6/24/08 — Kathmandu, Nepal — I sit on the edge of a bardo, one of them uncountable bardos-within-bardos-within-bardos of this life-bardo, physically on a seat in Garden Kitchen restaurant, but not quite on the edge of it. Garden Kitchen is a pleasant eating establishment right across from the lavish, by Nepali standards, house where I stayed a few nights with Justin Kirkwood. I always sit in the open-air section, protected by a creamy tarp.
7/5/08 —Kathmandu, Nepal — It is time. I must purify. I feel so happy right now. I feel that good energies are really swirling around me… that the blessings of the buddhas are pouring into me. Tara is appearing everywhere. Every woman appears as Tara. Every man appears as Chenrezig. Every moment appears as bliss.
… I feel like I’m at a very palpable turning point. Things are changing, deeply, within me.
7/6/08 — Kathmandu, Nepal — Today’s the Dalai Lama’s birthday. I believe he’s 73. I’m in Rudra, and one of my favorite DJ Shadow songs is playing. This is the only place that plays good music in Boudha that I know of. It’s a sunny day. Hot. The extent to which I crave female company is overwhelming almost. I am more focused on my studies, it seems. I’m reviewing notes from Manjushree. I need to call Darjeeling today and see what’s going on with the bandh. Then when it’s safe to go back home I’ll put in a one-week notice at Jonang Gompa. Oh! Another one of my favorite DJ Shadow songs, the one that Adam Persinger played for me sometimes. Is the world in chaos? Is America really as bad as the news says? Should I be even more happy with being away from the States than I am? Probably. I am happy here. And really, it’s just starting. Tibetan study is only just beginning. Dharma practice is only just beginning… understanding of my self and my mind is only just beginning… I have so much to look forward to…! I love my life.
I realize as I’m Rudra that music is one of the main things about America that I miss. I love Indian/Nepali/Tibetan music but I feel that so much of my experience and view is packed into the notes of American/Western music. It’s interesting.
7/7/08 — Kathmandu, Nepal — Yesterday —I came into my room at Jonang Gompa, tired from the day’s events — the celebratory air that pervaded Boudha for HH the Dalai Lama’s birthday was concomitant with one of the hottest days I’d experienced in India of Nepal, and the sun, shining like the smiling radiance of the Presence Himself’s face, was a welcome and nourishing refreshing factor of the day, but had pushed some of the regulatory systems of my corporeal form to their limits. I had found out just a half hour before that the the indefinite bandh (strike) in Darjeeling had effectively ended, at least in as much as I was concerned. I was going back. As much as I had resistance to the concept, and to the potential or even imminent downgrade in pleasure which that entailed… it was time to go back.
Back to the Darjeeling hills, those mist-enshrouded beauties which can rarely be seen despite their infamy, which tease the tourists like a strip show with fog instead of clothes. It was time to reimmerse myself in 21 1/2 hours of Tibetan language class a week. The prospect was a relieving one in terms of my formal studies, which had been on hold for almost a month due to my exile in the Kathmandu Valley, having been forced to take extended leave from the world’s most famous tea-producing city, due to the seemingly eternal battle for the separate state of Gorkhaland, the domain of the Gorkhas — the Nepali ethnic group which had long ago come to Darjeeling to tend the vast expanse of verdant citadels, the tea plantations, in the 1800s, and who were the majority populace of Darjeeling.
In Boudha, I was teaching English at Jonang Gompa, which belonged to the most rare lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, Jonang. It had been almost completely eradicated by the 5th Dalai Lama, and today it has less than 140 monasteries and 6000 monks. Their primary controversial tenet which led to so much persecution back in the 5th Dalai Lama’s time, and is still controversial today, is their adherence to the philosophical view of zhen-tong, “other-emptiness”, as opposed to the official view of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, rang-tong, “self-emptiness”.
I had forged the karmic connection to Jonang Gompa through my auspicious meeting with Zopa Gyamtso, “Ocean of Patience”, early in my stay in Boudha, where I met him around the Great Stupa. Zopa immediately made a strong impression on me. He simply glowed. He was not especially extroverted or talkative, but everything he said, even if it seemed ordinary, was like a transmission of gentleness and compassion. The first few times I met him around the Stupa, he would talk between an uninterrupted stream of mantra-recitation. It almost seemed like his normal conversation was a continuation of his recitation. The more I spent time with Zopa-la, as I always referred to him in the honorific, the more I began to treasure the felt-sense which being in his presence fostered. It was like being close to a warm fire, which sent forth a cozy feeling of equanimity, of “emptiness of which compassion is the very essence”, as the saying goes.
