7.23.16–7.24.16

Gangtok Part 2: Visiting sacred places of worship and learning more about Tibetan culture (a prominent influence due to Sikkim’s location)

The Indian state of Sikkim is nestled right between Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. Therefore, much of the Sikkimese people and culture have heavy Tibetan influences.
First stop was the Rumtek Monastery
This monastery is dedicated to the Karmapa Lama, the third highest monk in Tibetan Buddhism. This seat is the head of the Kagyu lineage — an ancient lineage that predates the Dalai Lama lineage by more than 200 years. When China annexed Tibet, this monastery became even more significant, as many monks relocated from Tibet to Sikkim.
A school located at the entrance of the monastery hosts children who are being trained to be monks
Temple murals
Behind the main temple is the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies, built in the 1980s by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, after he left Communist China. The institute is affiliated with Sampurnanand Sanskrit University of Varanasi in India and is an officially accredited institution.
The monks wake up anywhere from 2am to 4am (depending on if you work out, set up offerings, etc) and begin prayers at 5am. After prayers and breakfast end around 8am, their classes begin and last until evening.
This was a place of incredible peace

Prayer flags are ubiquitous; these pieces of colored cloth have Buddhist prayers, symbols, and mantras written on them. The belief is that these prayers are carried by the wind to fill all surrounding space with blessings and lift up people’s spirits. “Just as a drop of water can permeate the ocean, prayers dissolved in the wind extend to fill all of space.”

Buddhism and environmentalism are closely linked
Maybe it was just to appeal to the Western tourists, but I found it interesting when I discovered Christian images in souvenir shops alongside those of Buddhist and Hindu traditions.
We also visited Ganesh Tok, a small Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the god of knowledge and remover of obstacles. This elephant-deity is a common image associated with the Hindu religion. After attending the temple, we received a tilak (a marking on the forehead that represents a “fresh mind”) and kalava, a red thread wrapped around our wrist (representing blessings for a “safe life”).
Do Drul Chorten Stupa — A Buddhist monument built in 1945 byTruslshi Rimpoche, the head of Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism (different than the sect associated with the Rumtek Monastery).
Offerings of water surround the stupa
Mani wheels (or prayer wheels) surround the monument. These wheels are turned in a clockwise direction so the mantras located on its face can be read easiest. Repeating these mantras is believed to invoke the blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion in Tibetan Buddhism.
Butter lamps are a symbol of an enlightened mind, the light is believed to dispel the darkness of ignorance. These lamps are also lit in honor of the deceased. The lamps are burned using ghee butter.

We also briefly stopped by a Sikh temple located across the street from our hotel. A man allowed us inside after giving us head coverings and showed us around.
Finally, we stopped by the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. Founded in 1958, the NIT celebrates the religion and culture of the Tibetan people as both a research institution and museum. The NIT library also holds one of the largest collections of Tibetan works in the world, as well as many rare artifacts.
The wheel of life (or bhavachakra) is a popular illustration in Tibetan Buddhism. It pictures the Four Truths of Buddhist teachings: the existence of earthly suffering, its origin and cause, the ending or prevention of misery and the practice path to liberation from suffering. The Lord of Death holds the Wheel of Life in its claws, symbolizing the mortal fate of all earthly beings.
At the center of bhavachakra are the “Three Poisons” from which all of life’s evils grow: ignorance (the black pig), envy and hatred (the green snake), and lust and greed (the red cock). The light path shows the saints leading the virtuous through the Path of Bliss, while the dark path illustrates demons dragging the sinful through the Wheel of Life by a noose.
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