Under the Roof of the World

The Sherpas
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2020 / February

Tony Lee /photos courtesy of Tony Lee /tr. by Brandon Yen


I am a photographer who loves outdoor activities. I developed an interest in sport, as well as in mountain hiking, after moving to Canada at the age of 13.

Located on the border between Nepal and China, Everest—the world’s highest mountain—is an earthly paradise that many people dream about. Of course it is also one of those places I feel I have to visit before I die.


Mt. Everest was conquered for the first time in 1953, a momentous event that brought immediate fame to the place and the Sherpa people. At that time the Sherpa villages in Nepal were still primeval, combining traditional agrarian and nomadic ways of life.

Since 1953, within a space of just 67 years, visitors and non-governmental organizations from all over the world have arrived on the scene, enabling the local Sherpas to subsist entirely on the tourist industry. However, despite the economic gains derived from tourism, the Sherpas’ traditional culture has been severely impacted.

Five centuries ago, the Sherpas’ ancestors—a group of some 50 people with a large herd of yaks—fled to Lhasa from their war-ravaged home in today’s Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in China’s Sichuan Province. They hoped to settle permanently in this holy and peaceful place.

However, in 1531-1533, when invading Muslim troops arrived on the outskirts of Lhasa, these people fled again to what is today China’s border county of Tingri. Because their yaks destroyed crops, they were plunged into conflicts with local people.

Among the Sherpa ancestors there was a hunter called Kira Gombu Doje. Having spotted a Himalayan musk deer in the ice-clad mountains, he followed it with his hound. Never did he guess that the deer would lead them over one steep mountain after another to Khumbu, a pristine place full of spirituality.

Even today, the Sherpas believe that the musk deer that showed their ancestors the way to Nepal was an incarna­tion of the local mountain deity, Khumbu Yül-Lha. The Nepali region of Khumbu, where many Sherpas live, also derives its name from this legend.

The Sherpas are pious adherents of Tibetan Buddhism, and religion plays a significant role in Sherpa culture. According to Tibetan Buddhist scriptures circulated in the region, Khumbu was one of 108 holy places tucked away between Tibet and the Himalayas.

There is an ancient legend among the Sherpas that Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche (the deity who gave rise to Tibetan Buddhism), traveled from Tibet to spend some time in Nangpa La. When he entered the Khumbu region he flew into a huge bell-shaped cave, where he subjected himself to austere spiritual practices.

The locals venerated him and took meticulous care of him. When Guru Rinpoche had achieved his aim of enlightenment and was about to leave, he wanted to give something to the villagers. He asked: “Would you like me to build in your country a Buddhist pagoda, where wisdom abides? Or would you like me to exercise my divine power and protect this pristine place by means of high mountains and snow?” The locals chose the latter.

According to the scriptures, Guru Rinpoche carried out his religious study in many of the caves on the ­precipices in Khumbu, one of which is photographed here. Over the past 400 years, many lamas and rinpoches have also come here to pursue their spiritual enlightenment.

For the Sherpas, the rainy season coincides with the low season for tourism. Owing to the absence of visitors, many locals are able to enjoy their family lives to the fullest. Therefore, only during the wet season can we gain a deeper insight into how the Sherpas really live.

In fact the Sherpas are particularly busy from June to August every year because the rainy season witnesses two special events, the more important one being the Dumji Festival, which features ritualistic offerings. This festival, inaugurated some four centuries ago, celebrates the birth of Padmasambhava on the tenth day of the fifth month of the Tibetan calendar (the month of the monkey). In the Gregorian calendar, it falls between late June and early July.

The Dumji Festival is known for its highly complex rituals. There are various vajra dances. During the interval the deity of longevity, Mi Tsering, arrives to confer a jolly mood upon the attendees. And then there are annual rites of exorcism, where masked lamas, who represent the deities, shoot flaming arrows at piles of offerings that symbolize ill fortune and evil spirits.

What is most touching for me is that on this day, all people are treated equally regardless of their gender, age, religion, ethnicity and social class. They pray, dine, give and receive as one community. Everyone endeavors to cultivate humility, and order and politeness reign throughout the place.

