Tag Archives: Buddhism

My First Puja! – Pema Choling Monastery, Everest Region, Nepal

Pema Choling Monastery, Nepal
Pema Choling Monastery – Everest Region, Nepal

Filling in the gaps; the posts that weren’t posted…

Tuesday June 3rd 2014 

“Meditation is bringing the mind back home, and this is first achieved through mindfulness…Once an old woman came to the Buddha and asked him how to meditate. He told her to remain aware of every movement of her hands as she drew water from the well, knowing that if she did, she would soon find herself in that state of alert and spacious calm that is meditation.” -Sogyal Rinpoche from “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”.

On a bright sunny day, the new volunteer and I spent 2 ½ hours climbing the steep hill to the monastery. When we arrived, we found the place in a state of busy commotion. Sherpa women had taken over the kitchen while Cook and many of the other monks were busy working around the grounds. The monastery had begun to prepare for their visit from the high lama, which marks the beginning of the Dumje Festival. The High Lama Dagri Rinpoche, travels to all the monasteries in the region during the summer; the Dumje Festival follows him and takes place wherever he is.

Tired from our climb, we headed to the kitchen and set our things down. Almost immediately, there was in front of us, the bottomless cup of milk tea we’d come to love. In this region, it’s everywhere, and it is not uncommon to have drunk 6 cups before lunch. It was midday and the drums, chanting, and bells of puja (prayer) could be heard on the mountaintop. Normally, puja only takes place in the early morning and in the evening, but today, practice has started in preparation of the festival.

Curious, we hung in the doorway trying to see what was happening in the sacred prayer room, when the Sherpa woman in charge invited us in. What a huge honor! We were now right in the middle of a very special puja session with all the senior monks, a few nuns from a nearby monastery, and a select few young monks. We were ecstatic to be allowed to participate. As we joined the monks, we took up the lotus position on the long low benches that ran the perimeter of the room. The air was thick with incense and the very low monotone chanting of the monks. Bright colored cloths covered the walls and ceiling, and were accompanied by many pictures of lamas wrapped in prayer scarves called katas. On the back wall sat a huge gold statue of the Buddha in lotus position. He took up the majority of the wall from floor to ceiling and was surrounded by incense, flowers, milk tea, pictures of high lamas, katas, and offerings of food and drink. As the monks chanted mantras, the Sherpa women would come in, get on their knees, slide their hands forward on the ground until they were lying down, rise, and repeat. Then they would come and pour steaming milk tea in everyone’s cup.

I was told when it comes to monastic life, some monks put all their effort into becoming enlightened beings, while others spend the majority of their time doing chores and helping around the grounds. I knew immediately which of my young monks were following the path of the Buddha, and it was an absolute honor to be allowed to participate in the rituals of those actively seeking enlightenment. As we sat cross-legged I remembered that this was the chosen position because it is considered rude to point your feet at people, and especially at the Buddha or the pictures of the Dalai Lama and other lamas. Despite the pain in my hips, I was able to center myself and do some meditation. What an incredible experience to get control of the mind and thoughts, and meditate in the midst of these Holy Beings in their best form, chanting mantras that have existed for thousands of years! Every hit of the gong and drums shook the thin air to vibration, and the rays of sunlight seemed to beam brighter as they made their way through the old dusty windows, the lingering smoke of incense, and the steam of the ever-present milk tea. Even an outsider stifled by ignorance could feel the sacred abundance of life and ritual here.

Hike to Pema Choling Monastery, Everest Region, Nepal
Prayer flags and stones on the hike to Pema Choling Monastery, Everest Region, Nepal

Reflection – Ghat, Nepal

Prayer Stones and Flags Ghat, Nepal
Tibetan Prayer Stones and Flags  – Ghat, Nepal

Filling in the gaps; the posts that were not posted…

Sunday June 1st 2014 

I am still sick and sitting very still in the sunny yard, watching the wind push the clouds above while it moves my hair, my clothes, the grass, and everything around me. Suddenly, the other female volunteer comes running into the yard, rushes up the steps, then pauses for a moment and asks what I’m reading. After I reply, she says, “That’s great! Wish I had time to read!” then runs up the rest of the steps and disappears in a hurry. I think to myself ‘Yes, but I am here to be still and reflect, what are you here for?’ I have begun reading “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche. It talks about something he calls “active laziness” which manifests in very different ways depending on the culture. In the West, we keep ourselves so busy and bustling around, that we never have time to reflect, thereby avoiding our fears. The tragic side effect of this habit, is that we also rush through all the beauty around us, the wonderful moments as well. Most often we miss them completely, thinking we’ve arrested our minds and bodies long enough to participate, but because we’ve not actually trained ourselves to slow down, we are not actually able to do so. That is why the Tibetan masters refer to Westerners as “beautiful living corpses”.

In 2008 I read a series of ‘based on real story’ books that were part of the “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior” saga, written by Dan Millman. The series was accompanied by self-help books. At the time, I had no idea that the thoughts and practices were born of the Buddhist philosophy and tradition. I followed exactly the suggestions, and it was one of the most peaceful times in my life. It is said that once the concept is grasped, it is not uncommon for one to lose hold of it, and that I did. Not knowing where the ideas had come from, I had no way of pursuing further knowledge, but there were some meditation apps on my phone and I started using them. Over the years, I slowly started becoming aware of traditions that included masters and enlightened beings. Then, in a required Comparative Religions class that turned out to be absolutely amazing, I was introduced to some of the religions to which these philosophies belonged. Long story short, I wound up in Nepal studying Eastern Philosophy and some of the religions and cultures it lives in.

Excerpts and ideas about the mind and the nature of mind, from the “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche:

“The mind is the universal basis of experience, the thing that creates both happiness and suffering.”

According to Tibetan Buddhism, there are two fundamental parts of the mind. The Ordinary Mind (Sem in Tibetan), and The Nature of Mind (Rigpa in Tibetan).

The Ordinary Mind is the part of our mind that looks outwards, reacts to outside influence. It is the troublemaker, the thing that is constantly judging, comparing, wanting, scheming, and bringing us suffering. As Sogyal Rinpoche writes “Sem can only function in relation to an external reference point. Sem is the mind that thinks, plots, desires, manipulates, flares up in anger, that creates and indulges in waves of asserting, validating, and confirming it’s ‘existence’ by fragmenting, conceptualizing, and solidifying experience. The Ordinary Mind is the ceaselessly shifting and shiftless prey of external influences, habitual tendencies and conditioning: the masters liken sem to a candle flame in an open doorway, vulnerable to all the winds of circumstance.”

The other fundamental part, The Nature of Mind (Rigpa), is a little more difficult to understand. It is the part of the mind that looks inward. Sogyal Rinpoche says Rigpa is “Simply your flawless, present awareness, cognizant and empty, naked and awake.” I understand it as the moments of clarity, the epiphanies that come through when all the mental noise stops, and the feeling and wisdom you experience when you are truly one with what you are doing, but I am a novice.