Monday, April 16, 2018

In the Land of the Divine Madman IV

May 16, 2003

After breakfast we drove back into Jakar Valley, where four circular buildings overhung the river.  We passed a few hotels that looked new, and Teri theorized that most things in the tourist infrastructure rarely last long due to shoddy construction.  Most Bhutanese, if they do manual labor, would rather farm than do construction.

We first came to Tamshing Goemba.  An old man was sitting on the balcony of an old building like a relic himself, gazing down on the world passing by.  Monk's quarters enclosed a grassy area.  As we were entering, a man wearing chains walked past.  A girl on the second floor was blowing bubbles through a screen.  The corridors were all covered with extremely old, very elaborate thankas.  Here and there, bird shit streaked the paintings, so small, sage-like branches had been shoved into the space above the thankas to keep the birds out.  It was only marginally effective since the birds all seemed to stay in a large open area directly across from an adjacent Buddha room.  This is the first time I've seen this type of temple architecture.  A triple throne was at the far side, with raised places for monks running perpendicular to this.  There was a raised corridor running around the top.  This second floor was no longer straight, and with the warped walls downstairs, showed that this was the oldest temple in Bhutan.

After making offerings, we were given camphor water as a blessing, nice scent but lousy taste.  When Cheryl gave khata, it looked like she was shooting free throws.   We had to help build a butter lamp, putting our hands on a large stick, then smearing it inside the bowl.  Clarke rubbed his hand on his hair, which immediately attracted flies.  Each of us tried on the 60 pound chain mail shawl. Thus weighted,  I run my lap around the altar.   Moving upstairs, we crouched below low ceilings, walking past various weapons to the Buddha room.  After offerings, we were back out in the courtyard where a little boy greeted us and seemed delighted, giggling to his mother.  Across the river, we could hear chanting from Kurjey Lhakhang, where hundreds of monks milling about like moving trees.

We made a quick stop at Kenchosum Lhakhang, a temple with an interesting cracked Tibetan bell.  Out front, we made a smoke offering in a hollow chorten, the dark grey smoke of burning ceder floating down the valley.

Next was Jakar Dzong, perched high on a hill above the valley.  Its courtyards were completely empty, white walls a sharp contrast to blue sky.  The only life in the whole place was a lone dog sleeping in the sun.  The corridors on either side were littered with small bits of wood, the ornamentations on the railings looking like turnips. The windows above were shaped a lot like doors.  The wind was literally howling through the roofs high above.  At the end of the courtyard, an old man sat picking something out of a huge bowl of rice.  Crossing from courtyard to courtyard we'd pass through high towers with curved ceilings.  The smell of butter lamps permeated all.  Across the valley, schoolchildren were beginning to leave for lunch, dropping down the dirt trails.  One guy astride a motorcycle put on a helmet that was pocked like a golf ball. 

We stopped back at the hotel, where the laundry whipping in the wind sounded like prayer flags.  Later, we went to Jampa Lhakhand, where women were building a parking lot, one carrying a baby on here back. A guy was driving four cows through, throwing stones at them if they didn't behave.  We entered between four large prayer wheels, onto a dusty courtyard with the usual white walls, colorful trim punctuated with Tibetan characters, and thatched roof above.  At one end of the courtyard was a small building containing a thousand butter lamps.  There were no monks around, so we decided to meditate in front of a small building which was probably the monks quarters.  We alternated chanting and silence, me having trouble with the Tibetan names.  Our staccato vocalization sounded like Cylons.  During the silence, I was drawn into the whipping of prayer flags, though at one point, an Indian truck drove up, making strange mechanical sounds.  We finished with a mantra of "Hum!" The others did it with such force that it sounded like a car revving.  Mine was done more inside my pursed lips, the sound like a didgeridoo.   I felt a sense of power here, on the wide dusty plain, with huge mountains rising on the right.  Clouds slowly passed over.  At any moment, Clint Eastwood should have rode up.  Clarke said that this meditation was to draw the energy from the sky and channel it through us.  This day was both a full moon and a lunar eclipse, so any merit accrued would multiply exponentially. 

