Introduction: Kora (བསྐོར་བ།) is a form of pilgrimage and meditation that is shared by both Tibetan Buddhist and Bon traditions. The foundation of Kora is that, because of the trials of the pilgrimage, religious merit will be generated and obtained. Bodhicitta, or “an enlightened mind”, will result from purifying negative karma through the taxation of the body.
Tibetan people doing Kora in the monastery
Kora – A transliteration of the Tibetan term for “circumambulation”or “revolution”. The word is routinely associated with the entirety of ceremonies, celebrations and rituals that constitute a pilgrimage.
- Circumambulation – Simply, to walk all the way around something. The word derives from the Latin circum (around) and ambulare(to walk).
Nékor – Directly translating to “circling around an abode”, nékor is another comprehensive word to describe the pilgrimage experience.
Né – The prefix to nékor, in correlation with the practice of kora, né is rendered as “holy”, “sacred”, or “consecrated”.
Né Korwa – A pilgrim, or “one who circles a né”.
Kora is fundamentally simple. The practitioner is required to walk in a circle around a né. A pilgrim may chant mantra and hum prayers, count rosary beads and spin prayer wheels. It its common to repeatedly prostate oneself along the circumambulation path in hopes of achieving extra merit or blessing. The pathways of Kora are usually lined with windhorses, prayer wheels, cairns, and and strings of prayer flags. Bon pilgrims traditionally orbit in a counterclockwise direction, while Buddhists circumambulate the opposite way to emulate the sun. Kora can be preformed at any given time, but the Tibetan lunar calendar marks certain days as especially advantageous. These are the 8th, 10th, 15th, 25th and 30th days of each month. During Saka Dawa almost all believers go out of their way to commemorate Kora.
Prayer wheel in the monastery
Variations of Né
Né can be anywhere, anything or even anyone believed to be endowed with a transformative blessing. Throughout the Tibetan region there are an abundance of recognized né, however these Kora pilgrimage sites can be grouped into four categories.
- A majority of prominent né are the spectacular and imposing facets of Tibet’s natural landscape. Throughout this breathtaking region, numerous lakes and mountains are revered as pilgrimage destinations. This may be due to the belief that they are inhabited by spirits, or perhaps a historical landmark associated with one of the ancient stories. From jutting peaks to crystalline confluences, gloomy caves to boulders, literally anywhere has the potential to be imbued with né. Practicing Kora in these wild locations routinely requires traversing formidable distances and navigating treacherous terrain. Traditional beliefs is that the arduous nature of the ritual escalates the blessings received during the pilgrimage. Two of the most notable Kora sites are Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar, both of which are considered holy by Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Bon devotees.
- Over centuries of Tibet’s history, numerous sacred sites have been erected and now the destinations of Kora. Despite primarily consisting of monasteries and temples, man-made né fluctuate in size from entire cities to a single relic. Sky-burial sites and stupas are also treated with respect and treated as sacred. Stupas are burial mounds which house śarīra, the bones of Buddhist monks and nuns.
Beyul are paradisiacal valleys secreted away in the most remote and lonesome regions of the Himalayas. These hidden valleys are considered to be overlaps of the physical and spiritual worlds, preserved by deities and guardian spirits. The protective deities manifest themselves as snowstorms, snow leopards, and a variety of other calamities. Beyul can only be entered after terrible sacrifice and tribulation and, according to tradition, anyone who endeavours to force their way in will be rewarded with only failure and even death. These doctrines indicate that more beyul will be discovered as the planet careens towards destruction due to corruption and agnosticism. Pilgrims who journey to these distant valleys anticipate ethereal visions and strange encounters, just like the spiritual practitioners of legend.
Né is not exclusive to inanimate places, individuals can also be revered as capable of conferring transformative blessings. Pilgrimages can be made to honour holy monks or hermits, as well as nonhuman deities: Iṣṭadevatās, Yidam and Dakinis.
Local Tibetan people doing Nekor