Of all the manifestations or portrayals of the Buddha, I feel drawn to the one with curls on his head.
Somehow he felt Nepali to me. In 2011, before my first trip to Nepal I made a trip to the Tkechen Choling temple in Beatty Lane. I told him that I was going to visit his country & asked for his blessings on the medicines & veterinary supplies that we were bringing for the street dogs.
I’m old school in the sense that if I’m visiting a country for the first time, especially one with known spiritual traditions, I have a compelling urge to declare my intentions.
Today we were at the temple to light butter lamps. I lit a lamp for a beloved shelter cat that is lost and the people who are searching for him. May the Light guide him to safety. If he has left his physical form, may the Light embrace his soul & neutralise all negative imprints & comfort the people who love him.
Whether it is just by the window of my home, or in the presence of a sacred figure of reverence, dedicating a light is one of the ways of expressing respect, support and affection.
And today I also learnt for the first time that the Nepali Buddha I’ve been speaking to for the past 11 years regarding my medicine journeys for animals is none other than the Medicine Buddha himself.
May we be guided as we seek to improve our own lives and the lives of others.
Today I offered the last spoonful of the incense powder purchased at Boudha in 2017. This concoction of herbal wonder was unceremoniously scooped and dropped into a plastic bag for a few rupees.
Having limited mobility & lacking confidence in my online shopping capabilities have strengthened my appreciation of resources. I learn to use every thing sparingly regardless of its price or how it comes to me. For me a bottle of soya sauce from the local supermarket has the same status as a bottle of truffle oil from a specialised store. Both are precious.
Today’s incense from Nepal is the last of its lot that I personally bought.
Despite its age, it seems to have gained potency as its wafting fragrance triggers many pleasant thoughts & memories.
As I watched Fire transform the juniper into healing aromas through the dancing smoke, I sent wishes of goodwill to all sentient beings. Among which was just as we aspire to abundance, may we also be able to accept scarcity for its hidden blessings.
Sometime in September I decided to dedicate prayers of healing to all sentient beings, instead of letting anxieties consume me when reading updates on Covid-19.
The string of blue lapis lazuli beads which tracks my prayers came from a former student who had bought the mala online “by mistake” a few years back.
My practice soon got me interested in books related to the Medicine Buddha.
Since 2011, I’ve called my trips to Nepal , “Medicine Journeys,” in honour of the modest collection of relief supplies we could carry to help people who are helping street animals there.
This November while scanning the book shelves at a friend’s place, my gaze landed on the last row where a book title, “In Search of the Medicine Buddha – A Himalayan Journey,” called out to me.
In chapter 1 of the book, I was greeted by a picture of the Boudha Stupa! And the first sentence went, “The Great Stupa of Boudhanath rises like a wish-fulfilling jewel in the eastern Kathmandu Valley.” 🙏
Following that, names & landmarks leapt off the pages at me as if to give me hugs! Asan Tol, Langtang, Terai, Swayamambu, Buranilkantha (Budanilkantha) Rhododendron, Bakhtapur and many familiar words assured me that I haven’t lost touch with the country.
Like my former student who gave me his lapis lazuli mala, some kind of “mistake” was at play in the purchase of this book as well.
Seeing my interest, my friend decided to let me have his book in exchange for a donation to be decided by me to an animal shelter of my choice. So on the full moon day that just passed I did just that in his name.
As we mark the Solstice today and give thanks for what has turned out right for us, may we also be able to accept wishes unfulfilled, because sometimes what we consider a mistake could turn out to be a great help to others.
The rain started last night and continues to this morning. I lit a light to thank Rain that cleanses, hydrates and heals. Then I thought of the animal shelters that flood during downpours. My mind went to the street animals having to brave the torrents on their own.
So I asked Fire to give them warmth and keep them dry.
Although I tended to incense and candles in the taoist temple of my childhood where my grandfather was caretaker, my friendship with Fire as an adult only began when I lit my first tea light in the Notre Dame Catheral in France.
After that, I lit my first tea light in Singapore at the grotto of the Church of St Peter & St Paul at Queen Street to support a friend who had to put down his dog, Socks.
