So, this is pretty much it, Nepal. Today was the day where we did all the things.
We trundled through town at eight in the morning to Boudhanath Stupa, A white massive with a golden peak and glimmering eyes of wisdom on each of the four sides of its crest. We spun prayer wheel after prayer wheel, pausing only to make a donation to add to the blowing strands of prayer flags strung from the top of the stupa to its outer edges and to prostrate in the summer sun on the aged wooden planks laid out before the vast, luminous dome.
But of course practice must be balanced with forays into worldly life to check its effects, so we paused before lunch to do the shops. Dharma shopping isn’t much less exhausting than regular shopping in terms of choice and visual stimulus and decision-making, but it’s extra joyful because all of the objects are beautiful, sacred, and inspiring, and people tend to dharma shop for others more than for ourselves, which turns out much more gratifying.
Favorite finds of the day include mottled green and pink stone beads for mala making, textured rice paper for cards, and a carved stamp with the symbol for the victory banner of the dharma, which I connect to because it’s my refuge name. I also might really like dharma shopping because it involves lots of stones and gems. I briefly wanted to be a lapidary as a kid, and though the career aspirations didn’t last, my fascination with mineral objects remains. I treated myself to the great pleasure of picking out a smoky topaz and a white opal to offer for the Buddha statue in Dhagpo’s Institute when it gets formally filled later this year.
I managed to finish all my errands before lunch, and took a few final turns around the stupa. For the first time all week, my mind became patient, open space and my thoughts settled naturally on making wishes. The tin rattling of the prayer wheels echoed the unreeling of my aspirations—come back to us soon; stay with us even in your absence; let us all become bright in the aura of your radiance. Away from the monastery, away from responsibility and activity, the utter brilliance of the moments I have lived these last few days finally seeped into me. I felt some lurching and tears rising inside and I let it. This feeling that throws me sobbing on the ground at times turns out not be loss but gratitude. So I multiplied it a million times, a million times and million times, and offered it to the Buddhas. I like this system; it’s pretty nice actually.
We ate lunch on a rooftop terrace staring straight into the eyes of the stupa. Boudha, Katmandu, the valley, Nepal…this place is as special as everyone said. Since I’ve been here, my days and thus my mind have been permeated with pictures of enlightened beings, mantra repetitions, the sound of ceremonial instruments, and the smell of incense. I have been as grumpy, as tired, as uncertain and as heartbroken here as I ever have been in other places in my life, but here, whenever I pause to look up or catch my breath, what appears grounds me and inspires me.
The momos were as good as they’re cracked up to be. Mine were cheesy and onion-y on the inside, and chewy and tender on the outside. Win. We ate fast. Rumors said Karmapa would give blessing at two at Shar Minub. The rumors were true, and we found ourselves in the steaming upper temple room at Shar Minub, packed liked devoted sardines into the space before our teacher.
Karmapa said a lot of things today, but these two stuck out: “I don’t think there really is a change. This is about continuity. What can we continue?” That Shamarpa’s wisdom, his blessing, his guidance, and simply his mind, are with us always and wherever. Only his physical manifestation has departed. So really, this transition is about the connection we are able to uphold and not at all about the state-of-being or location of a man. Which I suppose we knew, but everything’s more convincing when Karmapa says it. His knowing is a stable, integrated knowing and not the kind of hopeful, intellectual knowing that I’ve got going.
And then he said, “Go back to your daily lives with courage.” Which I think I might need. We arrive in Paris at eight p.m., which is four hours later in Nepal and in our bodies. We drive six-to-eight hours home to arrive at some unholy hour of the morning, and the next day Shabdrung Rinpoche’s course beings and we get going as if we’d never left.
Except not. Because we have left. Because we lived this week. And gave and saw and shared and practiced and received. Because the words of our teachers and the power of their minds have left their imprints on us, and we are different to whatever extent we can let them sink into us.
We walked the 350 steep, stone stairs up to Swayambhu after Karmapa’s teaching. We arrived streaming sweat and aching. This place is one of Shamarpa’s places. His past reincarnations helped establish it and nurture it. His picture is on the altar of the tiny temple for what it’s worth, and I found it worth a lot. I bent my forehead to the picture frame and quiet came. I didn’t want to step away, but I am learning how. How to carry closeness with me; how to connect to being cared for.
When we left Shar Minub this afternoon, people started gathering and pointing to the sky. I looked up. I’m getting used to this whole rainbow thing. There may still be a part of me that wants to record all the dates and locations of all the rainbows in relation to all the dates and locations of all the auspicious dharma happenings and see if there’s really any statistical significance in their appearances. And then the rest of me understands that it matters truly not at all whether there are more or less or where and when they are. It think it only matters that when we see them, we feel loved and capable of loving, inspired by wisdom and capable of becoming wise. Still though, I can’t help starting to believe. Rainbows equal masters; equal enlightened mind. Today was statistically significant.
We were trudging down the pitted road and I was staring at my shoes and I sloped forward. When I gazed up from the gray mud and gravel, at first I only saw clouds. A high contrast puff lingering in front of the afternoon sun. As my vision adjusted to the brightness, I looked for crepuscular rays, those dramatic beams of light that typically jut from behind illuminated clouds. But there weren’t any. There was a diffuse aureole of gentle luminosity, steadily deepening from white to pastel to Technicolor rainbow. I’ve never seen a rainbow cloud before. It looked like how I imagine the aurora borealis, but steady rather than wavering and more varied in its hues. It was beautiful. Gazing up at the gentle, colored glow felt like the warmest hug. I thought, “Hi.”
And then I tucked the rainbow into my heart, and held it there, and kept on walking.