The hilltop town of Pharping lies an hour or so to the southwest of Kathmandu. Tibetans know it as Yangley Shoo, and it has played an important role in the development of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Kathmandu Valley has an ancient Buddhist heritage. After Emperor Ashoka united much of what was to become India under his rule, he promoted Buddhism as the religion of his new empire. Nepal was a part of that initiative. According to legend, he sent one of his daughters to the Valley. Nepalis today believe that the large stupa on the eastern part of the city was built by that daughter, to demark the place as officially Buddhist. A descendent of that stupa still stands there today.
The Kathmandu Valley was one of the main corridors to Tibet from ancient times. Tibetan records state that when the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo made Tibetan Buddhism the nation religion of his empire in the early seventh century, one of the reasons was the effect that his Nepali wife Queen Brikuti had on him. Even though he had five wives, Brikuti seems to have had an especially strong influence over him. He built the Jokhang in Lhasa in her honor, the first Buddhist temple that he built after making Budddhism the national religion. That temple has remained the most sacred temple in all of Central Asia from that time until the present time.
A century and a quarter later, when Songtsen Gampo’s descendent King Trisong Deutsan invited Padma Sambhava to Tibet, Padma is said to have come into Tibet through Nepal.
In fact Padma had already spent considerable time in Nepal. Some accounts state that he had spent some ten years meditating in Yangley Shoo, or Pharping. Two caves there are still honored today as having been consecrated by Padma’s presence.
One of these is lower on the mountain, and is controlled by a Hindu group. Some sources state that Padma spent seven years meditating in the cave and in fact achieved his enlightenment there. A Tibetan terma text states that … “Here Padma subdued local spirits by means of practice of the Vajrakilaya Tantra, and achieved the supreme siddhi of mahamudra.” In general, tantric practice produces conventional siddhis (paranormal powers) such as clairvoyance, the ability to levitate and fly, and so forth; and also produces the supreme siddhi of Mahamudra, meaning enlightenment. The Hindu minders in charge of this cave kindly unlocked the door made of bars, and allowed us to meditate in it for some time.
Fifteen minutes up the mountain is another cave sacred to Padma Sambhava. This one is maintained by the Tibetans. Here, it is said, Padma meditated for a further three years, in order to stabilize his enlightenment. Tibetans refer to this cave as “Azura,” and hold it in ever greater stead then the cave lower on the hill.
Two nuns were meditating in this cave when we arrived. They graciously moved their seats when we entered, and allowed us to sit and meditate with them for a half hour.
Seven and three years! Well, maybe. Or perhaps seven and three days. Or seven or three hours. Time is an abstract material in the telling of the Padma Sambhava story.
The important point is that the Great Guru meditated here, blessed and empowered the site, and left a lasting legacy here.
As for us, we certainly felt the inspiring energy of that legacy on our visit, and we hope we contributed to its continuing presence by means of adding our own meditative energies to it.
(Text by Glenn Mullin, Photos by Jon Schechner, Sound Recording by Sarah Brutzman, Video Editing by Ronen Schechner)