Dawn in the Shenandoah ValleyPART I: SUN GATE
Note: This long post is composed of edited notes taken from journal entries compiled last year during two trips to New York State to do seva at my Lamas' monastery.
WED AUG 26
Tuesday was an all-day drive across Tennessee and most of Virginia. We spent the first night high on the ridge which serves as the West Virginia border in a quiet campground called Wolf's Gap. After determining that there were no mosquitoes, we laid a white canvas work tarp on the ground, threw spongy ridgerests and bed gear down and crawled in. Very trippy laying there warm in our bags in the dark, hundreds of miles from home and family, the wind rocking the big oaks above us. We talk and drift, releasing mundane hopes and fears as stars glow in the spaces where the leaves allow.
S is sixteen years my junior. I was originally friends with his father on the farming crew back on the old commune. We have been friends for over twenty years and next door neighbors for almost as long but this is the very first road trip we have taken alone together. We lay there in the dark with the unfinished fragments of our lives flashing before us and he thanked me for coming with him. I told him I was more than glad to be along. Both of us are realizing what domesticated home-bodies we are. We are aware there is a very real if slight possibility that we might never make it back home and are blown at how precious and fragile this whole mysterious thing is. At one point in response to a flood of unanswerables, I said, "I really don't know, I was just born here ... and I didn't make all of this up."
Mind looped back to that first meeting with the Khenpos twenty years ago. We had taken refuge earlier in the day and were hanging out between events when we got word that they wanted to meet with us. Nine of us gathered in the little upstairs room of the log cabin where they were staying. Discouraging our attempts at prostrating upon entering, we sat on the floor and they urged us closer. They insisted we scooch right up next to them and told us how special it was that we had met, especially that it was on an equinox as well as a dakini day. I did not write it down, but here is my best recollection of what they said. "The blessings of Guru Padmasambhava are very powerful and special and have brought many beings to full realization very quickly so it is extremely fortunate, not only for ourselves, to have met and enjoy this opportunity to bring these beautiful qualities to fruition in our lives. As you know, we are from Tibet and because of the trouble there, we may never have a chance to go back, so we've had to accept that we may spend the rest of our lives a long way from home. In the years since we left, we have lost most of our family. When Dudjom Rinpoche asked us to come to America to share these teachings we thought it would be a good idea because there are people like you who have a sincere interest and this may benefit many others, so here we are. And here you all are. It is not just a coincidence that we have met but has deeper causes and conditions. Being invited to Tennessee and then meeting you has come about through the aspirations to bring more peace, love, joy and enlightenment into our lives. Our love and respect for these wonderful teachings have brought us together this weekend and we wanted to tell you that we both feel like we are meeting our new family. We are treading the same path and developing our buddha qualities. We are traveling together in the same Buddha mandala, so like family, we will try and help one another along. If there is anything we can do for you, don't hesitate to ask. In the same way, you might hear from us sometime if there is something you can help us with."
Outside of editing some transcripts, the Khenpos have rarely asked me to do anything.
Dawn found us rolling downhill in neutral to coffee at an interstate truck stop where a Mexican kid who didn't speak any English was sweeping. We made good time moving north, crossing the blue Potomac into Maryland, and the wide Susquehanna at Harrisburg. I gaze at the surrounding hills and think about my father's Ukranian Jewish ancestors who first settled in this area sometime after 1882. Here, Interstate 81 begins to run in a valley south of a long ridge known as Second Mountain before cutting north through Swatara Gap. There is coal throughout Appalachia but these hills contain large deposits of anthracite, the best quality coal on earth. The Appalachian Trail crosses the road as it descends off Second Mountain before regaining the ridge on Blue Mountain. One hundred miles north through forested valleys and roadcuts exposing ancient basement rocks of Pangea, we are again in the Susquehanna Valley at Wilkes-Barre, encountering mid-day traffic and road construction.
We stopped for brunch at a rest area in north PA and talked with a liberal mustache from VA on vacation with his wife. He was going on about how this culture is living beyond its means and said Rush Limbaugh should be arrested for incitement. I tucked my mala into a belt-loop before we went off to throw Frisbee, disappearing into the bush by an old stone wall to burn and then sitting on a concrete table to share wham sandwiches for lunch. I would never see my mala again; an old ox-bone thing acquired in Santa Fe 20 years ago with silver double bell & dorje counters. But was I attached? Yeah, a little. Apparently it fell into the grass while tossing the Frisbee and i didn't notice till we were quite a ways further up the road. In consolation, S offered some entertaining distraction, turning me on to my first hearing of Zappa's 'Billy Was A Mountain'.
Arriving in Delaware County New York around one in the afternoon, we lacked good directions after crossing the state line, figuring we'd remember what to do once we got close enough. Both of us had visited the Khenpos here, at different times many years ago when they first acquired the property but before there was anything built on the land. Population density is about half of our home county in rural Tennessee and the lowest in the state outside of the Adirondacks. Clueless, we would explore these ancient valleys for the next three hours.
We stopped in Delhi and asked for directions at a groovy little coffee shop with wholesome sandwiches and nice pastries. A friendly hippie lady says oh yeah, i've catered to them before, confidently directing us up a series of hills on the outskirts of town where another Buddhist group, Karma Ling, has a retreat center. There, an old western monk who'd visited PSL many years ago, gave us his best recollection which wasn't quite good enough either. After a few long circles, we decided to stop by a river to relax and burn as we are wont to do. A weathered piling of quarried stone revealed an old bridge abutment. A tin sign warned boaters to remove their craft from the waters at this point. Mist rolled in and light rain began to fall. We had lost an afternoon but felt content to be this close and were relatively unconcerned about timing. The break must've tweaked telepath neurons; hopping back in the truck, we inquired at a nearby mechanic's shop and were promptly handed an excellent map of the area, closing on our destination before sundown.
A green state sign labeled Buddha Highway winds up a wooded mountainside to our Lamas' main seat in North America. Palden Padma Samye Ling translates as Glorious Land of the Inconceivable Lotus. The name Samye is derived from the first Buddhist monastery established in Tibet (8th c.), built and consecrated with the help of Guru Padmasambhava. After passing a few nice residences separated by thick woods, including a modern hotel-like guest house (three stories high) and a platformed tipi painted with snowlions, we arrive at the main parking lot for the sangha house, a two-story rectangle with a red tin roof. We immediately disembark, encounter no one and walk like conquerors to the top of the hill where a great red fortress rises from the grass, commanding a view to the southwest above endless green valleys. In awed silence we pull on the golden makara handles to enter the darkened main hall, removing shoes before proceeding through another set of heavy wooden doors into a large main room. I adjust the track lights on the high ceiling and hit the rugs for a round of full-length prostrations before daring to look around.
