Saturday, July 10, 2010

On The Route

Note: This will be an ongoing post, meaning I will add onto the end each time I write more. It is also the rough draft which I may edit wherever I see a need to. So scroll down to find the continuation of the story which will be marked by the most recent dates entered in red.
A warm day in June, messing around on the computer, checking out different sites, finally finding myself perusing the different clicks on the Garchen Buddhist Institute web site, and came across the "ask Garchen a question" site. Therefore, quite innocently enough, I composed a couple of questions that ended with my asking this final one. A simple enough question it seemed at the time, I could not have known by this simple statement what I had put in motion. Looking back now I realize I should have titled this story, "Here's How I Opened My Big Mouth!"
So, on that Saturday, June 6,2009 at 11:35 A.M. It happened that I posed this question towards His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche:
"I don't see myself traveling to foreign countries for pilgrimages. But the thought has been in my mind to see the institute as a pilgrimage site. Would it be worthwhile or contain any merit to commit to doing full prostrations, say from the gate to the stupa, or am I daydreaming a little too much?"
It was barely a week later on June 12th, I received this reply. Dear Tymothy, Below is Rinpoche's response to your question:
"It would be excellent if you came to our center. It is true, it is a pilgrimage place. All the blessings in the world are contained within the stupa. Whatever blessings you can imagine, they are in this stupa. You are right; there is no need to go far away. You are perfectly right. Yes, you should certainly do these prostrations."
Uh oh, was my first thought. I hadn't anticipated such a positive, enthusiastic and reassuring response from Rinpoche, dang. But, right then and there, I tentatively committed myself to doing this pilgrimage.
Why would I want to do such a thing? Could I do such a thing? How would I go about doing this prostrating pilgrimage? I had seen people prostrating at the temple and had seen pilgrimages on documentaries, so I had a vague idea of what it was about. I thought I should learn a little more about them. Here is a letter I found on line:

"Conversation with a Prostrating Pilgrim".

Dear Friends of Kham Aid Foundation,

Yesterday we reach Litang, and after attending to some project issues we paid a visit to Litang Monastery. There we met a remarkable traveler, Tenzin Dendrup, who is making a pilgrimage to Lhasa by means of prostrations.

For those who may not be familiar with this Buddhist practice, let me explain briefly what it is about.

In Tibet, a pilgrimage to a sacred site, or a circumambulation around one, is undertaken by Buddhists because they believe that such acts have great merit and generate good karma, not only for the pilgrim, but for all sentient beings. The journey may take years, if it is an overland journey to Lhasa's Jokhang Temple, the most sacred shrine in Tibet. The difficulty of the journey-and thus the amount of merit generated by-varies according to the means of transportation: air, bus, bicycle, horseback or foot;. The most difficult-and most meritorious-way to travel is by means of prostrations. In each prostration, the traveler stretches at full length upon the road, touching the furthest place they can reach with their fingertips, chanting a mantra as they do so. Then they stand up and walk to that place, and begin another prostration. The result is that the traveler's body touches every millimeter of the sacred road along the sacred journey.

It is indeed, a rigorous way to travel. One often sees prostrators on the Barkhor, making a small circuit around the Jokhang Temple. Less often, I have seen them on he highways in Kham. Yesterday, in Litang, was the first time I had a chance to interview one, with the assistance of a translator. So let me tell you about the journey of Tenzin Dendrup.

His home is in Bamei, Daw County, which is one of Khams easternmost regions, and thus about as far from Lhasa as any Tibetan place can be. But he didn't start there; he traveled a little ways down the road to Tagging(Lhagang), where the monastery has a Jowo image like that in Lhasa, said to have been left there by Princess Wencheng on her journey to the Tibetan capital to marry King Songtsen Gamo in the 7th century. By starting his pilgrimage here, Tenzin Dendrup could travel from one Jowo to the other. He began one year ago.

Tenzin is 28 years old, a monk of Rasha Monastery, which belongs to the Nyingma sect and is the root monastery of Dzogchen, in Derge. Tenzin's family consists of a father and married sister; his mother died when he was one year old. Because they are illiterate, he does not write letters to them; nor do they send any kind of support.

He calculates that he performs 500 prostrations for each kilometer. The total journey is 2,000 kilometer's, for a total of one million prostrations. Not only that, but even during his month of "rest" in Litang, he is still performing 2500-3000 stationary prostrations every day. Sometimes illness or hunger or exhaustion compels him to pause for a few days at places along his route, or he stops to pay respects to a sacred temple, lake or mountain.

Tenzin travels alone, depending on people he meets to give him food or cash for his daily needs. At each meal he eats three bowls of tsampa, and when people are generous then he can eat three times a day. Sometimes, however, he must make do with only one or two meals a day. He sleeps "anywhere", sometimes in a cave, often in the open, and carries only a blanket to stay warm.

Why did he undertake this journey? He says, "I'm 28 years old and before this journey I felt I never did anything worthwhile with my life. I feel regret for past actions, such as (accidentally) killing insects, and that I couldn't help my mother when she died. During this pilgrimage, these feelings of guilt and regret are gradually lessening. I feel cleaner now, and have greater peace of mind that at any time before in my life. Sometimes I have weak moments, such as when I'm hungry and break down and beg people for food. But compared to before, I have a much cleaner spirit, and I'm much happier."

Tenzin expects to be on the road for about a year more. When he reaches Lhasa, he will go directly to the Jokhang Temple to pay his respects to the great Jowo shrine.

"While I'm prostrating, I feel very grateful that I'm alive to make this pilgrimage. As long as I don't die from robbery or sickness or some other cause during this journey, I'm truly fortunate person."

( Thank you to Tseren Penlo and Siou Shiyn for translation of Tenzin Dendrups words!)

So here was an example of what I could expect while on the route, though my distance was vastly shorter. I again searched for a little more help and understanding, here are a few words about the application of the prostrations:

"Prostration is a purification practice that is used as a tool to transcend the personal ego and overcome arrogance. The practitioner begins by standing with legs together. The base of the palm and the tips of the fingers are pressed together and point upward, making a space in the middle that the thumbs are tucked into. The practitioner raises the hands a couple of inches above the head, and the hands still pointing upward, touches the top of the head, the throat and then the heart. These symbolize the three doors: the body, speech and mind of a Buddha; touching each of these places symbolizes one's wish to attain these qualities in oneself. The practitioner then kneels down and places the forehead on the floor and the palms flat on either side. S/he then stands, brings the palms together overhead and the process is repeated.

In full prostrations, instead of kneeling, the whole body is laid flat out on the floor and the arms are stretched above the head before rising. One imagines the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas all around. One acknowledges their superior compassion and wisdom and, at the same time, aligns oneself with one's own potential for attaining their state of Enlightenment. In order to enter into Tantric practice a practitioner is generally required to carry out one hundred thousand prostrations. Westerners often misunderstand prostrations to be an act of personal obeisance, but when Buddhist students prostrate before their teacher they are not bowing to the teacher's personality, but to what s/he represents-Buddhahood itself. Teachers in turn prostrate before they give teachings and before their own gurus for the same reasons."

("Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism" by Rebecca McClen Novick, Crossing Press,

Having read all of this, I now had a good idea of how to do them properly. I decided the next step was go and look at the actual ground I would be measuring with my body. While I still had not discovered the "why" I was going to perform all these prostrations, it was easy enough, I thought, to start exploring what it was going to take to do them and pick out a route.

Friday, February 5, 2010

County route 70 otherwise known as Perkinsville Road tees off of Arizona Hwy 89 towards the north end of Chino Valley. Going east you may follow it all the way to the Verde River where it tees again. Left leads to Perkinsville, a ghost town now and ultimately into Williams far to the north. Turn right and it will take you to Jerome. Leaving Chino Valley heading east you go a little ways and pass the marker for Jerome Junction. This was where the spur that left the mainline and made it's way up and through the hills to Jerome. Long abandoned now, just a brass plate and a couple of foundations is all you'll see. Now you start to cross the northern reaches of Lonesome Valley, named because before there were houses creeping up from the south, there was nothing out there, not even trees. Skirting some ancient volcanic rock out- croppings you make your way along the sometimes maintained dirt road. In front of you are the northern foot hills of the Mingus Mountain Range. Not a very big place, maybe 30 miles long and probably 7 miles wide at most. You travel 9.5 miles until you get to the gate of Garchen Buddhist Institute. Aptly named "Blissful Path" the driveway climbs roughly half a mile until you reach the parking lot, rising in altitude of maybe 6 to 7 hundred feet. I'm not sure what it really is but that has to be close, it's uphill all the way. The route I had thought to take is like a U or V, depending on how you look at it. You start by going east, then south and finally west before you get there. The shortest route would be straight up the side of the hill, but thought that way was none too appealing, even to the most ardent devotee; rocks, cactus, bad bushes, critters big and small and no trail.

