Asura Cave Guru Rinpoche Marpa Lotsawa Padmasambhava Pharping Vajrayogini Yangleshö

Pharping – The Sacred Site of Asura Cave and Yangleshö

Pharping Azura Cave Monastery

Every year Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche leads several seminars and retreats in Asura Cave monastery in Pharping. Many of us have heard that Asura Cave is a very special, yet we are often a bit unsure what exactly happened there and why it is so special. Thus I wanted to share with you, what I have found out so far. 

Pharping is a small but expanding village about 16 km southwest of Kathmandu, on a hillside above the main valley. Pharping (pronounced “Farping” by the Nepalis) is known to the Tibetans as Yangleshö and also sometimes as Phamting, as some say it is the birthplace of the Phamtingpa, the heart-­‐son of Naropa. Chatral Rinpoche explains that the ‘Indian Phamting’ (Tib. rgya gar pham thing) derives its name from the presence of the great hood of the Naga king Lhakmachen or Shesha, which marks it as a site of his power. As such, learned masters of the past used to called it Phanathingu (Tib. pha na thinggu), which means ‘the nine hoods’. Eventually it was pronounced Phamting. In general the sacred site of Yangleshö is referring to the whole area of Pharping. 

However more specifically it is referring to two caves in which Guru Rinpoche is said to have meditated. One is located on the hillside behind and above Pharping, commonly known as Azura Cave or the ‘Upper cave of Yangleshö’. The other one is located slightly below Pharping, about a five-­‐minute walk outside of town and known as ‘Lower cave of Yangleshö’ or simply Yangleshö.

Pharping has not only been blessed by Guru Rinpoche, it has been also visited by many great beings, like long term resident Marpa Lotsawa, who practiced, made offerings, ganachakra feasts, aspiration prayers and so on.

Padmasambhava, affectionately called Guru Rinpoche by Tibetans, is the great saint who is said to have brought Buddhism in the 8th century to Tibet and established and blessed it’s first monastery called Samye. Although there are many places Guru Rinpoche travelled to, what makes Yangleshö a particular special place is, that Guru Rinpoche is said to have attained enlightenment here. Thus Yangleshö is considered to be as important as Bodhgaya for practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism.

From “A Great Treasure of Blessings” in the life story of Guru Rinpoche it says: “Then at Yangleshö, present day Pharping in Nepal, Padmasambhava practiced the sadhana of Yangdak Heruka with the consort Shakyadevi, daughter of a king of Nepal. Powerful spirits caused a three-­‐year drought, with famine and disease, and Padmasambhava asked his teachers in India for a teaching to counter them. Two men returned, laden with the tantras and commentaries of Vajrakilaya, and the moment they arrived, the obstacles were pacified. Guru Rinpoche and Shakyadevi both attained the third vidyadhara level, ‘vidyadhara of the great seal, or mahamudra’. Guru Rinpoche recognized that Yangdak is like a merchant engaging in trade-­‐the achievement can be great, but so can the obstacles, whereas Vajrakilaya is like an armed escort; he is needed to guard against obstacles and overcome them. He then composed sadhanas of Yangdak and Vajrakilaya combined, and bound the guardians of Vajrakilaya to protect the teachings.”

Asura Cave:

Asura cave (Tib. Asure Trak Phuk) lies amidst a forest poised above Pharping village proper. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche began his restoration of the cave in the late 1980’s, and then founded the monastery and 3-­‐year retreat center now known as Guru Drubne Pema Ösel Ling. The entire village of Pharping and the surrounding valleys are visible from the monastery, and on clear days one can see Himalayan snow-­‐capped peaks towering in the far distance. The sun shines on the cave from morning to evening and thus serves makes it an ideal place for meditation during the colder winter months. 

Pharping Azura Cave

Hand Print:
Various accounts are told about who set this handprint in solid rock outside the entrance of the cave. Most people agree that Guru Rinpoche did not make it. According to one story, a close disciples and followers of Samten Gyatso, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s root teacher, made the handprint.

Main Images:
The three main images enshrined inside the cave are those of Guru Rinpoche in the middle, Yangdak Heruka to his right and Vajrakilaya to his left.

Crack in the Ceiling:
It is said that during his stay at Asura Cave in the late 1980’s, Jigkme Phuntsok Rinpoche revealed a terma in the form of a phurba from the ceiling of the cave, which is now in the possession of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Small Tunnel:
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche explains that: “In the innermost recesses of the Asura Cave is a tunnel that connects the Asura cave to the Yangleshö Cave down below, about half a mile away. It is not a big hole. Wind passes through this passage and you can feel the draft when sitting near it. Although Padmasambhava could traverse freely through solid matter, he used this narrow tunnel to move between Yangleshö Cave and the upper Asura Cave.”

Self-­‐Arisen ཨ་ “A” – Syllable:
It is found on the left side of the cave just below an electric bulb that had been installed in the rock.

Sacred Sights in the Surrounding Area
Self-­‐Arisen Tara Image:
Following the main street through Pharping that leads uphill towards the end of the village, you will reach a staircase leading up to a monastery complex. This is Ralo Rinpoche’s monastery. Immediate to your right is a small shrine, which contains an image of Ganesha, and on its right side, two small self-­‐arisen Tara images. However, only one of them is clearly visible. The shrine above accommodates statues of the twenty-­‐one Taras. If you wish you can offer a butter lamp or money to the shrine.

Vajrayogini Temple:
It is said that Marpa Lotsawa visited this temple in total three times on his way from Tibet to India and back. Either following the main street through Pharping that leads uphill towards the middle of a village, to your right side is a small road leading uphill. The road will lead you to the second staircase leading up to Asura cave and at it’s beginning to the Vajrayogini temple. This is one of the four or five Vajrayoini temples of the Kathmandu valley. The others are located in Sankhu, near Swaymbhunath, below the hill of Pashupatinath (Guhyeshwari), and in Chapagan. Once you entered the main gate, the Varjayogini statue is found on the first floor, following a small staircase to your left. The shrine is often closed, however if the caretaker is present he or she will open the shrine for you. It is not allowed to take pictures of the image. . If you wish you can offer some money to the caretaker, which will be used for offerings and maintenance.

Yangleshö Cave:

Pharping Yanglesho Monastery

Just before one reaches Pharping, several large ponds and Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche’s monastery enclose the lower cave of Yangleshö. It can hardly be missed and lies, within a 10-­‐minute’s walk from Pharping. The cave is located just below a 10 m high rocky slope and is shadowed by forest during much of the day. Thus it serves as a cool place to meditate during the hot monsoon months. Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche built a small monastery and retreat center there. On the left before walking up the cave are various sized pools of water that bubble up from the natural spring in the rock below. Hindus worship this place as a holy site of Visnu and say that the stone formations above the Hindu shrine are the udders of a cow, which produce milk on auspicious occasions. Further up to the right of the Hindu Shrine, is the ‘cave’ itself. Although it is not an actual cave, but rather a rock shelter that has been partly sealed with concrete. It is still possible to enter the shelter when its gate in unlocked. Inside is a shrine with a statue of Guru Rinpoche and in the ceiling of the cave is a visible print of Guru Rinpoches head.

~Stefan from Germany