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Trance Runners- Riding the wind

September 14, 2013 DESTINATION, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59The Himalayas is a part of the world where things mystical and unexplainable are possible. One such mystery is the belief in people with the skill to walk long distances in short periods of time, as if riding on the wind.

Adepts with this capability are known by different names. In Tibet and Bhutan they are called Lung Gompa (mediates on wind). While in Tibet the common people also refer to this skill as Kang jor or fast legs. Western scholars refer to them as Trance Runners.

Such adepts have been noted elsewhere. In Japan they are highly revered and known as Sen-nichi-kaihou.” Only serious ascetic practitioners earned this title after proving their ability to walk 8,400 km in 100 days. This is a part of their 1000-day retreat.

The School

If they are trance runners there surely must be a school for them. In my research I have come across one such school. Untitled

In the book Heinrich Harrer, Beyond Seven Years in Tibet, the author talks about his visit to it. He described the Schalu Gompa monastery, which was between Shigatse and Gyantse as a peculiar monastery because it was a school for the famous Lung Gompa, ‘trance runners.’

Harrer, who visited the monastery, noted that it was an exclusive school restricted only to a few chosen students. In this school the monks trained in complete isolation. They did numerous exercises, “built up their leg muscles by running on a pile of grain, while strict teachers provide the mental training”.

It was the tradition of the monastery to choose the ablest of them all to represent the school. This monk had to prove to be mentally very strong and physically be able to run long distances.

Like the Japanese Sen-nichi-kaihou, the Tibetan monks had to run for long distances. Harrer noted, the monk has to run for ‘hundred or more kilometres to Lhasa without food, drink or rest. On reaching the holy city, the runner is received with due reverence by a guard of honour. He then runs up the many stone steps of the Potala where the Dalai Lama presents him with a white silk scarf in recognition of his feat”.

Then the monk is embraced as a member of the Tibetan nobility. “He is rewarded and honoured as a yogi, a man who is able to free his soul from material things.”

Harrer noted, “With exceptional skills such as these, the Tibetan trance runners would have achieved great success at the Olympic games and their country would have received widespread recognition. Even without their super sensory talents, living and training at altitudes between four and six-thousand meters alone would have given them a huge advantage over athletes from other nations.”

Tshampa

Bhutan has a few trance runners but unlike Tibet there are no schools for training or festivals to showcase their running skills.

I know three such monks in the country who are believed to possess the skills to walk long distances in short time. Over the years I have met them many times and recorded their stories.

Two things these adepts share are their age. While two are over 80 years old the other was ten years younger but all three of them have been spent most of their lives solitary retreats.

While they live illusive lives, most Bhutanese know about them and have high respect for them. Tsham Penjor is about 70 years old, Lopen Kado (over 80) and Lopen  Chuki Lotay (82) are the greatest meditation masters in the country. So far all three of them have evaded my question about the subject but the two adepts agree that Lopen Chuki is an accomplished Trance Runner.

Lopen Chuki 

I first met the master in 1995 in Paro where he came to perform the last rites of my grandfather. My uncle and I were given the responsibility to drop him to Thimphu and then escort him to his retreat house in Phajoding (3690m) on top of the hill in Thimphu. The walk to the retreat house used to take over four hours of strenuous climbing.

At that time, I was 22 years old and being a sportsman was fit but the Lopen was about 65 years old and looked frail. Yet he could walk effortlessly and my uncle and I found it hard to keep up with him.

UntitledThe Lopen carried a cloth bag that he slung over his shoulder and wore cheap Chinese plastic shoes with no socks. He pulled up his monk robe to his ankles and for once I did not hear him pant or see him short of breath.

During the four-hour climb, he would occasionally stop near a chorten and wait for us and offer us betel nuts, which he chewed rather aggressively.

Finally, when we reached his monastery, which is on the ridge on the mountain above 4000 m, I found out that my shirt was completely drenched in sweat and I had to stay near the fire to keep dry the shirt and keep myself warm. As expected at that altitude I was out of breath and it took a while before I could refill my lungs with air. But the Lopen did not show any of the signs and had quickly lit the fire and was busy preparing tea for us.

The Lopen is better known by his nickname Lopen Boso Karp. He was the Yangbi Lopen, which is one of the top four spiritual masters of the Central Monk Body. After he retried he chose to spend his time mediating in his retreat house in Phajoding above the Thimphu valley.

Like my family, many people also invite him to their house and escorted him back to the monastery. Over the years people started to realize his walking ability and soon word spread. It was only when his colleagues from the monk body confirmed this special ability people started to associate him with Lung Gompa. Many of his colleagues attribute this to his ability to ride the wind.

Over the last five years, I have walked back to Phajoding monastery three times to meet the authority on the subject and try my luck in obtaining any information but have not been successful.

The closest I have come is in the winter of 2009 when I walked with my cousin, Major Sonam Nima.

It had just snowed that Sunday and it slowed our pace. Unfortunately, when we reached the monastery we found that Lopen was in a year retreat.

So instead we landed up talked to his nephew (25) monk who served as his attendant.

Tshewang Norbu was friendly and offered us hot butter tea soon we started talking in his small kitchen.

I carefully broached the subject and did not expect to hear anything. Surprisingly, he had few things to say about it.

He said that all his friends told him that his master could ride the wind. He was convinced because he had walked with him many times before. Pressing for details he said that his master always carried bags of tea, packets of sugar and milk powder in his cloth shoulder bag. He walked comfortable wearing formal red leather shoes.

Norbu is from a farming village in Haa and was used to hardship. He was fit and could walk for many hours. He said often during the climb from Thimphu to Phajoding, his master would wait chewing betel nut for him and in gist told him, “The monks these days can’t walk.”

Norbu has heard many stories of his master’s ability to ride the wind. He revealed, “I once asked him to teach me to ride the wind.” Norbu said his master looked at him and said, “Don’t be ridiculous.” Since then he has not broached the subject.

Just before we left he said, “My master will complete his retreat in April, Why don’t you come back then and ask him the question.” As we got up to leave the kitchen, I looked out of the window and saw the Lopen with his upper torso bare sitting in an upright position and I could notice his white hair.

It is said that Buddhist masters such as the Lopen Chuki are capable of suspending their state of mind. This esoteric forms the core of tantric practises such as fast walking and because it is considered secret is the least studied and most liable to be misunderstood. In the words of Dutch Buddhalogist, J.W de Jong, “Tantrism is still the most neglected branch of Buddhist text studies.”

Esoteric Buddhism radically reinterprets the journey of the spiritual enlightenment. It assumes that everybody is capable of embarking on this great journey but our weak psychological and unclear sensory foundations delay or prevents us from experiencing this bliss.

Subjects such as trance runners are never discussed in public.  The monks consider it a tantric, secret practise but it’s been said that if you prove your motivation they are willing to teach.

Harrer was also intrigued but not as successful in extracting any information. He said that he was able to discuss his idea only with his closet friends. The Tibetans regarded the trance runners of the Lung Gompa solely as a religious ceremony.

He said that the powerful Regent would dispense severe punishment to any one who tried to irreligious exploit these runner’s almost supernatural abilities. In the end of Harrer’s seven years in the Forbidden City, he concluded that he did not, “ever seek to prove, or disprove, whether Tibetan was really able to separate his spirit from his body.”

Over the years, accomplished Buddhist masters have passed down these teachings through intellectual discourse to students who have demonstrated their ability and proven their motivation.

Hermits in Bhutan say that these teachings are most oral and confirmed that they are passed down from masters to only those deserving monks who have attained advanced level of meditation.

Written by Tshering Tashi

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