WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: Like the Preu Chod festival, the Trelda Tshechu (སྤྲེལ་ཟླ་ཚེས་བཅུ་) or 10th day of Monkey month is also celebrated as the anniversary of Guru Rinpoche, the foremost spiritual master and divinity who can be considered the patron saint of Bhutan. Trelda, according to the common Bhutanese and Tibetan calendars, is the fifth Bhutanese month although some calendar systems consider the 3rd, 4th or 6th Bhutanese months as Monkey month. The Gongdue tradition, for instance, identifies the Monkey month with the 6th Hor or Mongolian month, which would coincide with the 6th Bhutanese month. Thus, the identification of Trelda is not straightforward although all sources agree Guru Rinpoche was born on the 10th day of the Monkey month in Monkey year.

According the famous kathang biographies of Guru Rinpoche, he is believed to have taken a miraculous birth on this day on a lotus in the middle of lustrous and immaculate Dhanakośa lake in modern day Swat valley of Pakistan. He is described as a self-born emanation without father and mother (ཕ་དང་མ་མེད་རང་བྱུང་སྤྲུལ་པའི་སྐུ་) and his name Padmasambhava/Padmakara or Lotus Born (པདྨ་འབྱུང་གནས་) is obviously derived from this lotus birth although some sources do mention human parents. When asked about his identity, the child Guru Rinpoche is supposed to have said: “My father is innate awareness and my mother the perfect sphere of reality. I belong to the caste that is non-duality of the reality and awareness and I am from the unborn sphere of truth. I consume conceptions of duality and I live to destroy the afflictive emotions.”

The kathang literature also present him as the immediate incarnation of the historical Buddha and often apply the epithet, the second Buddha, to Guru Rinpoche and date his birth eight or twelve years after the Buddha passed into Mahāparinirvāna. The young Padmasambhava is said to have been then adopted by the childless King Indrabhuti of Oddiyāna Kingdom. Padmasambhava spent his early youth enjoying a luxurious princely life in the palace but later left to seek spirituality, in the footsteps of the historical Buddha.

Today, Bhutanese across the nation celebrate the birth of Guru Rinpoche during Trelda Tshechu. Many religious and meditation rituals involving the worship of Padmasambhava are conducted, large artistic paintings and applique thongdrols depicting him are unfurled and mask dances enacting his life performed in the temples and dzongs.  Most Bhutanese would visit temples and holy sites to pay homage to Guru Rinpoche and pray for health, wealth, long life, safety, happy rebirth, success in business, exams and virtually in all affairs of life. Bhutanese particularly pray to Guru Rinpoche on this day as he has made a pledge to visit his devotees on this day in person, through emanations, vision, dreams or some other forms.

Due to this belief, the devout followers of Vajrayāna Buddhism, which he introduced in Bhutan, spend the Monkey month, and particularly the 10th day in the full awareness of Guru Rinpoche’s transcendental and enlightened state and make prayers and offerings to him. The Bhutanese world is believed to be imbued with Guru Rinpoche’s presence and blessings. In addition to this, occasions such as Preu Chod and Trelda give a powerful time to carry out the spiritual practices connected to Guru Rinpoche and to remember the inner values of non-violence, compassion, wisdom and enlightenment which Guru Rinpoche so thoroughly embodies.

Dr Karma Phuntsho is the President of the Loden Foundation, director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’ Cultural Documentation and author The History of Bhutan.


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