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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011


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Dear Friends and Family,

All the students have safely boarded their plane, and are now well on their way home.

We just saw Marissa, Max, Brady, Jack, Sara, Perri, Helen, and John take to the skies after a transformational 3 months together. We wish Perri the best in her journeys ahead in Japan, and we wish everyone else a wonderful and well-deserved return home.

Thank you so much to both our students and the extended community of people supporting them - parents, family, and friends.Our journey has been so much more than the list of places we traveled and things we did; it was also about traveling to new places within ourselves and embracing the changes that come with such deep exploration.

We wish everyone best wishes in returning home, sharing their experiences, making sense of it all, and welcoming the summer blossoms, wherever they find you in your life.

And for the countless journeys you all have ahead of you, like we say here in Nepal,

Bistaraai Jaanus (Walk Slowly),

Japhy, Adrian and Sweta

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

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Students Heading Home!

Instructor Team,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

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Dear Friends and Family, All the students have safely boarded their plane, and are now well on their way home. We just saw Marissa, Max, Brady, Jack, Sara, Perri, Helen, and John take to the skies after a transformational 3 months together. We wish Perri the best in her journeys ahead in Japan, and we […]

Posted On

05/8/11

Author

Instructor Team

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While on trek I got a chance to experience and learn about the traditional sense of a spiritual landscape, mostly focusing on The Naga. A Naga, or Lu, is a guardian water spirit. They appear in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions in Nepal, and have similar connections with the people in the area. As told to me by Phuly Sherpa, a Lu has power over the soil and water in the area and came make people ill or blessed. When a Lu is angry then signs such as swollen eyes and stomach aches appear. When the Lu is happy the water is clean and soil good for crops.

To keep the Naga or Lu happy worshipping of them on certain days and keeping the area where the lu lives clean is very important. They are worshipped by Hindus on the holiday Naga Panchami on the 5th day after the full moon. The observance includes the pasting of posters of Nagas over the entrances of the household, usually by a family priest. Where as in the Buddhist tradition you worship the Lu before you worship Solu, the goddess of Dudh Kund. Normally this is done by the monks up at the monastery performing a Puja.

One such story the lay monk Phuly Sherpa told me was of the Lu that resided in his village. Once when there village was doing poorly a shaman told the villagers that it was because of the local Lu was unhappy, so 14 reincarnated Lamas came and found a place to place the Lu home, right next to the library. A Lu home looks like a mini stnoe hedge with three rocks, two sticking up and one lying across the top. After this things got better. Then after some time they noticed a strange fog stretching from their high pastures in Lumi Thaklar to the village. They realized this was the Lu moving. He spent 6 months in the village and 6 months at their high pastures and the water fall that is there. So they set up resting places from one end of the Lu’s journey to the next. Each one marked with a white flag. Each year the resting places and homes are cleaned to keep the wondering Lu happy and the village safe.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

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Nagas and Lus

Perri BB,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

Description

While on trek I got a chance to experience and learn about the traditional sense of a spiritual landscape, mostly focusing on The Naga. A Naga, or Lu, is a guardian water spirit. They appear in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions in Nepal, and have similar connections with the people in the area. As told […]

Posted On

05/8/11

Author

Perri BB

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My time in Nepal has been unbelievable and it's hard to wrap my head around the fact that it's almost over. The people I have met, the places I have seen and the experiences I have had would not be possible without Dragons or the instructors. Along with that I have come to appreciate and love so many things that I have encountered while being here and I wanted to express my gratitude because of how much this experience has changed me. So first and foremost I would like to thank my parents for having the love and trust to send me halfway around the world hoping I would seize every opportunity placed in front of me. I don't think I have let you down because I have grown up and grown out. My mind, opinions, confidence and love have matured so much from being here. They have all also grown to encompass far more than when I left. For example, I now feel confident that I can find where I need to go and that I can get there either taking public transportation or by finding and haggling with a taxi. My love is another area that has grown vastly. Not just for the amazing people I have just spent the past three months living with but also loving wherever I am and whoever I am with because whether comforting or challenging I have learned that every situation and every person has a valuable lesson to teach. I just have to look hard enough to find it.

