Friday, June 5, 2009

A New Short Story For You

a simple glass of water

The snow creaked and crunched underfoot as I made my way down along the path.
In all my life I had never been to such a spectacular place. The heavy sky was shining silver, full of change.
Special days like these were extremely rare indeed. Almost everything I did, I did for the first time. Arriving in India. The thick odour like burnt biscuits and ancient dirt that saturates the earth, the air, your hair. The chaos and misery of Delhi. Another flight further north. Then the 20 euro helicopter ride from Bagdogra up up to Gangtok - a happy, busy, little town clinging to the two sides of a Himalayan ridge, in the ancient kingdom of Sikkim. For all I knew, I might just as well have been in Afghanistan, or Kashmir, or Peru. But I had arrived, all in one day. I felt open and light.
From the first moment I read about you, I wanted to visit your monastery. I wanted you to merge your Tibetan wisdom mind with mine. I wanted you to explain the mysteries of life and the universe to me. I wanted, I wanted, I wanted.
But then – no sooner had I discovered Buddhism, during that fiasco of a mid-life crisis I had concocted, than I read on the internet that you had passed away. My imaginary new world began to implode. The teacher I was just about to choose to be my master, my lama, was dead. And I feared I may never get to the Land of Snows or even the foothills of the Indian Himalaya. Or worse still that I myself could die as foolish and ignorant as the day of my birth.
But I didn’t lose heart entirely. Without really knowing why, almost instinctively, I framed your photo in gold and moved it around the house til it settled on a low side-table beside the telly – the focus of the room – you always seemed to be smiling at me, wishing me well, reminding me never to give up on myself ... my true self... under the surface.
After about a year I attended a Tibetan meditation group and learned to sit still, relaxed yet alert, while observing the natural flow of the breath. It became my new spiritual practice, my constant companion and new best friend. After a few months we were sitting around chatting after the class and I asked the meditation instructor if he had ever heard of you. He had. I dug deeper and such stories overflowed from him I could have sat there all night. Although I didn’t know you from Adam, I realised that my instincts had been right about you. You were indeed a living saint, a maha guru. My heart broke to think of all that might have been. Just as I was on the verge of tears the instructor concluded his tales with an almost throw-away punchline, ‘You know his reincarnation has been found. In France. She is the daughter of a homeless couple in Paris. They’re going to bring her and the parents to Gangtok in Sikkim so she can be trained in the Buddhist tradition and resume her work in her monastery there’.
I had so many questions: Reincarnated? A girl? Where’s Sikkim?
So now, less than 6 months later I am walking down that slippery slope, the snowy winding path that leads to your door. I have no clue what I am doing here really or what I hope to learn from a two year old. But here I stand.
The monastery gate is enormous. The wooden panels are painted red with intricate carvings around the edges in richest gold. The perimeter walls are so high I can’t even glimpse whatever lies beyond. So I pull the multicoloured braided rope that rings the bell that lets them know I have arrived.

After many long periods of waiting and trying again, I decide to tie a long string to the rope and sit below it, my back against the wall, in the shade of the late afternoon. Occasionally, I pulled on the string and rang the bell again. To no avail. I could hear the bell ring out across the valley to Rumtek and beyond the snowy peaks to Tashi Ding and the now-inaccessible retreat caves of Guru Rinpoché. After a while, although I kept on trying, I just settled patiently and without expectation, and observed the breath Рletting go more and more with every exhale ... Ah.
It occurred to me that either nobody was home, I wasn’t welcome or I was just going to have to go away and try again tomorrow. Before long I was asleep. Despite the sunset breaking through, there had been no melt whatsoever and it had started to snow again. A drift was forming against one side of me but still I didn’t wake up.
I did awaken suddenly though, with a dart of pain in my hip. A Tibetan monk was kicking me. He was shouting something and his boots were drawing blood. I couldn’t believe what was going on.
No. It’s a nightmare, I thought. This can’t be real. Eventually, I gathered he was very angry with me and wanted me to go away. I had imagined a much warmer welcome and was shocked to receive such a kicking from a monk into the bargain. I drew myself up to my full height and looked him in the eye. Now I was very angry.
‘I want to see my teacher – the little girl. I’ve come all the way from Ireland you idiot. Can’t you understand plain English?!’
He replied in Tibetan, equally unforgiving. It sounded like he was incanting some kind of a shamanic curse. The more I saw him as an obstacle to me, the more he appeared to see me as a nuisance, a hippy vagrant who was just looking for a free meal and a bed for the night. Then he marched off away from the monastery. He had shown me! I wouldn’t be hanging around there again in a hurry. Not if I knew what was good for me ... I looked at him stomping off up the hill and wondered what on earth that was all about. Really, I just couldn’t believe it. My first day and I had been attacked by a monk – who seemed to be just passing by!
My head was spinning. I didn’t know which way was up. The monastery gate opened quietly and a smiling monk said: ‘Oh. Hello. How are you? Where come from?’
Honestly, I thought to myself. What the hell is this? Good monk bad monk?! I was beginning to lose the plot and couldn’t get a reply out.
‘Would you like to come in? Why didn’t you just push the gate and walk right in?’, he said. ‘It is always open. Were you ringing the bell? Have you been waiting for long? So sorry Dear, we never come when the bell rings. Everyone round here knows to just push open the gate and come in’.
Open? I thought to myself. Did you just call me Dear?
‘I was attacked! Kicked in the side, by that maniac monk’, I blurted. ‘Do you see him? Do you know who he is? Where’s the nearest police station? I want to report this. I’m not going to let him get away with it!’.
‘Oh yes. He is mad, poor thing. They let him live in the other monastery over that side’ - he gestured over the hills and far away – ‘out of compassion. Please forgive him. Please come inside and we’ll take a look at that hip’.

... The following day, I was told to wait in the Temple shrine-room while they went to arrange an audience for me with the girl. Soon they would bring her to me so I could receive her blessing. Now it was all much clearer. They knew who I was and what I wanted ... even if I didn’t. The senior monk’s last words before he left me were quite shocking. He said I had come too soon, that I should wait at least 10 or 15 years until she actually had something to say. I was crest-fallen. He smiled and handed me a glass of water to sip.
My eyes wandered about the spacious room: the colourful brocade wall hangings, the throne-like raised seat, the large burnished Buddha beyond – his vast gaze beaming in every direction. I imagined what the child would look like when she arrived ... a blue-eyed bundle wrapped in orange, wrapped in crimson ... a fair-haired angel with pale porcelain skin.
Then my mind turned towards the drink in front of me – a simple glass of water.
A shaft of sunlight penetrated it exposing microscopic particles in the water that appeared to slowly settle and disappear altogether, revealing the natural clarity that had always been the water’s true nature.
I found myself mindfully investigating the water’s composition to see what else might be said to be in it. I concluded there was hydrogen and oxygen. They had somehow come together to allow the water to appear. But of course there is nothing called water therefore. It is simply the co-emergence of other less complex elements. These elements themselves could be further subdivided ad infinitum. I followed the logic til I concluded that everything in the universe, including myself, must be like that. Everything is compounded, and so inter-depends with everything else for its very existence. Nothing exists in its own right. My insight lead me to believe that, like the water, the very essence of all phenomena must be a combination of Pristine Clarity and Emptiness of self.
Just then, as the door opened, I realised maybe I had come far too soon. Maybe the hidden truth of water was the mystery I had come so far to unravel. My mind seemed to drop away altogether as a giggling small black girl ran into my lap.

bruno 5.6.09

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