Orgiva 4th February 2018
Snowy Pilgrimage to Green Tara
On the last Sunday of my retreat I had the priviledge of having an official walking guide called Santiago, take me on a little known walk to the Buddhist Centre that is hidden away, high in the Alpujarras. The Dalai Lama and the Alpujarras have a surprisingly strong connection…more about that another time. The forecast was for snow and rain, and right up until that morning there had been doubt about whether it would be possible to walk in these poor conditions. However, I was hopeful, and put all my layers on with a waterproof over the top. I had developed such bad blisters from my boots that I couldn’t wear them any longer, and when Santiago picked me up, he was both amused and horrified that I was wearing sandals. As we drove to the start of the walk, sandals looked even more inappropriate because it began to snow and cover the ground the higher we climbed.
When we got out of the van at about 1600 metres up, it was bitterly cold with fine snow swirling in the bracing mountain air. In spite of all my layers the icy wind penetrated right through to my bones so I was pleased that Santiago set off at the kind of pace which would keep us warm. The views at this height were breath taking and as we climbed higher and higher I grew more overwhelmed to the point of tears by the tremendous power, size and natural beauty of these mountains. Up here we were in the National Park and it was full of trees and animals. We followed the tracks of a fox for a while along the edge of an acequia, one of the ancient irrigation channels that create a network across these Alpujarra mountains, taking melting snow down into the valleys all year and throughout the parched summer. We also saw the tracks of a stoat or weasel and evidence of wild boars rummaging and foraging.
After an hour or two our way began to descend and we watched the clouds swirl and ebb like sea foam mounding up in the valleys. The cloud eventually reached us, plunging us into a white world of mist where the leafless trees loomed like ghosts. I was very glad to have someone with experience up here as it became increasingly difficult to keep some orientation. Our way took us past a mirador, a viewpoint which would have been spectacular had we been able to see more than 4 or 5 metres ahead. We continued on, not following any footpath now but descending on an open field and down towards the Buddhist community. Out of the swirling mist I began to discern a structure ahead of us. This was the shrine of the Green Tara, one of Buddhisms Bhoddisatvas. She was startlingly large, perhaps 2.5 metres, with full round breasts, beautiful hands, one held in a mudra (a ritual hand gesture) and the other facing upwards in a welcoming gesture.
She was raised on a plinth in the middle of a large man made pond and she was beautiful. I learned that she was the Bodhisattva of compassion and action who comes to help us in our physical, emotional and spiritual suffering and we must circumnavigate the pond three times whilst singing her mantra to gain the benefit of her blessing. Without hesitation Santiago took my hand and began to walk and sing. After a moment of self consciousness, I began to sing too; Om tare, tuttare, ture, soha… Then something strange and mysterious happened. The fog began to swirl around the pond, and overhead it began to get brighter. We continued walking and singing as the light whitened the air around us. My eyes which had grown used to the fog began to water in the brightness, and soon we were standing in sunlight, holding hands and looking at each other in delighted surprise. As we left, the fog swept back in behind us and Green Tara disappeared from view. If you live in a world of dead things this will be a coincidence of precipitation. If you come and live in my world, you will learn that the inner world is not separate from the outer world. It all occurs together in time and place and if we have the eyes to see it, we are surrounded by seemingly magical events that are really only natural phenomena brought about by consciousness and loving intention. William Blake says, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is, infinite.“
We spent some silent and prayerful time at the Buddhist retreat centre looking at the beautiful shrines that were scattered at intervals down the chilly hillside. The slower pace meant I began to feel very cold and when I mentioned this to Santiago his response was to resume our walk at a running pace. For the last twenty minutes we bounded over the rocks and up and down ridges and scree until we arrived back at the van, panting, hot and feeling very blessed and happy.