As we finished, the lama showed up, so we went inside to see the Buddhas.  Here was Maitreya, a deity that I feel a strong affinity for.  The steps leading to the Buddha room were worn, and its said that when the bottom step wears down completely, the future Buddha will come. The bodhisattvas flanking Maitreya were incredibly lifelike, and seemed to move almost restlessly.  Maitreya was still, peaceful, with eyes nearly fully closed.  In its lap was a small figure (which I imagined was my son Ken, who had passed away 6 months before), almost hidden by khatas.  I walked around the outside of the Buddha room spinning prayer wheels and accidentally knocked one off its hinges, which made Dorje's wife laugh.  Nearby, I saw a small boy standing in a truck, whacking the heads of monks who walked by.  
On the drive to the summer home of Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi, the reincarnation of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.   Yangsi was sitting out on the veranda, all of ten years old.  A bit surreal to be blessed by such a small boy, who was obviously disinterested.  We were given a bit of traditional medicine instead of water.  It tasted like a mix of coffee and dirt.  The house was set back in the forest, fenced in, completely secluded.  There's a good story about Yangsi.  Steven Seagal had visited him in full swagger.  When Yangsi was told that Seagal was a movie star, he asked, "Where you in The Lion King?"  When Seagal said no, Yangsi completely ignored him. 

Next we went back up to the empowerment teachings at Kurjey Lhakhang.  I was once again awed by the action going on in the camp area.  Inside the main courtyard there were thousands of people sitting in multi-colored rows, listening to the prayers coming through the loudspeakers. (I'd hear later that there were more people here than in the capital.)  A few people were off to the side, prostrating themselves toward the main building.  Men were walking between the rows, ladling out rice from huge wicker baskets.  It was like a scene from an epic film.  

We walked up the white stone stairs past dozens of smiling monklets at play.  In the main hall, we were among many who came with offerings.  One young woman was saying a mantra as she did full length prostrations. An old woman walked around the perimeter, bowing low to hundreds of small statuettes in the walls.  When she looked up, she was weeping.  I stood out on the veranda awhile, looking down upon all the people.  A young guy did his prostrations very slowly.  The sense of devotion here was inspiring.  We Westerners "playing at Buddhism" have been able to make a conscious intellectuallized choice to add the dharma to our life.  These people were acting from pure faith from the heart.  And the chanting and the bells went on into the dusk.  

Looking for a toilet, I was led behind the monastery where the rocks were built into the back wall.  We moved cross-country along a hillside where hundreds of young monks sat or ran around. A small group of young boys played keep away with a soggy softball.  Nearby, black cauldrons boiled rice under a thatch tent.  Below us, a steady stream of monks moved off down the valley into the setting sun.  Finally I found the "toilet," a large puddle of muddy piss.

Back in the main hall, the puja for my late son Ken began.  Seven monks were sitting in a row, chanting from long loose pages.  The main monk used a vajra to prop his up.  I lit five butter lamps on the altar, then did my prostrations.  returning to my position, I was told to pray in order to guide Ken.  I began to cry after awhile, and Dorjee gently told me that I had to be strong or Ken would be confused in the Bardo.  I stopped immediately.  The chanting went on for half an hour, a beautiful pattern that became song after awhile. I've never heard anything like it.  An older monk didn't cease his prostrations throughout it all.  Behind the monks, through the window, dusk deepened. Incredibly moving and quietly beautiful. At the end I was spent.

We came outside and entered a building next door which contained a massive two-story Guru Rimpoche.  As I made my way around, bowing to the statues, I cracked my head on the altar, making Dorjee laugh.  As we left, dozens of monks were sitting in lines and chanting, a thunderous sound that filled the room. Outside, the setting sun turned the river a steel grey.  Aside from the thousands of butter lamps in a building across the courtyard, there were nearly no lights in the valley beyond. A few monks swept the courtyard, and three dogs fought for a rag.  In the campsite below the hill, hundreds of monks milling around looked like Jawas, lit from above by butter lamp fireflies.

Back at the hotel, we had dinner with a group of Tibetans from India.  They cracked lots of jokes in Tibetan, while the rest of us were really tired and turned in early.

On the turntable: Gillian Welch, "The Harrow and the Harvest"
On the nighttable:  Gavin Young, "In Search of Conrad"

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