Fragrance In Travel Literature-Way of the White Clouds by LAMA ANAGARIKA GOVINDA

Way of the White Clouds-LAMA ANAGARIKA GOVINDA

Sometimes a glance, a few casual words, fragments of a melody
floating through the quiet air of a summer evening, a book that acciden-
tally comes into our hands, a poem or a memory-laden fragrance, may
bring about the impulse which changes and determines our whole life.

While writing this, the delicate resinous scent of Tibetan incense is
wafted through the shrine-room of my little hermitage and immediately
calls up the memory of the place where for the first rime I became
acquainted with this particular variety I see myself seated in the dimly
lit hall of a Tibetan temple, surrounded by a pantheon of fantastic fig-
ures some of them peaceful and benevolent, some wild and frightening and
others enigmatic and mysterious; but all full of life and colour,
though emanating from the depth of dark shadows.


The long rows of seats in the temple hall were filled to the last
place, and some new rows had been added. The huge cauldrons in the
adjacent kitchen building were tilled with boiling tea and soup, to be
served in the intervals during the service in the temple. The temple hall
was lit up by more than a thousand butler-lamps, and bundles of
incense-sticks wafted clouds of fragrant smoke into the air and wove
bluish veils around the golden images high above the congregation.


It was all so utterly fantastic and surprising that we could only stare
at the majestic figure that occupied the golden throne and was clad in
magnificent brocades and crowned by a jewel-studded golden tiara with
the three eyes of the all-seeing spirit. A shining golden breast-plate, the
magic mirror, engraved with the sacred syllable -HRT', was suspended
from his neck. Like a vision of one of the legendary emperors of old, a
mighty ruler of a vanished world, resplendent with all the attributes of
power, the figure was of almost super-human size and appearance, and
for a moment we wondered whether it was a statue or a living giant. At this
moment the full orchestra of radongs and clarinets, c)'mbals and kettle-
drums rose to a crescendo, while the deep voices of a choir of monks
chanted invocations to the powerful protectors, punctuating their recita-
tion with bells and dantauis. Clouds of fragrant smoke rose from various
censers, and the crowd stood in petrified attention, everybody's eyes riv-
eted upon the majestic figure on the golden throne. His eyes were
closed; his feet, in big ceremonial Tibetan boots, were firmly planted
before him on the ground.

Also, among the plants of this region are many herbs of medicinal
value and others which can be used as incense and which are highly val-
ued for their wonderful fragrance. Ail these things are regarded as
'■prasads', as the gifts of the gods to the pilgrim. There are many other
'prasads, each of them pertaining to a particular locality.


To him the Guru was ever present, and daily he would prepare his
seat, shake and refold his robe, fill up his teacup (before he would sip
his own tea), polish and replenish the water-howls and butter-lamps,
light the incense-sticks, recite the formulas of worship and dedication,
and sit in silent meditation before the shrines, thus performing all the
duties of a religious life and of a devoted disciple. Serving the Guru was
to him the highest form of divine service — it was equal to serving the
Buddha.


And he took him. together with his father and his little brother, into
the monastery, where Maung Tun Kyaing pointed out the room which he
had occupied in the eastern wing of the building, the place where he
used to meditate, the particular image before which be used to light can-
dles and incense, and many other details which the old Thera remem-
bered. After all, it was not so many years ago that U Pandeissa had been
the abbot of Yunkhyaung, as the monastery was called.

Also outside the monastery there was plenty to do in the way of
sketching and photographing. We certainly had not a dull moment, and
in between we had ample opportunities of discussing religious questions
with Ajo Rimpoche. the Umdze, the httle Tulku's learned tutor (Gergen)
and some of the Trapas. Outstanding among the latter was the Konyer
(sgo-nyer), who was in charge of the main Lhakhangs. performing the
daily offerings of water, light, and incense, and keeping everything clean
and shining.

In measured dance-steps and with mystic gestures they
circle the open space around the tall prayer-flag in the centre of the
courtyard, while the rhythmically swinging and ebbing sounds of a full
monastic orchestra mingle with the recitation of holy scriptures and
prayers, invoking the blessings of Buddhas and saints and glorifying their
deeds and words. Clouds of incense rise to heaven and the air vibrates
with the deep voices of giant trombones and drums.

The procedure was as simple as it was ingenious and impressive.
While Phiyang Lama intoned the mantras of consecration, he held an
earthen bowl with fire in his left hand, and with the other he threw a fine
incense powder (made of some local shrub or tree-bark) through the
open flame, issuing from the bowl. The powder ignited instantly, and
being thrown in the direction of the devotees, who were sitting in a
group before the Lama, the fire enveloped them for a moment in a flash-
like flame that vanished before it could burn anybody