A Magical Visit To A Traditional Tibetan Oracle For Faith Healing in Ladakh
Since I first read about the tradition of the Tibetan Oracles who, clothed in their colorful robes and glorious headgear, enter into trance and are able to predict the future and heal all sorts of ailments, I have secretly wanted to meet one and to participate in this sacred ritual that dates back thousands of years.
Our days in Ladakh were passing fast, with visits to amazing monasteries perched high on remote mountains with breathtaking views of the Himalayas.
The inner walls of those Gompas are painted with old Buddhist paintings, and sometimes, when no other tourists were around, we sat in the back of the halls and quietly meditated, blending our consciousness with that of so many monks who have meditated there for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Between visits to ancient palaces and monasteries, we have enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of Leh, dining on yak cheese pizza, veg noodle soup, fresh juices and steamed veg Momos (dumplings).
The days were flying by, and it almost felt like I might have to let go of my secret dream of meeting with an oracle.
Faith healers, Oracles and Shamans have always fascinated me.
I believe that all healing, even “modern medicine,” involves faith on some level.
A person believes that the medicine or an operation can heal him, and so it does.
If the doctors have no faith in the patient’s chances for recovery, chances are the patient will not heal.
In my heart, I wanted the experience of seeing faith healing so badly, that I was afraid that it would not happen.
So I made an inner prayer to my Higher Self and Spiritual Guides, and asked for the chance to visit amTibetan Oracle on this trip.
We spoke to every Tibetan person we met and casually asked if they knew any oracles that we could visit.
A female oracle is called Lhamo in Tibetan, while a male oracle is called Lhabo.
The woman at the Leh information center, told us that there is a famous Lhamo in the nearby town of Choglamsar.
She told us to take a shared taxi there for only a few rupees, but when we asked if she knows of a guide who spoke English and could translate for us, she noncommittally said that we should go to any of the travel agencies in town and ask for a day guide and a translator.
We then asked two of the drivers we hired about visiting a Lhamo.
One did not know of any, but the receptionist at the guesthouse said that there was one in a remote village.
The drive there was three hours each way, and the Lhamo cannot be reached by phone to make sure she would be home, so we might be spending six hours in the car on rough roads for nothing.
The other driver told us that because of a festival that was happening in Hemis Monastery, most of the people would be at the festival, and probably the Lhamo would not be accepting patients these days.
Since we visited the Hemis Monastery’s festival on its first day, we knew that he might be right.
The Tibetan Naropa festival occurs only once in twelve years.
We saw tens of thousands of people and hundreds of tents spread across the fields leading to Hemis Monastery.
People were there camping in tents so they could participate in the multi-day and evening festivities.
We did not know how to go about visiting an oracle, but I had faith that if I kept on asking, something would manifest.
This morning, we hired a driver to take us to see the Stok Palace and the Spituk Monastery.
As I spoke to the hotel’s owner, I impulsively asked if he could arrange for us to visit a Lhamo Oracle.
He said that he would speak to the driver and that we could stop along the way in the town of Choglamsar, to see if the Lhamo were home and was accepting patients.
As we neared the dusty town of Choglamsar, I started crossing my fingers with hope that it would happen.
The oracle’s house was up a dirt road from the busy, smoky and noisy Main Street .
In the courtyard of the house, we saw six women with three children crouching in the shade, waiting for the Lhamo to start.
When the Lhamo saw Jules and I waiting in the garden, she invited us into her house to sit inside.
We took off our shoes and entered the house.
In a simple room with large windows covered in curtains, she asked us to sit on the carpet, and then served us tea.
She told us that her name is Padma Lhamo and her daughter, who speaks English, will translate for us.
She asked us where we came from and how did we find her.
We told her that we came from the mountains of Colorado, USA and that we asked around town to meet a Lhamo, and were brought to her.
We sat and chatted with the Lhamo and her lovely daughter.
Padma was born in a village next to the Chinese border and moved to this town.
She told us she was fifty-two and was doing this for 27 years.
She has three children, an older son, the girl who translated for us, and a younger daughter.
Her husband had left her and she now lives alone with her children.
They seemed curious about us and I showed them photos of my art and of the Colorado mountains and of New Zealand.
She told us that a film crew for the Discovery Channel had made a documentary about her and that she was invited by a Buddhist temple in Singapore for two months, to perform healing there.
She said she had clients who came from all over the world.
She asked me what was I seeking healing for.