The main shrine
The general effect of being in the big room is sensorially stunning. A well-polished floor of sparkling amber red tiles patterned with natural parallel lines reveals the organic grain of sediments and has an effect like ocean waves or tiger stripes. Lower walls are wainscoted in the same amber red tile trimmed in black. Above shoulder height every square foot of wall space in the building contains colorful images of great Vajrayana masters, bodhisattvas, arhats, dakinis, trees, caves, animals, mahasiddhas, and holy sites, all of it skilfully rendered with fantastic detail. The work has been supervised and in large part executed by a talented vajra brother from the Ukraine, a longhair named Serge. The impact is delightfully overwhelming.
Three large statues, nearly life-size, dominate the main altar. A blissful Shakyamuni Buddha looks down upon us from the center, a beautiful, glaring-eyed Guru Padmasambhava sits on a lotus to the Buddha's right, a bejewelled Tara on his left. Padma is flanked by standing dakinis Yeshe Tsogyal and Mandarava and backed by an aura of many smaller gold statues, eight of his emanations and a few others. Tara is accompanied by a halo retinue of 21 golden mini-Taras, all identical. When meditating on their forms, the contrasting countenances of Shakyamuni and Padma create a subtle good cop/bad cop dynamic. Buddha is afloat in samadhi; Padma wonders why you aren't. In every direction the eye meets with images of realizers, celestial buddhas, wrathful deities, sacred landscapes, places of pilgrimage, scenes from Jataka tales, animals, rainbows, protectors, mantras & lineage monasteries.
Back outside, the mist thickens. Lumber lay exposed on the grass in the temple yard. We cut some Tyvek to cover the piles as people began coming up the steps. Two ladies enter and start preparing the altar. M, a new friend from TN who is a few years older than myself, appeared. He has already been here for a few days, looking to get some perspective on life and do what he can to help on the work projects. A 40 year old gentleman named Laya is a resident monk, hailing from western Massachusetts. He introduces himself and already knows my name. Laya invites us to attend the evening sit. We will be reciting Tsasum Lingpa's Vajrakilaya, The Dark Red Amulet, along with a few other prayers to dharma protectors.
S and I dug our zafus out of the truck, zen black and pagan green, and sat on pretty oriental carpets. Laya beat a big drum as he led the chanting. Drakpa, also in robes, manned the incense, tormas and serkyim. We weren't handed any copies of the sadhanas, so I sang along by heart but was silent for the dharmapala offerings which are part of the daily temple liturgy. Chanting is enhanced by the sublime resonance in the big room. I am not the yogi I once was as it went on a little long; at some points I felt like i needed to just sit there and be quiet. Whether the Khenpos attend or not, this practice happens here every night of the year around sundown. Far from the cities and intrigues of 21st century samsara, the pure blessing energy of prayers and mantras emanates from a quiet hilltop temple hidden among the misty forests of the Catskills.
After practice, we walked down to the sangha house where we will be staying. Laya showed us around the kitchen and we shared some pasta.
After a good nights sleep, I made coffee and we walked up the hill. We introduce ourselves to Dave and George, two local fellows who are the masons. They have completed the block for the first room that we are to work on, one of two wings where folks can remove coats and shoes before entering the temple. This will save money on winter heating bills and keep the shrine room warmer. As morning progresses, I am readily impressed with S's social and professional skills. He is very competent and efficient with our time together, amusingly friendly with all comers and knows how to do his job well, so well in fact that he can direct two or three other people so that the project progresses on a few fronts in smooth choreography. I wrote down measurements, cut and carried many a board while M drove to town for more lumber.
Khenpo Tsewang and Ani Lorraine soon came up and talked with us. Khenpo in a maroon ballcap readily recounts the precise years and circumstances each of us had previously visited. Elder brother Khenchen emerges from his house, wearing a long faded yellow shirt and looking a bit frail as he makes his way across the grass. He had just woken from a mid-day nap; you know dreamy how that can be. I walked over to greet him and he kept thanking me for coming. Khenpo Tsewang joined us as did S. We all headed toward the gonpa where they wanted to show us the brass roof ornaments ordered from Nepal. We had a short discussion about how to mount the 'ser-tos' (golden points).
I wondered how my energy would hold up without having had any breakfast, which has become my habit at home. It was a breeze, at least today. It feels good to be able to keep up a good pace even though I haven't labored like this in many a year. For lunch Laya had cooked up two skillets of food; one vegan and the other with cheese. The former was a mix of fried vegies on a slab of something brown, likely some kind of unleavened cornbread, altogether quite terrible. The vegie topping consisted of thin slices of pepper, unchewable ornamental kale, a few coins of overripe squash and zucchini with waxen skins. The best part was the fake vegie meat. While masticating through this primal fiber-fest, I spoke with Devon, and his mother Marie from Chicago, as well as Andrew from Kentucky. After lunch I met Andrew's brother Drakpa, who is a monk. With such a coarse introduction to the vittles, I was a bit discouraged and thought I might have to survive on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Having set up the inner walls in the morning we got to work on the roof afternoon. Carry, cut, carry, lift, tighten bolts on the top of wall. By three, I was beginning to lose it. My foot hurt; I removed a sneaker and massaged the arch while sitting very still in the shade. Anticipating a slowdown, Tsewang Rinpoche and Ani showed up with delicious hot coffee and some very fancy snacks. I recovered enough to get up and be helpful for another few hours before people started streaming up the hill to gather for evening practice. In the last half-hour of the day, we had all the boards cut for the main part of the roof and S went bananas with the nail gun, putting the seal on the day's accomplishments while M and I stacked lumber and cleaned up. New cars appear in the parking lot as people begin trickling in for the Anu-yoga shedra retreat this weekend.
I took empty coffee cups back to the Khenpos' house, which sits a hundred yards east of the temple, leaving the mugs on their porch for Ani to collect. Crates of stonework occupy nearby woods, large dark Buddhas and lotuses from the same volcanic stone quarried for Borobodur. A few deer gather in the open fields at the foot of the hill. The telescope on the porch of the sangha house brought them closer; a group of healthy does, some browner, some redder, all fat.
S and I walked off into the maples at sunset and found a large old boulder to sit on while we contemplated the universe and our families. I didn't want to attend practice tonight. I really do much better when I am rested. I was just glad to be here, able to be helping out with something that the Lamas required to further their work in this world.
