The Stars Are There Too

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Apparently things are still up in the air.

The Nepalese government is having hearings or sessions or discussions or some such things, and I’m cooling my jets on political opinionism. Everybody’s got their life to live, their priorities to look after. Being upset about situations that I cannot change or that I have done what I can to change is not a priority.

I’ve been wondering a lot lately what politics really means. Aren’t we all inevitably striving to accomplish our own goals in line with our own values? Perhaps, but distinctions can still be made. Google defines politics like this:

“The activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.”

If we take this for definition, politics is the activity of people whose goals and values are dualistic and self-centered: me and my people. The goal of Buddhism is to break free from dualism and clinging to the idea of one’s self. For me there’s a contradiction between valuing my teachers and their teachings and identifying with and feeling a need to defend my lineage and our heritage. The purpose of the lineage, the whole reason it’s been kept alive and why it matters that it remain intact is to benefit all beings without exception. So, uh, maybe it’s time to give up on the sectarianism. I can belong to a tradition without naysaying or begrudging any others.

That said, I do hope that the cremation can take place in Nepal. But hopefully for the right reasons. Because Shamarpa’s monastery is there–because it would be good if his cremation and the monument that will remain after can help develop positive activity there.

But beings will do as beings do, and we each have to live out the consequences of whatever states of mind we cultivate. I, for one, am trying to give up on righteousness and illwill. So whatever happens happens. At least if everything is up in the air, the stars are there too to light the darkness.

**This post is part of a larger project culminating in a week of creative journalism in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal chronicling the cremation (possibly from afar) of the Tibetan spiritual master Shamar Rinpoche. To find out more or make a donation to this project, go here.

 

Infinitesimal Mirrors

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This is a flower.

Lama Puntso sometimes tells this story about how Gendun Rinpoche used to admonish all his disciples. He would say, “You see a flower and you think, ‘Oh, what a beautiful flower.’ I see a flower and I multiply it in my mind a million times. A million times a million times. And then I offer it to the Buddhas.”

This is a flower. A million times. A million times a million times. Here Buddhas, have a flower. You too. Have a flower.

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This is a double rainbow.

It appeared over the temple after yesterday’s evening storm. In Tibetan Buddhism, rainbows are considered signs of the miraculous powers of great beings. In Western science, rainbows are considered a refraction of light through innumerable tiny molecules of water.

Science feels miraculous. That beauty comes from energy we cannot touch bouncing off of teeny particles that are mostly empty space.

The universe is filled with beings struggling to be great. It is a miracle that we are here.

**This post is part of a larger project culminating in a week of creative journalism in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal chronicling the cremation (possibly from afar) of the Tibetan spiritual master Shamar Rinpoche. To find out more or make a donation to this project, go here.

 

Waiting For News

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It’s stopped raining for the moment, but I thought I might be fighting a power outage to get this post up. It’s been thundering since yesterday and my last foray from the office to the Lama House left my shoes soaked through to pointlessness. I can’t help it; the storm makes me think of Shamarpa. Bringer of storms. Of sitting in the same place two months ago waiting for the electricity to come back so I could type up the last few menu plans in preparation for his arrival at Dhagpo. The anticipation, the anxiety, the joy. Gratitude.

I’m wearing the same dress today that I was wearing the day he died. I remember thinking through a tear-filled haze, “Why did I put on a black dress today? I didn’t mean to be in mourning.”

This time I chose it on purpose. There had been some pseudo-news trickling through the grapevine that today we’d find out with finality whether or not the cremation would be in Nepal or not. It felt like a tribute to wear this dress, though I was hoping for better news than last time. Of course, in reality, there was no news. Just the realization that even if I someday finish mourning Shamarpa’s physical death, I’m still going to spend my whole life mourning the daily death of all my expectations and desires. And it’s not a bad thing, just another habit to integrate.

