Categories
Stories

Lunch with Baba Rinpoche in Kathmandu

A fiction by Steve Davidson

Like most people, I had always been fascinated by the ‘Celebrated Wisdom of the East’.  Especially exotic was the ‘Ultra Mysterious Wisdom of Tibet’.  So, when a university acquaintance in British Columbia mentioned that, through a personal connection, he could set up a meeting in Kathmandu with one of the most storied of all the lamas, Baba Rinpoche, I rose to the challenge. 

As was his wont, in the springtime, Baba Rinpoche would be walking across the Himalayas, from Tibet to Nepal.  I, being of a less transcendental bent, would be flying into Darjeeling, then taking a helicopter, Riddington’s Ride, into Kathmandu. 

We connected for lunch at the Lama’s Lair, a miniature version of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, sat near the fire, and dined on vindaloo curry over basmati rice, with green tea.  Baba Rinpoche is about five foot eight, lean, with a shaved head, and was wearing Ugg boots (“One must keep up with the times”), and a thick maroon robe.  He moved with ineffable grace, spoke with excellent diction, seemed to have a permanent facial expression of subtle joy, and altogether radiated the cheerful serenity of perfect self-control.  I was struck by the ultimate logic of his communication, then recalled that he had been a philosophy student at a highly regarded English university prior to the unfortunate incursion from Beijing, when he returned home to provide his people moral support.

When we met, he pressed his hands together, bowed, and said, “May peace be with you”.  I asked him if that were a standard Buddhist greeting, and he said, “No, but, although I am a good man, I am my own man!”  Pious, but a perky personality turned out to be part of his charm.

BR:  Now, I understand you would like to investigate the obscure and storied “Wisdom of the East”.  From that, I assume, you will essay to deduce lessons for good living in the West.  I am not certain I am a repository for any knowledge you do not already possess.  Nonetheless, I will be happy to respond to your questions with . . . something. 

However, as I am a Tibetan monk, you must be prepared that some of my answers will in fact be . . . nothing.  Silence. 

Validating, I suppose, your initial premise of impenetrable Oriental mystery!  But this is our Way.  Take it or leave it!

Now, what may I tell you? 

I:  I really only have one question.

BR:  And what is that? 

I:  Buddhists world-wide revere life itself.  And that includes all the animals.  But most

people feel that the only animals that really count are us.  How do you explain your reverence for all life?

BR:  Scaling.

I:  Scaling? 

BR: “Let us go then, you and I”, to quote Eliot, that American, who became a Brit, and then became a citizen of the world, a refugee of the wasteland, a wanderer in the rose garden of the mind.  Where was I?  Oh, yes.  “Let us go then, you and I”, onto the plains of the Oriental intellect.  Then let us go and make our visit to the room where the women come and go, speaking of the mystical Dao.  Let us be prophets in our own land.

I:  I think I already may have had too much green tea.

BR:   Not possible.  Now, one of the reasons Eastern thought seems obscure, not to say irrational, to Westerners is that Western thought is narrow, focused, and concrete, whereas eastern thought is broad. holistic, and abstract.  Western thought was born on the Island of Samos, a small place, with many rocks.  Eastern thought was born on the Gobi Desert, a large place, with much open sky.  That scaling of geography emerges, like Houdini from an iron box, in the scaling of thought.

I:  I am completely lost!  And here I expected to go to all this trouble and at last nail down Eastern thought.  But it’s already completely out of reach!

BR:  Not to fret.  You see, that is the first thing I told you—be at peace!  Does a lotus flower worry if the Royal Orient Train will be on schedule?  Does a perfect piece of jade brood as to whether anyone influential is admiring it? 

We all have our place, and that place is here.  We all have our time, and that time is now.  We all have our person, and that person is us.  Our most precious possession is our minds, and our minds are always present.  Thus, we are secure.  So, be of good cheer!

Logic is hard to master, yet terribly basic.  But the logic of scaling is not so complicated.  You’ll get it.

I:  I’m going to have to take your word for it! 

BR:  You see.  We’re already making progress!  Consider Genghis Khan. 

I:  I’m lost again.

BR:  Though no one in the West wants to admit it, Genghis Khan conquered the world. Nobody beat the terrible khan. 

Think about this.  One yurt, perfectly arranged, with military precision.  One cavalryman, a masterful rider.  Dead shot with bow and arrow.  Comfortable in all kinds of weather.  Tough as a piece of iron.  Dedicated to the leader, and instantly responsive to commands.