The Sherpas are not only mountain guides. Their home in the Himalayas is also a place where culture and etiquette bloom.                                                                                             

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世界屋脊下的故事

──雪巴人

文‧李安峰 圖‧李安峰

我是一位熱愛戶外運動的攝影師,13歲移民加拿大後,就愛上了運動,也熱中於登山健行。

聖母峰,那座落於尼泊爾與中國邊境交界的世界最峰,幾乎是許多人夢想中的人間仙境,當然也列入我這一輩子一定要走一趟的夢想。


1953年人類第一次登上聖母峰,一夕之間聖母峰與雪巴人舉世聞名。當時尼泊爾的雪巴村莊還停留在最原始、最純樸的農業與遊牧生活型態。

從1953年至今的短短67年裡,來自全世界的旅客、NGO團體紛至沓來,讓在地的雪巴人可以完全仰賴觀光為生,雖改善了雪巴人的收入與生活,但也讓雪巴人經歷了一波波的文化浩劫。

500年前,雪巴人因為戰亂,一個50多人的隊伍,從今天四川省甘孜縣的藏族自治區,帶著大量的氂牛群,逃到了拉薩,希望可以在這個神聖和平的地方,安居樂業。

無奈1531-1533年之際,穆斯林大軍打到了拉薩外圍,這群人又逃到了今天中國邊疆的定日縣。由於氂牛群會破壞高海拔的作物,與當地人發生了許多衝突。

50位雪巴先人中,有一位名叫Kira Gombu Doje的獵人,在群山冰川中看到了一頭喜馬拉雅山麝鹿(Musk Deer),他帶著獵犬,緊跟在後。沒想到這頭麝鹿,帶著他們穿越了層層險峻高山,找到了Khumbu這片修行的淨土。

至今,雪巴人還是認為當年的那頭麝鹿,就是當地的山神──Khumbu Yül-Lha的化身,帶領著雪巴人進到了尼泊爾。這也是其中一個雪巴之鄉「Khumbu」地名的由來。

雪巴人虔信藏傳佛教,宗教也在雪巴文化中,有著一席不可動搖的地位。根據流傳於Khumbu的藏傳佛教經典裡的記載,Khumbu這個地區,也是108個藏於西藏與喜馬拉雅山之間的聖地之一。

雪巴祖先有個傳說,藏傳佛教的創始之神,蓮花生大士(Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche)遠從西藏,到了Nangpa La,進到了Khumbu區域,祂飛到了一個非常大的洞穴,在一個鐘形的洞穴裡修行。

當地的百姓非常的敬重祂,細心照顧供養祂,在Guru Rinpoche閉關修煉完畢後,離開前問了村民希望什麼樣的禮物。祂問道:「你們會希望我在你們的國度裡賜給你們一座充滿智慧的佛塔,還是以我的神力用高山與雪保護這塊淨土?」而當地的百姓選擇了保護這塊淨土。

據經典記載,Guru Rinpoche曾經在Khumbu很多懸崖峭壁上的洞穴修行,照片中的洞穴就是其一。400年來,有許許多多的喇嘛及仁波切也在此修行。

雨季,對雪巴⼈來說是觀光旅遊業的淡季。因為沒有觀光客,許多家庭才得以享受家庭團圓的天倫之樂,也只有雨季才可以觀察到雪巴人真正的生活。

其實在每年的6月~8月之間,雪巴人格外忙碌。因為在雨季裡會有兩個特殊的節慶,其中最重要的莫過於Dumji Festival(Offering Ritual)。 這個節慶是400多年前為了慶祝蓮花生大士的壽誕之日。每年藏曆的5月10日,也就是猴月(國曆6月底~7月初)。

Dumji Festival有非常錯綜複雜的儀式,有各式各樣的金剛舞;以及中場休息帶給人們歡樂氣氛的神靈「長壽之神」Mi Tsering;也有由喇嘛穿戴代表神靈的面具,用火弓箭射向一堆堆象徵厄運與邪靈形體的供品,為人們燒除一年來厄運的儀式。

最讓我感動的是,在這天,不分男女老少,不分宗教種族,不分貧富貴賤。在儀式現場,彼此一視同仁。大家一起祈禱、一起吃飯、一起付出,眾人學習謙卑,全場井然有序,彬彬有禮。

雪巴人不只是登山客的嚮導,雪巴之鄉也是喜馬拉雅山上的禮儀之邦!     

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