The country of Nepal also deserves a thank you. This country as a whole opened its arms to the group and to each of us individually. It showed us both how beautiful it can be and also how difficult it can be. For me it showed me what my limits were and pushed me to go beyond them. On the two day trek in the Shiva Puri National Park I got the most sick I have been in my entire life. The entire night was spent puking and running to the bathroom with diarrhea. I didn’t handle the experience well and it showed me how poorly I dealt with hardship. After that I tried to keep myself healthy and I also made sure that mentally and emotionally I handled sickness better. So thank you Nepal for pushing me to my physical limits and helping me go beyond those.

One of the most influential and inspiring people I met during my time here was our Nepali teacher Rajesh. Rajesh is one of the happiest people I have met in my entire life. The joy he has in his family, his life, and everything he does is infectious and truly remarkable. Rajesh loves Nepal as well, despite the difficult economic and political situation that exists here. One moment that sticks out in my mind when I think of Rajesh is during Holi, the Nepali festival of colors. When I saw him that day Rajesh was dripping wet, covered in vermillion powder and he had the biggest grin I have ever seen. He showed us where the party was and immediately disappeared into the crowd going to everyone and greeting them like the best friends they probably were. The entire time he never stopped smiling or laughing. The enthusiasm Rajesh has for life has inspired me and I can only hope that I can love whatever situation I am in as wholeheartedly as he does. Rajesh, thank you for teaching me that there is always a bright side and that I should always be thankful for whatever I am lucky enough to have.

Another group of people I met during this trip was my host family in Kathmandu. I lived with the Karki’s an amazing family of four. I had Rosham-ba, Gita-aamaa, Gianina-baini and Prajol-bai. Rosham and Gita accepted me into the family and treated me like their own son the second I walked through the door. That was so unexpected and so hard to believe. It also touches on the kindness and hospitality of all Nepali’s. The people here would give you the shirt off their back if you asked for it and Rosham and Gita were no exception. When I was sick they woke up to give me medicine and make sure I was alright. When I was healthy they helped me with Nepali, played badminton with me and taught me how to make aloo partha and apple pie. The thing that really solidified their place in my heart was including me in Gianina’s coming-of-age party. Experiencing that, meeting all of their family and being so completely welcomed into their hearts is something I will never forget. Finding out how easy it is to love another person unconditionally when you only spend a month together was an experience I really can’t put to words. Mero pariwaar I cannot thank you enough for the love you have shown me and I cannot express how much I love all of you.

The next people who I appreciate beyond comprehension are the peers I have spent these phenomenal three months with. I have learned more from you than you can possibly imagine. I have cultivated honest, meaningful and lasting relationships with all of you and for that I am extremely grateful. You have pushed me through hard times and challenged my ideas while giving me many more to think about. You have called me out on bad habits and helped me create many new and amazing ones. You have supported me through my struggles and pushed me to always keep learning and growing. Most of all you have helped make this experience unique, wonderful and everything else that it has been. For that I want to thank each and every one of you. Thank you so much.

Last but most certainly not least are the instructors Sweta, Japhy and Adrian. Of all the people I think they deserve the most thanks. Without them this trip would not happen and it would not be nearly as special. All of them add so much and it needs to be recognized and appreciated.

Sweta, you are one of the best listeners I have ever met. The love and pride you have for this country is a really special thing and it made me appreciate how truly spectacular Nepal is. Along with that, the quiet, behind-the-scenes guidance and advice that you gave me over the course of the trip helped me mature into the young man that is leaving this amazing country. Finally, thank you for the hug in Shiva Puri because without that I don’t know how I would have made it through the day.

Japhy, the experiences and information you shared with me was really special to hear. Listening to all of you travels and experiences hit me hard. You really inspired me to travel more wherever I am and to take advantage of every opportunity. Also, your enthusiasm is infecti ous. The passion and joy you have is a really special thing and it affects everyone around you. I know when I was with you I always felt excited and ready for the next phase in the journey. Just like Sweta I would not have made it through that day in Shiva Puri without you. Keeping me moving and pushing me even when I couldn’t get myself to go was a major growing opportunity. You helped me build the mental muscle to push through difficult situations and I am extremely grateful for that.

Adrian, you played both the big brother and unshakable leader at times. You always knew how much to give and how much to let me figure out on my own. I remember the first day I met you and how I rambled on about how excited I was for the rest of the trip. You taught me how much I can really do when I put my mind to it. There is something ineffable about you and I found myself drawn to you and enjoying your company before I really knew you. I thank you for that and for always challenging me.

I hope I never forget how much I learned here, the connections I made or the places I have been. So for the final time thank you all and I hope we see each other again someday.

