Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Hair-Raising Journey to a Holy Place

I’d wanted to go on a beautiful ride to a peaceful oasis

By now I’d realized that I can only do so much of the chaos, mess and sound of certain cities. I crave peace! Maybe I’m a country girl?

So I asked Deepak to drive me to Namo Buddha, a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery two hours out of Kathmandu. Once we got out of the city’s outskirts, I could finally stop holding my breath against the dust and pollution. The traffic still drove me crazy but I stopped gasping once I realized that Deepak was going more slowly and aggravating everyone behind him because he knew I was scared. It was simply death defying, this intermingling of busses, cars and motorcycles, men from India pushing bicycles laden with fruit  and cows in the middle of a 6 lane highway!

Deepak soberly told me that you would get 10 years in jail if you deliberately kiilled a cow. Afterall it is the incarnation of Lakshmi! And she is the goddess of prosperity so you want to stay on her good side! He then said he read that the penalty for rape was 10 years (really, the same as a cow?) And murder 16 years. Wow—that would save on death row appeals…

He also told me I shouldn’t take a bus, that I was “too old.” 

What! But after the two hour trip I totally aggreed. The potholes, cleared mudslides, wandering animals, pollution and kamikaze motorcyles would have sent me flying back to Portugal. At least I got nice calm Deepak who answered all of my personal and social questions. 

He then threw in an aside that he deserved a greater tip than the one I was told to give him yesterday and also would I consider helping to send his daughter to school? OK… I never know where I stand with these money issues with the Nepali. He did talk the cell phone vender down $50 just by casually not giving the man the full amount he asked for. 

But he was my Prince Valiant behind the wheel!

The scenery got more peaceful.  Shiva on the hill.

Terraced gardening scenes. 

A man asking for a road tax and Deepak not giving it because he looked like an alcoholic. An old woman filthy lying by the road—alcohol he pronounced. Apparently this is a home-grown millet and rice booze which a few people are addicted to.

Then we had to get out and walk. 

The road turned to ruts and mud, although motorcycles braved it. 

Marijuana casually grew as a road-side weed.

And finally Namo Buddha. An oasis high above the fray. 

A place of escape, of refuge, of committed spiritual practice.

See the prayer wheels which I turned and prayed for family, friends, this poor world ... for all of us.

And the tiger on the lawn?

According to tradition this is the very site where an earlier reincarnation of the Buddha came across a starving mother tiger and her hungry cubs. Out of pure compassion (more than I could ever muster) he bled and cut himself so they could eat. 

They lived and he was reincarnated as the historical Buddha. Left me wondering how much sacrificial compassion lives in me?

I couldn’t take pictures of the very inner sanctum. Just trust me that Tibetan Buddhism is over-the-top ornate!

I did enjoy talking to the monks. 

Monks on motorcycles, monks on cell-phones, monks happy to answer my questions. (For some reason, nophotos.)

“What does Buddhism say about saving this poor world? How do we pray for this?”

Well, his Holiness the Dalai Llama says that the only prayer that really matters is for your own inner peace.”
Maybe because that’s all I really have any control of? Not over the traffic, dust, poverty, greed, ignorance, fear, illness or death?

The picture of the still living founder of the monastery is laughing. “Of course,” say the monks.

But all they really want to talk about is the American election! “Why did you vote for Trump?” Hmmm...

The journey home was the same, with mud, traffic and dust. 

But I was safe. I’d made a pilgrimage of sorts, remembered peace and was advised of a doable prayer.

When I told the hotel clerk Prakesh (who had up-graded my room after the airport snafu) of the “hard journey”, he replied, “Yes, life is hard. But it is worth it.”

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