Beyül in Tibetan means Secret, Hidden Valley. These special kind of valleys are obvious to everyone's gaze and therefore accessible to everyone, but in reality totally elusive to those who have not cultivated the right kind of attention. To see a beyül requires a relaxed and sharp gaze, subtle, pure and lucid. Only then do the portals of deep, eudemonic, genuine, indelible well-being open to a sacred land.
Valleys like these are not just fantasies, they can be found by anyone, dispersed throughout the whole Himalayan range. There are written directions and even maps showing the way to find them.
In beyüls Yeshe Tsögyal, the mystic consort of the Indian saint Padmasambhava, during the eighth century hid teachings that the guru considered unsuitable for current times, but which would be revealed to "tertön," saints who specialize in finding spiritual treasures, as the world was ready to receive them.
Some of these beyül correspond with our geography. One example is Khumbu, the valley of the Sherpas and Mount Chomolongma - the Great Mother (which we still call by the colonial name of Everest), while other beyül, with their treasures, have not yet been revealed.
Fascinated by the Himalayan world, I ventured several times into "beyül" valleys, at first without even realizing that I was entering a sacred space.
At the time I walked distracted by my thoughts about mountaineering goals and concerns about muscle aches, grasping eyes looking at the spectacularity of a view or collector's greed toward an ancient painting in a monastery. My mind was constantly caught up in anxieties, excitements or cold intellectual ruminations, completely disconnected from the nature of the world in which I was immersed. I did not wonder where this continuous, chaotic mental flux was coming from; I did not even realize that it was constantly dragging me away from the "here and now", from the rhythm of my own steps. I was advancing through a sacred valley but I was seeing a valley that, though beautiful, appeared ordinary to me.
Ordinary in fact was just my gaze; my eyes were "lined with ham", as they say in Italy.
Slowly these Himalayan treks, however, began to change the way I saw the world and myself. The impulse to walk seemed to arise from something deeper than the desire to climb a mountain, make a documentary or collect ethnological data. The truth is that I unknowingly yearned for the sacred and ashamedly hid that deep ambition from myself ...but the search for the sacred outside myself was awakening something sacred in me.
I began to be more interested in people than in peaks, in their vision rather than their culture, in the unspeakable grandeur of a mountain rather than its exact height. I realized that my ordinary gaze was rapacious, greedy for all that glittered but unable to fully grasp the stillness of a panorama.
One day a leap happened, an old balance was broken, and I was deeply caught up in a sense of belonging.
I had found myself in the village of Sermatang immersed in the semi-darkness of its lhakhang, its "house of the gods". Although I understood nothing of the ceremony taking place I was deeply moved by the chants, the rhythm of the big drums, the images of the colorful temple. Sitting near the altar seemed to be a statue as tall as a six-year-old child, completely covered with white cloths and wearing a five-pointed crown on its head.
I shockingly found out that it was actually the body of an elderly woman who had died forty-nine days earlier, a mother, grandmother and widow who had lived the last years of her life meditating. That body instead of giving off the smell of death gave off a fresh, flowery scent that mingled with the incense from the altar.
This days-long ceremony was an important event for the whole village. There was no crying, no black clothes. Children played in and out of the temple. Despite the poverty some pomp was afforded. Crying, showing sadness were considered crimes against the deceased, ways to make her feel guilty and prevent her from peacefully facing the transition to the next life and obstruct the possibility of her returning to samsara as a "bodhisattva" - a compassionate enlightened being.
I was experiencing something that was reminiscent of my father's death but had nothing to do with the experience of death I learned in the West. As a boy I had suffered that grief as a repressed grief, drowned in the apnea of frustration, conflict, pessimism, and sloth both within myself and around me.
There in Sermatang, on the other hand, I was not holding my breath. Around me the funeral ceremony exalted life, living and the shared feeling we all belong to the same process of passing away as a natural, non-traumatic event.
In the small Yolmo village, the ceremony continued with a procession out of the temple and out of the village to a place designated for cremation. All the way the body sat on the sedan chair to the funeral pyre. They explained to me that that body had not always been so small that the woman had been relatively stout in life but had reached such a spiritual level that during the 49 days of the "bardo" her corpse had shrunk a great deal, emitting rainbows, showers of fragrant petals and other miraculous signs.
In this spiritual tsunami in which I had unwittingly ended up, I felt the word beyül under my skin: feeling it that way made my anthropological speculations so meaningless!
Wherever I was looking I was seeing sacrality. The temple was sacred and sacred was the whole village. The procession slow pace matched this sacrality: crossing the grove to reach the cremation hillock the whole wooded ridge appeared sacred, as well as the valley below, the mountains, the sky. Sacred were the people, the animals and the visible and invisible beings dwelling in the beyül. The whole planet was sacred. Even I was sacred...
At this last thought I felt ashamed, saddened by a deep rooted biblical sense of guilt. I could feel a black river of suffering flowing into me from a dark ocean. There, in the outer world, my family, my western friends, were enduring the suffering imposed upon sinners by a punitive, dogmatic god. People were fleeing from suffering by taking refuge in a materialistic culture inculcated and flaunted by the media and in the streets, in the university classroom as in the bar, on the summit of Mont Blanc as well as in the cemetery.
All my life I absorbed the frustration of a guilt-triggering religion confronted by an algid and and obtuse materialism, but in the Secret Valley both views were just meaningless.
The contrast between my past and the new view was mind blowing.
A liberating nausea came up and I emptied my stomach behind a bush. There, in that moment I felt like I was on another planet and wondered if perhaps our little planet Earth wasn't all a Beyül we systematically desecrated out of an obtuse lack of awareness.
I remained thus in suspense, with my mind in a vacuum, until Biru came to call me to rejoin the ceremony. The pyre was lit and kept burning for hours in spite of the afternoon rain.
Over the years, I have received so many explanations from the Lamas for the strange phenomena I have touched upon in the Himalayas, like the shrinking of the bodies of great contemplatives. My mind can't still integrate it to our Western habits. Today my healthy and tenacious skepticism, still alive and well grounded, can only bend with respect and gratitude to a vision that has filled my heart and life with joy. I hope to be able to share in this blog at least a few drops of it.
What is certain is that a secret valley is accessible only by changing one's view of the world. It is only by stopping our rapacious attempts to make beauty a a purchasable commodity that the sacredness manifests. Then our hearts are freed from the unnecessary burden of fearing death.
In the silence of a walking mind crossing an Himalayan beyül a vision arose spontaneously. Perhaps that day the Mindtrek seed was planted.