A Day at the Temple

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Sunday morning I was woken up by the sound of chanting monks – and honestly, what could be more wonderful? At first, it was still dark but a few birds had begun singing and I could feel that stirring of a waking day. Then gradually it became lighter and more sounds mixed with the chanting and there was no way I could stay in bed.

I was actually sick and had spent most of Saturday being pretty pathetic – and as I got dressed, I realized that okay, perhaps I’m still sick. But how often are you in mini-Tibet, being woken up by the most beautiful chanting, chanted by the most beautiful Tibetan monks? Right. So off I went to the temple.

I recognized the chant as being the same as at Losar and I now know that it is the Tibetan Chant for World Peace. I’m still not sure if that is the name for the whole prayer or just part of it, the text takes up an entire book and there might be several chants. Before I leave here, I will find out.

The temple was full – well actually the temple itself is pretty small and only holds what seems to be the oldest and most important lamas, the ones leading the chant, a few of them wearing yellow half-moon shaped hats – the rest of the monks and nuns are sitting outside in sections covering three sides of the temple.

After another half an hour or so everybody breaks for about 15 minutes and then assemble downstairs. The downstairs area also has a temple, a very small one, and two monks are now sitting in the doorway of it, facing out (and actually facing across the courtyard and directly into HH. the Dalai Lama’s residence – I imagine him peeking out the window to see what’s going on :)). All the monks sitting as audience on one side and all the nuns on the other, first one monk, the two, then four, is standing in front of the two sitting monks, asking them questions and clapping loudly in their hands while doing so. The tone of their voices is sometimes provocative and mocking and the whole thing seems like some kind of theater.

At this point I’m very much aware that my body is challenged, my head feels very warm and prickly and a couple of times my sight goes black with little stars and I have to sit down and lean up against a pillar. I probably should have been in bed but how often are you in… Right.

Several times the standing monks are being replaced, the two sitting remains the same and it seems they are being tested. I’m doing the best I can to decode this strange phenomena but tone of voice and gestures etc doesn’t always mean the same in different languages so what I see as mean mocking, might be completely harmless.
One of the standing monks, one who have been particularly menacing, is finishing his round and leaves the area for a short while before returning and finding a seat among the monk audience. He looks exhilarated and very satisfied with himself, and in a very innocent and likeable way, like a proud and happy kid, with a bounce in his step and a bubbly grin. The reality of this performance is definitely something other than just mocking.

After a while I’m deciding that maybe I should go get some rest, it would be horribly embarrassing to lose conscience right in front of all the holiness, not to mention right outside the lama’s windows. So I leave and on the way I ask one of the security guards what is going on. He explains that it is in fact a test, he calls it mind wash. The monks are practicing and debating and every clap marks a question. His English was not the best and my sharpness not the sharpest so I will find out more – but I have read about the debates, I just didn’t know they looked like this.

On the way back I stop at my favorite cafe, OneTwo Cafe, for some breakfast and then back to bed for a few hours. The cafe is almost exactly between my room and the temple, it’s the nicest Tibetan girls who run it, the food is great and it’s overlooking the square right in front of the temple so there’s always life to watch. The yellow building in the back is the temple. Around noon there is chanting again and I feel better and so I head back to the temple.

I have never considered myself a chanting kind of person. I mean, I can see the purpose of it and I can even enjoy it once in a while but it has never been my choice of devotional expression. But this chant for world peace.. It goes straight into the deepest of my heart and it makes every cell in my body vibrate in the most beautiful way. Well, I guess I can’t really explain it but the effect is overwhelmingly powerful and makes me feel that if I could just sit and listen (at least until I learn the words myself), I would be happy – nothing more in life would be necessary. And that’s a pretty powerful feeling. I wonder what it would take to convince the monks to come back to Denmark with me…

Well, okay so anyway – for the next hours I’m sitting there outside the temple, surrounded by monks and nuns and chanting, being happy, contemplating life. There is little breaks here and there, tea and bread is being passed around, there is chatting and laughing, and just like at Losar, the chanting never stops, the intent remains strong. The energy being accumulated on a day like this must be profound and I can only imagine how far it reaches or how astonishing it must look through the eyes of a clairvoyant.

So Sunday was wonderful and I went to bed feeling grateful and peaceful and connected with myself, my heart and the whole universe – just how it is supposed to be.

Who Is Your Guru?

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It seems there’s a rule for one’s journey to India; you need a guru.
As mentioned before, Rishikesh is a little too touristy for my likings and it leaves me a little annoyed when people are constantly referring to something their guru said. There seems to be an unreflected, uncritical and, in my honest opinion an unsettling tendency and willingness to blindly accept anything the guru says.

