The dharma class that I’m joining at the Tibetan Buddhist center is taught by one of the founder’s long-time devotees, who is both a westerner and a woman. It’s a beautiful, sunny day and I’ve been told that we will convene on an outdoor patio. As I make my way to the backyard, I catch a glimpse of a bright red gazebo that appears to contain some sort of merry-go-round. I step into a wonderland: blooms sway, water trickles, birds chirp, sunlight bounces off bright surfaces. A footpath wraps around a coy pond and, upon closer inspection, the gazebo is a carousel—only the riders are more prayer wheels. Against the hillside sits a shiny stupa, a memorial statue to Buddha that is believed to generate good karma; it doesn’t show a figure, but looks like a jaunty crown for some larger-than-life being. Its presence adds to the playful, otherworldly vibe.
On a wood deck, several students have gathered. They are mostly women, all ages, a few Asian. I join them. As we wait for the instructor to arrive, the group alternates between polite chatting and stark silence. Five minutes turns into ten, and ten tick-tocks toward twenty. I begin to doubt that our teacher will show. In college, we had a firm, unspoken rule: if a professor failed to show up in the first ten minutes of class, the students made a celebratory, mass exodus from the room.
Today, no one seems fazed by our leader’s tardiness and because they remain seated and content, I do the same. The enchanting yard and karma from the stupa must be affecting me because I have never in my life been so unbothered by lack of punctuality. After 30 minutes, our instructor comes up the steps. She mentions something about traffic and apologizes. She laughs and says that having to wait is the best beauty treatment: all the anti-aging serums in the world are not as effective as cultivating patience. “So, you’ve all just paid a visit to the Buddhist beauty parlor!”
I think there must be something to what she is saying because she is radiant. Objectively, her looks are ordinary. Perhaps nearing 70, her hair is white and her features are makeup-free and yet, somehow, it adds up to stunning. Her eyes are clear, her smile is wide, and her face is animated with interest. For several minutes, she covers the day’s message about dharma. What is she saying? I hardly notice because I am so focused on how she says it. It’s as if each phrase she speaks is being uttered for the first time—like the words astound even her. Every time her eyes land on something, she seems to take in the sight with fresh curiosity. I’ve heard people explain about “staying in the present” but I’ve never seen it so clearly demonstrated. She is not flogging herself over the past or worrying about the future: she is right there, occupying each new moment. She is the lesson.