A VIP MONK
|Norbu and I|
On the last day of Losar, my monk friend, Norbu, took the initiative to give me one last tour of their home Village, Gangtey, during the day while Sonam was busy. I was so thrilled that I had Norbu to take me under his wing because I quickly realized that “My Norbu” (when I call him “My Norbu,” he blushes) was like the “it guy” of the village. I chuckled watching Norbu stroll down his village because he looked like VIP status in the monk world; everyone who saw him coming along were so eager to greet him and he always had someone to introduce me to. Furthermore, whenever I would say, “Norbu can you get me into there or can we do this…” he would joke with me by saying “with Norbu anything is possible.” The way I was galloping behind Norbu following him into beautiful Buddhist institutions that I couldn’t see myself being invited into without him, made me giggle thinking that there was such a thing as a VIP monk. However, Norbu is extremely humble and it would never occur to him that one would perceive him as a VIP monk.
THE UNIVERSE MOVES YOU ON…
Once the afternoon was over, we all gathered at Sonam’s mother’s house to say our goodbyes. I felt a little sad to leave Gangtey Village behind because I had quickly bonded with Sonam’s family and I had somehow planted a little bit of my soul in the valley of million dollar views, but I knew that this was just another aspect of life. Just when you start to feel all comfortable, the universe moves you on. I gave everyone a hug goodbye while saying kadrinchela (thank you) a hundred times. My eyes grew a little teary wondering if I would ever see them again. Losar is a time you spend with your loved ones and they had warm heartedly made me felt like I was part of their family. I didn’t speak Dzongkha and some of them didn’t speak English, but I had somehow made them laugh and we communicated through many different ways. It’s amazing how when your heart is fully open, you can make connections with others in a very short period of time. A genuine smile is not just a smile, but it’s a message of a thousand kind words. A bowl of rice topped with ezay (chili) is not just food, but it’s a gesture of care and generosity. I felt gratitude towards Sonam for sharing her family with me and I managed to let the universe take its course without the teardrops.
|Sonam's Mini Car|
As we got ready to jump into the car to leave, I was surprised to discover that we had two new people coming back with us to Chumey Village: Sonam’s monk brother, Dorji, was coming for a week visit and her niece, Dawa, was coming to live with Sonam while Dawa attended high school in Chumey. I tried to look like the extra load of passengers was no big deal as I was thinking, what? Is Sonam playing a joke on me? How are six people going to fit in Sonam’s mini car with all the bags? I’m so embarrassed that I brought the most luggage. Why did I pack so much? We can’t see out the back window. This is going to be a long 5 hours. However, we managed just fine with myself, Sonam, Dawa and little Jimmy spread across our laps in the back seat. I was so grateful for the adventure that I didn’t mind being sandwiched or the over spilling luggage from the trunk that would fall on my head. Monk Norbu did his best driving carefully while Monk Dorji sat shotgun with more luggage. The squishy car ride was actually a lot of fun filled with laughter. Everyone sang along to trendy Bhutanese music and I joined in by humming the melodies. Now I laugh at my initial thoughts because I realize that if one of those five people wouldn’t have been in that car on the drive back, then the road trip wouldn’t have been the same fun memory.
THE KHENCHEN’S ADVICE: Be Humble, Compassionate and Friendly
|Four of us in the back seat: Tea and cookies|
On the way home, we got stuck in an hour roadblock along with every other car that was heading west. The roadblocks can be found throughout Bhutan because its widening parts of their narrowest roads. So on the side of the road, we ate cookies and drank tea that Sonam’s mother had packed for us. Then we walked around the road to stretch our cramped legs. As I was people watching and filming the action of the roadwork, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of monks around and after being surrounded by monks for the last three days, this had become my new norm. However, when I Sonam and the others saying hello to a group of monks, one particular monk grabbed my attention like a rare pink diamond. I immediately felt compelled to move in his direction; he was a magnet pulling me closer. Although he looked like any other monk, I couldn’t take my eyes off his face as I studied every single feature: round bald head that was neatly wrapped in a burgundy cloth, pale slightly aged skin, high check bones, almond shaped eyes and big, beautiful pink lips. Then when he said hello to me, the kindness in his voice memorized me even more than his loving face and I was fully captivated by his presence.