Coming from a community that once attracted hundreds of young hippies, ready to give their all to further the material or spiritual progress of the movement, S and I are both surprised that there are not many more young folks living and working here. It is terribly ironic that the Farm had so many aspiring bodhisattvas willing to serve under a half-baked teacher while the Khenpos are real gems and the crew is so minimal. Andrew who works on editing transcripts, is in his early thirties, hails from Kentucky, and says there are plenty of good-looking youngsters over at Penor Rinpoche's center less than an hour away. Good for Penor! Outside of a few young men, most of the folks here are middle-aged women or older. So when the Khenpos called us in Tennessee, S and I felt obliged to kick in with whatever we have to give at this point. S said he felt they really needed us and that he thought it would be a good opportunity for him and wife to take a break from the great workout and get some perspective on their relationship. Beyond that, we both wanted to re-establish our connection with the Khenpos.
Om Ah Hung.
We entered the well-lit dining room after dark to discover a big pot of brown rice, another full of lentils and some great Louisiana hot sauce. I had three helpings; muy deliciosa. Good conversation with Andrew, Peter, who was studying Tibetan, and Devon, about our little Turtle Hill gang, the Nashville Yuppie Parisad 2.0, The Old and new Farm, etc.... I eventually head down to our room where M was reading Dolpopa. S ascended the hill to call home on his cell and learned that everyone back home was at the funeral of a friend who'd been attracted to Buddhism, even played in a band called Dharmakaya but had never connected with the Khenpos and wasn't disciplined enough to avoid a drug overdose. Talked with M about the legend of Padmasambhava, the Guhyagarbha Tantra, music, parents, and encounters with the Nashville Bahai group. The story of how M's father died was incredibly tragic and deserves its own space.
There are two toilets for men in the sangha house. One full of shit and paper would not flush. The other had the water turned off because the tank float was busted and water wouldn't stop flowing. The stink was so bad, I was hesitant to shower. S in his manifestation as Rigdzin Boone was determined and courageously manned the plunger. Afterwards, he scrawled a note and taped it on the bowl which read, HEY PAL, WTF?*@X%#! EVER HEARD OF PLUNGER?
FRI AUG 28
S awoke troubled by bad dreams. We breakfasted with Eric, a Brooklyn monk of Puerto Rican descent and young Devon from Chicago. Coffee and a peach will do it for me. Talked about the genesis and fall of Gaskin's dream, meeting the Khenpos, the beginnings of THS. As the work day began, clouds rolled in and drizzled on and off. Snacked on some vegan jerky and soymilk, S provided vanilla wafers. Lunch was served about an hour before we arrived. Anticipating rain, we stayed busy putting rafters and hips to roof before enjoying a good spread of lentils, green salad, rice, some stir-fried vegies and a slice of watermelon.
Lordy. How did the architect ever let such a thing happen?
One of the men bidding on the copper work showed up and talked with S. A stout little troll of a fellow with a big belt buckle which read TURK and seemed to hold him together. He rocked on his heels and explained that metalworking is a union job and that to roof the block we are framing will cost $13,000. Immediately after he left S said, "What bullshit; I don't like that guy."
Mid-afternoon, Khenpo Tsewang arrived with coffee and delicious halvah that he had made. I mentioned the offending chimney and he explained it was done without their approval. No surprise there; they are not pleased. I tried to lighten it up and give it a folksy spin. "Makes it look a little like Tennessee, eh?" which didn't get any laughs. I suggested that they should just paint the pipe gold and print mantras on it; maybe even put a false one up on the other side of the roof for symmetry. The Khenpos had already thought of that.
Tsewang Rinpoche stayed with us for most of our break and inquired about our families back in Tennessee. He had recently acquired a driver's license. After hearing of my recent misfortune, he told me that he has lost his mala 'so many times.' We notice him limping as he departs. 'They (knees) are actually getting much better.' He doesn't know how they ever got weak. He added, "And you look like you are doing quite well Shugchang. We have seen you running back and forth here. You are feeling good? That is really great."
After dinner we walk back up the hill for better reception and talked with our families before I return to the bedroom, tired, a little wet, but not hungry enough to want food and considering just turning off the lights and crawling into my sleeping bag. There is a practice happening in the temple. Kirby and Sandy, friends from TN, have arrived for the weekend retreat. We roll one and walk off into a light drizzle. I tell S that I feel like I am flanking myself in time.
"There's a twelve year old kid on the far side of those hills who has no idea that we are out here or what I remember about him." As a boy, I had spent a few summers at camp in Bear Mountain State Park not far to the east.
Back in the room, M said he needed to practice his songs and having brought his guitar, played a few for us. I appreciated hearing S talk to M about our band, offering his perspectives and insights in ways he does not usually express when we gather to practice. We ended the evening watching the first half of Horton Hears A Who on the Mac. Very psychedelic little flick. Then we slept like babies.
SAT AUG 29
Day started with light rain and we hit it early, long before teachings began but it came down ever heavier so after getting a good start on the roof, we rolled it up and joined the sangha in the temple. We chanted for awhile and then listened to the first part of the day's teachings. Anu-yoga is the highest tantric vehicle, surpassed only by Ati or Dzogchen. Khenchen was talking about its many divisions including the 36 empowerments, the definitive, common and superior commitments, the five Maras to be renounced, the four enemies to be destroyed etc., all of which is an extremely conceptual consideration about what is essentially non-conceptual view. The vibe was like, 'Looky here kids, you are almost out of yanas, so if you don't already get it, you might want to reconsider every major topic that you should know at least something about by now and see if you've missed a beat.' Reminded me of remedial learning and a yoga for those in the crowd looking to be entertained or just bliss out while the Khenpos sing and tell stories. It had stopped raining so I poked S; "Lets get lunch now so we can work while these folks are eating." We slipped out and convinced Derek, the heavily tattooed pro-caterer currently manning the kitchen, to give us a break and let us eat early.
We returned to the gonpa and worked diligently on the roof, right on through afternoon teachings as unobstructed rays of sunlight touched the earth again. Ani brought tea and banana bread, followed a little later by cinammon coffee delivered by Khenpo Tsewang. Taking breaks with the Khenpos and Ani is very special. Sharing time, conversation, a little snack and a lot of love. This is a taste of what my ladies enjoy when they cook for the Khenpos at retreats in Tennessee. Today's discussion touches on the architecture of Samye, the first monastery built in Tibet, which includes separate sun and moon temples mirroring elements of Buddhist cosmology. Here at Padma Samye Ling both cosmic luminaries are merged with the Utse, the central temple building. Khenpo said that the side entrances we are working on could stand for solar and lunar 'gates'. I quipped, "That is very non-dual," and he chuckled while repeating it. Conversation ranged from family life to the wealth of artwork inside the temple. S asked if they were almost done painting the interior walls. I had noticed an outline of a monkey in the entrance hall but little else seemed unfinished. Khenpo Tsewang related the story of the Himalayan rock ogress who gave birth to six kids. They would grow up become the ur-ancestors of the six realms, including the original Tibetans. According to Khenpo Tsewang, the monkey was reticent to mate with the ogress but she insisted so he prayed to Avalokitesvara for guidance. The Buddha of Compassion told him, "You should do what she wants; just go along with her." We all chuckled and knew he was talking to us householders.