I would like to dedicate this to all the mothers around the world without your love and support this world would be a far worse place. Specifically thank you to my mother for having the unshakable faith and unconditional love to send me on this trip.

Happy Mothers’ Day

Brady

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

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Appreciation

Brady Hemenway,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

Description

My time in Nepal has been unbelievable and it’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that it’s almost over. The people I have met, the places I have seen and the experiences I have had would not be possible without Dragons or the instructors. Along with that I have come to appreciate and […]

Posted On

05/7/11

Author

Brady Hemenway

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Buddha sat before me in a wicker woven throne. Its circler back rose just slightly above Shakyamuni Buddha’s black blue hair. He appears to be made out of gold, like the statues I see of him, for this is the only form of Buddha I have known. Before him is a light wood desk covered with scrolls. He looks up and notices my form at the edge of the meadow, under the shade of the white birch that circles the small spring meadow. The scene is something like the woodland meadows of Maine that I would often visit as a child. Slowly, I walk up to Buddha, and as I draw near a voice speaks instructions into my ear.

It is the voice of Ani Karin, the Buddhist nun who is guiding us in this meditation of compassion. She instructs us to think about giving all our objects away.

I sit my self down in the grass before Buddha and think about her instructions for two seconds before closing myself off and announcing, “I don’t need to do this! I know I can give everything away”.

Ignoring the voice of Ani Karin, I start to contemplate the figure of Buddha before my eyes when I notice his lips were moving, and from them a warm but dense voice came forth.

“You are just blocking yourself, stopping your self from growing and becoming a better person.” I blinked for a second and thought carefully about Buddha’s words before responding.

I am ashamed to admit that I thought I could spend my time in some other way. I pictured myself in the same situation and having the same responses to the meditation and opening my mind up to myself, as dramatic and having negative emotions. When this did not happen, I blocked myself and thought that maybe I already then knew about kindness and compassion, about myself. At one point, I even worked myself up and put my self into a negative place with out realizing it, thinking that was the only way to grow. But as I spoke to Buddha I did not know that this was self-inflicted, instead I responded rather ignorantly, saying that I did not need this meditation. Buddha smiled and I was struck by a warm feeling and of mass amount of space. He asked me to give myself a second and take a good look. So I did just that, thinking about how I may be blocking myself.

After a little bit I looked at Buddha and answered, “I am actually a happy person, but I seem to trip myself up a lot”. He smiled at me again, so I went on. “I don’t know what it is that trips me up but I know that actually there is always room to be kinder, and maybe if I can figure out what hold me back I could continue to learn”.

After a second or two Buddha spoke again, he encouraged me to take this time and explore my mind, for if I did not do this now then I would be wasting time during the Kopan retreat. “There is a broom, under the trees to your left, it may be useful.” I gave the Buddha a strange look and said nothing, for I figured he already knew my mind. Getting up and striding over to the birch trees that where on the left of the glade I found a dark wood broom, with a yellow tuft of string at the top, very similar to the prayer beads. Gripping the broom in my hand it felt light. Not sure really what to be done with this I recited a mantra really fast and under my breath.

“Om muni padmi hum”. Then, turning towards Buddha once again I found that a semi circle of people in monks robes sat in front of him and it seemed he was giving a teaching. Unsure of my place in the meadow anymore I decided to start walking forward into the forest of white birch.

Awkwardly, I weaved in and out of the trees sometimes hitting the broom against on or getting it caught in some bush. I kept my eyes peeled for a path that would lead me somewhere. Many times, I would come to a start of a path but it would only lead me two or three feet before vanishing again. Sometimes I would find arrows pointing back to the glade on such a path and would wonder why. What was this telling me about my mind? How many times had I tried in the past to reach the glade where Shakyamuni Buddha resided and yet never made it?

Getting a little frustrated I concentrated on the ferns and the trees untill I finally thought about turning around. I came across an uphill, covered in large boulders. “Perri this is where you ‘tighten your belt and keep going,” I told myself. So, rolling up my yellow kurta bottoms, I started to scramble up the landslide of my mind. Papers were caught here and there in the boulders and often times I would have to throw my broom ahead of me to use both hands. I reached eye to eye with the trees tops and stopped for a break. The wind was cool on my face and the sun was still out enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face.

