Friday, September 19, 2014

Mystical journey into the Sacred Spaces of Sikkim

Mother Earth is not doing too well these days, as the media will tell you. Natural calamities, man-made calamities, and natural calamities actually caused by man, have ensured that the world we are leaving behind for our children is a scary, unpredictable place. And who do we think is responsible for that? A 'God' residing up in the skies? The all powerful government? How about if, we, the people, took some responsibility for the state of our planet today? Let us take 'tourism' for instance. It has become nothing short of brutal invasion of a space for personal pleasure. The 'tourists' are a different breed than the 'travelers' and a dangerous one too! Respect for the space and seeking permission to be in it is unheard of! If money has been paid, people feel it is perfectly reasonable to go to a space, take the beauty, peace or whatever it has to offer as much as you can manage, visit 'tourist attraction spots' only to click photographs and then leave it - often dirtier and more polluted than before. And so it was with Sikkim!

Just as you would not like someone to barge in your home or even invade your personal space by standing too close to you unless you have allowed it, every space has such a personal energy. The energy of tourism is exploitative, at its best. It does not ask the permission of the land at an energetic level and the actions of the tourism promoters as well as the tourists reflect this same disrespect. It is like the act of mining where man and machine, ruthlessly plunder the womb of the earth to grab her treasures. It is no wonder therefore that often you may visit a place, explore it and even spend a fair amount of time in that place, but you will not really connect to the true essence. The most precious gifts the place has to offer will remain hidden. Only what you give, can you receive, even from spaces. And this is what makes every space sacred with the potential to transform you forever.

I have felt a strong heart connection to Sikkim, so when I found myself in this sacred land, I wanted to truly connect to the real essence of Sikkim. Surface knowledge about interesting places to visit or the external beauty would not suffice. And this is the intent with which I sat down to meditate in my room at the resort. It was a beautiful full moon night and the universal energies were already high. Mystical connections happen more easily during such times.

As my connection strengthened, I spoke to the spirit of Sikkim and stated my desire to know the real essence of the land. In my minds' eye, an elderly sage appeared and he started communicating with me. He spoke about many things that made up the essence of Sikkim - Power, the Divine Feminine, The Shiva-Shakti Union and Tantra. And finally he had a message for me. He said, to know the true essence of this land you have to "go into the earth, enter the mountains." I could then see him laughing as he dissolved and I was once more back in my room. The message sounded cryptic and I had no clue what it meant to 'go into the earth, enter the mountains' ! I would have to hold it in my awareness and wait for the path ahead to open up.

The next evening as we were sitting at a local tea shop, I noticed two women get off a truck very close to where I was sitting. As I observed them, I saw that after walking a few steps on the road they literally ' disappeared into the earth'. the message from my meditation came back to me with force and I went up to check the place where they had 'disappeared'. I found stairs going down from the level of the road to the level of the river Rangeet beneath. When I asked around, I found out that many locals have their homes below the street level, the stairs go down from random parts of the Sikkim roads. I could sense an excitement in me - the essence of Sikkim inside the earth, I had started to connect. The stores, markets, etc that we saw around us, could that be just a facade for the visitors? I was ready to seek some more answers now and so I went back to meditation. What did it mean to go into the earth, enter the mountains? And the answer came - caves!! I was guided to visit a cave or caves and there would be a cave about an hour's distance from where we were staying in Baiguney, West Sikkim.

The researcher in me was thrilled with this revelation and I went about gathering more information about this cave/caves. It was easier said than done!! Google informed me that there were four sacred, mystical caves in Sikkim were Guru Padmasambhava had meditated in the 8th century. The only problem was that the locals, nor the staff at the resort had heard of the cave that I was looking for - the first of the four sacred caves - 'Shar Chok Bephu' as Google called it. We asked everyone possible but could not come up with any clue nor direction. All that I could gather was it was near a place called Ravangala (Rabongla for the locals). So that is where I decided to go. I would sense it out if I had to!!

