Day 3 of the Mandala Puja at Thiksey Monastery . OM AH HUM.
The chanting begins at 6:30am and goes on and on. About fifty monks are in attendance, along with twenty or so Westerners – the tourists, who walk around with their big black lenses, pointing and shooting, click-click, snap-snap, shoving their cameras in the monks’ faces like animals at the zoo. Flash-click-snap. The sign out front reads†: Please no flash photography. The Thiksey puja has become another tourist attraction on the Trail, even our guide book says so. And no surprise really. Its absolutely beautiful. So sacred. A unique experience to be welcomed so openly into the strange and mystical world of Tibetan Buddhism. The gompa walls which surround us are filled with colorful murals of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, fierce protector deities, and the erotic yab-yum images of consort yoga. It’s enough to make any middle-aged Protestant American scream, running for the doors of the confessional.
The influence of Tibet’s primitive Bon religion speaks through the darkened worn images and symbols; it’s evil spirits, animism, ritual, and sacrifice Evident – soaked up by Padmasambhava and the Buddhadharma and transformed into the highly Evolved Vajrayana. The quick path to liberation, starts early. The young monks, seven or eight years of age, pour butter tea and serve big buckets of barley flour to their seniors, who have been chanting these sutras since they were pouring tea themselves. Within these same gompa walls. On these same old cushions. Prostrating, bald heads gracing these same wooden floors, who knows how many times before. These old monks waddle, lama-walking to their seats, are the last of a generation. The last lamas to live and practice the Dharma with little or no contact with the West, or the greater outside world for that matter. No flash photography. No gift shop. No commercials, world-wide-web, or television. Now, when the pretty young Israeli girls step out of the jeeps and into the puja, in their halter tops and spandex, the young monks can’t help but stare. At age twelve or thirteen, the monastic life cannot protect them from their biological inheritance. The fire of their youth, turns the spinning wheels of the lower chakras.
Thiksey monastery is hundreds of years old, these practices, thousands. There so much beauty to be felt in its presence, a transmission of ancient sound passed down through the deep, grunting vibrations of a chanting monks’ melody. Like a timeless river stream, flowing from the Buddha Shakyamuni himself. To listen is to hear the Dharma. To sit together, is to be the Sangha. In this body, in this breath.
But conventional wisdom reveals, I am still human – same too, these monks. They are not so different. Sometimes they are ‘here,’ while I am all the way over ‘there.’ But right now we are both Here. Sitting together, swaying to the melodious rhythm, sipping tea, stirring flour into Tsampa balls with our fingers. They too are tired. Bald heads drop one by one like flies, for a little puja snooze. The young monks appear uninterested, busy chatting and playing, throwing rice grain offerings at each other across the room when the elders aren’t looking. There is a genuine realness about the whole scene. However, this is their life, while I am just visiting. But I guess we’re all just passing through…
The horns blaze, Tibetan clarinets roar, bronze cymbals clash like lightning, the little lamas breathe deep into conch shells, while the deep bass drums pound – the ancient Buddha heart-beat. Deep mountain earth, sounds from another time. Someone must have hit the reset button – the mind clears, empties into silence. Snoozing monks wake. Only three more hours to go.