A “Compulsory” Retreat During Lockdown

1. [A Whirlwind of Semester]

This past semester has been very special in many ways. Having finished my first semester last year here at RYI, I was quite looking forward to forge deeper into the “torturing” yet enchanting Tibetan language. Everything was peaceful and on the right track before the reading week until the outbreak of COVID-19 brought about an abrupt change. As was regulated by the Nepali government, the country would enter into a nationwide lock-down, meaning that schools and shops would be closed, and people stay home in quarantine. While the number of casualties started to surge in many major cities with dense population across the globe, we were alerted that confirmed cases of COVID-19 also began to show up in Kathmandu.

This picture was taken during my Classical Tibetan class in late March, which is just a week after Nepal’s announcement of lockdown. To be very honest, during a global pandemic when numerous lives were taken away abruptly and unwillingly, we really are the fortunate few. For this I think we owe many “thank you”s to the IT team of RYI, who’ve responded in a fast manner and built up online classrooms for each of our courses. And the online teaching came with perks: each class was recorded and readily accessible for later watching. But there’s more than knowledge that the past semester and the lockdown has taught us.

2. [A “Compulsory” Retreat] 

My Rinpoche said in his most recent teaching that for a long while, we’ve wished to go to retreats, but now the opportunity came and we were worrying instead of putting our hearts one-pointedly into the Dharma practice. As a Buddhist, I believe in the power of Dharma practice and dedication. Now that we are required to stay home besides occasional shopping trips for necessities, we should, and finally can leave aside most of our mundane concerns and practice for those who are suffering, who are less fortunate than us. My Ngondro practices which were once so tedious, are seeming to be less tiring now.

The days during quarantine reminded us of how much we’ve taken for granted. Utpala Cafe used to offer us lunch everyday with student discount. And sometimes, when academic work became intense, we might, very often, dine outside. But during the quarantine, when I was out for my weekly or sometimes biweekly vegetable shopping trips to Utpala, I saw people sharing vegetables instead of money to beggars, bringing the rice that they were hoarding for themselves to starving pigeons at Boudha Stupa, and building lovely shelter for five of the newborn, golden-hair puppies that live on the street. I couldn’t help thinking that in the past we thought we were “kind” and “okay” people, but chances are that maybe we’ve spent too much money on ourselves whilst being unaware of it. With 20 rupees, I get to have a whole bundle of fresh veggies enough for 3 meals, and with just water, I can have “scallions” growing out of onion bulbs for both myself and for sharing with my neighbors. Having resources and supplies at our hand doesn’t make us their owners, but instead sharers. And we are more interdependent to each other than we’ve perceived before.

3. [A Lesson on Impermanence]

Today is the 77th day of quarantine, and yet the confirmed cases are still piling up. We have no idea when the curve will be flattened. During lockdown, the place I have been frequenting most often is the rooftop of of the guest house that I’m staying at. At a distance, I can see the pinnacle of the Boudha Stupa. It is believed that in one of his previous lifetimes, Guru Rinpoche, Padamsambhava built this stupa with his bothers in order to fulfil their mother’s wish. Since then, numerous merit has been told about this stupa over centuries. I pray to Guru Rinpoche and the Stupa that the cloud of disease will part soon and bright sunlight will soon be in the offing. We shall survive these gloomy days together, and when we do, we’ll remember this lesson of impermanence and dive into the practice of dharma, until we all become liberated.

May all be auspicious.

~ Mingxiu Zhong

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