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Diaries by Sacinandana Swami

The Ultimate Journey: Visiting Lord Shiva at Mount Kailash (2000) - Part 2

September 26, 2000

Continuation of the parikrama over the Drömla Pass [5650m] to Zuthul Puk,
22 km, the longest leg of the journey.

We are up early. There is only one thought on all of our minds: Where is Dieter? Even though the Sherpas informed us that the yaks carrying our tents, food, and luggage have run away in the night and are still missing, we have decided not to wait for them to recover the yaks but to search for Dieter.

* * *

We found Dieter after two hours of steep climbing toward Drömla. We spotted his yellow jacket first, and I rushed toward him. His face was pale and he was incoherent. I gave him some hot water and a handful of vitamin tablets, and then one of the others in our party gave him a Kung Fu massage. Slowly he recovered enough to tell us his story:

“I was feeling energetic yesterday and decided to go ahead. When I finally noticed that I had gone too far – darkness was already setting in with no camp in sight – I had to decide what to do. It seemed my only option was to continue on until I reached the pass. It was so cold. I sheltered under the prayer flags, then wrapped myself in them and tried to sleep. But a little past midnight I heard a clear and authoritative voice telling me that no men were allowed I this place. She said, ‘It is my pass. Leave here or else.’

“I fled the pass but lost the trail. Finally, I was so exhausted that I had to sit down. But within an hour my circulation had stopped and I felt the cold creeping up my legs toward my heart. I tried to do push-ups to keep my blood moving, but my foot froze to the ground. As the cold was stiffening my limbs I knew that if I didn’t get help I would freeze to death. I knew I was in Lord Shiva’s kingdom, so I called to him for help.

“Suddenly I saw a violet light around me. It gave me such warmth. My circulation and breathing returned to normal and somehow I survived the night. When the morning light came I found the path and here I am. I want to go home. Is there a helicopter that can fly me back to Germany?”

By the end of his story the others had caught up with us and we all looked at one another, happy to have Dieter back among us. But of course we had no helicopter, so after offering him some more encouragement and giving him an energy bar from my pack, Dieter agreed to continue, determined to somehow stay with the group.

* * *

As we ascend we pass unusual sights. In one place there are groupings of stones under which tunnels have been dug. The Tibetans call these “sin-testing stones.” If you can get in and out between the rocks you are free from sin.

The well-known Swedish explorer Sven Hedin writes in one of his books that he once asked a Tibetan pilgrim, “What do you think? Is it possible for a skinny sinful wretch to somehow pass through the rocks while a fat good man remains stuck?” The faithful pilgrim answered, “No, that is not possible. Mount Kailash cannot be cheated.”

* * *

While we climb the mountain the air thins. It’s now so thin that we feel it doesn’t fill the lungs. Every few meters I have to stop and struggle for breath. Of course, the oxygen masks we were promised by the Himalayan trekking company are not available, but I think even if they were using them wouldn’t feel appropriate here. After all, we’re approaching Shiva Tsal, the place where the pilgrim is supposed to walk the distance between his death and his next reincarnation. No one can walk through this space with an oxygen mask.

* * *

We have finally arrived at Shiva Tsal. It is said that in this place one can find Lord Shiva’s hair. Shiva Tsal is also another sky burial ground, but most importantly it is the point where the pilgrim is supposed to abandon his false ego. Buddhist and Hindu alike ritualize this shedding of ego by leaving a piece of old cloth behind. I am so enthusiastic to abandon my ego that I am going to leave my socks and gloves here (although I am going to hide them under a stone[2] – I am afraid some poor pilgrim who might find my Western items and take them for personal use. That feels like it would spoil my simple ritual. Everything between my socks and my gloves is composed of matter, which ultimately rests on the false understanding that I am separate from Lord Krishna. Let me surrender all of that. I hope my simple, childlike gesture will be accepted.

* * *

Twenty minutes later (although perhaps it has taken us longer – it is difficult to keep track of time in such a timeless place, removed as it is from day-to-day life), we are at the Drömla Pass. We are greeted by a large stone and the tall flagpole where pilgrims perform puja to Goddess Parvati (or Tara, as she is known in Buddhism). This is also the place where Nandisvara, Lord Shiva’s bull, awaits his master’s orders. Tibetans cover the stone, which for them is a self-manifested form of the goddess of compassion, with offerings of coins, hair, even teeth – all of which they paste to the rock with yak butter. I will chant my Gayatri mantras next to the rock.

* * *

As I finish chanting Gayatri I see a most unusual eagle circumambulating the pass.

