Monday, November 29, 2010


It is 6:48, a Monday morning, which means for this nunnery, the one full day off. The anis are back in their rooms with chapati and tea and I am sure, resting after their morning prayers. Yesterday, after the half-day of class, we spent the rest of the day cleaning. They go at this job as they do every chore, with devotion and hard work! The gekko, who is the disciplinarian, and the ani director are out there working just as diligently and the screeching sound of the sweeping was heard throughout the gompa (monastery). Plants were watered and the grounds renewed with weeding projects. They worked until dark.

I had my own clean up. The fixture below the sink was acting up for days and trying to signal this concern, I had finally gotten the store keeper’s attention as the leak was increasing in pressure and I had a vision of the pipe bursting behind the wall! We went to Tashi’s house, who lives on the grounds with his wife and daughter, to see if he could turn the water off, but he was sick and it was decided we would have to wait for a plumber. With some unease, I returned to my room and was reading when I heard the terrible pop from the bathroom and water gushing from the wall poured across to the opposite wall and began to flood the room! Who came to my rescue but Sangay Chodon again. This nun from Aranchal always seems to be there when I need her and with a singleminded strength, she went at it, eventually putting a large branch into the pipe, temporarily stopping the flood. However, we were laughing that now I had this potential javelin to worry about! Now, the water had to be turned off as 3 suites were affected. Out come the water buckets and the refillable water jugs from the filter pump by the kitchen and storeroom and the adventure of bathing with the bucket and a bottle of water. Having been here in 2008I knew that this doesn’t constitute an emergency; this is just India! It’s no big deal, no matter what the mind tries to make of it! The plumber arrived in the afternoon, as the switching of brooms made of twigs continued on the grounds and my own cleaning began as soon as he left and pouring hot water with lysol, my own interior cleaning once again ensued!

Having the leaks fixed so easily, I felt as if I was now at the Hilton. Living so simple, the simplest can be enough to bring contentment and I look across the still shiny floor, that will demand attention again by the day’s end, and smile at the absurdity!

I finished my breakfast in a wonderful solitude, as most of the other teachers are gone visiting for a night and the lamas that remain will come to eat around 7 a.m. Jenna, the volunteer English geyla (teacher) from California, left for Dharamsala with Claude, a young German woman who is staying at the nunnery deeply emmersed in her own program of mastering Tibetan. Jenna, only 20 years old, was happy for the break and the adventure of teachings with H.H. The Dalai Lama and off they went, getting the bus from the Tibetan village down the road, called Dykliling.

The nuns are off and I might join a few if they go downtown to Dehradun and splurge with a latte at LaVazza Barrista, the shop in front of the English Book Depot! The adventure continues as we prepare for the Ladakhi New Year, called Losar, and as each of you turn toward that madness of Christmas! No matter what we do, it’s nuts, but we can resolve this year to carry into each task of buying and shopping and traveling and visitng - a sense of Joy and of Peace. Why not! God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change -the madness there in the malls. The Courage to change the things I can - just my own approach to this season of Light. And the Wisdom to know the difference - herein lies the dilemma! I can change so little but it can mean the world to someone else. I can only change the motivation behind my own thoughs and actions, thinking of others with compassion and with love. It sounds so simple!

Winter is upon us as the days darken sooner and remain so longer, but the Truth of Who We Are, not diminished, shines ever in each of our Hearts.

With Great Love
and Appreciation!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


It has been unusually cold since I arrived, although the days still become quite hot by mid morning. Today, the chill remained with an unusual cloud cover that began days ago with the first downpour. Today and yesterday, our holiday, I stayed put here at the nunnery, quietly in retreat and had such a glorious time! During the end of the week, after teaching 4 classes a day and having numerous other tutorials with lamas, (one on one session), and with some wonderful young visitors from Ladakh, I had it! I couldn’t speak one more sentence about “going to the shop” instead of “I go shop!” One lama, Khenpo Tsultim; he understood the most, I think and so, I have been hibernating as I end my third week in India. There is more contentment, I think and less need to go out just for the sake of moving and going somewhere. I remember a line from a dharma text,; the propensity for movement. That habitual need to move for the sake of moving itself; this phrase has come back to me as I watched myself make decisions as to what to do yesterday and today.

After breakfast, knowing that I had all this time off, I wisely chose to return to my room and wait for direction, for guidance, and receiving it, I simply stayed here, hardly leaving the nunnery gates. There was this moment of such clarity when I saw how much we move at such breakneck speed but aren’t really aware of why we’re going! Do we really need that much? In that moment, everything stopped. In that instant, something returned to my mind, something I thought had been lost or that I had been seeking. As if a simple and small puzzle piece moved into place, and I was whole. Here, in this moment and in this place, is everything. The Beloved is here in each face and in the eyes of everyone here at the nunnery. This kind of clarity is completely liberating.