After the day's teaching was over, Khenchen Palden came out and talked with S and I. His color and energy looked better today. S said I had volunteered to accompany him on this trip and that working like this would help keep me young. Khenchen said, "Really? I think Shugchang might have preferred it if you just came by yourself and let him stay home. He would probably rather be out west climbing mountains," laughing slyly before assuring us he was only kidding. Cotton-picker. For the past few years, I have not been attending retreats, sometimes because I was out west, at other times because I had become fed up with the pettiness of sangha politics and torturous socializing. I came to the same understanding at the end of my trip to India when I realized I enjoyed a much better retreat situation by simply staying home. Khenchen indicated my whitening whiskers and asked, "So its true that young people grow old? That's funny, because they all seem to think they will stay young forever." Had we made too much noise with the power tools while he was teaching? "Oh no, it was fine, fine. You know I have to speak in Manhattan and it is always noisy there with sirens and traffic, day or night. And India, oh my, it is far worse with all the cars beeping, beeping. If you have an accident they will say it was because you didn't beep enough! We have heard this." We stood in the shadow of the temple and he lingered a good while as if to reassure us of his love and appreciation. His kindness blew me away.
On a second coffee break at days end, Kirby joined me on the tailgate of the truck. Kirby is the current president of the Nashville sangha and we have been seeing each other at retreats in Tennessee for many years. I shared my concerns about various aspects of the situation here on the land, such as the skeleton crew; why are there not more young people on the scene to help move things along? Where are all the yogis? I noted Laya's struggle to become an efficient contractor/administrator and a history of flakey, over-priced contractors. I suggested regular APBs be relayed to the sangha at large for seva volunteers. We discussed problems in the gonpa architecture, (he had a few disturbing tales of his own to share) and the poor design of the sangha house which leads redisents directly through the center of both men's and women's bathrooms in order to access the upstairs dining room.
In recent post on a web forum, I asked Kirby to share any wisdom he had garnered over the last few years while heading up the Nashville Sangha. We both laughed about that. "Man, I must have put you on the spot cause I haven't heard a peep since I posted it!" He began to offer details on the current fallout. Student X evinces some good qualities and quickly rises to a position of responsibility in the laid-back Tennessee sangha. But a little is too much and using subtle manipulation, begins driving others out of the mandala, fundamentally changing the character of the community. We had watched this tragedy play out over the years and both concurred, "Yeah, we could see it way back when...." So now the other shoe has dropped. She wants to be her own teacher. As a western hippie dharma bum, I and others could see her ambition clearly long ago. The Khenpos are high-stakes rollers; they took a chance and backed her. When it comes to some things, the Lamas are very much like the rest of us. Nashvega. So it goes.
Night has fallen and rain picked up again. I am alone in the room. Most of the folks who arrived for the shedra are upstairs in the main room going over their notes on the day's teaching. S and I came in late for dinner and listened for a bit before I decided to come down here. S walked up the hill to try and call home.
When the rain stops, S and I ramble off into the dark. For some reason he recalls these fictional creatures called 'swamp-wriggles,' naga types who guard wisdom treasures but have attitude problems. He says they remind him of his dad and his new wife. We touch on the energy of transmission, the need for faith, and the nature of Dzogchen teachings being so open that they might even even seem threatening to those who adhere to lower paths. In consideration of his own realization, S says he feels the need for a deeper understanding of Buddhism so as to be a better bodhisattva. Upon returning to our room after dinner, M joins us for part two of Horton Hears A Who. Afterwards S left to shower while M and I discuss the dukkha accompanying family life. Brother's depressing weir, grandparents so poor that one of their babies got hungry and ate lye, followed by a long tale about trying to smuggle opium back into the US from Vietnam, many years ago.
The lion's roar of the Supreme Vehicle --
Appearance and existence
primordially the great bliss of purity and equality --
Terrifies the herds of deer
that teach falsely throughout the three worlds,
the vital points in the meaning
of the profound and vast vajra tantras.
Appearance and existence
primordially the great bliss of purity and equality --
Terrifies the herds of deer
that teach falsely throughout the three worlds,
the vital points in the meaning
of the profound and vast vajra tantras.
SUN AUG 30
Today is a White Day as well as Sunday, the last day of the shedra. By inauspicious coincidence, oatmeal was served with white sugar as we are out of brown. Complemented the mush with coffee and hot soymilk before a trip to Oneonta. On the way, I witnessed an American bald eagle casually perched on a backyard clothesline. Sunny day, beautiful, quiet countryside. M emphatically shares his views on the current soap opera in Tennessee. Two different people, both from the Volunteer State, say to me, "Don't tell anyone, but X was asked not to attend (the currenty shedra)." M considers X a close friend and says she wasn't planning on it anyways. So there. One of those 'you can't fire me; I quit!' situations. I sit in the back seat, holding little copper kila, reciting mantra while they shop. People-watching, sky-gazing, reading, writing, dozing, I clean up the cab a little before we seek out a health food store in sleepy Masonville. Ginger beers, blue corn chips and vinagered-spinach pockets courtesy of S who insists he likes to feed people.
Back at Padma Samye Ling, we install light fixtures in the sun gate, drill holes in pine studs and pull wire. At three we removed shoes, placed zafus in the extreme southeast corner of the big room with Chemchog Heruka and Vajrakilaya on the wall to our left and Shakyamuni in full nirmanakaya glory to our right. Many people showed up for the ganachakra and we were within smelling distance of the ts'ok table which was amazingly long and heavy with good foods. Mipham's Shower of Blessings was the main practice with lots of extra prayers thrown in. At one point, a group of ladies, most of them sporting ngakpa shawls and dressed like Tibetans stood in a group and sang a traditional Tibetan tune. Then Kirby rose and read a beautiful ts'ok prayer by Jigme Lingpa. After the vajra samaya substances were served, a number of us took our plates outside and sat on the front steps of the temple to eat and talk in the late August sun. S wrapped his sweatshirt atop his head like a Sikh. When Khenchen Palden came outside, he looked at him, muttered something along the lines of "Oh boy, take a look at this guy," and then shouted, Punjabi! All the while a huge, dramatic cloud front was moving in from the west and would pour down a heavy rain which tapered before sundown.
