At Jonang Foundation, we host pilgrimages to power places in Tibet. These pilgrimages are fundraisers for our educational and preservation initiatives. The summer 2011 journey was the second of its kind and included stops at several of the most significant sites for the practice of the Kalachakra in Tibet. During the 2009 pilgrimage, Tulku Zangpo Rinpoche performed a Jonang Kalachakra empowerment at the base of the Jonang Stupa. The summer 2013 pilgrimage will continue along route to visit these sites and climax at Mount Kailash.
This past year we visited Tāranātha’s fortress monastery Takten Phuntsok Ling on the edge of the valley at Jonang. This is where the great codifier of the Kalachakra’s vajrayoga, Kunpang Thukje Tsondru settled in retreat on the Kalachakra in the meditation caves during the late 12th century. The hermitage at Jonang was home to the Jonangpa as well as many of Tibet’s most celebrated Kalachakra masters. Throughout the centuries, innumerable yogins and yoginis have lived in this valley including Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal, Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen and Chogle Namgyal, the iron-bridge builder Tangton Gyalpo, Taranatha, and its where Je Tsongkhapa spent years in retreat on the Kalachakra. Takten Ling Monastery is also home to exquisite Kalachakra wall murals commissioned by Taranatha.
After visiting Sakya Monastery on the road to the Gyantse Stupa, we spent a day at Zhalu Monastery, the home of the fourteenth century Kalachakra master Buton Rinchen Drup. In addition to the extraordinary mandala wall murals that we viewed in depth, we were privileged to gaze in awe at Buton’s personal meditation statue of the Kalachakra while considering its symbolism.
Figures such as Tāranātha and Buton are so distant from our lived experience; to the extent that they are partly mythic constructions. One of the tensions that I’m constantly wrestling with as a reader of Tibetan history is how to perceive and imagine these personalities as the humans that they were. Seeing, touching, and being in the presence of the artifacts and imagery of such figures brings us closer to these historical personalities. Contact with such images brings us closer to how Tibet’s foremost adepts actually visualized and viewed their own paintings and statues. This seeing has implications for historians of Tibet and tantric practitioners alike.