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Tangboche

– by Gerry Roach

Tangboche Monastery, Nepal, 1983

An hour before dawn, I whispered to my sorceress, “Let’s go out to the point now, so we can see it all!” Grabbing our sleeping bags, we tiptoed past other sleeping souls, carefully closed the creaky door behind us, then padded down the stone path behind the old monastery. Feeling our way from tree to tree into the fragrant, Nepalese night, Andrea and I crept out to the point, scrambled up a few feet and settled onto a flat, lichen-covered rock. Moving close, I wrapped one sleeping bag around our shoulders, then draped the other across our laps. Too late, I realized that I had forgotten to bring a pad to put under us. Cold, but comfortable, we silently waited for the dawn.

Before the first bird could chirp, Andrea whispered, “Look! It’s starting!” We sat in awe as the black sky infused itself with a deep blue from on high, then watched the blue push the black down like it was unfurling night’s closing curtain. When a distant speck of sunlight touched one summit and not the others, Andrea forgot to whisper, but still spoke in a hushed tone, “Oh! There it is! Just the one summit!”

I let the cold nibble at us for another minute, then replied, “Everest is really quite a bit higher than its neighbors - this is Chomolungma’s moment. If you are cold here, just think about how cold it is on the summit right now! Imagine! If we could somehow magically be there, we would be the only people in the sun. I often visualize what it would be like to be on a great summit during its most sacred moments.”

As Everest’s summit sun spread, Andrea replied, “For me, it feels sacred just looking at it from here! Gerry, can you do remote viewing?”

Startled, I asked, “Huh? What’s that?”

“Remote viewing is where you go beyond visualization, and actually see what some other place is like. For example, can you actually see what it’s like on Everest’s summit right now, as if you were standing there?”

“Well actually, yes I can.”

“How about all these other summits around here?”

“I have a pretty good idea. How about you? Can you see yourself standing there, and what it looks like?”

“I have a different viewpoint than you do, but yes, I can see enough for me. Let’s talk about this more later. For now, just tell me the names of these other peaks - I love hearing the sound of the words.”

As we continued our dawn vigil, the nascent light spread to lower summits and kissed each in turn. After Everest, the sun found its neighbors, Lhotse and Nuptse, then lingered on this triune to honor its great height. Rushing faster than any climber could, the light streamed into the Solu Khumbu valley, and nudged it awake. Down in the valley, I saw smoke rising from several chimneys, as the birds found their voice.

Across the valley, the fluted Tawoche flamed vermilion, then reflected the valley’s growing light back into the sky. Andrea breathed, “That peak is a stupendous temple! How high is it?”

“I don’t know exactly, but Tawoche is over 21,000 feet high.”

“Wow! These peaks are deceiving - it looks higher than Everest!”

Turning the other way, we watched a backlit halo holding the summit of Ama Dablam, the perfectly shaped peak that frames the Tangboche Monastery from points lower down in the valley. With daylight finding the ridges in an accelerating rush, we craned our necks to see Kangtega and Thamserku soaring directly behind the monastery. The halo from these two scintillating peaks still shaded us - and the monastery - as I spoke each name. Rubbing my neck, I turned back to Everest, and spotted something. Pointing, I said, “Look! You can just see a snow plume flying off the summit ridge. The winds aloft are picking up. Andrea, now you know why I consider this place one of the centers of the universe!”

All Andrea said was, “Sanctus!”

Startled by this Christian reference in a Buddhist land, I looked at Andrea for a clue, but while her jet-black hair framed an awestruck strength, her face remained a mysterious mask. When her gaze found mine, I just nodded agreement. As radiant light filled the valley, we stood to flex our cold muscles, and salute the rising sun. After rearranging the sleeping bags, I offered, “Coming here has renewed my sense that gaining altitude is like spinning a prayer wheel. Just as each spin says a prayer, each foot gained by a climber garners a Karmic Point.”

Knowing that she could inspire conjecture, Andrea replied, “Gerry, don’t you think that prayer wheels are spun as a rote action, which has lost much of it’s intended meaning? You can’t climb up forever, Gerry. What happens when you descend the mountain, or spin the prayer wheel backwards?”