The truth is that I simply wanted to see faith healing with my own eyes, but I wasn’t about to tell her that, since it would seem like we are curious tourists and not humble seekers.
I do have a twitch in my left eye which occurs every once in a while and seems uncontrollable.
It started happening many years ago at a very stressful time in my life.
A doctor has found nothing wrong with me, and suggested a Botox injection which will paralyze the small eye muscles and prevent the eye from twitching.
He said that it will NOT heal the twitch, just paralyze the muscles for a little while, and that I will need to keep getting Botox injections periodically.
Of course I refused this treatment.
Injecting a poisonous substance into the muscles around my eye, seemed to me to be pure witchcraft, suggested to me by a “Modern Medicine Doctor.”
I had NO faith in this “modern” treatment and in my mind’s eye, I could see that if I followed his advice, my face would become paralyzed and my left eye would droop down over time.
Angrily I left his office and never returned.
Padma Lhamo told us that she specializes in healing of all sorts of physical and mental ailments.
Other oracles can tell fortunes and predict the future, predict marriage compatibility, offer business advice, predict the growing season of the crops or offer spiritual guidance.
Padma told us that she works every day and that about forty people come for healing daily.
She added that because of the Naropa festival in Hemis Monastery, not many people would come today for healing.
I counted twenty one people in the room including us.
At about eleven thirty, Padma invited the rest of the people who were waiting outside, to come in.
By now there were men, women, and children, but only two other visitors from out of town, one from Chennai who told us that he had come all the way from Chennai just to see the oracle, seeking healing for his spiritual Guru who was sick.
The other man, who was friends with the man from Chennai, had come from Delhi. He told us that he had had knee surgery but that his knee is still swollen and painful. They both planned to leave Ladakh the next day, even though there is a festival that will begin just a day later – they had truly come just to see the oracle.
Padma changed her clothes to a traditional Tibetan dress with a colorful shoulder garment.
She carefully cleaned small copper bowls and filled each one with either water, flour, barley grains, oil, butter, and a red liquid which seemed to be alcohol or gasoline.
She lit an oil lamp and incense sticks and put them into the barley bowl.
She wrapped her mouth with a red scarf and tied another red scarf on her forehead and behind her ears.
When she finished, you could see only her eyes.
Then she put on a beautiful headgear which was made from five images of the Buddha, all sewn into a crown that resembled five large lotus leaves sprouting from her head.
She put on recorded chanting music, and started chanting the Tibetan mantra OM MANI PADME HUM.
She then lit juniper and peels of dried fruit in a large metal incense burner, and smoke filled the room.
I found it harder to breathe, but nobody else was bothered by it, and soon I became too fascinated by what was happening to be bothered by the smoke.
Padma went outside and poured water on her face, and then ran back inside, dripping water and uttering short yelps of loud guttural sounds.
She was no longer Padma, she was now possessed by the Lhamo Oracle.
She prostrated herself on the rug a few times, pressing her clasped hands to her forehead, neck and heart repeatedly, many times over.
The prostrating, chanting, yelping, ringing of her brass bell, praying, and beating her drum, are an invitation for a Spirit to enter and take over her body.
Spirits that possess an oracle during trance are usually said to be from the pantheon of Buddhist deities, but sometimes lesser-known deities, or even those from other religions, can control the oracles.
She was in a trance, praying, chanting, yelping, yelling, rolling her drum, dipping her Vajra into the bowl containing the oil and throwing barely grains all over the crowd.
We were given white Katas (Buddhist scarves that are used for blessings) to hold and later to present to her when we were called forward to ask for healing and explain our ailments.
Generally, the oracle works with several patients at the same time and talks with each about their ailments before performing the actual healing, which involves sucking out disease causing substances and tumors from the patients’ bodies.
The oracle also acts as an exorcist, expelling malignant spirits believed to be the cause of dis-ease in the patients.
By that time, the Lhamo had a different look in her eyes.
No longer the gentle shy grandmother, her eyes appeared ancient and compassionate.
She beckoned each of us to come forwards and describe our ailments.
The crowd squeezed forwards.
I was in the front row.
She speaks only Tibetan while in trance, not Ladakhi nor Bhodi.
A mother with twin boys of about four years of age, pulled up their pants to expose boils and ulcers on their legs and on their backs.
Her eyes showed genuine helplessness as to how to help her young boys.
The boys cried in fear.
A few women came forwards with severe migraine headaches.
The man from Delhi exposed his knee after his operation, and the man from Chennai whose guru was sick, came forward with a picture of his guru glued to a wooden cutout.