* * *

We stopped for a breather a while ago, but have now walked the 3 kilometers to beautiful Gauri-kund, Parvati’s lake. It is a still kund, formed from the waters of the Ganga. As we clamber down toward it I mentally prepare myself to offer puja to Parvati and Lord Shiva.

* * *

Finally, completely out of breath, here we are at the Lake of Mercy. (I’m grateful to see it’s not frozen). Our puja here was so ecstatic that even the Sherpas joined in. Afterwards we immersed all the paraphernalia, the rudraksha beads, and the Shiva lingas as an offering to Parvati and Shiva into the lake and left them behind, forever joined with the waters of mercy.

* * *

Here is the Buddhist legend about Gauri-kund:

Once, the Buddha Avalokiteshwara looked over the world and saw the beings engaged in a meaningless struggle for existence. As he saw people suffering repeated birth and death he cried tears of compassion. From these tears a kund appeared. Then in the midst of the lake a lotus flower grew, and when it blossomed, Tara appeared in its whorl. Tara is the divine goddess who reigns over this area and who can instantly grant one liberation from material existence.

* * *

Resting at Gauri-kund. Another pilgrim has just joined us and told us a story. He said that some years ago, a young Tibetan mother came to this lake with her infant daughter. This daughter had been born out of wedlock. When the mother bent to touch the water, her daughter slipped from her arms and disappeared into the waters of the emerald lake. The mother was so shocked that she sat for three days and nights and cried. Finally, her daughter appeared to her in a luminous form and told her that she had been waiting to be brought to this lake. She thanked her mother for giving birth to her and then bringing her to this most holy place. Then she told her not to worry because she had now taken a high incarnation.

This story reminds me of a lama who opened a small monastery on the outskirts of Hamburg (where I spent my youth). He once told me that he was born while his mother was circumambulating Mount Kailash. He is a special soul.

* * *

We are ready to begin our descent from this most holy area. To the east we see five mountains greeting us. These mountains are known as “the five sisters of a long life.”

It’s strange how much in need of blessings we feel right now. Still shaky, we feel like newborn babies. We have successfully concluded our journey through death and reincarnation and we need to celebrate. After we negotiate the steepest part of the downhill path we arrive at a tent where we can buy a small bowl of Chinese noodles.

* * *

Continuing the descent

It’s a long walk. Most of us are so exhausted that we are no longer noticing much of what is around us. I keep wondering how much longer my bodily machine can carry me.

* * *

I am walking alone. I need time to digest the day’s experiences. In particular I’m intrigued by what it means for me that I left my old identity behind at Lord Shiva’s place. At the beginning of this walk I had no clue, but as I have continued to walk a song has entered my mind. It’s not that I purposely sought this song in my songbook. No, it came to me like a melody floating through the lonely mountains. O Gopinath. The words overwhelm me with feeling. I have to step off the path for a few minutes to cry my tears in private.

* * *

I stumbled into the mountains until I found something that resembled a cave. There the answers to my questions came to me, by the mercy of Lord Shiva and my spiritual master. They came in the form of the Gopinath prayers. I would like to record the verses in this diary. I know my readers will probably not get the same answers from them that I got, but still, they are such powerful prayers and can touch the heart.

O Gopinath, You are my only hope, and therefore I have taken shelter at Your lotus feet. I am now Your eternal servant.

O Gopinath, how will You purify me? I do not know what devotion is, and my materialistic mind is absorbed in materialistic activities. I have fallen into this dark and dangerous worldly existence.

O Gopinath, everything I see is Your illusory energy. I have no strength or transcendental knowledge, and this body of mine is not independent and free from the control of material nature.

O Gopinath, this sinner, who is weeping and weeping begs for an eternal place at Your divine feet. Please give him Your mercy.

O Gopinath, You are able to do and undo anything, and therefore You have the power to deliver all sinners. Who is more of a sinner than me?

O Gopinath, how can I make advancement when my mind has come under the control of the powerful senses and does not abandon its attachment to materialism?

O Gopinath, after sitting down in the core of my heart and subduing my mind, please take me to You. In this way the horrible dangers of this world will disappear.

O Gopinath, You are Hrisikesa, the Lord of the senses. Seeing me so helpless, please control my senses and deliver me from this dark and dangerous worldly existence.

* * *

The day finally ended. We passed a monastery on our way to our clay guesthouse. As soon as we arrived, we each fell into bed and slept till morning. Not one of us worried about the lost yaks or the luggage they had carted off with them. None of us thought about finding a more comfortable bed. We did not even think about our identities in this world. Instead, we each slept like newborn babies.