Warming to her question, I responded, “A rote action? Yes, I suppose there is some of that, but as a worst case, it can’t hurt. Once, I asked a Sherpa if spinning a prayer wheel backwards produced a negative prayer. I don’t think the question had ever occurred to him, and he thought about it for a long time. Finally he replied, ‘No negative prayer. There is no bad in the prayer wheel, only opportunity for good.’ I think that’s a great image. Spinning a prayer wheel backwards does nothing bad, and in mountaineering, a successful descent just preserves your opportunity for another climb.”

When full sunlight finally found us, we set the sleeping bags aside, and Andrea stretched in some simple yoga postures. Amazed at her flexibility, I mimicked her movements as best I could. After several deep breaths, Andrea continued. “Gerry, I’ve heard you use the term Transcendent Summit. Is that the same as a Sacred Summit? Can you explain them to me? For once in our lives, we have time.”

Still stretching, I replied, “Wow! That’s a core question. You know how to cut to the chase don’t you?”

“Gerry, you’re just figuring it out, but I really am your sorceress of white light, which means that I’m here to help you. You can’t hide from me, so you may as well just try to explain it to me. If I’m going to help you, I need to know.” Looking at Andrea in the sunlight, I saw just how beautiful she was. Dressed in black from head to toe, her long black hair hung toward her waist like a curtain, completing an almost surreal frame for her softly defined face. Her beauty and presence certainly inspired my imagination, since at once, Andrea looked like she was a babe in arms that knew everything. I was attracted to Andrea, but also a little afraid of what she might do to me, since I had been with magic women before. I knew that they could fill me with bosom-flooding joy, then leave me prostrate on the floor next to a closing door. Cocking a fist on her hip, Andrea looked at me with an expression that answered my questions before I could ask them. “Gerry! I know what you’re thinking! You’re wondering if I’m going to hurt you, right?”

“Ah, so you do just know things! I’ll bet you really can do remote viewing.”

As Andrea and I stared at each other, Pema’s wife, Jangbo, came up silently, and startled me so sharply that I almost fell backwards over one of the sleeping bags. Jangbo, a tall, angular Sherpa woman of stature who smelled of wood smoke, took one look at our little tableau, and said, “So, there you love birds are! Time to wake up! My Pema says that the Lama will see you at 10 A.M. This Lama has lived over 50 lifetimes you know, so you have to be there, since no one ignores this Lama’s call!”

Glancing at my watch, I replied, “That’s great! Don’t worry Jangbo; we’ll be there! Say, what are you carrying? Can we help you?”

Jangbo replied, “This is a string of new prayer flags, which the Lama blessed at the last festival, and yes, you can help me put them on the poles. We have time.” The three of us scrambled down a rough track to the top of a steep cliffy area, where two long poles stuck out over the highest cliff, with several strings of prayer flags already in place between the poles. The Buddhist Sherpas, and many westerners, believe that the fluttering flags release the prayers into the breezes to float high above the valley, and ultimately, to fly beyond the peaks.

Glancing at Andrea, I said, “This can’t hurt either.” Then, I took one end of the new string, while Jangbo held the middle, and Andrea stretched out the other end. I wriggled out on one of the poles as far as I dared, and tied my end securely, while Andrea did the same on the other pole. When the new flags fluttered with the old, I noticed that the old flags were way out on the ends of the poles, beyond my long reach. The poles looked permanent, and I had no idea how the old, tattered flags had gotten out there.

As we scrambled back up the rough track, I asked Jangbo, “The new flags look very nice. Do you ever replace the old flags?”

Jangbo replied instantly, “No! They are not for looks. Anyway, the old flags are much better than the new ones.”

Curious, I asked, “Why is that?”

Jangbo paused, looked at me, then said, “Because, the old flags have karma.”

Again, I asked, “But, why just the old ones?”

Jangbo looked at Everest for a moment, then replied, “These flags have not always been here. They have karma because, like a kata, God sent the flags somewhere else, and they came back!” Then, Jangbo hustled off, leaving Andrea and me alone again.

