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The mythical land of Shambhala by Stéphanie

The mythical land of Shambhala

16 May 2015

Shambhala is an ancient kingdom believed to be hidden somewhere in Central Asia. The name finds a mention in both Hindu as well as Tibetan Buddhist literature. It is a believed to be a place filled with happiness, peace and tranquility. It is even referred to as a paradise on Earth whose inhabitants are loving, wise, kind and compassionate. Shambhala has been the topic of acute interest for many a scholar, scientist, philosopher and researcher but their findings show enormous variations. While certain texts place Shambhala in modern day India, others believe that the kingdom lies in Southern Siberia. There are even texts that suggest that the kingdom is located in China. The legend of Shambhala dates back a few millennia. The epic Hindu text Vishnu Purana mentions Shambhala as the birth place of Kalki, the final incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who is expected to usher in the Satya Yuga, the age of truth where intrinsic goodness in people is expected to reign supreme. Buddhist texts state that Shakyamuni Buddha is said to have taught the principles of Kalachakra to King Suchandra, the then ruler of Shambhala. Vajrayana, a sect of Buddhism, suggests that Shambhala would be ruled by thirty two kings and the reign of each of them lasts one hundred years. The first seven kings are known as the Dharmarajas (meaning messengers of Truth) and the remaining 25 kings are known as the Kalki Kings. Legend has it that the last Kalki king and his army will triumph over evil and bring peace to the world. While the kingdom of Shambhala can possibly be dismissed as a work of pure fiction, the philosophies and ideas that it stands for are worth reflecting upon. The kingdom can be perceived as a symbol of hope for a good, honest and fulfilling life and its inhabitants as examples of how a human being should live. In fact, many Tibetan Buddhist teachers view Shambhala as more than just a physical place. The place has a subtle meaning for it also represents one’s own mind and body. The ideal of Shambhala is built on the fact that in order to establish an enlightened society, one first has to have a pure heart.

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Kochi is a blissful fusion of religious faiths by Julianne

Kochi a blissful fusion of religious faiths

11 May 2015

The sea-side metropolis of Kochi is one of the biggest cities in Kerala, the South Indian state that is known popularly as God’s own country primarily for its lush green landscapes dotted by pristine backwaters and lagoons. Kochi acts as a gateway to many popular tourist destinations in Kerala such as Munnar, Alleppey, Wayanad, Thekkadi etc. However, Kochi is a unique in itself for it is a prime example of peaceful coexistence of major religions. The followers of the world’s major faiths – Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism and Buddhism – all form a part of the Kochi cityscape. In a country where more than 80% of the people follow Hinduism, Kochi stands as an exception because just one out of every two residents of the city is a Hindu. The existence of a healthy mixture of religious faiths in this region is due to the fact that it witnessed many waves of migrations during the course of its history. For instance, records establish the creation of settlements by Jews in Kodungallur, a port near Kochi, in the first century AD. It is believed that Saint Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, arrived in Kerala in 52 AD and laid the foundations for the spread of Christianity. Today, the descendants of St.Thomas Christians call themselves Syrian Christians, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The city’s Islamic history can be traced back to the eighth century. As early as 3rd century B.C, Buddhism finds a mention in Malayali (Malayalam is the language spoken by the locals) literature. There is a significant presence of Jainism and Sikhism as well. The atmosphere in the city is filled with religious harmony and is evident from the presence of shrines for every major religion. Each individual follows the faith of his choice and at the same time acknowledge the presence of other religious faiths. Some of the renowned religious abodes in the city are: Santa Cruz Basilica With a history spanning more than five hundred years, Santa Cruz Basilica is one of the oldest churches in India. Renowned for its grand décor, the church was constructed in gothic-style architecture. Though it was deemed as a cathedral for most of its timespan, it received the status of a Basilica from Pope John Paul II in the year 1984. Apart from being a centre for religious congregation, the basilica receives […]

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Buddhism and its four noble truths by Maryama

Buddhism and its four noble truths

05 May 2015

Buddhism is a major religion with nearly 500 million followers around the world. A religion that traces its origin to more than 2500 years ago, Buddhism is built on a set of fundamental principles known as the ‘Four noble truths’. They are: Dukkha Dukkha states that any phenomenon that is temporary or conditional is not  gratifying and is therefore a pain or suffering. Interestingly, when one views from the perspective of Dukkha, even life seems temporary and conditional. Buddhism even goes on to say that life is a suffering because it is impermanent. Samudhaya Since our very existence is not everlasting, chasing worldly pleasures and delights and expecting them to give us everlasting joy and happiness is a myopic venture. Samudhaya is a principle that says that the root cause of all suffering is desire. In the unquenchable thirst for worldly pleasures, we consume ourselves and in the end become frustrated and unhappy. Nirodha All our pursuits are subject to the cycle of birth, aging, sickness and eventually death and  therefore ephemeral in nature. Once we realise this, we can begin to control our cravings and start experiencing a peace of mind and happiness that is much more valuable that all the commonplace pleasures that we usually seek. Magga Magga is the medication that can cure us from our sufferings. According to Magga, suffering can be completely eliminated by correctly following a eight-fold path namely: right view, right thoughts, right language, right deeds, right livelihood, right efforts, right mindfulness and right concentration.