He also held his guru’s white shawl.
Three women expressed abdomen problems, and a woman said that her right shoulder and arm were hurting.
A man came forwards with eye problems, and an old toothless woman in traditional Tibetan clothing, had swollen knees.
For every question, the Lhamo threw a handful of grains on her Damaru, the small two headed drum she was playing constantly, and according to how many grains remained on the drum and what pattern they formed on the head of the drum, she interpreted the answer or asked the patient more questions.
These Damaru drums are a very important ritual objects for the Oracles.
The Damaru is traditionally made from the top part of two human skulls.
The use of the human skull is to remind people of the impermanence of the human body.
We saw a few of these sacred Damaru made of human skull and silver, in the little museums located inside the Monasteries around Ladakh.
When she signaled me to come forward, I explained the twitch in my left eye.
She asked if I had any vision problems and I answered that I do not, and that I use reading glasses but only rarely.
She asked me what is my religion.
I said that I am Jewish but that in my heart, I am hoping to become like the Buddha.
She said that to be a Buddhist, one has to do good towards others, meditate and chant and strive to become like the Buddha, full of light.
She said that many people who were born Buddhists do not understand the true meaning of the religion.
They do not understand that they have to try to become like the Buddha, instead of admiring him as a god.
“We must try. We might not succeed, but we must constantly try to find our own Buddha within.”
While she spoke, I thought about Christianity and how people do not try to become like Jesus, embodying the Christ-light within themselves, but see him as a god and beyond the reach of humans.
She said that later she would suck my eye and all will be well.
I felt comforted in a strange way…
The daughter who translated for me, had a young daughter who was less than two years young.
She was dressed in a lovely Tibetan tutu and she was moving around the room with the joy of a toddler.
While the oracle was talking, the little girl was sucking her mother’s breasts and the mother asked the patients questions and translated for them, while she was nursing her daughter.
I was one of the first who was called for healing.
I sat right in front of the oracle, and observed all the healings close up and in great detail.
My seat was right by the small bucket which the oracle used to spit into.
She first gargled with cold water and spat that water into the bucket.
She folded a white kata scarf over my left eye and put her mouth to the corner of my eye over the scarf, and started sucking.
She sucked and sucked repeatedly.
The sensation was not unpleasant, just very strange and unfamiliar.
Nobody had ever sucked my eye before!
After two minutes of sucking, she spat a brownish-black substance into the bucket.
It had the consistency of mucous.
She then took an old handmade knife with an ornate handle.
She handed it to a man and asked him to put it in the fire.
He returned with the knife, whose blade was now burning hot.
I could feel the heat of the blade as it neared my face, and my heart froze for a moment in fear.
But she did not intend to place the burning hot blade on my eye; she touched the hot blade to her tongue to show the patients her spiritual powers and invulnerability to the lower vibrations of this world.
Her tongue seemed unaffected by the heat.
After burning her tongue with the hot knife, she sprayed a small amount of spit over my eye.
She did this three times, placing the burning hot knife to her tongue and spraying me with saliva.
It wasn’t as if somebody spit on you, it was more like standing too close to a person who sprays saliva while he speaks.
The oracle went on to heal others.
She called a woman with migraine headaches forward.
She picked up a copper tube which looked like a very thick straw, and placed it at the top of the woman’s bowed head.
She started sucking the straw until after a few moments, she spat a brownish-greenish olive sized tumor into the bucket.
Then came a woman with an abdominal problem.
The oracle asked her to raise her sweater and expose her flat stomach.
She then pulled the woman forwards towards her.
Other women sat at the back of the woman, holding her as the oracle leaned her backwards and started sucking vigorously at her solar plexus.
After a few moments of sucking, the oracle spat out a large dark colored tumor, with an uneven shape.
It was about the size of a large coin, but not rounded.
At the place where she had sucked the tumor from the woman’s stomach remained a large red sucking mark with a tiny pinhole in the center.
There was no blood excreted, only the visible relaxation of the patient, who bowed in gratitude, placed a small donation in the oracle’s basket, and left the room.
Most patients left right after their healing session was over.
I, of course, stayed at the very front, right by the oracle, to observe each and every act of healing.
When it came time for the boys with the boils, she placed the copper tube to their tiny legs and sucked gently.
After sucking, she then placed her thumb over the tube to keep the liquid from flowing down.
When she placed the copper tube over her bucket, yellow pus ran through it in large amounts.
The little boys were crying uncontrollably, and the oracle asked the mother to calm them down.
