Your Zodiac Forecasts, from Jonathan Cainer
A personal quest for ancient lost knowledge...

PART TWO Jonathan's mystical quest leads him to an enchanted enclave of Tibetan monks

As appeared in the Daily Express in year 2000

PART ONE - A brief history of time, rhyme and events beyond reason
PART THREE - The meaning of the prophecy and a Wish-Fulfilling Jewel...

In this realm of miracles the oracles reign supreme
In 1994, I had a life-changing moment. One minute, I was wandering round a bookshop in Nepal. The next, my eye was drawn to a work of ancient Eastern prophecies. It fell open on a promise. "One day the earth will be at peace - and all who live upon it will become high, enlightened souls."

Maybe it was the jet lag or the mountain air but, as I read those words, something inside me sizzled. It positively fried when I went on to check the commentary. The author seemed to be suggesting that they might apply to the year 2000.

Seconds later, my daughter was calling me from the other side of the shop. "Look Dad. They've got some of your books in here." Indeed, they had. A mountain of them, not quite as high as Everest itself but getting on that way. The book was out of print in England. Clearly, some enterprising sales rep had done a disposal deal with the Nepalese wholesaler.

As I stood there, with a glazed gaze, the owner of the store came over. "Is this really you?" he asked. I nodded meekly, in shame. "Please, this is an honour. Will you sign them for me?" How could I refuse?

Nearly an hour later, I was still signing my way through that mountain and my daughter was border witless. She wanted a pizza and she wanted it now. A pizza? In Kathmandu? She had to be joking. So too, was the management of the hotel where, we were told, pizza could be found. It turned out to be naan bread with a little cheese sprinkled on top. Jessica was not impressed. I didn't dare take her back to the bookshop.

To this day, I am still looking for that book. I have visited emporiums on four continents. I have scoured the Internet. I have even been back to Nepal, without a daughter in tow, and braved the very same store. The book is no longer there. Nor, even more baffling, are any of the books that I signed that day.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to track down the prophecy by other means, I have been steeping myself in Eastern cultural traditions and seeking out Asian astrologers, mystics and academics. Following leads (and hunches) half way round the world, I have discovered many other old predictions which resemble the one I read in that book. None though, have struck quite the same chord.

In 1997 though, during a trip to Goa, a penny began to drop. I was ambling through a market full of tourist souvenirs. At its edge, I found a family gathered round a blanket on the ground. They had no table on which to set out their wares but they were selling something that I instantly recognised as very special: Tibetan "singing bowls". These work rather like crystal wine glasses. If you rub the edge, you can set them ringing. Only with singing bowls, you don't use a moistened finger. You circle the rim with a wooden stick.

Bending down, I tried one out. It made a most incredible sound. A whole, deep, tummy trembling, hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-raising tone. It rang out right across the market. It seemed to me as if everything and everyone suddenly froze.

Then, as the bowl slowly died down, the world came back to life as though nothing had happened. Three minutes later, I bumped into an old friend from Liverpool. In the middle of Goa. Another coincidence. Perfectly logical and easy to explain. Of course. Since the encounter with that singing bowl, I began to think a lot more about Tibet. I still haven't been there and I do not intend too, until the land it free once more. But I wanted to know a lot more about it.

The next year, back in Nepal, I tried to make contact with some Tibetans. There are plenty there. For the people who are trying to flee from the Chinese regime, Nepal makes a natural first place of safety. If, though, you are an illegal immigrant, you don't automatically want to satisfy the curiosity of some visiting Westerner - even if you can speak English. Realising that my attempts were likely to be unsuccessful, I went home.

I decided that the next rip would probably have to be to Darhamsala, home of the Tibetan Government in Exile...and the Dalai Lama. Late last year though, one of my contacts sent me an e-mail containing a Delhi phone number. A particular Tibetan monk might be willing to speak to me. As fast as family duties would allow, I hopped on a plane to India.

People know that The Dalai Lama is the spiritual head of Tibet. Some people know that he is supposed to be a reincarnation of the last Dalai Lama. A lot of us have seen movies like Kundun or Seven Years In Tibet. We are aware of his story.

We know that he was chosen, as a tiny child, by delegation of monks...and that he was accepted, without question, as the national leader. Few of us though, know how - of why - he was singled out. What follows is a rough sketch.

