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Inside Story: The many forms of Buddha

September 19, 2010

The Thiksey Gompa in Ladakh has murals that are believed to showcase the future
The Hindu
September 17, 2010

"Most tourists assume that it's just one form of
Buddha across every monastery. Actually, it's not
so. You'll probably see many forms such as
Sakyamuni, Avalokiteshwara, Maitreya… among
others, in every Gompa (monastery)," rattled
friend and photographer Arun Bhat, trying hard to
initiate me into Buddhist iconography, while I was planning my trip to Ladakh.

Now, gazing at the almost 50-ft statue of
Maitreya Buddha in Thiksey, one of the largest
Gompas in Ladakh, I wish I'd paid more attention
to Arun. The lamas are, however, kind enough to
explain as I ask them about Maitreya Buddha, seated in a lotus position.

A peek into tomorrow

They point to the colourful murals behind the
statue depicting scenes from his life, and state that that's the future.

They add that the prophecy is that he'll appear
soon as the reincarnation of the historic
Sakyamuni Buddha, the form as we know today.
Avalokiteshwara, I am told, is another form of
Buddha with multiple arms and heads, also known
as the Buddha of compassion, waiting to help
others. And, there are more -- such as Manjusri
and Amitava, but I am lost in the murals…

Thiksey was founded by one of the Gelukpas (the
yellow hats) -- Sherab Sangpo, under the guidance
of guru Tsongkhapa, in the early 15{+t}{+h}
Century. It's believed he built it at Stagmo, closer to the present site.

Sangpo is said to have carried a small form of
Buddha called Amitayus, containing a drop of his
guru's blood, given it to the king, and sought
his permission to build a Gompa. When the king
agreed, they are believed to have performed a few
rituals, during which crows had taken away the
offerings, and placed it atop a hill. So, the
Gompa was built there. Later, it is supposed to
have been rebuilt here by Sherab Sangpo's nephew.

The present monastery was built on the ruins of
an earlier Gompa, built by another monastic order
called the Kadampa. Another ancient temple here
in ruins is the Lakhang Nyerma, built by scholar
Rinchen Zangpo, also called The Translator, who
was well-versed in the Indian traditions of Indian Buddhism.

Thiksey, known as Mini Potala, with 12 levels,
resembles the palace in Tibet with 10 temples
dotting its slopes. Looking at the vast expanse
of the Indus valley from this height, the lamas
explain that this was the vision of the
Tsongkhapa -- that his doctrine be spread across
the valley. As I look down, I see tourists
rotating the prayer wheels, while a monastery guide explains the murals...
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