Upper Mustang Trek

  • Updated on Jan 14, 2020
  • Rugged Trails Nepal
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Upper Mustang Trek On the land of Lo, Mustang is the former Kingdom of Lo and now a part of Nepal, in the border to Tibet. In present-day Nepal, Lo Manthang is a backwater, a comparatively very small and insignificant town. Upper Mustang is the home of two magnificent Gompas, Thubchen and Jampa, located barely a hundred yards apart and dating to the fifteenth century. The effect may be compared to that of a French or Italian provincial town with not one but two medieval cathedrals. In March 1996, Thubchen and Jampa were listed in the world monuments fund's first annual watch list of 100 most endangered sites, representing the world's cultural heritage. In eastern Mustang, the isolated cave Gompa of Luri, probably of even earlier date, is also decorated with important paintings. There are other important sites in Mustang as well, including the Gompas of Tsarang and Lo Gekar.

 

 

Table of Contents

JAMPA GOMPA IN MUSTANG VALLEY

Jampa is setback within an enclosed space behind a wall along the lane outside and is reached through a door in this wall. The extraordinary structure within the wall consists of a three-storied building of which the lowest story fronts onto a large courtyard. The unusual feature of its configuration is an earthen platform, projecting forward in two wings. The three sides of this larger supporting platform partially extend over a central courtyard. They are supported by wooden pillars with carved cross-beams and decorated with the heads of lions. Jampas external dimensions are 42 X 25 meters. The interior eastern and western walls are slightly over thirteen meters in length, and the southern and northern ones are 9.8 meters long. External stairs lead up to the middle level, which is the main story. It is entered by a single door on this second story.

The third or top story is virtually inaccessible and can be entered only by obtaining a ladder and climbing through what appears to be a window on the east wall that may once have been a door. There are indications of former doors, two on the east wall and one on the north wall, now closed in and plastered over. Even though this third level may have been reserved for initiates only, presumably there was access by means of stairs leading to a superstructure, both having long since crumbled. An opening remains in the roof for a former set of stairs. This opening has exposed this floor to weather and caused extreme damage to its paintings.

Thubchen Gompa Mustang The Land Of Lo

  • The newer of the two great Gompas, Thubchen is a single-storied gompa, its external structures less complex than that of Japan. Its external dimensions are 30 X 19 Meters. Unlike Jampa, it is not elevated above ground; rather, its entrance is a few steps below ground level and is reached directly from the lane outside. An entrance chamber, on the east wall, may have been added at a later date. Traditionally, the porch of a Gompa is painted with the images of the four directional guardians and often with a Wheel of Life, but statues of the customary four guardians appear in the antechamber, instead. The Du-Khang is approximately 28 X 18 meters and is 7.6 in height. The huge space is illuminated by a large central skylight. Within this space, supporting the ceiling, are thirty-five large wooden pillars, evenly spaced in rows, seven in each row from east to west, and five in each from north to south.

The surviving Painting in the vast Du-Khang consists of twelve tried sets, each with a large, central Buddha Shakyamuni, Vajrasattva, or another deity. In the triad sets, each Central figure is flanked by two standing Bodhisattvas or disciples, delicate and elegant in execution. The best preserved of these is an image of Shakyamuni Buddha, with Avalokiteshvara on the Buddha's right side, and Manjushri on the left.

Basic Concepts of Tibetan Buddhism

  • There are books, too numerous to mention, that relates the story of the historical Buddha, Prince Gautama Shakyamuni, and explain his teachings and the basic concepts of the spiritual insight that he attained. Buddhism comprises three major branches or schools, which, despite a difference in emphasis and focus, are based on the Buddhas fundamental precepts and teaching.

Theravada:

  • Theravada Buddhism, also known as Hinayana, predominates in southeastern Asia, in such countries as Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. Because of the dismissive connotation of the term Hinayana, which means the lesser vehicle, its followers prefer the name Theravada, or way of the elders (meaning the early disciples of Buddha); it is also called the old Wisdom school.

Mahayana:

  • Mahayana Buddhism developed in northern India, and although Buddhism was driven from India after the Mogul invasions and conquest of India between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, Mahayana took root in the Himalayan countries like Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and Sikkim as well as in China, Japan, and Korea.