We wrapped up the tools as the light faded, and disappeared into the maples to occupy our exfoliating metamorphic rock, where we expressed a sincere appreciation for the efforts of Mexican farmers. A chance Modiano discovered in my Shower of Blessing text featuring a dried swab of dark greenish tar spread upon it from some past era; score! We huddled for warmth and let our hearts speak. S wept while coming to understand that in spite of his intent, we can only do so much and each of us must take responsibility for ourselves. We talked about his in-laws, conditioning and the causality of an oft-troubled heart. Returning to the sangha house, we connected with M, talking more sangha history as I began to type out these notes for the day. S, ever-helpful and energized, worked on replacing the toilet mechanism we'd bought in town before deciding to scrub both stalls.
After showers, all three of us ascend the stairs for a late dinner, snacking on blue chips and sweet corn-black bean salad. The evening stretched out in the high company of novice monk Eric, hermano Jorge & black Marcos from PR and a few other nice young men who were gathered at the dining room table. Eric shared a tale wherein he encountered the Aro dude Ngakpa Chogyam outside East-West Books in Manhattan. This was in the mid-nineties before he'd become a monk. A long hot afternoon had included a couple of beers, inspiring him to walk right up to the Welshman in his self-styled robes, glaring an intense presence with his oversized, wrathful eyeballs before growling, "I AM NYINGMA," as if he himself represented the whole Ancient lineage. Ngak-ngak replied, "Maybe you shouldn't drink so much beer." Hilarious.
MON AUG 31
Hung door, cleaned up. Met with the Khenpos in their living room, as requested, before heading south. Ani served coffee to M, S, and myself. They expressed their thanks and Khenchen emphasized the great store of merit associated with working on a temple. Even if the place is completely destroyed, the good karma continues, long after the dust from the place is blown away. They honored us with many gifts and nearly brought me to tears with their humble gratitude. We promised that we would return soon.
Soon after leaving the land, we stop to chant, make offerings and give thanks at the Cannonsville Reservoir. Water flows from here through a 44-mile tunnel before entering a 85-mile aqueduct on its way to NYC, providing residents with about 50% of their drinking water. In service since 1964, the old town of Cannonsville was destroyed in the process. We notice dozens of small boats cached in the woods lining the shore and pondered the old ruins at the bottom of the lake.
Dozens of giant white windmills rotate on green Pennsylvania ridgetops as we roll south listening to NPR. After dark we passed through some strangely lit road construction projects before getting off in Woodstock, Virginia and enjoying amazing burritos crafted by a Mexican dude who'd recently moved here from Texas, we wandered in the dark on back roads before finding out way and spending a peaceful night up at Wolf's Gap, arriving home Tuesday afternoon safely and without incident.
PART II: MOON GATE
MON SEP 21
During the middle Ordovician Period 450 million years ago, plate collisions began that would build the Appalachian Mountains. Uplifts continued periodically throughout the next 250 million years, combining and renewing older features into mountains rising higher than the Himalayas and then repeatedly weathering them down to fill in low lands and basins with sediment. By the Cenozoic (65 mya), the area had been worn flat and began a final uplift that has resulted in the current landscape.
In 1528, the Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca encountered the Apalachee Indians near Tallahassee, Florida. A dozen years later, de Soto explored the southeast and applied the name of this tribe to the mountainous region to the north. The uplift runs for over a thousand miles from central Alabama into eastern Canada. Our journey will take us from the eroded western fringe of the blister in middle Tennessee, over the main spine, north along valleys east of the main plateau before winding back into the Poconos and Catskills. Renowned for its poverty, moonshine and bluegrass, the quiet heart of the region is often hidden like a cluster of wild grapes, full of soulful, dark history. Washington Irving suggested that the United States be renamed Appalachia, if not Alleghania. Our trajectory is generally northeast and after passing through Knoxville, the entire trip will take place away from any cities. By days end we will have travelled 500 miles east and less than 280 miles north.
I will be riding in the middle of the back seat this trip. A small garuda hangs from the rearview mirror and seems to flying on the road ahead of us. S drives a converted diesel which can run on cooking oil. Half of our last trip was fueled this way and to cut expenses further, we will be bringing more than the tank already holds by carrying a few extra jugs. D and S, father and son, occupy the front seat. D is seven years my elder and about a foot taller than myself. We have been friends for over three decades, but we have not spent much time on the road together. Beginning in 1994, I did many mobile retreats into the Four Corners area with the sangha and a few extended trips into the wilds of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee but D hardly came on any of those. For much of that time he was living away from Turtle Hill in different scenes, trying to find his 'people'. His typical reluctance was made evident the first time our group met the Khenpos in 1989. Seven of us took refuge. D hesitated, deciding to wait a few months just to be sure and then took vows at a subsequent retreat.
After all of the positive resonances resulting from our last trip, S and I thought it would be a good idea to get the rest of the sangha up there, but employment and other commitments would put that plan on hold. In the meanwhile, we invited D to come along. He was still recovering from serious health issues which had developed over the last year and had some free time, so off we went.
In spite of his vegetarian habit, D had recently suffered a heart-attack and a few mini-strokes. We will stop more often on this trip so he can exercise. He carries a big bag of smelly medicines and a CD collection, so he will be the deejay today. In east Tennessee he put on some old UK rave music that was so bad, S asked him to change it but otherwise, D usually has pretty interesting, eclectic taste. At rest stops he does yoga, while we play Frisbee. His frequent asking, "What?" leads me to believe that his hearing has suffered but then again, at other times he seems to hear amazingly well.
We seek out bio-diesel truck stops as we roll up I-81, passing over forested hills and cruising between vast rolling cornfields in the Shenandoah Valley. Not long after dark we turn west onto side roads about 50 miles from Maryland, and park at Wolf Gap, a quiet site on the WV border, around 9 pm. This is the third night we have spent here in a month and we are glad to have found a nice free place to sleep. We unroll the tarp and lay our bedding down. I am soon asleep. D can't sleep easily, believes its going to rain and tells S he wants to set up the tent, so they do. When he finally does nod off, D snores loudly. No rain falls.
TUE SEP 22
Autumnal Equinox. To begin the day we decide to follow one of the trails toward a local peak. The woods open up here above a great autumn-tinged valley. Where the path switches back up a grade, we sit on lichened rocks. After chanting a bit and passing to the left., D asks if we would like to hear a song he wrote. Sure, why not. "I wrote this at a time when I was still pretty reactive to you," he tells me. Great; can't wait to hear it. He continued, "The lyrics were originally about you but the second half reminds me more of YHWH." Wow; a song addressing both me and YHWH. Now I'm pumped. Thus D launched into his performance as S and I listen, trying to relax beyond awkwardness and wondering why or where he was going with this. After hearing a couple of choruses of You Ain't Nothing But A Bag of Skin we all sat there in miffed silence. D finally said. "Of course I no longer feel that way; I love and appreciate you a bunch." Okay; whatever. I have weird friends who still need to dramatize the pain of old wounds.
