Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Snow day

Obscured by clouds
Leh, Ladakh

The sun didn't rise yesterday. At least, that's what it looked and felt like. Complete, opaque, Liquid Paper impenetrable white sky.

Yesterday was also the Day After New Year's Day here. January 2nd is depressing pretty much anywhere, and Ladakh is no different. Most of the stores were still shut, the streets largely empty. Only a few people dropped by the house for Losar; the majority of them had visited on Dec. 10, the actual traditonal Ladakhi new year. (I get to celebrate three or four different new years over here. Newar New Year in Nepal is in October; then Ladakhi Losar, then "English New Year"; then Tibetan Losar in February; then Tamil and Hindu New Year in April.)

It was so bitterly cold I almost didn't leave the house at all. It was much more comforting just sitting in the kitchen in front of the gas heater with Dolkar. She had to make butter tea all day long for the past 2 days, for the Losar guests. I helped out by washing dishes and trying to keep the dining hall neat and clean.

However, the trade-off for all this bitter cold was SNOW - my first ever Indian snowfall. By the time I arrived home around 6.30pm, snow was falling like confetti on New Year, strangely appropriate.

In the morning, we were greeted with a Winter Wonderland. No more than a centimeter or 2 of snow...but it blanketed everything. Best of all, we were treated to a generous day of sunshine. The perfect combination - snow on the ground, sun in the sky.

Born again
Since the sun decided to show today, it was the perfect day to embark on the last leg of this particular Ladakh mission: taking the bus out to Spituk Gompa just outside town (nestled between a military air base and a bunch of other military posts). I am on the trail of a newly incarnated Rinpoche, or high Tibetan lama who has chosen to reincarnate in a particular place and time in order to help "all sentient beings."

In this case, it's particularly to help all Ladakhi sentient beings. The Lama in question is Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, who "left his body" only two years ago. Bakula, in addition to being a member of the royal family, an incarnate lama and a Geshe Lharampa educated in pre-invasion Tibet, was also prominent diplomat (he became the Indian Ambassador to Mongolia), educator, social reformer, and philanthropist. Bakula is practically worshipped as a god among many Ladakhis. His photo (with prominent brow, eyes and ears a great deal like Yoda or ET) peers down from many a Ladakhi shop counter and vehicle dashboard.

Like a lot of high lamas in Buddhist dominated areas, he got involved in politics as well. In addition to being worshipped and admired he definitely had his detractors. That bit doesn't overly concern me, though. I am interested in the process of Operation Tulku Search - finding the newly incarnated lama.

Spituk Gompa was one of the "home" monasteries of Bakula Rinpoche. As I got off the mini-bus, I noticed the government street sign was spelt "Spithup Gompa."

There appeared to be absolutely no one home. After fifteen minutes of walking around empty corridors yelling "Jullay? Azhang-le? Acho-le??" a monk carrying a tea tray spotted me. I had been directed to Lama Kanchen Sonam.

When I found Kanchen Sonam, he insisted his English was no good and I should actually speak with someone in the nearby village of Sabu.

But I persisted, and after dropping a few key words of Buddhist jargon that showed I knew more than the average tourist, he invited me in for tea and biscuits. We ended up having a long conversation (somehow, despite language differences) about Bakula's significance and life works. Kanchen was only 12 when he first came to Spituk some 15 years ago. Obviously Kanchen had known and looked up to Bakula all his life. "All people of Ladakh now are praying," he said, " for Bakula to come quickly."

I wanted to know: what exactly will they do to find the new Rinpoche? I know they had done some pujas. Will they use an oracle? Meditate, examine their dreams? When will they begin the search from house to house? How will they know where to start?

Kanchen said the Dalai Lama was consulted during his summer visit here. It was somehow determined that the new Rinpoche had already taken birth, somewhere here in Ladakh. There was a bit of controversy because the people of Mongolia, who also remember him so fondly, had insisted he would be reborn there.

Because he talked to me for so long, Kanchen was late to say his 4pm prayers. So, I had to help him empty and refill the offering bowls for afternoon worship. As if to discourage me from snooping around the gompa while he prayed, the electric lights went out promptly as he started chanting.

I caught a late bus back home to Leh. Kanchen and I are meeting tomorrow to consult with someone at the Central Institute for Buddhist Higher Studies about reincarnation. Someone who "has full English."


Linda (Sama) said...

very cool!

Madhukar said...

Very informative writings.
I am addicted to your blog now.

You were flying out of Leh on 12th, weren't you?