Part of me thinks, “Maybe I should invest in some more black.” And part of me thinks, “If I’m going to spend my whole life in mourning, maybe I’ll give up black entirely. There’s no point in overdoing it.” And then the absurdity of this line of thought kicks in and I realize that philosophizing my fashion choices is just another way to express sadness. And whatever color I wear, life is still coming for me.  Which makes it time to take all my melancholy and go work on the wedding cake I’ve got to make for 130 people before I leave town. Because learning to take care of here and now is what will carry me through all the rest.

**This post is part of a larger project culminating in a week of creative journalism in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal chronicling the cremation (possibly from afar) of the Tibetan spiritual master Shamar Rinpoche. To find out more or make a donation to this project, go here.

To Hold On And Let Go

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This is me letting go of frustration and disbelief, anger even. I have a hard time believing that human beings can be so at odds, and yet it appears we can. It’s strange to be Chinese by blood and culture and feel so completely alienated by the political choices of the Chinese government. It’s strange to be upset with an entity as abstract as a government. It’s strange to find myself drawn into a story of global politics when I’ve always tried to keep my nose pointed in the direction of things my hands can actually touch and change.

Here’s one for the history books. I’m offering you a petition. I generally make a habit of staying away from protests and petitions. I find it difficult to obtain the level of information I feel is necessary to take a stand for any issue and to declare that such-and-such a thing is right or wrong. I also have doubts about the efficacy of such means. Does it really make a difference if a few thousand people sign this electronic document that the person it’s addressed to may never see?

I’ll tell you what. I don’t know. I do know that Western political pressure can have an effect on politics in other places, as this power is not always used to good effect. I also know that at the end of the day this issue isn’t about one person or country being wrong or right. For me, it’s about thousands of people who are grieving, and the anguish they will bear for a loss with no real conclusion, no final goodbye. Maybe it’s better not to mix sentiment with politics. Maybe I don’t so much give a damn today. I’m willing to hold on to a little disgruntlement if it can help others in this time of loss.

To sign the petition for Nepal to allow Shamarpa’s body to enter the country, go here.

To read a slightly informal, but fairly informative article about the background of this issue, go here.

**This post is part of a larger project culminating in a week of creative journalism in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal chronicling the cremation (or maybe not–I guess we’ll see) of the Tibetan spiritual master Shamar Rinpoche. To find out more or make a donation to this project, go here.

For The Time Being

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Sometimes you get in the car and pull out of the driveway and hit the road without knowing where you are going. You go to the river because you don’t know where else to go. You wander the streets of the town looking for distraction, for direction, for something that makes the jangling in your brain and the fizzing in your blood a little bit softer. You look for things that are beautiful because beauty reminds you that people are trying to love, even if we aren’t always succeeding that great.

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You go to secondhand stores and bakeries because these are the places that feel familiar when everything else seems tainted with somebody’s big agenda. You go looking for simplicity, for pointless concrete things that make the human experience feel human, and not just like a theater piece on idealism or an outsized power play. You realize you got stuck thinking that life is so goddamn important, but you’re not yet strong enough to carry that weight. Or smart enough to realize there’s no weight at all, just the heaviness of your own reflection.

IMG_1673You sit on the banks of the Vézère with your feet in the muddy water and remind yourself that politics and practice and impatience are just a part of this life, and as we have, pretty much, no choice but to live it, we might as well live it well. So you eat some chouquettes and commiserate with the dragonflies, wonder when you will live it better, call it a day, then go home, hoping to live other parts of this life a little bit better, for the time being.

**This post is part of a larger project culminating in a week of creative journalism in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal chronicling the cremation of the Tibetan spiritual master Shamar Rinpoche. To find out more or make a donation to this project, go here.

 

The Other Side Of The Road

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Today our little travel group had an organizational meeting. We debated on departure times for the drive to Paris, discussed the importance of granola bars, weighed the pros and cons of raincoats versus umbrellas, and set a time for visa application en masse. We joked about monsoons and the importance of foldable stools, considered the appropriate ratio of Euros, dollars, and Nepali rupees to best get us through customs and from the airport to the hotel, and mutually wondered when our travel agency was actually going to make us pay for their awesome services. We planned, we laughed, we parted ways.

