tawang monastery buddhism

Progressive Buddhism

It is hard to pinpoint a major dominant religion of Northeast India. Due to its vast cultural and ethnic diversity, religion here too has a broad spectrum. And within it lies Hinduism, Islam, along with Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism and Indigenous beliefs. Religion has always intrigued me. I was born a Hindu in the plains of Assam, had a brief infatuation with Christianity in Nagaland, heard folktales of indigenous faiths from Manipur and Eastern Arunachal and now I am somewhere between Sikkim and Western Arunachal, where the mysteries of Tibetan Buddhism have caught me by the arm and is slowly leading me onto the path to realization.

A Buddhist Tribal Lady in Western Arunachal Pradesh
Neo Vaisnavite Culture in Majuli Island

Along my travels, I have seen that this sect of Buddhist have prayer flags along with its many other intricacies. These colorful prayer flags are tied or suspended, and it is believed that the wind would carry these prayers to heaven. What a wonderful process; using Gods medium to transport mortal prayers into the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes an entire stretch of a town will be covered with these prayer flags, giving it almost a very fierce magical touch.

A Buddhist Town Enroute to Tawang
A Small Monastery at 13,000 ft
Prayer Flags And The Wind

Another aspect that stands out about Tibetan Buddhism is their fascination with colors. Their monasteries and gompas are definitely architectural wonders, but it is their skillful splash of colors that brings these wonders to life. From bright yellow rooftops to very detailed colorful woodwork, it gives a weary mind a moment of calm and stillness. Be it the Roomtek Monastery in Sikkim or the 400 year old Tawang Monastery in Arunachal which is believed to be the second largest monastery in the world. Solace – is the closest word that comes to my mind when I try to pen my feelings in these monasteries.

The majestic door of the Tawang Monastery
At Bomdilla Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh.
At Tawang Monastery
Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim

Maybe because the origin of this religion is from the cradle of the Himalayas, there is an air of secrecy surrounding it and proof of it are their paintings. The patterns of these paintings are passed on from generations to generations, and only they hold the key of its exact meaning and origins. Little that I could comprehend after years of inspection and study is that these paintings have a pattern; they speak of life-cycles, about karma, about salvation or moksha, but they also depict a rather darker edge of their faith, like female Shaktism, Bonn-animism, sympathetic magic, shamanism, Vajrayana mysticism. This maybe because many of the local deities predating the arrival of Buddhism were co opted and made ‘protectors’ of the teachings of the Buddha.

Buddhist Art
Inside the Tawang Monastery

I cannot say that Tibetan Buddhism has transformed me, but it has in a way certainly calm my restless spirit. And the beauty of religion is somewhat like a book without a definite ending, because I believe that at the core of every religion there is a very ‘humane’ endeavor to pursue good and question behavior, and this learning is endless.

A Monk and Lord Buddha

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16 responses to “Progressive Buddhism”

  1. Hello! I really enjoyed this piece, I also find the intersection of religions interesting, especially the contemplative traditions. Great photos too, I would love to so some trekking in the area! Also, I noticed that some of the comments you made on my blog ended up in the spam folder, I’m not sure why but nevertheless thanks for stopping by and for commenting (especially on the Rhino story), I’m sorry I only saw them now. Keep up all the great stories! Cheers Barry

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  3. L o v e l y . . . . b e a u t i f u l piece of information for all those who are interested in Arunachal Pradesh and its varied cultural and religious heritage. Arunachal beckons one and all . . . . . . .

  4. I have always loved Buddhist cult, perhaps because some of my believes and ideologies happen to be unknowingly adapted from them.
    Their origin, rituals, shrines almost everything gives a fine impact of spirituality.

  5. Great post. Buddhism has a very broad canon, and it is sad that Tibetan or the tantric branch of Buddhism that is still extant in the north-east has been treated like a poor cousin of the more popular sects. I grew up reading the Bardo Doloi and the more pop Lobsang Rampa and my understanding of Buddha’s teaching has been shaped by them, though I do not practice Tibetan Buddhism myself. Enjoyed reading. Hope you enjoyed hearing back on this post after one year!

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