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Photo by Kendall Marianacci, Nepal Semester.

Something to Steep About

Tea. Chiyaa. NOT chai (thanks Dave). Dudh chiyaa, kaalo chiyaa, kagaati chiyaa, ginger tea, masala tea- we encounter these teas whilst travelling virtually everywhere we have traveled in this country. Tea is the constant in our lives. From Day One to now, whether trekking, getting acquainted in Bhaktapur, or resting between language class and ISP, we have constantly made space in our day for the ritual of drinking tea. And today is no exception. But. Today we are not drinking milk tea, or black tea, or lemon tea, or even ginger tea. Not even the spice-filled (We mean, masaledaar) sensory experience of masala tea is gracing our palette this fine, slightly foggy afternoon up in NamoBuddha monastery. No, dear friends, subscribers to our Yak Board, loyal followers and friends alike, today we drink mate.

We know what you’re thinking- “but Maya! Lyza! Mate isn’t from Nepal!”

And to that, we would respond, “you are correct. But. The ritual of tea drinking (and yes, Jeff Wagner and Nick, we know mate is not tea), the communal passing of taatopaani and leaves, the synchronized sipping of sweet, steeped serenity, we have realized, is universal, and a mindful, bond-growing, grounding, and all-around enjoyable way of life that spans geographical and spiritual miles. To us, tea is a religious experience, a religious experience further heightened by the morning pujas, meditation with Kempo-la, and mindfulness practice we have been filling our collective headspace with in the recent few days. There is a Sanskrit word Satsangha, which translates to “truth in community,” and the rituals of sharing tea and meditation on the Three Jewels- the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha- that we have been practicing collectively embody this concept of the truth in community. Through our practice of meditation, we have been relinquishing our control and our grasp on our conception of self, and examining the question of what truth is for us as sentient beings. In this, we are beginning to ponder the gift that is precious human life. The teachings (dharma) are reminding us and waking us up to the gratitude that is so easily taken for granted with respect to our ability to develop spiritually and cognitively, and through this gift of consciousness, cultivate change and awareness of ourselves and our actions. At the same time, we are also questioning our previously conceived “realities” of the very existence of self, of time, and of our movement through physical and temporal spaces. To say that these ideas are making us feel detached, confused, and restless is a gross understatement. So what do we do about that? Dear friends, loyal subscribers, as you probably guessed, we turn to our tea. And our mate. Our mate ritual that could not exist without our sangha (which, in case you have forgotten, refers to our community). We use the space created by our mate to challenge each other, find comfort in mutual confusion, and re-center our concentration through breath. And the unmistakable aroma of some dried, old, Argentinian yerba leaves in a gourd.

This very aroma alone had the power to bring us both to the verge of tears. And as we passed our gourd, a bond was formed, a bond that could not exist without interdependent co-origination, or pratītyasamutpāda, in Sanskrit. You see, mate originated in Argentina, Maya originated in Boulder, and Lyza originated in New York. So, without the stroke of Argentinian genius that brought to life the sacred sipping of mate, Maya’s decision to bring her beloved gourd and bombilla, and Lyza’s last-minute whim to carry a bag of mate to and through the Himalayas, and of course, the life-giving water of Nepal, our ritual mate sangha could not even be here. Without Maya, Lyza would have no vehicle for their mate, and without Lyza, Maya would have no mate for her vehicle. But the stars aligned, the Himalayas called us both from our radically different lives, and we made mate. This, to us, is an embodiment of the Buddhist principle of interdependent co-origination.

So, we have two full days left at NamoBuddha, but a lifetime of teachings to process and inquire about. We know that there;s no way for us to understand it all, but, armed with a full gourd and thermos of taato (but not boiling, of course) paani, we will continue to ponder and grow as students and lovers of mate, mountains, and meditation.