In here, there is a different kind of silence. In Sweden it was an absence, an emptiness being asked to be filled with your own thoughts. Here, it is the silence of noise. A mist surrounds this place, hiding the conifers from view. Sometimes, it creeps forward to engulf you. There is a constant hum (some insect I have not been able to place yet) but it is not the soft cricking of the grasshopper that you find in the wilderness of Maharashtra. No, this is persistent, rhythmic almost; unignorable, Dharamsala’s own personal soundtrack.
Children play in this temple. Currently three, right opposite me. They are Tibetan. Their games are easy, the stuff of fantasy and role play (not so different from what we played as children). You do not think of silencing them. Somehow, this quiet seems to require their laughter; the easiness of childhood that senses, perhaps better than us, the simple truths and joys of life. Tsuglagkhang is all about simple truth.
“All Dharmas (existences) are like a reflection, clear, pure, without turbulence, unsiezable and indescribable, purely derived from cause and action without self, nature, without location you. By understanding the Dharmas that way, work for the welfare of sentient beings without compare and you shall be born as the son of the protectors of the Buddhas.” [Quote, as found on the entrance to the stupa, sic].
I find a woman hunched against a pillar in the stupa of the temple. The area is sectioned off; it is in front of a glass encasing of a Buddha statue. True devotees go there to pay their respects. In front of her, a woman worships in the Tibetan way. Steeple hands in the air, descending to touch her face, her chest, then dropping to her knees, to her stomach, until her face is pressed against the floor. Slide back, stand up, and begin again. Next to her, two foreigners (German, it seems) bow their heads in real or faked reverence. This woman does neither. She remains hunched against a pillar, knees curled to her chest, arm draped protectively across them. Her eyes are red. Framed in frameless glasses, they stare at nothing, and I think, what trauma has she seen, what death is she seeking to come to terms with, a pilgrimage to heal her broken insides.
Outside, I close my eyes. Not on the bench directly outside the stupa (a monk sits there and a silver haired woman with rosary beads. I feel I must have some allegiance to Buddhism to deserve a place) but to the side. I think of the time I have to waste, seeking to rid my bones of the itchiness they usually display. (What are you doing? Where are you going?) After a while, I try not to think at all. The air works on me. My bones sink an inch deeper in the package of my skin and I find myself describing the sensation in lyrical terms (package of my skin), trying to slot it into the text of the written word. Don’t think. A scene from some book comes to me; its plot, cover and title lost in the recesses of my mind. It’s about a foreigner, trying to learn meditation. And someone, a guru, telling him how impossible it is for him to pluck every thought from his mind and leave it empty. I remember the phrase: pluck every thought.
Then the man behind, (ancient, lined, Tibetan, hunched outside a closed room full of candles, turning his rosary beads) utters an ‘om’, slow and deep, and the sound touches me to stillness, a calming echo that strikes my heart and lets its reverberations move down my body. I find that I am crying. Pinpricks of tears that stay on the edge of my eyes and don’t cascade. Perhaps that woman suffered no trauma at all. Perhaps she too has been pushed to the edge of feeling by a moment she cannot understand or describe, and she sits, slumped against a pillar, trying to process it. How important our hearts are. Perhaps the intellect is not the highest power that there is, perhaps there is a stronger power than the ability to reason. If Khalil Gibran is right, then our intellect is the rudder that steers our way. But the passion, the heart, is the wind, the beginning of everything. It is what lets us move.
The children are gone. I get up. I have no sense of time here (they have taken my mobile away at the entrance, new procedures since Bodhgaya was bombed. My country breeds these new procedures, each a desperate response to an ungovernable violence). As I leave, I notice a large black tree trunk. It cuts through the floor, and into the level above, passing through that as well to pave a path through the roof of the temple towards the sky. This is not an artistic decoration; the tree is tucked awkwardly into the side of the stairwell. I look around and find numerous such tree trunks peppering the place, each with its own floor and ceiling shaped hole. The temple has been built in between the trees, leaving them untouched, their roots free to curl the earth and their canopy to kiss the heavens