Multiply that by two hundred thousand.  Now you have a crack force that can level cities from the Yellow Sea to the Danube River.

That’s scaling.  

I:  I think I have had too much, or not enough, vindaloo curry.  Maybe I should have had a hot dog.

BR:  Enlightenment ever calls for patience.

Now, consider this.  The Great Wisdom, which created the World, wants to create Life.  The skies are in place.  The mountains are in place.  The seas are in place.  But it would be nice to have some company.  But, to build Life, a design is needed. 

I:  A blueprint?

BR:  Even so.

Of what will Life be comprised?  That is, what is the list of Qualities that go into what we think of as Life?

I:  And that is?

BRPerception that sketches out the nature of reality: wet and dry, hard and soft, sweet and bitter.  Interpretation of perceptions: opportunity or threat, safety or danger.   Identification and classification of pieces of reality: self or other, friend or foe, refuge or exposed field.  Causal relations: this does this, and that does that.  Social relations: this is my group, and we cooperate; that is their group, and we compete.  Planning: I will go here and do this to get that, and to avoid the other thing.  Emotions: I got what I wanted, so I feel good; I got injured, so I feel bad.

I:  Wow.  That’s a lot! 

BR:  Not so much, really.  What in logic we call necessary and sufficient.  A minimum set of Qualities necessary and sufficient to comprise what we think of as Life.  Some life ranks higher on the complexity scale, naturally, and some life ranks lower on the complexity scale.

I:  Ah, I think I may be getting this!  Life is essentially the same, up and down the scale of complexity.  The lowest level is essentially the same as the highest level. 

BR:  Even so.

I:  The dolphins are a lot like us, the whales and the orangutangs, the parrots and the jaguars, the bears and the beavers.  It’s the same basic system up and down!   The scale doesn’t change the system.  Is that right?

BR:  Precisely, exactly so.

I:  And that’s why Buddhists all over the world revere life itself, because it’s all essentially the same.  “They” are all “Us”.  “We” are all “Them”.  Is that it?

BR:  Spot on!

I:  You know, I think I might have a little more vindaloo curry and green tea.

As we stood outside the restaurant, Baba Rinpoche hitched his small blue canvas backpack onto his shoulders and looked south into the sapphire mountain sky at a distant, huge, drifting, snowy cloud, as if trying to decide whether it was going to be friendly or unfriendly.  “I am going to visit the Bodhi Tree, where Buddha found Enlightenment.  I haven’t been there in years”.  He mentioned that as casually as if he had said, “I’m going down to the market to pick up some tea”. 

“But it’s hundreds of miles to that place,” I protested.  “And you haven’t any money.”

He gave me one of those little serene smiles of his, and that placid look gazing a thousand years into the future, and said, “The world will provide”.  And off he strode, zigzagging through afternoon traffic with the grace and ease of an Olympic skater.

And he was right.  I paid for our lunch.

Guru Rinpoche (Tibetan “Precious teacher”) lived in the 8th-9th century. He was the founder of the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism in Tibet. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Steve Davidson is a psychologist from California, the author of the clinical textbook “An Introduction to Human Operations Psychotherapy”.

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Categories
Poetry

A Lament, A Prayer

By Bibek Adhikari

Kathmandu Ring Road during Lockdown. Courtesy: Creative Commons
A Lament, A Prayer


This slow sweltering summer day
the suburb seems to be sleeping,
succumbing to the heavy & humid daytime lull.
 
I walk from room to room 
with a glass of fizzy drink,
losing track of time 
with my multifarious musings.
 
I sit down to work 
amid the late afternoon susurrus sneaking 
in from the latticed windows.
 
I put my pen aside —
and there it rests on the table, 
too tired, too reluctant to write about 
all the paralyzing things happening
in the world.
 
My mushy brain throbs 
in its liquid room,
swimming in endless tragedies 
of faraway places.
 
At home, there’s birdsong
and a willful indifference,
though the heart is not impervious
to losing.
 
Days go by.
Sparrows cheep and flutter,
moths die on window panes,
nothing arrives—
not a single news of the ones 
who left us in these sleepy suburbs,
full of endless waiting.

Bibek Adhikari writes poetry and fiction. He lives in Kathmandu and works as a freelance technical writer and editor.

