My First Puja! – Pema Choling Monastery, Everest Region, Nepal

Pema Choling Monastery, Nepal
Pema Choling Monastery – Everest Region, Nepal

Filling in the gaps; the posts that weren’t posted…

Tuesday June 3rd 2014 

“Meditation is bringing the mind back home, and this is first achieved through mindfulness…Once an old woman came to the Buddha and asked him how to meditate. He told her to remain aware of every movement of her hands as she drew water from the well, knowing that if she did, she would soon find herself in that state of alert and spacious calm that is meditation.” -Sogyal Rinpoche from “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”.

On a bright sunny day, the new volunteer and I spent 2 ½ hours climbing the steep hill to the monastery. When we arrived, we found the place in a state of busy commotion. Sherpa women had taken over the kitchen while Cook and many of the other monks were busy working around the grounds. The monastery had begun to prepare for their visit from the high lama, which marks the beginning of the Dumje Festival. The High Lama Dagri Rinpoche, travels to all the monasteries in the region during the summer; the Dumje Festival follows him and takes place wherever he is.

Tired from our climb, we headed to the kitchen and set our things down. Almost immediately, there was in front of us, the bottomless cup of milk tea we’d come to love. In this region, it’s everywhere, and it is not uncommon to have drunk 6 cups before lunch. It was midday and the drums, chanting, and bells of puja (prayer) could be heard on the mountaintop. Normally, puja only takes place in the early morning and in the evening, but today, practice has started in preparation of the festival.

Curious, we hung in the doorway trying to see what was happening in the sacred prayer room, when the Sherpa woman in charge invited us in. What a huge honor! We were now right in the middle of a very special puja session with all the senior monks, a few nuns from a nearby monastery, and a select few young monks. We were ecstatic to be allowed to participate. As we joined the monks, we took up the lotus position on the long low benches that ran the perimeter of the room. The air was thick with incense and the very low monotone chanting of the monks. Bright colored cloths covered the walls and ceiling, and were accompanied by many pictures of lamas wrapped in prayer scarves called katas. On the back wall sat a huge gold statue of the Buddha in lotus position. He took up the majority of the wall from floor to ceiling and was surrounded by incense, flowers, milk tea, pictures of high lamas, katas, and offerings of food and drink. As the monks chanted mantras, the Sherpa women would come in, get on their knees, slide their hands forward on the ground until they were lying down, rise, and repeat. Then they would come and pour steaming milk tea in everyone’s cup.

I was told when it comes to monastic life, some monks put all their effort into becoming enlightened beings, while others spend the majority of their time doing chores and helping around the grounds. I knew immediately which of my young monks were following the path of the Buddha, and it was an absolute honor to be allowed to participate in the rituals of those actively seeking enlightenment. As we sat cross-legged I remembered that this was the chosen position because it is considered rude to point your feet at people, and especially at the Buddha or the pictures of the Dalai Lama and other lamas. Despite the pain in my hips, I was able to center myself and do some meditation. What an incredible experience to get control of the mind and thoughts, and meditate in the midst of these Holy Beings in their best form, chanting mantras that have existed for thousands of years! Every hit of the gong and drums shook the thin air to vibration, and the rays of sunlight seemed to beam brighter as they made their way through the old dusty windows, the lingering smoke of incense, and the steam of the ever-present milk tea. Even an outsider stifled by ignorance could feel the sacred abundance of life and ritual here.

Hike to Pema Choling Monastery, Everest Region, Nepal
Prayer flags and stones on the hike to Pema Choling Monastery, Everest Region, Nepal

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