Sunday, May 27, 2007

Holy Places, Farms, and Tiny Balls of Shit

Bandipur Travel Program Development Trip:

The town of Bandipur. Tina and Yanik, the other two summer Passage Program coordinators, and I went on a two day program development trip here this week. We are going to bring our students there for four days this summer. The town is charming, and the locals have even made their main bazaar pedestrian only, which has transformed the place from another dusty loud market area to a quiet evening playground for children. I will have more on this place in July, when we go with the students.

I climbed up the big hill north of Bandipur on our last day there for sunrise. I actually made it up there before the sun. It was very peaceful. This is a bell hanging next to the Tanimai temple on top of the hill, taken in the pre-dawn light.

The Spring of Enlightenment:

The trail from the road up to the Chumig Changchup (Spring of Enlightenment). I spontaneously decided to go for a short little pilgrimage up to this very holy meditation place of Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), on our way back from Bandipur. I had to wait awhile for a bus, and ended up hitching a 3 hour ride on the top of a Nepal Oil Corporation Tanker truck up to Daman. I got up before sunrise to make the 30 minute hike to the spring from the lodge. The place is known as Rikeshwar to the Hindus, who associate any figure holding a trisul (trident), like Padmasambhava does, with Siva.

The lower side of the small Chumig Changchup gompa (monastery). I had some better photos but I deleted them, which really irritated me for about 3 seconds, but I let it go, realizing that I'd have to just go back and take more photos later. After all, it's only about 4 hours from Kathmandu.

The face of Padmasambhava in the rock face above the holy spring, which is said to have spontaneously emanated by itself. It is in this little indention that he is said to have spent some time in meditation retreat as he was on his way up to Parphing in the Kathmandu Valley. The story I was told is that after attaining a meditative realization, he took his purba (ritual dagger) and jabbed it down into the cliff. From that spot a spring spontaneously began to flow. He then climbed up on top of the hill and ritually subjugated the local female spirits, binding them by oath to protect the Buddhadharma (teachings of the Buddha) and all that uphold it in that place. It then became a sacred spot ideal for meditation retreat.

A self portrait, taken on top of the oil tanker on the way up to Chumig Changchup.

Farm Life:

Typical terraced farming in the hills of rural Nepal. The Nepalis have been experts at hand-carved terraced farms for centuries.

Here some resourceful Nepali hill farmers have taken bamboo staves and made a vast latticework over their terraced fields. Cucumbers, which grow very quickly and take over a large amount of land (and rot on the ground if you don't pick them in time), will climb up to the top of the lattice and spread over it in a few weeks. At that time, the farmer can just walk under the lattice and pick the vegetables as they hang down.

While staying in Bandipur we took a day hike to a local Magar village, Ramkot. It is famous for its traditional round houses with thatched roofs. In the village, which was quite dry, there was a good bit of intentionally cultivated ganja (cannabis, marijuana, hemp) growing nearby animal pens. I have been to a number of small farms in this country, and many of them harvest the mature buds off of the ganja plants. They take these buds and grind them up, and then...
they mix it up with hay and leaves as a medicinal food for their water buffalo, cows, goats and sheep when they are having stomach problems (apparently it cures indigestion, appetite problems, constipation and loose motion). It is technically illegal to grow it in Nepal, but it is overlooked for the small farmers.

On the way back from Ramkot, I noticed these little guys having a rolling good time in a pile of cowshit on the trail. These are dung beetles (scarab beetles) preparing some sweet evening snacks to bring home.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Some Things May Last a Long Time

Congratulations Lee and Chokey!

Lee and Chokey Rostosky, friends who were married last week. Lee is from Philadelphia, Chokey is from a Tibetan family in Nepal. Congratulations, Tashi Delek Bumsumtsok!

Me with local activist Sakya Suren and the historian/retired politician Bhuwan Lal Pradhan. I have sponsored a translation of Bhuwan Lal Pradhan's history of the Vajravarahi temple in Chapagaon, which we will edit and publish in English this summer, for the sake of the local tourists, volunteer workers and researchers who cannot read Nepali easily (like me!)

