December 5, 2009: Bodinath, Nepal
Just a few miles east of Kathmandu there is a town called Boudha. A place like no other, Boudha is home to a large population of exiled Tibetans and monks and devout Buddhists who live by the Buddha’s teachings.
The greatest thing about this town is the spiritual vibe in the air. There are over two dozen monasteries here and everywhere you turn you see many monks in wine-red robes, walking here and there or sitting on the sidewalk chanting holy texts. Old men and women are crawling slowly upon the ground, engaged in purification excercises. You see crazy-eyed sadhus with painted faces, and mystics. Candles are being lit, drums are banging, practitioners are kneeling in prayer. At morning time, you awake to the sound of the mad clashing of cymbals ringing out from the many monasteries in town. It’s amazing– it’s everywhere!
At the center of town there is a stupa, which is a huge white building with several tiers, and a dome with the enormous eyes of the Buddha that look out unto all directions. It’s a holy building and Tibetans culturally regard it as the center of their social lives. And so, all day long there’s a busy flow of people circling around the stupa, spinning the prayerwheels that line the perimiter of the building as they walk. Like many in this town, walking around the stupa has become one of my favorite things to do, which I do several times per day throughout the course of the day.
There are a handful of white people here, and most of them are, like me, here to study Buddhism– Dharma bums, as Jack Kerouac would say. Everyone that I have met so far has been remarkably friendly, peaceful, and present. They all seem to share a similar starry-eyed hopeful gaze, too, especially when they get talking about the state of mind and the things the Buddha taught.
The seminar that I’m attending is called “Awakening the Mind”, taught by Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. Classes are held at a monastery, in a room ornate with Tibetan imagery and golden flowers and three gigantic golden Buddha’s. Our teacher is an extremely cute little monk with soft compassionate eyes that glow as he speaks. His native tongue is Tibetan, and so everything he says is translated into English by an interpreter. These teachings are being attended by people from all over the world– close to 200 people and probably over 100 countries are represented.
I love the people that I meet here. Everywhere you go the conversations people are having are really alive. All the students are very social here, and in coffee shops and restaurants everywhere you see people huddled together discussing philosophy and Buddhism intently. Humor is always nearby, though, and everyone that I have met also seems to have a great sense of humor and ability not to let conversations get too heavy. It’s real easy meeting people here…in fact, it seems like you are always welcomed to join a conversation, even if you don’t yet know anyone. You just pull up a seat, and in no time, you have the privilege of knowing a few more really interesting, present people.
The other night I attended a party for all the students. I was curious to see how a bunch of students of Buddhism party, and what I found was that whenever people are fully present and happy to be alive– you get a great dance party!
I think Boudha will be my home base while in Asia. It is here that I will keep my cello when I leave Nepal.