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Luminous Jewel, Blake Walton


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Posted By Luminous Jewel, Blake Walton

Despite the brevity of our daily, early-morning walk to the stupa to practice, we would always arrive surrounded by a throng of children, softly but insistently asking for money.  Dealing with begging and all the issues it evoked in us (such as our feelings about being privileged Westerners and the raw emotions caused by being face-to-face with the suffering of poverty) would be one of the consistent themes of our travels.  We quickly realized that; a) saying no-- no matter how many times or how nicely or how emphatically-- was not effective; b) trying to ignore the kids by not making eye contact was not only ineffective but also felt bad; and, c) giving even a small amount of money to the kids very quickly attracted more kids with fever pitched expectations.  So we resorted to more creative and, hopefully, compassionate measures. One fellow traveler gave the kids Polaroid pictures she took of them; another gave out candies and decorative ballpoint pens. My office mate, Beth, engaged the kids in English lessons and the singing of pop tunes. And irrepressible Krissy, a dancer from San Francisco, carried a wad of Nepali rupees worth only pennies each and flung them in the air as she twirled and danced for the delighted children. 



Stupa Kids


Stupa Family

Once we arrived at the stupa for our morning practice, all the begging stopped. As Buddhist practitioners, we were not the typical tourists the locals were used to seeing. We were still a curiosity -- a large group of Westerners meditating and chanting in Tibetan -- but we also gained their respect because of our knowledge of Buddhism. Nepal and Tibet have cultures historically steeped in religious devotion, as is true in much of Asia, so much so that there is scant separation between religious practice and daily activities. 


Stupa Practice


Surrounding the Bodnath Stupa was a vibrant warren of streets, cafes and shops. One of our favorite haunts was the rooftop at the Stupa View Café where, eye level with the Buddha eyes painted on the stupa, we ate curry and drank Lhasa beer in the waning light, listening to the hum of evening chants from the streets and temples below.  Our days in Kathmandu were filled with visiting monasteries and various teachers, chief among them being Lama Wangdu. Several times we took the short walk to Lama Wangdu’s compound where monks as young as five years old greeted us curiously as we were ushered into the lama’s private quarters above the temple. In a contrast of cultures we were to see very often on our trip, Lama Wangdu’s teenaged granddaughter served us cold drinks—Fanta and Coke--while talking on her cell phone. Tibetan lamas are known for their magnanimous personalities, giving long teachings with warmth and generosity.  But Lama Wangdu exceeded our expectations, teaching for four hours at a stretch and giving us each a big bear hug at the end of every session. We started affectionately calling him “Lama Huggy Bear.”


Lama Wangdu

Posted By Luminous Jewel, Blake Walton

Kathmandu (May 21- 25, 2007)
Our home base for the first five days of our journey was the Sechen Guest House, a two-story, 25-room structure located on the grounds of the Sechen Monastery in an old section of Kathmandu.  We settled into our $6/night accommodations pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness of the rooms and the private bathrooms with hot (most of the time) showers.  Each room, though lacking a fan to ameliorate the effects of heat and humidity, had passably functional screens on the windows and electricity, as well as candles for the numerous occasions when electric service was interrupted. The typical Asian mattress, we were to find out that evening, was more akin to a hard board than the pillow-top varieties in the States. But in the honeymoon rush of actually being in Kathmandu, we overlooked the lack of amenities as “quaint” or even romantic.  This would change as the trip progressed but for the time being I, at least, was ecstatic.



Bodnath Stupa

The famous Bodnath Stupa, with its all-watchful Buddha eyes painted to face in the four directions, was a mere 3-minute walk from the Sechen Guest House on bustling dirt alleys lined with small fruit markets and stores selling Tibetan and Nepali handicrafts. A “stupa” in Buddhist Asia is a traditional structure--round with a spire on top--, which represents the connection between earth and sky and is a symbol of enlightenment. The Bodnath Stupa is ancient (1000 years old by many accounts) and massive (the diameter of a football field at its base).  It soon became the heart and soul of our stay in Kathmandu.  Whenever the opportunity arose we made quick trips to join the constant mass of humanity -- including Tibetan Buddhists, Nepali Hindus, school children, people begging, tourists and Western pilgrims – circumambulating the base of the stupa in a clockwise motion. The hundreds of brass prayer wheels embedded in the outside wall of the stupa were carved with the mantra (prayer) of compassion “Om mane padme hum” and had been worn to a bright patina by the touch of countless hands. To show respect, many of us adopted the Tibetan custom of carrying our prayer beads in our left hand, counting off prayers as we walked around the stupa, while turning the prayer wheels with our right hand.





Stupa View