Here at Pullahari the buildings that house the Three-Year Retreat participants are just uphill from the buildings where westerners stay while studying in the Rigpe Dorje Programme. The three-year retreat is a noisy operation, with pujas starting around 4:30am and often running late into the night. Each puja has its own melodies, instruments, drum sequences and often a dedicated time of day, so someone who’s familiar with the practices can tell what’s going on in there just by deciphering the ritual noises that echo out their windows.
The other night heavy clouds of strange-smelling smoke wafted out of the vicinity of the retreat buildings. I assume they were doing some sort of puja that involves dumping so much stuff on a bonfire that it simply smolders for hours.
At the moment, all of the retreatants are alone in their rooms doing chöd practice. Imagine the sound of 34 men each proceeding – with no synchronicity whatsoever – through cycles of chanting, ringing bells and rattling two-sided hand drums the size of inside-out melons. Periodically the air is pierced by the slow, shrill howl of a kangling (tib. ཀང་རླིང་), which is a horn made from human thigh bone.
This feels like home. Some people feel relief at the sound of urban flow. Some sigh at the sound of song birds. Others drop their guard when they smell manure wafting across grassy fields. Likewise, I feel profoundly at ease when I hear serious meditators doing noisy pujas across the way.