Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on February 28, 2014

As an astrologer for many decades I was more than a little enthused to hear that Rinpoche was taking us to the one spot on Earth where astrology is said to have originated, a very sacred place in China called Wu-Tai Shan. At the time Margaret and I were traveling with our teacher Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, along with a group of his 3-year-retreat lamas, and some other students like us. Also traveling with our group was the 9th Lodro Nyima Rinpoche from Thrangu Monastery in Tibet. We were on our way to spend a week at Wu-Tai Shan.

I am not clear whether Rinpoche himself had always wanted to visit there or if he just wanted to make sure his students got that chance. Since he does not speak English (and what little spoken Tibetan I know is restricted to reading sadhanas), I never got that question answered.

At any rate, let me tell you something about Wu-Tai Shan, a group of five (flat-topped) mountain peaks located southeast of Beijing that reach up to about 11,000 feet, just shy of where I begin to react to altitude negatively, so that was good. Anyway, I already had been sick enough in Tibet a few weeks earlier.

The five mountains are arranged with four in a square, with the fifth and tallest in the center, like a number-five die. Each of the five peaks is said to be inhabited by a different emanation of the bodhisattva Manjushri, and each peak is a field of activity where a particular Buddha or bodhisattva (connected to Manjushri) manifests his or her kind particular influence. Unlike other pure realms such as Amitabha Buddha's pure land "Dewachen," Manjushri's realms are said to be right here on earth, located at particular geographic locations such as Wu-Tai Shan. In other words, you and I can walk around in them right now here on Earth.

Mt. Wu-Tai Shan, also known in Chinese as "Clear and Cool Mountain," is one of the four great sacred mountains in China, and said to be the most popular. These five mountains at Wu-Tai Shan follow the symmetry of the five Buddha families, with Amitabha to the West, Ratnasambhava to the South, Aksobhya to the East, Ammoghasiddhi to the North, and Vairocana in the middle.

Wu-Tai Shan has been very important to Tibet as well as China, and the great Indian adept Padampa Sange spent 12 years at Wu-Tai Shan practicing. Tibetan lamas have made it a point to visit Wu-Tai Shan for centuries. In addition, the great Tibetan hero Tangton Gyalpo, the "Iron Bridge Man," also visited Wu-Tai Shan where he gave a reading transmission of the "Litany of the Names of Manjushri" to monks there and stayed on for eight months during which time the five forms of Manjushri appeared to him in a series of visions.

The whole Wu-Tai Shan area is considered mystical and sacred, not just by the Chinese, but by many Asian religions, particularly Buddhists. For some reason it is also recognized by almost all the world’s religions as a sacred spot. Scattered throughout Wu-Tai Shan are a great many monasteries of all faiths, including not only Tibetan Buddhist gompas, but Christian monasteries too. This area is religiously very cosmopolitan, a central meeting for Tibetan, Mongolian, Manchu, and Chinese spirituality – a sacred space.

It is traditional for those on a pilgrimage to Wu-Tai Shan to climb to the very peak of each of the five mountains and perform various prayers and pujas (rituals). The ideal blessing is to visit all five mountains in a single day, something we managed to do.

Wu-Tai Shan is said to be where the bodhisattva Manjushri, the emanation of discriminating intelligence (and also the bodhisattva connected to divination and astrology) is said to have first emanated on Earth. Manjushri appeared there as a youth, a young adult, bright and shining like the Sun. From the top of his head poured forth the 84,000 teachings on astrology and they were all given to mankind, who loved, treasured, and used them. This is said to be the introduction of astrology to this planet.

In fact, the world’s people so loved astrology that they neglected some of the more basic dharma practices in favor of doing astrology. My teacher had told me years before (when I asked him about astrology) that astrology is one of the limbs of the yoga, but not the root itself. The root dharma practice is essential to make the limbs grow and function. Manjushri was concerned that mankind was abandoning dharma practice and spending more and more time on secondary issues (again: the limbs, not the root), and so he withdrew all the astrology teachings so that mankind might better see the root practices of the dharma itself.