Let me say here that this is not the longest pilgramage possible, of course, but probably not the shortest either, but one of them. I had estimated that from the gate, on the route, it would be around 7 tenths of a mile to the stupa. From the gate, you find yourself in a beautiful setting of quickly rising rocky hills with outcroppings of rock in whose sedimentary layers tell of an extremely old geography. I've heard from visiting geologists that these hills are at least 30 million years old, part of a primeval inland sea. The flora includes juniper, pinion pines, gambrel oak, scrub oak, mountain mahogany and a variety of many plants and flowers that I can only describe or name for you as "pretty".

While the driveway meanders along the north side making its way ever upward towards the ridge, on the other side of this small ascending valley you see a scar from the inclusion of a natural gas pipeline, which I heard has it's roots stretching out to Oklahoma and maybe Texas.

Along the south edge of this pipeline, there is a strip of land still clinging to it's ancient topography on the valley floor. I took notice that there were many inviting spots of shade that could be used as rest and meditations stops along the way.

At the top of this hill, (the long, long hill as it will come to be called) the valley makes its turn over the top and goes back down the other side creating a small saddle while doing so. This point is roughly half way to the stupa and the first time that you can see the gold topped white stupa way up on the hill. An auspicous place for many stationary prostrations, prayers and the making of offerings were my first thoughts. You'll find a large boulder that had been prominently placed there along the drive no doubt with some big machine. Painted on it's side is an inscription of the Hung symbol for the glorious Drikung Kagyu lineage, The Wheel of Blessing and Power, emblazoned in red, white and blue; facing up towards the stupa. Garchen Rinpoche and the lamas are of this lineage. Most people do not stop here, they just keep to driving up the hill. But if you stop your vehicle and get out,(plenty of parking) it is a wonderful place with great views.

I wanted to put together an overnight pilgrim's camp and thought this would be a good place to do so as there is a place to put up a tent. Sure, the whole thing is not that long and could probably be done by somebody more athletically inclined all in the same day. But what was the hurry? There were a few people who wished to support and participate in the pilgimage and what better way then to have an overnight pilgrim's camp for everyone. Besides, I was hoping to merely make it to this point of the first day, passing it maybe and returning back down to the camp if need be.

From this point, the route will have to be taken along the institutes driveway, danger or not, which winds it's way up yet another hill until you reach the parking lot and footpath entrance to the institute. Then making your way upward, you approach the temple where there is a fork in the path. I was thinking of taking a side trip to the temple for some prostrations and prayers in gratitude for making it that far. By taking the path that leads off to the right, again, ever upward, you pass by the reflection pool, the first stupa building and finally find yourself on the little road that leads out to the Mahabhodi Stupa which symbolizes Buddha's enlightenment under the bodhi tree. Traga Rinpoche has said this particular stupa's purpose is for prosperity and protection.

So I had picked out the particular route I wished to "measure with my body". That phrase keeps coming to mind and is a little scary. Okay, it all sounded easy enough, we shall see.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Having accomplished this rather mundane mission, I returned home and composed another letter to Rinpoche with the purpose of asking for a little more advice on how to proceed.

On Monday, June 22, 2009, I received this reply:

"Hi Ina,(the interpreter) the question below is for Rinpoche:

Thanks, Love, Svha

"To his Eminence Garchen Rinpoche,

Thank you so much for your encouraging message, it has put me on the path, I came up on Saturday and looked at the route from the lower gate to the stupa and feel it is very doable.

Question: I know how to do the prostrations; I have an outfit suitable for the terrain and somebody to assist me along the way. What I am not sure about is the mantras I might do while on this pilgrimage. Could you recommend mantras for me that I might do while in route? And any other suggestions about prostration pilgrimages would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us all,

With kindest regards,

Tymothy Copeland, Konchok Dondrup Sangpo

(Svha added,"You're very welcome. May your aspirations for the benefit of all beings swiftly come to fruition.)

And then it read:

Here is Rinpoche's response for Tymothy:

"You should recite the mantra of your yidam deity and if you have no personal yidam, then you should recite Chenrezig's MANI mantra. This mantra is most precious. It is the essence of the 6 paramitas. When you come you should circumambulate the stupa as you recite the mantra. Sometimes you should sit, relax and meditate on Shamata. You can do prostrations but the circumambulations are of the same benefit. The root of both, prostration and circumambulation, is devotion. In order to develop devotion you must understand the great qualities of the Buddha. You should study them very well."

And having received these instructions from His Eminence, I replied once more and really sealed the deal:

"Well, having said all this between us I am making this commitment, I shall begin preparations towards this task. OM MANI PADME HUNG HRI, I am on my way! Thank you for bringing my question to Rinpoche, it is much appreciated. He always says the right thing."

I wanted to go for it right away, but now the weather had turned hot. Hot, like Arizona summer hot. Hot, like the rocks are going to be hot,(lots of rocks en route). Hot, like the shade will be hot. Hot, like with boots, long pants, long sleeve shirt, full leather apron, leather gloves hot. So it was decided we would go on a full moon night in October, when it would be out all night and give us some light. So now it was time to write to the astrologer who would readily know about moon times and such, below is the letter and her reply:

"To Xia, Question for you:

In October, what full moon night, preferably a weekend, when the moon will be out and bright all night. Prism is coming with me and we thought to spend the night at the pass, which is around half way. We are trying to condense a long pilgrimage experience into two days. I send you a story about a two year pilgrimage, remarkable really, but not the longest I have heard about. Ours is like 7/10's of a mile.

Tymothy, Konchok Dondrup Sangpo."

And the reply:

"The only time in October where you will have the conditions exactly as described is the night of October 3rd, a Saturday. On that day, the 100% Full Moon will rise at 5:40 PM local to Chino. It will peak in the sky at 12:12 AM and then set at 6:45 AM the morning of October 4th. The nights of Friday, October 2nd and Sunday, October 4th will be somewhat similar, but with an hour span of darkness between sunset and moonrise. I hope this has helped. If you have any questions, let me know. Many blessings."

Okay, so I had a date of October 3rd and 4th to work with. That is like five weeks from then. Time to start some training. Yes, training. I am 56 years old and am very lax and not in the best of training. Just to see how I might do, I decided to run a little test on myself. Doing stationary prostrations on a smooth floor or carpet is a luxury over doing them on uneven terrain. So, on a Saturday I did a practice route at doing full prostrations over some little distance. From our front gate, up the driveway, around the back of the house, up the stairs to the path leading up the hill to the shrine at the juniper tree is about 150 yards. So, early one morning I donned my long sleeved clothing, leather apron, my gloves and a handkerchief around my fore head and headed down to the gate. Taking a deep breath, remembering my yidam mantra (which I'll describe later) I set off, hands above my head, forehead, throat, heart, down to my knees and stretch out. It was a kind of euphoria after a few. Just concentrate on what your doing, forget if the neighbors are watching the crazy man, just keep going. The hardest part of this little experiment was going up the unevenly spaced railroad tie staircase. Afterwards I remembered watching a documentary where the pilgrims were crossing a stream. Over time rocks had been placed as stepping stones to cross, and it seemed these pilgrims were taking great care as to where they were placing their hands and knees. You could tell by their caution, they did not want to get wet, no doubt this stream was fresh melted glacier water, just above freezing! I made my way carefully up the stairs and onward to the end of the path in about one hour, fifteen minutes without a break. (The melted glacier water would have been welcome right about then.) I was a little sore the next day, but the experience helped bolster my confidence for the longer path to come.

February 9th, 2010

I was thinking maybe a short biography of my religious or spiritual training might be in order now, just to try and explain where I am coming from.

My mother has told me that I was baptized as a Lutheran at an early age, but I do not remember much about those days. Like most people probably, only a few scatterings of fragmented memories. I remember things like getting wet and cold in the snows of Oregon, watching chimpanzees on the Ed Sullivan show and having M&M's melt in my hand. Picking flowers and putting them through the hole in the neighbor lady's door. Little things like that, funny things we retain from so long ago that seem like ancient history. Memories of going to sunday school are scant. My only real memory is of trying to memorize the ten commandments so as to win a little white leather covered New Testament. Remember not trying to memorize them, only remember wanting the little book. I didn't win it. I can't remember why my parents would drag all of us kids (there are four of us) to church and sunday school. It seems they didn't particularly enjoy it, we never said grace at dinner or prayed together or anything like that. After a few years of this I recall that my mother asking me one day, if I wanted to continue going to sunday school. Like any young boy who would rather run down to the beach on a nice Sunday morning, I told her, "No, not really." And with that simple set of words, I ended my early life religious training, I really don't remember anything else about it.

