Bhutan 9—The Guardian

In all schools of Buddhism, the Buddha is a central figure of veneration. In Vajrayana Buddhism, the form that evolved in Tibet, there are many other deities to be respected. Some of these are great teachers and bodhisattvas, humans who have attained enlightenment and become immortal teachers or healers. One of the best known is Avalokitesvara, the spirit of compassion, who is depicted in almost every Buddhist temple I’ve ever seen. But Vajrayana is unique, I think, in its veneration of the dark side, as well. The wrathful deities are converted demons, whose power has been redirected toward protection of the Dharma. In cultural history, before the arrival of Buddhism, the people worshiped (or at least, sought to appease) these demons, which are the real powers in the land. Buddhist missionaries are said to have persuaded the demons to give up their freelancing and become part of the Buddhist pantheon. They are now teachers, who confront us with our “poison” thoughts, emotions, actions and habits, and demand that we let them go, in order pursue a more enlightened life.

Cultural history aside, this psychological concept has been a wonderful template for me, so I venerate these deities whenever I encounter them.


Today, we are heading to one temple in Bhutan where one encounters them with the most intensity. The Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten was built specifically to guard the realm against forces of destruction, and seems to have done the job very well.

It’s a bit of a hike to get there. From across the river where we park, the pinnacle of the Chorten can be seen peeking above the trees on the hilltop; the perspective makes it look close. Only after crossing the river and climbing up a little gully do we see the extensive fields lying between the river and the hill; only after crossing the fields do we get a measure of how steep the climb to the top is. All beautiful!

(click on images for captions)

At last, the Chorten:

Another inspiring view from the top:



Entering the temple, you can feel the ferocity of the protective intent evoked by these figures. In my previous blog about this place, I tried to describe the statues in more detail. Check it out…
… and, just now upon re-reading that post, I see that I had expressed a wish to conduct an actual ritual here. And as it happens, that’s just what I do (although maybe not the ritual I would have chosen).

(Story continues…)


3 thoughts on “Bhutan 9—The Guardian

  1. Once again, Alan, thanks for your insightful comments and observations. It’s greatly valued from here in Nepal, where the perspective is Hindu and my new teaching And living routine can make our Bhutan adventure seem like a long time ago!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s