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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Bits and Pieces, and What’s to Come

Here, have a bunch of random pictures of the center that are pretty that I haven’t managed to post yet. Also, have some ramblings about life these days.IMG_0532I got a bit caught by surprise at how time is passing. I’ve been in India for nearly two months. Classes end in two days.

IMG_0531Even though I still don’t super love Delhi, I’ve gotten used to this place. I guess this post might benefit from a few pictures of the city, but instead it’s pictures of KIBI, a testament to how little I venture out. And the thought never strikes me to take pictures when I am outside. I go out to buy snacks and be elsewhere for a minute, rather than to adventure and catalogue. I’ve done very little sightseeing, but I’m okay with that. Two months is not a long time, especially when weekdays are jam-packed and by the weekend all I want to do is read a book and eat a treat somewhere sunny and green.

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I don’t know what the long-term future holds, but coming back here is definitely a possibility. It’s difficult to find opportunities in the West to study Buddhist philosophy this intensively with teachers this advanced. There are PhD programs, but they are often geared away from practice to maintain their critical academic position. There are opportunities for shorter study, though, and many for retreat, which is its own unique blend of study and practice. Exploring these possibilites is the purpose of this voyage, to discover where to be. I study Dharma for my own development, and I also have a thought in my mind to be able to share it with others. For both those purposes, the main goal is to find a course that will allow me to nurture the deepest understanding of the teachings and myself. So, the journey continues. Literally and figuratively.

IMG_0571Once classes wind up, every week is a new adventure. This coming week, we have ceremonies on Monday in honor of the founder of our lineage, Marpa. Tuesday evening, we leave for a place called Tso Pema, somewhere up toward mountains where great masters meditated in caves. This will be my first pilgrimage, and I have very little idea what it will hold. Travelling to sites where important events happened is a strong part of Tibetan Buddhism. It helps us develop connection to the tradition and our own practice, but I don’t know much besides that. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write more once I’ve actually done it.

IMG_0572Then there’s finals week, which is a week to study with a day of exams at the end. This may involve some overdue exploration of the city. It’s technically not time off, but, you know, a person needs inspiring study spots. After that, Karmapa comes for a huge week of public teachings. By huge, I mean that the population of the center will jump from about sixty to three hundred. I’m mentally steeling my nerves for the influx of human energy. But we’ll all be receiving blessings from our teachers during that time, so people will probably be in a good mood. After that, I have another two weeks of travel to important places in the Buddha’s life, and then it’s off to France.

IMG_0540This segment of the journey feels as though its end is nearing, yet I’ve only just settled in. Which is fine with me, actually. I appreciate the quickness of pace, though I hadn’t expected it. When I arrived, I thought I would have three straight months of class, period. These added journeys and new experiences are a welcome surprise. You’ll be the first to know what the winding road yields.