Dedicated to anyone willing to read this stuff…
It’s Midnight and a new week. Spent the weekend in Trashiyangtse town and it was a classic and today I discovered a wonderful Lhakhang at an ascent of about 2,500 feet out of Yangtse on a never-ending gradient with a well kept but slippery trail cut through villages, then oaks before I finally gave up and retreated back to town which only took an hour and a half in a forest whirring with cicadas. The temple was perched above a cluster of homes partitioned by flopping bamboo fencing entwined with banana trees and fragrant fields alive with butterflies. I crushed one marble blue to death I felt horrible but had to continue on down the mucky terraces to the farm road that led back to town across the bridge draped in prayer flags spanning the Kulong Chu in its glory before the dam is constructed along with more roads. It was a sweet ramshackle temple with a tin pagoda or what passed as a pagoda loosely. The door was locked but a butter lamp flickered inside the sparsely adorned inner sanctum which was dim enough to pitch black and could’ve concealed the Holy Ghost. A butter lamp is always burning the eternal flame like the one in the clockworks or at the entrance to Squaw Valley.
It’s now October and the sun is consistently shinning after being shrouded in mist for six months. Everything takes on a surreal quality this season and the valley below is already changing into gold. Since we last met in this forum so many things have happened and maybe I’ve even changed too. Buddha taught us to regard all dharmas as a dream. For instance if you chow down on a T Bone and it tastes great that is only phenomenon distracting you from the true empty nature of the universe. Likewise if you are suffering in heartbreak that too is only a trick or delusion pulling you away from what is. When we see the truth we can shed our possessions and egos more easily or as the school cook’s shirt says, “Your ego is not your amigo!” I’m still tied to my ego which is why you will continue to read the word I in this blog until the tiger is a skeleton in a jungle cave maybe somewhere Bumdeling side in the upper reaches of Khoma. So where to begin, I suppose we can backtrack to our last proper post somewhere around the time Becky came to visit her beloved Eastern Bhutan just before summer break. We went to Dechen Phodrang which translates roughly to “Palace of Extreme Happiness” naturally the Guru spent some time here frolicking, humping, and bathing with his precious consorts including the fetching Yeshi Tshogyel. Sorry if I appear crass or bawdy in the above description actually what I referred to as humping is not mere fornication- no this is the secret precepts of tantric unification for the benefit of all sentient beings. I’ve been fortunate to experience such fluid and intense lovemaking long ago before my sexless thirties commenced. As usual I digress from the point, oh yeah Dechen Phodrang with Bunks! It was a lovely day that was more like the palace of headiness than happiness which found us gazing northward towards Tibet and gibbering with unseen forest sprites and gremlins crossovers from stranger dimensions. When two dharma seeking phelincpa’s enter that sacred space sparks are bound to fly and that was Miss Rebecca’s first visit to the grotto where the Guru’s ferocious meditation burned an imprint of his body into the boulder which the temple is constructed around melding into a cavern. Trashiyangtse is a special place in our personal history where we practice the precepts in our own asexual way together and if this was our last chance to make magic there in the ever flowing greenery then so be it!
Summer break was a whirlwind that began on shaky ground and continued to break up like leads in the monsoon soup. I was directly ordered by Mother Superior Nancy into Linkhar to attend the retreat. As usual Nancy knew best and unwittingly set a new and rewarding course for my midterm break. I can’t speak for Nancy but I assume she figured it might be good if I had some contact with my own phelincpa kind instead of hiding out as many of you know is my Modus Operandi in this incarnation. So she sent Nima to collect me after picking up Ash from Yangtse town and Sarah AKA Sweet Muffin who accompanied for the ride to the lodge. There I began a social interaction lasting for nearly fifteen days with a great bunch of folks teaching for BCF. The core of this group I will henceforth refer to as “The Mafia” a moniker selected from the camp style mystery game that they play together and roped me into once. The de facto leader of this Mafia is Dan a young strapping lad from Vermont who is gregarious and kind mannered. Several of the dudes in their twenties are extremely intelligent and witty including Alex a handsome Kiwi and Adam a Washingtonian who rode off into the sunset early on his scooter but not before a wholehearted mock anti Canadian soliloquy on the night one after party. Mostly directed at poor Holly a B.C native who fits the description salt of the earth a quality easily confused with Hoserness. I’m just yanking’ your chains Canucks so you might catch the vibe of the night. At Linkhar I was the outsider but was able to bond with the new teachers in particular Sebastian (Sea Bass) and Kirsten AKA Borsten. The three of us share a similar sense of humor and introverted tendencies and acted as a satellite orbiting the Mafia. Three days at Linkhar included the compulsory meetings and meals, a bon fire with some interesting official characters, teachers, and the attentive lady staff bustling about in blue Taegu’s. Aum Deki runs a shipshape outfit and the customer benefits at what’s the nicest inn in the far flung east.