As a teenager in the late 60's, life was relatively carefree. Many of us wanted to be like the hippies, drugs or not. One cultural phenomenon I remember clearly were the street evangelists. Young people evangelizing the young crowds that would congregate along certains streets and bits of coast highway. Maybe these were some of my first moments of feeling compassion for others for I think I "got saved" at least a dozen times. Maybe it wasn't right to do this, but it made them extremely happy. I wanted to help them accomplish what they had set out to do that day, save people for the Lord. While I didn't always become a complete convert, I always remembered their message and retained a little bit of the "fear of God" they always imparted to us.

As time went along I sometimes, merely from associations with different people, was exposed to different religions and beliefs. I would hang with them and learn a little bit more than I did before. Let's see: Bahai's, Krishna's, Calvary Chapel, Ram Dass, Children of God, Meher Baba, native american spiritualizm, wiccan, Jehovah Witness,,, dang, I can't remember them all but they always left an impression on me. Sometimes it was pretty much for selfish reasons. While on the big island of Hawaii we had a little route we did during the week. It would be the Calvary Chapel for pizza and sodas, Bahai's for cookies, chips and punch, Jehovah Witness for the same, the Hare Krishna feast on Sunday for dancing and the great feast they would provide, served on big green leaves of some kind. Theirs was the only salad we would have all week plus the dancing and singing was always fun! They held it at Kealakekua Bay, across from where Captain Cook was killed, there was a park with remada and a good place to swim.

The Hare Krishnas were a fascinating group. Always together, seemingly having a bit of fun. A couple of us even went up to Los Angeles to the big Hare Krishna temple, an old Masonic Lodge. That day I was given the task of sweeping the floor in the main shrine room. The floor was already cleaner than most floors, but it gave me the opportunity to inspect their big religious statues that were on the altar a little closer. I was most impressed by the rather large rendition of Ganesh, the elephant god of good things. Didn't learn much, but did learn I didn't want to become a Hare Krishna. (sex once a year, or something like that!)

I had many exposures to the christian church over the years. Usually at little mom and pop type churches. You know, in someone's house or garage, once in a haybarn, sitting on bales and singing to the pastors wailing accordion. Good 'ol pastor Joe Wolf, probably my favorite church ever. It tried to get too big, too fast and fell apart. God was not on our side for that one. Then there were many more established churches, full up on buildings and different programs that so many people liked to belong to. Some churches and their congregations were better than others, well, maybe not better but always different in their own little ways. Some had reputations for being "christian cults", if there was such a thing. Some didn't care what other said about them. Always, all I ever want to do was to fit in, be a part of, but it usually didn't work out. There was always something that didn't quite work, maybe me.

I had a short stint as associate pastor at a local community church. Even becoming a "reverend" through the Universal Life Church to give me a title. I worked real hard, was on many committees, member of the board, one sermon a month, led every wednesday night for 18 months,etc. But I ran into an apathy that I could not overcome no matter what I tried. By this time I had a good fundamental understanding of the Bible, the gospel and all that went with it. I wanted to do all those things Jesus talked about, but couldn't get even one person to go along with me.

One Sunday, after delivering one of my best sermons ever, I walked down the few steps off the platform to speak to people. Everyone had pretty much gotten out of their pews and were hurrying towards the front door and freedom. Two old "church ladies" had beaten me there to say the "thanks for coming" speeches, my job really. I stood there for a couple of minutes, watching them all file out, then turning, I went out the back door and have never been back.

February 20, 2010

How did I become a card carrying Buddhist? I'm not exactly sure, but I remember it was due to a series of different events. Before, being a stalwart Christian and ordained minister, Buddhism was some vague pagan belief where practitioners were usually shown bowing down to pagan idols. Looking back, that was a completely erronious view. One day while looking for books for Christmas presents in the religious section of the Barnes and Noble book store, I noticed a peculiar looking orange and black book, it was "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism". I didn't think much more about it then but it must have stuck in my memory.(Very Auspicous) Months passed and I was asked one day what I might want for my birthday. The very first thing that popped into my mind to say was, "I'd like a copy of The Complete Idiots Guide to Understanding Buddhism". So it happened that I did receive it and so it began, my journey into a new way of looking at things. I remember my devouring of that book, hardly being able to put it down. I read the story of Sidhartha and his enlightenment, the Four Noble Truths, the Three Jewels, the Eightfold path and so much more. Then I found in the words of the Buddha this advice, "Try it and see." So I decided I would with all the power I had. Immediately I was struck by the simplicity and also the complications of the practice. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I was a little scared about the meditation part. Could I really quiet my mind, or take control of how I was thinking? Now, a few years later, I must admit that I haven't been always very successful at just sitting. My "monkey mind" is a very busy creature, jumping from branch to branch, tree to tree, always trying to change the subject! I found it remarkable as I started gathering more reading materials, the props and trappings we think we need to help us along the way. They seemed to physically come to me entirely on their own and usually at just the right time. But taking in all this new information and actually putting it into practice was then, and is now, a lesson I'm learning about, patience. Still struggling with my Christianity, I found it difficult at first to reconcile the differences between the two. I took comfort in fact that Buddhism is not a religion, but a way of life, one whose purpose is to create new people. No punisher god to worry about. Only about what I could do about me. The only one I was responsible for was myself, a very wary adversary to be sure. I would need to overcome myself to help myself, hmm, an interesting thought. I also learned that in Buddhism, the monks and lamas have no priestly duties towards the sangua or members like they would in Christianity. That was a difficult aspect to grasp as I was used to having access to counseling advice and even intervention from a pastor whenever I needed it. Indeed, the monks seemed to take little interest in the people while they are trying to help them. I thought maybe until they got to know you better, you'd be better on your own. At least that's what I perceived it to be. Nonetheless, and not to be distracted by semantic, I dove right into my studies. I amassed many insightful and helpful books along the way. One was Thich Nhat Hanh's book, "Buddha and Jesus as Brothers." That was an eye opener and helped me understand that I didn't understand anything about a whole lot of things up to that point in my life long journey. I felt the need for a place to go to like I had read about, where you can meditate, take classes, visit shrines and temples and the like. So I turned to the internet searching for some place in my area. I found that there was a Buddhist retreat center right outside here in Chino Valley. I was dumbfounded as I had no idea there was such a place in this area where churches actually out number the bars. I clicked every site they offered and finally made a phone call and set up a tour of the grounds. So one fine day, Prism and I got in his car and made our way out the ten mile road to the institute. It was way better then I had imagined and the people were most gracious and courteous. We were shown all around, they answered all our questions and were told to make ourselves at home. I went back many times, took some classes, made a couple of friends and started to truly feel at home. By pure chance, I had started learning about Tibetan Buddhism, taking it as my Buddhist denomination only because that was what the institute was based on. I really liked the idea of the "prayer flags". Little strings of flags printed with auspicous sayings and pictures which, when blowing in the wind, send their prayers out into the atmosphere for the benefit of all sentient beings. I think at one point we had 500 flying overhead, strung between all the buildings wherever I could fit them. I sometimes like to sit underneath them listening to music and watch then dance in the breeze, they are so soothing to my mind. I would even talk to them and soon became a bonified "grove master" of flags, tending to their every need. These times were all very wonderful and I enjoyed my new way of life, but after awhile, I started to long for a place of retreat for my own, or like in Christianity, a closet, which I could go into for prayer and study. Our home is located on five acres and besides the house, we have the luxury of a seperate 2000 sq. ft. studio with many rooms. There was one little room we had been using for storage that I decided to use for this purpose.I began the task of removing everything stored within, which was quite monumental as it was crammed to the ceiling with boxes, shelving and furniture. This was no easy feat because most of what came out that wasn't disposed of, had to go somewhere else. But I kept at it and after many weeks, it was finally emptied. Some time had passed and slowly my little room eventually endured a complete makeover. At one point it even made a little detour and was set up as an art studio so my wife could display her art for the officials of an upcoming art showing; but that's another story. We eventually scraped the walls and ceiling, patched, rewired power and communications, painted, shampooed the carpet, installed new window dressings, rolled out little oriental carpets, put pillows around, added a little desk and lamp, a comfortable reading chair and shelves for the now, many books; even a little stereo to play instructional and devotional cd's. We had succeeded in morphing it into a new room, a clean room, a holy room. Then, sitting there one day after it was finished, I realized it really had become a most inviting and warm, meditation/study room; one that could be enjoyed by all who entered. Being influenced by Tibetan beliefs and Christian roots, I had also built and installed a nice set of "floating" shelves for my altar. This was the place I could enshrine all the little "helps" and items meant to encourage you along in your practice. There are some things bought, some things found, some things donated or given as gifts and some items that manifested themselves seemingly out of thin air; all are very auspicous. My wish is that everyone, no matter their beliefs or religions, could have a little room of refuge to go to. Mine turned out really nice and all are welcome to enter.

