I've been in Chapagaon at the monastery there for most of the last two weeks. My schedule has been pretty ideal, except that I sleep a little too much I guess. I've been teaching English every morning to the 3rd grade monks, and attending the 2nd grade Tibetan class with them as a student. I'm thinking I can skip up to the 3rd grade class after a few weeks. Back into Kathmandu for the day, for the internet, some lemonade and a few international phone calls, all luxuries unavailable in the village.
Last week brought us the Nepali New Year, welcome to year 2064 of the Bikram Samvat Calandar! I saw it in with some Patan friends with a short pilgrimage:
Actual New Year was spent in Patan, hanging out with some monks friends:
An old temple, in the Shikara style (I think) on a busy street corner. Children play all over it, the motorcycles zip by, and every morning early, before we're out for school or work, neighborhood devotees will come by for some quiet puja to greet the day.
Even in the middle of a city, busy and crowded, dusty and noisy, sometimes if you remember you can look up and catch an awesome display of cloud psychedelia over the skyline.
From the City to the Cheap Showiness of Nature:
After getting up at 5:30am at the Gompa in Patan (south of Kathmandu) to make ritual offerings (ganacakra) to the liberator-ess Arya Tara Bodhisattva, we caught a bus to the base of Shivapuri, the forested mountain north of Kathmandu and hiked up to Nagi Gompa, a nunnery I have blogged about before. The next morning we rose at 4am (not my idea) to head up the mountain to try to again make ritual offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisatvas in the holy site Baghdwar.
At the peak of the Shivapuri mountain, one of the 4 holy mountains that surround the Nepal Mandala (the Kathmandu Valley perceived as a abode of the Bodhisatva...), with a monk from Nangchen, who now lives at the White Monastery in Boudha. For an amazing glimpse into the land of Nangchen in Kham, Tibet, one of the strongholds of the BuddhaDharma in Tibet for hundreds of years, the birthplace of Tulku Orgyen Rinpoche, one of many realized masters of the last century from Nangchen, check out the book Blazing Splendor. This is the best book about Buddhism I've read this year.
BAGDWAR, THE SOURCE OF THE HOLY BAGMATI:
The source of the Bagmati river, after the New Year festival which saw thousands of pilgrims and holiday pleasure seekers (what's the difference, sometimes?).
Offering light to the water spout at Bagdwar.
A local Buddhist tantric practitioner (ngagpa) cleaning out the accumulated offerings of flowers, rice, incense and candles from the Bagdwar spout, the source of the holy Bagmati river in Kathmandu. In South Asia, rivers are very holy for their function of purification, so their sources are even holier, often conceived of as the actual abodes of gods, goddesses and Bodhisatvas.
Second ritual feast offering in two days performed with the Newar friends from Patan, Jyatha Bahal, the sangha at the Padmavarna Mahayana Mahabihar. This group is one of the focuses of my research, because they have completely integrated Tibetan teachings into their traditional style of Newari Buddhism, and they are dedicated practitioners, especially of the SIX PERFECTIONS in daily life.
The main image of the historical Buddha of our age, the Buddha Sakyamuni, in the old hermitage at Bagdwar, near the Shivapuri peak.
Typical offerings to the above statue of Buddha Sakyamuni. Obviously devotees don't actually believe that the statue is going to spend the money or eat the food in a physical sense, but some things are considered auspicious to offer (because they are useful to us, they please the five senses, they are valuable), so by giving them up to the representation of enlightenment it both creates an enormous amount of merit and plants the future seed of enlightenment in our mindstream. The money will be used for the benefit of the hermitage.
THE SELF ARISEN TARA:
We took a side hike from the Bagdwar hermitage near the peak of Shivapuri mountain to have darshan (holy viewing) of Tara. The Newar Dharma brothers and sisters are here straining to see the image of Tara that is naturally emergent from the rock. This site, the confluence of two streams, is the site where Tara first revealed herself and her practice in Kathmandu. See Todd Lewis' Popular Buddhist Texts from Nepal for the story.
A photo from below of the "rangjung drolma" or "swayambhu tara," which means "self-arisen Tara." According to tradition, there is an image of Tara on this face of this rock overhang which emerged naturally.
Can you see her now that I've circled the head? Tara is the female Buddha, whose compassionate action is liberation from negative circumstances. For this reason her practice is associated with removing obstacles, specifically those to long-life.
A more traditional portrait of the Bodhisatva the Noble Tara.
A more modern, sexy version of Tara... yeah...
My close monk friend Sakya trying one of the many suitable meditation caves on the Shivapuri mountainside out for a minute.
And finally, your cute monk picture of the week! Oh, the age old game of grab-ass is certainly universal.