It was a crazy idea to go in search of a sacred, ancient cave where a 8th century Guru had meditated that nobody seemed to have heard of. But then, I have never been short of the craziness factor. After a major argument with my spouse (definitely saner than me) , I agreed to go up to a place called Namchi. (the only reason I said 'yes' was that I knew it was on the way to Rabongla - so you see I had really not given up my 'cave' plan). The drive was absolutely divine. 'Namchi' literally means 'sky high' and we realised it lives up to its name. The temperatures started to drop half way through and my fingers and nose was freezing as our car almost drove through the clouds that descended on the mountains.

The mountains here are lined with blood red hisbiscus flowers and as our car passed through we heard the sound of 'ululation' all around. Our driver and guide explained that this unique sound was made by a species of brown insects that lived on those tall trees all around. I felt it in every cell of my body, a very sacred and mystical journey was unfolding. The presence of the Divine Feminine and the Sage was guiding this journey forward. We decided against visiting the local 'tourist attraction spots' of the replica of the Char Dham in Namchi. Instead we drove up to the Samdruptse Monastery. A silent, sacred space high up in the clouds!!

The prayer flags that line the path add to the sacredness of the journey and we instinctively fell silent. However I soon discovered not everyone is similarly influenced by sacred spaces. Groups of tourists had followed the trail to this monastery as well. My practice of deep breathing helped me stop myself from pushing certain people from the mountain top, who laughed and spoke at the top of their voices with kids running helter skelter, blatantly ignoring the 'Silence please' signs all over. To make matters personal for me, some of such enthusiastic tourists were from my very own motherland - yes! Bengalis in woolen caps - and I am not kidding!!

My disappointment with the world soon dissolved in the inner prayer chambers where we met a lama who was praying. He knew about the caves, ofcourse!!! And we spend a fair amount of time listening to the stories and myths and he gave some directions which my husband memorised the best that he could. And then he confirmed the directions that I had been given in my meditation. The second of the sacred caves was with an hour and half;s distance from the place we were staying. Yes, I was being guided by higher powers.

After offering our prayers and receiving acknowledgment that I was not crazy to be following a hunch that was communicated through meditation, we carried on to Rabongla. On the way we asked groups of locals for further directions to the cave, and once again to our dismay, nobody had heard of it!! We received confusing and contradictory directions. All that I knew for sure was that the prayer flags would guide us on the path. Desperate and losing time, I once more surrendered to my inner guidance. I started chanting and meditating as our car drove on and asked the Sage to take me to the cave. He appeared again and this time he lovingly said, 'the woman will show the way.' And it struck me that all along we had only asked men for directions. When we stopped at Rabongla, I mentioned it to my husband that we were to ask a woman who would know the way. By now he trusts these intuitive messages I get so we waited for the mysterious 'woman' whoever she was, to show up. We didnt have to wait for long. The moment we entered a restaurant '10zing' for lunch, a powerful, wise looking woman greeted us. She was the owner. Although I had been shown the face of an elderly woman in my vision, I knew we had to ask this woman about the cave. So our driver did and she immediately gave the directions to this cave that nobody seemed to have heard about except the lama. She also mentioned that she had visited this cave as she smiled at me. I felt I was in the presence of a yogini for sure! The journey continued, taking us deeper and deeper.

Following her directions, driving through twisted, winding ways we finally came upon a sign board that filled my heart with joy.

I noted that the name did not quite sound or read like 'Shar Chok Bephu'! On the way as we started to feel lost again, there was a woman and her car parked literally in the middle of nowhere. Again, the woman showed the way. We were driving past a thick forest by the side of the road, when another sign caught our eye. It would have been very easy to miss if we had not been highly alert.

We had to park the car at this point as the rest of the journey down the mountain and through dense forest would have to be covered on foot. The walk by itself was a memorable one, with a narrow path leading to the interiors of a thick forest till we could not see the road where the car was parked. We were surrounded by silence except for the chirping of birds and insects and dripping water (it had rained some time back). The path, just as expected was lined with prayer flags fluttering in the cold breeze. We could feel we were approaching some place deeply mysterious and sacred.

The path split into two and the one of the left went down to a monastery. We were guided to take the path straight down. Our driver went down to the monastery to see if there were any lamas or students who could guide us into the cave.