September 27, 2000
Trekking from Zuthul Puk to Darchen, 4700 m [14 kms].

I didn’t awake until 10 a.m. A few members of our party have already left, but the Sherpas just assured me that they have found the yaks and will soon be along with the luggage. (I hope they don’t return my mental luggage as well.) Dieter is still asleep. Good. He needs it.

* * *

Karl and I have gone quickly to the local monastery to marvel at the cave where Milarepa meditated. The monk there tells us that the rock next to the mud house in which we slept is the rock of the medicinal Buddha. What a coincidence! Maybe due to this Buddha’s influence we are now strong enough to continue the parikrama. I hope the medicinal Buddha will also restore Dieter’s energy to him.

We can see the mountains from this monastery, and as I look out at them I am aware that we are not alone; powerful beings live in these mountains. Earlier on this pilgrimage I met a Shiva devotee named Raghubir who is attempting to complete 108 circumambulations (he has already done sixty-four). He informed us of something we too would witness: there are many siddhas – elevated beings, yogis,and rishis from the higher planets – performing meditation around Kailash. The very elevated ones dwell directly on Kailash, and the less perfect live in the area surrounding the mountain. Anyone with refined perception can feel their presence while walking through these areas. Sometimes these beings appreciate your intrusion and sometimes they do not.

Sometimes these yogis appear suddenly and then disappear. Really, they are fully in control – I don’t think one can hunt for them and expect to find them. The best way to perceive them is to purify the heart through spiritual practice and chanting. Then they may choose to reveal themselves.

Raghubir also told us that in 2002 a maha-yajna would be performed for Lord Shiva’s pleasure It’s scheduled to last fourteen days and will be attended by 1,100 pandits from around India. We have decided to keep Raghubir’s news in mind while we continue our parikrama on this third day.

* * *

My body is weak; I need to do something to keep up my strength. Let me sing the Hare Krishna maha-mantra while I walk. Spiritual strength can overcome even material obstacles.

* * *

I am really exhausted. Sometimes my body is so sore and the muscles so cramped that I need to sit by the path. But I am not worried. Somehow I have faith that Lord Shiva will give me the required strength to continue this journey.

* * *

Dieter is up and looking happier – as well-rested and energetic as ever, almost.

* * *

This third day of the pilgrimage is the day of renewal. What does renewal actually mean for me? I have left the old Sacinandana Swami behind under a stone at the Drömla Pass, I hope. But who is the new Sacinandana Swami? What should he be like? When you renew yourself you need to start with at least something from the old self. So I choose my starting point to be aham brahmasmi, the knowledge that I am spirit soul, part of Lord Krishna. I want this new phase of my life to be a life of servitorship. Yamunacharya writes, “When will I blossom into a life of servitude as Your eternal devotee, my heart pacified due to all other desires being consumed by engagement in Your uninterrupted service?” Yes, renewal in Krishna consciousness means always returning to our spiritual identity as Krishna’s eternal servant. In this connection I have written a short and imperfect poem:

Don’t forget your longing heart
which can only find satisfaction
in connection with your Lord.
The world of man is never able
to quench the thirst of your longing soul.
Just like you needed to cross mountains and deserts
to reach Mount Kailash
you will have to cross over human imperfection
to reach your Lord.
Keep your heart strong, and don’t despair
even if you have to face the demons created by your past karma.
By selfless devotional service this can be done.
Humility helps to create a joyful distance from the world
so that you can engage in devotional service
without becoming entangled.
Your mission in the service of Srila Prabhupada provides
the Ariadne thread
that leads out of the labyrinth of this material world.
And your absorption in Lord Krishna’s name, form, and pastimes
is the elixir that gives you strength.

Praying, I walk the last kilometers. I sat down often along the way – so exhausted. Finally, as the sun is setting and the dogs beginning to bark, I reach the camp.

September 28, 2000
Full-day excursion to Lake Manasarovar and overnight rest at Tibetan guesthouse.

After this wonderful parikrama what will we have left to do? Only to bathe in sacred Lake Manasarovar.

* * *

Today’s excursion began with a visit to a monastery that was once a joyous center of Buddhist chanting and study. Now it houses only a mentally challenged caretaker, who was not happy that he had to leave his warm bed and fur blankets to show us around. But as he led us through the rooms – some of them prayer halls, some worship rooms, some study rooms, and some dormitories – we felt the atmosphere of worship in the air and much to the surprise of the old fellow, started to sing enthusiastic bhajans. At the end he brought us to an upper room, although we could see he was hesitant to do so. But there on an altar we saw a violent black monster tearing apart his opponents. It was a belligerent form of Buddha, and it reminded us of another face of God - the angry face. Yes, Krishna has such faces.

