What was the taxi fare in Sikkim
Tibetan Buddhism itineraries in Nepal
Tibetan Buddhism Routes in Nepal It is not easy to set out on routes in Nepal. Many mountaineers who venture into the heights of the Himalayas spend weeks and months preparing their trip. They plan their routes carefully and include alternative routes. You have a generous schedule, organize provisions and pack the carefully selected and tested material. Last but not least, they prepare thoroughly for the upcoming expedition. Then they set off and begin their arduous journey to base camp with porters and yaks. Tents are erected there and the expedition participants wait for the best time to climb to the inhospitable heights of the 8000 m. Sometimes the weather does not allow you to climb the summit for weeks, or the expedition has already started and will be forced to turn back on the way. Then the mountaineers spend their waiting time until the next summit storm with training ascents and checking the essential equipment. For some mountaineers, the journey to the summit is a complete success. They return and have become wiser in their insights and experiences. Others stay on the mountain - they never return.
A trip to the Himalayas has been on my "life to do" list for many years. On this trip to Nepal, I had less of the geographical high mountain region of the Himalayas in mind than the Kopan Monastery in Boudha / Kathmandu. There I wanted to hear a one-month training course on Tibetan Buddhism followed by a one-week meditation retreat. My stay in Nepal should be in no way inferior to the experiences of an expedition - even if it was not an 8000m ascent. In January 2008 I came back from my 2 month trip from Nepal - richer in experiences and adventures. From all sides I was assaulted to show pictures and to report. The recurring questions "What have you been doing there all the time?", "Why Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal?", "How did this trip shape you?" deserve answers. You can find my travelogue in this toshiya issue and the next two magazines. Historical Buddhism The term "Buddhism" was first coined by Western researchers in the 19th century. In the traditional Buddhist countries one speaks of the path or the teachings of the Buddha. The teachings of the Buddha originated in India about 2500 years ago with the awakening of the historical Prince Siddharta Gautama to Buddha Shakyamuni and spread to Asia in several ways. On a southern route it reached from the 3rd century BC onwards. Starting from the core area, initially almost all of India and Sri Lanka, then parts of Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia). The core area is the area around Lumbini (in the southeast of today's Nepal), the birthplace of Prince Siddharta Gautama. According to tradition, Prince Siddharta Gautama lived carefree at his father's royal court until he was 29 years old. During the "Four Exits" he was confronted with the sufferings of people (old age, illness, death) and met an ascetic. He decided to turn his back on life in abundance at his father's court and from then on lived in asceticism in order to overcome suffering and find redemption. After six years of asceticism, he had come no closer to his goal. So he decided to take the "middle" path (between asceticism and abundance). After years of intensive meditation practice, Siddharta came to realize his true nature under a Bodhi tree. He experienced a state of perfection of spirit, wisdom and compassion for all living beings. With that he had overcome samsara (involuntary cycle of life and death). Buddha Shakyamuni (as he was henceforth called) soon developed a teaching whose core is the Four Noble Truths. He founded a mendicant order and agreed to the establishment of a women's order. Hinduism, which was widespread in India, could not be displaced by the new religion. In India itself, Buddhism increasingly lost its importance from the 11th century and is set there
