Chapter Sixteen

The Emptiness of Snow

MASTER FWAP AND I SPENT several more days staying at the cliff monastery. During that time I had the chance to practice meditation and learn more Nepali. Toward the end of our stay, I began to feel restless. Master Fwap told me that the pranic currents in the valley were a little too strong for me, and that was why I was feeling the way I was.

We left the monastery and followed a trail that took us through a series of valleys between several large snow-covered mountain ranges. It seemed strange to be hiking through green fields and forests, when we were always surrounded on both sides by steep, snow-covered mountains.

We passed through several small villages along our route. Master Fwap seemed to be friends with everyone who lived in Nepal! Wherever we went, we were treated as honored guests. We were given food and buttered tea by the villagers without having to ask, and many of the villagers politely inquired if the board that I was carrying on my back was a religious object.

On the fifth day of our journey, we ascended a high mountain pass. We spent the better part of the morning hiking straight up. When we reached the summit of the mountain, we sat down to rest on the snow- and ice-covered ground. As usual, I was soaked with perspiration from our climb, and Master Fwap didn’t seem to have perspired at all.

We sat in silence for a few minutes. Gradually the pounding in my chest subsided and my breathing evened out. I turned to look at Master Fwap, and I saw that he had closed his eyes and was absorbed in meditation.

I looked down at the scenery below me. The green valleys and snow-covered mountains of Nepal seemed to stretch out into forever. The world was silent and beautiful. Unlike the stressed-out world that I came from, this world had no sound of cars, no smog, no other signs of man’s “progress.” The world that met my eyes here was uncorrupted and naturally pure.

“You see, this is life,” Master Fwap began. “It is empty and pure, like the snow on the Himalayas.”

I turned and saw that Master Fwap had opened his eyes and was looking out at the same scene I had been absorbed in just moments before.

“But Master Fwap, how can you say life is empty and pure like snow? The world man has created is a horrible place. It is filled with noise and pollution. This is one of the few clean places left on the earth. And that’s not the half of it. People are cruel to each other. They kill each other in wars, steal from each other, and oppress each other in a thousand different ways! How can you say the world is empty and pure? I think it is the opposite: it is crowded and impure.”

“Yes,” he replied, “to the outward eye it might seem that way. But first you must understand the emptiness and purity of our Himalayan snow; then perhaps you will see why I believe that the world is empty and pure too.”

“Master Fwap, I don’t understand what you mean.”

“The Himalayan snow is empty and pure. By that I mean that it comes from the sky, covers the mountains, and then melts in the warmth of sunlight. The snow here can be so thick when it falls that you cannot see one foot in front of your face. It changes the mountains. It turns them from the color of stone to pure white.”

“So what does that have to do with the world being empty and pure?” I asked.

“The world is empty and pure,” he gently replied. “It has always been that way, and it will be so, for all of time. That cannot be changed by any of us.”

“Master Fwap, I still don’t think I understand what you mean by emptiness.”

“Emptiness,” he replied, “is a word that implies absence. I could also use the words ‘fullness beyond comprehension.’ They would mean the same thing. These are the only words that I know in your language that I can use to try to express what emptiness is.”

“But Master Fwap, emptiness and fullness are opposites. How can they mean the same thing?”

“There are two worlds in front of us at all times,” Master Fwap patiently explained. “One world everyone can see, and the other one is invisible to everyone except the enlightened.

“The world that everyone can see appears to be very solid, but in actuality it is not! The world we cannot see appears to have no reality to it at all, but in actuality it is much more solid and real than the world we see before us every day.

“The visible world we call life, and the invisible world is death,” Master Fwap continued. “Perhaps death is not its only condition, but I cannot think of a better word.

“The apparent solidity of the visible world is ephemeral,” he remarked casually. “Nothing lasts here. All the works of man end every second. They have absolutely no substance to them at all.”

“Master Fwap how can that be? The world exists forever; how can it end every second?”

“I will show you. The moment that we are in right now exists … now it has passed and we are in a new moment … now that moment has passed and we are in yet another moment.

“When each moment ends,” he continued, “the world ends with it. In each new moment, the world is created again. These momentary endings and creations are what you call life. Your mind and your body experience them continuously without your realizing it.

“All of the things that happen in a moment, end in a moment. Who knows why? It is just that way. Human beings fool themselves into thinking there is a past and a future, and that things last and matter. But it is an illusion of perception.

“Nothing lasts and nothing really matters,” he said. “Things just seem to last and matter when you experience life through your senses, and through the perceptions of your physical mind.

“This is what I mean by emptiness—the world you see all around you lacks any kind of solidity. From moment to moment it comes and goes. Why allow yourself to be bothered by anything transient that occurs here?

“I know you mean well,” Master Fwap said with a lighthearted laugh, “and that your heart is pure. This is why karma selected you to be my disciple. You were born with a pure heart—that is to say with a pure aura. You have a pure aura because you meditated in so many of your past incarnations, and in that process you eliminated all of the impurities from your inner being.

“But wisdom tells us that our concerns—the things in life that upset us—are unreal. They only appear to matter when we don’t see life as the enlightened do.”

“How do the enlightened see life, Master Fwap?”

“You were enlightened in many of your past lives—you should know,” he replied cuttingly.

