It’s almost as if I can feel the mountains breathe, these Himalayas. Geologically speaking, they’re new. The most recent mountain range on the planet. They’re still rising, and maybe it’s this newness that makes them feel so alive. They are green and vast and they soar and dip in a never-ending cascade of valleys and peaks as far as the eye can see. I am in love with these mountains, with the raw, primal joy of simply being in their presence.
I came to Tashiding on a narrow road that brought me even deeper into this enchanted land. When I arrived, I was met by Phurba Tshering who will be my interpreter for the next ten days as we travel to the Lepcha and Bhutia villages of Sikkim. After dropping off my bags at the guest house, he whisked me to the mountain top to Tashiding Monastery to chant the vajra guru mantra with the villagers who had come for the puja. The monastery has been badly damaged in the recent earthquake so the puja is not taking place in the main temple, but in one of the smaller buildings. Several ancient stupas also lay crumbled on the ground.
On the way back down the mountain Phurba, who spent several years as a monk at Tashiding Monastery, and I talked about God, mountain spirits and what Buddhism means to us. “We’re Bhutia people and are Buddhists because our fathers and grandfathers and theirs were before them. We’ve been Buddhists since Padmasambhava brought it here in the 8th century. Buddhism is in our blood; it’s just who we are. But in the West you choose Buddhism because something in the four noble truths and the eight-fold path speaks to you. You may not know its history like we do, but you intuit its truth.”
And I have found something in Buddhism. Maybe it’s simply a more soulful, joyful way of living, of connecting with the world in a way I’ve never been able to before. I’ve come to love the sheer ordinariness of daily life. I relish simplicity whereas in the past, I over complicated so many things.
Back at the guest house, the lights went out, so I walked out on the balcony to better savor this Himalayan night. Fires and here and there a flashlight dotted the darkness. I knew somewhere a gibbous moon hovered only because I had seen it earlier. The Durga puja continues with chanting and drums, the occasional firecracker exploding in the darkness.
I feel both happy and sad. At peace with myself and the world, yet deep down a sorrow because no matter how long I live, it will never be long enough to experience all that I want to on this amazing planet.