Storm Riding

"To sustain this inner calm will not be easy."
Paul Brunton

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I'm reminded of a brief but powerful moment in Dharamsala, India, home in exile of the Dalai Lama. I was involved in research there and spent considerable time in personal spiritual exploration.

There was a particular temple I'd felt a keen affinity with. Home to an older lama of the ancient Nyingma tradition, the structure itself sits perched precariously atop a craggy cliffside. I grew especially fond of an elderly nun who lived in her own hut nearby; frequently she joined the men in enthusiastic traditional drumming and bell-ringing.

Not without irony in this story, the lama who presided over this rather unconventional monastery was the notorious Tibetan "weather man." Not one who predicted the forces of nature, nothing that simple. This was Lama Yeshi Dorje, one nagpa (simply translated as 'yogi with occult powers') in a long line of practitioners known to literally control the weather. This great skill came in handy during the days of old, when thousands pilgrimaged from hundreds of miles on foot and donkey across the Himalayas to attend teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The respected weather nagpa could clear the snowy, windy skies; His Holiness thus spoke unimpeded low attendance. Have you not noticed how often the skies clear yet today when the Dalai Lama appears in stadiums around the globe?

I wasn't especially drawn to Yeshi Dorje himself; in fact he was frequently away -- on business, I supposed. But I did love going to his monastery. It was quite a hike up the Dhauladur range's mountainside to the top of McLeod Ganj, but hike I did, nearly daily for six months. Sitting with the scruffy monks of Zilnon Kagye Ling, I felt at home, was soon served tea with the merry group while we chanted. And I meditated for hours while the monks carried out a repertoire of particularly melodious practices.

One sunny afternoon as we sat in quietude, a rumbling began. It was low and internal, like a hungry stomach. I ignored it. That's what you do when things surface during meditation. But the rumbling became louder. And a shaking began. This was not a spiritual experience. My body was shaking; the source felt external. I looked around. All the monks' bodies were shaking. The offering bowls, my tea cup, all sorts of things, trembling. And the mountain was rumbling.

Earthquake, I thought. They happen here, I'm told. Certainly tremors do, and they can be bad. And we're literally on a mountainside! My meditator's mind was gone. What about my three children below, in Dharamsala? I looked around at the faces of the monks, to see what we should do.

Well, of course. They're all just sitting there. Doing nothing. Nothing but remaining still, staying in meditation, in the moment, not worrying, not trying to figure anything out. Ready for whatever. It made sense. The temple had literally been built on the edge of a cliff. As it was, stones and clumps of dirt always fell from the foundation. It was miraculous the structure survived every monsoon. Besides, it had no basement, no neighbors, and a rooftop to crumple with the rest. So, rejoining the monks, I resumed meditation.

Rainbows are an ancient sign of auspiciousness in Tibet. They represent the impermanence and immateriality of life. Rainbows could be seen from many vantage points following Sandy in the NYC area. A new vision arises from the old.