Thanks to Wappingers Falls' Grinell Public Library for helping my bring you this special tinyblog post from New York.
After a brief amount of time at JFK airport, I was transported to the magical land of upstate New York.
It's pretty here, first of all. It's just spring here, and the land is so green and hilly, kind of like I remember Tenessee being, only more...rocky I guess. There's a cool little health food store that's a lot like a PCC in Seattle, so I don't have to worry about being able to get good coffee or soap.
Wappingers Falls is actually quite a nice place. There is a little suburbian strip with gas stations, mini-malls, and K-Mart, but there's also a rustic part of town that has a bunch of pretty little shops and such. (People who know me know how I feel about pretty little shops.) My sister drove me through town when I arrived so I'd know where everything was.
People who know my sister often ask how she's doing, and I could never really answer. "Good, I guess," I'd say, since she never really gives such a succinct statement in her letters to me. But now I can say she is doing good. She's living a life I think a lot of people wish they could live. Or maybe without the consecutive hours of chanting in Tibetan.
The land is right on a river, and it's spacious and lovely. The main building where she stays has rooms, a kitchen and a dining room downstairs. Then, upstairs, is a big pretty shrine room that gets a lot of use. Most people don't know how elaborate Tibetans like to do their shrines. They are usually of the opinion that More Buddha Stuff = More Blessings. So it's not this austere zen sort of thing. Really vivid colors and many many buddha statues. They cover the upper walls in rows of glass cabinets.
The statues are called rupas. There must be about 100 or so 6" Buddha rupas, and then about 18 8" Tara rupas. Then there's a Guru Rinpoche one that's about 4 feet tall, and then there's a large buddha statue that's about...well...a little bigger than life size.
Every morning, there is a morning chant that starts at 6am and lasts a little over two hours. They chant into Tibetan so fast I can't even read the transliteration (the English pronunciation of the Tibetan, which I can actually read pretty well). The morning prayers are over 100 pages long. I'm used to doing only silent meditation on retreat, but really in Tibetan monestaries they don't do much silent meditation. I asked my Lama why once, he said, "Tibetans would just go to sleep."
During the chanting, one person is the chopon. They have a bunch of ritual jobs they do during the puja (chant), so they are always getting up and filling water bowls and lighting butter lamps and setting up little sybolic representations of the universe to offer to all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. All this activity happens every day...seems like for about an average of 5 or 6 hours a day, and that's why they're all there.
About 15 people stay there, and they are all really nice. However there is the telltale neurosis of strangers living communally. There's a certain finicky low-grade tension about all the chores and things. Many of the people work a part-time job (like my sister) but some are able to make it work on almost no income. Some of them do seem very spiritually mature, and they are all there for the sole reason of practicing diligently and growing spiritually in a very humble way and so it all holds together very well.
I love my sister, and she really was not happy living in Seattle and trying to be some kind of worldly success at something or another. So even though I really miss her living near me, I'm really glad she's in a situation where she feels like her time is not wasted. And of course I myself know to some extant what it feels like...the blessing of practicing dharma in one's life is very noticeable. So I think it's healthy and sweet for her to be here.
Well, I guess I'll walk back to the monastary now. It's so pretty here in town, but I think it's time I went back and did some dharma practice myself.
I think I probably will come back and post again before I leave. Oh, a poem I wrote at the airport...this is mostly for Josh and Yoni, so someone tell them it's here:
I want to record all these people who sound so
New York Ish
I ordered a Kosher meal on the plane
To get in the spirit of things in New York
It was a corned beef and pastrami sandwich.
What, is this some kind of joke?
I couldn't resist, though...
milk in my coffee.