today only an insignificant role. The Theravada tradition has survived in India and Southeast Asia. In a second phase of dissemination, the Buddha's teachings reached Central Asia via a northern route in the 1st century AD. Merchants brought them home via the Silk Road. In East Asia in particular, the Buddha's path was shaped by its very own and, with the Chan / Zen tradition, developed a system based entirely on meditation. It became the most important Buddhist school in China, which in the form we know today goes back to the 6th century, the Buddhist monk and meditation master Bodhidharma. He brought the doctrine of Ch an from India to China and established it there. Zen later developed from this. Bodhidharma is revered today as the First Patriarch of Zen. Red Pine writes the following about the Patriarch in his translation of "Bodhidharma's Teaching of Zen": "While others viewed meditation as a purification of the mind or a step on the path to Buddhahood, Bodhidharma equated Zen with Buddhahood - and Buddhahood with spirit, with that Everyday mind, thus indistinguishable from the Buddha mind. Instead of telling his disciples to purify their minds, he pointed to rock faces, the movements of tigers and cranes, a reed leaf on the Yangtze, or a single bowl Meditation. Zen was the sword of wisdom. " Zen began to establish itself in Japan in the 12th century under Esai Zenji and in the 13th century under Dogen. The Rinzai School, which focuses on koans and the practice of the "Zen arts", and the Soto School, which emphasizes unintentional sitting in meditation, are best known today. From the 7th century AD, the Buddha's teachings in the Mahayana tradition found their way to the Tibetan highlands, to Bhutan and from the 13th century to Mongolia and Russia. The spread of Buddhism in Tibet began in the 7th century, reached its peak in the 8th century with Padmasambhava and experienced its second bloom in the 11th century with Atisha. From then on, the four great schools of Tibetan Buddhism (Gelug, Kagyu, Nyingma, Sakya) that are still known today emerged. The emphasis on Madyamaka philosophy and Tantrayana is characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism. Arrival in Nepal - The first impression After landing at the Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu, the only international airport in Nepal, I was immediately surrounded by noises, smells and people that have not let go of me to this day. During the night taxi ride to the hotel, I saw dwellings made of tarpaulin on the roadside, with campfires in front of which children and adults were pawing. The 23rd
Flickering fires lit up the scene dimly and mixed with the foul smell of the city of garbage and the clatter and bump of the aged taxi. Well, that was my first impression of Kathmandu: the poverty of the people has an unmistakable smell. The taxi driver was clearly knowledgeable, he knew all the secret routes and shortcuts through the narrow streets of the capital, which in regulated Germany would not have come close to being called a dirt road. In Nepal, however, these are the main traffic routes. And here I wanted to stay for two months? Maybe it was all a mistake or a bad dream that I was sure to wake up from. But it was not like that. If I had had the opportunity, I would have turned back immediately. A friend recommended the Buddhism training at Kopan Monastery as "intensive and comprehensive". We had talked extensively about the stay in the monastery, I was prepared for this time. The aim was to encounter Tibetan Buddhism where it is lived and taught today in its scholastic form. But I wasn't prepared for what it meant to experience a developing country. There is a difference between reading about child mortality and the illiteracy rate and experiencing the circumstances that lead to these same consequences. The first impression I spent the night in the hotel in Kathmandu in the hope that the first impressions could be attributed to my exhaustion after a long journey and that the following morning a bright sky opened up to me with a view of the mountains that enclose Kathmandu. At sunrise, morning fog, honking noise, exhaust fumes and traffic chaos welcomed me instead of the breathtaking view of the mountains that had looked so beautiful when booking online on the Internet. Instead of the planned city stroll in Kathmandu, I decided to escape this cauldron as quickly as possible and negotiated the taxi price to the Tibetan monastery, which is about 8 km northeast of the city center at an altitude of 1450 m on the mountain slopes. 24 I arrived a week before the course started to settle in at the monastery, to overcome jet lag and to get an impression of Nepal and its people. The monastery complex occupies the entire top of a hill. In addition to the gompa (building for training, ritual meetings and practice), the monks' buildings, accommodation for western course participants, a library, a shop, a restaurant and a clinic are also located there. The affiliated nunnery is located on the slope. Both monastery complexes are administered jointly, but nuns and monks live separately. Theoretically, the ordained have identical rights and duties, but in fact it was the case that until a few years ago the nuns washed the