The mother placed her hand over each little boy’s mouth, and as he saw that no pain would be inflicted on him, he relaxed.
The oracle gently placed the tube over their legs and backs and sucked out more yellow pus.
She then moved on to treat the other patients, sucking with the copper tube and releasing different colors of pus or mucous from their knees, heads, shoulders and stomachs.
For a split second, I thought to myself that she might be regurgitating those liquid substances and not really sucking them out of the patients’ bodies, but these substances were black, brownish, yellow, white or bluish in color and had a mucous and pus consistency.
They did not look at all like regurgitated food or water, and besides, I reminded myself, she sucked my eye and not for a second did she regurgitate, she was actively sucking the whole time and then spat out a brownish-blackish substance.
I was right next to her and I sure that she wasn’t regurgitating any of these tumors and substances.
She treated the old woman’s knees and spat a bluish liquid into the bucket, and another woman’s arm and shoulder, and removed more pus.
At times, she seemed to be actually inserting the tube below the skin, as the tube disappeared a few inches into the woman’s flat abdomen, but I could see no blood and no penetration of the skin.
There was always evil looking pus of varying colors, which she extracted from the ailing body parts.
Between patients, she gargled with clean water.
When it came the turn of the man from Chennai, he held his guru’s photo and shawl and the oracle asked him questions.
He pleaded with her to come to Chennai to perform a healing for his guru, who was too ill to travel to Ladakh.
He offered to pay all her expenses, but the oracle refused.
She said remote healing can be as effective as a personal touch, if the guru believes it would help.
The Oracle told the man to tell his guru to eat pure healthy food, nothing spicy and fried, nothing oily and over spiced.
She gave him a scarf and a small talisman to give to his guru to wear around his neck.
The oracle’s movements were abrupt, almost violent at times, but her touch was gentle and compassionate, not arrogant or dismissive.
When Jules was called forward at the very last, the oracle told him that he does not sleep well at night, that his sleep is disrupted (absolutely true) and that he thinks too much.
“Do not think too much!”
She commanded and then wielded out of her bag a large sword and asked him to bow down his head.
She then proceeded to smack him gently with the sword on his back.
She then asked me and the two Indian guys who remained in the room after everyone else had left, to bow down our heads and she touched each of us gently with the sword’s blade on our backs a few times.
Then it was all over.
The bucket was filled with disgusting fluids and tumors.
The incense was all burnt and the oracle spirit left, while Padma shook for a few moments and returned to her normal self.
Her eyes slowly adjusted to the smokey room.
Patients, if they can afford it, give a donation to the oracles for their work.
The amount is really meager, just a few rupees per patient.
Most of the people gave fifty to a hundred rupees. ($1-$2)
The oracle is earning only a few U.S. dollars a day, which is enough for a person living in this dusty town, but is a very small income for a woman battling evil spirits, sucking unhygienic substances and healing the sick.
The rest of our day did not compare to the highlight of the visit to the oracle.
We continued on to visit Stok palace and Spituk monastery.
Stok Palace used to be the King’s residence; it has been converted into a small museum with artifacts and costumes from the royal family of Ladakh.
The headgear, covered in silver and large turquoise stones that used to be worn by the queen mother, is very impressive.
The palace also has a small Gompa (shrine) in which the royal family prayed and worshipped.
A group of women from Nepal in traditional clothing visited the temple at the same time I was there.
The women saw me pick a small talisman which was offered in exchange for a temple donation, and they ooooed and ahaaaaed and grabbed all the remaining talismans to take home.
Later we visited Spituk Monastery and saw its collection of amazing sculptures, especially those of the Buddhist Goddess White Tara.
The Taras were made of gold, draped with pearl necklesses studded with blue turquoise and red coral stones.
The Goddess Tara in this temple is depicted as having seven eyes, two normal eyes, an additional eye at the third eye point between the eyebrows, one at the center of each hand and one at the center of each foot.
The Goddess Tara is known as Jetsun Dölma in Tibetan Buddhism, and she is a female Bodhisattva.
She is depicted with seven eyes to emphasize that the goddess walks in complete awareness, seeing things with a higher vision and in all directions, sensing the earth, touching gently and stepping with total awareness, she is seeing-all and all-knowing.
That night in my sleep, I saw an array of guardian deities in my dreams.
They floated into my consciousness in a succession of dancing images that kept on fading out and coming into focus again.
The world of appearances and dreams, seems so ornate and beautiful, yet so illusory….