Where Our Teacher Walked

A statue of Padmasambhava atop a monastery.

A statue of Padmasambhava atop a monastery.

Padmasambhava brought Buddhism from India to Tibet in the 8th century. He is called Guru Rinpoche, or Precious Master. Before he came to Tibet, he meditated and shared teachings in the Indian Himalayas. He is said to have set out for Tibet from Lotus Lake, which lies at the center of the small town known as Tso Pema. Twenty-five of us set out from KIBI on Tuesday night to spend three days there.

IMG_0627The first day was cold and rain-dark, but even in the sun, a mist lies over the city, obscuring photographs and lending a mysterious air to the place. According to history, or legend, whichever you prefer, Padmasambhava appeared in a lotus in the center of this lake after seven days of being burned alive by the local king for teaching his daughter about dharma. People travel from all over each year to visit the lake and nearby caves where Guru Rinpoche and Mandarava, his consort and the daughter of that ill-tempered king, meditated.

IMG_0664A short taxi ride further up the mountains takes you to the caves, which are filled with statues and offerings and are tended by local nuns. On the slopes around the caves, visitors hang infinite strings of prayer flags in offering and invocation. Looking down into the mountains, you can see hillsides terraced by generations of farmers and small brick lean-tos built into the rocks, which house monks and nuns who have undertaken a lifetime in retreat.

IMG_0636In the city below, visitors from abroad mingle with locals and Tibetan pilgrims. Though we are still in India, it’s easy to think we had hopped a border or two. The majority of signs, restaurants, and faces are Tibetan. Mantras are inscribed into every surface and monasteries ring the edge of the lake.

Even greater than the Tibetan influence is the ubiquity of monkeys. Or perhaps they are baboons, or a different tree-dwelling cousin. The chatter and screech of primates permeates the city. Their voices echo through every corner and their shadows traipse over every rooftop, gate, and boundary wall. They watch the pilgrims come and go, engaged in their own animal meditations on life and mountains.

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