The night gave me 9 ½ hours solid sleep. I woke up feeling pale but fresh, so I went out for a good few rounds of the stupa before breakfast. I ran into Julien again, on his own this time, and promised to send him a digital copy of Benchen and Back when I got home. He also likes the blues!
The day I arrived I was forced to accept that I would be guided by the way the wind was blowing. It now did just that. I shared a breakfast table with another guest, Jo from Melbourne, who mentioned that she was planning to go to Namo Buddha that day. Did I want to share a taxi? My body was behaving itself, so the decision was made. I took one little yellow pill, for good measure, but I was pretty sure that loperamide had rescued me.
Namo Buddha is famous for a few reasons. Historically, or rather pre-historically, it is the place associated with one of the best-known of the Buddha’s “birth-stories”:
Out riding one day, he and his party came across a tigress with five newborn cubs. She, however, was too exhausted to feed them, and he took it upon himself to offer his body to her so that she would then be able to feed her cubs. She was, however, too weak even to eat him. So (to add an extra twist to the story) he slit one of his own arteries, allowing her to drink his blood, get the strength to eat his remains, and then nurse the cubs.
Shall we say that compassion at that level is “aspirational”?
The next reason for Namo Buddha’s fame is its stupa – it has long been revered, is very beautiful, and that the mountain location is exquisite. Together with Swayambhu and Jarung Khashor, it is one of the “three great stupas” of the Kathmandu Valley. Dudjom Rinpoche wrote a poem about them.
Thirdly, and much more recently, Thrangu Rinpoche has established a large monastery, temple, study and practice centre there. And mighty impressive it is!
More than two dusty, bumpy hours of taxi-ride took us – at some distance – past the “tallest statue of Shiva in the world”, the Kailashnath Mahadev, and on up to Namo Buddha. First stop was the stupa itself, being a little lower down the hill from the monastery and the “tiger” shrines. And what do you know? A wedding was going on, bang next to and all around the stupa, complete with loud pop music, beer, food and happy faces. What a wedding, eh?
The buildings included a sadly dusty shrine, which didn’t look like it gets a lot of use:
The taxi then took us up to the monastery and the “tiger” shrines, and we picked up a guide who turned out to be useful if not brilliant. The monastery is, without question, extraordinarily beautiful, outside and in. Most impressive of all is the main assembly hall, where taking pictures was strictly forbidden. If you can find any sneaky snaps on the net, you’ll be doing better than me. The opulence reminded me of some of the great European cathedrals, apart from being completely different, and newer, and smaller, and Buddhist, and quieter, and more colourful. How much fundraising went into setting this place up, I wonder?
On the way up one of the sets of steps – of course there are steps – to a site for hanging prayer-flags, there is an archway. The two pillars carry pictures of the tiger story: the party riding through the forest close to the tiger’s den, the offer, the corpse, and the recognition that it is now a holy site.
Halfway up those steps I had given a few rupees to a small, dusty old woman who was begging at the side of the path. On the way down the three of us stopped for a soft drink, and she tagged along. I watched her walking up and down the shop counter, lightly fingering the displayed goods, hoping that somehow, in some mysterious way, something would miraculously transpose itself and mysteriously come into her possession. Without actually nicking it, you understand. When the shopkeeper came out from the back he spoke to her sharply – “Keep your thieving little fingers off,” it sounded like – and she went out to sit on the step. A few minutes later the shopkeeper reappeared and put a bowl of noodle soup into her hands. She giggled.
After another long, muddy, sometimes slippery drive back I was ready for a “veg pagoda”, which elsewhere would be called a vegetable pakora, and a lemon soda. Yet again I shared the table with some delightful people I’d never met before. One was a Bön practitioner from Brazil who had tried to change to “mainstream” Buddhism, but tripped up on having to say “Om Ah Hum” instead of “A Om Hum”, so she decided to stay with the Bönpos. You may well wonder what I’m talking about, but I can tell you that I sympathised with her. Trust me, I’m a Buddhist.