The physical conditions are constantly changing, and experiences fly by, on the bumpy rides on the “longer but more comfortable” road from Kathmandu to Sindhuli where we arrived toward evening of the 8th September, at the Valley View Hotel on a hilltop overlooking stunning views of farms, villages and distant mountains on two sides. Sharply beneath the hotel via two steep zigzag roads were the two Internet cafes from which we remained in contact with the world. Above all, however, this was the place where a three-day Maitri Puja would take place, and we would be blessed daily by being in the foreign sangha’s section high up on the hill just beneath the Guru. We were able to see from fairly close distance the young Guru’s bliss-giving countenance, and felt keenly that we were all in Gurujyu’s Grace.
Back home evenings, we’d walk down to “file our reports” to the eagerly waiting fellow sangha members around the world eager for our news in this new environment. The situation among the various Nepali sangha seemed a very distant world, even as it physically affected our movements and destinations. Yet the inner transformation continued as time stretched on quietly for a deepening reflection on how Maitri Love works.
A more active period followed where we established our habitat in the outdoors. As a sangha member had once reminded us quietly, “It’s not so much the external events as the State of our Minds that is being tested here at each turn.” And so the slow and long search for Inner Truth began for me, but at full throttle. After all, there was nothing else to do!
How are we reacting to these motions and commotions? To long bumpy drives? To the different conditions from hotel rooms to tents and barns? Our states of mind were being tested in rather an intense fashion. Most of us did not know the language, the foods or customs, travelling in Nepal for the first time in our lives. Once in Taiwan I had heard it said that people with computers comprise 2% of the world’s entire population. Well, here we were, all Internet surfers (even though only a few brought our laptops) and in this manner we, the foreign sangha, found ourselves suddenly diving deeply into this 98 percentile of Humanity. As a group, I feel, we took well to the challenges where each detail offered a new facet of Nepal and her culture. Examining my own state of mind, I caught some rising negativity when finding it hard to walk up the steep roads to our hotel, the giant steps to the Puja, or to the first floor of the hotel wishing life to be easier… and began to ask myself, “Who is complaining? Where is the Separation?” Thus began a continuing exploration of similar tiny little ripples that subtly arise to disturb the balance and greater harmony created by the sangha uniting to celebrate our Guru and our Oneness. And slowly the sense of merging returned as from the March Puja, where oneness with all sangha, with all trees, insects, wind and sand had been palpable… But one thing kept gnawing at the consciousness, and it is not being able to become one with the snoring of fellow sangha members sharing the same space over nights. Sense of Separation rose again, and the effort to merge with it, with the regular rhythmic flow of air, the many attempts of trying to listen to the gentle in and out of the breath as listening to waves on the seas with their hypnotic regularity… but to no avail. Disappointed and puzzled, I asked a fellow sangha member why this should be so, explaining that I can sleep soundly through typhoons, roosters and even amicable chitchat of locals in a tongue I don’t understand. She shared her usual wisdom saying that the sound of snoring signals some sort of distress, and mothers are trained to stay alert to the sound of distress of their children, and tend thus to be vigilant… Calmed by this explanation, I stopped feeling guilty and made peace with my unclose-able ears… Nevertheless, this was an experience of utter failure in attempting to arrive at Oneness, no matter what the viable reasons, and made clear that the inward journey has still got a long, long way to go…
These days have been profoundly instructive. As I write, the foreign members of the sangha are billeted, with Guru and old and young monks, on a private hilly property of a loving devotee in a region of farmlands, broad rivers and hills lush with papaya and banana resembling somewhat my Taiwan habitat. Gradually, as the days follow one another interspersed by starry nights and chilly breezes, one becomes aware of the Earth’s vibrant stillness pervading over all the land, even now at harvest time when farmers cut rice stalks from the fields with thin circular sickles. The long cut stalks are gathered up into sheaves, and sometimes piled three meters high above wooden oxcarts and slowly conveyed home, where they will be thrashed on woven mats in the full sun. Elsewhere on rooftops and courtyards, families take up large circular bamboo trays for winnowing where each grain is preciously culled for the kitchen. Arms dance in unison with the flying husks, just the way the menfolk’s footsteps move in unison with those of water buffalo or white oxen, ploughing up the fields for the next plantings. Women are seen sitting on the ground, peeling off the hard and shiny red corn kernels from the corn harvested long ago that had been hanging from the rafters to dry. I tried my hand but for all my might couldn’t budge one kernel from its niche. My hostess laughed as she stroke her large palm gently over the cob surface and peeled off one section of three to four rows at one time, as shiny kernels trickled down in smooth clicks like the sound of mahjong dice. These corn kernels are then winnowed like the rice grains, in the wind, and are ground to a fine powder that is dry-heated, and served with sugar and hot water, a nourishing and tasty pap.
