Dharamshala: Thekchen Choeling

The Tibetan Cathedral Thekchen Choeling, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh

All sentient beings including humans desire happiness and avoid pain. Pleasure and pain arises from cause. If one desires happiness, one must acquire its cause; and, for avoiding the suffering, one must relinquish its cause. The ultimate cause of pleasure and pain depend upon whether the mind is controlled or not. So, for the realization of pleasure and avoidance of pain, one should strive to control the mind.

Great sages of the old have shown many methods for controlling the mind. Among these, the teaching of Lord Buddha, with its limitless scope, are in perfect harmony with reason and logic in all its aspects of the “base, path and results”. It has been more than two thousand five hundred years since the birth of this religion, and still 500 million people of the world are Buddhists.’

The followers of Lord Buddha aim to attain the goal of absolute Enlightenment through the practice of the spontaneous path of wisdom and method and by relying on the Dual Truth and the Four Noble Truth. Now, in a broad sense, the considerations for building image of the Buddha or of bringing out books of their teachings etc are governed by various factors of the present and future needs. For instance, mere visual contact with the image of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, or hearing and recalling their teachings will inspire a person with virtuous motive, awakens and recall to the mind the past propensity of virtuous deeds. All these are procedures for a correct understanding of the way of performance.

The people of Tibet, in particular, were fortune in having in their midst the organic representation of the Lord of infinite mercy(Avalokitsevara) house in the central Cathedral(Tsugla Khang) in Lhasa, forming the presiding figure among what is now widely known as “five self-created exalted ones”. In the year 1966, in the wake of the cultural devastation, this image of Avalokitsevara was dismantled and ravaged to the ground. However, in the same year Tibetan people were able to smuggle out of Tibet the disfigured portion of the image’s head which had, fortunately, its sacred contents intact. Thus, with a profound sense of joy and happiness, we Tibetans were able to build a new image of Lord Avalokitsevara, fitted on it the head portion brought from Tibet. Impelled by the necessity of having to house the image in a spacious Cathedral which could serve as a center of worship and dissemination of discourses on the Dharma, this Cathedral was built and open to public in the year 1969 corresponding to the earth-fowl year of 16the Rabjung year of Tibetan calendar.

Images House in the cathedral

The principal image is that of the Sakyamuni Buddha, the fourth savior among the thousand Buddha who have appeared or are yet to appear in this world during the aeon of good fortune. To quote Nagarjuna, “ I make obeisance to Gautama the Buddha who, out of His infinite compassion, preached the excellent religion, so as to discard all other doctrines”. The image of the Buddha is over nine feet high from the lotus seat, and is made of gilded bronze, built in accordance with the lineal measurements described in the text.

The right side of Cathedral is occupied by the image of Guru Padma Sambhava. In the 8the century, during the reign of King Trisong Deutsen of Tibet, when the cathedral of Samye was being built, Padma Sambhava whom Tibetans traditionally address as Guru Rinpoche, subdued all the enemies of the Dharma. Inspired by an indomitable will, and motivated with boundless benevolence, he laid the foundation for a secure flourishing of the Buddha Dharma in Tibet. The greatness of Padma Sambhava can be gauged from the paraphrase of eulogy made by His Holiness Gendun Gyatso,the second Dalai Lama. He says: “ I pay my fullest respects to the mighty Padma Sambhava, the accomplished Tantric Sage who projected himself in the reincarnations of such supreme personalities as the revered Je Tsongkhapa and Sri Atisha, the precious crown jewels of 500 wise men”. Penchen Rinpoche (Lobsang Choe kyi Gyaltsen Pal Sangpo) has also paid tributes to Padma Jungnes in indentical terms. “In the ancient times, Padma Jungnes lived as the accomplished Tantric sage, and later, as Sri Atisha, the shining lamp of the Dharma. In the present times he is Je Tsongkhapa, the father of all. Projecting himself in various reincarnations, he regaled in wisdom and accomplishment”. Tibetan people have a special reverence and looked to him with gratitude for the many deeds of greatness performed by him for the sake of Buddhism and for the happiness of all living beings in the land of snows. His protection and blessings are needed and implored for especially at this time when Tibet is suffering so much under the aggressor’s rule of the barbarians. May his benedictions and benevolence set at naught the inhuman forces of evil and malevolence in a manner as a heap of sands dissolves itself. The Cool, solace providing image of Padma Sambhava measures over 12 feet high from the lotus seat and is made of gilded bronze polished with gold. Located on the western side of the cathedral, the image is seen facing towards Tibet.

The Silver Images of Lord Avalokitesevra

The image of Avalokitsevara was first built in the 7th Century by King Tsongtsen Gonpo. Located in one of the northern rooms of the Central Cathedral in Lhasa (also known as Jokhang or Rasa Trulnang Tsugla Khang), it has been the object of offering and worship by Tibetan people for more than one thousand and three hundred years. Through all these long process of time, it never underwent deterioration, mutation or alterations. Rare and valuable as it is the self-created five-possessor image of Avalokitsevara is exceptionally sacred. In the recent times, the Chinese Communist occupation regime in Tibet conducted a so-called cultural revolution, which was nothing but acts of vandalism, perversion and xenophobia. It resulted in the most barbarous annihilation of the old culture, including the destruction of icons and other cultural objects. In 1966, the cultural and religious objects housed in the central cathedral were subjected to the maniacal fury of destruction. The image of Avalokitsevara was disfigured and removed and thrown to the streets. Unmindful of the risks involved, Tibetan people were able to smuggle out of Tibet one wrathful and another peaceful forms of Avaloketesevera’s face images. Passing from one Tibetan to another, these face images reach India via Nepal in 1967. Later on, in 1968 one another wrathful face images of Avalokitsevara and one face image of Amitabha were able to reach India through Nepal under similar circumstances.

