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24th November 2011

The Building of a Milarepa Tower in Bhutan

As an active member of a Buddhist Centre in Hong Kong and ex-District Officer, I am helping with the project management of an ambitious scheme in Bhutan. The Ven. Lama Kelzang, a Bhutanese lama based in Hong Kong, plans to build the very first Milarepa Tower (or Sekargutok) in Bhutan.

Milarepa (b.1052) is a famous Tibetan saint and yogi who was asked by his master, Marpa the Translator, to build a nine-storey tower. Marpa treated Mila very harshly, asking him to move the tower a number of times to purify Mila’s bad karma, caused by an early career in black magic. Despite this frustration and hardship, Mila never lost faith in his guru. The original tower, which still stands in Tibet, is a symbol of the absolute faith of a disciple in his master and a reminder of how one should sacrifice comfort and safety in this life for the dharma.

The tower and accompanying monastery will be a religious, cultural and tourist landmark in the area. Situated close to the Indian border in South Bhutan, it is expected to attract many tourists and visitors, both Indian and foreign. The project will be funded by donations and we have now started a fund-raising programme. The tower is dedicated to the benefit of all sentient beings.

On 2 November 2011, His Holiness the Je Khenpo (who is like the Dalai Lama of Bhutan and second only to the king) officiated at the ground-breaking ceremony, watched by a crowd of thousands. The grand ceremony lasted all day and included various rituals, sacred dances and a vegetarian lunch.

My job is to co-ordinate the project and liaise with the architect, engineer and the Royal Bhutan Government. This was my second visit to Bhutan this year (as a guest rather than a tourist, which is expensive). Some say going from India to Bhutan is like entering heaven. Bhutan has a small population (700,000), is clean and unspoilt, has a spectacular landscape and pristine environment. Its rich cultural heritage is due to its relative isolation.

Its people wear national dress with long skirts for women (kira) and shorter ones for men (gho). They are polite, friendly and intensely Buddhist. The national sport is archery and the favourite dish is a spicy stew made from dried vegetables, cheese and chillies. In many ways, Bhutan is like a medieval kingdom. Every district has an ancient dzong, which is a fortress containing the administrative and religious headquarters of the area. Their architecture is distinctive, with intricate woodwork around the doors and windows, and unlike anything else you might see in the Himalayas.

Anyone interested in the above project may visit

Peter Mann (1971, English)

Images (from top): His Holiness the Je Khenpo at the ground-breaking ceremony; Bhutan’s stunning landscape

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