from Yoga Journal Teachers on Tour

published October 10, 2010

Our morning trip was to Enchey monastery, which is very special in this area and is considered home of the guardian spirit Kanchendzonga. Local legend has it that this spirit was tamed by Guru Padmasambhava,
the deity integral to this land. Guru Padmadsambhava is one the most important images in Vajrayana Buddhism and his presence is everywhere. It is believed that he entered the earth by stepping into Gurudongmar Lake which is more than 17,000 feet high and hidden in the northern corner of Sikkim. It’s a place I have been dreaming of visiting.

Enchey is filled with magical stories and is considered to be blessed by Lama Druptob Karpo, a Tantric master known for his flying powers. This monastery is part of the Nyingma order, yet all people worship and pray at Enchey – Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha and Tibetan are welcome here, and the energy of this place is strong.

Much like our yoga practice, which is open to all bodies, shapes, and sizes, Enchey is a refuge for all. This solitary monastery that sits by itself on a hillside is always a mist-shrouded place, full of magic and mystery.

This image captures the tone of Enchey to me. As we were leaving, I turned back and caught a glimpse of this monk looking out to the vistas of mountains shrouded behind clouds and mist, and it seemed an apt image reflecting my feelings.

Knowing those majestic mountains are there, yet never really catching full glimpses. It is only in the belief of presence behind a shroud of delusion, ignorance and inattention that we can find faith. And isn’t that what faith really is? Believing when nothing is proven, trusting when nothing is confirmed? In the traditional Chinese Buddhism of my home, the Pure Land Buddhists have few requests – to believe there is a pure land of light, and to work this lifetime to gain merit to join into this pure land.

This magical, mist-filled landscape amazes me every time and fills my soul. The gratitude that fills me on these trips is profound, and I feel the abundance of life, of love and of connection to all people. This monastery, which is refuge to all faiths, and our yoga practice, which is refuge for our spirit. My soul comes home here, and can feel where the mind truly resides – home in the BrahmaViharas of Loving-kindness, Compassion, Gladness and Equanimity (Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upeksha).

An early afternoon ride up washed out roads to our Tibetan friends and esteemed Thangka painter, Thinlay Gyatso, is the next stop. There are prayer flags over glacial waterfalls and strewn across the hillsides up the steep grade of Gangtok. Splendid views and boundless hearts greet us as we enter a room filled with divine blessings of traditional Thangka paintings. Manjushri, Buddha of Wisdom slaying ignorance and delusion, Avalotikeshvara, Buddha of Compassion with 1,000 hands and eyes to see and help all beings, and Sakyamuni Buddha overseeing all.

Thinlay Gyatso is one of the most respected Tibetan Thangka¬†painters living, and he is one of the few who are still using the traditional ways. All of his paints are ground of precious and semi-precious gemstones, and each color is ground by hand for eight hours a day, while chanting the prayers of the images. So when he is painting the sky for an image of Manjushri, Buddha of Wisdom, he will chant and grind lapis lazuli eight hours a day, for five days to get one shade of blue. When that light shade is put aside, he returns to chant Manjushri’s prayer for another five days to get a deeper shade of blue. And finally, he will grind and chant for another five days to get the deepest shade of lapis blue. The natural resin and gemstone provides an otherworldly sheen to each color in his Thangkas.

Utu, a blessing of ones wisdom to another through all lifetimes

The grinding of the paint is part of the prayer and meditation of traditional Thangka painting. Thinlay studied with his teacher in Bhutan for many years mastering this craft. He is a humble and happy man, filled with infinite smiles and generous spirit. He is our friend for many years, and we are grateful for his wisdom and light in our lives. Our group is welcomed into this house teetering on the edge of a cliff, and the natural light from the skies outside shed ethereal light onto these images.


I enter the home, and go to the altar room to pay respect to Guru Rinpoche, Amitabha Buddha, Avalotikeshvara and other deities in the prayer room. Grandma, a nun, is turning her large prayer wheel and counting mala beads as she sits in the room. Her calm presence permeates the room, and the house, along with these images of enlightened beings swells my heart in gratitude and grace.

Photos: Linda Lang