Beneath Blossom Rain
Discovering Bhutan on the Toughest Trek in the WorldBook - 2011
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At dinner, as everyone laughed and conversed, I tilted back in my chair, savoring the scene, and tried to capture the moment by thinking up little bantus in my brain. A bantu is a two-line poem created by the Bantu tribe in Africa. The first line of the poem presents an image, and the second line ‘answers’ that image. Traditionally, the poem is created by two people: one person throws out the first line, and another person riffs off it like a jazz improvisation. That night, I thought
Larry laughs / Thunder claps. Snow pigeons soar across the sky / The monk tosses rice.
Then, when I saw Sonam sitting in the corner of the dining tent, mumbling mantras from his well-worn, pocket-sized book of Buddhist prayers, I thought: Sonam reads Sutras / A flower leans to the light.
Sir Charles eliot, an eminent Buddhist scholar in the 1930s, interpreted Indra’s Net and the Avatamsaka Sutra by saying, ‘In the heaven of Indra there is said to be a network of pearls so arranged that if you look at one you see all the others reflected in it.’
“Later, in the Avatamsaka Sutra, a Buddhist student asks his teacher how Indra’s jeweled net is possible, and the teacher says if you put a dot on one jewel, there are dots on all the jewels. While this explanation was sufficient, I had trouble with the word ‘dot,’ which suggested a blemish or flaw. Instead, I preferred to think that the ‘shine’ of one jewel was reflected in all the others. For as I looked up and saw Peter smiling as he told a joke, followed by all the others smiling with him, soon it was impossible to tell who started the joke. I only knew all were shining with laughter.
I found a smooth, softball-sized rock, and as I spun it in my hand, my mind painted seven continents and seven seas. I walked over to the shoulder-high cairn, set my rock down, and stepped back to admire my handiwork. On top of this magical mound pointing to the sky, the rock seemed to radiate like a precious gem.
As I gazed at the cairn, I was struck by its similarity in shape to the pyramids and the conical shape of the Laya hats. I also thougt about Omphalos stones of Greece. According to legend, the Omphalos stones were draped with a knotted net, meant to resemble a beehive, as bees symbolized death and resurrection during the Bronze Age. With the draped and knotted net, the Omphalos stones looked strangely like a cairn and vice versa. Was this a case of the kind of cross-cultural, collective unconscious and mythology Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell spoke of?
As I found myself increasingly winded, I decided to try the Tibetan breathing meditation called Tonglen in which you pick someone, inhale their sufferings, and then exhale happiness, healing, and compassion to them.
I found these kinds of unexpected, but eternally welcomed, moments happened a lot. I’d be cursing life, and then suddenly magic happened. I’d see a crashing waterfall, magical strands of moss dripping down from a tree, or just a single leaf floating down from the sky directly in front of me, as if for me. These moments made [life] worthwhile.
With nothing to do and nowhere to go, I had relinquished my attachment to fear or desire, such that I could now reside in my natural state – boundless joy.
The difference between richer and poorer countries is that in poorer countries, people want to be rich in the absolute sense – they want to get their basic needs met. In richer countries, people want to be rich in the relative sense – in relation to someone else. In addition to this competition with our neighbors, we’re constantly bombarded by the media reminding us of everything we lack – the perfect car, the perfect body, and the perfect house. Given aspirations we can never achieve, it’s only natural that anxiety and depression result.”
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