Th extraordinary ordinary
We show up for breakfast at 8, eat the bread and beans and sometimes an egg, sip our tea and are gone to chores before 8:30. I notice that our Khenpo is fond of slipping into the upstairs kitchen where like a professional barista, he grinds coffee beans and brews himself some java. All tHe tea and coffee consumed around here makes for a running joke about how Buddhism means waking up, Buddha one who is awake, so caffeine is our occupational hazard.
A very tiny Chinese woman with rough skin, close cropped hair, and pants that barely reach her ankles is always here in the early morning setting out the tea cups, making the tea, washing pots and dishes, and wiping counters and tables down with terry cloth towels. Her eyes are small slits, her lips thin and she usually appears to be grumpy because she doesn't smile and seems so obsessed by her work, you don't dare get in her way. It took a few days to find out she speaks fluent Tibetan to the monks who gave her a Tibetan name she answers to around here and it took a few more of working my fingers off beside here to find out she can do more than grunt in English. she can speak is broken sentences I clearly understand. "not enough cups today no find. Maybe lamas upstairs leave..." and a few days ago by offering her some special food I'd cooked for Lama, I got her to smile. now she chats away with me when I show up in the dining room and I know she's suffering from a deep cough for a year now. She says at home she cooks her own special food and then she is fine but she works so many hours, she ends up eating whatever the monks have prepared and most of it isn't good for her
Just before 9 the dull waves of the drum reverberate across the courtyard that our rooms surround. Lowing thuds that grow more and more insistent until the stroke of 9 when Lama and Khenpo stride shoeless into the shrine hall with a small platoon of monks behind. They head for the back Spreading their shawls like batman wings as they approach it. They turn to face the 20 foot high brass Buddha and with their maroon shawls extended out from their sides, they prostrate three times. Whoever is here from the out side world does their prostrations in sync behind them. Sometimes it's just the monks and I and maybe one other person, a volunteer who cleans here or cooks. Saturdays it's a crowd. Tibetans come from the far side of Vancouver where they can afford to live and a surprising phalanx of young Chinese : either clumps of teenage girls, 20 something male buddies and even young couples who look like this is a date.
Our volunteers pass out the prayer books, which are line by line in Tibetan, English and Cantonese--the three languages lama is now fluent in. Before we start, one of our volunteers puts a cup of Tibetan tea in front of every monk. We pray to our mother goddess Tara with chanting and tingling bells and the joyful noise of the longhorns, cymbals and boom of the hanging green drum. Tara's prayer takes over an hour, even when the umze surpasses bullet train speed. Once it's over, the shrine room must be cleaned, lunch prepared, more ritual tormas formed, programs planned, the office opened and visitors greeted. On Saturday there is another prayer service at 10:30 which either Lama or Khenpo have to lead.
On wednesday the Chinese volunteers, a squad of energetic middle aged women, come to clean the monks rooms and do laundry, so we have to prepare a larger lunch. Ditto Saturday and Sunday when so many show up as others might go to church.
More about the classes and projects and the arrival of our benefactor when I don't have to use this damned iPad keyboard which makes writing take three times as long