In a snowstorm at Pethang Ringmo I was invited into a felt tent for yak butter tea with a drögpa, a nomadic herder. His blackened hands carved off a chunk of butter with a long knife, which he melted into a battered teapot over a dung fire. As he poured tea, I saw something fascinating in his smoky eyes, something wild and primal. Like he knew things—things I could never even imagine.
As the storm subsided, and the last drop was drained from my cup, the herder leapt to his feet and pulled back the tent flap like a stage magician revealing the prestige of his trick. I rose slowly, light-headed, and emerged into a dreamscape, watched a curtain of silver mist begin to part, slowly unveiling an immense granite shrine—the ice-glazed buttress of Jomolonzo, towering 23,000 feet above sea level in a golden halo—so close it took what little breath I had left away. Glancing back, the drögie grinned as if to say, "Whoa! Check it out, dude.”
I don't know if I will ever be able to explain what happened to me in that moment. I can't say if it should be written off to dehydration, oxygen deprivation, cerebral edema, or satori? I only remember feeling that there was no separation at all between the herder, the mountain, and myself. We were all made not only of the same carbon substance, but the same non-substance. We were form and emptiness all in the same instant.
"Ha ko song," I told him I got it.