Ani Kalden Wangmo (rt.) and Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo taken in the Cave in the Snow, 2010
(This post is dedicated to my friend, Ani Kalden, who began her amazing solitary retreat this past Thursday, June 16th. Read on!)
Long ago I used to consider myself a rather brave and fearless person. I had done things like: move across an ocean with two small children to a place where I knew not one single soul-and started a new life; blazed a trail for women in a neuropsych lab that was so male dominated they brewed testosterone in the coffee maker each morning; gave up a lucrative career, home, cats and everything else I owned for a monastery, a robe, and a bowl; left that monastery with the same nothing I entered it with and re-invented a whole new life.
Not bad. But then there is the life of my good friend and Dharma sister, Kalden Wangmo and, when I look at what she is undertaking I realize the utter paucity of courage that any of those pieces of my life contain.
Kalden and I were monastics together, we were unsui – “wandering clouds.” Kalden was Rev. Berenice at the time and she was my garden mentor. Her love and passion for all things plant related just spilled over with infectious good humor for “flower joy!” Her laugh is doubly infectious and I always considered her such a bright spot of joy who always told it like it was.
We reconnected recently and I found that her life had gone in a wildly different direction from the days of Shasta, Abbatical tea ceremonies and flower joy. She had moved to India, dumped the Japanese robes for Tibetan ones, launched herself into following her teacher Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, and was making plans for a one year solitary retreat in “Middle Of Freaking Nowhere” India….in a CAVE!!
Oh….and not just any cave but the very same (though rebuilt now) cave that her dear guru, Jetsunma, had lived in for 12 remarkable years!!
When I heard this I could hardly wrap my mind around the concept. I mean, I’d read Jetsunma’s book way back in my baby Buddhist days and it was astounding and inspiring. I could barely imagine it then and Jetsunma (already a world renowned Buddhist nun and teacher) was waaaaayyy up there on my list of incredible human beings.
And then, hearing of Kalden’s plans I realized that I was now personally in touch with someone right on up there with Jetsunma. Someone who was so dedicated to the Bodhisattva path that they were willing to place themselves in a barren and isolated location with no creature comforts in order to deeply explore the depths of their meditation and faith in the Buddhist path.
To give all of you a small glimpse into where my friend will be, here are a some photos:
Photo of Jetsunma trying to dry out her few things which got soaked with a spring thaw
Apparently, the villagers will be able to make it up (or Kalden make it down) the path for the first three months into September. However, after that, and until the pass is clear again the following spring, there will be no way up or down due to 25 ft+ snows which make foot travel impossible.
Living in the Buddha’s palm
As to my cowardice? Well, it certainly surrounds my attachment to my body and its comforts. I am very fond of the HVAC system with its heating and cooling abilities, I love my bed, and I like my garden dirt when it’s in the garden-but do NOT want to have it mucking about in my house. I adore the way indoor plumbing provides me with toilets, sinks and showers. I would not fair well in a cave in the middle of nowhere with naught but a dirt floor to recommend itself.
Secondly, I am very attached to my body and its health and safety. I would not do well in a place where critters can come in and sting/bite/slash/claw me in the middle of the day or night and I’m in a cave with 1″ band aids and iodine if I’m lucky. When I mentioned this possibility (along with diseases and other death producing options) Kalden said, “Hey! I’ll be meditating every second and I’m living in the palm of the Buddha by being in India…What could be better than dying like that???”
Which brings me to the final point of my own cowardice: it is the realization that I do not have the courage and diligence and devotion and discipline within my own practice to do anything even remotely like this. My faith is not that strong. I remain a baby Buddhist, still clinging to the convenience of practicing where I like, when I like, with conditions conducive to my comfort zones.
Dearest Ani Kalden, my friend and sister, you inspire me beyond words. May my own heart and mind and practice reach even 1/10th of yours in this lifetime.
And may you be safe and healthy as you take this journey. May all sentient beings everywhere benefit from the merit of your extraordinary practice.