I see a lot of people walking around with this very characteristic smile of being in a happy bubble. But the bubble seems to be just that, a bubble. Not really grounded in anything and very easy to burst. When I talk to people, I see eyes full of insecurity and I hear words lacking the substance they gain when spoken from the heart.

A few days ago I’m sitting in a café. I had brought my computer and was in that lovely flow of reflecting and writing while enjoying my chai as well as the beautiful surroundings. Very content being in my little bubble of just me and the universe.

A guy asks if he can sit down at the table where I’m sitting and I say sure and return to my bubble. He then starts talking to me, asking me questions. I answer and once again turn my attention to what I was doing. There could have been no doubt that I was concentrated on something other than interacting with people around me. Again he speaks and a little frustrated but trying to be open and patient I focus on him, trying to figure out what it is that he wants. He asks me about my spiritual practice, what I know of the religions and when I answer he starts a lengthy monologue that seems to be directed towards some inner audience of his. After that he decides to explain Buddhism to me. He then throws himself into something about the eight limbs but is struggling after only two of them. And those two took a long time explaining. By then my patience is less impressive and so when he asks if I practice pranayama I almost give him a snooty answer that yes, I try to breathe regularly. I don’t, instead I tell him that I really want to get back to what I was doing. Me and my computer and my chai and the beautiful surroundings. He is clearly not happy with my decision but really has no choice but to accept. Since then, I’ve met him several times, we say hello but that’s it. I was then told that apparently he considers himself a guru and so he is trying to gather followers. He also keeps a blog for that purpose.
There’s another guru here who have already managed to get himself a heard. His name is Prem Baba and he’s not even Indian, he’s from Brazil. I would say he’s the gurustar of the village and several times I’ve been asked if I’m here for him, am I going there now, did I just come from there as if he is the obvious main reason for anyones visit to this area. So today I decided to go see this wonder of a Being, this messenger of the great universal truth. To say I went there with an open mind wouldn’t be completely accurate but I was determined to experience this as non-judgemental as I possibly could.

I leave my shoes outside and come into a big rectangular and bright room with huge windows facing the river. In the middle of the room there’s about 10 people sitting with different instruments on the floor and around them a couple of hundred people are sitting on pillows, all in different stages of devotional contemplation. They start playing and singing and it’s a sort of chanting, repeating the same theme over and over, building up the energy of the room as more and more people join in. I join in as well and the music is definitely nice and has an opening effect. A guy works his way around the room with a little tray holding a cup with some orange paste that he smears on everybody’s third eye and little sugar crystals that we get to suck on. Only I didn’t know what they were and so I kept them in my hands for the next hour an a half, making me very sticky.

After the chanting, the guru speaks. Or so does the recorded message because he’s not there himself. Instead there’s the chair (throne) where he would have been and on the chair is his picture which is the first in the room to get the orange smear from the guy with the tray. People around me are very affected by the whole thing, a girl sitting close to me is sobbing pretty much through the next hour and suddenly the guy with the tray breaks down and is loudly wailing for several minutes before he composes himself and continues the task at hand. The guru speaks very generally about uncovering the layers to ones true being – I didn’t disagree with anything he said but I must admit that I had expected something a little more substantial.

Afterwards more chanting and this time people let lose. Some plunges into ecstatic worship, raising their hands to the sky, swaying along with the music – and of course crying. I shift between closing my eyes and focusing on the essence of it all and looking around amazed by this weird phenomenon.

I’m glad that I went and experienced it and I liked the music – but I still don’t get why it gives people the kick it does and I don’t get the need to follow someone like this, even if that someone claims to be an enlightened guru.

Or maybe I do get it but I judge it. Maybe it irritates me that people in many cases are sheep who will gladly follow whoever will lead them. Or maybe it makes me sad to witness all the suffering that leaves people confused and so easy to control.
So who am I to judge other people’s journey, the choices they make and the gurus they follow? I guess when we are still searching, there is a period when we try on the insights of other people, we feel out the words of the masters to find something that resonates with our soul and we try to make sense out of the life we have known until now. And hopefully we succeed.
The day I got here I was having a conversation with a guy. We’re talking about spiritual beliefs and practice (it seems to be the favorite topic around here) and when he asks me if I have a guru, without really thinking about it I say “my heart is my guru”. I guess I’m at a point right now, where I don’t need all the words, I really don’t feel like sitting around being philosophical or discussing the mystery of life. It is what it is.

At least for now, my heart is my guru and I’m happy with that simplicity.