Lama Ngakpa in his room
Keeping an open mind, I decide I would like to have my prospects foretold by a Lama. The idea of rolling the dice, reading the tarot, seeing angels in tea leaves, stirring the entrails of a dead goat, laying silver on the palm of a chiromancer or allying the state of one’s being to the configuration of the stars and planets used to be a no no with me.
But as there is a limit to our knowledge in a universe of infinite possibilities, and there is a diminishing amount of time in this life during which to discover just that little bit more at least about oneself, I decide to give it a go with Lama Ngakpa in Boudhanath, Kathmandu. Maybe I have become too cynical by shunning an opportunity to try something new, I think: thus this new willingness to open myself to the experience of having my fortune/misfortune told. Simply put by my daughter when it comes to her fate and fortune governed by the horoscope in her daily download, It should be fun.
The Lama’s room is next to a Buddhist clinic a few minutes from the main Stupa. I must have passed it many times but for some reason never noticed. This is typical of the area. There are always nooks and crannies, lanes and narrow cul-de-sacs, temples and doorways that are missed no matter how often you pass them by: and around the stupa there is the constant confusion of people, dogs and pigeons always in flux – a microcosmic reminder of the ephemeral nature of the world in which we live.
When I enter the room, there are several other clients waiting and the Lama is reciting some prayers with that rapid machine-gun speed that amazes me. He is unusual in that he has long hair tied back and a rather impressive moustache plus an attractive, prepossessing manner expressed in the mindful actions of his hands as he punctuates important phrases in his litany.
After some time, he finishes and a woman from a remote village in the north asks him about accommodation in this crowded city with which she is having a problem. It seems that nothing is hidden in this room; no screened-off cabin or the chance of a private audience with the Lama.
A few throws of the dice later, advice is given and she hands him an airmail envelop containing a donation all wrapped neatly in a white kata.
My sister-in-law is next. She asks about a pain in her knees, although I’m not sure what his answer is as he talks to her in Hyolmo, a language close to Tibetan: mabye he’s advising her to change her mainly carbohydrate diet, which, by her appearance, would be sensible advice.
Then it’s my wife’s turn. She’s been wondering about returning to Scotland: will she be able to settle back into her routine with work after travelling for a year abroad? What about the weather, the house, the work, the food, the expenses, the children…oh, the worries when circumstances are beyond your sphere of influence, but also how liberating when you realise there’s nothing you can do anyway! However, any doubts quickly dissolve as Lama Ngakpa consoles her with a positive vision of the future.
My question is also about my return home: after seeing fewer than a six or seven days of rain in the time we’ve been away, how will I thole the climate and the return to the routine of a life at home?
He opens a little hexangonal, silver box, intricately tooled with a fine, filigree design and takes out what I presume to be dice, although throughout the whole process I never quite see them. After a few blurry shakes of his clasped hands, he recites a mantra and blows on them, reconsiders with his eyes raised as if asking advice from the powers above, and shakes and blows again then throws them on to a leather plate held on his lap. This routine is repeated a few times. Then he tells me that I should look for another place to stay as soon as I return; to consider a few offers of places I would like to stay; and if the place feels right, move in. But above all, be patient and relax. Otherwise, he says rather unexpectedly, look for a place to rent and be prepared to stay there but for not more than a period two-years.
I give him the airmail envelope containing NRs 505 (Never offer a Lama a round figure as a donation, I’ve been warned, as this sum is considered inauspicious) wrapped in a kata and he gives me some kind of blessing and a red thread to wear around my wrist.
Having now returned I think in retrospect his advice has been wise. I’m settled back in my house after a wait of two-months alternately living in my son’s flat and then with my daughter while my lodgers were dislodged and my books and pictures restored to their former places on the shelves and walls.
And how do I feel now about the process of having my fortune told? Well, the way I see it is if you’re receptive enough and pay attention to the message in the words, you can align the advice with any aspect of your situation as long as the ideas aren’t too specific. But I was impressed with Lama Ngakpa: he was right about an important decision I had to make on my return home. More specifically, the most important decision on my immediate return – finding a place to stay.
Am I any less distrustful about fortune-telling? All I can say is that There are more things in heaven and earth than we will ever know. And I’m happy to leave it at that.