Categories
Review

Pearls of a Strawberry Moon: Mystic Journey of an Awakened Self

Book review by Keshab Sigdel

Title: Pearls of a Strawberry Moon

Author: Monalisa Dash Dwibedy
 

Monalisa Dash Dwibedy’s Pearls of a Strawberry Moon is not an ordinary collection of poems that only records the mundane realities of our times, our successes and failures, or our memories and hopes for the future. The poet meditates on the world around her, grows, and allows her awakened self to introspect objectively. She provides us with a yogic view of the world; not renunciation but an evaluation of the self and makes herself a witness to the demolition of her own ego.

In the times when poetry has been reduced to mere narratives of our own experiences, Monalisa has made it a vehicle for a serious purpose: search for wisdom

Everyone is subject to the pain and pleasure of their own life experiences. But they are not poetry in themselves. Churning those experiences for the realization of the ‘truth’ is what makes poetry. Monalisa has demonstrated herself as a meticulous observer of both the outer and the inner world. 

She has divided her poems into three thematic sections: ‘Life’, ‘Lament’ and ‘Miracles’. The poems in the life category describe the human endeavour to seek happiness. They portray life in its totality. Verses in the second category ‘Laments’ include the ones of sufferings, regrets and failures. The last category, ‘Miracles’, covers the future, an alternate reality as perceived by the poet. All these poems are woven by a single thread of reflexivity of an awakened self.

The first poem in the collection,’My Life in Two blue Suitcases’ is a testimony of the poet’s divided self between the promises of the far-off lands and the warmth back home:

When the distant tracks call me,

Opening their arms,

I walk out of my comfort zone,

To embrace red-dusted earth and blue skies.

….. 

Staring far along the open roads,

As long as the sun shines upon me,

I try not to look back,

So many lives,

So many places,

Unseen.

There are millions of people who have left their birthplaces for better opportunities, but they have never been sure if that was really what they wanted. A perpetual desire to belong to the past continues to haunt their existence.

In ‘Soul of a Forest’, the poet tries to observe what is forgotten and neglected, the unseen. It is that unseen that has protected the seed of our life; that has nurtured the fragrance and the light we crave for. When she roams in the wilderness of the jungle, she finds darkness all around. But darkness is not the end. She reveals she knew that “the forest had a soul”.

In ‘A Butterfly’, the poet tries to find an answer to the question: what is the ultimate truth? The butterfly showcases an analogy of transformation from a caterpillar to flying wings! Change is the essence of existence. Being is not remaining static but transforming—probably for a higher goal. She writes:

A caterpillar to a butterfly,

Evolve through the dark,

I will gift my wings,

Kiss the sun.

Human beings are the slaves of their own ego. Our conscience is dictated by our ego. It is only when a great inspiration drenches us with all its compassionate blessing, we forget the ego. The real bliss is in surrendering the ego. ‘In Presence of the Master’, the poet creates an oxymoron to present this difficult passage of spiritual growth where the “surrendering of ego” becomes the most “ego-satisfying”:

Time stands still,

I melt in his presence.

Surrendering remnants of ego,

Was never so ego-satisfying.

The poet has tried to expose the limitations of human beings in ‘To the Atlantic’. In the poem, man’s vulnerability to nature is described in this way:

To the mighty ocean! We raised a toast

Roaring afternoon waves

Silenced our chorus,

The sea mocked and waves laughed

Watching us lose our thunder.

 ‘Let Me Unlock’ appears to be a romantic poem on the surface. But diving deep, we find out that it echoes the importance of independence and freedom of expression.

My love is locked,

In the vast vacuum of your heart,

Unable to find expressions.

The poems in the thematic section ‘Miracle’ resonate the poet’s expectations. In ‘A Thousand Love Affairs’, the poet expresses her unconditional love to the human and non-human. She loves them without purpose, with no expectations for any return: “My heart blossoms as it does not know heartbreak, despair or dark abyss.”

‘The World Goes Blind’ has the poet imagining that the universe has stopped and the world’s reverses from darkness to light. This reflects the poet’s sensitivity towards the darkness of inhumanity that prevails in the world. And she sincerely wishes to reverse it. Another poem, ‘A Speck of Dust’, is a meditation on how a seemingly insignificant dust speck is the source of magic for nature’s worldly manifestation.  