The world of humans was very sad to lose their astrology and one of the greatest of Tibetan saints (Guru Rinpoche / Padmasambhava) saw this happening and felt compassion for all humanity in this regard. Guru Rinpoche knew well that astrology is what is called a relative truth, while the dharma itself was an absolute truth, but he also knew that mankind often depends upon relative truths in order to reach the absolute truth.

A relative truth is a path or method to get from here to there in our progress, while an absolute truth is motionless, stateless, and non-changing, having neither beginning nor end. It just is. An example of an absolute truth would be to know the true nature of the mind, while a relative truth might be practicing methods that prepare us to know the true nature of the mind. Astrology is one of the relative truths; it gets us from here to there, spiritually. It is samsaric.

Guru Rinpoche then approached Manjushri and pleaded the case for humans, asking Manjushri to please return the astrology to us. In the end, Manjushri was persuaded and he gave astrology back, but with a caveat. Instead of giving it all back as he had previously, he hid the various teachings in places where we could find it over time, kind of like timed-release capsules. Some teachings he actually hid by placing scrolls under rocks and in caves. Other teachings he hid deep within the mind itself (mind terma), so that at prescribed times in the future someone would find this or that particular teaching. These hidden teachings are called ‘terma’ and those who find them are called ‘tertons.” The Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism is the most famous for their tertons.

I believe I mentioned that during my Tibet trip I got sick, but I didn’t tell you that on top of that I got a bit ornery as well, just over little things like food, etc. For example, here in the states we think of Chinese food as egg rolls, Chow Mein, Lo Main, and so forth. I am good with that. There is no such thing in China. The American take on Chinese food is not what the Chinese themselves eat. They don’t serve egg rolls, Lo Mein, and Chow Mein. Instead, everything seems to be coated in oil (and often very bad oils – bad to the taste and health) and served up. I soon got very sick of all that oil and grumpy on top of that or partly because of that. Everything was coated with oil until I felt suffocated by it. And to my amazement, plain rice was almost never served. You had to order it specially. Imagine! Anyway, you get the idea. Little things like food can mean a lot.

During our stay in the Wu-Tai Shan area, we did many practices and visited many holy places. For one, we visited all five of the mountains that make up the Mt. Wu-Tai Shan complex, traveling to the very peak of each to offer prayers and other ritual practices. Moreover, as tradition dictates, we did all five peaks in a single day, which is saying something because each one is literally a ‘trip’. Many of the roads were little more than trails in the side of a mountain, but on the top of each peak was an area for practice, either a stupa or some other building or shrine. Many of the peaks were cloud covered, so we literally were up there walking around in the clouds.

But despite my illness and despite my grumpiness part of the time, the Wu-Tai Shan Mountains somehow still managed to affect me. After we left China and returned home, the most amazing things began to happen to me astrologically. All kinds of astrology began to occur to me, both western and eastern. Perhaps it was due to having traveled to that consecrated area, an area sacred to astrology and astrologers. I can’t say for sure, but I went into renaissance mode astrologically and proceeded to understand and write out a whole lot of new astrology, most of which ended up in one book or another. It also precipitated what has been a lifelong love of astrology that was already deep in me out and into a dozen or more books. Bam! They just came out, like a baby at a birth.

I can say that not only did I burn through a lot of veils covering western astrology, but also burned through whatever obstacles or resistance I had to Chinese astrology and began to see what it was really about and to study it more deeply. And it is so beautiful.

All kinds of spontaneous insights and mini-visions took place. As an astrologer, I have no explanation for this, other than my visit to the sacred Mt. Wu-Tai Shan somehow linked me up with the astrological sources and, regardless of my grumpiness, blessed me. I know I didn’t deserve it, but it happened anyway. So there you have a little history of our trip to Mt. Wu-Tai Shan in China. There are other stories, and I will try to get to them as I can.

[Most photos by me, but a couple by my dharma brothers and sisters on the trip with us.]