This room had a different atmosphere than the rest of the monastery. It felt tantric, mystical, shamanistic. I remember when I was at McLoud Ganj, the Dalai Lama’s exile near Dharmsala, I stumbled into such a room where this ferocious, all-destroying form of a tantric demon was worshiped with mantras and mystical music. Foreigners were forbidden to enter, actually. The way I understand it is that the Tibetans worship this form secretly in hopes of one day becoming free of their opponents. Tibetan Buddhism is filled with practices from Tibet’s ancient shamanistic religion.

From near this monastery, when you climb up on the highest hill, you can see something some saintly people don’t want to see: next to Manasarovar is Lake Raksastal, where the famous demon Ravana arrived when he wanted to have a darshan of Lord Shiva. Shiva recognized Ravana’s arrogance and preferred to remain hidden from his sight. At that point, the powerful demon, who was strong enough to make the universe cry, approached Mount Kailash and tried to lift and shake it. Parvati became concerned, but the scripture says that Lord Shiva pressed Mount Kailash down with his toe and crushed Ravana’s fingers. Ravana was thus cursed to stay next to Manasarova on the shore of Lake Raksastal. When the storms rage and the sky is rent by thunder, pilgrims know that Ravana is still screaming in pain.

I went to the top of the hill to see the vista and saw Raksastal in the distance. It’s interesting that next to a lake containing all the holy waters of the universe is a demonic lake. Isn’t it typical of this world? Next to good is always something bad offering us a choice. These parallel lakes are really an analogy of life in the material world. This world is a place of duality, and it persistently educates us like a strong teacher mercifully instructing his pupils.

* * *

It’s the end of the day and we are not settled in an attractive mud guesthouse. The proprietor’s son lent me his bicycle, so I have gone off to Manasarovar, our last station. Manasarovar is the most peaceful place I have ever seen. It’s a huge, and the water is a brilliant sapphire. Swans swim in the lake, and from its shore you can see Kailash aflame in the sunlight.

The Bhagavatam contains descriptions of Manasarovar’s beauty: “While traveling, the Pracetas happened to see a great reservoir of water which seemed almost as big as the ocean. The water of this lake was so calm and quiet that it seemed like the mind of a great soul, and its inhabitants, the aquatics, appeared very peaceful and happy to be under the protection of such a watery reservoir.

“In that great lake there were different types of lotus flowers. Some of them were bluish, and some of them were red. Some of them grew at night, some in the day and some, like the indivara lotus flower, in the evening. Combined together, the lotus flowers filled the lake so full that the lake appeared to be a great mine of such flowers. Consequently, on the shores there were swans and cranes, cakravaka, karandava and other beautiful water birds standing about.

“There were various trees and creepers on all sides of the lake, and there were mad bumblebees humming all about them. The trees appeared to be very jolly due to the sweet humming of the bumblebees, and the saffron, which was contained in the lotus flowers, was being thrown into the air. These all created such an atmosphere that it appeared as though a festival were taking place there." (SB 4.24.20–22)

The Bhagavatam goes on to describe how Lord Shiva and his associates suddenly emerged from the waters. “Shiva’s bodily luster was just like molten gold, his throat was bluish, and he had three eyes which looked very mercifully upon his devotees. Many musicians came along with him and glorified him.”

I had no such vision while sitting at Lake Manasarovar, but I have faith in parallel realities. Just as I can’t perceive radio waves, so I can’t perceive spiritual reality. Nevertheless, that reality is present and by hearing from sacred scriptures there is a chance that some of this reality “leaks through.” You can see these things – through the eyes of the scriptures.

* * *

I had an interesting experience at the lake. When sadhakas hear regularly from scripture and accept what they hear, there is a greater chance that they will perceive, even through the fog of their usual vision, the subjects mentioned in those scriptures. We can only gain this perception when we follow a strict and regular spiritual practice. Bhaktivinoda Thakur describes that Krishna consciousness has four successive stages: sravanadas (hearing), varanadas (accepting), sadhanadas (spiritual practice), and apanadas (spiritual achievement). When sadhanadas, or the execution of spiritual practice is added to the first two, one attains apanadas, spiritual achievement. This is the secret. Spiritual realization comes only by practicing sadhana. Just as we need a sadhana (practice) to squeeze juice from the bamboolike sugarcane, so we need spiritual sadhana to transform what we have heard and accepted into realization.

