By Ven Ciampa Tsomo
I am a 70 year old Italian buddhist nun and I have lived for 15 years in a very isolated retreat place surrounded by woods, which Geshe Jampa Gyatso, former resident lama of ILTK where I was based, named Tara House..
This year when wild fires fire came around Tara House (TH), it was not the same as the previous summers – in general fire comes every summer around here, but in each very area it’s episodical, in 2-3 days everything is done, and it still continues to happen yes but far away in other areas, so one’s live contact with destruction, fear and so forth doesn’t last very long. But this summer it was eternal. Day after day, one could see flames or feel smoke at left, at right and behind, Canadairs roars everyday (which means: there is fire quite nearby even if one can’t see it directly) over and over and over, creating in me a constant expectation of disaster.
In the first days I was still …myself so to say: following my normal daily schedule of life and practice and also doing more prayers for those (human and animals) already affected in this area, in Italy, in the world; and pretending not to be touched by the reality of total isolation from other human beings which I do live in and which cannot be changed, not even exceptionally. But by the days passing and passing still in such an emergency mode, my self-identity got melted. A subtle pervasive fear was eroding whatever make up I had constructed in the last 15 years about being an hermit nun in retreat in this place; my natural empathy for the surrounding disastered people and sentient beings was not helping but aggravating my sense of disintegration. After a while I was not even able to follow my online debate sessions – I had to take a break not only from debate but from my very staying in Tara House, so I kind of escaped far away from it for a few days.
Even this time the fire never harmed the very ground of Tara House, though. The most important factor when fires arise in the dry season, is wind. Wind can be controlled by wordly Protectors and their retinue such as local deities etc., so I think it’s important to have one’s samayas intact more than possible so that Protectors would not feel neglected and won’t like to help. When fire actully came inside TH’s ground during my 3 year retreat, it took not only many trees but also all the bushes very very close to the house and to the gas container – it even melted the cover of the gas pipes, but TH stayed intact and the container didn’t explode. Neither the electricity pole nor cables were touched also. At that time I was totally dedicated to my commitments so I think I was well protected. And Geshe-la Jampa Gyatso, my Lama, was still alive so His very Body being around in this world and in my same country was by itself a great protection for us.
This time TH was also luckily saved from fire even if in these last years I am not keeping my commitments in the same detailed way than I used to do during my 3 years strict retreat. And from another side, I have to reflect that many Tibetan lamas in Tibet and thousands of good monks were keeping their commitments very well and had great Gurus of theirs still alive, yet land Protectors could not help enough about Chinese invasion. The “protection”, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says, worked at another level.
So at present I am left by such a hard lesson from the fire with a disrupted sense of identity of myself as a nun, as a practitioner, as a Dharma student (I used to be quite able as a debate student in these months, after this last shock I noticed having many holes in my memory and in my very intelligence, and not even being able to connect with other students easily!) and as an introductional Dharma teacher (which I have always been so attached to). I am now back in TH but some days I wake up and for hours I don’t even remember sitting on the meditation seat in order to recite my prayers! It comes only slowly during the day, in relation with very basic happenings which remind me what I still can do with my life. So, since it came out very clear to me that it was a made up identity, I don’t feel willing to make it up again anymore. Such an amount of energies, hopes and fears for nothing! I am rather just basically and hardly reconnecting with my own desire of helping myself and others to realize emptiness and I rejoice everyday for having got such perfect teachings and examples and blessings and vows for so many years. I have got everything, everything a human being can possibly expect from life, there is no need to make up anything else.
I also thought that I will not use wood for the fireplace in my house anymore. Inside the stored wood there are always some insects since it’s been there for many years, it’s not fresh wood so they build their homes inside it, and by putting the wood in the fireplace they die in the flames, with much pain I guess. In the past I had tried to dispel insects from the wood by using repellent substances, but it didn’t work enough since they are hidden in the very inside. I have a lot of wood stored for fireplace but now I think I will give it all away. It’s just about very basic equanimity feeling, I don’t want to be burned by flames so the same has to be for insects. I can warm up my house in other ways.
This fall there was a disaster in Sicily with floods. It didn’t touch Tara House. But it was very heavy all around Sicily. This land is falling apart: terrible fires in the summer, floods in the winter, so many roads run down, no more work, crazy people fighting pathetically about yes vax/ no vax – like in many other places, as we know – instead of finding a common ground of solidarity. To me, it’s like I never knew what samsara was, before this last period….privileged and secluded for years and years in the nutshell of the blessings from my Yidams and Gurus, grasping to my “virtue” (?), blind about the real world and so too rarely feeling active compassion (=sincere enlightenment mind) for the terrible condition of human beings in less privileged countries, playing the victim role if something doesn’t greet me, easily judging others – especially my Dharma mates – in order to avoid the reality of interconnection of all of us obscured beings, no matter if involved with Dharma or not… What a heaviness, wow…