It is a tragic pity that we are deprived of the good fortune to see and meet in person the self-evolved images of Avaloketesevera which king Srong tsen Gampo built many hundreds of years ago. However, the newly built image of Avaloketesevera which contains the original face images brought from Tibet, and which has its originally consecrated formula intact is a good substitute for the original for the original image. The idea of building a new image of Avaloketesevera was conceived primarily because it would serve as an auspicious omen for the boundless patronizing, thoughts of Lord Avaloketsevera for the welfare of the people of Tibet, and that it would create meritorious conditions for the realization of the present and future wishes of the Tibetan people. This white silver image of Avaloketesevera built in accordance with Palmo tradition has eleven faces, a thousand hands and a thousand eyes. It is thirteen feet high from the lotus seat and was built in the year 1970 corresponding to Iron Dog Year of Tibetan calendar. The consecrated formulas contained within the body of the image are strictly in accordance with the prescription detailed in the sacred literature. The central image comprises of three face images of the self-evolved image of Avalokitsevara.

There is no difference between the one which was housed in the central cathedral in Lhasa and that of the new one built in India. So, faithful devotees can pay homage and make offerings to it, for it is the one and same image of Avalokitsevara. This silver image of Avalokitsevara is seated facing towards Tibet. The reason for doing this is to augur well for the image to be returned to Tibet later on, after its temporary residence in this cathedral.

The newly built cathedral is graced by the permanent presence of the three principal images of Sakyamuni Buddha, Padma Sambhava and Avalokitsevara. Besides, it also houses one hundred volumes of Kangyur, 225 volumes of Tengyur, and a host of other smaller images and stupas of gilded bronze and bell metal. All these will remain constantly in the midst of the sentient beings so that they can accumulate merits so long as they are not able to attain final liberation. In order to establish all sentient beings on the path of liberation by means of seeing, listening, remembering and sense-contact with holy images and perceptual books and objects, the images have been consecrated and blessed with “life” through the accomplishment of the mandala of Anutara Tantra, and the rites of the consecration of “ Ocean of virtues”.

This cathedral was completed within a record period of nine months employing about 30 Tibetan and Indian craftsmen, and about seventy-eight Tibetan laborers. Avoiding grand designs, the architectural structure of the cathedral was patterned on a basis of down to earth simplicity. The total cost of constructing the Cathedral was about Two Hundred Thousand Indian rupees.

Seven Tibetan artisans spent a total period of one year and eight months in completing the three principal images housed in the cathedral. Gold, silver, copper, mercury, diamond, pearl, turquoise, coral and other precious metals and stones were used in garnishing the images. All in all, the total cost of building the three images including the cost of labor and other miscellaneous expenses was over Three Hundred Thousand Indian rupees.

The total expenditure for the construction of the cathedral and its images exceeded Five Hundred Thousand of Indian rupees. Donation and contributions in cash and kind received expressedly for the purpose of construction of the Cathedral and the images was Two Hundred thirteen thousand and nine hundred Indian rupees. The deficiency of Indian rupees Two hundred eighty six thousand and one hundred was made up from the amount offered by the Tibetan people to collect merits for the dead ones, and to collect merits for themselves.

Thus, the construction of this Cathedral and its images in this place implicates the congregation of the possible heaps of skilful merits under one roof. It also implies the convergence of all acts of virtue and its accompanying generating forces performed by oneself and other in the three division of time, in one central place. By virtue of these qualifying factors, let me direct my sincere prayers that those faithful dead or living who came forward with their materials assistance, those supervisors, workers, craftsmen and volunteers who contributed their might in words, thoughts and deeds, all those beings who are fortunate in seeing, hearing, remembering or come into sense – contact with the Cathedral and its images, be absorbed in the effulgence of Avaloketesevera’ benign blessing through all their periods of samsaric existence. May all of them make rapid progress in the path of the perfect enlightement and the two stages of the path of liberation, and soon achieve the non-duality status of Vajra Dhara with its accompanying attributes of the Ten Powers and the five Divine Wisdoms. Pray that the people of Tibet be soon freed from the aggression and slavery of the barbaric Chinese Communists, and may they, like other human beings, be able to breathe the free air of freedom. May the world be free of pestilence, diseases, famine, war and conflicts, and may the constructive tranquility flourish in every quarter, securing peace, abundance, amity, good – will and happiness among all mankind. Let this prayers of mine which I offer with all intensity have its desired results.

This Souvenir booklet containing a brief account of the Cathedral at Thekchen Chholing, and paraphrase of prayers are written by Shakya Gelong Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteen Dalai Lama of Tibet, in the year 1970 C. E, 2515th year (since the Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha), 2097th year since the foundation of the state of Tibet heraleded by the reign of King Nyatri Tsenpo, Iron – dog year of 16th Rabjung of Tibetan calendar, corresponding to 15th October, 1970

Read this page in: Tibetan