I am walking up the mountain, retracing my steps back to the retreat land above Tushita. I was here three years ago but today it seems like no time has passed at all. I feel like I remember each step, each curve in the road, each ascending grade. Even some of the stones under my feet feel familiar as they jab through the soles of my boots.
The trees are thick with prayer flags and so I know I’m getting close. The road ends and becomes nothing more than a footpath. I follow it, my breath and blood quicken. I see the first of the meditation huts and remember the story.
This is a holy place. Meditators have been coming here for decades. They’ve built little houses out of rough cut stone by hand, just like Milarepa. There’s no electricity or running water yet some of these practitioners spend years up here. Some of them spend their lives.
There are about two dozen huts scattered through the trees. There is no movement or sound coming from any of them. I walk through the grove in silent wonder. How could it be that people choose this way of life? It seems so at odds with our usual goals of heaping things and accomplishments up like glass marbles on a playground.
But this is the meaning of renunciation. This is the fruition of what we Buddhists call the Precious Human Life.
I make a stop at the first stupa, a small monument to the path of enlightenment, up above the retreat houses. It’s not far. A short flight of stone steps and I’m there. This one holds some of the remains of Yeshe Tobden Rinpoche, a great yogi who meditated here for thirty years until his death in 1999. As he died he remained in meditative equipoise for the whole time and it’s said that he stayed in that state for many days after that.
This is the kind of thing that I’ve come to take on faith and when you stand next to a monument like this and feel it for yourself, you don’t need any more proof. You just feel it in your bones.
In our western culture of “just the facts please”, we don’t see the value in this kind of thing. We discount it as superstition or backwards thinking. But here’s what it comes down to. Just because we can’t see something or touch it or feel it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.
Right now the world is so confused. Confusion swirls around the globe like a dark and menacing cloud. There is so much desire, grasping and fear that it permeates even the air we breathe.
But not here. Not in this place. In this place there is sanity. In this place there is clarity. In this place there is indiscriminant compassion and love.
I make my way down to take a seat next to the second stupa. This one is dedicated to Tirjhang Rinpoche, the former tutor of the His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It’s not that I have some kind of profound experience or insight, but as I sit and just breathe, my mind becomes still. A gap opens up in my thoughts and it seems that all my petty fears and worries just evaporate into thin air.
You see, this is the energy that is being gathered here. Clarity, love, equanimity and I can almost see these qualities as they spread out across the globe, spreading out to the minds and hearts of all sentient beings.
As I get up to leave, I take a good look around. My body tingles as I think that the men and women who have chosen to live their lives this way are truly bodhisattvas, spiritual heroes. They have decided to face the real enemies of suffering and unhappiness: the delusions of the mind. This is the true act of heroism.
I feel completely fulfilled as I walk out of the grove and back to the path. I know that this moment won’t last but I also know that I will always be able to look back on it. And when I do I will find inspiration and strength just knowing that this place and these people exist.