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The Tiger's Nest in Bhutan. Photo by Chelsea Ferrel.

The Seed, The Scam, The Sky: Thoughts on Nepal

Whether it be my age, my experience, or perhaps my nature, life can seem endless. Yet at the same time life seems so fleeting, with each day marking more hours lost. Memories are like that too. There are too few moments to which I can point to as truly life changing. I can easily anticipate the many more to come, however I also think I fail to realize the small moments that built the foundation of my character. Even in this short time at Kathmandu, I have come to realize my Dragons course this summer will be both a memory to forever remain as well as a path to deeper recognition of those small moments in life.

Here I have been blessed with the opportunity to share this experience with 11 other introspective students. Their company has challenged both my preexisting beliefs and current impressions. But even more fortunate I am that us 12 are being led by Nick, Rebecca, and Topaz. Without their encouragement, eagerness, and insight, this course would not be the same.

Yesterday, Topaz, Raif, and I, as we walked back to the Shechen Monastary from the Boudhanath Stupa, discussed the differences between Western and Eastern religious communities. Here I say community rather than the religions themselves because this notion transcends the idea of Christianity and Buddhism as with Topaz, a Christian in the Himalayas. At first I had thought that people followed Buddhism as a way of life, more as a code rather than a explanation to worldly phenomena (as Heaven does with death). Yet Topaz saw it differently. He explained that people in the Himalayas are much more of a community. While in the United States a synagogue is far removed from a church, inter-religious communities are far more inclusive in the Himalayas. For whatever reason it may be, the divide between religions remains constant in the United States. In the Himalayas, as Topaz told us, Buddhists, Hindus, and other religious people are far more connected. Perhaps this may be from the necessity of the living conditions that people must rely on each other.I had come on this trip to discover what happiness is and had adhered to the belief that Buddhism was a crucial piece of what made Bhutan the happiest place in the world. But perhaps Buddhism itself was not the answer. Rather, perhaps the individual has a greater sense of purpose from the community than comes from the practice of religion.

Later that night we had a ceremony to commemorate our departure from Kathmandu. Each of us, surrounded by burning candles in silence, imbued a negative quality within ourselves into a rock. By putting the rock in the water and leaving them at the stupa, we would cleanse that negative quality, vowing to improve ourselves under Buddha’s watchful eye. Then, we each chose something we want to bring with us to Bhutan, planting this quality into a Bodhi seed. During this, Topaz told us, in his quiet, intentional manner, that if we planted our Bodhi seed, with its quality, within ourselves, we would find the beauty within us, just as a Bodhi tree becomes beautiful. Each and every seed has potential. Topaz frequently reminds us that English is not his native tongue, but, sitting during that blissful meditation, he found the truest word to embody the essence of the Bodhi seeds: strength.

Strength over the self: the ability to dictate our own actions, emotions, and way of life. We have that power, if we harness the goodness within ourselves, within the Bodhi seed, to create the life of tenderness and kindness that we all aspire to.

Strength over the past: the ability we all have to forgive ourself and others. Often times, we show love to others, while denying ourself . We learn to despise our failures instead of learn from them. And, because of this, we develop a certain resentment of our past which manifests through self doubt.

Strength over the future: if we can extract the goodness from ourself and forgive the past, then and only then can we change our actions. Although perhaps I should say here only then can we begin on the path towards change, as true self-change is more difficult to achieve than a change of mind.

In all ways am I still on this journey. I wished to leave jealously, yet I still envy. I wish to bring forgiveness, yet I still resent many. I had come here to reflect alone, to see the power of Buddhism and a simpler life on the individual. Yet I have come to realize that I was wrong in doing so. I could not seclude myself during this growth. Even if I was to change, there would be no larger community to connect with. So while I strengthen my own self, I must also remember the collective community I am apart of.

As all of these ideas lingered in my mind, I met a boy, no older than 10, with black hair dyed blonde at the tips and clean, unripped clothes. Kiray spoke impeccable English. He pleaded that we buy his family some food: rice, bread, etc. That morning we had been warned of the numerous scams throughout Kathmandu, such as the elderly and children pleading for food and “mothers” holding rented babies asking for milk. Of course, they would sell whatever they got to a local vender for half the money. So, was Kiray scamming us? Probably. But he had helped my group with a scavenger hunt , so we decided to be generous. Yet when we offered him 50 rupies, he declined, saying this money had bad karma. However, after our numerous denials to buy him food, he tried to accept the money. At this point we turned and continued with our scavenger hunt and he, realizing our change of heart, did the same. As he wandered off to search for other tourists like us, I knew I would never see him again.

This moment with Kiray was short, and rather forgettable. Yet at the same time I have continued to think about Kiray. What is doing? What is he enjoying in life? Is he satisfied? Is he happy? Does his Bodhi seed have the same potential? The same beauty? The same strength? What is he living for?

Up here in the sky, overlooking the mountains on the way to Bhutan, one can easily reflect on his or her life. Only in the escape of flying 30,000 feet in the air can one see the world as it truly is. And up here, the world seems different than before. Perhaps that is because of my anticipation of Bhutan, or perhaps the last two days have already been life changing. Either way, I wonder what I will see on the flight home. The same mountains? The same valleys? The same beauty? The same strength? The same suffering?