We entered a crowded square after sunset. Even though it was dark, it was still very warm and I felt sticky from the heat and humidity. It had been a long day, and I was thirsty, tired, and slightly cranky. I told myself if I only had a cold bottle of water, I’d be happy.
In front of us was the Boudhanath Stupa encircled by waves of people of all sizes, and ages, walking clockwise, alone or in small groups. Now and then individuals would peel away from the current to spin a prayer wheel, pause before an alter to light a candle, or leave a small offering.
The square was filled with the cacophony of hundreds of footfalls, dogs barking, friends calling to each other, and muttered prayers. Small shops whose bright lights, proprietors, and products spilled out onto concrete seemed wedged between the surrounding walls and the circling people. It was another reminder that Kathmandu is filled with four million people and who knows how many dogs, monkeys, and cows.
I removed my shoes in front of large doorway and entered an illuminated temple. The golden statue of Buddha, 15-20 feet high immediately captured my attention. I then noticed the offerings of incense, rice, fruit, candles, drinks, brightly colored geometric models, bowls of money, and the seven bowls of water.
I padded down the outside aisle, appreciating the cool tile floor under my heat-puffy feet. I walked around a raised platform and saw the Master of the monastery cross-legged on a cushion.
He was dressed in traditional maroon and yellow robes. He smiled, lightly grasped my hand and asked my name. As I leaned down toward him, he placed a pale cream-colored scarf around my neck, repeated my name, and blessed me.
We sat on mats in front of and below the Master and a row of monks. He said that they were going to chant a prayer for us and encouraged us to meditate while they prayed. I closed my eyes, adjusted my posture, and focused on my breathing.
Like my experience at a Buddhist nunnery in Bhutan, I was immediately swept away by the melodic and rhythmic chanting. The Master’s voice blended into the cadence of the monks, and then skipped out as if he were dancing within the notes of each phrase. The sound of the monks’ voices faded in and out of my awareness as I meditated.
Lest you think that I don’t struggle with “monkey mind,” rest assured that even in the presence of chanting monks, drifting incense, and an invitation from a Master, my mind was as busy as a Los Angeles freeway.
I caught my mind repeatedly wandering, thinking, wondering. Each time, I would remind myself to “Return to the breath, Carol, return to your breath.”
As the sounds of the prayer faded out the door into the night, I opened my eyes to see the Master smiling broadly. Energy and kindness that seemed palpable radiated from him as he spoke. It felt as if he was speaking directly to me and only me, his eyes intently observing my face.
He provided us with suggestions on how to meditate and answered questions from the group. One statement he made I keep repeating in my mind, even now, weeks later. “There is no such thing as happiness. Happiness is an illusion. However, one can be very happy.”
I wish now I had asked him to elaborate. At the time I was trying to take in as much of the experience as possible; the temple, the monks, the candle light, every sight, smell, sound, and physical sensation.
I’ve thought a lot about that statement in the weeks that followed our visit to the temple. I believe the Master was saying that being happy in the moment is where we should focus our energy.
Happiness isn’t a destination or an end-point. Searching for happiness (in whatever form we think it must be) is a fool’s errand or a Sisyphean task. Being happy in the moment requires us to be mindful. So, what if a moment is but a blink of an eye or the flap of a hummingbird’s wing?
There are innumerable moments in life in which to be happy. We just need to be present in each one. May you be happily present in the moments of your life.