Some Tibetan Art:

One of two similar thangkas (Tibetan scroll paintings) that I had commissioned recently from a family of Tibetan artists I know. The central figure is Samantabhadra/Kuntu Sangpo (All Excellent One), who represents the Dharmakaya Buddha, the truth body of the Buddha. The bottom left image is of Vajrasatva/Dorje Sempa (Adamantine One), who represents the Sambhogakaya Buddha, the psycho-cosmic body of the Buddha. The bottom right image is of Padmasambhava/Guru Rinpoche, who represents the Nirmanakaya Buddha, the emanation body of the Buddha that is physically born on earth to help people. All three images are in "playful union," representing the inseparability of wisdom and compassion, or wisdom and method, or emptiness and appearance.

The monk Rabjam Sangpo holding up the veil curtain to the thangka painting. The thangka is typically matted in stylized silk, with a veil to cover it if desired. I usually keep the thangka veiled, since it is esoteric in subject.

There is a beautiful simplicity to the beginning stage of the thangka painting, basic line drawing.

View from the roof of the monastery in Chapagaon of the himalayan mountains to the north, shrouded in clouds.

Burnt Offerings of Various Sorts:

Here Lama Wangdu and the monks and ngagpas (lay Buddhist tantric adepts) are circumambulating the fire where a great variety of various substances were ritually offered to the peaceful and wrathful deities on behalf of the deceased.

Lama Wangdu wearing a black bird hat. I think this has something to do with a death ritual where there were symbolic offerings made of the ego of all present to the birds, but I'm not sure at all on that point, I'd have to do a little research.

A particularly nice burnt offering chimney at the Norling Resort, where Lee and Chokey were married. On many occasions (before rituals, on holy days, at high places like passes, on the roof, etc.) various fragrant herbs and auspicious substances like white flour will be offered to the buddhas, bodhisatvas, protectors and local spirits who either enjoy the flavour or can gain sustanance from the fumes, oftentimes to placate beings who could possibly have malicious intentions.

Lee Rotosky, the groom, offering fragrant herbs (like juniper) to the burnt offering fire.

Some Work, Some Play:

Me on my Royal Enfield Indian Bullet 350cc motorcycle in my suit after Lee and Chokey's wedding.

A few days ago one of the older monks arranged a football (soccer) match against a local team in Chapagaon. We drove about 4 kilometers down to Sunakothi town, where there was this fantastic field (large flat open spaces with grass are quite rare in Kathmandu), with a beautiful panorama of the Kathmandu Valley rim mountains. I played sweeper, because in Nepal I am the huge guy with the strong kick, compared to the skinny short Nepalis. It was fun, we tied 2-2.

Cute Monk Photo of the Week:

Friday, May 11, 2007

Oh how we misunderstand!

This blog of a fellow traveler in Asia, Chad Mast's World Race for Jesus demonstrates how some people can still go to a new place distant in culture and space, filled with beauty and an ancient spiritual tradition, completely misunderstand it and attempt to destroy it.

This activity has been labeled as "religious terrorism" by a friend of a friend.

Unfortunately, his view is one that is shared by millions of Americans...

The Monsoon is Coming, Namaste!

Welcome to you from one of the five monks that joined our monastery last week from Ilam district in eastern Nepal!

Monsoon is pretty much upon us here in South Asia, it has been raining a bit each afternoon (raining right now in Kathmandu), and I'm happy as soon we will have cleaner air, real heat, and the bright green of the new growth all over the valley.

Hello! This kid is my friend's nephew. He was at the groundbreaking ceremony I attended yesterday at the site of the future home of the Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods, a Buddhist Studies research institution that I am affiliated with. An short version of the biography of the Khari Lama Lozang Tsultrim that I have been working on will be published in their forthcoming issue of one of their journals, Buddhist Himalaya. The groundbreaking mainly consisted of two Buddhist monks performing an offering ritual to local spirits that could possibly cause obstacles to the success of the construction work, and a feast (typical Newar style, delicious!).

Our youngest, at the tender age of four, who is currently recovering from a mysterious accumulation of fluid in his brain which nearly caused him to die a few weeks ago. He is alive only because of the dedication of some friends, who brought him to a number of different hospitals and dealt with the headache of the Nepali medical infrastructure, which is as disorganized as it is underdeveloped.

This personally demonstrates some of the difficulties of healthcare in the developing world. There is good work being done, like at the local Health Post in Chapagaon.


The view of the health post, across the road from our monastery in Chapagaon, taken from our roof. Photo courtesy of PHCRC.

The Health Post serves a large community with a variety of basic services. Here a local baby is gettin' shots. Photo courtesy of PHCRC.

