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Majestic Gangdise Mountains: The Source of Many Popular Rivers

The Spiritual Essence of Gangdise

The Gangdise Mountains, which means “the source of many waters,” stand as one of Tibet’s most revered sacred mountains. In Sanskrit, it is called “Kailash,” translating to “Snow Mountain,” and holds profound significance in several Eastern religions.

Location and Geography

Situated in the southwestern part of Tibet, the Gangdise range spans several counties including Purang, Zhongba, Ngamring, and Namling. Its peaks, connecting eastward to the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains, soar to an average height of about 6,000 meters (19,685 feet), forming a watershed between the inland river systems and the Indian Ocean waterways.

The Peaks of Devotion

The highest point of the Gangdise Mountains is the Lonbu peak, located within the territory of Zhongba County, rising to 7,095 meters (23,274 feet). However, many religious and historical texts cite the Gang Rinpoche peak at 6,714 meters (22,028 feet) as the main summit, possibly due to its irreplaceable cultural significance within Tibetan traditions.

A Pilgrimage Destination

For centuries, the Gangdise Mountains have been an object of veneration, a pilgrimage destination, and a site for spiritual journeying, earning the title “King of the Sacred Mountains.” Renowned monks from Asia and beyond have practiced and preached here, making it a center of shared beliefs among Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and the indigenous Bön religion. It’s a coveted destination for devotees from China, Nepal, and India.

Hindu Reverence

In Hinduism, Gangdise is regarded as the abode of the god Brahma, where he meditates eternally with his consort, the goddess of the Himalayas. There’s a temple in India named “Shiva Temple,” also known as “Kailash,” whose structure resembles the mountains of Gangdise. The Hindu scripture “Puranas” also suggests that the kingdom ruled by the god of wealth, Kubera, is located in Gangdise, surrounded by eight peaks that are his treasure houses.

Jain Sanctity

Jains consider Gangdise a spiritually potent sacred mountain, called “Ashtapada,” meaning “the place with eight steps.” Jainism, older than Buddhism and founded on the principles of compassion, preaches liberation from the worldly suffering to attain enlightenment. The first Jain Tirthankara, Rishabhanatha, is said to have meditated in Gangdise and attained enlightenment at a site before the mountain. The 20th Tirthankara also achieved enlightenment here. Consequently, Jains revere Gangdise as a holy site of liberation, attracting many followers to this day.

Unveiling the Spiritual Grandeur of Gangdise Mountains

The Buddhist Vision of Gangdise

The Gangdise Mountains, referred to as “Riwo Gangditse” in Tibetan, meaning “the source of many waters,” hold a treasure trove of profound religious significance. Buddhists regard it as the boundless palace of tantric bliss, with surrounding peaks and rivers considered part of this celestial abode. Ancient lore speaks of divine beings descending from heaven, each occupying sacred spaces within the mountains, rivers, underground realms, and hallowed grounds.

Legends of Divine Transformation

It is said that these divine entities once invited the mighty Vajrapani deity for worship, but instead of appearing, Vajrapani transformed into 24 stone phalluses as gifts. The misguided practices around these artifacts led to increased malice among beings in these areas. In response, the compassionate Vajradhara Buddha manifested his might, subdued the spirits of the 24 sacred sites, and replaced the stone phalluses with 24 statues of blissful Buddhas. Since then, Gangdise has been revered as the infinite palace of these deities.

A Sanctuary for Enlightenment

Furthermore, Gangdise is celebrated as a hallowed ground where Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and esteemed monks have blessed and practiced. During the time of Shakyamuni Buddha’s turning of the Wheel of Dharma, three Buddha statues were crafted for the realms of gods, nagas, and humans. A demon king attempted to transport the human realm’s Buddha statue to Gangdise, but Shakyamuni and 500 arhats swiftly traveled to the mountain. They left their footprints on the rock at “Five Hundred Arhats Gathering Basin” (also known as “Upper Altar City”), and at each corner of the mountain, known as “Gangdise’s Immovable Stakes,” thwarting the demon king’s efforts.

Today, the rope marks and footprints of the Buddha are still visible around Gangdise Mountain. As such, disciples, especially followers of Tibetan Buddhism, hold Gangdise in high esteem as a “Sacred Mountain.”

The Heart of Bön Religion

Originating from the Gangdise region, the Bön religion has long worshiped this mountain as “Nine-Fold Mountain (Swastika),” embodying the spirit of the Tibetan plateau. According to Bön scriptures, Gangdise is the king of all mountains. Bön practitioners envision the sky as a grand eight-sided umbrella and the earth as an eight-petaled lotus, with Gangdise serving as the connecting handle and stem, situated at the world’s center. It is believed to be the abode of gods and a ladder for their descent and ascent, acting as a cosmic rope that binds heaven and earth.

The Bön’s founder, Shenrab Miwoche, is said to have descended from Gangdise, and the mountain is home to 360 Bön deities. Imagined as a colossal stone stupa or dwelling for various deities, Gangdise boasts four major gates—Han Gate, Tiger Gate, Beetle Gate, and Red Bird Gate (Azure Dragon Gate)—each guarding a cardinal direction.

The Divine Protector: The Vajra Deity of Bliss

The Majestic Deity of Bliss

In the celestial realms of Tibetan Buddhism, the deity known as Samvara, or “bde-mchog” in Tibetan, stands as a figure of formidable power. Also referred to as “Upper Bliss Vajra” or “Auspicious Great Wheel Vajra,” Samvara is one of the five principal deities of the Tibetan esoteric traditions. Originating from the mother tantras of Anuttarayoga, Samvara is seen as the epitome of spiritual achievement within these texts.

Shakyamuni Buddha’s Manifestation and Legacy

It is believed that Shakyamuni Buddha once appeared atop the Gangdise Mountains, manifesting as a mandala alongside the “Guardian Deity of Bliss,” Samvara. This profound esoteric practice was later shared with the Indian goddesses “Shiva” and “Himalayan Goddess.”

The Iconography of Samvara

Samvara is depicted in 72 different forms, with the most commonly recognized being the four-faced, twelve-armed, two-footed deity. His skin is a deep blue-black, symbolizing the infinite like the sky. Atop his head rests a crown adorned with five skulls, and his attire consists of a tiger skin skirt, representing his mastery over fear.

In his hands, he holds an array of symbolic items: an elephant skin, a sharp axe, a skull cup, a vajra-handled curved knife, a noose, a trident, a hand drum, and a human bone club, each representing various aspects of enlightenment and spiritual tools. Embracing his consort, he stands upon a lotus pedestal, exuding a powerful presence.

Conclusion

The deity Samvara, as a central figure in the esoteric teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, embodies the transformational power of the spiritual path. His dynamic iconography and the sacred narratives that surround him make Samvara a significant focus of devotion and meditation, symbolizing the ultimate journey towards spiritual liberation.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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