Once back in the truck, I scribble in a notebook, "What is a song? An expression of the spirit of an idea. That idea might be feelings about a relationship, a place, or an event. The entire spectrum of human experience is subject - just listen to any radio song. Do you really want to sing about your own ego's emotional reactions? Singing about the Three Roots is the form that holds the most attraction for me, giving voice to the deities and dakinis."
As the sun burns off the morning mist, we pass through Winchester, a town that was taken and re-taken over 70 times by troops fighting the Civil War. Mid-afternoon finds us at the rest area in northern Pennsylvania where I lost my mala last month. We saunter across the grass and search back at the stone wall with no luck. I ask one of the maintenance workers if there is a lost and found box and she leads me to a back room where to my amazement, a sandalwood mala with a red tassle hangs on a nail. "Is this it?" she asks. "Nope, mine wasn't made of wood, but thank you." Spacey.
The broadleaves are beginning to turn deep red, orange, and gold. Sumac berries are ripening, purple and gold wildflowers bloom in the roadside grass. Here and there along the way, short crosses mark the last moments of unfortunate travellers.
We arrived at the gonpa before 5 local time, and attend evening practice. S and I sit off to one side and in spite of having most of the texts, we find it hard to keep up. After supper the three of us walk in the foggy dark to the Medicine Buddha Temple to sit upon a rock wall where I listened intently to an interesting father-son conversation. It was as if they had not spoken at this level in years. D pondered his once-upon-a-marriage to S's mother, recounting the later chapters of their lost adventure, featuring many a mixed messages, crossed signals and demonic timing, as all hope for a loving reunion slipped away like two listing ships passing in the night.
After showering, I discover that not only did we neglect to load the carton of soymilk and gluten so lovingly prepared for me, I only have two pairs of pants including the ones i am wearing. Twelve pairs of socks, a half-dozen towels, but no pants. Ani brings me a photo album to look through and tells us that Atlanta is flooding. Before retiring, we called home from the basement of the gonpa and let them know we arrived safely.
When he does sleep, D snores chronically whereas his insomnia features clicking beads in the dark. I would lay there, awakened by one thing or another, meditating on old age, sickness, death and the need for more compassion. Self-references abound in D's conversation. He is amusingly inconsiderate in his late night and early morning movements. My old friend is teaching me patience and tolerance.
Breakfast images include D chomping and slurping like he was not raised with human beings. Once back on the job, we put up soffet boards on the sun gate, literally bumping heads with the Khenpos early in the day, reminding them it was 20 years ago that we originally met and took refuge. They let me snap a few pictures of them on the lawn out front of the temple. Lunch featured good conversation with some of the younger dudes about politics, value judgement and discriminating wisdom. More coffee with fresh raisin bread appears as an afternoon snack and I have a sore right foot by days end. We started with fairly light work but were dragging ass as the sun passed overhead, S as well. My back/kidneys ached from not drinking enough on the road and we had skimped breakfast to get the ball a-rolling this morn.
Serge happened along the cool dark stone slabs which line the khor-wa where i lay prone to take an afternoon break in the sun. He is the main artisan responsible for the hundreds of images displayed on the inner temple walls. Last trip I had asked him if the poet-saint Shabkar appeared anywhere in the temple. I had been posting Shabkar poems online for months with the intent of turning a larger audience on to his works. At the time, Serge had replied, "No, he's too crazy." This morning, he is telling his beads, sees me laying there, welcomes me back and adds, "Hey I checked out the poet Shabkar after you asked about him last time; very cool dude, thank you..."
We attended evening practice again. Much shifting back and forth between booklets and loose papers. Ann Helm, a resident here, currently observing silent retreat, came over and kindly showed us what page we were on. Wrathful deity homages with the big drum resounding are Vajrayana heavy metal. Closing prayers included sending good energy to someone's brother who had just died and a recently deceased dog, beloved to a student. The sheer oddity of sitting in a big empty temple with a few people on a dark rainy evening, far from home, hidden away on a cloudy mountaintop, praying for a deceased canine, washed over me.
G occupies a nearby room. He is quiet, so quiet that he vibes like a Lorazepam robot - up all night watching movies and sleeping all day. Big night rainfall and waking to kidney/back pain when turning over in bed.
THU SEP 24
S slept in a bit so I read from Lynn Margulis' Microcosmos before a breakfast of hot soymilk & a slice of peanut buttered toast. We began work on the moon gate, help set up sites for stupa placement, moved benches, guided in trucks, backhoe, man shovels, all hands in on the big action in preparation for the arrival of eight stupas cut from black volcanic rock, currently arriving in New York harbor via ships from Indonesia. Khenchen has painted mantras on small rocks to be placed within the bases. Drakpa is excited and photographing it all as long-term plans begin to crystallize. Unloading long sheetrock from a truck crane, I visualize dusty mines in Arkansas, and while restacking piles of Czech lumber closer to the work site, fleets of ocean-going boats bound for New York, shipping containers loaded with European pine. Cutting and emplacing roof rafters and wall plate, we discovered that the original block room is not quite square. I am trying to remember to drink more water.
I sat next to the lovely Maya from Florida at lunch. Mid-afternoon brought hot cardamon coffee, with excellent ginger, & maple cookies, lovingly delivered by Ani. Chili for dinner on brown rice. Andrew read aloud to us from King Trison Detsen's original inscription on a stele at Samye, the text of which has been carved in Tibetan on a large slab of wood which sites in the dining hall. Today was a beautiful, productive day. The trees are turning so nicely as they often do in this part of America, with late afternoon skies full of pretty cloud formations. After showering, S lends me a pair of pants before we walk off to occupy our favored rock. The sun gloamed the western sky and D attended evening practice. I am limping again.
Emerging out of the woods, seeing the illuminated temple, the Utse, as Sumeru, Dharmakaya, the centrality of Awareness. We both agree that there is something literally inconceivable about being here which helps one recognize the truth beyond appearances. This is not an egoic setting. Its not where you come home to after going out to work. The spirit of the teaching and the Khenpos' pure intention for the land and all beings predominates. Back at the sangha house, helping Laya unload goods from a town run before walking up the hill in cool wind to call home. Lots of rain in Summertown. Back in the room, D and S exchange back rubs. By 11 pm both roomies are in bed. I will slip upstairs for a cuppa and then brush teeth and Ahhhh.... exhausted but must still work at rehydration.