When the last Dalai Lama died, it fell to two important monks to appoint a successor - the Regent and the Panchen Lama - who both reincarnate time and time again to play their part in the destiny of Tibet. Or so, at least, the Tibetans believe. Ideally, their lifespans overlap. They meet one another - but usually when one is old and the other young. That way, when one leaves their body, the other can still be there to help to track him down.

How though, does the Regent go about his task? He begins by recalling any "clues" that the departed Dalai Lama may have given. The next step is to "ask the oracle". The oracle is a full time medium, one of the many in Tibetan society. Those who prove consistently reliable are treated with great respect.

They go into a trance and summon up a "wisdom being". This spirit is often quite short tempered and prone to making dramatic gestures. Though sometimes the oracle will give forth clear instruction, it more often takes the form of a hint: a city beginning with "H"; a house on which three birds nest.

Armed with this information, the Panchen Lama leads a team of mystic monks to the holy lake. From a mountain they peer down into the water. It acts like a crystal ball. Images form on the surface providing them with further clues.

Should there be a disagreement about what has been seen, the dough balls come out. These play an integral part in the Tibetan decision making. The options are written down on slips of paper which are folded and placed in little balls of barley flour paste. The balls are rotated in a ceremonial cup, while incantations are recited. One monk shakes the vessel while several hold out a special piece of cloth like firemen holding a blanket.

Sooner or later, one ball leaps over the side of the cup and into the blanket. Prayers continue till the chosen doughball is opened and read. The answer cannot be wrong.

If further clarification of some minor point is required, rosary beads are consulted. And so, by a combination of all these methods, the monks proceed with their quest to find a new leader.

Similar techniques are used by all members of the Tibetan government to make domestic and international policy decisions!

Chimmi has twinkling eyes and a cheeky grin. Forty years in a monastery appear to have done him a power of good. He greets me with a handshake and leads me into his study. It sits within a run-down building in a narrow maze of alleyways - about as far from Delhi's smart hotels as you can get.

All the local Tibetans live there, in what they politely refer to as an "enclave". You and I might be more inclined to call it a ghetto. Nearby are two temples, one Sikh, the other Hindu, both with speaker systems constantly blasting out distorted music - hardly redolent of the peaceful mountains of Tibet.

In Chimmi's study two lovely carpets adorn simple benches. Beautifully bound books give the room an air of minimalistic opulence, provided you ignore the stifling heat, the rattling fan, the incessant temple hi-fi battle - and the toilet downstairs which isn't quite flushing properly this month.

All this vanishes the moment that Chimmi speaks. His English is impeccable. His proper name is Geshe Cheme Tsering. He invites me to call him Chimmi (how he pronounces his own "middle name"). Chimmi has been all but an orphan since his mother died when he was a baby - and his father was thrown into prison for resisting the Chinese invasion. He reckons he must have been born early in 1958 and was about one when he was smuggled out of Tibet by the monks who adopted him. I look at him quizzically when he says this. It strikes me that, for a young Tibetan boy, there are not too many career options.

He smiles. "If you want an education you join the monastery." Chimmi has read more Dickens than I have. He quotes Churchill. And he can handle a laptop. In this respect, we are "from the same planet".

But then the differences become clear. Chimmi looks me in the eye and talks about monks who can materialise and dematerialise at will. He tells me that he is developing his telepathic skills with an eventual view to mastering the technique.

And he speaks, in almost casual terms, about deities and departed souls. To him, it is as usual to have a conversation with a holy being as it is for you and me to tune in to Coronation Street. Note please, that Chimmi does not just "pray to" such entities. He converses with them. He is religious. A monk can hardly be anything else.

But he is part of a religion like no other. Tibetans, strictly speaking are Buddhists, but their version contains a mystic tradition that no other Buddhists would recognise. It encapsulates an older belief system that has languished in the mountains of Tibet for thousands of years. This is the shamanistic tradition of Bon-Po. Chimmi tells me that it potentially empowers people to go astral travelling, to transform their shape, to be in two places at once, to go backwards and forwards in time...and to fulfil any wish. To become an astrologer, I have had to grow more open minded about life's possibilities. After my own very personal, mystical journeys, I have become even more willing to accept what most people find unthinkable.

But this is starting seriously to stretch my imagination. As, I am sure, it is now stretching yours. It is though, as nothing compared to what Chimmi told me next...

PART ONE - A brief history of time, rhyme and events beyond reason
PART THREE - The meaning of the prophecy and a Wish-Fulfilling Jewel...

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