After a year and a half of study, meditation and contemplation; I decided to take refuge in The Three Jewels. This is what people do when they want to become Buddhist but I won't go into all the details here. I do encourage you to discover such things for yourself, I feel it will be worth it. So having made my decision, I wrote to the institute and set up an appointment with Gape Lama, one of the Tibetan monks living at the institute. Then on October 6th, 2008, my wife Sheri and I took to the road and went straight to the lama house where my new life waited for me. As a love offering, plus being good manners, I had prepared a small basket containing some paley bread, churu hot sauce, some tomatoes and flowers from the green house and a little money to present to the lama and his interpreter. Gape Lama speaks little english so is always in need of the interpreter, an extremely intelligent woman named Ina. Ina is also a most unique person; she is Austrian, who wanted to talk to Garchen Rinpoche but couldn't. So she first learned English so she could learn to speak Tibetan, all in the space of a few years. She has her own method of writing shorthand in english while listening to tibetan being spoken! Remarkable! So, sitting on Gape Lama's bedroom floor, Sheri sitting right behind me, him sitting cross legged on his bed, Ina, armed with her pen and paper, we all made our way through the ritual of my taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangua. As a sign of change and devotion, Gape Lama snipped a little hair from the top of my head. If I was becoming a monk at this time, he would have shaved my whole head. As is traditional in at least Tibetan Buddhism, you are also given a new Buddhist name. At that point I became the aspiring Boddhisattva Konchok Dondrup Sangpo, which means: Perfect accomplisher of the truth (of the gems). And so it was done, that day opened a new chapter in my life and I had become a card carrying Buddhist. OM MANE PADME HUNG HRI.

March 9th 2010 ~ Okay, so back to the route; we're getting there, trust me.

One of Garchen's last suggestions to me was to recite the mantra of my yidam deity while on the prostrating pilgrimage. To help explain this for you I shall present it in some good words that are not my own. I am going to refer to a Dharma Dictionary and a definition described by Sarah Harding at "Buddhadharma-The Practioner's Quarterly" "To define the concept of the yidam is to approach the essence of Tibetan Buddhism. The yidam is a special deity one works with in meditation as a means towards recognizing one's own awakened nature. The word is said to be a contraction of yid kyi dam tshig, which essentially means to binds one's mind (yid) by oath to a deity who embodies enlightened mind." "So how does one get one of these yidams? Using one possible connotation of "dam" in yidam as choice, Gangteng Tulku described one's yidam not as a conscious choice but rather a "choice of heart," a feeling of relationship. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called this a "choiceless choice." Particular deities somehow manifest the individuals potential enlightenment, and this might be discovered through practice. Sometimes the disciple takes on the special yidams of their teacher and the lineage."

Reflecting on this I now believe my yidam came not as a rational choice, nor necessarily a choice of the heart, but I think a choiceless choice. My particular deity manifested itself at first without my knowledge. Your personal yidam is supposed to be a secret thing, but I'll share it anyway, maybe it will help the story along.

After I received Garchens last letter of support I had to sit and think about what I had been doing all these long months. I must tell you, I am a slow learner and it can take awhile and sometimes many repetitions before an idea really sinks into my head. Many months before this, while at the institute, I was browsing around in their little store they maintain for the benefit of the sangua and the institute. This is my best place to get all the books, cd's, images, prayer flags, whatever, that you might need for your practice. Sometimes they have a little tray with "discount" items place there for sale. That day I notices a small reliquary orb pennant of clear glass with a small figure suspended inside. Enquiring of the attendant who this figure might represent, she told me she thought it was the Amitabah Buddha. I wouldn't have known any better at that point what I was looking at so it was; "Okay, the Buddha of eternal life and infinite light could only be a good thing." So I bought it, put around my neck and wore it from that day forward. I learned that the Amitabha chant is OM MANI DEWA HRI, and often sang it when I sat or worked or was driving or when I was visiting The Boddhisattva Elfie Rinpoche at her resting place. (another story)

Then one day, while visiting my mother and sister, Betsey gave me a little bracelet she had made for me. Betsey is into rock hounding, has some finishing equipment and often makes us little things out of what she's found or bought. It is a way cool piece. Strung pink spherical marble beads, carved bone beads with a Buddha head as the center piece. Interspersed among them were little metal medallions with a figure on one side and Chinese characters on the back. I looked at it and said,"Oh, it's Amitabah, like the one I"m wearing!" My mother who is learned in many things spiritual said, "No, that's a representation of Quan Yin, one who looks upon the world with compassion." So I took my Amitbah off and examined them both side by side. Sure enough, the Amitabah I'd been wearing all this time was really Quan Yin. Hmmmmm, now what? Remembering that Garchen had also said I could do the Mani chant of Chenrezig or the Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara, the Holder of the White Lotus. So it was back to the internet to find out what this was and find out what Quan Yin was, the deity I had been wearing near my heart all this time. I went to "Buddhist Studies: Buddha Dharma Education Association & Buddhanet, deities and bodhisattvas" and found the following:

" Kuan Shih Yin- Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, The Bodhisattva of Great compassion. The sanskrit name "Avalokiteshvara" means "the lord who looks upon the world with compassion." Translated into Chinese the name is "Kuan Shi Yin or Quan Yin." Kuan: observe. Shih: the world/the region of suffers. Yin: all the sounds of the world, in particular, the crying sounds of beings, verbal or mental, seeking help. Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is the embodiment of great compassion. He has vowed to free all sentient beings from suffering. Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva has great powers and can help all sentient beings. His skillful means are limiteless and he can appear in any form in all the six realms of existence to relieve the suffering of the sentient beings that live there. He vowed to rescue those who call on him when they are in suffering. For example, when caught in a fire, shipwrecked or facing an attack. In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha said that if a suffering being hears the name of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva and earnestly calls out to the bodhisattva; Avalokitshvara will hear the call and relieve that being from his suffering. According to the Huayen Sutra, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva transforms himself into forms that suit the nature of those to be helped. His manifestations or trasnformation bodies are countless. e.g. If a boy or girl is about to gain some enlightenment, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva transforms himself into a boy or a girl to teach the child. e.g. If a monk is about to attain some enlightenment, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva transforms himself into a monk. In short, he can appear as a monk, a nun, or a normal person like you and me. The purpose of such transformations is to make people feel close to him and willing to listen to his words. In China, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is represented in female form and is known as Kuan Yin. Probably because of Kuan Yin's great compassion, a quality which is traditionally considered feminine, most of the bodhisattva's statues in China since the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) have appeared as female figures. In India however, the bodhisattva is generally represented as a male figure. In her hands, Kuan Yin may hold a willow branch, a vase with water or occasionally, a lotus flower. The willow branch is used to heal people's illness or bring fulfillment to their requests. The water (the dew of compassion) has the quality of removing suffering, purifying the defilements of our body, speech and mind, and lengthening life. In Buddhist art, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is sometimes shown with eleven heads, 1000-hands and eyes on the palms of each hand (Thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva). The thousand eyes allow the bodhisattva to see the sufferings of sentient beings and the thousand hands allow him to reach out to help them. Sometimes, he is represented with one head and 4 arms. This is the Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara, worshipped by all Tibetans as "Chenrezig", the Holder of the White Lotus. It is in the male form which has two hands in the praying gesture while the other two hands hold his symbols, the Crystal Rosary and the Lotus Flower. There is a sacred place for the worship of Kuan Yin inChina- the Putuo Mountain. It is actually an island on a lake located near the city of Ningpo, in Zhejiang Province. There are many stories of Kuan Yin's miraculous appearances at Putuo Mountain. Actually, anyone can be like Kuan Yin. You may say that you don't have a thousand eyes or a thousand arms or that you lack skillful means. But it is your compassion that can transform you into a Kuan Yin. With your eyes and hands, you can help others. With your compassion, you can bring peace and tranquility to this world. The Mani Mantra (The Mantra of Universal Protection): OM MANI PADME HUM."