I then, open the Course in Miracles to this, Text, Chapter 22, VI, para 6:

Child of peace, the light has come to you. The light you bring you do not recognize, and yet you will remember. Who can deny himself the vision that he brings to others? And who would fail to recognize a gift he let be laid in Heaven through himself? The gentle service that you give the Holy Spirit is service to yourself. You who are now his means must love all that he loves. And what you bring is your remembrance of everything that is eternal. No trace of anything in time can long remain in a mind that serves the timeless. And no illusion can disturb the peace of a relationship that has become the means of peace.

Such a Gift and such Grace.

I spend the morning writing and come to the place where I can stop, usually for the day and I read and I rest and I have found an inner sanctuary and peace I only dreamed of in the past.

Listening to the kyrie on my laptop I breathe into a contentment.

Clarity; that is the overwhelming feeling I have found about my life and my work and even the reason for being here in India. I’ve returned to the Course reading it daily and referring to it throughout the day, I have found even a greater wisdom than I knew that surpasses the teachings I have sought these many years. I return to the home of the Friend, Jesus, my elder brother, as one comes to sit in the kitchen of a great and true friend. So simple and so obvious, but the trek and pilgrimage I have pursued was apparently necessary for this very clarity. What a word, coming from the Latin word for clear. As if looking into water, pure and deep. What else to cherish; what else to give, but That?

Here is a picture of one of my students, also from Ladakh, Konchok Lhadon, who follows me as a child follows her mother. She loves to walk close to me so that I put my arms around her. She is too sweet. I have found this great welcoming and a word that I have never attributed to myself but has been spoken from a number of the nuns and people from the shops I have reconnected with here- “beautiful.” How funny is that. Here in this ani gompa, I feel beautiful at last and I see beauty in these teachers of mine. Attached is her photo from last year; still filled with her innocence!

May your Thanksgiving bring you peace and contentment as well, as some Westerners and I will head downtown tomorrow for a Thanksgiving of palek paneer and dal! What Joy..

May you all be well.
And may the beauty that
Transcends all appearances
Of separation
Be yours and mine always

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Amma's Language

Somewhere, there is a radio playing Ladakhi music on a small radio a lama here has and the gong is calling the evening prayers and the sound of conversation from the staff room is filled with Tibetan, English and German. Sounds. So diverse. So many languages and so many ways to connect. Here we make attempts to bridge the language divide with gestures and simple words and many expressions that cause us to laugh. During a recent English class that I had, an ani was apparently trying to tell me what the date was, but her heavy Indian accent made the sound of dead and I am then trying to find out who died! We had such a laugh.

Laughing is a language I use in India; it’s my favorite I think. That, and the hands in Namaskar and greeting into someone else’s eyes. A woman and her husband live in a small shack that is attached to our monastery, just to the left of the front gate and this Amma, as I call her, had recently lost her son and is still in a a terrible grief. I went up to her as her husband, squatting on the ground repeated “Hari Om” as he does, and I just looked into her eyes and said how sorry I was and she cried. She’s speaking in Hindi and I in English, but we understood through the language that we all share.

Even in this grieving, there is Joy, for somewhere we all remember and we all know that we are all one and when I am with someone who doesn’t speak my language nor I, theirs, I am astounded at how little it really matters. A nun standing behind me as I held Amma said, “She doesn’t understand,” and pointing to Amma’s heart, I said, “This is what we understand.”

Sitting with the lamas in our little staff eating room, I often become mesmerized by their voices and far from feeling left out of a conversation I cannot understand when they do speak Tibetan, I feel a quiet peace.

There are still fireworks in some parts of the valley around Kulhan, the district where I live even the festival of Lights, Diwali, is over by a week.

So many sounds. So much India. The gong is still playing its refrain; come and pray. Maybe all language is just that invitation!

Let’s all join in our own language and in our own way and send them off to the place they all meet in that Silent One Peace.

Monday, November 15, 2010

5a.m. In India

It’s 5 a.m. and the scurry of the plastic slippers the anis use as their shoes is heard as they scamper to the sound calling them to their morning puja, the morning prayers that they recite, accompanied by drum and cymbals, chant and recitation. There is the slow banging of a gong that is gradually increased in frequency and this, this ritual and call to prayer, is how we begin our day here at Samtenling nunnery; in India. The noise of the clanging that first awakes the nuns at 4:30, the gong of the morning prayers, only competes soon enough with the sound from loud speakers as bajans begin in the Hindu temples, as the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer in the Muslim conclave of families that is part of our village, Nagal Hatnala.