Cold morning. Managed to crap while reading Microcosmos before spacey G from Orange County shut the light out on me. Microcosmos, like Dawkin's Selfish Gene rocks the anthropocentric view. I carry it to breakfast where Drakpa lectures me about the shortcomings of the scientific view. As the awaited trucks return we make our way up the hill to the job. The shade makes big differences in temperature as Dave works the backhoe in a t-shirt, digging holes for stupa bases while I opt for denim with the sweatshirt lining. S struggling a bit, figuring out the hips but as the day warms, it all comes together, and like an ancient reptile exercising inveterate hunting skills, S was soon back in his groove.
As gofer, I make many passes through the main entrance hall. Above the doors that lead into the main shrine room, it reads (in both Tibetan and English)
THE GLORIOUSLY INCONCEIVABLE
CHANGELESS AND EFFORTLESSLY CREATED
GREAT LOTUS TEMPLE.
CHANGELESS AND EFFORTLESSLY CREATED
GREAT LOTUS TEMPLE.
I am still meditating on the 'effortlessly created' part. As is traditional in most Tibetan monasteries, the Guardian Kings of the Four Directions (dikpalas) so colorfully rendered, dominate the outer walls of the inner shrine room. Tibet's Samye includes a entire temple for each of them. Kubera squeezes a mongoose who vomits jewels; another mongoose in a dewrag rake's them up and stacks them in orderly pyramids. The Buddha himself asked that the Wheel of Life be painted on temple walls so that non-literate folks could contemplate the teachings in this way. Lord Yama clings to the bhava-chakra right next to the moon gate. Nearby I noticed a delightful image of the late maha-patron Bill, a devotee from Chicago whom I was fortunate to meet here in New York in '93 and then again on pilgrimage in India in '96. The painting depicts Bill standing with Ani, the Khenpos and their late father, Lama Chimed, all gathered around a magic phurba surrounded by features of the local landscape that are gradually becoming familiar.
Khenchen Palden stopped by the moon gate to talk with me today and we were alone for a few minutes. Knowing it was cold, he played Marpa to my Mila, suggesting I carry the lumber around to the other side of the building so as to cut it in the sun and then laughed when I winced. He mentioned the Borobodur mandala when talking about the coming stupas and when I referred to Serlingpa he lit up. He underscored the fact that wonders like Borobodur were destroyed by an Islamic Jihad, the likes of which we are still seeing today.
Long-nailed G from Orange County was shuffling laps along the khor-wa path. Earlier in the day S had asked him point blank in a very non-threatening and matter of fact way, exactly what he was doing here. G explained that one Lama Dawa in California, in response to a question about the perfect teacher, immediately pointed him to Khenpo Tsewang. So he took Dawa at his word, flew to Binghamton and has been here on and off for the past year. As he rounds the building again, S, in his best NASCAR voice, "And Orange County has the inside lane...!" Ani is attending a funeral so Khenpo Tsewang served refreshments and the white sugar has run out. Laya brought us some brown; so it go. The strains of coyotes yipping on the hill west of the gonpa are a surprise. By days end, the moon gate is ready for decking.
Little Chenier, we grabbed plastic buckets as we walked by the work shed, opting to sit on the edge of the field under a half-moon. D heads to practice late with no Khenpos present. We spend long silences looking at stars. Words begin with a question about Delphinus, moving on to Aquila, Jupiter, Cygnus and Sagittarius. Came back and watched more of the bayou flick before heading upstairs for dinner. Called home on the khor-wa path in the light of the Utse. We finally located Polaris and realized the gonpa faces southwest. Up later than my roomies again, hot soymilk at 11, dozing in a chair upstairs before making my way to bed.
SAT SEP 26
No waking until early morning to the serenade of D snoring, sun daggers already cutting through woods and windows. Not long after breakfsast, cold winds bring dark clouds. Early in the day Ani and Darjeeling provide much needed encouragement; Khenpo Tsewang happens by with maple cookies and coffee later in the afternoon. Finished preparing roofs for copper, rolled out waterproof rubber atop sun gate with the help of Ani on the ground and Laya in robes on the roof as wind picked, howling and pissing horizontal at days end. An old hippie named Antonio held the ladder and Ani helped cover lumber as the furies closed in.
Called home from the basement as practice proceeded in the temple above before heading down hill in cold rain to sangha house where S and I watched the first part of Iris Chang's Rape of Nanking. We waited awhile for D but he never came so we headed out to share with the non-humans. Wild Rice again for dinner and more conversation with Laya, Kerry and David. Ann Helm said she was attracted to the Farm way back when. Brother D seems a bit self-conscious, holding his chin in hand while nearly covering his mouth with fingers, he mumbles even though he himself is always asking, "What?"
SUN SEP 27
Rainy day. Up early with Microcosmos in the dining room, talked with Kerry over soymilk. D joins us at the table with Hudson's The Southeast Indians, and a bowl of something or other, chewing loudly with mouth open, he unconsciously snorts and slops through dried apricots and sliced apple while persuing the text. S had mentioned that he thought D's snoring would be relieved somewhat simply by cleaning his nose. Some of D's primordial self-centeredness is obviously an effect of being an only child with no regular demand to be considerate of others. On his pre-dawn trips to the bathroom, he invariably shuts the door mechanism to our room so that it clicks shut loudly as he leaves and again when he returns. After his exit this morning, S turned over and asked, "Man, why does he have to do that?"
"Dunno. Maybe so nobody steals us."
We framed out the interior walls today, I worked the chop-saw. S was feeling weak early on so we sauntered down into the woods with D to the rock of destiny where we got blitzed and then returned for more punishment. Rain picked up, Ani arrived with refreshments and our friend G from Orange County in tow helping to carry some of the kit. When it became apparent that there were not enough chairs for all of us, I offered to fetch another and Ani, like a good mother, interjected, "No, don't bother because G would really like to do that for us, wouldn't you G?" We squeezed together while sipping and dipping ginger snaps and vanilla cremes. Ani said that when the leaves fall, you can actually see sunlight reflecting off the Cannonsville reservoir from the top of the hill. Then she shares the big news. She will be travelling to Tennessee in a few weeks with the Khenpos. They will be giving a Vajrakilaya empowerment. Really? Wow. Great. I will definitely be there. This would be the third time I have received these teachings from the Khenpos. I mentioned that perhaps my ladies would volunteer to run the kitchen." Ani lit up. "Oh really? That would be wonderful!" They got me; I had been re-captured. We talked about trying to come north again in the spring and possibly bringing a bigger crew. Lovely. Wonderful.