Searching a little bit more, I found this in the "Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism" by Rebecca McClen Novick: "OM MANI PADME HUM-The Mantra of Compassion" "The deity Avalokiteshvara, who in Tibet is known as Chenrezig, is the Buddha of compassion, representing the collective love and compassion of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Avalokiteshvara is regarded as the karmic deity of Tibet (the nearest eqivalent of which would be a patron saint). All the Dalai Lamas of Tibet are regarded as incarnations of Chenrezig. His mantra is OM MANI PADME HUM, which most Tibetans pronounce OM MANI PEME HUNG. Known as the "mani", this mantra is considered to be the most powerful of all. There is an old saying in Tibet that any child who can say the word "mother" can also repeat the mani. This mantra is said to condense within it's six syllables all of the Buddha's teachings. OM being the essence of enlightened form, MANI PADME being the essence of enlightened speech, and HUNG being the essence of enlightened mind. The six syllables of the mani are also related to the six perfections. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche writes, 'It is said that a Buddha is capable of extraordinary feats beyond the capacity of any other being...but that even he would not be able to fully describe the merit generated by a singe recitation of the mani. Were he to so much as begin such a description, even if all the forests on earth were made into paper, there would never be enough to write down more than the minutest part. OM MANI PADME HUM can be looslely translated as 'Praise to The Jewel in the Lotus,' the jewel being universal compassion. The lotus is a flower that is born from mud and yet rises above it unsullied, symbolizing the pure path to Buddhahood from the realm of samsara."

Discovering that Avalokiteshvara, Chenrezig and Quan Yin were basically the same manifestations of deity, all the events that had taken place started to make sense to me. This Quan Yin had come to me by the choice of no choice. It had not mattered what I thought as to who she was. Here she was whether I wanted her or not and had started working on me. I guess somethings are just destined and I accept them for what they are. My Quan Yin held the vase of water which has "the quality of removing suffering, purifying the defilement's of our body, speech and mind and lengthening life." Wow, had I ever been read right down to the bedrock! I found it most interesting and a little enlightening to make this discovery about her. This is why: Once upon a time in the early 70's, I had been involved with a spiritual group who went under the moniker of "Cosmic Awareness Speaks". They had started a commune located near St. Johns, Arizona, six miles out a dirt road from a place called Witch Wells. This was the "Chinowe School of Awareness." Interesting enough group but one of the catechisms they engaged in concerned certain people being able to go into a sort of trance and give answers to most any question asked of them. My question at one session was, as close as I can remember, went something along the lines of, "Can you tell me about the last most important reincarnation I have manifested?" The answer was short, concise and was worded something like this: "In your last stand out incarnation, you were a Catholic nun somewhere in China." Remembering this, the sawdust really started smoldering. Where in China I had been didn't matter so much, just that I had been in China. That I had been a Catholic nun didn't surprise me either; I look like and take after my mother in many ways. I started to get the vision that somehow I might have been involved with a local monastery while there. Maybe, no doubt, one associated with Quan Yin. Fascinating train of thought, maybe a little indulgent, but it seemed to all fit together now! Any aspiring bodhisattva could use some of the removing and purifying of the defilement's we deal with everyday, including and especially myself! All this information and facts gave the whole idea of a prostrating pilgrimage much more meaning to me. It seemed ever more that I had been influenced supernaturally from the very first thought. I now believed it wasn't even my original idea to do this thing, more that I had experienced an interdiction of purpose put on my life. Something that needed to be accomplished and I had been directed towards that end. Now, "doing it", became more important than ever before. Plans and material for the journey now became a priority; the wheel continued to turn, the good monkey was chattering faster, staying in one tree.

I had told Garchen Rinpoche that we would be starting down at the corner of Perkinsville Road and Blissful Path. My "monkey" said there should be a marker or cairn lined up with the gate posts to the southeast along the pipeline swath. No one had done this before and a good starting point could be as important for us as it would be for anyone who might follow in our steps. From around our yard I collected many pieces of the red flagstone, which I think, finds it's way into almost everyone's yard in this area and loaded them into the truck. Nice and flat, they would be easy to stack. Along with these stones I also brought along one "portable hole". Portable holes are sometimes a three foot length of inch and a quarter angle iron which have at least two steel tubes a few inches long welded into the angle a few inches apart, towards the top of the piece. Pounded into the ground you can then put a wooden pole through the tubes vertically. Very hand things really; as you pound steel into the ground instead of your pole. From this pole I was going to fly a string of prayer flags attached to some bushes I knew were nearby the site. So having gathered everything I needed for this project, Sheri and I drove out to the gate at the bottom of the hill,up the driveway a bit, then cut across to the pipeline and so were able to drive right up to where the cairn was to be placed. Lining up with the gate posts, I drove the "portable hole" into the ground and started stacking my flagstones around it, leaving a space in the middle so a pole could be easily inserted into the "portable hole." We then started collecting more rock from the surrounding area and began building the cairn up around the flagstone. I placed one nice flat piece of flagstone into the mound in a way that it created a shelf. I thought offerings could be placed in this space. There were many large pieces of pretty colored quartz rock to be had and it wasn't long before I decided my cairn to be completed. My sister had purchased a 50 count pack of the Quan Yin medallions and upon my request; she had given them to me when I told her my idea for them. While on a pilgrimage route, participants often leave little offerings at the different significant sites they pass along the way and I wanted us to be able to do the same. Taking some copper wire and glass beads, I crafted three little bracelets with the Quan Yin medallions interspersed between the glass beads. The remaining medallions I put on strings which could then be worn around your neck. These we would also carry with us and present to anyone who came along our path or who had supported us in this undertaking. These would take on some of the "mojo" accumulated while we were en route, or so the belief goes. One more thing I wanted to prepare was three oversized mala bead strings. Taking some of those wooden beads found in the car seat covers, I'm not sure what they're really called, I strung them onto some strong cord; closely following the numbers and design of my own. My idea was to count out mani mantras on each of them at the three auspicious points we would be visiting and then leave them there as an offering. On a recent tour to Sedona, Cottonwood and Jerome I had purchased a small Quan Yin statue showering her astride a Tibetan Snow Lion. A wonderful find! I rounded up a piece of cut white marble from my rock stash in the yard and using it for a base, affixed my little statue to the top of it. My intention was that this would be part of our portable shrine or traveling altar that would ultimately be left on the offering stone next to the stupa. All materials were now gathered and completed. Now we need only wait for the appointed morning. Next: "On The Route"

June 17, 2010

Getting on the route, October 3rd, 2009

After all these months this was the day our journey would begin. I woke up in the usual way,slowly; until the monkey started chattering about what day it was. I don't who was more excited him or me but I got up, got dressed and had that first cup of coffee and something to break the overnight fast. A much needed fortification for the tasks that lay ahead. Most things were already set out for the trip. I had decided we would take the little wooden cart I had made, to carry our food, water, etc. along the route. I had loaded this in the truck the night before. Once I felt all was ready with my stuff, I was just waiting for Prism to arrive.

Prism is my son-in-law, married to my wife's middle daughter. He is 20 something years younger than I am, tall and thin. I think he agreed to come along on the pilgrimage so I wouldn't go alone and maybe he wanted to see if he could do it also. He is not a Buddhist and wasn't coming along for the same reasons but I was glad to have him along. I never had a son of my own, but if I did, I think he's pretty close to what I would have wanted in one. He knows about my being the aspiring Bodhisattva, so he kids me that he's the anti=Bodhisattva, kinda like the anti-christ! He taunts me about causing himself to suffer just to make me do more mantras and my work as bodhisattva just a little harder. Prism enjoys sitting in the meditation room and is always ready to participate in any ceremony I might come with as the occasion arises. He has accompanied me to different classes held up at Garchen Institute. He always helps out when we have a sweat at our house and is always willing to play some music with me. Why did he really come along, from the deepest part of his being? I don't know. I have asked him to write out his reasons, but he hasn't done so yet, maybe he will soon. Since this is still the rough draft, he'll have his chance.

There was to have been a third person going along to take pictures and move the cart for us, but he decided not to show because of all things, the windy weather. This would turn out to be most inauspicious.

The day had greeted us with partly cloudy skies with a slight breeze, not too cold, not too hot. The god's had graciously favored us with a pleasant day for prostrations. Prism called me to tell me he was running late, bummer, but then told me he was just crossing the bridge, almost in sight of my home, sigh of relief. Because of the overnight camp, we were taking two vehicles with us. This was so we could ferry ourselves and the stuff up the long, long hill. (Hey, we're Americans and we need our stuff! If I was twenty years old, I may have gone with just a blanket.)