All over India, the day begins with this call to prayer. Shrines and temples to deities and icons line the streets and colors compete as well with the costumes of custom, language, culture and tradition. But still, it is this call. It is why I am in India. I, too, heard a call. It began long ago and it began with the same clanging and banging of drums and cymbals and shocking sounds of grief and suffering and which eventually called me to awaken! This sound, this call, invited me to tread a path that countless other beings have walked and invited me to join them in going beyond the appearances of differences, language and to celebrate something that joins all beings! How great. I set out on pilgrimage.

I once asked a nun who is quite young if she liked to go to the long pujas, or prayers, that can last for days and she answered without hesitation, “Oh, yes; it is our duty to pray for those who are suffering.” How great is that? So, I am surrounded here by anis whose dharma or life purpose as Buddhist nuns is to answer their own call to pray and to find that place within our minds where everything comes back together.

Other anis are sweeping and brushing the courtyard with brooms that look like they are made of twigs; they work in a cadence and rhythm that matches the chants and incantations they mumble in Tibetan as they sweep the debris of the day and clear away the constant dust and leaves that accumulates. Someone, a lama I think, is doing, a walking contemplation as he circumambulates the Kalachackra Temple on our monastery grounds, close to the new nun’s hostel and just outside the entrance to the area where others stay in the traditional 3 year retreat in huts, holed in and Wholed up with stacks of Tibetan teachings, transmissions and practices.

Earlier, the 3 anis who are rotated for their service in the kitchen; their call came around 3 a.m. and in the kitchen they go and even now are preparing palips and butter tea for the teachers, called geylas here and the other contemplatives and staff. The palip or chapati, as the Hindu people call it, is a staple of this simple diet and consists of a flat bread that the nuns kneed each day and then shape like a flour tortilla, cooking each one on a small burner. I prefer the barley flour mixed with butter tea that was the great staple of a people who lived in the high altitudes of Tibet and which is known as tsampa, but we are out of it now as the woman who grounds the barley and prepares the flour and who lives close by in the Tibetan colony of Dykiling has taken sick.

My own day is now finding its own shape as well and as I go to bed quite early here, by 8 pm at the latest, I usually arise around 2 a.m. and begin to read and contemplate and savor, oh how I savor, the quiet and the light the darkness brings! I can make out only a few stars from my window but here in this region, without the city lights I’ve become used to in the states, the sky is more luminous. There are fires as well from the shrines along the mountains around us and all create this bowl and embrace. I can make a cup of instant coffee which tastes better than any latte I enjoyed back home and sitting here, I have hours to rest in that great peace; in this stillness; in this quiet. But only for a short time, for many will arise soon and the sweepings, cleaning and noise of the bathrooms and showers above will be heard as we all awaken to greet this day.

Last night, throughout the night, one could hear from the nearby village the loud celebratory bajans or chants coming from the Sai Baba Ashram as all of India begins to ready for the most important holiday of the year, The Festival of Lights; Diwali. Sikhs and Hindus alike boarded the plane in London that I took to Delhi and packing in luggage filled with treats and gifts, made their own pilgrimage home to join with family and clan in waving lights to God and in their own Christmas, return their lives and hearts to their devotions.

Going to Dehradun for errands yesterday was absurd and comical with the confusion of crowds and chaos made worse in the frenzy as families dressed up in colorful saris and students in the uniforms were grabbing the wrapped packages of nuts and dried fruit, lights and gifts to bring to family and friends. The atmosphere is filled with this spirit that seems to be increasing day by day as it builds to the culmination later this week for 2 days of puja and a crescendo of sounds and celebration in chants and in fireworks that mark the sky each night.

The call to prayer. It is our life. It has become mine. Writing this, I come home and sigh. To walk quietly with rosary or not, to just be where this purpose can be expressed and rooted within my heart it healing and calming; just that realization! How great.

The nuns in the temple and the sadhus in theirs. The lamas at Jangchubling, our brother monastery and the students of Kagyu College who follow in theirs an hour later. The Muslims beginning their invocations and the Christians who gather at the old Catholic Church in town; how great! This is India. These calls will soon compete with the sounds that will soon join us as the villagers all around begin to make their fires and sweeping their own courtyards and the small shops, the metal awnings are pushed up and the wares are sold off of the old roads here, pocked marked and graveling and dusty, crowded now with motorcycles and small cars and trucks. Other calls will become heard as vendors yell out their wares and bicycles and carts make their way up this old dusty and pockmarked road to sell to us and the surrounding villagers here. Even in our village where I saw so few vehicles, I see many more!

This is my second trip to India. The first time, I arrived in October of 2008 and remained until May 28, 2009, teaching English in this monastery as a volunteer as I tried to make sense of a 40 year process of healing and a spiritual pilgrimage that I call my life.

