H&B at "the lake"
Monday morning, we set out to Mebar Tsho, popularly known as "the lake", though it is actually a fast running river. The lake part is a very deep area between high narrow cliffs where the water appears to move slowly, but actually is full of eddys and whirlpools that swirl out of sight into a cave area under the cliff face. The site is a sacred place as it is where one of the sacred "terma" (religious treasures of understanding buried by bygone gurus to enlighten the world in a later time) was found. Prayer flags are everywhere, and a holy man sits in a shallow cave along the trail leading to the water, chanting and burning incense. Tiny chortens abound. The rocks above and by the water are slippery and there are no guardrails. Our guides were especially protective of us, vigilently watchful, and helping us climb down and back up from the water's edge.
Last week, an Indian tourist drowned in this very spot. We had read about it in the newspaper our first day in Bhutan. Our guides shared more detail, saying that the tourist was smoking a cigarette which is illegal in Bhutan, and on top
Brian on bridge leading to "the lake"
of that, he was smoking in a sacred place and ignoring requests to stop. Our guides believe that this is why he slipped on the rocks and fell into the swirling waters, disappearing under the cliff until he was ejected some 3 hours later.
This story is an example of the literalness of the deeply Buddhist Bhutanese mind. Our 3 Bhutanese guides, Tobgay, Tshering, and Rinchen (the monk) share abundantly about the history and culture of Bhutan, and the tales are not shared as legend or mythology, but as fact. When they describe how Padmasambhava subdued demons who were terrorizing the locals, and how the demon hid inside a rock, but was curious about Padmasambhava's dancing (meant to lure the demon out from the rock), and transformed itself into a snow leopard, a guise which the guru saw right through and thus, pinned the demon under the rock and built a monastery on top to contain the demon forever, (or in other cases, converted the demon to Buddhism and made it promise to become a protective deity for the locals), they are recounting history.
After our experience at "the lake", we drove along a dirt country road up
Pema Thak Choke Choling Shedra Nunnery
Brian and friends above nunnery courtyard and nuns below
and up along hairpin turns to the Pema Thak Choke Choling Shedra nunnery. The women in our group were especially delighted to experience the female version of monastic life. Nuns are a relatively modern phenomenon in Bhutan, but women's interest in monastic life is growing here.
Upon arrival, we were served tea and biscuits, and then invited to sit with them through puja. Their high voices created a very different atmosphere from those of the monks, more melodic and gentle. Most of them simultaneously held a hand drum in one hand and a bell in the other while chanting. Their puja was not as dramatic as the monks' big horns and so on, but it was sweetly soothing and moving. We recorded this also.
A cat made the rounds of all of us throughout the ritual. We have seen many cats living a well-loved and fed monastic life with free reign to enter the temples. Dogs, on the other hand, though loved and fed, know that they are not welcome inside and stay respectfully in the courtyards, usually sleeping. All animals that we see in Bhutan, are flourishing which makes sense with the deeply held Buddhist value of
Tea room at the nunnery
"harm no sentient being". The vast majority of people maintain a vegetarian diet. Most meat served in Bhutan is part of catering to Western tourists and apparently, it is imported from elsewhere. One last image of animal life here: in Phobjika Valley, we observed a cow being milked by the roadside. There was no rope, no fence, nothing to restrict the cow from wandering off. With her calf nearby, the cow was happy to share her milk with the woman milking her, as children and neighbors hung out.
After the beautiful puja at the nunnery, we were served lunch in the tea room by our hotel staff. The nuns were surprisingly friendly and with functional English. One of them, Kinley Wangmo, invited Holly and some other women to see her room. We were amazed that the nuns' rooms look like girls' college dorm rooms, full of color, posters, knicknacks, and books, only all of a religious nature. The posters on the walls were of Padmasambhava, the king, and various deities. The English titles in the filled bookcase centered around Buddhist studies. There is no heat in the winter, so colorful blankets were piled high above a cabinet. The wooden
bedstead was raised off the floor. It was a small, but cozy and cheerful room. Kinley Wangmo has her own room, plus an ante room, as she is a teacher and the ante room is her classroom. She is 26 years old and has been a nun since age 12. She said she came of her own accord and is very happy with her choice. Other nuns share rooms, and the very young girls live together with some older women family style. The energy of the nunnery felt genuinely happy and light. The women in our group took a slew of "pigpile" photos, joined by 3 nuns, in Kinley Wangmo's room! Amazing!
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