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Oct 2013b

Notes from my Tibetan diary -

I spent last night in a cold motel room, wrapped in my expedition sleeping bag on the hard Chinese bed, fretting. After bailing from the Kailash Kora due to threatening weather, we had almost been stranded overnight on a high pass, a back road from Saga to Tingri, hit by the same storm that trapped 80 tourists at Everest Base Camp. With our narrow road under a foot of snow, moving in a convoy at walking pace, we had at dusk reached the better traveled Friendship Highway and blessedly managed to drive down below the snowline. 

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The surprise Himalayan storm had left me antsy from a day in the car and yet mentally exhausted. And the prospect of a yet higher 17,000 ft pass to now escape toward Lhasa had tormented my attempts to sleep - struggling with anxiety, with judgment toward our guide's decision making, with an aching desire to be beyond this particular present moment.

It sounds so easy in the meditation books. Breath into the present moment. The only real moment.

And now, that precious moment has already slipped away with the night into an uneventful drive over the Friendship Highway toward Lhasa, crossing a snow-free pass to reach Sakya, a thousand-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monastery nestled at the end of a dead-end road and surrounded by white-dusted hills. In a small chamber high in the massive, fort-like buildings, we are confronted by a bizarre collection of twisted-limbed statues with terrifying mask-faces painted vivid reds, all chained down by heavy iron padlocks. Demons. 

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Matter of factly, and with great seriousness, our highly educated Tibetan guide Dorge explains how these animalistic precursors from before the Buddhist religion were defeated and imprisoned by Padmasambhava, the great pioneer who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the Seventh Century. The monasteries and the Dharma itself become the chains to hold these scary monsters in check.

Are these not the same demons I had struggled with the night before? Had my attempts at breath awareness and positive visualization proved any value in their slaying? Or had I simply lain helpless in their torment until dawn?

As I stand in the little chamber, heavy with centuries of a worship that seems to verge on sorcery, I find myself biting down on my tongue to contain the flood of western words that will "explain" such demons, will subtly aim to patronize my guide, will perhaps distance me from this emotionally charged experience, a charge as tangible as temple incense.

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I am poignantly aware that this same man - short and stocky Tibetan, wide-gaited and broad-faced, with a generous smile and yet at times piercingly earnest eyes - had walked ahead of the cars for 13 kilometers last night in heavy wet snowfall to seek out the narrow strip of paved road in a featureless mountain slope. He had ignored his own hunger, cold and exhaustion in steadfastly freeing us from the grip of these early-winter monsters. 

What is really a more effective spiritual practice? My analyzing intellectualism? Or his deep immersion in the cultural roots of his faith, a belief both detailed and yet perhaps uncomplicated.

Namaste - Eugene