And then.....

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bhutan Paro Dzong, Monk Pemjor

Ugyen's friend and the monk who is the master of art at the Paro Dzong, Sonam Pemjor, kindly invited me into his cell. As described below it was his living quarters and - although small- with it's massive window overlooking the entire valley below, the space was also a worthy art studio. At the time Monk Pemjor was working on a very large large painting but interrupted his work to paint a vajra symbol on my vest.

You will see in the first frame the entrance to the room. I was struck by the combination of austerity and beauty. I hope you can perceive the quiet as well.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bhutan - Ugyen

Meet my friend, Ugyen. Ugyen was once a monk and is now married, has a little girl and is living in Thimphu. Ugyen is also quite a fine photographer. A good bit of the time in Bhutan I was traveling with him*. Ugyen is THE reason that I was able to go into the Punakha and Paro Dzongs before hours. Furthermore, it is Ugyen that managed to get me invited into the rooms of two monks, both good friends of his, to take pictures.
One room was not so much a monk's cell as a small but beautiful art studio cum bed and stove belonging to the monk in charge of the creation of fine art painting in the Paro Dzong. You will meet this most talented monk and friend of Ugyen's next.

* I do love to say I traveled Bhutan with an ex-monk!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bhutan - Auspicious Days

Bhatunese, as they practice, believe in giving hope, joy, faith and convenience to others.
- Living the Bhutanese Way by Tshering C. Dorji and Rinchen Dorji

In meeting the woman above I felt a clear and immediate effect from her practice. Perhaps you will perceive, in the above picture, her serenity and wisdom and perhaps it will touch you too.

Bhutan - Auspicious Days

Buddha has said that ignorance is the root cause of all the suffering. It is like a darkness. Therefore, the lamp which dispels the darkness is used as the symbol of wisdom in removing ignorance.
-Living the Bhutanese Way by Tshering C. Dorji and Rinchen Dorji
Above you see the butter lamp offering seen at all temples.

bhutan - Auspicious Days

At the second temple, a much larger structure situated on a hilltop overlooking Thimphu, I was able to see, at once, many different ways of religious ritual that are so important to Bhutanese culture. Above you see circumambulating and the turning of prayer wheels. A prayer is offered with each turn. You will also see the site for the daily water bowl offering as mentioned below.
You see too that people carry their rosaries ( Chengm). The rosary contains 108 beads which are divided into four sections of 27 beads. The thread which strings all of the beads together is believed to represent the strength of the Buddha's teachings.
It may be difficult for westerners to understand religion as culture but, in Bhutan, not only is there no separation of church and state as we know it but there is also no separation of church and daily life. Hence, the daily religious rituals, prayers and offerings are intergrated aspects of social structure, law, art and, to a degree, science.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bhutan - Auspicious Days

Before leaving the little temple, here are two of the ladies I met there. They were commenting on their picture, how they looked laughing. Ah, the joys of digi!

Bhutan - Auspicious Days

While visiting the small temple, my friend, Ugyen, found this beautiful musical instrument in a corner. He immediately began playing serene and haunting melodys on it. At the time of his playing, the lama and I were the only ones inside the temple. You may see here that the lama was somewhat transported by the music and the moment. I was as well but took my camera along for the ride!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bhutan - Auspicious Days

Bhutan - Auspicious Days

Remember this lovely lady? If not, scroll down to July. She and her friends were joyful highlights of this visit to the small temple.

Bhutan - Auspicious Days

The first of two temples that I visited on this particular auspicious day was quite small and the few people gathered there seemed to know one another. They appeared to have a communion of sorts while sitting around the exterior of the building. I was definitely the odd gal out in my jeans and bright, wild hair and strewn with cameras but, nevertheless, folks were warm and welcoming. Indeed, it might have been my very presence that gave this man cause for a good chuckle.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bhutan - Auspicious Days

Here is one of the women that I met outside the temple on the auspicious day. More to follow!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Bhutan - Auspicious Days

The very kind lama mentioned below asked that his picture be taken. The above is what I will send to him along with pictures of the people I met that day. I trust the lama will be able to distribute the prints and rather think that he will. The people I met appeared to be, in addition to most devout, very at home at that particular temple.

