Everything that ain't India

THE SIGN

It was my birthday and I was off to Namo Buddha. I needed a bit of ‘om’ to get me through the day.

Not everyone knows what a Namo Buddha is. Dog didn’t know either, till he got there. .

It is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal and one of the holiest in the world, known as the place where the Buddha, in a previous life as a prince, gave his body to a starving tigress and her cubs. Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery is home to more than 250 monks engaged in the activities of meditation, study, and work. The monastery complex includes a large main temple, a retreat center, a school for young monks from first to ninth grade, a seven-year monastic college providing higher education in Buddhist philosophy, a book publishing office, and a free medical clinic.

Dogster didn’t care. He was on a mission. He was searching for a sign.

It’s all because of a monk called Thrangu Rinpoche.

The Very Venerable Ninth Khenchen Thrangu Tulku, Karma Lodrö Maha Madarchod Lungrik Maway Senge – otherwise known as Thrangu Rinpoche is a prominent tulku (reincarnate lama) in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, the ninth reincarnation in his particular line. He was installed at Thrangu Monastery in Kham (eastern Tibet) after his identification at age five.  He fled to India following the Chinese communist invasion in 1959. The Very Venerable etc. etc. is clearly the main man around these parts. Everything I could see was his making – before Thrangu Rinpoche this pilgrimage site was simply marked by a tiny cairn.

Dogster didn’t know any of this. He just wanted to hear big trumpets and chanting.

It’s a strangely bland and institutional place. Meticulously maintained, most of it is new, the empire growing like Topsy as the donations roll in. ‘Thrangu Rinpoche’s missionary work in the States and Canada keeps the building work going. I guess I shouldn’t expect a party at a meditation centre.

Maybe this was my sign.

Grey drizzle began to fall, then turned into rain. We ran up some stairs to the nearest cover.

This was the last meal for the day, attended to with a great seriousness. We were intruding, but not very badly. Given the rain, it was fine. We huddled in a corner, as far away as we should and minded our own business. After a moment we became invisible. We were there and not there, just like the mountains. Only when the food was finished did the joking begin. Student monks are just young men in monk’s uniform going to monk school.

Gunfire. Bam! A flock of pigeons hurtled into space, wheeled over the valley in shock then gathered, found pigeon logic and flew straight back again. The pigeon-monk was a terrible disappointment. Bam! Flutter flutter flutter swoop zoom.  Back where they were. Bam! Bam! Ha Ha, you can shoot that gun all you like; by the time we’ve taken off we’ve forgotten it even happened. Nepali pigeons are like that. No recall. Bam!

The rain had stopped, it was time to go. Dogster wandered up the hill, refdlecting on folly. It was his birthday, after all.

There were flags and bunting put up for my anniversary, dangling scarves on a tree to wave gaily at the festivities. Unfortunately, everything was sodden, hanging limply against a grey, misty void that was once blue sky. We ambled round, killing time, waiting for the trumpets.

I love the theatre of Tibetan Buddhism, the richness, the color, the complexity. I see it as art, not religion. Today the artifice was everywhere. It was like being backsatage at the opera. To look through the door, all was perfect, framed by an ornate proscenium arch. Either side of that attractive scene, the temple was piled with scaffolding, from door to corner and around the side walls. Tins of paint, stepladders and the bewildered faces of forty artists peered down at the monks as they wandered in, settled, opened their prayer venetian blinds, extended trumpets, unwrapped cymbals and drums. The walls were like a children’s coloring-in book, slabs of colour next to blank wall, some areas filled in with gorgeous detail, others simply a pencil sketch. A hundred monks filed in silently. Occasionally there was whispered conversation, things were by no means severe – then the ‘om’ began.

So Dogster had his birthday present. It was a long, bumpy ride back on the motor-bike to Phulbari. Dogster felt no fear. He had Buddha brownie points and his own auspicious occasion – he felt protected.

Dogster sat on his sala, looking back at where he’d just been, reflecting on that young monk and the pigeons.

Nothing stops those pigeons.

They keep coming back.

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