Crimson and saffron robed Tibetan monks shuffled into Shree Gaden Dhargay Ling Monastery and sat cross-legged on brocade cushions stretched in a double row down the center of the hall. Adolescent monks-in-training slid giant drums down the polished parquet floor to their older counterparts, while others took up ancient-looking metal horns that telescoped out to take up half the width of the room. As the monks tuned up their instruments I sat in half-lotus position with my back against the wall, arms stretched out with wrists resting on my knees and thumbs touching forefingers, marveling at the dissonant din.
A split second later, on some silent cue, the cacophony ceased and the monks began throat-singing, a specialized form of chanting that allows them to produce multiple pitches simultaneously. The hair on the back of my neck stood up as their guttural chants, accented by synchronous drumming, ah-ooga horns, crashing cymbals and tinkling bells, swelled to fill the small room. From the tips of my toes to the crown of my head, my entire body vibrated.
During a previous visit to the monastery I had been invited to return for this lama puja, a Tibetan Buddhist ceremony of honor, worship and devotional attention that attempts to replicate the Buddha’s experience of Enlightenment (insight into reality). Many items of a symbolic nature sat upon the altar and were scattered around the monastery, including intricate yak butter sculptures that take months to carve. As water is a necessity of life, seven brass bowls of water were placed on the shrine directly in front of the Buddha to show respect and reverence for life. Because of their short life span, flowers symbolized impermanence and Samsara (the cycle of birth, death and rebirth), candles symbolized enlightenment and the sense of sight, while incense was used to show that Buddhist teachings can be spread across the world just like the fragrance of incense. To show gratitude and the interdependence of all things, fruit was offered. Bells indicated when to begin and end puja but also demonstrated the beliefs of cause and effect and karma.
Closing my eyes, I let the sounds carry me inward to a place of pure peace. Some time later the monks stopped chanting as suddenly as they had begun. They gathered their robes about them and filed silently out the door as I checked the time; four hours had passed in a split second. Untangling my legs, I stood and wobbled for a few minutes while I came fully back into my body, then headed out for the hour-long walk back to Lakeside in Pokhara, floating all the way.