We never once even posed the question, “What will we do if it’s not there?” If the cremation that we’ve put all this effort planning to be present for winds up being some where else.

In the end, there’s not really any question. We go. Whether or not the body is there, whether or not the fire and ashes and ceremony are there, the blessing is there. Blessing is in the flexibility of mind that we develop in adapting to impermanence, in the confidence and stability we gain by following through on a commitment even when the context changes, and in the trust and peace we nurture by turning upset and uncertainty into practice.

This is pilgrimage, whatever lies on the other side of the road.

**This post is part of a larger project culminating in a week of creative journalism in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal chronicling the cremation of the Tibetan spiritual master Shamar Rinpoche. To find out more or make a donation to this project, go here.

And Then This

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So, apparently this is going on right now. Is it terribly unequanimous to go straight to, “Wtf Nepal?”

But of course the possibility that Shamarpa’s cremation won’t take place in Nepal, won’t take place at his monastery, won’t take place in a location that most students can fit and get a visa to…that goes way further than wtf Nepal. That gets into wtf politics, and wtf expectations, and wtf change, impermanence, and uncertainty.

So far I’m finding just one answer to all of this What THE F*CK. Devotion.

I’m not talking about blind faith or ostrich-style head-covering techniques. I’m talking about trust and confidence. That this could happen is…seriously inconvenient. Worse than upsetting. I’m being clevery snarky and cynical to lessen the latent panic that’s rising inside. Because panic has no place here. This is the true test of confidence.

Do I need the physical form of a teacher–even just a corpse to say goodbye to–to be present to his instructions, to consolidate my commitment? I wanna be all like, “Hell NO,” but really it’s more like, “Oh fine, no, I guess not,” in my most petulant, trembly-lip voice. But either way, no. I don’t.

Will I go to Nepal if the cremation isn’t there, if Rinpoche isn’t there? Could I even get a visa to India in ten days? Is it even worth trying? What do I do with the donations for the trip if I don’t go? What will my readers think? What story will I write?

I don’t know. But nothing’s final until it’s final, and this isn’t yet. So for now I’m sticking with confidence in whatever happens while waiting to see which way the cookie crumbles.

**This post is part of a larger project culminating in a week of creative journalism in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal chronicling the cremation of the Tibetan spiritual master Shamar Rinpoche. To find out more or make a donation to this project, go here.

The Gap

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Tonight we had a teaching about the meditation practice related to Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. Shamarpa is considered an expression of this fundamental wisdom and compassion, and this is the practice we’re doing daily for the forty-nine days between his death and his cremation.

The practice is vibrant: the alter full of offerings, the text full of music, the meditation full of imagery. Sitting in the Institute, listening to all the merits of this practice, the qualities that can be developed, the good that can be accomplished, I felt a sudden rush of loneliness. I checked myself to find its source. A little tired, a little achy, but not really stressed, and surrounded by people I love. What’s the deal, self?

I glanced up at the photo of Shamarpa, nestled in his place on the throne that he fills/filled when he is/was here. I got hit by a wave of missing-feeling mixed with the memory of his confidence and gentleness. The loneliness subsided some, and I had this thought:

Maybe all this loss I feel, for some one who isn’t really gone, but just present in a way I can’t see with my eyes or touch with my hands…maybe when I feel his absence, what I am actually feeling is the gap between me–here and now–and everything I wish I were capable of.

I don’t have an infinite light. I’m just a little, sometimes light. Often I’m hazy and muggy with confusion. Honestly, sometimes it’s kinda dark in here. And all of this loneliness for some one wiser and stronger and surer than me; it’s a little misplaced. Technically, the wise and the strong and the sure are never apart from us. Wisdom and strength and certainty are with us whenever we open our minds to them. I’m not lonely for the masters or the Buddhas or even the relative reminders of other people’s love. Those things are here for me. No.

I’m lonely for the part of me that remembers how to be infinite.

**This post is part of a larger project culminating in a week of creative journalism in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal chronicling the cremation of the Tibetan spiritual master Shamar Rinpoche. To find out more or make a donation to this project, go here.