Astha Svayam Vyakta Kshetras, Part 4
BY: SUN STAFF
Sri Muktinath with Laksmi (Bhumi) Devi and Sarasvati (Sri) Devi
[ Photo courtesy Nepal Dept. of Archaeology]
Jan 13, 2014 CANADA (SUN) A serial presentation of svayambhu Lord Visnu's eight abodes.
Today we visit the third astha svayam-vyakta kshetra: the Salagramam abode of Lord Chakrapani at Muktinath, Dhaval giri, Nepal. The glories of Sri Muktinath are sung in the Vishnu Purana, and Muktinath is one of the most-visited tirthas in Nepal, revered by both Hindus and Buddhists. Located in Muktinath Valley, 140 miles from Kathmandu, the temple is situated at the foot of Thorong La mountain pass, over 12,000 feet (3,700 meters) above sea level. Mukti-kshetra, the "place of salvation", is the abode of Sri Muktinath, along with Lakshmi and Sarasvati Devi, and Garuda.
Sri Muktinath and consorts
Muktinath is one of the 108 Divya Desam, or principle abodes of Lord Visnu, and also one of the eight most sacred abodes, or Svayam Vyakta Ksetras, where the presiding Deity is self-manifested.
The svayambhu Lord at Muktinath is worshipped as Salagram, and associated with the pastime of Lord Visnu, Vrinda Devi and Jalandhara. Mentioned in Padma Purana, Vrinda's husband Jalandhara was king of the asuras. Due Vrinda's her great piety, his many misdeeds went unpunished until finally Lord Visnu shattered her chastity, making it possible for Shiva to kill her husband. Vrinda Devi therefore cursed Visnu to be black, thus His manifestation as Salagram. This pastime is glorified during the Uthana-dwadashi (Tulsi Vivah) festival. Having gotten salvation from Vrinda's curse, the Lord is worshipped here as Muktinath.
The Muktinath temple is a small, rugged structure, situated in a vastly rugged landscape overlooking the Nilgiri and Dhaulagiri Himalaya ranges. The presiding Deity, Sri Muktinath, is a beautiful gold murti, nearly life-sized.
The pagoda-style Muktinath Temple was consecrated in 1815 A.D by Queen Subarna Prabha, the wife of Rana Bahadur Shah. Only Hindus are permitted to enter the temple, which is also known as Mukti-Narayanan-kshetram.
In Buddhist tradition, Sri Muktinath Vishnu/Lokeswar is worshipped as Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig). Before the origin of Buddhism, the ancient place name for Muktinath was Thiru Saligramam, the naturally available form of Lord Narayana. Buddhists also call it Chumig Gyatsa, or 'hundred waters', and Tibetan Buddhists consider it an important abode of the Dakinis, the goddess Sky Dancers. Muktinath is also one of the 51 Sakthi-peetams. The traditional caretakers of the place are the Muktinath Nuns.
In the prakaram (outer courtyard) of the temple there are 108 water spouts in a semi-circle, through which sacred waters flow. The waters are representative of the pushkarini waters of all 108 Divya Desam tanks, along with Tirumala and Vaikuntha. Devotees are instructed to take holy bath by letting the waters flow over their heads, moving under all 108 spouts, one after the other. This is usually done at high speed, due to the frigid temperatures. The waterway moving downstream from Muktinath along Kali Gandaki (Kandaki River) is the famed source of shaligram-shilas.
An interesting account was written by HH Bhakti Ananda Swami, known for his study of the manifestation of Krsna worship in other religions. He describes the mood of local Nepali devotees with respect to the cross-religious worship of Sri Muktinath by both Hindus and Buddhists, and the clues he discovered while talking to local artisans, who make the metal idols and paint thankgas. A similar line of discussion is found in a segment from our 2009 series, Worship of Lord Brahma, regarding the convergence of
Vaisnava, Shaivite and Buddhist influences in the worship of Sri Manjunatha, melding Shiva and the Buddhist Brahma-Lokeswara deity.