He was really a lama, and worthy of respect. He had completed 6 years of solitary retreat in a cave, beginning at the age of 13. He told me bits of his story in Tibetan, in his clearer-than-average Golok accent. His parents were nomads, and had given birth to him when they were very young. He became a monk at an early age, and became the disciple of a great yogi of the Jonang lineage, presumably also when he was very young. His master had passed away a few years ago. He’d come to India in 2004, living in Karnataka in South India, and then Shimla in the northwestern state of Himachal Pradesh (where Dharamsala and Bir reside). He hadn’t been in Nepal long, perhaps under a year. He had aspirations to visit America, where both a Jonang monastery and some relatives lived in New York. I went to the American Embassy in Kathmandu one day, to help him get some information about getting a visa for the US.
He sat in my room at the gompa last night, the energy waves swirling around his body almost visibly. He came close and said in Tibetan one of the most famous of all Mahayana formulas, one that you here so much that you almost forget its profundity, but when it comes from the heart, it can strike you like you’re hearing it for the first time:
“All sentient beings don’t want to suffer. All sentient beings only want to be happy. However, all sentient beings are creating the causes for suffering, and do not know how to create the causes of happiness; therefore, all sentient beings are suffering, and do not have the happiness that they seek. Therefore, one should generate in one’s mind great love and compassion for all sentient beings.”
7/8/08 – Kathmandu, Nepal – I sit behind the driver of a bus rocketing ricketedly to the border of India, to the edge-town of Kakarvitta. The driver’s dusty footprinted maroon driver’s seat appears before me, serving a pacifying function, a kind of slight antidote to the bumpy-as-can-be 18 hour ride. The sunniest day I’ve felt in Nepal makes its way into my privileged domain (that is, right behind the driver’s seat), making itself known on my arms, my stomach, my lap. The man sitting next to me performs the threefold body-speech-mind supplication, touching his forehead-throat-heart like a Catholic crossing his chest, rather than the full-blown formal palms-joined-like-a-lotus-flower gesture. I wonder if his version is a Nepali custom.
I turn my head to look out the window and see a stupa whose I don’t know, but I do know that it is rumored to have been constructed by the daughter of King Ashoka. It looks like a miniature Boudhanath. John Allen Gibel called it the “Bester Stupa” (a reference to a restaurant nearby it which claimed to serve not only the best hamburgers, but also the Bester ones), and “The Little Stupa That Could”. The bus comes to a halt, and the world of all appearances, possibilities, and vehicles continues outside unabated, those streets which definitely and decidedly “Full Power”, as my French colleague Nicolas Chabolle might say. A trip like this makes one face the imminent presence of undiluted Full-Power-ness. And also I’m-Not-Fucking-Around-ness. India and Nepal are always intense, but long bus rides can have a distinct tendency to bring that intensity to the absolute forefront, as a palpable confrontation. Perhaps that’s part of the reason that the gods are invoked so heavily at the front of buses, which are usually jubilantly adorned with god-images, photographs of gurus and lamas, wreaths of fake flowers of variegated colors, and light-up deity-statues encased in plastic heavens. Perhaps those symbols of the divine not only protect against wrecks, but soften the intensity of travel in a general sense. In the case of this bus it certainly does that for me – in the left corner of the headboard, where two Nepali equivalents of glove-compartments are stationed, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who for me is pretty close to the mahaguru of mahagurus, looks placidly from his throne, like the mountain of compassion that he was. From the photograph, he imparts not only a sense of safety, but also wisdom-awareness.
I was seen off with five khatags — Tibetan silk scarves of greeting, farewell, gratitude, and auspiciousness – by my friends from Jonang Gompa, where I’d been living and teaching English for the previous two weeks. Five different colors. From the same Golok province of Amdo that my own root lama hails from, they displayed the same kind of love and warmth towards me that he does.
I recite 108 Barchhay Lamsel prayers, to dispel obstacles for the journey.