Starting as early as 4:00 in the morning, Buddhist devotees begin their dizzying walk-chant-pray routine around the Boudha Stupa, just on the northeastern fringe of Kathmandu. Hundreds of locals, pilgrims and immigrants walk clockwise around the grand Stupa holding their prayer beads with most murmuring “Om Mani Padme Hum” — something many Tibetan Buddhists learn early on in their lives.

We took a bus from Ratnapark the day before, one of Kathmandu’s major transport jump-off points, to take a 30 minute ride in a crowded open-window mini-bus, which costed only Rs20 (Nepali Rupees) a piece and took us the 5 kilometers to Boudhanath through the sluggish morning traffic.

From before sunrise until past 9 in the evening, business-minded locals clog parts of the Stupa’s circumferential street with candles, incense and the like, to cater to the devotees circling the monument. Sticking out like ravens in a flock of doves, Caucasian Buddhist devotees young and old, male and female alike, prayed and chanted the mantras as fervently, if not more, than their Asian counterparts: “Om Mani Padme Hum.”

Here is the Dalai Lama’s take on it:

“It is very good to recite the mantra Om mani padme hum, but while you are doing it, you should be thinking on its meaning, for the meaning of the six syllables is great and vast…

“The six syllables mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha[…]”

Coming from a Christian background and from the little I understand of Buddhism, it should be hard to believe that Buddha was just an ordinary man, and that all beings can attain “Buddha-hood,” i.e., Enlightenment before or at the moment of death. But it isn’t. It makes sense to me that we don’t need anything other than ourselves to attain meaningful and lasting happiness; in the same way that gravity makes sense: it feels real.

Some have said that Buddha and Christ were exactly the same as you and me. The only difference being they saw through the illusions of separation between us. Tell a devout and traditional Christian this and hear cries of “Blasphemy,” silent accusations of megalomania or delusions of grandeur to no end; or at the least, see pitiful eyes wish and pray you dropped such silly fantasies. 

How far-flung is the idea of having, at our centers, the God-head, the Brahman, the Infinite, the Fundamental Essence of the Universe — when put alongside ideas of physical Resurrection, Purgatory or the eternal flames of Hell? Without personal experience of any religious or existential belief, what makes one more right than any other? Does a long-standing tradition or a “majority-vote” dictate truth? On the contrary, reason tells me an experientially baseless and stubborn conviction on any field renders most people incapable of finding truth.

We know nothing but find comfort in the familiar, the finite and in blind faith; beyond these lie clues into the nature of consciousness and reality, and while that uncertainty may stir fear into the hearts of some, it breathes light and warmth into others.

(Photos to follow)

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