The Buddha said:
This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds
To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky,
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.


What the caterpillar perceives as the end, to the butterfly is just the beginning.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

India Day 8 - Sanitation Rizong Debate Rooftop

Saturday 5th.
Palden Llamo permission to practice. Long life prayer for H.H. Dalai Lama. Deep chanting. Meeting with Rizong Rinpoche. Debate watching. Tea on the rooftop. Confessions. x [Alan's travel diary]


Every day I kept my ritual of reassuring my family by email that all was well. On Saturday January 5th I told them about the puja for the long life of the Dalai Lama. The chant master was amazing; hearing him, the harmonics of his voice resonated all the way down my spine.

My dad was in good humour. "So the puja is only for the Dalai Lama's benefit? What about the rest us sentient beings? See if you can get a puja for your constipation. Otherwise, there's always the alternative of a purge." 

Despite everybody's diarrhoea warnings and predictions, my experience was the very opposite, the result of many causes and conditions coming together, like the food available (flat bread made with white flour, white rice, and vegetables) and lack of proper toilet facilities.

At least I was lucky to have access to a private toilet - a small cubicle with a rather narrow hole on the floor - whereas most of the local people, regardless of age or gender, simply squatted under the trees, oblivious to the presence of any passers-by. However, despite the cubicle's relative privacy, there was always a queue of people waiting outside, and I just couldn't relax my sphincter!

And, of course, there was no sanitation! Outside, there were 3 water taps and a small bucket. The water wasn't suitable for drinking, but at least I could fill the little bucket, take it with me to the cubicle, and try to flush it down the hole.

Where did the stuff go, though? To the streets! Yes, there were no real sewer systems in the settlement. What I saw, on each side of many of the unpaved roads, were filthy street gutters to which chemicals were added to, making the stench almost unbearable in some streets. Now imagine the scorching heat turning the hazardous mixture of brown floating feaces, urine and chemicals into vapour and you get the picture... No wonder most people walk around with pollution masks!

Anyway, I reassured my dad that all was well, with nothing but mosquito bites to worry about! I continued the practice of "offering the body" and hoped that my decision of refuse vaccinations was the right one.

Visions, All Beings as Mothers, Al as Mother

What I didn't mention was my strange 'vision' of entering Alan's body through his crown chakra as pure consciousness and leaving it through his root chakra. This happened during the teachings, as I sat cross legged behind him. I was disconcerted, and didn't know what to make of it, other than to notice the persisting feeling that he had given birth to me. I had attended several teachings on recognizing all sentient beings as my own mothers. That 'vision' was transmitting exactly the same teaching but in a totally new, very experiencial, way.

Walk to Camp 1

Nechung's Monastery
The walls paintings in the Nechung Monastery are special and definitely deserve a look.

Outside, the children gathered

to watch the Westerners doing their tai chi practice.

Silent teachings from Rizong Rinpoche

On the evening, our group was introduced to Rizong Rinpoche, "holder of one of the three highest spiritual positions in the Gelug Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism." He is said to be an "extraordinary master of sutra and tantra," and was appointed by the Dalai lama as Abbot of Gyumed Tantric Monastery and Drepung Loseling, "two of the greatest seats of Tibetan spiritual knowledge."

From this encounter, what stayed in my mind was the way Rizong Rinpoche reacted when one of the women in our group, perhaps slightly concerned she wouldn't get one of the blessed protection cords he was giving, voiced her desire to receive a red string. Traditionally, lamas recite a prayer and then blow the power of their mantra into the red cords. People then use them around the neck, believing them to be impregated with the energy and blessings of the spiritual master.

Looking straight at her, Rinpoche grabbed a hand full of red strings and threw them at her. It was a strong gesture, full of meaning, and a teaching in itself. "There, have them all," he seemed to shout with his silent gesture.

I took it as a multifaceted lesson, that happiness doesn't come from outside objects, even if supposedly infused with the spiritual energy of holy beings. Happiness is an inside job, and not even the Buddha can give you Enlightenment, for he can only show you the way.

There was also something about the way longing desire, manifested here as the wish to acquire and possess a desired object, and the fear of not acquiring it, immediately disturbs our peace of mind. Also a reminder of the role of ignorance or misunderstanding in the creation of afflictive states of mind. When we exaggerate the qualities of an object, be it a blessed cord or a new sofa, mistakenly believing that they have the power to make us happy, we are setting ourselves for disappointment.

For me, it was also a reminder of how transparent we all are, and the futility of trying to hide our weaknesses or shortcomings.

Tibetan Debate

When we left Rizong Rinpoche's quarters it was pitch dark. Afterwards, we sat on the courtyard of Gomang Monastery, watching the monks debating complex philosophical topics outside.

"One of the striking features of Tibetan debates is that they are quite physical. They are marked by emphatic gestures, such as the clapping used by the questioner to punctuate each question . The questioner holds his right hand above his right shoulder—a little over the head—and stretches his left hand forward, its palm turned upward. Then he strikes the palm of the left hand with the palm of his right and immediately crosses his arms before starting the movement all over again for the next question. These gestures are thought to have great symbolic value. The putting forward of the left hand symbolizes closing the doors of the lower states of rebirth. The coming together of the two hands symbolizes the union of the two aspects of the path, wisdom and method (i.e., compassionate actions). Drawing back the right hand marks one’s wish to liberate all sentient beings. Debaters are rarely aware of such symbolic meanings, however. For them, the gestures function primarily to stage debates, bringing them a clarity and a decisiveness that can help mobilize the intellectual capacities of the debaters and capture the attention of the audience." - Read more here

Although I couldn't understand a word of what they were saying, I was fascinated by their body language.

I wasn't expecting the debates to be so physically passionate, and was fascinated by this daily routine aimed at defeating misconceptions, and the display of such strong movements and intense physical gestures like "foot stomping, loud clapping and hand gestures."


I was surrounded by truly amazing people. On his emails, my dad kept encouraging me to take note of it all, as rationaly and dispassionately as possible, "because, you never know, you might gather enough material to write an essay, your memoirs, or even a more comprehensive book." Unfortunately, I didn't follow his advice. Fortunately, I kept our correspondence.


What I didn't tell him was what happened later at the roof terrace. I loved sitting up there, specially at sunrise and sunset, as the view was breathtaking. That evening, Alan followed my footsteps, and asked if it was ok to join me. We sat in silence next to each other, watching the sunset, and the way the sky quickly turned pitch black, revealing the infinity of bright stars which day after day illuminated the dark nights. Alan then turned his head towards me and began to open up about his feelings. Then, he asked if he could kiss me.

What I also kept quiet about, and didn't mention in my emails, was the next day announcement at Gyakham Khangtsen.

"Would the Westerners please refrain from using the roof terrace at night?" 


Continues here.

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