NEW Story by Michaele Benedict
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A Tibetan Point of View
I am not a Buddhist, but the Tibetan point of view has always cheered me up. I have read the Tibetan Book of the Dead many times. You wouldn’t think this was a cheerful book, but it is indeed cheerful because not only is the text perfectly confident that the soul is eternal; it says that you can have a second chance if you need it (and a third, and a fourth).
Just looking at a picture of H. H. (His Holiness, what his followers call him) the Dalai Lama makes my heart a little lighter. On a recent newscast, H. H. said something like “These problems belong to your generation. My generation is getting ready to say ‘Bye-Bye’.” He said it with a merry smile as if it wasn’t a big deal.
The next day, when one of my sons was worrying about my health, I quoted H. H. and my son couldn’t help but chuckle. (H. H. and I are not ready to say Bye-Bye just yet.)
Some years ago, there was an exhibition of Tibetan art in San Francisco, and while it was going on, a group of monks meticulously constructed a sand mandala in the hallway of the museum. Someone ran amok and destroyed the mandala, but the monks were not particularly disturbed because they said anyway they were planning to sweep it up and toss the sand back into the ocean when they were done.
I have read Mipam, a novel written by a Tibetan monk, a number of times. The first time I read it, I didn’t want it to end. I put off reading the last several pages. When finally I read the last page, a white dove descended onto the garden path outside my bedroom window and just sat there. I kid you not.
If ever your life seems hard, rent the film “Salt Men of Tibet” and be prepared to think that actually your life is easy and maybe even fun, though possibly not as much fun as that of the rosy-cheeked yak-riding salt men.
The first thing I see in the morning and the last at night is a replica of a drawing which was sent to me by a friend who became a follower of H. H. and went to Dharmsala, where the exiled Tibetan community resides. The drawing was dated 2511 (1969), Rainy Season. I made it into a door-sized wood burning.
The drawing represents twelve stages in the life of a little monk. There are three figures in the first stage: The monk, who holds an axe and a flail and is furiously chasing an elephant which is being urged on by a monkey. The monkey and the elephant are in shadow. In the second stage, the shadow has begun to recede and the chase has slowed down, but the monk has not yet caught up.
In the third stage, a new figure appears: A rabbit sits on the elephant’s back. The monk has caught the elephant’s leash, and the shadow has receded even more.
At the eleventh stage, the rabbit, the monkey and the shadow have long since disappeared. The monk is sitting on the elephant’s back and holding a torch. He is at a crossroads. One path leads back where he has been before, but this time he has a torch instead of an axe and a flail. The other path leads to freedom, and the monk is flying through the air, using his shawl as a sail.
Image: Lama Door (I’ve done them as a trypich)