Then I found out I could also meet Fire below the image of Mother Mary and Baby Jesus at the Church of St Mary’s of the Angels.
In my 40s, visits to Patan and Boudha in Nepal brought me closer to Fire. Aging has somehow given me a porosity that allows me to soak up the illuminating presence of Fire at the prayer rituals I withessed there.
And so certain am I of Fire’s loyalty that one of the first thoughts that comes to mind whenever loss or hardship befalls me or my friends is to raise a lamp to shine a path out of fear and confusion.
After all, my favourite catholic saint, Francis of Assisi addresses Fire as Brother Fire in “The Canticle of the Sun.”
So on a cold and wet day such as today, may we invoke the Fire within to keep ourselves and others warm and dry.
Shopping alone gives me time to study things and sometimes learn life lessons from shop staff.
Whenever I’m at Fortune Centre I would make it a point to navigate the maze of escalators to visit an incense shop tucked away among the eateries on the 3rd floor.
The shop sells incense from Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet, and other ritual and aesthetic items for spiritual and leisure purposes.
The shopkeeper, whom I addressed as “Uncle” out of respect, would be watching comedies on his phone while I browsed and asked all kinds of questions about his products.
“Uncle” was always patient and allowed me to touch the prayer flags, tangkas, dorjes, incense burners and inhale the incense samples without asking me to buy anything.
Having travelled to many places in his youth before retiring as a keeper of his sister’s shop, he had learnt to always be kind to strangers.
“Always be nice to strangers,” “Uncle” once told me. “Don’t think only of your own family. For example, when you fall down outside, it’s a stranger that calls the ambulance. The ambulance driver is a stranger. The nurse attending to you is a stranger. Lot’s of things are done for you by strangers even before your relatives arrive at the hospital.”
Yesterday I was at the shop but “Uncle” wasn’t there. His sister whom he spoke fondly of was standing in his place.
“Take your time to see what you need,” the sister extended the same hospitality to me.
“Uncle” had passed away last year (December 2019). He had lived well and went peacefully.
Seeing the incense was like seeing old friends again. Every thing I touched was imbued with the kindness of the old man who was no longer there.
Before I left the shop, the silver haired sister weaved a bracelet of sacred threads from a tibetan monastery and set a turquoise bead on it. It was a gift for my mother to protect her in all encounters.
“Here, you take these. They are made by the lamas,” she spoke softly, as she placed an auspicious symbol of infinite wisdom and the union of empathy and knowledge woven in yellow thread in my hand.
I took 2 hardboiled eggs from the breakfast buffet and slipped them into the pocket of my winter top.
We were travelling down the hills of Nargakot to stay one night at the Airport Hotel in Kathmandu. It was 2017 and Nepal’s election year. All roads would be close to vehicles on the day we were flying back to Singapore.
I kept the eggs in case I came across a hungry dog or cat, or even a child. It can be traumatic for some of us to meet a hungry animal and have nothing to give. But instead of feeling sorry and helpless, I decided to fortify myself with food. Eggs in their shells proved to be most hygienic and practical in a situation like this.
Down the valley, the hotel check-in went smoothly. Then I rested while my travel mates headed out to Patan for some last minute exploration.
We would meet for dinner.
Dinner was still some time away when I woke up from my nap in the Nepalese winter.
The eggs I brought with me in the morning had become my sustenance till dinner time.
As I sat by the window gazing out at Tribhuvan Airport in the setting sun, it became clear to me that “what we do unto others, we do unto ourselves.”
Thus have I experienced that the giver is also the receiver.
The “chuba” or “chupa” is a Tibetan word for an ankle length robe worn by Tibetans. Slight variations of it are worn by members of the Sherpa community and a number of cultural and language groups across the Himalayan regions.
Even though I had passed by many chuba shops during my visits to Nepal, I took my time about buying one. I didn’t want to treat someone’s actual clothing like a costume or a quaint souvenir.
