July 27, 2005

Ghee glee


From Majnu Katilla, 2;30 pm Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. Groggy, sticky eyes, the moist skin, the whirl of the swamp cooler behind the screen. There really is water there. There is fried and there's fried. I made it to India. Endless knot window grills, a single 'deluxe' room (don't get too excited - not sure what deluxe really means). The shock of india the first time - the sheer mechanical dirt, diesel, cows and dogs, the pit of Majnu Katilla, adjusting to sticky hotel furniture and marble floors lightly dusty. Occasional sight of toilet paper, but the bucket is nearby. Back again. I've been slowly downgrading to prepare for perhaps the night bus? Last time I was in Majnu Katilla after being in Bodhgaya for almost 3 weeks, this pit seemed like a luxury hotel. It's peculiar how we adjust our shock of privledge and downsize it. I had been three weeks in the same clothes. Today I have a fresh load, machine washed. It's these small things, that add up to an incredible transition. It sends some over the edge, actually.

Things have been smooth, bordering on middle class even. After arriving in Bangkok, I exchanged my hotel voucher for a 4 star stay. I was driven to the hotel in a limo/van and met along the way, Jotkaur from New Mexico, also traveling to India, to join a pilgrimage to Ladakh and stay on for 6 months. She will help set up a nunnery there. When we arrived at the hotel, we were upgraded and ended up spending the next day together touring Bangkok. This hotel pause was so welcomed. Cherishing the bathtub and high bed, (never mind the unflushed roach floating in the toilet water), I didn't peak at Bangkok til late morning. And couldn't figure out what day it was for that matter which led to a panicked phone call to Delhi to change and then change again my reservations and because those in India didn't hang up the line, I was looking at a $100 phone bill...a glorious debacle. The error was Thai redemption - the manager with a smile, dropped the charges.

In Thai traffic, we went to see the Golden Buddha, lying on his side, extreme in length and regality. Beautiful view. Then onto the hut behind the monument for a thai massage. I was at first wary of the communal place, which looked like a war hospital tent, a fenced in cabana of multiple beds, side by side with strangers - worrying about the cleanliness of the sheets. The masseuses wore yellow shirts and looked so unlike the new age board certified Western stock of 'healers' I was accustomed to. But Jotkaur insisted we go inside and the smell of lime and herbs swept me away. The strong knuckled thai man pushed hard into my knotted body; I gasped as he stuck his heel into my inner groin and pulled my ankle towards his shoulder, all for only $10. the lingering smell of lime I wanted to guard closely.

And off we went to Bangkok airport again amidst dark web like clouds, because it's monsoon time and it's back to Thai Airways, this time the plane was full of Indians. I was SO cranky. My seat cushion slipping to expose metal and the Rolls Royce air engine making a fabulous squeaking noise and the film sound system incapacitated and the food intolerably spicey reduced me to a travel grumble. Craving sleep again, I was upright with that head bobble drool. I remarked that Indians join Americans on the 'demanding' list, for they were as insistent as I've seen Americans on more bread, more drinks, more pillows, more blankets...unlike those polite reticent Thai.

We arrived late in the night in Delhi and I got to meet Khandro, a 40 year old Tibetan woman who would be guiding Jotkaur up in Ladakh. (for those in the know, she's a niece of Namkha Drimed Rabjam Rinpoche) Leaving the Delhi airport in a non A/C van, I sat shotgun because the back seat was drenched in the sweat of the driver's friend's head. Kooky, diesel inhaled, 'blow horn' circus like ramshackle bettle juice spit laden roads pimple laced greasy face penetrating eyes of the driver. No English only Hindi. Wanting to fall asleep even as we arrived in the Tibetan concrete slum. Cows and dogs, we were there.