There is not the chatting or gossiping during these activities. Here human voices are subsumed under the still breath of Nature, where the only sounds are of movements in sync with the earth and its bounty. Simply and gracefully, in Oneness. Everyone seems intensely absorbed with and into the labour at hand, fully attentive, fully open in the heart, it seems, and tuned into the grander scheme of Nature with no distraction, mind-full of each action. Thus each frame of the camera reveals a painting recalling Vermeer that, to some may feel sheer Zen. There is only rhythmic movement, in pace with nature’s physical potential. Everywhere in the fields, by the water, in courtyards or on rooftops one hears in the sun the sound of ploughing, thrashing, winnowing, and is overcome by the unmistakable feeling of cohesion and harmony in interactive symbiosis, free from negativity, doubt, fear, or discrimination. Is it like this everywhere in Nepal? Or only around Guru?
After eleven it begins to get hot, and thoughts run to cooling showers. A red dragonfly perches silently on a rock, the stream gurgles by as a few villagers have already gathered at the community spring beneath the giant banyan tree, and in nimble steps bring their tall metal water buckets or broad plastic laundry tubs for an hour or so of watering. Drawing from the three openings to this foursquare water system, they gather the day’s drinking water, wash the family’s clothes, or bathe oneself. This is done under the bright sun (also under the moon or starry skies), always fully clothed, where under public scrutiny the bather deploys various positions to facilitate the process. For in this somewhat cluttered water hole, not only fellow water-users, but other villagers, monks and oxen frequently pass by going to or coming up from the broad river below. Once, after a shampoo in the searing sun, I raised the nearly full bucket over my head and slowly, luxuriously doused my hair in a long, leisurely shower of spring water. Eyes closed, all sensations focused on the blessed sensation of hot skin slowly cooling in the ablution. After all the water had travelled down my whole person I opened my eyes — only to see two black water buffalo with glistening skin drinking at my feet, moving their giant heads slowly toward my toes. Oh, but this is soapy! I thought apologetically, just as a little boy came by with his stick and shooed them back onto the original path. Their huge black tender eyes under long curly lashes sent out waves of pure love, total patience, and incredible tolerance. Strangers to complaint and negativity they are! Deep bows to such noble teachers!
What turned out for these parts to be an earth-shaking event took place yesterday. At first a deep whirring sound began to be faintly heard in the air. Soon a child shouted, and with increasing shrillness the word “Helicopter!” was heard as he rushed helter-skelter toward the field beneath Guru’s hill now readied for landing: bare brown earth with a huge white circle in the middle marking the spot. I was on the rooftop a few hundred meters away, watching villagers young and old racing on foot or biking toward the commotion as the helicopter, at last visible in real form, made its approach and ever so slowly its descent. The excitement far exceeded the birth, earlier in the day, of the young shopkeeper’s very first baby. The visitors from the sky were a group of Thai devotees flying in straight from Bangkok to visit Guru, and afterward flew away in the same way.
This morning, riding on the back of a motorcycle to town on the dusty, bumpy roads we crossed the huge rivers now dry after the monsoons have stopped and made it to town in about 15 minutes, a huge contrast to taking the local public transport. The latter involves fording the river on foot and waiting for the rickety bus that also took goats and chickens along with huge grain sacks and oil containers all blocking the passage way, and passengers obligingly climbed onto the rooftop to cramp along with the goats, and enjoying the breezy ride to town that takes altogether what seems two hours one way! In this enormous river bed there are many areas softly raised with clumps of tall pampas grass that are constantly dancing in the cool gusts whilst in their sway, different intensities of golden white light bounce off the tassels, dazzling the eye. One is overcome by an unspeakable awe, drenched from head to foot with blessing.
In the evening Dawa arrived from his long trekking trip up the Himalayas, bringing with him our long-awaited sister from France, a huge joy for friends and admirers.
For here, in Guru’s Maitriland, everything is a blessing. The heat, the cold, the bumps, the dust, the stones underfoot, each and every thing manifests a distinct individuality whilst part of our Oneness. As a sangha-member had observed, the boundaries between oneself and the air, between the air and the trees, between trees and huts, sky, clouds…. actually don’t exist, and when we are sufficiently (re)collected, and fully absorbed in the reality of universal oneness, we can actually see all these things merging, one into the other.
For myself, beginner in such things metaphysical, I do feel myself melting happily and completely into Maitri and the Love and Compassion that Guru so magnificently embodies! In the same way one can feel Guru melting into each and every one of us, so we may merge into Maitri, one transparent, brilliant, palpable awareness that is total, self-losing Love.
Sarva Maitri Mangalam Astu Tathastu