Right now I am on the plane, leaving Pokhara, Nepal to return to Kathmandu. It has been great to be out of Kathmandu for 10 days of travel; with 5 days in Pokhara (previous post) and then 5 days attending Puja at the Gargon Ling Nunnery with Tsoknyi Rimpoche and the nuns living there. The nunnery is about a 20 minute walk from the town of Ranipauwa where Joni and I stayed at the Hotel Grand Potala, a grand name for a 2 star hotel 🙂
I was very fortunate to be granted permission by Rimpoche to take photos and video of the ceremonies. My process and pace were in stark contrast to the pace on “Demonstration Day” at the school that I shared earlier. Rather than jumping from small classroom to classroom, positioning myself, adjusting my light settings and dancing around Rimpoche and the young Ani’s movements, I had hours and days to contemplate my shots during the 5 days of Puja; sitting, watching and observing the ceremony.
The Puja (a devotional practice for requesting blessings) consisted of around 60 hours of chanting, punctuated by drums, symbols, bells, horns and damarus (small hand drums). While I didn’t fully understand the Tibetan chants and was totally confused by the activities at the beginning, the feeling and meaning was evident on a visceral level when I managed to relax into the moment. My bit of familiarity with Tibetan practices and a few Tibetan words also helped as did my study of Buddhism in general and my faith in Rimpoche’s authority to convey it. The result was feeling bathed in blessings and aspirations for all beings to be free of suffering, attachment and aversion.
Anyone witnessing such a ceremony would have respect and appreciation for the care it requires. Rimpoche and the Anis moved through the text before them; sitting mostly still, bringing forth the intentions handed down from the Buddha (over 2,500 years ago). The physical act of sitting there and “singing” for 60 hours is itself a feat. Only practice and devotion could allow a person to accomplish it. I hope the photos convey the concentration as well as the variety of activities they performed.
I, on the other hand, fidgeted and adjusted my position to deal with the pain that is inevitable with sitting so long. I began each morning on a cushion on the floor sitting cross legged but retreated to one of 3 chairs in the room when I could no longer stand to sit 🙂 Rinpoche kindly encourage us to take time out from the ceremonies to explore the beauty of Muktinath and the surrounding hills. These hikes definitely helped shake out some kinks in our bodies and refresh our minds.
With permission to move about at will to take photographs I had another outlet for my untrained body and mind. On many levels I appreciate the privilege and the responsibility for being allowed to take photographs. At the same time I was careful not to disrupt or disrespect the Puja, so I was very hesitant to move much in the beginning. I also wanted to maintain my presence of mind and practice. Photography can be likened to a banquet dinner, especially in a colorful and rich environment like the Lakhong where we sat. It is easy to get pulled and distracted into all the activities and colorful artifacts – grasping at one after another. Such a state of mind isn’t conducive to receiving blessings. The blessings can only be received with an open, attentive, relaxed and settled mind. And so, I moved in and out of picture mode and into open awareness at various intervals.
Now I have returned to my, albeit temporary, home in Chobhar, Kathmandu with a camera full of photos to process and share. I wish I could make them all available to you immediately but I’m going to take time before I post them. Meanwhile here are a select few for you to enjoy.
As I post this appreciation of the tradition of Rinpoche and the Nuns, I can’t help but remember the people in Las Vegas who lost their lives in a senseless and violent manner. While these events are very distant from the people of Nepal in space, it is hasn’t escaped their awareness. Many times I heard Americans and others mention the tragedy, wondering how it could happen and how it could have been prevented. News in of America (and the world in general) is of great interest in Asia, but such high profile events bring special concerns.
The violence in Las Vegas sits in stark contrast to my experience at the school in Chobhar and the Gargon Ling Nunnery. These nuns have committed themselves to improving themselves; training their minds to a level of awareness that is not only non-violent, but aware of their minute by minute contribution (or lack) to the generation of benefit and happiness for all beings. While I believe that we as a Nation need to regulate gun ownership (we regulate motor vehicles for God sake), we certainly need to develop and improve our individual consciousness as well. What does this mean? It means spending money on the prevention and support of people with mental illness, promoting non-violent communication in our schools and organizations, and promoting the idea of personal responsibility for our thoughts and feelings. This is a shift from a ME orientation to a WE orientation. WE will only survive or perish together. WE are all unique and important. WE need to take care of ALL children first. The paradox of taking care of US is that the result is greater happiness for ME. That’s US in a world sense not just an American-US context. …end of soapbox