And then, without warning, there it was!! The hidden cave of the East. The mountain seemed to open and a beautiful cave entrance greeted us. The energy was so strong and palpable that our bodies felt powerful tingling waves and my legs felt shaky. My heart felt fully open. We stood in awe at the entrance. Soon our driver, Sujit returned with an old lady following him. I was in for another surprise! It was the same face I had been shown by the Sage who was guiding me through meditative connections. It was she who told us more about the cave.

The Guru Padmasambhava (also called Guru Rinpoche) had meditated in this cave during the 8th century. A shrine was built to him and his consort Yeshe Tsogyal and the lamas prayed here. In Tibetian Buddhism, Guru Rinpoche is believed to have protected the Dharma's treasured teachings in secretly coded texts in caves and other sacred places. It was protected by his consort and the dakinis and would be unearthed when required. The secret texts are in dakini script (non human writing or code) or even hidden in objects like rocks, trees, lakes, crystals. The teachings have been preserved and handed down from teachers to students in tantric tradition of Dharma transmission. The cave was still alive with this mystical energies and the power. We were immensely blessed to be able to reach this far.

The main entrance to the cave from where we had to climb down was not so wide and well lit. The old woman informed us that it would be highly risky to attempt to enter and walk down as it was monsoons and it was slippery, dark and dangerous. Winters would be a better time for such an attempt. I heard the message clearly in my mind again and now I knew what it meant to 'go into the earth, enter the mountains.' Here I was, connecting to the sacred land and its mysteries and I knew I had to enter and go in, a short distance atleast. So down I went with Sujit accompanying me. He was a local and it was the first time he had heard of this place and come here. He was quite excited about this journey. One look at the entrance with the red metal gate was sure to keep out anyone less enthusiastic!!

We opened the gate, which was not locked and went in through the narrow dark opening. It was beautiful, sacred and scary. The ground was very slippery and we could hardly see much. I went down as far as I could and then stood there just feeling the space. Ancient mysteries seemed to come alive in that dark space. I was feeling incredibly blessed.

As I was meditating in the cave, I asked the Sage, which I now knew to be the energy of Guru Rinpoche, why I could not fully enter the cave even though I had been called here. And he said, 'every space has its own energy just like every person has. The energies have to be aligned and the alignment always decides where one goes and till where one goes. It is always in alignment. You are of the dakini cave and you are to enter." - I knew the clarity of this would come in its own time.

When I came out after meditating, we were greeted by two adorable children. A little girl in school uniform and her 7 year old brother who was the youngest student there, training to be a lama. The little boy took us to a smaller cave right next to the main one and once I followed him into the space, he pointed out a trishul embedded on the floor of the cave. He said that 'Shiva resides here' and then explained that a huge snake stays in this cave and comes up to this trishul. The lamas pray to it and leave offerings for it. I asked him to pick something for me from this place that I could carry back. He picked up a 'chho' a pot like structure which the lamas place in sacred places. After spending some more time with the children and listening to more stories of the cave, we finally returned to the resort, blessed and joyous, deeply grateful for this experience. The next day, we would be ready for the second cave, which my research told me was called the Secret Cave of the Dakinis. I was no longer surprised!

It was easier to locate this second sacred cave as our driver knew about it and had visited it earlier. The space was also popular for its Hot Spring and the supposedly medicinal properties that drew many visitors during a religious festival when the spring was visible and active during the winter months. It was located about 5 kms south of a place called Legship. The moment we started on this journey, I sensed this cave was going to be very different. Reaching the dakinis would not be an easy task. If the earlier cave was almost invisible unless you really seek it from your soul, this one tested your determination and challenged your faith at every step. It was scorching hot and the road was very rough, unlike the roads we had taken for Namchi and Rabongla. We often crossed areas where there had been recent landslides and the debris was lying around as proof. I started chanting and connecting to the sacred energies. Our car had to pass through a tunnel and in the darkness of the tunnel, I sensed I was making a journey into another realm. In an hour and half approximately, the car stopped and Sujit informed us, from here on we would have the journey on foot. Once we saw the path ahead we paused for a few moments to contemplate. We would literally have to go down a mountain to the river Rangeet flowing beneath and then cross an old bridge to reach the cave. The path carved out from the mountain was not just narrow but also very slippery due to the rains and rough. If you slipped you would go straight into the raging river. At this point I did not even want to think about the challenge of climbing up this mountain if we made it to the cave! We took a deep breath and started to walk down.