The drive out was uneventful except for stopping for ice, (Americans, remember?) Anyway, we made our way out Perkinsville Road and turned in at Blissful Path, made our way a little ways, turned off and drove back over to the cairn I had set out previously. I wish I could tell you how calm and quiet it was when turned the motors off, but there was a new variable for our day. There was a road rally being conducted that day running out Perkinsville Road. Not constant, just every few minutes one of the cars would go roaring by with an accompanying cloud of dust. Random an occurrence as I thought it was, we could live with it and sure enough within an hour or so, they were gone. The plan was to take whatever we needed on the route out of the truck and car and leave those items at the cairn. Next, load whatever we needed for camp in the truck, drive both vehicles to the saddle, leave the truck and drive back down in the car and leave it there. The cairn was designed to accept a small pole upon which I attached a string of prayer flags and a small vertical flag. I ran the string of flags out to a bush nearby and quickly had them up in the air. From a small wicker basket I took the Quan Yin statue, it's marble base, the portable Buddha altar, all three big malas (after counting out the 108 OM MANE PADME HUNG mantra on one of them), and the three small bracelets with the Quan Yin medallions and placed them on the shelf I had built into the cairn. Lighting three sticks of Tara incense we knelt down before this and I read aloud our first offering.

The Amitabha Practice.
(Dharma Samudra, Padmasambhava Center. SAMAYA GYA GYA GYA Having been told to write this by the Dharmakaya Buddha Amitabha, it was composed during the eighth month by the Tulku Migyur Dorje at the age of twelve. ) "



HUNG: On the northwest border of the country of Uddiyana


On the pistil of the lotus


You have attained the most marvelous, supreme siddhis.


you are renowned as the Lotus Born,


Surrounded by your retinue of many dakinis.


Following you in my practice


I pray you will come to confer your blessings.




Samantahhadra, Vajrasattva Pramodavajra, Shrisingha, Padmakara, the twenty-five, king and subjects, So, Zur Nub, Nyag and the hundred tertons and others,

The lamas of the Kama and Terma lineages, to you I pray.


In the palace of the Ognim dharmadhatu,

The essence of all the Buddhas of the three times,

The one who shows clearly the dharmakaya of my own mind.

Glorious root teacher, precious one,

Dwelling on the lotus seat on the crown of my head,

Hold me with your great kindness.

Bestow the accomplishments of body, speech and mind.


May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness.

May they be free from suffering and the cause of suffering.

May they never be dissociated from the supreme happiness

which is without suffering.

May they remain in boundless equanimity, free from both

attachment to close ones and rejection of others.


(Condensed Sadhana of Amitabha by Migyur Dorje)


This is the practice of the Land of Great Bliss, Dewachen.

Namo: I take refuge in the three jewels and the three roots, who are the very sources of refuge. I generate the supreme bodhichitta for the enlightenment of all beings.

Upon a water-born lotus, I appear as the white bodhisattva. In front of me on a lotus and moon seat is red Amitabha, Buddha of Boundless Light. He has one face; his two hands are in the meditation mudra holding a begging bowl. He wears monk's robes and sits in the vajra posture.

On his right is white Chenrezig, the Lord of the Universe, with one face and four hands. The first two hands are joined with a jewel at the heart; the second right hand holds a mala, and the second left hand holds a lotus. He stands on a lotus and moon disk.

On Amitabha's left is Vajrapani, the Great Powerful One. Blue in color, with one face and two hands; the right hand holds a vajra and the left hand holds a bell. He stands on a lotus and moon disk.

They are surrounded by countless buddhas, Bodhisattvas, shravakas and arhats. From the three centers of the principal; deities, light radiates from the three syllables to invite wisdom beings from Dewachen.









HUNG:In the Land of Great Bliss, you turn the wheel of dharma, and always look upon beings with your compassion. You vowed to be a refuge for all sentiment beings. Amitabha, we praise and honor your meditation.

From my body as the deity, light streams out in the western direction. Then from the Land of Great Bliss, countless forms of Amitabha, mantra garlands, and ritual objects descend like rain and dissolve into me.

EMAHO: To the truly marvelous Buddha Amitabha, to the gret Compassionate One, the Great Powerful One, and all the infinite Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, I pray with one-pointed devotion: Please bestow upon me the supreme siddhi; bless me to accomplish the state of Amitagha.


Then, Buddha Amitabha, who is in front, melts into light and dissolves into me. My body is like a rainbow in the sky, appearing in the form of Buddha Amitabha, the union of luminosity and emptiness.

EMAHO: Truly marvelous is Buddha Amitabha. On his right is Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. On hsi left is Vajrapani, the lord of powerful means. They are surrounded by countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who reside in the pure realm of Dewachen, which is immeasurably marvelous and blissful. As for myself and others, right after we pass from this life, without any intervening birth, may we be born in Dewachen and behold the divine face of Amitabha. Thus I make this earnest request: may all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions grant their blessings so this is accomplished without obstruction.



All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions, please consider us. We rejoice in the complete accumulation of merit and wisdom. We offer to the three jewels the merit accumulated throughout the three times. May the Buddha's teachings spread and grow. We dedicate this merit for all sentient beings. May everyone attain Buddhahood.

We gather together all the roots of virtue; may they ripen in our being. May we purify the two obscurations, complete the accumulations, have a healthy long life, meditative experiences, and realization, and achieve the ten bhumis in this life. Immediately after we die may we be born in Dewachen within a blossoming lotus, and become enlightened, may our emanations be great guides for sentient beings for as long as samsara lasts.


By this merit may all obtain omniscience, may if defeat the enemy, wrong-doing. From the stormy waves of birth, old age, sickness and death, from the ocean of samsara, may I free all beings.

May the sole source of benefit and happiness, the Buddha's teachings, remain for a long time, and may the victory banner of the lives of the noble ones, the holders of the teachings, remain firm.

May all the temples and monasteries, all the readings and recitations (of dharma) flourish. May the sangha always be in harmony, and may their aspirations be achieved.

The sole remedy for the suffering of sentient beings, the source of every joy, is the teaching. May it remain honorably upheld and flourish for a long time.

May all the numberless beings who are sick be quickly freed from sickness.

May all the afflictions of sentient beings never again arise.

May all sentient beings always be joyful!

May all births into the lower realms cease forever!

May the wishes of all the Bodhisattvas' in all the bhumis swiftly reach fruition!

At this very moment for the peoples and nations of the earth may not even the names disease, famine, war, and suffering be heard, but rather may pure conduct, merit, wealth, and prosperity increase, and may supreme good fortune and well being always arise.


In those without it, may it be generated; in those who have it, may it never diminish, but always continue increasing.



In this Pure land surrounded by snow mountains


you are the source of all benefit and happiness, without exception.


All-powerful Avalokiteshvara, Tenzin Gyatso,


may you remain firm for a hundred kalpas.

Ah, a wave of serenity washed over me and I became calm for the first time that day. I collected our portable altar, two of the large malas and two of the Quan Yin medallion bracelets, leaving one of each on the cairn as an offering for our journey, and put them into their basket on the cart. We donned our leather aprons, put our rolled up bandanas on our heads, strapped our knee pads on and we were almost ready. I had read that pilgrims would often wear a gao around their necks. A gao is like a charm that opens up so something can be put inside. The preceding Losar or Tibetan New Year at Garchen's was also the 10th anniversary of the institute and Rinpoche's birthday. In a gesture of gratitude for everything that had brought the institute to that auspicious anniversary, Garchen had presented a gao decorated with the Drikung Kyunga symbol to everyone who was in attendance on that day of celebration. I had used the word processor with a tiny font to print out many, many of the Amitabha mantras; OM AMI DEWA HRIH. Then I determined how big a strip of them could be rolled up and fit inside my gao. Prism helped me tie this around my neck way up high so it would not be in the way while prostrating. We were both also wearing a Quan Yin medallion which had become such a prominent item for our journey. One more thin I did before we set off was tie a white khata scarf around the prayer flag pole, just for a little extra blessing before we set off. Without the third person, we decided to pull our cart up ahead a hundred yards or so and then walk back to where we were going to start. Having done this the first time, it would be repeated may times along the way as we couldn't realistically carry water bottles on our body and certainly not in our hands.

