Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Wandering Tsampa

While driving back to Thimphu from my recent trip to the East of the country, I had barely begun my descend into Trongsa over the Yotong-La pass when I passed someone walking up towards the Pass. I shook my head: there goes one of those glib Sadhus from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh who make fortunes in Bhutan - reading palms and foreheads of the gullible Bhutanese.

I continued to drive on until it suddenly hit me that the man was clothed in all white. I remember that Andhra Sadhus wear saffron. Also the man was carrying a traditional Bhutanese cane-frame backpack. Sadhus don’t carry those. Even more surprising, the man seemed very comfortable in the near sub-zero temperature of the Yotong-La Pass at 6.30AM in the morning - a scantily dressed Andhra Sadhu would be dead meat at this temperature levels. In any event Andhra Sadhus’ preferred mode of transportation is Druk Air - walking on foot would be so terribly infra-dig!

Something was not right - so I turned my car and headed back towards the Pass. I was right - the man was not a Sadhu from Andhra. He was a wandering Tsampa! I stopped my car and struck up a conversation with the man. He tells me that he is a Tsampa from Mongaar.

 Tea break for the wandering Tsampa from Mongaar.
Please note the traditional cane-frame backpack and the one-legged resting stick

He was a young and good-looking guy on a personal quest to offer prayers for the benefit of all sentient beings. He has already walked to most of the holy places in Bhutan and he was now heading towards Bumthang where he hopes to pray and meditate for the next few months, until he embarks on another walk towards another holy destination.

He had actually intended to prostrate all the way to Bumthang but a medical examination at Thimphu revealed that he had ulcer in his stomach and his lungs were near collapse. His condition caused him great pain due to which he could not perform prostrations. That did not deter him - he was determined that he would continue to recite his prayers - by walking to every one of his destinations. Neither will he accept any ride - from any one - on any form of transportation.

Amazingly, he was not wearing any warm clothing and yet, the bitter cold did not seem to bother him. There was a wonderful look of peace and clam on his face - something that I thought was unusual given that it was bitterly cold and he was suffering from ulcer.

I served him hot tea from my flask, which he gladly accepted. I was of a mind to remove my Patagonia R2 jacket that I was wearing and give it to him but he wouldn’t know how to care for it and damage it in no time. Thus, I decided against it. Instead, I gave him Nu.1,000.00 and asked him to buy himself a woolen sweater when in Bumthang.

As I continued my journey towards Trongsa, I wondered what it was about religion that drove people to such meaningless acts of lunacy. Here was a man with his innards infested with ulcer and holes in his lungs. And yet, he wants to walk the length and breadth of the country - and pray in bitter cold - in the hope and belief that it will benefit all the sentient beings of the world. What benefit, exactly? And who elected him to take on the responsibility of saving the sentient beings? Poor blighter! If I were to ask him, he would provably tell me that he wouldn’t give two hoots if, one of these days, he is mauled to death by a bear while walking through the alpine wilderness. Or, bleed to death from the ulcer that is wrecking havoc on his innards.

Religion seems to teach some strange ways in which to earn merit for the afterlife or how to save sentient beings from burning in hell. It seems to promote the idea that the afterlife is more important than the now and the here. It is as if preserving the unknown afterlife is more important than the visibly miserable present.

During my trip to Tongmejangtsa, Trashiyangtse, I was told that the village would not rear pigs because they have been told that it was against the religion. They wouldn’t rear chickens either, for the same reason. They have no problem rearing cows though. The reason? Very funny one! - but that is a story to be told another day.

Practice of religion, particularly by those who are incapable of analytical thinking, can lead to some seriously dangerous misconceptions. That is the reason why I completely support our law that prohibits religious personalities from participating in politics.

Oh Compassionate Buddha - please hasten the process of human evolution before your teachings are contorted any further and humanity is put to peril!


  1. The fact is what you have rebelled here in your article...nice and it really touched my heart and soul...thanks for sharing wiser thoughts la...thanks

  2. I like and see a lot of reason in most of what you write, but I must say that you have a really impoverished view of spiritualism, most likely suppressed & undermined by your penchant for rationalism. Despite the harsh circumstances, the man has obviously found his place and purpose in his life that he is at peace with. Clearly this is different from wearing patagonia, riding cars, and shooting beautiful pictures which no doubt are good achievements, but that is our reality. He must have found you as amusing as you found him. As far as I see, humanity is no less at peril from analytical, materialistic, and scientific thinking; perhaps at even grander scale than any contorted religious views.

    1. Dear Anon,

      Thank you for your opinion - I have expressed mine and you have a right to yours. However, a minor correction - I think you may be confusing religion with spiritualism. I wasn't talking of spiritualism at all.

  3. devotion and rationalism must go hand in hand. But there is nothing wrong in expressing your views against such practices. For me, have studied Economics, Psychology, History, and Science, with outstanding grades, and currently living in Australia, earning decent wages, and having seen places, my heart longs for such life of tshampa.

  4. Andhra Pradesh is our neighbouring state, where people speak Telugu. We are all fond of Telugu movies. Sadhus from the Andhra making fortunes in Bhutan is really strange thing to know !!

  5. There is a saying in Tibetan Buddhism " only the noble sons of the Buddha recognize other noble sons of the Buddha . The noble sons of the Buddha hide amongst the disbelievers and lay people . It is very hard to even recognize noble sons of the Buddha . It is only when they pass away that people hear about their greatness " . Judging from the way you speak , I am surprised a person who has been born in Bhutan doesn't have the merits to even comprehend what this man is doing . You find his actions amusing but I find his faith and devotion incredible . Devotion is the most important in Vajrayana Buddhism . DEVOTION leads to enlightenment . You find his actions funny but I find your disbelief funnier . You should explore Christianity or other religions . They are more simple to understand .