In Hotel Tibet, McLeod Ganj, surviving hell. Adjusting to the jolts of filth, excrement, cows, beggars, sweat. I watied to board the bus to Dharamsala as the guy throwing the luggage on the roof top wanted extra rupees for his manpower and threatened to throw it back down if he remained unpaid...a serious ploy but I didn't buy it. Sexy Tibetan girls wearing tight jeans in this swelter, they don't look splotchy like me. I feel faint. Loose cotton from India sags. As it is time to leave, I see this half-crazed guy, who looks Israeli, who looks as if he's about to implode or explode or have a breakdown. He's pacing, pushing rupees into a guy's face demanding Agua Vita instead of Bisleri. Then he's on the bus telling the driver to go, that it's past 6:30 and we should be gone by now. Turns out he's going to be my bus companion the entire next 12 hours and he's not from Israel, he's from Northern CA. His eyes are bulging and he mutters 'God hates me, he really does...I should've gone to Australia. Why oh why did I make such a mistake. This is shit.' He's in severe culture shock. Never been to India. "God forgot this country, these people, really". It's so hot. That's why he's on the bus. He thinks it'll be cooler in the mountains. But the forecast calls for continued heat. It might not be cooler up there. I try to be accomodating with a peaceful facade...smiling at the chaos and steam of India. I can take it. Sure...For all his ranting, his sound bites are accurate...the poverty is devastating, the chaos overwhelming. But if you just let go into it...


Looking back - A day in Majnu Katilla...then onto McLeod Ganj. I didn't sleep much. You get to know yourself as a shell, a container or evaporator of fluids container really. Something walks out of the bus and into the tea stall - it's you. But it doesn't feel like you. The skin and clothes are one. Hardly a sign of relief or comfort. The tail bone drops further into the hardness of the bus chair. I stay up worrying about where my shoes are sliding off to. When you pack up your life for a couple of months into a couple of bags, you start to fixate on the objects. Where did I put my wallet, my chapstick, my toilet paper?

We arrived into lower Dharamsala a bit later than scheduled...the rains had started. A german gal, Liana, tall studious but with a generous smile helped me to her friend Susanna's taxi. Susanna had come months before to teach English to Tibetan nuns. I wanted to unload my things at the nunnery I was due to go to but the my friend Sangmo was not there..she was already long gone to the teachings. As we drove in the taxi back down the curved road, I noticed and gasped at a decapitated bus, just pulled up and out of the river bed. A bus like the one I had just taken up the hill. This bus had gone down only 2 days prior, plunging into the river bed in the dark, killing half the passengers. A bus bound for Manali with Punjabi pilgrims. The driver was Punjab, not a local, who was unfamiliar with these roads...unharmed, he had apparently fled the scene and police were still looking for him. This was the first accident as such in years here. The front end of the bus was caved in and black, the headless topless trap with some seats still upright, a reminder of the shortness of a day of a night, this life.

I stayed my first day in Dromaling nunnery, asleep. All the nuns had gone to the teachings. So with a fan whizzing overhead, torrents of rain and more sweat, I laid down and fell into a very sticky sleep sans coffee. Later I arranged to go over to where I was to stay, at Thosamling, the Western nunnery and Institute for Buddhist women. No road, where's the road? Computers in my bag, an enormous hideous bag...how? Over cobblestones, across a river bed and a narrow path between rice paddies...I followed the men who I asked to carry this hideously large bag...bones and sweat waddling along. Thosamling sits in the middle of all this, with the backdrop of peaks higher than Mt. Whitney. The Tibetan transit school in the distance. It's nice finally to unpack.

That first night, lightening greeted me. 3:30 am, all electricity down so as not to encourage a 'charge'. Sangmo stood on the balcony looking out hoping the lightening wouldn't suck up into the buildings. Only recently, a corner of her office got a charge that burnt down the HP Laser Printer, curtains and caused a large crack in the window. Two years ago on Dakini day, I had sat in the grass near the tool shed looking out into the meadow with Sangmo, monks from Gyumed Tantric College and Amy Krantz and her adopted Tibetan daughter. There were no buildings nor pathways. A remarkable feat now, sprung from a vision, a need to fill - nuns now come from all over...a Korean whose teacher is the Karmapa, a Theravadan nun from Amarvarti in England. Presence is light right now as classes don't resume til next fall - nuns are now traveling.

