by Cora Wen from Yoga Journal Teachers on Tour

published October 13, 2010

This morning we went to see Dul Drop Chen Rinpoche, the abbot of the local monastery. It is a highly esteemed chorten, and people travel from many countries–especially Bhutan–to pay respects and get blessings. This monastery has 108 prayer wheels set around a large stupa, and is considered one of the most auspicious monasteries in the land.


Rinpoche has had health issues of late, so he limited audiences to one hour in the morning. The protocol for these visits is to bring an offering and a Khata, a Tibetan prayer scarf, and wait in the altar room. Once visitations begin, there is an Asian line up toward the small door leading to his residence. An Asian line is more of a mandala rush than a singular line. People move toward the entrance, taking turns filling in any gaps, until they get there. It’s always a bit confusing to a Western practitioners, so often the Westerners end up in the back of the line, not wanting to push grannies and monks out of the way!

Santosha (contentment), one of the main principles of yoga, definitely eludes me at this moment. My attachment to time and the desire for a blessing overpowers the peaceful calm that permeates the residence quarters of Rinpoche. I am reminded of the great image of the Wheel of Life (Sipa-Kharlo) in Tibetan Buddhism – the center of the wheel is an image of a rooster biting a snake biting a pig. These images symbolize Greed, Anger, and Delusion (Dohchar, Shaetang, and Timuk), and whenever my mind is agitated with desire and attachment, I remind myself to return to this central image of the mandala and use the view to reflect on my own practice. Many a meditation hour has been spent on this contemplation, and I am still looking for guidance on how to quell these feelings as they arise!

This morning we wait, and our Tibetan friend and Thangka painter, Thinlay Gyatso, came to join us to translate. He was told that Rinpoche was holding a Phowa, or a traditional prayer for releasing the spirit after a death, so we would have to wait longer. Thinlay suggested we go to the funeral prayers, and get a blessing there. After prayers were completed, the Bhutanese family that had driven their beloved departed one across borders, went to receive blessings. All others were turned away.

After the family had been blessed, Rinpoche returned to his quarters, and we were asked to go back to the waiting room. At this point, our Western minds were agitated and worried about the rest of the group, which was waiting for us back at the hotel to begin an arduous excursion up to North Sikkim. Letting go of the attachment to outcome is one of the main lessons in yoga, and yet I find myself attached to this outcome–I want the blessings from Rinpoche. As I always say, my Tibetan friends are wandering Bardo realms while I am consulting calendars and schedules! Finally, Thinlay sees Rinpoche’s handler, and we are let in to receive blessings and the auspicious string.

The difference of East and West always strikes me when I return to countries closer to my homeland. I have lived so long in the West that many assume I am an ABC (American Born Chinese), and yet the memories and echoes of my childhood ring strong and clear. I often feel I am straddling two cultures as Hanuman straddles two continents on his leap to Lanka. There is a saying in Asia: “Same, same, different,” as I wander through my multi cult wabi sabi yogi mind, I definitely am “Same, same, different”.

For example, in a class on twists, we were turning toward the East as we twisted right, and looking toward the mountains of Tibet, as we turned our heads to the left to deepen the twist it seemed appropriate to connect our hearts turning toward the East as we looked back toward the West. Perhaps this is part of the resonance of these trips – a small bit of our hearts are left here in these mountains as our lives return to the duties of life in the West. Our hearts turning and opening toward the East, as our bodies and minds come home to the West.

Are we ever the same after these journeys? Do we change because of what we see? Or do these awakenings percolate into life-changing paths that never leave us. I know I have never been the same after my first trip to the Himalayas, and a part of my heart remains in these mountains every year. I hope some of you can experience these mountains some day. They are not just spectacular and massive; they are filled with an indescribable magic, a familiar and distant feeling that rises through the mist. Something we know is home, even having never seen it before.

Our friends Cinzia and Daria have just joined us, coming from Italy last night, and on this first day of their journey, we all feel the prayers of Phowa and Rinpoche’s personal blessings. We put our strings on our necks and tie them, knowing they will act as a reminder of this day, and this place.

Our yoga practice can also be this reminder. Every Sun Salutation, or movement towards a difficult pose asks us to look at ourselves, to examine parts of our bodies, of how we move, and how we think we can move. As we begin to understand our bodies more clearly, we gain insight into ourselves. Most of us have had this experience in yoga. We think we know something–we think we understand how the body will move or be, and then we learn something more, something unknown within ourselves. It isn’t always what we thought we would find, it may not always be blissful and happy, but as the sage Mick Jagger says, “You can’t always get what you want.”

This is the power of practice, this gift of ourselves to ourselves. Being able to practice and sit in the blessings of this moment, every moment. Learning about our breath, our bodies, and our minds is the lesson for us all. May we develop a lifelong friendship, and be transformed by this thing we call yoga!

Posted by Cora Wen on October 13, 2010 10:57 AM Permalink Comments (0)