Saturday night I was invited to a snazzy New Year’s party at the Mongolian Cultural Palace as the guest of Erka’s company, and I pondered the evolution of my karma. For ten years I was in VIP catering in DC and I would ordinarily be working a party like this. Holidays, for me, only meant extra labor (it literally meant that for my sister the OB doc -- she delivered two babies yesterday!). I mentioned this to Erka and she said with a laugh, “Everyone around me, their lives improve.” I replied, “Yup, a rising tide lifts every boat,” and immediately regretted it as I spent the next fifteen minutes explaining the saying to people who live in a country with no ocean coasts. Once we sort of got what a “tide” was, then it was like, “OK, so, am I the tide? Or the boats?” Luckily, I was able to cut it off just before it reached the level of agony with a bright, “Hey look! The buffet’s open!”
Dinner was wonderful, provided by several of UB’s top restaurants. Entertainment followed, and I heard a song playing that I’d seen the video for in a local café. Since there was closed circuit TV, I realized that it was being performed live by Mongolia’s sassy pop star Ariunaa. Because I care so much about the cultural education of y’all, I waded through the crowd, the only honky in sight and wrapped in monk’s robes to boot, to snap this pic from the balcony:
This was also the first time I got to see Mongolians dancing to Western-style music and…let’s just say that I uttered a few prayers that James Brown might have some compassion and reincarnate here. Once the dancing starts and the likker’s flowing, though, that’s my cue to make a graceful exit, which I did, but not before being corralled to take about a hundred photos of every possible permutation of Erka’s family and guests. Happy to do it after all she’s done for me.
The next day, the actual New Year’s Eve, I was on to teach my little group at 11. I arrived at the Mandal Tov and, with no one showing up, I figured everyone was busy with family or party preparations, or bored with me, or whatever. But then Darisuren escorted me and my translator back into the neighborhoods to her home. To my surprise and delight, quite a number of people had gathered, and they knew it was my birthday. We started with the teaching, continuing on the subject of karma. Afterward, there were so many lovely gifts from people, along with copious writing of names once they found out I could email prayer requests back to my American temple.
My most cherished moment, though, was when the oldest woman came up to me. She had come in just to visit Darisuren – didn’t know there was a teaching, but happily stayed. She went into an effusive thanks for the teaching, to the point where tears started flowing. I was so moved. You could see the relief and gratitude after her faith had had to be kept secret for so long. She’s in front of Darisuren in this group photo, wearing the greenish traditional deel:
We all had a wonderful time together and then I met Oyunaa for a Mongolian lesson. She brought me a cake from her family’s bakery. I left it intact last night, but sampled it for breakfast! Yum. She got a big laugh from the pig-themed card my mother had sent me (the handwritten part begins: "My very dear Pig..." -- oh, and she wrote to remind me that the pig designation was not just due to my eating habits as an infant, but also to the perpetual condition of my room (the "pigpen") and the sorry state of my clothes, hands, and face after playing with the other boys in the neighborhood), and, with help from her, I told her the whole tale of the Three Little Pigs – in Mongolian, thank you very much. As she left I was also able to unload the two bottles of sparkling wine that had been given me!
Then it was just me ‘n’ Mooj. I shifted to what my community always does on New Year’s Eve – extensive prayers for this bruised and troubled world, culminating in the renewal of vows just at midnight. It was not hard to visualize the parts of this world fraught with warfare – Mongols love them some fireworks on the last night of the year. Anyway, I entered 2007 with a mind more like this, wishing that all others might have the same, an image of the Buddha in our Stupa Park taken by Brother Palzang after the first snowfall in Sedona:
My love to you all, and may your 2007 and beyond be filled with kindness, humor, health and wisdom. Here's what my Ma sent me as the quote for December 31 from her Daily Dalai Lama desk calendar:
"When we talk about getting the perfect wisdom of a Buddha, we should not think that we need to create qualities in ourselves that are not there already, and acquire them from somewhere outside of us. Rather we should see perfect Buddha wisdom as a potenial that is being realized."