Sunday was my first day at the teachings with the Dalai Lama. I was still in low grad irritability blur. Muddling through with a low grade discomfort. Too crowded in the 'Ingi' section to find a place so I squeeze in with the Tibetan locals downstairs on the temple grounds, watching close circuit TV of the Dalai Lama. It feels cozy, Tibetan women passing cookies, rice and smiles. His Holiness is giving a 'lung', an oral transmission of about 1200 pages of a text by Je Tsongkhapa. This day the reading was on refuge. My ears battle between the boom of His Holiness' voice through the loud speakers in Tibetan and the soft spoken quality of audio english in my headphones. Carolyn found me in the afternoon - she had been more pragmatic, having taken the train to Patankot and slept. I guided her over the rice paddies and back to Thosamling. Looking back (sorry for the wierd chronology), this beginning was a blur, an overwhelm, a busy invade, a permeating of memory by sweat. It felt like dharma duty to pass out gifts, Julie Klaus coming to town with English books, CDs, sunglasses, yoga props, computers. It was fun! Since I had left LA, I hadn't stopped running around. I saw my 'son' monk Tenzin; I had a quick bite with Pasang and her son, another Tenzin, also a monk, and her partner/collaborator (name forgot). I bumped into Jane from England who had come for a week. I met with the personal secretary for His Holiness. I should've had a cell phone - then it would've been very official. Also, on my way to lunch one day, I was solitarily traversing stones up a garbage strewn path, out of the grey fog descending was someone else I knew...from my last trip to India. His face got more recognizable the closer he got to me...Choeling! Looking a bit more filled out, with a sleek smooth dark face, not a hair on his head, Choeling my friend, Choeling the Rinpoche who had removed himself from life in a South Indian monastery to meditate in caves in Nepal. A recognized Geluk tulku who now studied with the former Tsa Ding Rinpoche, a Kagyu lama recently passed. Focusing on Tsa Lung practice. Later that day, I met him with Za Rinpoche, who lives in Phoenix and speaks perfect English, a robust big lama and friend of Choeling's. I found myself trying to articulate my current queries about practice, life, and interest in yoga. We have in depth descriptions of yogic practices, what it can perpetuate in the body and mind but how to relate it directly to the Buddhadharma? Choeling feels like a bridge. If only I could speak Tibetan! He's not ready for students, he said. I'm not ready or grounded enough in the elemental studis to warrant such advanced help, I feel. 'You need three years', they said...and laughed. Pray for me that I realize this.

And to what of being in the presence of His Holiness again? Familiar, in the lair, squeezed into seats, alongside the inner temple walls, finally upstairs with the other Ingis, trying to focus on the words of the Lam Rim Chenmo. Hearing impromptu comments on the proper conduct for the monasteries...after all, over 3,000 monks were in attendance. HHDL was scolding monasteries for spending too much on elaborately built temple prayer halls when needs still exist for better health and sanitation. He encouraged stricter discipline in the monks' studies and he again addressed the topic of fully ordaining nuns. The time is coming for nuns to get full ordination in the Tibetan tradition and for them to go on to become Geshes as well. As for those already Geshes, there should be a clear labelling of who is who, from high to low Geshe degree. And there are so many tulkus being born now. Instead of them being treated like princes, they should be adept in ordinary guise and lives so as to have more accessibility to the common people. Each day, HHDL would walk by us on his way out of the temple, either for lunch or for the very end of the teachings that day. I always noticed the four marks on his upper right arm, his height, his casual walk, his smile. Behind him were more Rinpoches. As he passed the Indian Policemen, they thrust their rifles into a salute that made a big clack and then the crowd of dedicated sore knee students slowly arose to file out of the temple grounds.

Not everyone attends the teachings that is visiting Dharamsala but every two minutes a large Indian family would stroll by where we were sitting to gawk at His Holiness; pilgrims peering into the window and being mildly shocked at who was speaking...unexpected. Being here at the right time. Hippies from Europe, Israel with clanky jewelry, tatoos, rasta hair. Taking a break from the industrial discipline and military stints. Rock star Tibetans, men with dark sunglasses and sleek long hair and motor bikes. Sometimes you just have to trust that despite the onslaught of activities and rapidity of events, something good is ripening. Quietude forestalled, I just felt plain uncomfortable and longed for some peace. It all went too fast in Dharamsala and i just had to let that be okay. the most peaceful moments were walking behind the temple compound, throwing my dead cats' ashes onto mani stones, whispering prayers and praying for their rebirth in better migrations. Dust settling onto the colorful carvings, remnants of Tibet.

The teachings got denser and by the time we were on the refutation of the Svatantrika by the Madhamika Prasangikans, my eyes were popping with reminders of the intelligence required to establish reason. And alertness. One slippery thought about what to eat or who was wearing what and the logic concerning the schools of emptiness was lost on me.