Fast forward to the end of summer break where I wound up in Tang Valley with Dan, Cat, and Judy spending the last enjoyable days of rest and relaxation with newfound friends. After spending two weeks with phelincpa’s I was both enriched and exasperated but it was good to sharpen my social skills and realize that I can still interact with my own kind under duress. I garnered a reputation for being eccentric and blunt neither which can be denied. Dan and I went to Thowadrok a Lhakhang clinging to a cliff face at the north end of the Tang Valley at the entrance to a Bey Yul or hidden land. In fact this Mandarava settlement might as well have been within the secret portal and it was a strenuous hike to get there through superb alpine forests on a challenging and delightful single track overgrown with clover and marked by mossy chortens. Near the top we scampered over loose stones on a near vertical staircase adding an element of suspense to the pilgrimage. The temple is not remarkable in design and appeared under renovation but the spot speaks volumes with a commanding view over Tang Valley Bumthang’s northernmost and sparsely populated settlement. You could sniff Tibet in the pine scented air and if one had a guide they could lumber up to the border in a hard days slog. North of this temple is uninhabited forest that reaches up to the impregnable wall of the Great Himalayan Range and it’s 25,000 foot peaks. We stood at about 10,000 feet so that means the gain of elevation is about 15,000 feet in fifty or so northern miles, staggering! From the deck surrounding the temple one peered out at sprawling pine clad ridges and the narrow fertile Tang valley from which we’d risen. One other family of devotees was present but unfortunately the temple was locked. I desperately wanted to get inside since the site was founded by Mandarava the wise and virtuous consort of Guru Rinpoche. Much admired by Yeshi too who venerated her when they met and vice versa. Peering through the dusty window panes I noticed an impressive ivory tusk carted up some time ago from the steamy Southern jungles. The elephant is holy in Buddhist lore and a tusk is a rare treasure for a Lhakhang to possess. I couldn’t make out much more and after spinning some prayer wheels we headed out onto the cliffs following a death defying sin testing path hovering over a fathomless abyss. Talk about walking meditation if you miss a step here you’re done for. Mindfulness! We talked about life as we descended and it struck me that Dan was similar to my brother Tyler. Both are kindhearted people who want to include everyone in their circle. In this way I’m dissimilar since I’m a loner by nature. In this incarnation I may never see Dan again which gets me thinking about impermanence and reincarnation. What if our souls too break apart and only aspects of “individuals” reform in subsequent births? Isn’t it just ego clinging to aspire that we continue on with our own soul intact. I don’t know how karma would apply if my conjecture is reality but likely the truth is inconceivable by the finite human mind. It’s kind of beautiful to think that we might separate and rejoin with aspects of one another to journey on piecemeal towards ultimate enlightenment. If we share a collective pain body than what else can be shared alike-Infinite joy and liberation…
It’s never easy coming back to the village after a taste of freedom and more so when your computer won’t start. So that is where we split…The monsoon was raging and this year the landscape was smothered in clouds and copious rain. On and on it goes and things get greener and deeper and danker and darker with maybe an hour of scorching sunlight every thirteen days to break up the monotony. When the sun hits like a sea crab I scuttled into the shade of the pines unable to bear the direct light. This monsoon season impacted me too and I fell in love with the oozing darkness, the foam, misty, soupy, steamy wet and wild monsoon. The mountains always awash, silver buntings in layers upon layers of mutable mists swirling. The dark shadowy greens and flat light of an endless summer day interspersed with showers pounding my tin shanty. No other season leaves such an indelible moldy mark as the monsoon of Southern Asia creeping across and wetting the interminable plains of India before dousing the inner hills and finally stalling at the great barrier of the Himalayan Range. Places like Lhasa and Ladakh on the Tibetan plateau are cut off from the full effect but still get a stray shower from the advancing beast. What was I doing during those moldy months? Local roaming up to Darchin and discovering the rounded top of my own mountain a pasture lined with vertical prayer flags called Shering La. Also a significant chunk of teaching and presumably learning has been occurring during the blackout. One memorable escapade led me up the throat of Brongla on an inclement Sunday and while reposing on the muddy slope plopped in duff fraternizing with enormous fungi a humongous tree branch broke off and crashed ten feet from my position shaking the ground vibrating under six feet of decay, yikes! I missed the path and belly crawled through towering grasses vertically clawing my way to the summit that was completely socked in. It was cold for August and my fingers were frozen until descending an hour to Darchin. The disheveled ascetic Darchin lama resurfaced from his sabbatical and I saw him one afternoon in the pastures resting in a sunbeam that cut through the impervious mist.
