This is an email sent on November 30:
It’s time to begin my journey back to the other side of the world. I’ll fly to Kathmandu tomorrow morning; spend two days in that chaotic city before trying to begin the long process of flying back home. I am deeply worried because of the protesters in Bangkok. As of this writing, they have taken over the Bangkok airport and all flights have been cancelled. Please pray for a peaceful resolution. When I get to Kathmandu, I will make my way to the Thai Air office and see what is going on. Maybe they are diverting all flights through other cities? I mentioned my fears to Bel and Somendra and they both did a jokarna (divination). They both said it will be okay…so I am trying to visualize my safe passage home…but to be honest…I’m freaking out a bit over here.
I made the rounds this past week, saying my tearful good-byes and savoring my final moments with each cherished friend. Last Monday, Yeshi and I traveled by motorcycle up the road towards Sarankot to visit a Buddhist retreat center where monks from the camp’s monastery meditate to become lamas. This center was built last year by Shangpa Rinpoche, who runs the monastery in the camp. He and Yeshi have known each other since they were little boys. Yeshi says they were very naughty…using the young Rinpoche’s powers to divine answers and try to get treats. When a monk enters the center, he commits to meditating for three years, three months, three days and three hours…in seclusion for the majority of the time. They cannot leave the retreat center and outsiders cannot enter. Visitors can go up during their two hour lunch break, but you sit outside the door and carry on your conversation through a cloth door hanging. Yeshi’s nephew Chuing has chosen to do this. He and his cohort entered six months ago. I call him my cosmopolitan monk. He used to ride around on a motorcycle, listening to his I pod and chatting on his cell phone. His English is fabulous. We were all surprised when he made the announcement that he wanted to enter this very important training. So Yeshi and I headed up the steep road on his motorcycle so that I could sit outside the door and chat with Chuing. He’s happy. And he’s different, talking about how this focusing on the sacred is transforming him. We arrived at the same time as Tseyang Rinpoche. He is a ‘tulku’…which means he is a reincarnated lama. At the end of each lifetime, because he is so close to enlightenment, he can direct his soul into the next life and arrive with memories of the previous one. I first met Tseyang Rinpoche when he was only ten years old and he would come Lakeside and sit with me outside of Yeshi’s shop and watch the tourists go by. He greeted me warmly. He is now an educated young man. One of his ears is in the shape of a conch shell. The previous Tseyang Rinpoche was Yeshi’s mother’s uncle. So when he died, it fell upon Yeshi and his brother, who is also a lama, to find his new incarnation. When news came that a child had been born with an ear in the shape of the shell, Yeshi and his brother lama traveled to the border of Tibet and tested the child. They placed before him items that had belonged to the previous Rinpoche. These items included eye glasses, mugs for tea, sacred hand bell and other ritual objects. The items are mixed with similar objects that did not belong to him so that there would be three sets of eye glasses, three mugs for tea, etc. The child then picks out the objects that were his in the previous life. This he was able to do to perfection, so they brought him out of Tibet and down to Shangpa Rinpoche’s monastery. When Shangpa Rinpoche was a young child, the old Tseyang Rinpoche provided support for him as he traveled out of the mountains. Shangpa Rinpoche then returned the kindness by helping the new Tseyang Rinpoche. Shangpa Rinpoche is also a tulku and they follow each other through each lifetime, watching out for each other. We stayed up at the center for the entire two hours before returning Lakeside.
I then began my final visits. Tuesday made my way one last time to see Pau Rhichoe. When I told him about my meeting with Tseyang Rinpoche the previous day, he shared a story of how when he was a young Lhapa (shaman) he had traveled for an audience with the old Tseyang Rinpoche. He was just a teenager and a new Lhapa. They had made offerings to the old Rinpoche, and then were invited to enter the monastery and practice their ‘lha’…which he did with great success. We spent our final time together describing how important a role we each play in the others’ life and talked about the prayers we will say so that we have to good fortune to see each other again. Wednesday was Pau Nyima day and I repeated the process of reminiscing about our many years of shared laughter. His wife makes the most delicious flat noodle soup and his mother, who is now 89 years old, put on her special white Tibetan dress to come and put the blessing scarf around my neck.
Thursday I visited Trinley one more time and soaked in his gorgeous son. He has a cold and was a bit fussy. At one point, Trinley put him into my arms and he quieted down. As I held him, he gazed into my eyes and smiled. I told him that I knew his grandfather. That his grandfather was my friend and had told me many wonderful stories…stories about being a nomad in Tibet, about herding yak, about having the fate to be a Lhapa…and that as he grew, I would share these wonderful stories with him. I think I will start bringing my movie camera again and start recording his son’s life so that if he has the fate to be a Lhapa when he enters puberty, I will have recorded his years leading up to that event and hopefully will be able to capture the process he will be put through to test his karma. I also made the rounds of the old ones that we support. At the end of all of these final visits, the kata (prayer scarf) was put around my neck and we touched foreheads. By the time I reached the taxi, I was covered in the special scarves. They also put small gifts in my hands…usually bracelets and belts that they have woven. I’m always deeply touched by the generosity of those who have so little.
My time with Bel and his family passed way too quickly. We spent Friday recording the key elements of the gufa experience so that Shelly and I can write an article about it. Somendra came each evening and we all sat around and chatted and drank raksi. I slowly packed up my room and with many tears and messages of safe travels and hurry backs, I made my farewells. Guru Baba came, as well as all of the extended family in the area. Grandmother brought me a bottle of her homebrew, fresh buffalo milk and three eggs her chickens had lay. The family put two water containers on either side of their front door and floated flowers on the top. Then they sat me down on a chair in their main room and one by one came and put tikka on my forehead, katas around my neck and flowers in my hands. Bishnu was the first and as she approached me, I started crying…which started her crying…and soon we were all crying. I love this family so much! It is always agonizing to have to leave.
I was able to get one more visit in with Lobsang, sitting in her shop yesterday and being treated to lunch at her home. I haven’t mentioned her much this year, but did make my way to her shop once a week to hang out and chat. Of all of the people I spend time with here in Pokhara, I have known her the longest. That first year when my group tour was finished, I had made my way to Pokhara to trek. I had a down day, so had visited her Tibetan camp, which is different from the one where the Lhapas live. Since that time, all of those many years ago, I have continued to sit with her in her shop. We go to her home and she makes me an onion omelet and Tibetan bread. She is the woman who I sell mallas for stateside to keep that craft tradition alive. She has great street smarts and is a marvelous sounding board for me when things occur that confuse me.
So now I’m packing my final bags. Yeshi will take me to the airport in the morning and push me through the process of a domestic airport to ensure I am put on the airplane. Then two days of R and R before the long flight home. Please let me come home!