monks' laundry and made their living by making incense. That has changed in the meantime. Nuns and monks receive the same monastic training from the same teachers. The training lasts 15 years and ends with the Geshe title (comparable to a doctorate). During this time, students are taught Tibetan, Nepalese, English and Sanskrit. They study the traditional scriptures and practice debating. An extremely loud and entertaining art. Here, arguments on a given issue are exchanged, naturally with reference to the position, author and script. Whoever first makes a mistake in quoting or gets into an argumentative dead end has lost to the cheers of the rest of the debating circle. It all happens under the watchful eyes and ears of the teachers, who have just as much fun as the students. The daily routine of the "Westerners", i.e. all participants who had come from all over the world for the Lamrim training, was less strict than that of the monks and nuns. We didn't have to show up for the practice until 5.30 a.m. The Sangha (community of all monks and nuns who live in the monastery) arrived at the gompa from 4 a.m. But more about the course program later. First contacts In the days before the start of the course, the other participants gradually arrived. There is no country that was not represented: Japan, Russia, Korea, Australia, South Africa, Europe, Israel, Alaska, USA, Colombia, Mexico and many more. The countries that were not represented by a representative per se were represented indirectly because someone had already worked there. An Englishman had been selling cars to aid organizations in Afghanistan for two years. The Colombian had been working in Mongolia for twelve months and the German doctor had been to India several times as a development worker. A Japanese-Swiss couple had been on a world tour for two years and the trekking tour guide of a well-known German tour operator knew all the tours in the Himalayan region like the back of his hand. A motley and sparkling mixture of people of all stripes. Everyone brought their stories and experiences with them. It promised to be exciting. How exciting it turned out to be in the course of the course. The monastery region Before we bowed to the strict daily routine of our Lamrim course, we had time to do our first explorations together. Two goals were high on the hit list. On the one hand, it was one of the largest stupa in Nepal: Bodnath-Stupa (also called Boudha-Stupa by locals). On the other hand, the oldest stupa in Nepal: Swayambunath stupa from the 5th century. Both structures are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Boudha Stupa is within sight and walking distance from Kopan Monastery. The stupa can be reached in about half an hour. The way led down the mountain, through a poor district to the district of Boudha, which is also called "Little Tibet". As soon as you reach the stupa, you can see many Tibetans circling the almost 40 m high stupa, which is over 100 m in diameter. During the circling they constantly mumble the mantra "Om mani padme hum" and turn the prayer wheels that are embedded in the base of the building. Around the stupa, souvenir shops and tourist cafes offer everything that makes the heart of the western traveler beat faster. In the streets behind the stupa there are many monasteries that were founded by the Tibetans who had to flee Tibet due to the Chinese invasion in 1959. They have settled here and live their faith unmolested in the midst of Hinduism. Interestingly, Hindu shrines are mostly integrated into the Buddhist buildings. Believers of both religions follow their practices without offending each other. Boudha is an important place of pilgrimage in the life of Buddhists. In the past, the traveling salesmen came safely from the dangerous mountain crossing to the low regions around Kathmandu and thanked them in Boudha for the happy journey; conversely, they prayed for a successful tour before heading back to the Himalayas. Today Buddhists from the high mountains of Nepal, Tibet, Ladakh, Bhutan and Sikkim make a pilgrimage to the Boudha Stupa. Even expeditions circle the stupa before the trip and ask for good weather, success and the return of all expedition participants. For us "Buddhism tourists", the stupa and its periphery became, in addition to its importance as a religious building, a focal point for pizza, coffee beans, cakes and other consumer goods. So it often happened that we sat in one of the rooftop restaurants indulging in culinary delights, watching people in the streets circling and prostrating stupas and discussing the latest Buddhist knowledge.