Weighing a baby at the current well-baby clinic. The health post is currently involved in an ambitious fund raising campaign to built a new 10 bed birthing center (big for this area). Nepal has the second highest incidence of maternal fatality during birth. My aunt and uncle from Houston visited the clinic on their whirlwind tour of Kathmandu in December, and were touched by the good work (with such limited resources), so generously donated some money. Photo courtesy of PHCRC.

Some of the lovely nursing staff at a nutrition education clinic.


Yours truly engaged in a morning power-English session.

My bright young students ready to absorb the fascinating nuances of English grammar and pronunciation. They are progressing well.


A photo of the great stupa Boudhanath on Buddha Jayanti festival, the previous full moon day. Nearby this holy site is where I will make my home for the summer as I work with the non-profit Passage Project for International Education.


An exciting burlap sack race at yesterday's picnic with our 52 monks, at the beautiful Godavari Botanical Gardens, south of Kathmandu.

Some of the young ones.

One of our eight-year old twins, Jigme Sherab (Fearless Wisdom), brother of Jigme Nyingje (Fearless Compassion). From one source they become two!

Here one of the five-year-olds is looking clueless about pretty much everything. One day, with a little effort, he will come to understand so much...

A young one with our only monk from India, a Tamang from Darjeeling.

As if I haven't put up enough pictures of monks oozing with cute...

Goodnight!Last night's sunset from the roof of our monastery.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Biography of the Khari Lama

The great Tibetan Buddhist yogi Khari Lama Lozang Tsultrim

I've posted the most recent version of a research project that I worked on in the spring of 2004 and summer of 2005 while in Boudha, Kathmandu and Khumbu district Nepal (Everest region). I hope to one day make a proper book of the biography, but for now am happy to make it available to the online community at www.livejournal/users/kilgoresmith.

Feel free to check it out, and leave a suggestion!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Happy Buddha Jayanti!

Today is the full moon of the month of Vaisakh in the Buddhist Lunar Calendar, and is celebrated as the anniversary of the Buddha Shakyamuni's birth, death and enlightenment. As such, it is considered to be the most holy day in the annual Buddhist ritual calendar. Although the Tibetans consider this day (Saga Dawa'i Tsewa Jo Nga) to be next month, let us not split hairs and yell out a hearty Buddha Saranam Gacchami (I go for refuge in the Buddha) if we feel so inclined, like the marching school kids have been this afternoon:

This morning for the full moon, we performed a feast offering ceremony at the monastery in Chapagaon. It was the first time many of the young monks participated in this particular ceremony, or even attended it. They requested me to sponsor it, and I heartily agreed, $60USD well spent, if you ask me, as I have a connection with the ritual: the Lama's Heartpractice Which Dispels All Obstacles, the Essence of Enlightened Activity (bla ma tugs sgrub bar che kun gsal sphrin las snying po gshugs), a short version of an offering feast to the protectors and dakinis combined with an essential tantric practice involving the meditation and recitation of Guru Rinpoche, Avalokitesvara (Compassion) and Amitayus (Long-life).

Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche (The Precious Master), was the historical Tantric super-adept who is credited with bringing the esoteric form of Buddhism to Tibet in the 8th Century. Many rituals in the school of the Earlier Translations (Nyingma) involve visualizations of him, who is considered to be inseparable with the Buddha and one's own teacher.

One of our twelve year olds, Jigme, reading prayers this morning in assembly.

A local Chapagaoni sitting calmly in meditation during this morning's rituals.

IN OTHER CHAPAGAON GOMPA NEWS, last week His Eminence Phagchog Rinpoche spent the night at the monastery. He had a nice opportunity to interact with the monks: Rinpoche gave some teaching, made offerings to the assembly, and had time to watch some evening futbol matches.
Phagchog Rinpoche meeting with the monks.

Phagchog Rinpoche chatting with the monks.

We also developed plans to give specialized language training to monks that show promise as translators for the future. We have selected two for Newari and Nepali language, two for Chinese, two for English, two for French, two for Spanish and two for German. It will be a challenge to find suitable teachers that can come to Chapagaon for the monks, but we will work hard now to plant the seed of these languages in their young minds, so that in the future they can become expert translators. That said, if anyone wants to come and live out in Chapagaon Nepal for a while as a specialized language instructor you are most welcome!