Like the Preu Chö festival, the Trelda Tsechu (སྤྲེལ་ཟླ་ཚེས་བཅུ་) is also celebrated as the anniversary of Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoché, the foremost spiritual master who many consider to be the patron saint of Bhutan. Trelda Tsechu takes place on the 10th day of Monkey month, however, depending on the calendar used, the Monkey month can vary. Trelda according to the most common Bhutanese and Tibetan calendars, is the fifth lunar month although some calendar systems consider the 3rd, 4th or 6th Bhutanese lunar months as the Monkey month. The Gongdü (དགོངས་འདུས་) tradition, for instance, identifies the Monkey month with the 6th Hor or Mongolian lunar month, which coincides with the 6th Bhutanese lunar month. Thus, the identification of Trelda is not straightforward as it might seem, although all traditional sources agree Guru Rinpoché was born on the 10th day of the Monkey month in Monkey year.
According to the famous kathang biographies of Guru Rinpoché, he is believed to have taken a miraculous birth on that day, born upon a blooming lotus in the middle of Lake Dhanakośa in modern day Swat valley of Pakistan. Although some sources do mention human parents, he is often described as a self-born emanation without a father or mother (ཕ་དང་མ་མེད་རང་བྱུང་སྤྲུལ་པའི་སྐུ་). His name, Padmasambhava/Padmakara or Lotus Born (པདྨ་འབྱུང་གནས་), derives from his birth from the lotus flower. When the young Padmasambhava was asked about his identity, the child is said to have replied: “My father is innate awareness and my mother the perfect sphere of reality. I belong to the caste that is non-duality of the reality and awareness, and I am from the unborn sphere of truth. I consume conceptions of duality and I live to destroy afflictive emotions.”
Kathang literature also presents him as the immediate incarnation of the historical Buddha and often apply to him the epithet “second Buddha”. The young Padmasambhava is said to have been then adopted by the childless King Indrabhuti of Oḍḍiyāna Kingdom. Padmasambhava spent his early youth enjoying a luxurious princely life in the palace but later left his sumptuous surroundings to seek spirituality, as had the historical Buddha before him.
Today, Bhutanese across the nation celebrate the birth of Guru Rinpoché during Trelda Tsechu. Many religious and meditation rituals involving the worship of Padmasambhava are conducted, large appliqués called tongdröl (མཐོང་གྲོལ་) that celebrate him are unfurled, and mask dances enacting his life are performed in temples and dzongs. Many Bhutanese take the opportunity to visit temples and holy sites to pay homage to Padmasambhava, where they pray for health, wealth, long life, safety, happy rebirth, success in business, exams, and virtually any affair of life. Bhutanese particularly pray to Padmasambhava on this day as the master made a pledge to personally visit his devotees every year on this day, be it through an emanation, vision, dream, or some other form.
Due to this belief, many devout followers of Vajrayāna Buddhism spend the Monkey month—and particularly the 10th day—seeking to abide in the full awareness of Padmasambhava’s transcendental and enlightened state, and once achieved, make prayers and offerings to him. The Bhutanese world is believed to always be imbued with Padmasambhava's presence and blessings, but occasions such as Preu Chö and Trelda offer additional opportunities to carry out spiritual practices connected to Padmasambhava, and to take advantage of this particularly auspicious time to cultivate the inner values of non-violence, compassion, wisdom, and enlightenment that the master so thoroughly embodies.
Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel as part of a series called “Why We Do What We Do.”