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Published: July 13th 2017
Trip to Thikse monastery.
Firstly, this blog entry is slightly different from the rest in that I will go into some very personal reasons for my visit to Ladakh.
I had two very important tasks to carry out here in the high Himalaya, apart from the motorcycle trip and discovering more about this wild and beautiful place. As some may know, my dear wife Di had been a practicing Buddhist for about 15 years and indeed, before I met her, she considered living permanently in the monastery that she was associated with in Bradford on Avon. However, luckily for me, she decided against it about 6 months before I met her. She used to attend week long retreats 4 times a year until she became very ill about 18 months before she died.
The first task that I had set myself was to find a resting place for a small cardboard phial of her ashes, somewhere that would be very important to the Buddhist religion. The second task was to speak to one of the monks at a monastery to get a second opinion on what they believed would happen to someone in their rebirth if they took their own life. (Buddhists believe in reincarnation or rebirth and Di believed strongly in this) Di had been told by the head monk at her monastery that if she followed this path then she would be sent to eternal hell. This troubled her enormously over the last couple of months of her life. I simply couldn't believe this and I wanted to speak to someone at the monastery who had been a practicing monk for a long time and was very experienced.
I found Thikse monastery and felt that this fitted the bill on both counts. Firstly it was the largest monastery in the Ladakh region and was very old. It was built in 1430 and had been in continual use ever since. There were many meditation and religious courses active there in the summer months. In addition it was a very important place for Buddhists. The Dalai Llama visited in 2016 and had been there many times before. Yesterday he visited the sister monastery in the Nubbra valley not far from Leh. This was exact what I had been looking for.
I had been told that morning prayers started at 7am so I left the hotel at 6.30am taking a taxi on the half hour drive to Thikse. I peeked in to the hall where the prayers were taking place but didn't stay. Instead I gradually climbed higher and higher up the many floors of the monastery, stopping to look into the gloom of the temples to various Buddhist gods. Eventually after an hour or so I reached the very top. The views up and down the Indus valley were wonderful, a ribbon of green indicating the path of the river, and sandwiching the river were enormous snow capped peaks on either side. At the top of the monastery was a tiny, very old temple, the library where books up to 500 years old were stored and a small room where a senior monk lived.
It was absolutely deserted there. I sat on a small bench outside the temple shaded from the heat of the very powerful sun for two hours, taking in the extraordinary atmosphere of this place. I then hunted round and found a crevice just big enough to place Di’s phial behind a loose panel of wood. This was a perfect resting place for her.
Shortly after, a monk appeared to unlock the library and temple. He was very friendly and chatty and for a while we talked about the monastery and why it was so quiet. Apparently nearly all the monks had gone to Nubra to see the Dalai Llama leaving only 7 of them at the monastery, and I also learnt a little more about him. He was 40 years old, had been a monk since the age of 11 and had been studying all over India. His favourite time of year was the winter for although it was very cold, he had much more time to study and meditate whereas the summer was way too busy! He asked how I had arrived in Leh and when I told him that I had ridden the 1500 Kms from Shimla by motorcycle, he was quite surprised. He asked how old I was and when I replied that I was 63 he was even more surprised. He said I must have been very strong. Not a word I would use to describe myself! He said that most Ladakhi men of my age would be too old to undertake that sort of trip. I guess the hard life takes its toll high up in the mountains.
Finally I began to tell him about Di and the reason that I needed to speak to an experienced monk. He was quite distressed to hear what had happened but told me that what happens in reincarnation is all decided by Karma. If you had attracted bad Karma by doing bad things such as being greedy, egotistical, or selfish during your life then eternal hell may be an option. However, anyone who knows Di would say that without a doubt, she was the kindest, most compassionate, generous and warmest person. In her work she was always very caring, and showed that most important of Buddhist traits, loving kindness. I was now certain that a kinder and more compassionate life awaited her following her death nearly a year ago. This helped me enormously and I was now certain that her English monk had completely misinterpreted the Buddhist teachings and caused her a huge amount of unnecessary suffering.
The monk and I chatted more for a few more minutes and then he shook my hand and wished me a safe trip home. He said that before I left I must visit the temple directly beneath where we were standing. It was the temple of the future Buddha, the temple of compassion. Perfect, another piece of karma slotting into place for Di, her ashes resting above the temple. In the temple was an enormous image of the future Buddha, finished very recently in 1980, 30 craftsmen worked for 3 years to finish the image, made of clay and copper, finished in gold leaf as is usual. It is 40 feet high and a the new temple was built especially to house it with a hole between the 2 floors to accommodate it.
It was now 12.30 so I took some more photos and then headed down to the cafe near the entrance where I sat and drank a cool drink and gathered my thoughts about the day. After a couple of hours I walked the mile and a half down the road from the monastery in the intense sun to catch a taxi back from the hotel where I had stayed a few days before and got back to my hotel to rest, exhausted by the intense happenings of the day.
That was the last of the things I had to do in Ladakh. Tomorrow early in the morning, the 13th July I fly back from Leh to Delhi and the last few days of my holiday, site seeing around Delhi.
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