Mr A. Writinghawk (writinghawk) wrote,
Mr A. Writinghawk

From the bath house

Wandering out late afternoon after rain all day. Tashi, the Rinpoche's monk attendant (his Ananda, as I think of him) hails me and says he is taking me to Rinpoche. He leads me past a house near mine to a wooden shed which I understand to be an outside bathroom of some kind. Incomprehensibly he opens the door, and even more incomprehensibly inside there is a wooden bathtub and stretched out in boxer shorts having a bath is Rinpoche, with a Heath-Robinson contraption heating water via a ceiling-high wood-burning cylinder and pipes, and three Very Small Monks sit at edge of room, having perhaps been having an audience. Rinpoche, quite unfazed, starts chatting at length - how did I find the puja, was it touching heart, so-and-so (a Canadian acquaintance of Rinpoche who came for the puja and was a temporary housemate) thinks highly of me, lessons will start tomorrow, these here are some of my students, 'This one is very naughty - sometimes I want to beat him ...' (the monk in question has somewhere found a length of triangular plastic file binder and has been feeding it with interest into the fire), how and what do I propose to teach the young monks, how will I explain meaning without knowing Himalistani, am I going to start Buddhist practice, what kind of meditation do I do, why do I think I should block thoughts during breath meditation -

(I say no of course you can't block them, I meant be aware of them and keep the focus on the breath ...)

Tashi stokes the fire, pushing a big log further in. I don't know how this contraption works but Rinpoche is still sitting in steaming hot water after we have been chatting for half an hour. The wooden tub leaks slightly onto the earth floor, which is perhaps a design feature allowing the water to be continually topped up.

- There will always be thoughts that come on the in-breath, the important thing is to note whether it is a good or a bad thought, he hears I was after the girls in the Chinese group (no), did I like all the girls who came to the blessing (I didn't notice them), actually he thinks I don't like girls, oh who told me that no it's fine to talk about that in Himalistan there's plenty going on nowadays in the capital, he must introduce me to his gay friend who is a cousin of the King's, please don't get frisky with any of his monks, why don't I move into Tsering's house so I have someone to talk to - plesae don't turn Tsering gay - he's a little like a woman, isn't he? Oh, I don't find Tsering attractive, are there any monks that are attractive? -

'I couldn't possibly say,' I reply, turning my head as surreptitiously as possible to verify that Tashi, who at one point had gone off somewhere, is once again standing behind me.

- Oh you can say, he says gleefully, and then having perhaps followed my train of thought or perhaps not he tactfully drops the subject, do you think I am married, yes yes I am married, I have three children, no I'm joking I'm not married, look there's a shower, you can go and come back with your towel after my bath and have a hot shower, Tashi will help you.

I am not sure what kind of help Tashi will provide, but sure enough there is a shower head in the ceiling of the little wooden shack connected up to the mysterious pipework.

'I'll come back in half an hour,' I say, uncertainly, though a hot shower would certainly be welcome.

At the appointed time I come back and hear merry voices from within the shack. 'I'm too early,' I say loudly, but I am summoned in. Rinpoche is negotiating himself delicately out of a towel and into a pair of shorts. 'I am a body-builder, yes?', he says, indicating his substantial frame which while not exactly fat is not altogether a body builder's either. The bath which it previously thoroughly filled is now occupied by the three Very Small Monks, naked as the day they were born, two lying happily at one end and one at the other. Rinpoche manoeuvres out onto the grass singing about how refreshed he feels and leaves me to have my shower. I strip down to the swimming trunks I have providentially brought and ask Tashi how to turn on the shower. He simultaneously turns two levers and water gushes out, becoming deliciously warm after a few moments. Tashi is now soaping down the first of the Very Small Monks, while I wash my hair and lather myself up and generally luxuriate in the unaccustomed shower for as long as seems reasonable, after which I step out of the stream of water and say 'Thank you' to Tashi, who says 'Finished?' in seeming surprise at my haste, and turns off the shower.

Of course, despite the happy discovery that there is a hot shower on the site, I can't simply waltz up any time and take one, since it is only actually operational when a log fire has been kindled in the boiler. No doubt Bath Day happens once in a week, or in a month, or something. You might think an electric shower would be altogether less fuss and they surely can't be that difficult to install, but quite possibly the monastery has not had electricity very long, and very probably this extraordinary contraption has been here longer.

Two hours later I am on my way back to my room from the monastery kitchen when I run into Tashi, who tells me in his limited English that he has just finished his duties in the bathroom, where, so far as I could gather, there was a string of further Very Small Monks in need of his services.
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