Bhakti Ananda Swami writes: "One of the most striking things about Nepal, Kathmandu, and even the rural areas, was that on a daily basis, as I visited the active places of worship of these different religious groups, I would regularly see the SAME DEVOTEES over and over again! By this I do not mean at a single religion's place of worship, but that in one day (or on other days) I would see and meet the SAME PEOPLE at a Vishnu and THEN AT a Buddhist and THEN AT a Shaivite and/or Devi temple or shrine! So, in Kathmandu it was common for people to actually participate in the religious practices of different and often COMPETING religions and their sub-lineages. In interviewing as many of these people as I could, I discovered that these multi-Rite/Ritya devotees all realized and readily admitted that the Names and Forms of Avalokiteshvara and His Shaktis were the SAME as the NAMA-RUPA Name-Forms of Vishnu and His Shaktis, and that ALL of the WRATHFUL forms of Mahadeva (Shiva) were 'Dharma Protector' Transformations of Vishnu or Avalokitheshvara!
Of course this was my hypothesis to begin with, from my long studies in America, but I never expected to hear humble uneducated peasants in Kathmandu and elsewhere in Nepal tell me that they knew by their own religious practise that HARI (Vishnu), HARA (Shiva) and HRIH (Amitabha Lokeshvara) were all somehow Persons of the Same Godhead!
However, when I interviewed the Buddhist religious leaders at these same places, they strenuously denied this, claiming "we do NOT worship Vishnu!" "We worship Avalokiteshvara who is NOT Vishnu!" "Avalokiteshvara is NOT Vishnu!" 'Amitabha, Adi Purusha, Bhagavan, Purusottama HRIH, Vasudeva is NOT Krishna or Vishnu!' These are some of the Names of Krishna-Vishnu that appear in the essential Sanskrit Buddhist Scriptures, like the Saddharmapundarika, and in Buddhist Litanies and Prayers such as those in the Cultus of TARA, where even entire Vaishnava invocations such as "Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevayah" can be witnessed.
Thus, while admitting that their Buddhism was ultimately derived from India, and that their Scriptures were originally in Sanskrit, and many of the Names and Forms of their Buddhist TRI-KAYA from their Scriptures and Temples were Names and Forms of Vishnu, they altogether denied that their Buddhism was derived from Vaishnavism. These exclusivistic Buddhist 'clerics' were even frequently insulting and condescending regarding their own Buddhist adherants, who openly expressed their belief that there was no difference between Avalokiteshvara and Vishnu! As in Sri Lanka, where I found that the uneducated Theravadin Buddhist masses also worshiped Buddha as an Incarnation of Vishnu, the Mahayana and Tantra Buddhist leaders that I interviewed in Nepal were also adamant that the obvious Bhakti Yoga practices and devotional 'other-power' beliefs of the Buddhist masses there were LATE "corruptions" of Buddhism by 'Hinduism'. [Elsewhere I have written extensively on this phenonmenon of the Buddhist 'CLERICAL' and monastic denial and rejection-of the Bhakti beliefs and practices of their own congregations.]
However, I had the blessing of the Darshan of Our Lord and Our Lady in thousands of Their Forms while in Nepal, and while cataloging these for my Degree work Field Study of cross-traditional iconographic attributes with sketches and photography, I also had the opportunity to visit many of the astonishingly skilled and learned metal Murti makers and Thangka painters of Nepal. This is where I encountered the most amazing proof of my long assertion that Vishnu and Avalokiteshvara are historically and theologically manifestations of the Same Deity. When I visited these Murti and Tangka makers and requested to see Murtis of Vishnu I was always told, something to the effect that:
'we only make these specific traditional forms, and they are the same. They are worshiped as Vishnu by the Hindus and as Lokeshvara by the Buddhists. There is no difference to us, it is the same god, the difference is in the worshiper'!"
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