I stayed put for about 50 days at Tsenkharla a new record if your keeping track involved in teaching and hosting my adopted sons Nima and Pema most every day. One Monday was a meltdown in class which culminated in writing up the Guru and Sangay Wangmo two of my simplest students. I refer to this as Black Monday and hopefully all is forgiven on both sides. Half the class was murmuring then openly chattering and I blew my top. So when one blows their top which is less cool than flipping ones lid-many factors are usually the source and not necessarily the trigger event. After my initial shouting and the obvious ensuing silence I caught the Guru giving Karma Wangchuk her notebook to copy and I busted her recording it for posterity in her school diary. Guru Wangmo is the model student so obviously everyone was in shock and it was an overreaction on my part and a low point in my teaching career but we learn from such practical discourse. Being a teacher is dynamic in that sense you have the reins of this class for nine months and it’s like a living organism with complex mutable components. Kind of like that Chucky Cheese game where one tries to smash the jittery critters down with the mallets but new ones keep popping up. Ironically I sucked at that game and often my brain is one move behind the clever cherubs. Talk about holding back a flood. This has been a successful break through year in my teaching though and I know all my students by name which is mostly possible since I taught many for two years. I’ve enjoyed spotting Sangay Tobgay on the road to Yangtse and tracked down Lhamo Yuden when visiting the art school with Mr. Piet. I think I told you about the PP kids with booger faces attacking me while subbing to the amusement of my class eight pupils who already think I’m Mr. Bean. There have been highlights too but teaching is no piece of cake for me anyway. But as they like to say I’m transparent this year with all lesson plans, teaching aids, and marking completed. A strange exotic journey and somehow the job gets done. Teaching ESL English one wonders precisely the results and they just don’t speak English outside the class. Inside my classroom Sharchop is uttered amongst English although other BCF teachers claim to have a zero tolerance policy with success. It’s more than just unfashionable to speak English outside school it’s a breach of etiquette in the rural east and it wouldn’t go over well in the hostels.
My health has been good except a boil that has come and gone for over a month and some other minor afflictions that are part and parcel. Water has been flowing with some exceptions but we’ve come a long way since nativity. The rats have vanished for the summer which has been a relief.
One of my best solo hikes was an epic and comical journey. I left in the dark at 5 A.M in high spirits along the road an hour to the trailhead for Omba at Sep where a blue serpent is painted on the rock face. A few hours later I was hopelessly adrift in a thicketed labyrinth of shrubbery to the bemusement of primal looking farmers perched on wooden platforms overlooking there jungle plots on steep dugout terraces. One attractive villager in that National Geographic sense took pity on me and led me to a scant break in vegetation pointing the way. No one out there speaks a word of English and my ten Sharchop words weren’t relevant in this situation. Her way didn’t pan out so I backtracked and remained in that thicket for what seemed a lifetime before the same lady reappeared and bounded through the growth like a leopard. I haplessly attempted to keep pace over very rough and hidden terrain scrabbling and scrapping through the brush. The whole escapade ended in me tumbling out of the bushes and falling five feet my face bashed at her bare feet a total yard sale. I would be lost so many times that day including a misguided descent in the hamlet in a rocky gully to a raging torrent with no crossing. I had to retrace a brutal slope in the hot sun and then got lost all over again in that confounded village with three sweet water driven prayer wheels. I crossed landslides in the darkness and stumbled home fourteen hours after departing satisfied to be safe and sound.