“Well if I was, I certainly don’t remember it. Would you please tell me how all of this looks to a person who is enlightened?”

“We are all made up of vibrating particles of intelligent light,” he replied. “That, however, is only one side of our nature. We have another side; it is the side that only the enlightened can see.

“The emptiness of snow is death,” Master Fwap said as he made a sweeping gesture with his hand that took in everything that we could see in the vast panorama before us. “It is the other side of all of this, what you call life.”

“What is death, Master Fwap?”

“Why, dear boy, death is life.”

“Then I suppose that life is death?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yes, exactly. Now you have it! Very good!” And so saying, Master Fwap gave me a beaming smile.

“Great, Master Fwap, but what does it mean?”

“Why, it means that the world is perfect. Nothing and no one can change it at all. The invisible world that only the enlightened can see is essence—it is eternal life. That is what we return to when we die. We go back into perfect eternal light for a while, and then we reincarnate.

“This world that you see before you is reborn and dies every moment. When it is born it comes out of the invisible world—the world that you cannot see. When it dies it returns to that world too. That world is perfect consciousness. It is ecstasy. There is no suffering there, and there is no sense of loss, gain or pain.

“To suffer because of anything you see, feel or experience here in the world of moment to moment is a mistake! It is like becoming upset over a frightening dream. Dreams are insubstantial; they don’t last. When you wake up, no matter how vivid your dream was, it is past. It no longer exists, so why allow yourself to be upset over something that no longer exists?

“When you can see the other side of life, the world you refer to as death—the mysterious undiscovered universe that lies just beyond our mind and senses—all of the pain and frustration of your life will go away. You will see that everything and everyone you love, who may appear to have been destroyed, is still just fine. They have simply moved from the world of moment to moment, back into the world of emptiness. They have returned to the reservoir of life that we call nirvana.

“The world is empty,” Master Fwap almost whispered. “All of the people and places, the earth, the seas, mountains, deserts, forests and cities, and the beings that inhabit them, are unchangeable.

“They appear to change, oh yes!” he suddenly said loudly. “But one part of them returns to nirvana, and another part of them comes forward. You cannot see it, so it is like a magician’s trick. We are convinced that something has occurred when in reality nothing has happened at all.”

“Master Fwap, how can this be?”

“It is the perfection of life,” he responded with a broad smile. “Let me give you an example. Then perhaps you will understand why I am not sad, as you are, about what has happened to the earth.

“Consider children who are born into this world. They pass through many stages. They become adolescents, young adults, they enter into middle age, and then into old age. Then they die. Now it would appear, looking just at the surface of life, that they have gone through many changes, and then disappeared. But this is not the entire picture at all.

“On the other side of this life there are endless dimensions—endless realities that stretch on into infinity. There are worlds of form and dimensionality that are similar to our own. There are also formless worlds that are made up of pure and perfect light. Beyond both the formless and the form worlds, there is something else, nirvana, the endless and perfect source of all. Nirvana is where all of these endless worlds of formlessness and form come from.”

“But Master Fwap, how can this be? Are you saying that everything that exists now existed in nirvana before it came here?”

“Exactly! Everything is forever. There is no beginning and ending to life. There is no middle either. Things appear in this world for a short time. They have come here from nirvana. They exist here for a short time, and then they return to nirvana.

“Nirvana is emptiness,” he continued. “It contains everything that has ever been, is now, or ever will be.”

“Does that mean that nirvana is heaven, Master Fwap?”

“Not in the way that you mean,” he replied.

“Well, if it is not heaven, what is it?”

“Think of nirvana as an endless ocean of ultimately intelligent light,” he replied. “It stretches on forever, in all directions and throughout all times. It holds within itself, in seed form, all that can ever be.

“From time to time, manifest parts of nirvana appear here, in what we call the world. Then, after some time, these things dissolve back into essence, into their nirvanic formlessness.

“Nothing can die, and nothing can be reborn. Things only change their outer appearance. When you can see within things and people, you discover that their essence is changeless, perfect light. We are all nirvana: that which is our essential form, is the essential formlessness of perfect existence.”

MASTER FWAP BECAME SILENT. WE sat for a while without speaking, listening to the sound of the wind rushing through the snowy mountain passes. Then Master Fwap told me to go ahead and snowboard down the mountain. He said that I shouldn’t think about what he had just said right now, but that I should reflect upon it in the future.

“Just concentrate on being the board,” he said with a laugh.

I mounted my board and shot down the mountain through the deep powder. I effortlessly cut in and out to avoid several boulders, and finished my run in record time. Master Fwap was waiting for me at the bottom of the mountain, his ochre-colored monk’s robe fluttering in the breeze.

After getting off my board I walked over to Master Fwap. It had gotten quite dark, and the cold Himalayan wind made me shiver.

“You have done quite well!” he congratulated me. “You can continue to study Buddhist Yoga with me, if you like.”

He smiled. We stood looking at each other in silence for several minutes. It was only at that moment that I realized how much I had come to love this aged and mysterious monk.

Overwhelmed with emotion, I turned my gaze away. Then, together, Master Fwap and I descended the remainder of the snow-covered slope to the rock and gravel road that lay below us, where the two of us hitched a ride on a yellow and black tourist bus, back into Kathmandu.