Monday, September 16, 2013

Nyungne: Buddhist Fasting Practice

I was intrigued, when I heard of Nyungne because I hardly had the knowledge about it although I was familiar with the name Nyungne. Shortly, I came to know about it, when I attended the Nyungne practice at Ramthangkha, Paro this September, 2013 coinciding Thimphu Tshechu (Mask Dance Festival). I vacillated over my participation in the Nyungne practice before I gathered some information on Nyungne from various sources.  Thus, I concluded that I need to attend the fasting practice eventually it’s a benevolent of the world and oneself.

Before I scribble about my experiences, I would be writing down a brief background on Nyungne practice.  Nyungne practice is so structured to purify our negative karma and accumulate merit or accomplish enlightened qualities. The practice is based on the practice of Thousand Armed Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara), Bodhisattva of Compassion. The practice has been originated from Gelongma Pelmo, one of the few female Buddhist lamas, who eventually attained enlightenment.

The Nyungne practice in Ramthangkha, Paro involved more than 35 hours of practice, which included strict keeping of vows. It involves 30 hours of fasting from food and drink, recitation of Buddhist mantras and prostrating frequently. (Vows: not to kill, not to steal, not to commit sexual misconduct, not to lie, not to take intoxicants, not to take high or luxurious seats, not to sing, dance or wear ornaments and not to eat and additional vows of not eating, drinking and talking). It is also said that if we complete one Nyungne practice, the door closes for one’s rebirth in lower realms. It is a known fact that Gelongma Pelmo practiced Nyungne at Ramthangkha in Paro, hence the place is renowned for Nyungne practice.

Gelongma Pelmo was born to a Royal Family in India, she had chosen to follow the path of Buddhist practice which she practiced for 12 years, after abandoning the Royal palace and privileges. She overcame severe illness of leprosy and attained enlightenment. Thereafter, she passed down the practice of Nyungne, which still continues to be practiced these days.

Ramthangkha Lhakhang (Temple), Paro
I am sharing some brief experiences that I had during my participation in the Nyungne practice. We started off the practice at Ramthangkha Temple at 4 am; we were accompanied by other locals which consisted mostly of senile community. We altogether were around 50 of us. We took the Nyungne vows as mentioned above, in the first day and also we were briefed about the practice. We had some room for forgiveness, if we are unable to carry out or fulfill our vows.

We were fed lavishly at the first day till the noon, everyone had heavy lunch and thereafter, we had to skip our dinner but of course, we had the privilege to drink tea till 9 pm. The next day was our strict fasting period, where we should strictly undertake the vows. We got up the next day at 4 am; we are not allowed to talk nor eat but keep our vows. We recited mantras although we wanted to talk to each other, but instead we were looking at each other’s face.

We had been prostrating in front of altar and recited mantras the whole day without having any food or drinks led by a lama.  We were fine while depriving us from breakfast and lunch, but without dinner it was a difficult situation, even to have a sound sleep. I toured around kitchen but in vain, in fact it just titillated my starvation. In fact most of us slept for maximum of one hour but I slept for only for half an hour. That night I realized how the hell would be like. It was really an egregious situation for me; no food, no sleep, no talk, no music, nothing else, but I regret not. The situation has become an inveterate practice for the older participants; they showed no sign of malaise.  

It was also an unforgettable and interesting experience. Some of us happened to talk accidentally and thus we got to prostrate apologetically invoking for forgiveness. For some loquacious persons, it would have been a difficult task to remain quiet but just reciting some prayers. It wasn't so easy to keep the vows; most of us broke some trivial vows and had invoked for forgiveness a hundred times or more. It was really a hard task to communicate with one another without talking, I wondered for the first time how will it be, to lead a dumb life. It was also fun to watch others but difficult to keep it to oneself.

For someone like me who is a late sleeper, faced difficulty in sleeping as early as 7 pm and waking up at 1:30 am, unfortunately I got to sleep for about half an hour despite being enervated. I managed to get some nap in the temple though I had to invoke for forgiveness. Our fasting period came to an end at 5 am, where initially we were offered to drink a handful of holy water and thereafter a series of drinks and food. Hence, everyone seems to be convalescent and alive once again with a conspicuous smile on everyone’s face after the heavy meal. I realized how fortunate we are and even realized that life as such has nothing in it, it’s just a realm towards attaining enlightenment. Now, I have conceived that there is really a hell and heaven.

NB: Highlighted only few incidents. No Proof Read


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  2. Thank you for your blog. Did you happen to take photos of Gelongma Palmo or any of her relics? I am completing a book on her lineage. Thanks for your assistance.


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