In 2001, I was traveling alone through the middle of India on my way to Ladakh, the high Himalayan mountains on the Tibetan Plateau. I decided to visit Khujaraho, home of many famous temples. Usually the town was filled with tourists viewing the artful, carved depictions of lovers in a variety of scenes along ancient stone temple walls, however I happened to be there in the quiet, rainy monsoon season. There were very few people there and no one in my guest house except the middle aged man who was running the place.
Curiously he, an Indian person, was obsessed with studying Italian and would often try to persuade me to practice with him. I would grow restless and return to my room to meditate, ruminate on my life at the time which was a little lonely and very free. My lover had returned to the States to make money and I was on my way to have my own adventure in the mountains.
During my time in Khujaraho, I received the news that my Hungarian grandfather had a stroke and was ill in the hospital. He was ninety-six years old and I was concerned about whether I should go back to the States or stay in India. One night as I meditated on this question, I had a very curious experience. At certain times in my life I have been able to leave my body and travel the astral realms. These experiences are spontaneous and I have yet to master this art as they often seem driven by times of stress and intense growth.
The evening I found out about my grandfather I went to lie down and had the familiar sensation of my etheric body spinning wildly as it left my physical self. That particular time I recall hearing many voices, mostly women singing high pitched tones as I journeyed above and beyond the village and over the land. I distinctly remember passing over Africa and marveling at its size.
I traveled to visit my grandfather who lay in his hospital bed. I could see him from a soul perspective and the side of his face looked like it was cracked open with an immense light pouring out from it. I knew immediately that he would die soon. Strangely I held an old style telephone up to my ear so I could talk with him and I told him I loved him and asked him if I should come home or go to the mountains. He said, ‘go to the mountain.’ Apparently the next morning he managed to tell my mom that he had spoken with me and I was to head to the mountains!
A few days later I took the long overnight train ride to Delhi, then boarded a plane and flew to Ladakh, the high mountain plateau that was annexed by India but retains the rich spiritual heritage of Ladakhi people. They are practicing Tibetan Buddhists with their own flavor of tradition. One day, while walking along the street I felt very strange as if I were hit by something. I fell over, onto the ground, and immediately knew something had happened. Later I received word that my grandfather had passed.
Without much thought I haphazardly boarded a local bus and took it to a random village. I was numb and a little distraught. I disembarked from the bus and wandered up to the local monastery. There was one small monk in his red robes who saw me, smiled and immediately led me to the shrine room. He unlocked the low cramped door and ushered me inside. Butter lamps burned and the walls were thick with the years of smoke from the incense and lamp offerings. Perhaps the place had never been washed.
There, strangely in the center of the room was a large Buddha labeled in English, ‘Funerary Buddha.’ I had never before, or ever since, seen a ‘funerary Buddha.’ I lit a lamp for my Grandfather, the monk smiling knowingly. He sat down near me and began to recite his mantras, slowly turning the beads of his mala and muttering. The huge Buddha loomed above me, gazing both down and outward as if reading the vastness of my soul. I cried. Tears of remembrance and wonder and perfection at being in the perfect place so far from my home and yet felt closer to my grandfather than ever before.