Carolyn and I left for Patankot in a very nice Jeep. That day I was weepy (pre-menstrual, actually). Our Pune accomodations appeared in jeapordy. Then I thought the local taxi guuys were being greedy. You know you're really in India when you start haggling over 5 cents worth of rupees. I decided at one point to walk 2 km rather than pay a greedy taxi guy. But it is also India when the driver turns around and comes by and picks you up for free with a huge grin on his face. So I got to see the 17th Karmapa afterall. Sitting on his small throne at the Gyuto Tantric Monastery, wrapped up in a thick robe, he seemed serene and simple, quiet, and serious. Of course it's projection to see him trapped by circumstance, not able to return to his proper monastery in Nepal. But I kept having this feeling he'd rather be somewhere else right now? Maybe in a cave studying? Humble and still not ready to assume his role in the world as a 'Holiness'?

On the train to Delhi, in a 2nd class sleeper, we were in berths next to the toilets...reminding me of a sorry night in China years back, also near the toilets. I held a scarf to my nose the entire night, drenched in Kuo Loong oil. I was suffering from a tummy ache, sore throat and heat exhaustion so I actually slept well...we arrived in hot irritating Delhi and went to Anoop hotel where Carolyn's luggage had been parked. A flea bag stop...rife with construction, very stained sheets and power outages. Of course, Carolyn and I then had a five minute spat over a breakfast order. Nerves on edge, it was resolved and she went upstairs, locked me in the room and then the power went out. All unintentional. I panicked about being locked in the room like this but the remedy was fast in coming. Then we flew to Pune, uneventfully and quite enjoyably. Having had lunch with Vijay, a journalist, and his family on the way, playing with newborn Gun Gun in his 'baby Einstein' environment I had hand carried over to India for my friends Ronny and Rebecca.

So we had arranged for a 2 bedroom apartment way ahead of time in Pune but by the time arrived, all that had evaporated and we were met by a Swiss Croatian guy with severe ear-itis who had also been promised the same flat. A misunderstanding had resulted in us being offered a 'share' which was unacceptable to all parties. But I had in the back of my mind the feeling it would all work out wonderfully. And it did. The very next day, we met with Mataji, a renunciate and sister of another local landlord who just so happened to have two bedrooms available in another flat. So we then began sharing it with another woman, a 28 year old sanskrit scholar from Berkeley. So here I am at the desk in a large bedroom, at peace.

We've just finished our first week of classes at the Institute. My first three days were spent in the menstrual sequence, with heavy duty asana not really kicking into gear until last Friday. So I'm sore sitting up straight. Regaining inner freedom, but thick in the head. Reluctant to be socially active and thirsting for more contemplation. While others gorge at the Meridien hotel Sunday buffet brunch, I'm here in this bedroom resting. I'm sure this will change as the weeks carry on. Cells waking up, dorsal spine connecting to the mind, my vulnerability - strong conditions to sink. Determination is a full bodied endeavor. Interviewing Guruji tomorrow...

Armpits smell so spicy again...no deodorant works. Pune is familiar ground, Geetaji in fine form, thinner. July is crowded. Pleasant weather, Prashant displaying sound wisdom, quickly. Picking up where I left off, almost.


It's hard to be locational about these past 2 weeks. A series of internal upheavals. Rest seems eternal. The minute I lie down, I'm like glue, bones and muscles sinking down into the moldy smelling mattress. The mind can't catch the oscillations. Food seems both refuge and tyrant. Boiled vegetables come drenched in ghee and the crunch is foresaken for this thick film that will soon grease my gut. The ghee turns into fat rolls on many a plump indian's physique, but that also shows class and abundance. The poore the people, the thinner...and barefoot.

One could get caught up in roaming Pune- that is what I did the first trip. I must have gone to the shops so many times because one of the shop owners this trip remarked that I was already half way into this trip and I hadn't even been there. She assumed I'd have been there sooner. But after cleaning out my closet in LA and finding my Indian clothes pushed to the back rungs, I figured the Indian clothing spree was a passing fancy. Money spent this time would be on rescuing a donkey and lots of gifts.

Time is into practice pieces, slight meditation pieces, eating pieces (lots of those) and reading dharma pieces. I like where I'm staying, it's shady and cool. The marble floors soothe, the black tile bathroom surprisingly helpful. Again the sharpness and newness is replaced by compliance. Rather than it all being 'delicious', now there's discernment. Rather than all the classes being amazing, I can see the ups and downs, moods shifting. This trip I've spent many days down in the Institute library pouring over and transcribing the hour plus interview I did with BKS Iyengar on Stephanie Quirk's laptop. There are the regulars down there - serious young students and old timers who sit near Guruji while he reads the mail and does correspondance.