As we approached the monastery, one of the Khumbu’s spring blessings, a Rhododendron blossom, fluttered to the ground at my feet. I picked it up, and offered it to Andrea. She sniffed it, smiled at me, then put it in her hair with a pin that appeared from nowhere. “I don’t want it to fall out,” she explained. After gazing at Everest for several seconds, Andrea turned back to me, and said, “You wiggled out of explaining Transcendent Summits to me back there, but you cannot ignore me much longer. Don’t explain it to me because I’m a sorceress, explain it because I’m your friend, and I want to know!”

Shifting uneasily, I said, “There’s more isn’t there?”

“Yes, Gerry - explain it to me not because you know the answer, but because you don’t know the answer, and the only way you are going to gain insight, is to try and explain it to me!”

“Uh, when do you want to start?”

Shifting her cocked fist from one hip to the other, Andrea answered, “Tonight, but can you give me some more to think about right now?”

It was my turn to gaze at Everest. After absorbing Andrea’s pensive look, I said, “OK, I’ll try. It is the climber who achieves a Transcendent Summit. A Sacred Summit is sacred all by itself - it doesn’t require a human touch. At a pure level, all the summits around here are sacred, but I think the term ‘Sacred Summit’ is reserved for the most revered of them all. The peak directly above Namche Bazaar, Khumbita, is sacred, and also unclimbed, since the peak is off limits. There it is right over there.”

Following my finger point across the valley, Andrea asked, “Is the whole mountain sacred, or just the summit?”

“In this case, the whole mountain is sacred, which of course, includes the summit.”

Dropping her cocked fist, and drawing some strands of hair away from her face, Andrea, asked, “So, could Khumbita provide a Transcendent Summit?”

Looking again at Khumbita, I exhaled, “Om Home! You should be talking to the Lama! That’s another crux question, and honestly, I don’t know. It’s up to God, but I do know that it would require a Transcendent Climber, and that’s another whole subject!”

Looking at the monastery and tapping her watch, Andrea said, “Oh my! That’s a great start, now cut to the chase, Gerry. What’s a Transcendent Summit?”

Taking Andrea’s hand, I continued, “Transcendent Summits are rooted in honor and karma. People grant honor, but karma is of God. A Transcendent Summit is like God’s Karmic Medal of Honor. You cannot create a Transcendent Summit from your own will, God must give it to you, but you will know when you achieve one. It may come to you years after the climb, but you will know!”

Cocking her head, and smiling, Andrea asked, “How many have you had, Gerry?”

“Oh golly, I’d have to count - maybe three dozen in thirty years.”

Going wide-eyed, and squeezing my hand hard, Andrea exclaimed, “Listen to yourself! Those are huge numbers! Gerry, you’ve thought about this more than I initially gave you credit for, but that just makes me all the more intrigued. I want to hear all about it tonight, but right now, the Lama wants to see us.”

“Do you already know what he is going to tell us?”

Moving toward the monastery, Andrea said, “I just know that’s it’s going to be important. Now, you heard Jangbo; no one ignores this Lama’s call, and you know what else?”

“What?”

“It wont hurt!” Then, tossing her hair and tugging me gently toward Tangboche, Andrea added, “Gerry, we’re going to need more than tonight to sort all this out!” Halfway up the monastery stairs, Andrea paused, touched both her hands to the side of her head, and asked, “Gerry, one more question please?”

Calm, I replied, “Yes?”

“How do you recognize a Transcendent Summit? How do you know?”

Spreading my arms wide, I giggled through a great grin, “Ah, that’s easy. A Transcendent Summit is like an Orgasmic Summit! They are life-changing at the time, and better, when I think about a Transcendent Summit decades later, my toes still tingle, my skin still sings, and my hair feels like it’s halfway to heaven!”

“Oh! Now, I understand why my toes are singing on these steps! How are yours?”

“Dancing!”

 

Andrea at Tangboche Andrea at Tangboche

Photo by Gerry Roach - 1983

 

 

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