Putting the Brakes on in Bhutan

Among the countless highlights of my recent eight- day adventure in Bhutan ( see following pages ) was a visit to a tiny temple clinging to the side of a cliff – close to the country’s famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery, but one-fiftieth the size. My guide Kesang and I reached the spot after a spectacular half-day hike. The door was closed, and from within we could hear a solo voice meditating in a low drone. Kesang gave a knock and the droning stopped. Light footsteps followed, and then the door swung open, revealing a middle-aged Bhutanese man in a red beanie, with a soft smile and a gleam in the eye. The fellow welcomed us into the temple – it was a tight squeeze – and poured into our hands a small amount of holy water that we sipped then ritually rubbed into our hair. In very good English, he explained that he had lived in this small room, alone, for a year and four months. He was approaching the halfway mark of a meditation retreat that was to last three years, three months and three days; we were lucky to be catching up with him now, he added, because from the two-year mark he was forbidden to speak. “And what will you do when you’re finished?” I inquired. “I’ll go and visit the masters and ask them for advice. They may recommend a course of deeper meditation.”

“I’ll ask the masters for advice; they may recommend a course of deeper meditation.”

Deeper ? One wonders how you go “deeper” than spending a third of a decade on a rocky ledge of a Himalayan mountain, thousands of metres above sea level. Still, the man seemed utterly content. He was, I guessed, approaching 50 – an age when most of us are seeking contentment by cramming as much into every day as possible: work, family, fitness, fresh experiences – you know, ticking off the bucket list. It did make me wonder, spending time with this serene fellow, why we’re always in such a hurry. – SHAMUS SILLAR


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