to Sri Nagar, through Baba Amar Natha Ji, for hire (i.e. Sahib pays for the porters). There is a firm indication of this order (i.e. no delay in its execution).