By Lin Lee
Nepal Pilgrimage 2008
Lin and her husband Roland were very new to Kechara House when they came on the pilgrimage. As friends of Liaisons Ngeow and Yoke Fui, they had been introduced to Dharma before, but this would prove a totally new “holiday” experience for Lin. Though she fell ill during the trip, Lin’s spirits were always high and she quickly became a part of our big family. Here are her fondest memories of the trip.
When my friend Yoke Fui approached me about going on a pilgrimage to Nepal, I told her flatly, without hesitation, “No way, my maid is away for Hari Raya and none of my friends will want to keep my Rottweiler because he is too fierce!”
Yoke Fui replied, “Are you going to let your dog get in your way of Enlightenment?” When she put it that way, my husband Roland and I knew that we had to find a way to make the trip. So we sent our dog to Universiti Putra’s Animal Hospital and begged them to board our dog as well as provide him a full medical!!
It wasn’t easy but we finally found a way to make the trip to Nepal even though we only had three days to organise the visas, tickets, accommodation, board our dog, organise security for our house, reorganise our work schedules and commitments etc.
When we left for Nepal, I was feeling both excited and yet apprehensive because unlike our previous trips overseas, we knew that this was not a holiday and not having been on a pilgrimage before, we did not know what to expect.
Kathmandu was an assault on my senses and perception. Having only seen pictures of a landscape of pristine mountains, Kathmandu’s chaotic traffic system and Thamel’s mountains of rubbish everywhere was not what I expected at all.
The next few days was a rush of visiting temples and religious sites with names that I still have difficulty pronouncing. I will not get into the details of the different locations we visited because my husband has already covered that in his brief. For me, it was the wash of emotions we felt at some of the places that I want to touch upon.
Climbing up the 480 steps during the night towards the Vajrayogini chapel at the Sangku Monastery, having only moonlight and the light from a tiny torch, panting, wheezing and hyperventilating, trying not to pass out and yet having to hurry as I was the last one going up in my group, was quite an experience. Now I must tell you this, in my younger days, I have trekked with my husband and two sons on the Milford Track in the South Island of New Zealand, so I am no stranger to climbing up a hill. But at night, with a whole group of dedicated pilgrims, chanting: that was a new experience.
But what touched me the most was the care and concern shown by my fellow pilgrims, waiting for me while I huffed and puffed my way up. Telling me to watch my step, take it easy, take my time. When we got to the top, it was a sense of achievement, fulfillment. But most of all, the awe and the beauty of the temple. It was dark with a little moonlight and there was a surreal feeling, with the cool mountain air and the beauty of the temple buildings which were faintly illuminated by our torches. It was indeed an indescribable feeling.
The best part was, there was no fear!! Why fear, you may ask?!! Because I am terrified of the dark, of snakes, etc. But with Rinpoche there and my fellow pilgrims, there was only a sense of peace and quiet (A miracle in itself when there were over 60 of us!! ). Then came the magical part – praying and chanting in a temple dedicated to the emanation of Vajrayogini, which is not easily available to the general public but kept in a chapel located above the sleeping quarters of the monks.
My next great hype also involved climbing steps. At that time I did wonder why H.E. Tsem Rinpoche liked steps so much, especially at night!! This time we climbed down a steep gully to a river embankment. I do not know how many steps there were to the caves of the enlightened beings, Naropa and Tilopa, which were small and hidden away, but again, the setting was awesome, dark, with the sound of the river gushing by. In the distance we could see a beautiful Hindu temple, with torches and Nepalese dancers, drums beating, smoke and fire. It could have been a prayer session or a cremation, for all we know, but it sure looked like a scene from a Hollywood movie set, like “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Kathmandu”. Again I digress!
The awesome bit was not Indiana Jones, nor a bunch of people climbing down steps trying not to fall into a steep ravine, but the blessings Rinpoche gave to each and everyone of us, customising his blessings to each individual. All these done in Naropa’s cave – a cave that can hardly hold three people. I felt so blessed to be given an opportunity to be in such a holy location and to have Rinpoche bless us.
It was late, we were tired and hungry and yet every one of us, I am sure, appreciated the magical significance of the moment. I thought to myself, if we were hungry and tired, how much more hungry, thirsty, and tired Rinpoche must have been. Don’t get me wrong! I am not trying to “kiss his …. (another word for donkey)” – but our Rinpoche had to deal with blessing all of us individually and there were 60 of us! He must have been thirsty!!
Jokes aside, I realised how wonderful he is and how much he cared for us. He could have just said, “Okay folks, those are the caves ….. let’s chant together and then go home to get some dinner and rest.” But instead, we had individual blessings and then a “photo moment” for each of us.
Having gone into great detail about those two events, this does not belittle all the other places we visited. They were all magic! And so very meaningful with Rinpoche showing the way, explaining and praying with and for us.
If we had gone to Nepal as visitors, it would have been just another trip of looking here and there, visiting a few monasteries, a shrine or two, making some donations or offering a khata. But having gone on a pilgrimage, with fellow pilgrims (whom, if I may add are a wonderful, caring and colourful group of people), it was an experience that can count as one of the highlights of my life.
I have water skied, snow skied, scuba dived, sailed the high seas and done many things, but there comes a time in one’s life when it’s not about holidays, excitement, new experiences. It’s about one’s spiritual growth and development. I do not know if I have started my journey, about to start, or even not started at all. But all I can say is that I hope this will help kick start something wonderful in me, for me and hopefully even be a catalyst for me to do something for others. But then again that’s another story.
Last but not least, a big thank you to Tsem Rinpoche for making this pilgrimage possible, funny and oh so very different. To Julia for her sweetness and kindness – holding our hands and helping us carry our knapsacks up steep ascents. To Ngeow Voon Chin for his endless patience in explaining the Dharma! To Yoke Fui for her friendship and counseling, liberally sprinkled with inscrutable looks! To Annette, JP, Su Ming, Paul, James, Tat Ming, Jamie, Susan, Ruby and many others from the Ladrang and various departments, hug, hug, kiss, kiss.