Bhutan - Auspicious Days

Throughout the calendar year in Bhutan there are days that are deemed auspicious for Buddhists to gain merit. Visiting and circumabulating the shrine and making prostrations before the statues and images of Buddhas are two ways of respecting this day. While the prostrations may seem like idol worhip to some westerners, in fact, these actions are made in gratitude to the Buddhas for their many virtues and gifts to all beings.

Regarding prostrations and circumambulations:
Prostrations and circumambulations are humble expressions of respect and appreciation for the Buddha, religious teachers and structures. Therefore, in prostrating before the Buddha and circumambulating around any religious structures, we are also reminded of our own Buddha nature. We humbly examine our mind, and renew our vow to remove any obstacles from our mind and life which prevent us from becoming a fully enlightened Buddha.
- Living the Bhutanese Way by Tshering C. Dorji, Rinchen Dorji

I was fortunate in being able to visit two different temples in Thimphu on one of these days. I was more than fortunate in one to be invited by the lama in attendance to come inside the shrine and allowed to take pictures.
The lama in his setting is pictured above.
I also met on that day some very lovely people outside the temples that I would like to introduce you to next.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bhutan -Happiness

Here is my friend, Sangay. ( Sangay is quoted below as he writes about the importance of home altars in Bhutan )
Sangay, in addition to being a published writer - his book is SEEING WITH THE THIRD EYE, Growing up with Angay in Rural Bhutan - is a fine tourist guide. HIs company is Etho- Metho Tours in Thimphu, Bhutan.

When asked: What makes you happy? Sangay wrote the following:

My philosophy is that I look at life the way I look at a coin. If one can understand both sides of the coin, then the coin is not a coin at all. Just like the coin, we have the two sides in life. One side is the ' Self ' and the other side is 'Other'.
To achieve happiness or harmony, we need to understand both the sides of life.
For me, I opted to understand the 'Others' rather than pursuing more on the 'Self'.
Understanding and working for 'Others' makes my own ' Self' a better being.
One may argue that 'Self' search is more important but my point is that the goodness of the 'Self'' is radiated from the 'Other'.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bhutan - Buddhism, Home Altars

While this post is titled Home Altars, the above is not actually in a home but in a former palace that is now hotel. It is, nevertheless, similar in ornamentation and prominence to altars I saw in homes, even simple farm homes.
The altars like this one are found in a separate room that serves the family as a place for daily reverance and, as has recently been explained to me, a place of quiet.
The above, Gantay Palace, is the place of quiet for the present owner, Pemba Tshering, who a lovely man and devout Buddhist.
His mouth and nose are covered as he does the daily water bowl ceremony as one's breath on the vessels at the time of the ceremony is considered irreverant. The ceremony consists of careful pouring of water and, in this case, a special wine into the small bowls.
Another facet of daily worship is the reading of the sacred text. When not in use the text is carefully displayed, as in the 2nd picture, or wrapped in a special cloth specific to that purpose.
When asked the question: What makes you happy? Mr. Tshering answered: I like everything but mostly I like being a Bhuddhist and practicing Buddhism. And also playing is part of my joy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bhutan - Buddhism, Home Altars

A significant feature of GNH is the preservation of the Bhutanese culture. Buddhism is a vital facet of the culture of Bhutan, not only as the country's predominant religion but also as a way of life. Evidence of the dailyness of Buddhism in the lives of most Bhutanese is the place set aside in every home for worship.
Here you see an example of a range of altars. To Bhutanese the size of a home altar, grand or small, does not matter. Daily worship and dedication to living one's life for the benefit of all sentient beings is what is important .

