Roughly 80 people stood waiting on the hillside just above Daisy Lake on Monday, Aug. 23, some time after noon. They lined either side of the road leading up to Sea to Sky Retreat Centre, each holding a kata, a traditional, long white silk scarf. Some spoke to those nearest them in line; some stood quietly. Many wore their best clothes - blue blazers, dresses - because they were awaiting the arrival of Ugyen Tenzin Jigme Lhundrup, or the Yangsi. An incarnate of one of the highest lamas in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, he is 17 years old and making his first tour of the Western world. The tour has taken him through Europe and America and will continue on to Mexico and Asia, but for the moment he was just south of Whistler, making a day trip to the Sea to Sky Retreat Centre.
It might have seemed an out-of-the-way place to visit. Sea to Sky comprises 12 structures - a main lodge, a pavilion, a variety of retreat accommodations - and functions entirely off-the-grid, with a staff of five. While it is a comfortable, pleasing modern environment, it does not outwardly appear to be the sort of place that a traveler would include on a 12-country, 10-month world tour.
On the retreat centre's rocky road, drawn in field chalk, were the auspicious symbols - a conch, a parasol, a lotus, and the five others of the traditional set of eight. The centre's cook, Blaire, had drawn each the day before. A beautiful 20-something with long blond hair and clear blue eyes, she has a modest demeanor. Asked if she was an artist, she said, "I'm a housekeeper." She's one of just a few live-in staff members at the retreat centre, which operates under the directorship of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, a high lama in the Rime, or non-sectarian, Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
"How long did it take you to do this?" I asked Blaire, pointing to the symbols; they were about eight feet in circumference and drawn with precision.
"About an hour each symbol."
"Had you ever done it before?"
"No, but we had a book with the outlines. I think they're the kind of drawing where you can get it wrong and it still looks good." I searched her drawings for imperfections and shook my head. She said, "I had done five of them on Saturday, but then it rained and washed them away, so I had to do them again."
It was close to 2 p.m. when a small floatplane landed on Daisy Lake. The guests, having stood on the roadside for a little under an hour, had sort of begun to think the Yangsi might never arrive, and so when he appeared at the bottom of the road, many of them didn't notice and continued to speak to each other. It was only when the Yangsi's mentor, Rabjam Rinpoche, came chugging up the hillside, mock-winded, that everyone turned.