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Buddhadharma : Spring 2009
61 SPRING 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly A handful of students found their way to Skarda, and after six years at Chetsang rinpoche’s center, she moved to Darjeeling with one of her students. They rented neigh- boring huts on an old British estate where they shared a kitchen and worked out a sys- tem to avoid seeing each other for months at a time. Her ten-by-twelve-foot cabin had a magnificent view of Mount kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, but was so drafty that the wind through the walls blew out candles on her altar. In the winter, they didn’t need a refrigerator; the food froze on the table. According to Skarda, her student- neighbor used to joke that their huts were so basic “the spiders, slugs, and scorpions who crawled through didn’t even know they were inside.” After seven years in Darjeeling, Skarda realized India was taking a toll on her health, and she returned to the United States. Today she lives in Northern California in a primitive cabin on a remote hilltop. She grows her own vegetables and rattles her Honda Civic down a dirt road into town when she needs groceries. With just a cat named Ms. kitty, a kitchen full of mice, and the occasional snake or scorpion for company, she streamlines and simplifies her life to free up time and energy for thinking and practice. Has she found the perfect retreat setup? “There’s no such thing,” she reminds us. “It’s always something. If it isn’t the water pipes breaking, it’s the electricity going out. If it isn’t the electricity, it’s getting sick. Or I get snowed in and can’t get to town. Or I’m medi- tating and think I’ve finally got this wonderful quiet place when a helicopter buzzes by and nearly hits the roof of my house.” Skarda’s ex-colleagues invite her to speak; her students request her to teach. She lectured twice last spring: at a conference on the nature of objects at the Getty research Institute, and at a conference on religion and cognitive science co-sponsored by the University of Cal- ifornia Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union (during which she also participated in a panel discussion with rosch and Freeman). She has also taught public dharma courses in both India and the United States. Skarda is reluctant to disrupt her practice routine for even these activities. Nonetheless, last year she acquiesced to persistent requests to experiment with online teaching. Last March she launched a yearlong web seminar. Without leaving her cabin, each month she delivers a dharma talk via her cell phone. A course moderator records the calls digitally and then posts the talks to an online forum, where students download, transcribe, and discuss them. (Skarda herself doesn’t have Internet access.) Over three dozen practitio- ners participate, spanning continents from Australia to Europe to America. Skarda in front of her retreat hut in Darjeeling, India, 2004 ➤ continued from page 58 raykreiSel