As I basked in his aura, I had a knowing that this was no ordinary monk. I thought, what is it that is so extraordinary about this monk? There was something about him that was so friendly, gentle, enthusiastic, loving and every other positive emotion in this world. I immediately felt an urge to ask him a million questions because I sensed that within him lay the answers to all the things I often enquiry about life: What is the meaning of life? Why do people die? What does every human being need to know? etc. I found myself scooting closer and closer to him and I thought, his energy feels so amazing! Is this what it feels like to be in the presence of a divine soul? I have read about how some people experience a natural high, an increased level of consciousness or are even brought to joyful tears when they are in the presence of Gurus or enlightened people, but I had never known what that felt like until I met him.
By now I couldn’t take it anymore and I whispered to Sonam, “Who is this guy and how do you know him? He seems so unique.”
She whispered back, “He is a Khenchen and I know him because he used to be the principal in the
Buddhist institution in my village...”
Completely clueless I asked, “What’s a Khenchen?”
“A Khenchen is a big title for a monk. Very important! It’s like higher than a doctorate degree…” She responded in the faintest voice that I decided not to ask any more questions until later.
My desire to plunge into the Khenchen’s wisdom and pick apart his brain must have been so intense because eventually he couldn’t ignore my radar eyes and smile that screamed “talk to me please.” Finally, he turned his attention to me and asked me how I felt in Bhutan and if I felt like an alien being in another country. I admitted that sometimes I felt a little alien-like because at the time I was still getting use to squatter toilets, bucket baths and no freeways. I also highlighted that being an “alien” was great because I was experiencing beauty with fresh new eyes.
Since the Khenchen asked me a question, I jumped on the opportunity to ask him a question about life in general. I asked him if he could say one thing about life, what great advice could he give me. In the most sincere voice he said that the best advice that he could give me was to be humble, compassionate and friendly with everyone. I was so giggly and joyful to receive the simplest advice from a wise soul that I gave the Khenchen a big hug joking that I had friendly and compassionate down; two out of three. Then feeling a little guilty, I admitted that I needed to work on being more humble and letting go of the ego. It was something that hadn’t crossed my mind in a long time and so now this was going to be my new quality that I was going to work on while in Bhutan.
Furthermore, the Khenchen turned the tables on me and asked me to give him some advice about life. So to add some humor before my real advice cam pouring through, I jokingly advised him to give up doma. Doma is a beetle nut wrapped in beetle leaves with lime, which is like the chewing gum of Bhutan. My Bhutanese friends say that it keeps them warm and it’s really addicting. The thought of the Khenchen, giving up his beloved doma was hysterical and it was one of those moments you had to be there in order to join in some hard laughter. However, after the laughter died down, I gave him my “real” heartfelt advice. I didn’t give him advice about what I had read or what others had preached to me. Instead I shared with him what I was consciously going through during that particular time in my life. From the rawest part of my heart, I said, “My real advice to you is what I am learning, which is to go with the flow; the flow of life. To go where life takes you on your journey. And not fight it or have fear and get stressed out. To just go with the flow!” The Khenchen said that this was one of the teachings of the Buddha and I claimed that I was a Buddhist at heart. Then Sonam predicted that I would go back to America as a Buddhist and we all laughed.
|My Beloved Picture with the Khenchen|
Then we all ran back to our cars to partake in the mad race of getting on the road first and leaving the other cars in the dust. However, my “need” to take a picture with the Khenchen’s kind face made our car lose as well as all the other cars that couldn’t fit around us. Since the roads are not that wide yet, we ended up in a frantic traffic jam with the on coming cars that were on the other side of the roadblock. It was like a disorganized game of random honking and who could inch the closest between our car and the edge of the cliff. Now I understood why everyone was running; they wanted to be the first out so they wouldn’t get stuck in an inevitable jam. Whoops! Sorry! (It’s my favorite picture though.)
Once we got through the traffic jam, I found myself still in awe with the presence of the Khenchen. I spent some time looking out the window thinking about what I had experienced upon meeting the Khenchen. I thought a lot about how some people give off a spark of loving energy that made others feel tingly and made everyone want to be around them. I wondered how I could constantly cultivate that loving energy to be more like the Khenchen; to make others feel good in ones presence with or without words. I thought about how important it was for teachers to have this type of energy that made their students want to huddle around them to learn from them. So I silently repeated in my head…be humble, compassionate, friendly, be humble, compassionate, friendly…