On the western edge of Kathmandu is the Swayambunath stupa on a 1407 m high hill. As the oldest stupa in Nepal, it has the same status among Buddhists as Pashupatinath is for the Hindus. As in Boudha, believers here too constantly circle the stupa at the foot of the hill and recite prayers incessantly. Some measure the hill with their body length by lying down on their stomachs, standing up, taking a few steps to the farthest point that the fingertips could previously reach and then prostrating themselves on the floor again. Through this practice, believers express their devotion to the Three Gems (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) and take refuge in them. To get to the Stupaberg, one climbs the 231 steep steps, accompanied by aggressive rhesus monkeys, beggars, tourists and pilgrims. We visited Swayambunath at dawn. The sun bathed the entire complex in a pale light and struggled with the morning mist. It was bitterly cold. A surprising number of believers circled the hill at an enormous pace. Either because they were as cold as we were or because they didn't waste time, but instead wanted to go around as many circles as possible in this life in order to achieve a good rebirth in the life to come. Or they were - quite humanly - in a hurry on the way to work. On the side of the path, children in slippers were standing and selling butter lamps for the equivalent of 0.2 euro cents each. Once you have reached the top of the stupa hill, you will be greeted by a horde of arguing monkeys and swarms of pigeons. Buddhists and Hindus perform their morning rituals side by side. Buddhists pray for a happy rebirth of all living beings as human beings and a little further on, sacrificial animals are killed in honor of the bloodthirsty Hindu goddess Kali. In between, souvenir shops offer everything a tourist's heart desires and as soon as the sun has risen, you can also have breakfast here. We were warned that the untrained Western digestive system could run into problems with the food and drinks on offer. Only the bravest of us dared a sandwich and tea, some regretted it, others survived. All in all, a comfortable morning outing. When the organized tourist tours arrived, we were already heading back to the monastery. Already after a few days 26 in Kathmandu it felt like paradise. We drove through the bustle of the dusty city, roadside vendors from the mountains selling vegetables and fruits. Holy cows wandered unmolested through the traffic chaos, are carefully driven around (anyone who kills or injures a cow goes to jail!) And looks for something to eat in the rubbish on the side of the road. In between the tents of the poorest, with campfires and children playing naked in the dirt. They grow up in the ditch, so to speak. With no chance of education. People have other concerns than environmental protection. From our monastery we could see the smog over Kathmandu every day, which lays over the city like an opaque bell. It is only possible to see the houses in the valley on a few days and in special weather conditions. No wonder: people only heat and cook with wood. They also burn their rubbish where it is - on the street, in the yard or in the field.Civilization garbage such as plastic, cans and other non-organic waste are not suitable for this type of garbage disposal. What does not burn is left lying there. People have other worries than dealing with residual waste on the street. They are hungry. On the completely overcrowded streets, mopeds, motorbikes, cars, buses, trucks and pedestrians jostle past each other, honking their horns and stinking. The exhaust gases can only be endured with a respirator (can be bought everywhere) or at least a cloth in front of the face. The noise level and the confusion surpasses all southern European cities. Who honks at whom and why? The swaying cyclist with the shouldered 5 m long wooden ladder manages to pass the overloaded bus, which is turning in the middle of the street at the same moment. Not that any driver would stop in the face of a turning bus. The road is already clogged in all directions and with every imaginable vehicle. Everyone drives a little slower and cleverly bypasses the bus that is standing across. It is unimportant that you come to the opposite lane on which four honking cars are coming in two lanes. The one with the better nerves is the winner and is allowed to drive first! So everyone tries to drive around the turning bus at the same time. Of course, a bus driver cannot turn around alone in such a situation. That is why there is still a "knocker". In dangerous situations he immediately hangs himself far out of the open door and knocks with his hand on the bus wall "Stop!", "Continue!", "Slowly!". In traffic situations that would even be described as extremely chaotic in Rome or Paris, he dares jump into the crowd, storm behind the bus or - on long-distance routes - to the side of the bus that is closest to the valley and knocking and whistling signals to the driver. It usually ends well - only once did we pass a place in the mountains where a bus hadn't made the curve two days earlier. In the second part, the one-month Lamrim training course in Kopan Monastery begins. In the next toshiya magazine, I'll tell you what it's all about and what we experienced in the monastery. Text and photos: Anette Christl
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