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Photo by Catherine Von Holt, Nepal Semester.

Searchers

The first thing we notice: the silence. Deep, like a shimmering well of black water who knows how old, the kind of silence that almost feels alive: each whisper, it would swallow whole. We sit on cold stone, legs crossed in some attempt at a meditative pose, feet bare against well-worn rock that hasn’t touched sunlight for generations. Just us, and the crimson-clad monks who led us here. But we are not alone.

In the corner of the cave, a figure rests. He, too, sits in a cross-legged pose; however, there is something different about him. His eyes, instead of darting around the room, are open and peaceful. His hands lie contentedly in his lap; the only garment on his gold-painted, dust-covered body is a white scarf, a khata, draped around his neck. Indeed, we have not chanced upon just any cave.

Long ago, a great guru named Padmasambhava single-handedly brought Buddhism to Tibet. It is said that he spent time meditating in the high mountains of Nepal, and that, long ago, he sat where the five of us are now sitting; long ago, he rested in this very silence that now encircles us like a blanket.

One monk cracks a gap-toothed smile. He gestures with one hand- we are allowed to meditate here. He retreats to the warmth of the monastery he helped to build around this very spot. The silence returns. I start to close my eyes –

And unexpectedly, I find them filling with tears. My gaze returns to the eyes of Guru Padmasambhava, and I ponder all of the people who have sat in this very cave, searching for something. Who were they? Travelers, like us? Monks? Villagers? Who was it who carved this statue, who believed so earnestly in the Guru’s teachings? Surely, they are dead now — just dust in the ferocious alpine wind. What about them — did they ever find what they were looking for?

We are all searchers, the eyes of Padmasambhava seem to say, we are all searchers. Though we seek in myriad different ways – in monasteries or yoga studios, whilst hiking, or driving under the stars, through booze and drugs, Nepali music or Kendrick Lamar, the merchant streets of Pokhara or the alien stars of Na, the glow of a touch-screen or the dim shine of the statue of Padmasambhava, we are all searching, searching for something. I look around at my friends and instructor, sitting next to me in the darkness of the cave. Just like those who made the statue, we too will become dust. What about us? We seek, but will we ever find?

Yes, we will – no, we won’t – Padmasambhava’s eyes tell me, it doesn’t matter. We are all searchers together. As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, “Questions unite people; answers divide them.” Perhaps, the question is the point – perhaps, we were never supposed to find?

The meditation bell rings. I open my eyes.