Bhutan is full of places known as ney (གནས་) or sacred sites. Ney, which literally means an abode or space for abiding, is a sacred and spiritually powerful area. It can extend across a whole valley or a mountain or refer to a single rock, tree or a temple. Bhutanese consider their country to be spiritually potent with numerous ney sites, particularly those that are blessed by Padmasambhava.
Just as there are right alignments and configurations of stars and planets during some periods of time to make such periods exceptionally conducive for positive work, Bhutanese Buddhists believe that some places have the topographical and geographic position, alignment and setting which are conducive for spiritual development and human wellbeing. Such places are considered to be powerful in giving rise to positive thoughts and actions. They are said to be endowed with spiritual blessings (བྱིན་རླབས་ཅན་) and called ney.
The ney sites often share an outstanding physical characteristic of being a spectacular and awe inspiring natural landscape or exotic feature. The Jomolhari snow mountain, Singyedzong valley, Taktshang cliff, the riverine pool of Membartsho and the cave of Wangdi Ney, are examples of such natural spots. Natural and spiritual energies and vibes flow from the landscape of such powerful spots, making them conducive environment for spiritual experience. Thus, spiritual persons seek such places in order to speed up and enhance their spiritual practice.
Many ney sites are also located in dramatic and terrifying places such as cliff faces with sheer drop, river confluences with gushing torrents, overhanging rocks, dense forests and places believed to be haunted areas. Being at such perilous spots brings out the inner fear of death, attachment to life and other such psychological weaknesses. They help a practitioner assess their spiritual development and reinforce the practices to overcome inner fear, attachment and unease. In this way, such physical locations help a practitioner develop the inner composure and power of the mind.
Places such as Taktshang and Senge Dzong are said to possess both the powerful alignment of the topographical features as well as the instrumental efficacy to stimulate spiritual experience. They help expedite the spiritual transformation of a person much more than other ordinary places. Therefore, spiritual masters such as Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tshogyal spent long times in such conducive environments to enhance their spiritual achievement. By doing so, they also made prayers and injected more spiritual power into the place. They would have prayed that whoever came to these place also get the same kind of spiritual experience, happiness and bliss as they have obtained.
They are said to have tamed the malevolent forces and put the spirits of the areas under oath to help invigorate positive spiritual practices. The local territorial deities are believed to render great support to genuine spiritual practitioners and shield them from harmful distractions and obstacles. Masters such as Guru Rinpoche are further said to have blessed some neys by hiding many troves of spiritual treasures including books, religious implements and sacred substances. In this manner, the powerful ney with powerful physical features becomes more entrenched with spiritual blessings and power.
Meditation and spiritual practices at such ney sites are said to yield much more and faster results than in other areas. Spending a night at such a ney is considered more meritorious then spending weeks at other religious sites. Thus, Bhutanese in general make concerted efforts to visit such places. The religious hermits in Bhutan spend their time travelling from one such powerful ney site to another in order to meditate or build a base in such a ney. The belief in and culture of ney sites, which have been mostly conserved in their pristine form and with little human pollution, has also contributed enormously to the conservation of the nature in Bhutan.
Karma Phuntsho is a social thinker and worker, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History of Bhutan.