One of my most precious memories of my mother is one, strangely enough, where we were thousands of kilometers apart. We did not even get to exchange conversation. Yet all the same, I felt a powerful connection to her as we shared a special moment in time. It was the evening of December 31, 1999. I was in a large room functioning as the sleeping quarters, kitchen and general living area for two monks. It led into a temple in the Songzanlin Monastery, nestled at the foot of hills overlooking Zhongdian, Yunnan, China. Having just arrived an hour or two before, my hosts were as curious about me as I was about them. They stood looking at me in their robes with attentive smiles as I called my mother to greet her on the new millennium using a cellphone. I looked back at them joyously as I left a message enthusiastically telling her where I was and who I was with.
My mother, Jennifer Lynch
The two monks could not understand the details of much, if anything, of what I was saying. One of them spoke a little English, enough to say "come, sit down" and to welcome me to stay the night with them. In the next few days I discovered he had learned English while walking for three months from Nepal to Dharamsala in India. He would have caught the bus but he had run out of money after catching a bus from Yunnan into Tibet, and then from Tibet into Nepal.
Temple, Songzanlin Monastery
A few days later I received a happy email from my mother telling me about her new millennium experience on a beach in Aotearoa New Zealand, and the surprise and delight she felt surge through her when she listened to the unexpected phone message.
I put in hours and hours of meditation in the ten days I spent at the monastery. I remember going onto the roof of the temple building and gazing up into the stars in the dark of night, thinking that in our deepest consciousness we can outlive even the stars. I remember my host explaining the Chinese occupation of Tibet with simple yet remarkably vivid language: "China sit in Tibet, very bad". I remember him not letting me sweep clean the months and perhaps years of accumulated dirt in the room above the temple. I remember the room we slept in being so cold at night that water would freeze. Then there was the yak butter tea that tasted nothing like tea, but rather just as you would expect a mix of regular butter and hot water to taste. But most of all I remember leaving my mother a happy and hopeful message on the night I arrived.
A few years later my mother became a Buddhist in the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Her new practice and faith was a great help to her as she struggled first with cancer, and then with her impending death. Within fifteen minutes of her passing away in the Mary Potter hospice in Wellington New Zealand on March 29 2006, I made another phone call. This time it was to Lama Karma Samten Gyatso, a Tibetan monk staying in Dharamsala. He performed an "ejection of consciousness" ritual by chanting over the telephone. When the ritual was completed he asked me to locate the crown of her head. When I had done so, he then asked me to grip some of her hair and pull it out. I remember thinking "but it will hurt!" before realizing that it no longer made a difference. Lama Samten informed me that the hair was to be used in a fire ritual to be held later that year in Dharamsala.
Ejection of consciousness ritual
Two phone calls across the world thus connected three Tibetan monks and a mother and son in the great mystery we know as life. There was a connection between those calls. They were not isolated events. They circle both my mother's life and my own.