Teacher forever: Mummified Buddhist monk still inspires students at Shimla monastery
Monks at the monastery have preserved the body of Kyabjé Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche in a crafted wooden box, using the traditional Buddhist method of applying salt and Himalayan herbs.Updated: Sep 05, 2017 11:28 IST
Away from the hustle bustle of Shimla, a mummified Buddhist teacher continues to inspire scores of Tibetan students at the quaint Thubthen Dorje Drak Monastery, 3 km from the town.
Monks at the monastery have preserved the body of Kyabjé Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche in a crafted wooden box, using the traditional Buddhist method of applying salt and Himalayan herbs.
Rinpoche founded the Dorje Drak monastery in 1984 and became the head of Tibetan Buddhism’s Nyingma school in 2012. The Nyingma tradition is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the other three being the Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug. Nyingma literally means ancient.
Rinpoche died at 89 at Bodh Gaya in 2015 when his disciples decided to bring the body back to Shimla and preserve it. Two attendants, who were with him round the clock, Geogang Wanchuk and Paljor, say Rinpoche died in meditation, a stage short of achieving nirvana.
“Our teacher was old but he had no major ailments. He was in a meditative stage when he passed away,” says Paljor.
Prayers for the master
Students at the monastery pay obeisance to their teacher daily, while the two monks offer the mummy tea and sweets. Special prayers are held in his honour every month. Tibetans believe prayers also help preserve the body. Incense sticks and a butter lamp are lit round the clock to keep insects away.
“Our teacher was old but he had no major ailments. He was in a meditative stage when he passed away.”
In Tibetan Buddhism, it is believed that high-ranking monks, Tulkus, are reborn. “Tulku is a fully enlightened one (Buddha) or highly accomplished monk (Siddha) who chooses to be reborn again and again for the benefit of all beings. Most Tulkus, though, are the rebirths of well-trained masters who are engaged in spiritual training and serving others,” says Changul Lama, a priest at the monastery.
Tibetan Buddhists follow the tradition of finding, recognising, enthroning, training, and venerating revered figures, who provide teachings of liberation for both monks and the common people. Tulkus are enlightened Lamas and considered living Buddhas.
“We pray that the master is reborn. The process to find his reincarnation will start in October,” says Yarphel Lama, the administrator of the monastery.
4 mummies of monks in HP
Besides the mummy of Kyabjé Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche preserved near Shimla, Himachal Pradesh is home to three more mummies of monks. The oldest is at Geu village, located at an altitude of 10,000 feet, in Lahaul and Spiti district on the Indo-Tibet border, 340 km from Shimla.
Every year, tourists and researchers visit Geu to study the naturally preserved mummy in the monastery. The mummy was found by a team of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) after an earthquake hit the region in 1975.
Tibetan monks have also preserved the body of Togdin Amratin, a Tibetan meditating master, who died in 2006. His body has been preserved at Khampagar monastery at Tashi Jong, 60 km from Dharamshala. The monastery was set up in 1950 by the eighth Khamtrul Rinpoche, Dongyu Nyima.
The mummy of Kyabjé Ling Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama’s teacher, is preserved at the Tibetan spiritual leader’s residence in Dharamshala.