Still moving through space
by Peter Makela
Traveling by local bus in the Himalayas is the perfect meditation and mirror. The company and views are always the perfect reflection. Sitting next to soon to be Geshes, groups of beautiful young flirtatious Hindu ladies laughing and teasing each other in sing song intonations, curious toddlers who want to play hide and seek, dedicated elderly Tibetan women constantly reciting mantras, and gentle unassuming Ladakhi men who completed their first three year retreat by the age of 22. Out the window there are glacial lakes, wandering cows, views of lepers begging on the ground right next to children waiting in ice cream lines, heaps of garbage, 2,000 meter drop offs and the most stunning snow peaked mountains on the planet. Besides the perfect reflection, and the always profound juxtapositioning of the gorgeous the shocking and the just bizarre, an added perk to bus riding in the Himalayas is that each time you get on there is a very good possibility that you won’t get off and that you will die. So you better enjoy the view, make some people laugh, practice and love your neighbor.
After some marathon travels and a few ordeals, my first of these rides led me to Leh, Ladakh the night before His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday. What I felt during His Holiness’s birthday and during the Kalachakra is a very personal experience, but I will say that I am incredibly thankful and feel amazingly fortunate to have been able to see, feel, hear and experience what I did in Ladakh, and I feel very thankful for being able to meet and connect with all the great people that I did there.
After an initiation like this a lot tends to come up, some very blissful experiences and some that are not so comfortable.
The first profoundly not so comfortable experience happened shortly after the initiation. It was quite the ordeal finding a bus from Leh to Manali but finally one fell into place, a 15-hour night bus leaving at midnight.
I have been on these roads; some that are completely covered in fog, less than 20 feet wide, no guardrails, and where the edge of the tire is three inches from the edge of an inconceivably long drop off. These roads can be pretty disturbing even to an experienced driver, so when I opened the door to the bus at midnight and saw that the driver was 14 years old, I was really not so happy. After a lot of insisting and lots of hand movements I ended up convincing them to let me sit in the passengers seat. This ended up being a pretty damn good idea considering that at three o’clock in the morning I woke up and looked over to see that there was no driver, the engine was off and the bus was rapidly moving backwards down a steep incline. I immediately opened the passenger door and jumped out, not so far from falling off the cliff myself, I turned around and in shock and horror watched the bus and screaming passengers speeding backwards in the fog, luckily landing 5 feet to the left crashing into the mountain as opposed to 5 feet to the right, right off the cliff into the abyss.
When everyone collected themselves, we got back on the bus and continued the journey.
Apparently what happened was that the kid/driver realized there was something wrong with the engine, so he stopped the bus and got out and either he forgot to pull the breaks or at that moment they stopped working. Either way, a 15 hour bus ride over Rohtang pass took 25 because every hour we had to stop for the bus driver to get out and tie the breaks together and pour vegetable oil on them.
This experience pushed my number of near death experiences to that of more than a cat.
Instead of immediately hopping on another bus I decided to spend a few weeks resting in the beautiful hot springs and ancient temples of Vashist.
When enough sulphur sorted me out I came to Dharamsala. Even during monsoon it’s an enchanting place.
When I have visited the incredible monasteries of Ladakh, Nubra Valley and Himachal Pradesh I bow down in complete reverence and humility in front of the thangkas and murals. I prostrate myself before these for the energies they contain and represent, for the complete perfection of the philosophy and symbols but also for the complete perfection of each of these artist’s understandings, for their clarity of vision, their creativity and ingenuity and for their otherworldly steadiness of hand and eye.
I came to Dharamasala to meet thangka painters and hopefully make a connection, and I made this connection with a small school with a traditional and intensive program.
For the first two years the student only draws, allowing all of the sacred proportions and harmonies of the different deities and yidams that he is learning restructure and reorganize his mind. This is a complete practice and path in and of itself.
After doing preliminary practice drawings for two weeks I see how completely humbling and powerful this program and education are.
On the day that I was admitted to the school and agreed to come back and study fulltime next year I later in the afternoon serendipitously found myself at the Karmapa’s monastery receiving a blessing from him.
After this there has seemed to be some sort of energetic shift.
The next day another wish was granted and I found myself at the DGL nunnery sitting in Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo’s office having an hour-long audience with her.
Jetsunma is one of the most incredible, powerful and cool people that I have had the great fortune to be able to sit down and talk with. As we talked about the Dharma and art she summed it up quite perfectly. “My love, it is quite simple, practice the Dharma, have no expectations, and there is nothing to worry about”.
The waking dream continues, and “tomorrow” I hop on the bus for the 40 hour journey to Hyderabad to see Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.