Apart from its wearability for celebratory occasions in Singapore, I wanted a chuba as a visual reminder of my encounters in Nepal. From the Nepali friends of the Newari, Tamang, Rai, Gorkha and various culture/ language groups, I’ve learnt what it means to be generous and resourceful at ALL times.
So after thinking about it for about 8 years, I finally bought my first chuba from one of the shops at Boudha in December 2019.
Little did I know that a month after that purchase, Covid-19 would affect all human interactions & put a stop to trips abroad. In Singapore the Circuit Breaker measures kept people housebound, affected jobs, schools and gatherings of all sorts.
It looked like my chuba from Boudha wouldn’t be required for a while I figured. But I was wrong.
This May I received my first ZOOM birthday celebration invitation. The birthday celebrant is an avid traveller & photographer. Travel restrictions had affected her birthday plans.
So that night holed up in my little flat with my cats, I put on the chuba as it was purposed for.
And the birthday lady, being the good sport that she is, turned up on ZOOM in lapis lazuli blue and a strand of turquoise around her neck.
As the fireworks went off in her living room, while her parents looked on in amusement, her dogs in puzzlement, and ZOOM guests cheered, I felt that although we were physically “grounded,” our spirit was free.
The chuba from Boudha has also become a pleasant reminder that the darker the times are, the more brightly we can try to shine, and the less we have, the more deeply we may experience abundance.
Today I wore my necklace of turquoise stones from Nepal to an animal shelter in Singapore. My friend had invited me to join her for some volunteering work there.
Turquoise is called the Sky Stone by Tibetans. It has many healing properties. By having turquoise on me, I wanted to remind myself to constantly project vibes of health & vitality, and not pity on the animals that I saw or touched. And of course I also wanted to look good and dress up for the cats and dogs.
Like most animal shelters, this one is located in a fairly remote part of Sg. Volunteering is a commitment that requires planning, time and travelling.
Not one to take such an opportunity lightly, we decided to dedicate today’s work at the shelter to my friend’s late brother. He had set an example of kindness to animals for his younger sister during their growing up years.
When he was studying in JC (Junior College), he rescued a kitten. He was the first in her family to persuade their parents to adopt a dog. And because of him, their home has become a refuge for a number of animals over the years.
Upon our arrival at the shelter we met a young man who was there on his own. Daryl had just completed JC and wanted to spend his time helping animals.
So the morning went by with us unwrapping metal frames, hooking them to each enclosure to increase vertical space for the cats, and slipping pillow cases over the frames to form beddings for the feline occupants to sleep comfortably above ground.
A few were trying to climb onto their midair contraptions even as their “housekeepers” were still making their beds.
When the beddings were secured, the cats took to their mini airmocks with gratitude.
Meanwhile, the rain came, followed by the glorious sun.
Towards tea time, every single cat that was visible to us was acknowledged. Eye contact, smiles, head rubs, cuddles and wishes of healing were given & received.
And the kitties in hiding would have felt our goodwill, for the whole shelter was bathed in a golden afternoon light when our mission was completed.
After the shelter, we stopped by a cafe for some needed hydration & reflection. The cafe was located in a garden nursery with very strong balinese landscape features.
We took pictures with the balinese stone carvings of dancers and frangipani, and the Rainbow showed up to join us. Of course there are scientific and technical explanation for its appearance in the photos. But we were thrilled with the unexpectedness of it all, as if we had been bestowed some divine blessings even as we were simply having fun.
When I got home later in the evening I checked a text that was sent from Nepal during our time at the shelter.
The text came with a picture.
It showed my Nepali host, Reena, holding on her palm, one half of the turquoise earrings that matched the necklace I wore today. I had lost that earring last December in Nepal.
And just this morning I was wondering if I would ever see the missing half of my earrings again.
The surprise emergence of a little turquoise after being lost for months seemed to be showing me that what is spoken or thought of with love can never be completely lost.
And this thought encourages me to dedicate whatever remaining time and energy I have to seemingly “lost” causes.
It also strengthens my habit of performing deeds of relief in the name of people and animals that have left this earthly realm.
Like the Rainbow that arches over us, we are constantly held and supported by the sacred presence of those we love.