Cave in the Snow

I have been able to get a lot of reading in of late, and a couple of nights ago I finished the book, Cave in the Snow - A Western Woman's Quest for Enlightenment, by Vicki Mackenzie. It documents the story of Tenzin Palmo, an Englishwoman who was the first Western woman to be ordained a Buddhist nun. She spent 12 years in a cave meditating, 3 of them without any human contact whatsoever.

This is a book I had been meaning to read for years, and I literally shuffled it from one room of the house to another. Finally, I passed by it last week, and it caught my eye. I picked it up, and couldn't put it down. There is a right time for everything, and since I have spent so much time in meditation and some isolation these last two years, it spoke to me.

After meeting Tenzin Palmo on a retreat, the author, Vicki Mackenzie, asks if she can write her story. Though Tenzin is initially reluctant, she allows it, describing her life in the following manner:

"My life has been like a river, it has flowed steadily in one direction. The purpose of life is to realize our spiritual nature. And to do that one has to go away and practice, to reap the fruits of the path, otherwise you have nothing to give anyone else."

The path of her life, leading to that cave was not easy by any means. She did not have a model she could look to or emulate but instead, tread a path where none had gone before her. When she found her cave, in northern India, at an altitude of over 13,000 feet, she knew instantly this was the place she would meditate in for the next several years.

"It had everything she need. Here, perched like an eagle on the top of the world, she would most definitely not be bothered by the clamour and clutter of human commerce. She would have the absolute silence she yearned for. The silence that was so necessary to her inner search, for she knew, like all meditators, that it was only in the depth of silence that the voice of the Absolute could be heard. She could bury herself in the confines of her cave to pursue her spiritual practices without interruption. She could go out and look at the mountains and the infinite sky. She would see no one..."

She almost died on a few occasions. Once, when supplies were not delivered to her, she almost starved. And at another time - a blizzard walled her in and she was trapped. But yet she remained, without fear, totally dedicated to her practice, meditating 12 hours a day, and even sleeping upright in a meditation posture. She had vowed to reach Enlightenment in a female form, which most Buddhists believe is not possible - however long it took her to do so.

"What is Enlightenment but the heart knowing itself? This is very hard. Just as the eye can see the whole world but cannot see itself, so the heart can know everything but has great difficulty in understanding itself."

More tomorrow...


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