So now, after everything that had passed before, it was time to start. Slipping on our gloves, standing side by side, we scratched a line in the dirt, lined up with the gate and our cairn and taking a look up the long, long hill, we began. Hands together over my head, touch forehead, throat, heart and OM MANE PADME HUNG HRIH, down to my knees, OM AMI DEWA HRIH,stretch out full length on the grjound, fingers reaching forward, OM MANE PADME HUM, stand up, take the three steps or so forward, and start again. If you have never done this I can tell you that it is a meditation of mind and body in concert with the terrain you are covering. Even while I was doing my prostrations, mantras and steps forward on the outside, my inner being was traveling to oh, so many other places and times. Images came and went, memories popped and then dissolved, another one would take it's place. The only things I saw with my physical eyes was the eight feet of ground in front of me. I thought about all the events that had led up to these moments on the hill. I thought about the first time I had visited Garchen Buddhist Institute just a couple years ago. Of the day I went to the Lama House and sat at the feet of Gape Lama and took my refuge in the three jewels. The little basket I had taken him with the paley bread, churu sauce and the flowers from the green house.

So on we went, one after another, prostration after prostration. Catching up with the cart became a time of rest, refreshment, reflection and brief meditations. It was a time of examining my intentions, being one with my surroundings. I began to see how all the world was one living organism, that we were all connected. Not just us as humans, but connected with all the living creatures crawling on or flying over the earth. The earth held the trees, the trees held the birds, the birds flew in the sky and the sky held us all in its all encompassing embrace. I began to understand the why that had propelled me onto this pilgrimage. Garchen Rinpoche had said it himself. "Yes, come. This is a place of pilgrimage.l" I started to see that it was because this place was worthy of a prostrating pilgrimage. So much energy had been put into it in so short a time, only ten years. On other continents in other countries, hundreds, thousands even millions of years of effort and geologic millennia, had been spent to build up monasteries, shrines and mountains as places of devotion. My reasons started to gel into the very idea that someone had to be the first to do this thing and as it turned out, it was to be us. One person struggling with his Buddhism beliefs and practice and the other seemingly just coming along for the ride. Many more knowledgeable people had driven up the driveway; many had walked up, merely just to get there. But we two were doing what prostrating pilgrims do, prostrate towards the objects of our devotion and affection.
Hands over the head in a gesture of prayer, OM MANE PADME HUNG HRIH, touch forehead, throat and heart, OM MAI DEWA HRIH, down to my knees, OM MANE PADME HUNG, come up, get your feet under you, stand up, take the three steps forward, look ahead a little bit. Since it was cow country we also had to be on the look out for their dear little offerings scattered here and there along the way. When I mentioned the lack of the third person being most inauspicious, it started to show towards the middle of the afternoon. Our route consistently went up the hill, getting steeper and steeper as we began our approach to the Hung rock. Every time we caught up with the cart, we had to move it forward up the hill, park it someplace and then walk back down to begin prostrations back up the hill again. So we were walking up the hill pulling the cart, then walking back down, prostrating back up the hill over and over again. Which meant, we were dong the route three times! Our rest periods became a little longer, but we enjoyed the experience all the more the closer we got to the Hung rock, where our camp would be. We had brought flutes, a small drum, conch trumpet, finger cymbals with which we played music to the world around us and sang songs to the creation we were passing through. Once while crossing a small arroyo I visualized it being a glacier water swollen stream and that we were circumambulating Mt. Kailash in Tibet and wishing I really was touching the cold water to my face. Slowly we made our way up the hill, sometimes seeing cars passing by way above us on the driveway. The last little push was up a particularly steep slope that emptied out onto the driveway. We were pulling the cart up this, got to the edge and suddenly there was a vehicle coming down the hill! What were the chances we would get to the same spot at the same time? They stopped for us and we proceeded across the roadway, pass the Hung rock and finally, parked the cart. I remember their look of disbelief and astonishment that they should come upon such a sight while visiting Garchen Institute. Leaving the cart by the truck we went back down to our last stopping point and continued our prostrations. Finally, finally, we prostrated ourselves to the base of the Hung rock! Taking our portable altar, Kuan Yin, the two malas and the the two Kuan Yin bracelets our of the offering basket, I put them on top of the monument, lit some incense and gave thanks for our having made it up the long, long hill.

August 8, 2010

So, there we were, finally, up on the saddle of the hill, the destination that had taken us most of the day to make our way to. After a short rest and snall snack, we again donned our prostration outfits, walked over to the line we had drawn in the dirt and began again. Now, a little more slowly, we worked our way past the campsite along the pipe line route. There is a house where the driveway begins it's real swing back to the west. There is a break in the fence which allows the owners access to the back of their property and this was where were heading. All of this way had been mapped out on my earlier visits. After about one hundred yards, I noticed that instead of just standing up with both legs, I was swinging one out in front of me and using my hands to hoist myself back up onto both feet. Doing this for a couple dozen prostrations I could tell that I was beginning to run out of steam and very soon it became obvious that I must stop for the day. It was now late afternoon with just a couple of hours of daylight left and we still had to set up our camp. Our plan was to position a vehicle on both sides of our tent, thus blocking the little road we were planning on camping in the middle of. Really didn't need to get run over by someone coming over the rise and not realizing we were there. It was becoming quite windy up on the pass and it was with some difficulty that we got our caravan tent put up, even running out all the support "windy" ropes the tent was supplied with, the first time these had ever been used. I had brought a small table and carpet along with us which I put in the middle of the tent. Upon this I set up our portable altar which was now down to one set of offerings, the ones for the stupa. Rolling our beds out on each side of it, our tent was set up. Lighting some insense on the altar , we gave many thanks for having reached this point safely and without incident. We had no illusions of building a fire as the local fire danger was still fairly high. But we had brought a gas stove upon which we made ourselves a nice cup of tea and settled down into our camp chairs for a well deserved rest. It had been arranged that family members were going to drive up to our camp and bring pizza for everyones dinner, their way of sharing the pilgrim camp with Prism and I. We had cell phones with us, (of course) so they already knew we had made it up the hill. Walking back out to Hung Rock we enjoyed the wonderful view of the valley below and stood theire awhile watching the sunset and all the lights of Chino Valley begin to flicker to life.