The way these realities descend on a beginner’s mind is almost like the echo of a song, which is heard a little later with less intensity and volume, but nevertheless is as real as the original song. Later, when the beginner becomes an adept he will realize spiritual reality in ways that lend color, movement, and volume to the scriptural descriptions.

* * *

After chanting on the shore, I have finally bathed in Manasarovar. I waited until 2 p.m., the warmest part of the day, but even then I had to get in and out quickly.I managed to fill a bottle with water to take back with me, and to dip under the water three times while looking at cloud-covered Kailash. But the water is ice cold!It set my senses on fire – or on ice – and I needed to get back to shore so quickly that I had no time for contemplation. It was with great relief that I sat on the warm rocks to struggle for breath.

* * *

The pilgrimage is over. Now we only have to drive the body back to Kathmandu. I hope my soul will remain here. During the pilgrimage I was given a key to opening a door inside myself, a key to a place that is more real than mountains, lakes, cities, highways, and the millions of people walking and talking in this world. The pilgrimage to Mount Kailash has brought me in touch with eternity, or to be more precise, with my eternal soul and its relationship with God.

Any spiritual journey begins with hearing a call that encourages us to leave the limitations of our life behind. Then we have to cross a threshold that often serves as the borders of our comfort. And we generally need a spiritual guide or spiritual master to supply us with an appropriate spiritual practice by which we can overcome obstacles. Before we return, newborn, to our old world, we will have to pass more tests to see whether we have actually imbibed what we were taught on the journey.

I lived through all these stages on this journey around the sacred mountain. I have experienced some of these stages before, but somehow, on this journey, the tests were more refined, a little deeper. This confirms my impression that spiritual progress is much like an upward journey on a spiral. You pass through the same areas again - but on a finer level.

May I be blessed to take the insights from this sacred space into my life in the West, thousands of kilometres from Mount Kailash.


Sacred Lake Manasarovar is the place where the Pracetas met their spiritual master, Lord Shiva, so I spent my time there meditating on my relationship with my spiritual master. I wrote these lines: “Srila Prabhupada, I am convinced that you can appear in the mirror of the purified heart of your true disciple. This appearance is not a mere reflection, distorted or in any way insubstantial. It is you. How can I become purified enough to receive this appearance?

I need to first enter the mood of feeling ever your servant. I wish that your pleasure is all that I want. You have Krishna in your heart and can give Him to me. In the meantime, I have you in the form of your vani. You assured us that in the guru’s physical absence the disciple should make the guru’s instructions his life and soul and take full shelter of them.

I wish to practice humility in mind, words, and body based on the understanding that I am eternal and that all that I need is Krishna. I wish to chant Hare Krishna day and night. Even if I do other things, I desire to think always of Krishna and feel His presence in every area of my life. I wish to serve and elevate others according to their present level of advancement. I will try my best, but I will become dependent on Krishna for the results.

Pilgrimage always means purification. Some of the members of our group did well, while others did not thrive in quite the same way. But the main thing is that all of us were purified to one degree or another. If we wish to make pure ghee, we have to keep the flame under the butter until all the impurities have risen to the surface and been removed. In much the same way pilgrims have to be prepared to go through the phases where their impurities and immaturities are exposed to light. Then they have to make the correct decision and throw those impurities out. Sometimes, however, weakness seems to stick to us. With help from superiors we can remove it. That’s why I went to Lord Shiva for help. And he came to my aid! I am so grateful.

In closing I wish to thank Srila Prabhupada very much for enlightening me through his purports about Lord Shiva’s glorious position. I don’t know how else I would have become aware of how the greatest of all Vaishnavas can help us. In the Bhagavatam Srila Prabhupada addresses a question that is probably in the mind of my readers: "If one has to take shelter of Lord Vishnu, why should the demigods take shelter of Lord Shiva? They did so because Vishnu acts through Shiva in the creation of the material world; Lord Shiva acts on behalf of Lord Vishnu. When Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita (14.4) that He is the father of all living entities (aham bija pradah pita), He is referring to actions performed by Lord Vishnu through Lord Shiva. Lord Vishnu is always unattached to material activities, and when material activities are to be performed, Lord Vishnu performs them through Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is therefore worshipped on the level of Lord Vishnu. When Lord Vishnu is untouched by the external energy he is Lord Vishnu, but when he is in touch with the external energy he appears in his feature as Lord Shiva.” (SB 8.7.22) This does not mean that Vaishnavas worship anyone but Lord Krishna, but we take all the help we can get to reach our Lord. 

[2]  I still kept one pair of socks and gloves – I left the double ones.

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