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Kalachakra temple in Dharamshala by Julianne

The Kalachakra mandala

30 April 2015

The Kalachakra temple is located inside the Thekchen Chöling temple complex in Mcleodganj in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh in India. The temple complex also houses the Namgyal monastery, the private chambers of his Holiness the Dalai Lama and the famous Tsuglakhang temple. Opened in the year 1992, the Kalachakra temple is a symbol of the concept in Buddhist religion known popularly as ‘The wheel of time’. Kalachakra is a combination of two Sanskrit words Kāla (meaning: time) and Chakra (meaning: wheel). Kalachakra is a notion that Buddhist philosophies and even the Hindu religion strongly believe in. According to this notion, Time is considered to be a cyclical concept whereby the timeline of the world is divided into certain ages or epochs and they repeat after one another in a circular pattern. In the Buddhist tradition, there are important rituals associated with Kalachakra. At the temple, monks perform Kalachakra empowerment procedures that they believe would enhance the spirituality of the environment and further the cause of peace and harmony among human beings. Apart from being the site for Buddhist rites and rituals, the Kalachakra temple is also a regular venue for public meetings and discourses conducted by his holiness the Dalai Lama. The temple is perhaps one of the best examples of Kalachakra-based architectural style. A huge mural adorns the wall and at the centre of the wall, the principal god of Buddhism – Shakayamuni Buddha is portrayed in a Kalachakra avatar. Surrounding the image of Shakayamuni are the frescos of seven hundred and twenty two deities. The Kalachakra consists of four aspects namely wisdom, body, mind and speech. The image of the Buddha at the centre represents wisdom while the deities surrounding him represent body, mind and speech. It is reported that the Dalai Lama himself personally monitored the progress of the mural painting right from the start to finish. The adjacent walls features the portraits of the 14th Dalai Lama and thirty two Shamblala kings of whom the first seven are called Maharajas (Great kings) and the rest are known as Kalkis. Images of Tibetan deities such as Guru Padma Sambhava, Milarepa, Palden Lhamo, Yamantaka, Atisha and Tsongkhapa can also be seen in this temple.

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Religion and spirituality: How are they different? by Maryama

HH the Dalai Lama

30 April 2015

The debate about spirituality and religion is not new. More often than not, a lot of us tend to use these two terms interchangeably. While there is no denying that religion and spirituality can be intertwined, there are very clear distinctions between the two in certain aspects. To understand these differences, let us first clearly define what a religion is and what spirituality is. A religion is a particular system of faith and belief where the followers worship a particular superhuman power or powers. Many religions around the world have their own set of scriptures, holy places of worship, organized practices and behaviours, members of the clergy and a set of codes that define membership and devotion to the religion. Spirituality, on the other hand covers a broad spectrum of themes out of which religion is just one. The term spirituality is derived from the Latin word spiritus which means the ‘the vital principle in man’. Therefore, spirituality can be described as the process of personal transformation in order to realize one’s vital principle or one’s search for meaning in life. The tenets of spirituality often times overlap with the principles of religion. This is because many religions around the world have narratives, symbols and sacred histories that aim to explain the meaning of life. People derive their sense of morality, ethics, behaviour and lifestyle from their religious beliefs. However it is these exact concepts that spirituality also tends to address and therefore we see that spirituality is interlaced with religion in these aspects. However, overlapping features doesn’t mean that religion and spirituality are one and the same. In fact, in many occasions they are at odds with each other. The biggest such difference is that religion is collective while spirituality is individualistic. All the major religions in the world define a set of codes of conduct that the followers of the religion must abide by. On the other hand, one individual’s process of personal transformation might be different from the other and therefore each individual would view spirituality from a different perspective. For instance, Mother Theresa found meaning in serving the poor while Mahatma Gandhi found meaning in fighting for the freedom of his fellow countrymen. The second major difference is that Religion tells us to follow a particular ideology or obey a certain set or rules while spirituality lets us follow our heart and do what we feel […]

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