Seeing where we were and gazing back down the hill, I was quite content that all the planning and research had been helpful and we were actually standing at the half way point of our journey. I couldn't help but feel a bit of pride that I had done prostrations along a route which no one had ever come by and certainly not in that mode of travel. We had brought five chairs with us, three extra to accommodate our guests. It was still quite windy so we arranged the tent as to be able to put all the chairs inside where we could eat our dinner. An added gas lantern lit up the tent and our little nylon house was ready to receive guests. The full moon came up over the eastern horizon, just as predicted, so we were suddenly in a moonlite shadowy world. I had had some concerns about this site, not knowing whose property it actually was. Maybe the gas company, maybe the state, maybe part of the national forest, the boundarys of which I had never botherd to document. No matter, we weren't on the Insitutes property so not subject to their camping fees. Not that we wouldn't have cheefully paid them, but we wanted to be completely autonomous on our journey. Sheri (my wife), Devin, (Prisms wife) and Soleece their daughter, our grand daughter soon arrived. After some conversation and admiration of the view on in the moonlit night, we settled jourselves most cozily into the tent and proceeded to devour our dinner. Prism and I regaled them about our day's adventures, answering questions and sharing our thoughts and insights we had experienced along the way. I had brought my Buddhism scrap book along with me which contains many teachings, articles, my research papers, etc. Anything relating to my practice I had collected I had put into plastic sleeves for safe keeping. One of the articles I had collected was a story that had been printed in the Snow Lion catalogue. This is a story about His Holiness'The Dalai Lama's first visit to America. As an after dinner activity I had decided to read this aloud to everyone. A most individual story that I thought would be both approperiate and quite auspicious for our prostrating pilgrims camp. I will share it with you on these pages in it's entirety.
The Dalai Lama Spends the Night
"When the Dalai Lama first visited the United States in 1979, arrangements were far more casual than they are these days. Here, Christ Cox recalls hosting His Holiness in her small house."
My father laughed when I first told him that the Dalai Lama was going to spend a couple of nights at my house. Really, Dad, no kidding. Yes, that Dalai Lama. Tibet.
He was thinking that if anyone had predicted, when he was a young man growing up in Europe, that one day his daughter would run bath water for the near mythical Tibetan leader, he would have thought that they were crazy. Meshuga. He rotated his finger expressively at his temple and rolled his eyes.
And truly it was unlikely. First, I was not even a Buddhist. Not yet.
And second. At the time I was living in the most economically depressed county in New York State, home to rusting cars abandoned in back yards. My neighbors lived in alarming, corrugated metal buildings-and turned out to be the kind of peopole who shot each other. It was not an enviroment that most people would imagine to be approperiate for a dignitary of any kind, let alone a major world leader.
But he came. Looking back, it all seems pretty unbelieveable: the amiable sheriffs in the kitchen, the lentil casseroles I made for dinner, and the unexpected transformation of my life.
If you've been around the Dalai Lama lately you'll understand the significance of the amiable sheriffs. These days the security presence around His Holiness is not amiable. It is serious indeed, involving the FBI and State Department, as well as local and state law enforcement. The cost of security for a few days can run close to a million dollars. Each public and private moment is schedule-and double-scheduled.
But, back in 1979, the Dalai Lama's first trip to the United States, he traveled light. The U.S. government had not yet figured out that it had a superstar, semi-plitical entity on its hands who needed to be protected.
This is the short version of how it happened.
A friend who knew the tour planner brought him to see my house as one of several options in the area. The planner was a European sophisticate with impeccable manners and an appeciable amount of exhaustion. This was to be His Holiness's first U.S. trip,. and he wanted everything to be perfect. But being a Buddhist and a realist, he knew that would be impossible. After a quick, discrete examination of the small, simple house, he suggested that His Holiness would like to spend a few days fo rest there. Perhaps his exhaustion had worn him down; I don't know. But it was to be. I had a few months to prepare.
In a way the outer sequences of events that brought the Dalai Lama to the guest room of my funky ranch house don't quite add up. The mathematics is off, doesn't seem quite sound when I look back. Why would a trip planner decide to house a world class spiritual leader in a house like mine? It made not sense themn; it makes no sense now. The facts followed the logic of myth rather than that of any kind of western science: the miraculous manifest inexplicably out of the void into a small, unlikely structure. It seems that's just how grace works. Always did; probably always will.
I began to clean my house-seriously, absurdly, endlessly. Armed with a crisp toothbrush I vigorouosly scrubbed all my plastic spice boxes and then-in a fit of utter irrationality-went onto the bleach the underside of the sofa. Rectangles of sponge sprawled, ready for immediate action, on widowsills in every room. Cleaning like this-actually any cleaning beyond the cursory tidying triggered by impending guests-was not my usual style: I had always been a devotee of the minimalist school of dusting. But now things had shifted: I had to scour, scrub, and disinfect, moved by something ineffable.
'The Dalai Lama doesn't care about your canning jars, for God's sake,' a friend said in some exasperation, as he watched me wipe two years of basement dust off them. Of course I knew that. The spiritual leader of Tibet wasn't going to march into my house and demand a tour of my basement or ask to review my pots and pans.
Of course not. Even as I scrubbed, I suspected that I was acting out a kind of archetypal urge for inner purification, one that most often precedes a spiritual initiation. I had read many religious writings-both Eastern and Western-explaining that significant spiritual events that often marked by a symbolic outer cleansing. Baptism, Immersion in the Ganges, Sprinkling with holy water. I, however, had apparantly been seized by a hapless, suburban cleansing ritual-purification by PineSol.
And then, one fall evening he was there at the front door. There was a maroon robe, a shaved head, and a pair of very serious black oxfords. Also a high-tech watch and jaunty spectacles. A hand reached for mine and grasped it firmly. And then there were the eyes. They locked onto mine briefly, knowingly. They released; the hand released. And the Dalai Lama walked past me into the living room.
Now, decades later, I still don't know how to explain what happened in the brief interchange. There was no blinding light, no profound insight into the nature of the universe, no visions of the future. But it was the single most transformative moment of my life. One moment I was a woman withg a sponge, the next I was a fully ecstatic woman with a sponge.
This woman stood in shock in the doorway. Gently, a young monk who had been standing behind the Dalai Lama touched her on the elbow, "Could you show His Holiness to his room?" he prompted softly. The housewifely necessities of the moment called me back into a minimal congruence with this body, this room, this man. I managed to lead the way down the hall and swing wide the door to the compact room where the Dalai Lama would sleep. He walked in, surveyed the new orange pillows, the new creamy curtains, the new brown sheets on the bed. "Good." he said, guttural and noncommittal, and closed the door.
The young monk was tapping me on the arm again. "His Holiness needs another towel." he said,"and something to eat." He could see I needed prompting. "He likes bagels best,"he advised, "lightly buttered."
With that mechanical oddness of people who have experienced trauma or some profound inner dislocation, I rummaged in the freezer for bagels. I had been traumatized, wonderfully, deliciously, profoundly. It was trauma stripped of its prejorative overlay. Outrageous, positive trauma. Balancing the bagels on a plate, I negotiated through the crowd of sheriffs and monks arrayed throughout the house, knocked on the door at the end of the hall and waited.
The young monk opened the door; I could see the Dalai Lama sitting back against the cushions of the bed. "Thank you,"said the monk, but I was looking beyond him into the room. From the orange cushions, an arm with a high-tech watch rose into the shining air, and waved.
That night, as I lay awake in a lumpy borrowed bed, I noticed that every cell in my body seemed to be involved in some rhythmic, celebratory dance, vibrating so energetically that sleep was impossible. But I didn't care. The sense of fulfillment was so extreme that it occurred to me that I could die without regret right there and then on the broken springs. "Trite thought," I said out loud, and laughed because I did not need to forgive myself for it. Trite or not, it felt truer than almost anything else in my life. That cool, miraculous night I would have given my life for the Dalai Lama instantly, without question. I felt utterly transformed and utterly baffled. And, appaent, madly in love. What had happened to me? What had happened after I opened the door?
The next day, and the next, the ecstasy continued. Each morning I began my part in the tight scripting of the visit. I laid out the meals that had been prepared-according to schedule-by friends who brought them steaming and fragrant to the door. Chocolate cakes, cherry pies and vast bowls of cashews and dried fruit displayed their allure shamelessly along the kitchen counter. I often observed the attendant monks succuming eagerly and happily to the gustatory seduction. But what the Tibetan leader chose to eat-besides bagels-I don'tknow. This was because, after making sure that the food was where it should be, I usually left the house to give the visitors-and the Visitor-privacy.
After the meals, teams of my friends arrived in the best cars they could borrow to transport the Tibetans to the halls where His Holiness was scheduled to speak. And, in a piece of elegant choreography, other friends let themselves into my house to clean it and wash the dishes while the guests were away. It was heaven: I didn't have to hoist a broom or heft a sponge.
How homey and casual it was, despite the valiant organizing and planning. Just a group of friends, making it happen. Drawing straws for the plum jobs, such as driving His Holiness. Baking their best barley casseroles, even doing the laundry. These monks had been traveling for a while and, of course, their robes needed a wash. There's something strangley intimate about washing someone else's clothes. And something strangely wonderful about throwing several maroon robes-including one belonging to the Dalai Lama-into your washing machine. One sentimental friend, whose machine it was, kept the lint as a memento.
These days the Dalai Lama travels with several sets of men in expensive dark suits and gun holsters. When he gets in or out of his limousine, entire city blocks are closed down; sometimes when he stays in a hotel; brand new plates and silverware are required-not because he's fussy, but because his security detail is concerned about poisoning. At my house, way back before we all knew better, we managed with home baked pie, ancient cups, and a few stalwart sheriffs sitting uneasily in the flowerbeds at night.
Three days passed and it was time for the entourage to move on. We drove through cool sun to the small airport where a private aircraft had been hired to take the group to the next stop. Stepping out of the car, the Dalai Lama pulled his robe tight aginst the wind, shook each of us by the hand and strode toward the puny plane that lay on thye runway. His attendant was visibly unhappy. Only one propeller. So small. But the Tibetan leader bounded up the two steps, turned in the low doorway, waved buoyantly, and was gone.
I returned home. Returned to the clean house still laden with carrot cake and casserole. Took my collection of sponges and threw them in the garbage. Lay down on the bed with the brown sheets and orange pillows. And understood for the first time, that from here on out, I was a Buddhist. ~Christ Cox~
Every time I read that story, I get a little choked up at the wonderfulness and innocense of it's content. I guess because I always put myself in her place. What would I have done about it? How would I have handled it? Probably a lot of the same things she did and loving every minute of it! "Yes, that Dalai Lama!" As if there was another one. I wrote him a letter once inviting him out to Arizona and Garchen Buddhist Institute for a vacation and down time. he could come secretly, his visit not being publicized so he could have some quiet time. I received no reply, of course, but I wasn't disappointed. It was enought that I had invited him, as casually as you might invite a friend. My thought was that he could never say I hadn't asked.
Well, after a time, the girls gathered themselves up, got into the car and headed back down the hill, leaving us two pilgrims alone once again. It had been a long day and we were starting to feel how tired we were. After a stroll out to the Rock a quck camp washcloth bath, we settled down into our beds on opposite sides of the altar and after a few thoughts about what tomorrow would bring, were soon fast asleep.
Next: Morning and the second day of On The Route.