Buddhism is everywhere here in Nepal and it’s intermingled with Hinduism. It seems though that most people I come across are Buddhist. I have always had an interest in Buddhism; they say it’s a philosophy and not a religion. That may be true but here in Nepal it comes across as very religious to me. The temples alone yell religion and then all the people performing different rituals also smacks of it. Religion isn’t so bad; it brings comforts to millions. Ritual is amazing; it creates energy like nothing else I’ve ever seen. And yet, I find myself resistant to it. Here in Nepal though I feel slightly less resistant. When I am asked if I am a Buddhist the next question is usually if I am a Christian. When I tell them I’m nothing they don’t try and convert me, they just listen.
So Lord Buddha’s (as they call him) birthday is May 27th and I happened to be in Nepal for it. It’s actually a national holiday here as you can expect. Being next to the gumpa that contains all the mini monks Buddha’s birthday was an interesting experience for me. All the trumpet playing and horn blowing they have been practicing seemed to be for this day. It was a full moon and I went onto the roof to watch the boys playing their trumpets out towards the city.
I couldn’t get any good pictures from our roof so I decided to go up on theirs. I had my camera with me and as I went to go up on the roof many of the monks were outside the gumpa. They beckoned me and asked that I please, please come in.
Up to this point I had been afraid to go in. I can’t really tell you why. I guess I didn’t want to be disrespectful, this lame tourist poking around inside a religious structure. I think I was also waiting for an invitation. So I finally had it and I removed my shoes and followed the monks in.
It’s so beautiful inside with large statues of Buddha and some other folks. I learned that you always walk clockwise around any religious site here and so I followed the path around inside. The energy inside the gumpa was astounding; I could feel it circulating clockwise through the building. I could feel the energy of everyone that had come that day to pray. It was positively vibrating. As I walked around I saw mini monks stashed away in corners repeating mantras out loud, sometimes in pairs, sometimes alone.
As I came to the end again there was a local prostrating himself. It’s quite something to see someone doing this. It’s so humble, almost apologetic. He was doing this movement over and over across the floor as if to say “forgive me, I am so worthless, make me better.” It wasn’t in the direction of Buddha’s statue and I wasn’t about to interrupt him to ask him to who or what he was doing this to. Perhaps it was just himself.
The mini monks asked if I wanted to learn how it was done and I hesitantly said yes. I have this fear of looking like an idiot because I don’t get something right the first time, but I know that it’s better to say yes and have a new experience.
One young monk showed me first. You stand up straight and put your hands in prayer position, then you bring them to your head, your heart, and then you get down on the ground and bow your head all the way down. Then you push yourself up without using your hands more than once for the push.
The first time I tried this I had to use my hands twice, I didn’t really trust my own strength on the hard marble floor and I was being watched. I could see on their faces that I had done it wrong even though they were obviously trying to hide it. I tried again and this time got smiles from the two monks. This is the kind of magical thing I hoped for, the sort of romantic idea that got into my head when I first heard the name Nepal. After this I felt uneasy, wondering what I should do now that I had made my rounds so I made my way out into the entranceway and watched all the young monks gathering at the lit candles. They were picking them up and bringing them inside for some purpose that I couldn’t gather, mostly because I didn’t ask. I kept having this sense like I was interrupting something, that I was an outsider. I felt myself shrinking back. I wanted to take a picture badly but was afraid to ask. I didn’t want to make a wrong impression or say something wrong but the photo opportunity was too good to let go.
I haven’t prostrated myself since then but I have this feeling like it would do me some good. I think it would do a lot of people some good. Do I have to prostrate myself to some religious god? Shouldn’t I prostrate myself in front of my own self judgment instead. I could learn to be easier and more care free…