My friend, Sangay Wangchuck has written the following about altars:

An altar for a Bhutanese Buddhist is one of the ways that the
parents bring the children in line with the religion. Young children would
normally be asked to do the daily morning offerings which consists of water
offering, incense and tea offering. Parents would also ask the children to
offer the first harvest on the altar as a mark of gratitude. Even in urbans
like Thimphu, we do the same. We buy fresh fruits, wash them and ask the
children to offer some on the altar before we consume the rest. We have the
elaborate altars in our old homes and in urban areas, rich folks would have
exquisite altars. For common folks even a calendar depicting a deity or a
Buddha would suffice.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bhutan - Happiness

Please meet Rinchen Wangmo, a very lovely girl that I met at the Paro Dzong. When asked "what makes you happy?", she replied: I'm happy when I play games and when I teach sports to others so they will be happy too.
Ringchen was studying to teach athletics and planned to be teaching very soon.
In Bhutan there seems to be a most prevalent desire to help others...AND to play games!

Bhutan - Traditional Medicine

Now that we are actually inside the traditional medicine doctor's office I have to admit to you that I know next to nothing about this form of medical treatment. I can tell you that the doctor was calm, serious and attentive and graciously welcomed me into his small room. As you will see in the second picture, he made a chart available to each patient that appears to elucidate the method of treatment. In the following two pictures the doctor is writing his prescription and making sure that the patient understands what is needed.
For GNH purposes, I would like to point out the importance Bhutanese culture to traditional ways of doing things. Very soon I will introduce you to my friend, Sangay Wangchuck, who has written a fine about the old ways of doing things in Bhutan.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bhutan - Traditional Medicine

When I visited the center for traditional medicine it was early on a Monday morning. There was a sizeable crowd waitng to see the doctor or at the window where they would receive the document for their appointment.

Several people were fingering their prayer beads and others were turning the massive prayer wheels. Prayer beads and turning the prayer wheels, however, are not neccessarily related to illness or medical treatment but rather part of daily life for many Bhutanese. Wherever you are if there is a wheel you turn it, if you have your beads, you use them.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Bhutan - Traditional Medicine

Although I feel quite fine now, perhaps because I have been dealing with some health issues of my own lately, Bhutan's traditional medicine seems fitting for the next topic.
In the capital town of Thimphu I visited a facility for the practice of traditional medicine. Before exploring this approach to medicine any further, I'd like you to meet some people that I encountered. They, along with a good number of others, were waiting for their appointments.
Actually I did not exactly meet the man in the center of the courtyard ( first picture ) but rather looked up and saw him standing there waiting patiently for me to take his picture. Which I did.

Friday, October 05, 2007

My friend, Steve

This blog was created for my friend, Steve - my friend, Photoshop guru and, in so many ways, my inspiration.

Steve, who maintained the e mail signature of Never Give Up, passed on last week after an extroidinarily courageous two and a half years of living with a rapidly progressing form of ALS.

During these years I visited Steve, whenever possible, on the Sausalito houseboat that he built and lived in with his wife, Nancy, and son, Noah. I have strong memories of those visits. Perhaps one of the most affecting memory is of a day early on in the first stages of his being unable to speak. Steve was trying to tell me about something and could not form the words. After several attempts he started laughing. Soon we were both heartily laughing, tears rolling down our cheeks. It was clear to me then, and still is, that we were laughing AT the disease. The equanimity that it took for him to do that will inspire me as long as I live. Indeed, the equanimity that Steve possessed throughout this journey is rare and will not be forgotten by those of us whose lives he touched.

Nancy recently wrote this: his sharp mind and renowned sense of humour remained with him until the end. He left this world as he lived in it, with courage and strength.

When asked what one could do for him, Steve's answer was, in essence: live your life and appreciate it all, savour the simplest things, be aware and grateful for everything. It is my intention to honor my friend by doing this to the best of my ability. I ask you to do the same in honor of a man you never knew but one who had a gift, by his words and example, to give.

In the time of writing this blog I have come to love doing it. I thank Steve for that too. I will continue posting - continuing with Bhutan for a while and then on to what wants to be next - and hope that it remains, for a good long while, a way to connect with you, my family and friends, who read it.
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