Vajrayana and Tantrism

  • The third category, Vajrayana or Tantrayana, which derives from Mahayana, is the school most closely associated with Tibetan Buddhism so integral a part of it that it has become virtually identified with the religion of Tibet. The most mystical and esoteric of the schools, Tantric Buddhism is farthest from the common origin and found little or no acceptance in Southeast Asia, where it is sometimes not even considered an authentic school of Buddhism. {Mahayanists absorbed this movement and these two schools are exemplified in the great Lo Manthang Gompas; Mahayana in Thubchen, and Vajrayana in Jampa.}

Vajrayana or Tantrayana Buddhism involves mystical concepts and practices, some of which appear to depart sharply from central Buddhist precepts. Tantrism is a profoundly complex subject. It might be described as an alternative route to enlightenment, requiring intense concentration and induction through special rites of initiation, but offering the hope of achieving enlightenment in accelerated time, perhaps even in a single lifetime: a sort of spiritual shortcut. The way of Mahayana, the way of the Bodhisattva, is considered the slower way, requiring many lifetimes to achieve, whereas Vajrayana, the tantric way, is a faster, although more risky route.

Tantrism derives from Sanskrit texts, the Tantras which provide the theory and describe practices of ritual Yoga, as in a dramatic script. The yoga that has achieved popularity in the western world is a very late and only remotely recognizable offshoot of an ancient mystic concept. Yoga made use of certain physical disciplines and practices to achieve the goal of the mystic, the exercises being a subordinate element. Rather than training for mystical experience, aiming for a state of spiritual transformation, the yoga now popular in the west is often a system of physical exercise that makes use of breath control, offering enhanced flexibility, improved balance, relaxation of tension, and sense of rejuvenation. The serenity thus gained by a relaxed body, regulated breathing, and calm mind is meant to provide a spiritual benefit as well.

Magic and the Supernatural in Tibetan Buddhism.

The religious practices found in the Tibetan cultural world, accepted by and even conducted by the monastic orders, including the incantation of mystic, magical formulas, the exorcism and destruction of demons, divination, auguries, oracles, and symbolic sacrifices and ransom aspects associated with Shamanism. It is this element with Tibetan Buddhism of magic and the supernatural, so remote from the original teachings and practices of Buddhism that has led to its designation as Lamaism as if it were a separate religion or at least a separate offshoot of the original faith. In attempting to account for these apparent contradictions, scholars have sought to identify the sources of these seeming divergences from what can be claimed as the pure, original Buddhist teachings. Buddhism was a foreign import into Tibet, but Tibet made Buddhism its own, and that encompassing system of beliefs and practices known as Tibetan Buddhism can only be understood in the full context of the country, its history, its society, and it is indigenous religious and cultural practices. It is also necessary to consider particular religious currents (i.e, Tantrism) within Buddhism that ultimately affected it is formed in Tibet.

Tibetan Art:

Although Tibetan art uses figuration, depicting people like beings and recognizable creatures, it differs fundamentally from western religious art. Western art uses illustrations to depict its religious narrative. But Tibetan Buddhism devised an art that goes beyond illustration, conceiving figures and giving form to beings that have no inherent, intrinsic form and, according to Buddhist teaching, no tangible reality, in order to represent abstract concepts or spiritual attainments or conditions such as compassion or wisdom.

The Mandala

A painted Mandala dazzles the eye with its intricately symmetrical structure and brilliant color. But however stunning to behold, Mandalas were not designed to entertain or intrigue the eye. The Mandala is conceptual art in the same way that the figural images of deities are conceptual: it is a visualization of the nature of cosmic reality, as such sometimes called cosmic diagram, and a means to spiritual transformation. We must call it art only because it is visualization, a depiction, but it is more than that. Mandalas are tools or aids to meditations. Beyond even that, they are an intrinsic, indispensable element in liturgics ritual, which they do not illustrate; rather, the ritual is conducted through the Mandala. Since the Mandala represents the conceptual core of Jampa Gompa in Lo Monthang, this Gompa thus represents a statement and teaching about the nature of the ultimate truth a school of advanced study. Jampa (Monastery in Mustang Nepal)brings us closer to the heart of Vajrayana. Rather than a more conventionally decorated Gompa, Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo chose instead to create a special for initiates.

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