After rolling up the tools and cords, I took some pictures in the rainy mist before heading to the room to finish the documentary on Nanking. D joined us and we all wept at what we saw and heard before heading out. We followed a trail downhill and sat on a log in an open field near a pond to make offerings. D soon left us in his characteristic way: "Speaking of (fill in whatever term might summarize the subject we had been talking about).... looks like I need to be (insert metaphor relating to previous topic anticipating some personal involvement) myself..." S and I linger, check out the pond, returning the long way around. Rain pours as I circumambulate the sangha house on the wrap-around porch many times saying mantras of the Three Roots while S ate dinner. I help unload groceries when Laya returns from town, and finished the last of the soymilk. M doing exercises on the floor, has no qualms about his robe falling aside to reveal lumpy white flesh. Tomorrow is a 10th day.
MON SEP 28
Russian black tea, a slice of toast with peanut butter. Wet but not strictly raining, we pulled and stapled wire inside the moon block and cleaned up. Andy asked for help moving a new woodstove into the Khenpos retreat cabin. Driving up from Tennessee, M showed before lunch and hard rain fell. Lunch was corn on the cob, pasta with tomato sauce. Conversation touched on the origins of life in a way that had me ask, "So what exactly are you looking for, God? Buddhism sort of assumes that life is inherent in the manifest cosmos and does not need to be added to it by outside agency, no?" Explained redshift and Amanda's eyebrow was attentive to the amazing fact that amino acids have been found on meteors.
By 3 we are sitting in the gonpa. Khenpos enter and we start with Mipham's Shower of Blessings, switched to Dharmapala practice, then finished with more prayers from the Shower. Ann Helm rose to make a special offering, singing a version of All These Forms, a supplication written by Padmasambhava at the request of Namkha'i Nyingpo, one of his 25 Tibetan disciples. She sang in English to a tune she herself arranged. I later told her I'd recently put the same words to music for our band, and she was delighted. "Hey, you should play it for the Khenps when they come to Tennessee. Maybe it will become 'a thing!'"
There was roast beef on the ts'ok table as well as sweet grapes, breads, chocolate tort, figs, fresh dates and gourmet cookies. Serge and wife hint that they may be coming to Padma Gochen Ling in Tennessee for the upcoming Vajrakilaya retreat if they can get the money together. Serge lived as a young boy in Mongolia. I told him his work was beautiful; he replied that ours was too. Fantastic clouds and blessing showers blew in as we stood on the porch out front of the temple. We said goodbye to Wes and Maya who were leaving for FL before tossing Frisbee with S and then heading off to the rock with brother D in tow. On the way back to our room, I mentioned returning to the world after having been to the mountain, and D says, "Yes, we need to see what can to do to support ourselves." Is that what we need to do? Strange take I thought, especially coming from one who is almost sixty and independently wealthy. Fell asleep listening to a CD of Jeffrey Hopkins speaking about emptiness.
TUE SEP 29
Russian black tea with peanut butter on toast. D left early as planned, to visit an elderly Aunt who lives nearby. Almost threw my back out before the day even began moving sheetrock alone. Later heard that Ani had busted a toe and fractured others when she dropped a sheet on herself. Rocked the sun gate with M, started soffets of the moon gate but rain returned us to sheetrock. Two very nice local guys, Jim and Pat, are doing the electrical work. Jim knows Robert Rifle, Thomas Collier and others who comprised the old Franklin Farm, once a satellite of the mother ship in Tennessee. Jim says, "Hey can I ask you something? Are Buddhists vegetarians?" I reply, "Great question Jim." And give him an earful of strong opinions about the first pratimoksha precept. S sees in Jim a chubby version of the Yes's Jon Anderson.
I suspended my vegan habit to partake of fresh yogurt made by Khenchen Palden at lunch. We pondered Do Khyentse's claim of being able to secure auspicious rebirths for any slaughtered animals he eats. Drakpa was cautious. I laughed aloud. After a full day's labor, we loaded the tools up in an orderly fashion as we are finished with carpentry. Walking off at days end we again carried plastic buckets to sit on so as to avoid the wet grass on the edge of the field. We huddled under the prayer flags and watched the moon, the temple aglow on the hill as we pondered our relationship with this mandala. Andy stopped by and talked about arranging a goodbye meal for tomorrow which sounded good but would never happen. D made it back safely from his Auntie after dark. He is now snoring loudly after doing his evening stretch routine, semi-naked (spare us) and taking his blood pressure.
WED SEP 30
More Russian tea and peanut butter on toast. Wet and cold out there; haven't crapped in days. Sheetrocking the sun and installing door hardware before moving west to the moon gate where D was busy insulating. Ani came with tea and banana bread in the morning, coffee and cookies in the afternoon. Make that green tea for M, please. Brown rice, squash for lunch. As we had arranged, at 4 we head down to the Medicine Buddha Temple to photograph the stained glass Buddhas with Ani and Drakpa. Two of these were put together by Padma Tenkar many years ago and she has asked me to take some photos. M stayed behind to paint soffets. Truck will not start; nights are too cold and glow plugs are not sufficient. Finished screwing rock and mudding the sun gate with S before heading out toward the wrap and roll haystacks with M. Cold but our last night here so we linger and work praises toward the Triple Gem. M talks about organizing a fundraiser in Nashvegas and wonders if our band would play.
THU SEP 31
Cut and hung sheetrock in both sun and moon gates. Diesel still too cold to start. We make fire, place pan of coals under the block, skirting the truck with plywood scraps to concentrate the heat.
Before departing, we are again invited into the Khenpos living room and served coffee, lauded, showered with gifts and insistence that we attend the upcoming Vajrakilaya retreat in Tennessee without worrying about money which due to poverty, principle and politics has been something of an issue in the past. I realize that the Khenpos have gracefully magnetized us back into the mandala. For over 15 years members of Turtle Hill Sangha have served as cooks, crew and umdze at spring and fall retreats. All of that changed when Madame X came to prominence. Our absence had become predictable in recent years. Now that she was on her way out, we have been invited back in, by the Khenpos themselves.
Spent night at Wolf's Gap
FRI OCT 1
An early morning walk up the trail that leads to Tibbets Knob with great views high above the Shenandoah Valley. Late in the day, D slips in a haunting tune by Eliza Gilckyson
beautiful world circling infinitely
fragment of sun marbled in blue
turning in time and tuned like a symphony
beautiful stars beautiful view
beautiful world intricate web of design
shadow and light playing out on the land
billions of years come down to a point in time
setting the stage for the folly of man