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A practiced hand paints a thanka. Photo by Cara Starnbach, North India Program.

Everything is holy!

“Everything is holy! Everybody’s holy! Everywhere is holy! Everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!”

This is an Allen Ginsberg quote that has always stuck with me, but I must confess I never truly understood. It felt like a bit of an exaggeration, the musings of an eccentric man with eccentric thoughts. However, after having spent the past few days in Tso Pema, I can say with absolute certainty that Mr. Ginsberg and I are on the same page.

In Tso Pema, the three religions of Buddhism, Sikhism, and Hinduism coexist in perfect synchronicity, along with the tremor and tremble of the modern world. A dozen different temples surround a luminescent green lake, and monkeys, cows, and birds take ownership of the land. Every morning, thick white clouds roll in over the mountains, engulfing the town and somehow succeeding in making the vivid colors even brighter. Taking a kora around the lake, one can’t help but greet every face they see, and be greeted with kind eyes and a delighted smile in return. Happiness reigns supreme here, in spite of poverty, sporadic weather patterns, and vicious monkeys, and the happiness has contaminated our group as well, and we have taken to this small piece of paradise as if it was our own.

Today, we embarked on a three hour hike up to a cave overlooking the valley, where notable Guru Padmasambhava meditated for eight years. Despite the slippery rocks, heavy rain, and steep nature of the hike, the phenomenal beauty of the landscape still managed to take my breath away. Rolling green fields managed by cows and goats were interrupted by yellow houses, flapping prayer flags, and heavy mist. Bright wildflowers punctuated the luscious landscape, and I couldn’t help but feel that absolute peace could be discovered here.

Once we reached the cave, greeted by a kind nun and several amiable dogs, there was a change in the air. The energy shifted, and we were all simultaneously made aware of the beauty and holiness of the place we had entered. The faint smell of incense coupled with the cool and dim lighting prompted us to sit in silent meditation for quite a while, though I couldn’t tell you how long. Afterwards, we enjoyed hot butter tea and a garden of prayer flags, and the most phenomenal view I’ve ever seen. The sun finally greeted us with his golden hour light, and the entire valley glittered under freshly fallen rain and the pride of a hike well hiked.

There is an energy here that cannot be put into words, or song, or poetry. No photo can do it justice, and a meager yak post barely comes close. The best way I could possibly put it is a mantra we’ve learned during our meditation, a soft hum that signifies the sound of the universe.

Ohm. ॐ