‘Strawberry Moon’, the titular poem shows that the moon is eternal but is hung on its axis and man is transient and craves for the eternal. This incongruous juxtaposition of the moon and man provides us an opportunity to contemplate our lives – our desires and the reality we are destined for.

‘Fall’ tells the story of a season that undoes nature’s artistry. Everything has a limit; even creativity and construction. The old has to be demolished so that it makes place for the new. Everything has its time.

 ‘Niagara’ is a mystic poem where the poet imagines transforming herself into water droplets to immerse with the vastness of water:

How I can become one with the magnificent, majestic nature

Until I transform myself into a drop of water?

 ‘Goodbye’ brings forth the eternal struggle between the worldly ego and the awakened self. The first is merely a role player without knowing that she is a role player. The awakened self is a conscious witness. The poet wishes to bid goodbye to the unconscious self.

The last poem in the anthology, ‘I Set My Soul Free’ is, if not a declaration, at least a reflection, on the inner desire of the poet. The poet continues to live in her bodily form. Free soul is a metaphor of liberation — not only her personal social freedom, but freedom from desires.

A sincere delving into Monalisa’s poems clearly suggests the range of her imaginative horizon and poetic craftsmanship. I feel privileged to write my feelings for her poems. I invite the readers to have a go at them.

Keshab Sigdel is a poet, translator and critic based in Kathmandu. He is also the International Coordinating Committee Member of World Poetry Movement (www.wpm2011.org). He teaches poetry at Central Department of English, Tribhuvan University.

Categories
Stories

Flash Fiction: The One Rupee Taker

By Sushant Thapa

                                                                                                           

Every day he visits my home and takes only a one-rupee coin. Not more and not less. If I try to give him a two-rupee coin, he asks, “Do you want me to take this coin?” and he won’t take it. He is in the habit of taking a one-rupee coin from my home and perhaps many other homes. I can only see him coming to my home to take a coin. I do not care if he visits other homes and collects coins, for I care about his visit to my home because of his regular habits.

We see him in gatherings and ceremonies at other places. He sits flat on the ground. They serve him well in many social functions. Unconcerned, he sits politely and leaves in a well-mannered way. Yet, his daily habit of taking a one-rupee coin from my home worries me.

“How very forgetful of him!” says my dad if he is late.

His tension is unlike that of a housemaid who lights a single cigarette in the afternoon after finishing her morning chores. A single cigarette puts the maid to relief. But a single coin puts the man to unrest every day.

People say he is loosely wired. Decades have passed. But he has not changed his habit. Everybody in the town has ceased to talk about him now. They are not worried about his activities. He is dressed untidily in dirty clothes often.  He is well built, stout and tall. He seems to come from a healthy family. The only thing that concerns him is the daily collection a one-rupee coin from every home. He might have hoarded a vast amount by now.

He used to talk to my grandfather in those days when I was young. He would see my grandfather having lunch at the dinner table through the window, and he’d say, “Well, you are having your lunch, should I not be having my coin?” I used to be young but now I can write his story. I’m a grown-up man now, and I can write things about the one-rupee man.

Many times, I have placed a coin in front of the man myself. I would place it on the windowsill, he would murmur something, and I would say — “It’s there.” Silently, he would feel the coin with his hand and take it. He would say nothing to me.

Once, my little niece gave him a two-rupee coin. The man asked my dad, “Why do you create such confusion? Why do you give me two rupees instead of one?”

Once a day, we see him standing in front of the window of my house, but he is very careful not to visit more than once a day. Perhaps it bothers him, and that’s why he is particular about it.

Some say he was a rich businessman, and that his business partners deceived him and he lost every penny he invested. He got detached from the business world, but he does collect a one-rupee coin from everyone. He continued to have a relationship with the monetary world in as much that he would have his daily dole of a one rupee coin. He makes sure that he comes to collect a one rupee coin from us, and we get bothered about handing him his single one-rupee coin. The give and take process dilutes the tension. Yet, it seems to be a never-ending process that holds the burden for both parties.

Sushant Thapa is a recent post-graduate in English Literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. His short story “The Glass Slate” has been published in Kitaab.org from Singapore. His poems and essays have been published in Republica daily from Kathmandu. His short stories and poems have also been published by The Writers’ Club, New Jersey, United States. He revels in rock music, poetry, books and movies from his home in Biratnagar, Nepal.