Once we reached the riverside, we came upon the bridge lined with prayer flags, that we had to cross over to reach the sacred spot of the Secret Cave of the Dakinis and which also had a stupa and a little temple at the site.

And there we were, once more at the entrance of yet another sacred cave to which I had been guided, in search of the essence of the land. I stood at the entrance for some moments, expressing my gratitude for this blessing. And then we entered.

It felt like we were transported to an ancient world the moment we stepped inside the cave. It was slippery and slimy, and the fragrance was of wet, damp earth. The only light coming in was from an opening which also brought the sound of the dripping water. We were in the womb of mother earth, I could not keep my hands away from the walls which attracted me like a magnet. Here it was, the faded scribbling of the dakini script. Even the natural walls of the cave had designs that totally mesmerised. We spent a long time in the comforting darkness of this cold, damp space before we climbed the stairs that took us deeper. The main cave was further inside.

The energy that could be felt here was very powerful and benevolent at the same time. I was eager to continue further to the entrance of the main shrine. The floor was getting dangerously slippery and we had to be very careful with our steps. Once we reached the mouth of the very narrow cave which lead up to the main shrine inside, my husband decided to stay back. I knew I was being called to enter and yet I stood there, momentarily paralyzed by a sudden surge of fear. It seemed to rise up from deep within and take me in its grip. The dark narrow way which could hardly be called a passage was highly intimidating. Thoughts flashed by - what if I got stuck, what if I suffocated to death, what if it was filled with snakes and leeches and scorpions, etc. Sujit and a local boy who stayed on the premises agreed to accompany me and I got down on all fours to crawl into the darkness. As I started crawling through the wet, slimy, muddy floor, it became even narrower. The only light we had was from my mobile phone which would cover only few inches ahead of me, as the cave was literally bearing down on us. Right at the middle of the passage I experienced a panic attack and almost screamed aloud! Every emotion of fear that I held in my cells came up in that moment to choke me and I felt I could go no further. My heart was thudding wildly and there was no way I could turn around or back out. My body had to be twisted and turned and I had to slide over my belly to keep moving ahead. And it was then that I heard them whisper most compassionately, the dakinis. I was told, 'keep moving, your fear will take you through' - and I started crawling once more.

The passage opened into a small space and there was the shrine, radiating raw power!! We could only sit huddled - right inside the womb. I had done it - gone into the earth and entered the mountains. And there She was to welcome me in a warm, dark embrace. As I sat there meditating, Sujit insisted on clicking a photograph of the shrine and me. The few moments that the phone torch was off and the camera flash clicked a snap, we were left in pitch darkness, darker than the darkest night. And in that moment I was moving through Fear and it was transforming me. It was a moment of complete surrender to every fear that I had ever felt in my life.

Once I finished meditating and receiving the blessings, the local boy who was in there with Sujit and me, started sharing stories of this cave. He spoke about a huge snake that the lamas believed lived in this cave behind the main shrine. He spoke about 9 people who had entered the cave when it was even deeper before the stones blocked the path, and only 1 person had come out. The remaining 8 had supposedly disappeared without a trace. Not very comforting stories to listen to when you are sitting right inside this cave, I assure you! And I insisted that we listen to the rest of the story after we had crawled out and entered the bigger cave. The light from my phone once more guided us out of the main shrine space.

The 'me' that crawled out from this sacred cave was not the same as the one that had gone in. I had been touched by a divine force and transformed forever. I had returned with a new found respect for the emotion of Fear that is yet another form of energy with the immense potential to pull you up into the energy of compassion, love and immense power. Working with fear was the way of the Dakinis and I bowed to them for this understanding they showered on me.

As I emerged from the cave into the sunlight outside, covered in mud and slime, I was at peace. Yes, this is how I would love to spend my life, exploring sacred spaces, treading with care and deep respect for the spaces I am allowed to visit. And in this process I just might be given  some treasures and blessings that takes me forward in my soul's journey.

Thankyou Sikkim and I really look forward to returning to complete my journey in this sacred land. _/\_


M said...

Beautiful. Thanks for your careful and elaborate sharing.

M said...

Beautiful. Thanks for your careful and elaborate sharing.