In the fall of 1986, after our small airplane landed in Lukla, Nepal, pointing into a mountain on an upward sloping grass runway, a small group of westerners and I began our trek towards Everest base camp. Winding up the Dudh Kosi (river), crossing on rickety bridges, keeping piles of mani (blessing) stones to our right, we passed and were passed by porters in “Asia’s national shoes” (flip flops), carrying huge loads of wood, food, trekking gear, and countless other everyday objects. Each night Sherpas set up our tents, cooked our dinner, and boiled water for us to put in the bottom of our sleeping beds to warm our feet. In the morning they brought us “bed tea” and cooked our breakfast before we set out for the day. As a long time backpacker who usually did all those chores for myself, I was full of appreciation and gratitude for this almost royal treatment!
One day we camped on a grassy plateau. As my fellow trekkers began a game of frisbee, I wended up the hill to Tengboche, a beautiful stucco and wood Tibetan monastery tucked against the mountain. Deep sonorous chanting, horns, and clanging bells emanated from within. Poking my head through the door, I found a bench just inside on which to sit. One of the monks smiled and nodded, indicating I was welcome to stay.
The sounds were lovely and almost soporific. And, indeed, one of the elderly monks began nodding off. As he dozed, I noticed two boy monks begin to whisper and giggle. Soon they tapped the old monk on the shoulder and indicated it was his turn in the ritual to approach the altar. He got up, started towards the front, and then stopped–clearly it was not in fact his turn. They had shined a light on his lack of mindfulness! I expected him to frown and reprove the boys; instead he laughed and sent an affectionate glance to them as he sat back down.
How graceful it seemed to me to be so non-defensive, nay, even good-humored in the face of what could be public humiliation. Here was another taste of wisdom….
Photos: These young monks lived in a monastery in Thimpu, Bhutan, the first Buddhist country I visited in 1986.