Hemis Monastery

Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir





Hemis Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Drukpa Lineage, located in Hemis, Ladakh, India. Situated 45 km from Leh, the monastery was re-established in 1672 by the Ladakhi king Sengge Namgyal. The annual Hemis festival honoring Padmasambhava is held here in early June.

Hemis Monastery existed before the 11th century. Naropa, the pupil of the yogi Tilopa, and teacher of the translator Marpa is connected with this monastery. A translation was made by A. Grünwedel (N?ro und Tilo,: Festschrift Ernst Kuhn, München 1916) of Naropa's biography that was found in Hemis monastery.

In this manuscript Naropa (or Naro) meets the "dark blue" (Skr.: nila: dark blue or black) Tilopa (or Tillo), a tantric master, who gives Naropa 12 "great" and 12 "small" tasks to do in order to enlighten him to the inherent emptiness/illusoriness of all things. Naropa is depicted as the "abbott of Nalanda" (F. Wilhelm, Prüfung und Initiation im Buche Pausya und in der Biographie des Naropa, Wiesbaden 1965, p. 70), the university-monastery in today's Bihar, India, that flourished until the sacking by Turkish and Afghan Muslim forces. This sacking must have been the driving force behind Naropa's peregrination in the direction of Hemis. After Naropa and Tilopa met in Hemis they travelled back in the direction of a certain monastery in the now no longer existing kingdom of Magadha, called Otantra which has been identified as today's Odantapuri. Naropa is considered the founding father of the Kagyu-lineage of the Himalayan esoteric Buddhism. Hence Hemis is the main seat of the Kagyu lineage of Buddhism.

In 1894 Russian journalist Nicolas Notovitch claimed Hemis as the origin of an otherwise unknown gospel, the Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men, in which Jesus is said to have traveled to India during his "lost years." According to Notovitch, the work had been preserved in the Hemis library, and was shown to him by the monks there while he was recuperating from a broken leg. But once his story had been re-examined by historians, it is claimed that Notovitch confessed to having fabricated the evidence. The controversial bible scholar Bart D. Ehrman states that "Today there is not a single recognized scholar on the planet who has any doubts about the matter. The entire story was invented by Notovitch, who earned a good deal of money and a substantial amount of notoriety for his hoax".

The Indian Pandit Swami Abhedananda also claims to have read the same manuscript, and published his account of viewing it after his visit to Hemis in 1921. Abhedananda claims on the book jacket that it was translated for him with the help of a "local Lama interpreter." However, after Abhedananda's death, one of his disciples admitted that when he went to the monastery to ask about the documents he was told that they had disappeared. In the same vein, Notovich did not initially translate the manuscript, but reported his Sherpa guide did so as Notovitch could not read the original text. Notovich's version of the manuscript was translated from Tibetan to Russian to French to English. According to Swami Abhedananda's account, his Lama's translation was equivalent to the one published by Notovich.


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