About two decades ago, when my father sent his son to a boarding school at the county seat, perhaps he had never imagined that his only son would go far and far away from him. My father has been a shepherd, or you can say a yak herder in his whole life. A man of not many words but he has a reputation of mitigating disputes in my nomadichomeland. His speeches are often short, but never short in metaphors and proverbs. When it comes to metaphors, I can confidently say that he would embarrass George Orwell, although I know it’s silly and even disrespectful to challenge a deceased person.
The sky, the vast landscape, mountains, rivers, birds, flowers, and plants figure prominently into my father’s speeches. He would often say that a real leader needs big enough of a heart where vultures can fly around. He would also pat on my shoulder and say, “Huale, always walk straight with a smile.” Huale was my nickname when I was ababy and he uses this name for a thirty-year-old man.
Like many other parents, news of Covid-19 in the U.S. has been enveloping my father with worries. Two days ago, my father and brother-in-law went to make offerings to my territorial god (Tib. yullha) to beseech him to bring good health, prosperity, and safety for me and for all sentient beings. The indigenous worldview of territorial gods or protective mountain deities predates the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet. The integrity and prospects of communities are protected by territorial gods ruling from the highest mountain peaks.
It takes more than five hours to go from my village to the highest mountain where my territorial god resides and another five hours to come back. In today’s language, it’s above 4300 meters above sea level. Local people don’t normally visit the territorial god during Winter.
My father jokingly told me that when they arrived on top of the mountain, the water that they had brought with them was totally frozen, so they couldn’t drink any water on their way back. “I’m glad that you were not frozen,” I jokingly responded. Then he said, “Oh no no, cold weather doesn’t do anything to me. When I got there, my body was cold, but my heart was warm” (ལུས་འཁྱགས་ན་ཡང་སེམས་དྲོ་གི).
What kind of things do people offer to their territorial deities? Normally, you put down some smoldering yak dung on the offering platform. Then, you place a bag or a few bags of roasted barley flour mixed with butter and juniper leaves on the fire. After that, you pour a few drops of milk tea on top of it and then use a clean ladle to make libations intothe sky. Finally, you pray to the protective deity and do three prostrations and then you walk around the offering platform three times.
Sometimes I feel that my father and many people in my community talk and think in the same way as native American writer and poet N. Scott Momaday who writes, “We humans must revere the earth, for it is our well-being. Always the earth grants us what we need. If we treat the earth with kindness, it will treat us kindly. If we give our belief to the earth, it will believe in us. There is no better blessing than to be believed in. There are those who believe that the earth is dead. They are deceived. The earth is alive, and it is possessed of spirit. Consider the holy tree. It can be allowed to thirst. It can be cut down. Worst of all, it can be denied our faith in it, our belief. But if we speak to it, if we pray, it will thrive.
Please see some photographs below. 01/15/2021