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Trek View on Nepal: Himalayan Studies Gap Year Semester with Where There Be Dragons

The Path

By bus, the Thringu Tashi Yangtse Monastery lies about two hours (if you’re lucky) from Kathmandu. Of course, when you start from the hilly countryside and walk long days, stopping and starting from teahouse hotels along the way, it takes about sixteen. Our small trek crossed village backyards, city streets, carved out terraces of land and steep stairs that sloped across valley hills. For most of the hike, the air was fresh and dry, and I was reminded so much of the juniper smells of Colorado summers. We stopped at a small sign that declared we had made it to the “Hotel at the End of the Universe”. On our third day, we winded through clouds of pale dust until the gold of the monastery appeared, as if out of a strange, mystic fog. Our first day was all bright colors of Tibetan thangka, puja prayer bells, the chatter of the monks at dinnertime. The tone of our trip sharpened slightly, as we took a vow of silence from sunrise to sunset. Through early morning prayers, teachings of Buddhism, meditations and meals, we attempted to maintain mindfulness and silence. The days became long, scheduled, and reflective. I have never had so much time to sit quietly, alone with my mind. I was confronted with the fact, and surprised for some reason, that Buddhism is a religion. One with structure and reason, realms of heaven and hell, and accepted through strong faith of karma and the cyclic nature of life. For six days, we lived mostly as monks did, learning teachings and reasoning from Buddhist scriptures, meditating, and trying to apply the religion as if it had always been our own. We were set off on the start of the path to understanding Buddhism. I had never been presented with religion as fact before, and I was frustrated originally that the particular sect of Buddhism we studied was based so heavily on ideas of god realms and hungry ghosts, instead of the philosophical teachings I expected. I was attempting to understand the concept of faith itself, and it was intense. After time, I began to accept the pace. Our teacher was funny, approachable and encouraged questions, even though at times I struggled to see the most essential concepts of his religion. We were allowed to ask as many questions as we could. What is emptiness? Why? How can you see the nature of mind? Why? What is the suffering of suffering? Why? I began to see the aspects of the religion that seep into spirituality and health and work to benefit life. I found my thoughts regarding religion becoming less cynical, simpler. There can be a balance between spiritual action that spreads compassion through religion, as well as immediate action to help the state of our suffering and fragile world. I left the monastery happier. I am still not a Buddhist, I’m not sure that I am anything at all except intrigued and curious. And more motivated to study religion and the roots of the questions it answers.