Just got back from Karlos and Sonam’s house cum shop where I had dinner and played with adorable Pema Namgay who was born the day I was in the Langtang Valley on December 28. He is still in his first year but his little legs have power pushing against my chest and he recognizes me by now. He looks like a little Karlos and Sonam is a doting mother. The supper was dried beef with chillie over rice with some bomb tomato garlic ESE that tasted like awesome pizza sauce. Small pleasures are the best isn’t it? Like the Ritz style biscuits (crackers) I scored from Auntie Kesang’s shop. As you can imagine she’s always chasing me down for my credit tab and I always procrastinate. Stopped by a trio of Chortens on the way home sitting in the grass in the mild night gazing at a billion stars filtered through the Milky Way stretching from Shampula over the boy’s hostel. All those cozy night critters click clacking away and the smell of burnt juniper offerings fill the crisp air. Night settles on this sector of the Himalayan Range. In the wee hours a waning moon raises a glowing wedge over Tshongtshongma. In daylight on the far left of the mighty valley are the Matterhorn peaks in India or perhaps Tibet. They are bound by an enormous saddle and both have impressive glaciers or at least snowfields. One looks like an elephant with a long flat ridge leading to a pyramid trunk of rock. The other is a more graceful triangular peak but very sharp at the apex. The two become one in a swooping saddle of gleaming snow that glows tangerine then a red ember before turning a ghostly ash. Both peaks have enormous depth and the area in the saddle seems its own snowbound paradise collecting purple pools in decaying dusk. I only glimpse these peaks in spring and autumn when clouds are absent and air quality is clear and thanks to the binoculars mom gave me I can descry their details. The twin peaks hover in the ether a few layers beyond Lumla although I doubt one could see them from the Lumla bazaar. Closer and to my right the bumpy spine of the dragons tail culminating in Tshongtshongma a perfect fanged spire reaching 14,000 feet above the Gongri Chu and valley floor. The landscape is overpowering but also comforting -a perfect balance of stone, sky, water, and earth. This mountain mandala spreading out from the soft arc of Tsenkharla to the rounded massif of Shampula and the saddleback in Tawang with frontier peaks gliding back into the dragons tail and an imperial escarpment topped by gyrating furs. Never did any illusion sparkle like this a spangled chalice all burning in impermanence. If only we knew that impermanence and death gave all this life meaning. Butterflies such as chocolate tigers bold black ones with blue globes like twin worlds on opposing wings (is that all we are) and silk moths –oh birdlife is abounding spotted a black eagle soaring outside of Jangphu on the eastern frontier and to the westward valley exotic darters with long tails to match the languor’s in that forests above Chakademi. Out there among albino giants the elongated warbles are both mysterious and melancholy but relief comes every fall with murders of crows congregating on campus cloaking the line of giant cypresses in iridescent ebony feathers.
It occurred to me on a walk that the biggest difference between a Christian and Buddhist is one fights for their beliefs while the other lets them go…
Tsechu is a special event to join with ones community to pray and party. In that way Himalayan Buddhism is so much groovier than church. The tantric faith flows in comparison to hearing dogma lined in pews. Bleating horns and crashing cymbals spawn phantasmagorical delights that tickle the senses or beat one over the head into they beg for mercy. FESTIVAL! You cannot recapitulate such fantastic movements of mankind-that would be like trying to describe the coy smile of Sangay Wangmo captured in afternoon sunlight, but one can try to share something from the edges, just a nibble. It wasn’t the same without mom and Bubba Ganush but the show must go on and it done did. Plenty of Ara and momo’s were on hand to celebrate under the painted giant banner of the Guru. The tapestry overshadowed the event on Thursday with vivid depictions beyond comprehension. Yet Wacky Wednesday was my jam and like I said before my feet never touched the ground. In the end I’m left with just a feeling of gratitude and remnants of laughter.