Messages and questions
for the team
lama blesses disabled Everest climbers
In emotional ceremony, he marvels at effort, offers encouragement
By LEE HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News
PANGBOCHE, Nepal The old lama regarded the Americans
and Sherpas crowded into the courtyard of his gompa, some
in wheelchairs, one with a missing leg, others with weak limbs
or bad hearing.
Laughing kindly as he spoke to them through a translator,
the 71-year-old village Buddhist leader marveled at how far
the group had come and at what they're doing.
"Not everyone can come to Everest, these kinds of people,
but American people are even wondering, how brave are you?"
Lama Geshe told them. "No hand, without leg, but you
still want to do something."
Many in the group said it was among the most emotional moments
of their trek to the world's highest mountain. The Texas-based
group, which includes nine Americans and two Nepali Sherpas
with conditions ranging from lost limbs to paralysis, is journeying
to Everest in hopes of shattering stereotypes about the limits
of people with disabilities.
The team went to the village Buddhist temple Saturday morning
for a ritual enacted by most climbers headed to Mount Everest
since Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the
first to the summit 50 years ago.
The Sherpa people who live in the Khumbu region surrounding
Everest are Tibetan Buddhists who believe that those aspiring
to climb the mountain must pay respects by receiving blessings
and making offerings in Buddhist ceremonies known as pujas.
Everest, which they call Chomolungma, or "mother goddess
of the world," is considered the abode of a once-fierce
goddess Myolungsama, who became a source of endless sustenance
after being converted to Buddhism.
The group attended a puja Thursday at Tengboche Monastery,
the major center of Tibetan Buddhism in the Khumbu region
and a regular stopping point. In the monastery's elaborately
painted prayer hall, the group listened to monks chanting
afternoon prayers. Gary Scott, one of four people who will
try to climb to the summit, lighted butter lamps before a
great, gilded Buddha.
One by one, team members then took katas, or ceremonial scarves,
to a senior monk, who blessed and then placed them on each
On Friday, after the group hiked to Phangboche, one climber
went to visit the village lama for a blessing and advice on
his upcoming summit attempt.
Lama Geshe received Mr. Scott, of Colorado Springs, Colo.,
and three other American visitors in the tearoom of his family's
lodge, where he sat beside a wall decorated with Everest summit
photos of Western climbers he had blessed.
After the group offered katas and received sacred red strings
tied by the lama around their necks, the lama's daughter offered
them sugary "milk tea" in matching Santa Claus Christmas
As his daughter translated, the lama chatted about Everest,
and Mr. Scott's desire to climb it. He gave Mr. Scott a packet
filled with special powders and sacred rice to protect him
and his teammates, and he wrote out a message in Tibetan on
a card and told Mr. Scott to hold it up to the mountain to
show respect and seek its deity's permission on the day he
tries to reach its summit.
next morning, most of the Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek group
climbed up the hill from their campsite to a village gompa,
a tall, brightly painted structure with large prayer wheels
on each side, an inner stone courtyard and a dark, ancient
Lama Geshe came down from his family's lodge and had a visitor
bring him a seat in the courtyard where the group had gathered.
He told the trekkers that they were like all other beings,
despite their disabilities, and could accomplish anything.
"Some have lost their hand. Some have lost their leg.
Some have problems," he said through a translator. "They
all look to be kind, look to be healthy, look to be happy."
Because of physical problems, "you feel that you are
unable to act like others," he added. "Feel like
I am strong, like I can do everything that others can do.
"American has got two eyes, two ears. French people
has got two eyes, two ears. Nepali people has got two eyes,
two ears. Even animal has got two eyes, two ears. But the
soul is the same for everybody," he said. "We're
all the same, all beings. One. Even strong, even not strong,
even rich, poor we are all the same."
He then cracked the group up when he offered, "Don't
worry, be happy."
He moved some to tears when he chanted and then blessed their
offerings of kata scarves.
He smiled in delight when one climber on the summit team,
Chris Watkins of Thunder Bay, Ontario, presented him with
a tiny halogen flashlight.
"Your eye will be stronger now to reach the top,"
Lama Geshe said.
At the end, he chanted, rang bells and sounded a small drum,
rocking back and forth.
Vince Bousselaire, a Golden, Colo., minister who is the third
of the climbers in team co-leader Gary Guller's summit group,
asked to reciprocate with a Christian blessing for the lama,
his people and his land.
lama agreed, and Mr. Bousselaire offered a short prayer.
"The Christians, Buddhists, Hindus is the same religion.
I really heartily thank you when you bless me," the lama
Before leaving, the Sherpas and many of the group members
bowed their heads to the lama, and he firmly pushed his forehead
on theirs in a final blessing.
Christine Kane, a teacher at the Texas State School
for the Deaf, said the lama's compassion and words were "probably
the most moving thing I've ever seen.
"Without knowing us, he was able to say exactly the
right things that we needed to hear," she said. "It's
about that time in the trip where we've been out for a long
while. It's cold every day. We're walking far. He gave us
a kind of renewal."
show by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News
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and needs your support to fight the discrimination that faces
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