Even though it’s hard to get out of bed when that clanging first arouses us out of our deep slumber; even though we are snuggled in these sheets and on our fancy beds; even though we resist what calls to us - to answer at all guarantees great joy and completion. I know this now and although my own journey and path was often misunderstood and judged from the outside as absurd and not realistic, it has come to this deep and peaceful reservoir that I only realized over the past year and a half since I first left and returned to the states.

I didn’t know I was going to go back to India again although I might have mentioned it to some; I just didn’t know what my life had in store for me and I have come to trust this unknowing. I used to know a lot, so that is no small accomplishment! A great saint once said that only the past is known and that the present is always unknown! Makes such sense but only have much investigation and exploration. I have had to sweep out my own heart of so much attachment, what we might call projections and perceptions and assumptions and what I call, demographics. I have had to look at the very small and limited way in which I saw myself and how I saw the world and others and only through this investigation, have I come to realize this great peace.

In the tradition I was raised, Catholicism, the search for peace comes through Jesus and his life becomes the template. Jesus became known as the Christ, a word translated from Greek to be the “Anointed One.” In Buddhism, the man who is their Christ is known as the Buddha, which is translated to mean the “Awakened One,” and was the state a historical prince accomplished centuries before Jesus’ life and who was known in his time as Siddhartha. For some reason, these 2 have become my own brothers and it is their footsteps that led me here. In this monastery, I have come to know and appreciate the parallel paths of these masters who through their own lives, invite each of us to enjoy the peace they each found. The words might be different, but the states of awareness are, of course, the same.

Whenever I think of this I think of the Fred Astaire song that is iconic: “You say banana and I say baNAna!” The emphasis is on a different syllable but created such a humorous dichotomy as he sang to Ginger Rogers his reasons they can’t connect! We say the same words but differently! We describe the same states but owing to culture, language, time, region and many other variables, the words and pictures are all that are different. I wanted to go beyond all that. I wanted to find that peace and Samtenling seems to be the place I can rest in awareness of it. How great!

Now, again, the nunnery is so quiet and I can sit on this simple bed with the newly acquired spread I bought from a street vendor yesterday, venturing into Rajpur, the village behind us. My room is finally unpacked and I am ready to face my first day of teaching the 4 classes I have, 5 days a week. There is only the sound of birds riotously signing and crashing onto branches and tweeting their morning greeting. This rare quiet descends for this nunnery is not the quiet contemplative life I expected! What was I thinking? This is India after all!

The nuns make a lot of noise and their shoes slap plastic sticatto in the halls and often they are yelling to each other from the courtyard or from the roof where our clothes hang to dry and they can go to study and practice the dharma through loud repetitions! Even the first night I arrived in 2008, as we past on the dusty streets the collapsed buildings and the closed shops, even then, I could see the trash and the people and the masses of stimuli but I was deluded into thinking eventually the driver would bring me to a North Carolina kind of situation. Instead, I found myself facing a big red painted gate which opened onto the monastery grounds of our nunnery and I was quickly dispatched to a bare room with no water. I look back and laugh. I was in shock but I had enough spiritual practice and support to know that this was the chance and change I have waited for, for lifetimes! I got to wrestle with my own mind.

The noise out there I knew was only in my own mind and coming back, it is not so much a distraction as an embrace. The noise everywhere we go; it is just a background for something else that India offers, like refuge for the thousands of Tibetan refugees who fleeing the Chinese invasion of 1959, seek to re-establish the Buddhadharma in the country in which it was born!

The Tibetans came back and I came back. Maybe for the same reason. Maybe to go beyond all the difficulties at last. I think of their determination to cross the great altitudes of the Himalayas and I am inspired to continue my own crossing. How willing are we to awaken? What are we willing to do to find peace? I think I was desperate enough to do anything and those many years ago, after the pain of my childhood and the deaths of my parents, I was turned around and the outward seeking goals were abandoned and the inward journey began.

As I write this, the laborers contracted to assist Lama Tsewang in maintaining this monastery arrive and begin their own practice. Squatting all the way down, they work by hand crushing rock to make pathways. I have watched men gathering boulders by hand to build the bridge just beyond our walls to cross a washed out road. I watch them in wonder. I hear them just outside my own window here as Rakesh, our driver who lives on the hill above us with his family, turns on the noisy truck we are lucky to have and begins his own rounds carrying canisters to be filled with fuel for the nuns in the kitchen and the lamas. A huge truck, probably a Tata, is making its way up the road with a load of gravel and across this valley the smell of wood fires fill the air and the sounds of children stirring and this one universal family comes alive to face this day.

How Great!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Nellie Made It

Hi All-- I received a very brief email from Nellie saying she had arrived and had taught a couple classes. She was using a computer with a German keyboard??? Go figure. She said she had not yet been able to get to the internet shop to send a proper update. More to come I am sure. Blessings, k