Sunday, June 13, 2010
Tiger's Nest and Tiny Eyeballs
Yesterday we finally made the trip to Taktsang, Tiger’s Nest. It is one of the first sights that shows up when you google search Bhutan. We chose the perfect day. It was the first day since I have been here that was sunny from sunrise to sunset. The drive to Paro was worth the journey itself. Around each bend were ruins of ancient buildings to be seen, mountain peaks stacked upon peaks and at the bottom of the valley, a mint green river flowing through red cliffs. You know you reach Paro when graceful rice terraces appear along the base of the mountains. Marijuana is growing everywhere now along with wild iris, pink roses and potatoes.
The night before our journey it occurred to me that I had the same feeling that I used to get as a kid when I knew that I was going to Disneyland the next morning. Not much has changed. We visit these places because we are looking for an extrinsic physical place to give us these feelings of excitement and wonder. Over the years, it’s just the places that change, the feelings don’t so much. When we’re younger it’s Disneyland, Six Flags in junior high, in early adulthood, Buddhist monasteries tucked into monolithic mountain sides and natural wonders of the world. Later, I expect it is museums. At the late stages of life, it’s more convenient for the relics to travel to you than to travel to the relics.
Tasktsang is the place where Guru Rinpoche landed on his she-tiger when flying in from Tibet in the seventeenth century. He mediated in a cave still located in the depths of the monastery and emerged in eight different manifestations of his original self. The monastery burned to the ground in 1998 and was reconstructed in the original way, without a single nail. Yes, the exterior is magnificent and seems to defy physics, but it is the inside of the structure that was truly incomprehensible to my simple, un-enlightened human mind. Each winding staircase leads to a different alter room and each alter room could take up hours of your time as you let your eyes sift through each colorful detail that appears on tapestries, murals, and larger than life re-creations of the lives of Rinpoche. This is where I realized my eyeballs are just not capable enough, and the mind behind them is not much more competent. Each image tells a story and each story has something to reveal about your own human experience in relation to the universal truths of the world. Kind of like, “It’s a Small World” ride in a spiritual way.
To interpret all you see takes visual processing to appreciate the skill and artistry of the images all around. It takes emotional processing to reflect on how you are being affected by such graphic, glorious and sometimes gory images. It takes physical processing because you have to react, you can prostrate three times to the various alters in the corners of the room, you can listen to the teachings of the monks and lamas, you have to remember to accept the holy water being poured into your hands, you have to be mindful in the volume of your voice and be careful to not point your feet at holy people or objects. It really requires every mode of processing we have to be present and mindful in such a place and I guess that’s the point.
I left Taktsang with that feeling I described earlier, an understanding that my five senses are not enough for the depth of understanding that is possible.
In other news, Liz forgot her cell phone at Kueron’s one day and came to ELC to find it. We met each other at the gate and decided to go for a sunset walk. During the walk a swarm of bikes sped past us. “Do you know who that was?” she asks. People only ask that about one person in this country: The Fifth King. On his way down he stopped to talk. The next day we tried our luck again; same time, same place. And to our wondering eyes he appeared again. Then again the next day and so on. We go walking everyday now and pause at the top of the mountain to gaze upon the a tiny Thimphu below us and the infinite sky above us. On lucky days His Majesty stops to talk and other days we can count on at least a wave and a smile. “Next time we’ll have orange slices and Gatoraide waiting!” I once promised.