WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: Buddhism holds that sentient beings are diverse in their aspirations, interests, calibres and temperament. Thus, it proposes a wide range of methods and techniques to tame and enlighten them. There are sentient beings who can be liberated through peaceful methods such as teachings on non-violence and others who can be converted through use of wealth or magnetising powers. There are yet other beings such as malevolent and aggressive spirits, who cannot be pacified by peaceful methods. Such wild beings have to be helped through the use of compassionate force or violence. Thus, tantric Buddhism advocates four major categories of activities to help sentient beings: pacifying (zhiwa), intensifying (gyepa), magnetising (wang) and terrifying (dragpo) modes.

The ritual of kago, which most Bhutanese asks a lama to conduct, is a terrifying mode of enlightened activity through which the lama commands a malevolent spirit to stop harming a particular person. When a person ask the lama to do kago, the lama mentally takes the form a wrathful Buddha such as Vajrapani or Hayagriva, chants the associated mantra to cultivate spiritual power and then invokes the power of the enlightened beings and power of truth. Wielding these powers, the lama will then orders the spirit to stop harming the person. If the spirit disobeys, the lama, using his spiritual power and enlightened wrath, threatens to destroy the spirit through violent force and make the spirit’s head splinter into a hundred pieces. In the process, the lama will recite terrifying mantras and cast mustard seeds at the recipient to chase away the spirit. Then the lama visualises a circular fence around the kago recipient to protect the person from further harm.

Thus, the ritual of kago is basically giving a threatening order to the spirits to stop causing any harm. A highly enlightened lama can give a kago effectively and those who recite mantras properly to cultivate their power may also conduct the kago well. If a lama doesn’t have the power to scare away the spirit, it is pointless to give kago. In fact, the spirits may be provoked to cause more trouble.

Kago should not be sought as the first remedy as Buddhism doesn’t promote aggression as a way of dealing with problems. The first option for dealing with harmful spirits should be through love, compassion and other peaceful methods. Only when they fail, a lama may use the terrifying method of kago. Compassionate lamas are often reluctant to conduct kago because kago requires them to be aggressive towards the spirits who are also sentient beings deserving love and compassion.

If one has to receive kago, one must not only do it for oneself to avoid harm by evil spirits. One must do so out of compassion in order to stop the spirits from causing unnecessary harm and accumulating negative karma for themselves.

Dr Karma Phuntsho, is the founding director of Loden Foundation and author of The History of Bhutan


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