Christmas at Tashiding

A one-eyed monk in a Santa cap sits on the ground, giggling manically, twirling his staff in the dust.

Women in long blue skirts circumambulate the monastery, their prayer wheels whirring in the wind. Under their breath they mumble om mani padme hum.

And it must be true what they say about the dogs–that they are reincarnated monks. They scorn my offers of doggie biscuits. Every last one of them. But gratefully accept any people food I give them. One morning I wake up to find five of them sleeping outside my door. 

Sharp, snow-capped peaks are carved in the distance, and the moonless nights, sublime.

At night I roll out my mat in the small room where Padmasambhava’s fierce countenance watches from the altar. With no electricity, no fire, I burrow under the blankets and sleep shortly after the sun goes down. In the morning I wake up to a forest of stupas surrounding me. I fill the bronze chalices on the altar with water and light a yak butter candle. This is the only thing the monks have asked of me in exchange for staying in what must surely be one of the most sacred shrines on the grounds.

The writer in me searches for meanings or metaphors, but sometimes there are none. Security is nebulous. The future is never set the way we think it is. We fall. And pick ourselves up again. We move on.

And in exchange we’re given moments, sometimes longer, of walking through a land where monks carry on traditions hundreds of years old. We find a cave where every morning someone hikes down to light candles and fill the cups with water and don’t question that the voices whispering through rock are real.

In the end, it’s all we have. These moments. One following the other. Cherish them. They’ll never return.

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9 thoughts on “Christmas at Tashiding

  1. What an amazing experience you are having! So many blessings! These places in the high mountains are steeped in traditions centuries old. It’s like our bones remember. I haven’t commented, but have very much enjoyed and appreciated reading your blog and following this amazing journey you have been on.
    Much love and good wishes for the New Year.
    Abbey

    • Thanks, Abbey! It has been an amazing experience, but you know better than I do how life-changing India can be. I so wish I had been able to visit you, but it just wasn’t working out. I do hope to come back though. This country gets under your skin. I’ve heard from nearly all our joint kids this Christmas–they seem to be doing well.

  2. Sounds like a very pleasurable retreat. And how true it is, that there are those moments, untied to plans or memories… that seem to have a very special weight in themselves, and are inscribed in our souls as heightened presence.

  3. Is this poetry? I know nothing about poetry as you know but this feels too musical to be prose. Could be my favorite writing of yours so far during this journey. I don’t know why, it just is. Keep (obviously) enjoying! TAB

  4. So this is where you were last year? Wow. Stunning.

    You’ve had me learn a word today – circumambulate. Thank you!

    I didn’t know dogs are considered to be monks in a past life. How curious. Funny thing is, I’ve always been afraid of dogs. It’s their unpredictability that scares me – like when the rip apart toddlers (which happened this year in Meblourne) just sitting watching TV and the owners say ‘He was such a good family pet’. I just don’t understand them, like that.

    Sounds wonderful, you’ve lived so. You sound like my kind of person.

    Best to you,

    N’n.

    • Thank you! I don’t think all dogs are considered to have been monks–just those that hang out in monasteries. I can understand feeling afraid of them too. I was more cautious when my sons were little. Now, I kind of like the wildness. It was a stunning place to be. Now that I’m in California this Christmas, I find I’m really missing India.

      • Wow, Cali… & India… very different!

        Re dogs, I love them but fear them. In Perth, I had a masseuse with awesome ability & I miss talks with him, etc. Keith.

        Keith had two dobermans, & they had “different barks” he told me, so I wouldn’t be afraid when I arrived at his place, rang the doorbell & they came barking along. That apparently was a ‘Noeleen’s here’ bark. I couldn’t know!!!

        But also, they just hung with him, all the time. He even gave them massage. They slept each side of his bed, and he never locked his front door. Each year he goes to his patch of rainforest he has bought – the other side of Australia – where he plans to retire. He is making his own house, slowly, year upon year – and they just run around, and help him when he shoots a kill, skins it, chew the bones. He’s a very raw man – would never harm or kill without purpose/protection.

        So, I do love dogs, they are so wonderful – but I fear them as I am not “one with” them. I am “one with” cats.

        There was one awesome moment, though, where I was walking with Daniel when a toddler and we walked past a dog’s front of house where the dog was hanging out. It had no fence. As soon as it saw us, it came running and I (I swear I don’t know where it came from) said very loud, masterfully, in command, told it to back down/go away or something. It stopped its launch at us midway across the yard (no fence!) and did what I said, and we walked on. I couldn’t believe it did what I said!!

        I think that time, I just didn’t contemplate being afraid: just didn’t contemplate, in fact.

        Yeah, well – sorry to say so much. I have FREE TIME!!! 🙂 Merry Christmas 🙂

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