“Man my mind is beautiful;” I said out loud, “anything living in my mind should be pleased to be here”. After a pause I then spoke again to myself, or possibly to the boulders “I should be pleased to live here in my mind, in fact I do live in my mind don’t I?” A smile crept onto my face. Then I stood up and spoke louder, “I am definitely happy to have my mind! What a beautiful mind I have! But so cluttered too!” Looking at the papers stuck under the boulders. “I should clean this up, what a mess I have made of this mind”

Looking around I found a trash bag with no holes and went about sweeping up the paper and pulling them out from under rocks. Each one was a to-do list, and what you did-not-do list, and shopping list; they were all lists. Each one would only have one or two things check off on them. Each list was heavy to pick up but light once in the bag. All of this was pressure I put on myself and I realized that half of the lists were not even needed. I did not need to write down what I had failed at over the last week, or how much I would eat and sleep that day. Why would I try to structure my life in such a way? So I made sure to pick up each list and throw it away.

Though my mind begged me to race on through this and keep going up, a nagging voice in my mind said, “Maybe there is something Buddha wants me to find up at the top of the hill?” But I realized that every task I find would be important, it was important to clear such pressures from myself. So slowly I went through and picked up each piece of paper till I found myself at the top of the land slide with a full bag of paper. When I got to the top, I felt lighter, only by a little bit. A strain in my chest I did not know I carried was released. Sitting down to enjoy this feeling of realizing I don’t need to control so much of myself I thought, “Maybe this in part would create trust between myself and I.” I looked to my left and saw some pines just hidden behind the edge of the rocks and to my ri ght was a path leading to an opening in the mountain and the boulders.

“Just keep going Perri, there is still more to find in yourself,” I said as I picked myself off the rocks and started to walk towards my right. “And what should I do with these lists?”

The path cut into the foot hills side and I could run my hand over flat stone as I walked towards the caves mouth. But shortly before the entrance I stopped and noted a glass case carved into the rock wall. Walking up and peering inside, I saw two things. The first was one of my most prized objects at home, my grandfather’s funeral flag, folded up in a triangle and in its case. Labeled “Henry Kenneth Bowers”. Next to the flag lay an orange lighter. I did not puzzle over this for too long and took the lighter out of the case. Gathering some stones, I build a small fire place and burnt my papers. They were easy to burn and I thought for a second wondering if this would actually easily burn if I was not in my mind. But soon as I stood with my broom and trash bag, my thoughts wandered to my grandfather and the flag. Why was it actually important to me?

The answer was easy, for I have thought on this a bit before, and it is because I want to embody so much of what my grandfather was. It did not stop there; I wanted to embody so much of what my father is as well. They are both strong and cheerful in my eye, ready to get done what needed to get done and always ready to help others. I saw both my grandfather and my father as strong and kind men. I always looked up to them and because of this I kept the flag close to my heart, almost as a material reminder of my grandfather’s war stories and attitude towards people.

So thinking on that for a little bit, I wondered why I actually needed the flag itself. After all the meaning of this meditation was to understand attachment, but still I thought to myself. “Why would I need an object to remember my loved ones by? I can remember him and try to embody what I admired about him”. After that I told myself to try and go at this quest like I imaged my grandfather or father would do. I stomped out the last of the sparks in the fire place and set off again with my broom and trash bag into the cave.

Upon entering the cave, it was cool and I could hear the trickle of water some place to my left. It was very dark and I felt fear start to work its way into my mind, slowing my steps.

“Perri! Just tighten your belt again, this is your mind! You need to know about it” I scolded myself and picked up speed. This is something I needed to get done. I walked a little while into the cave went I went face first into something that bounced me backwards. I lost my footing and was sent sprawling on the cave floor. Picking myself up I clicked the lighter to gain a little bit of light. Before my eyes, sat the largest spider I had ever seen, about as big as my hand.

“My child you must be tired, why don’t you go back outside to the sun and rest, you don’t need to go this way. You have done so much already”. The voice of the spider was soothing and feminine; reminding me of how I used to think an older tree would speak to younger trees when I was younger. I was tempted to follower her directions, thinking to myself for a brief second, ”you are right, I have worked hard, and done a lot, I can take a break”. Then holding the lighter up a bit more I saw that the web that the spider sat on was the thing that blocked my way.

A realization came to me, “No, I need to get through, these are just lies I have spun for myself”. Taking the broom in my hands I raised it to eye level with the spider, “I need to get through, and remove lies that are blocking my way to accepting growth. You need to move”. The spider hissed at me. Fear had taken me again. Then, I hit the spider in the head and with a squeak, the spider grew small and turned to dust. Surprised at myself, I stood for a second, letting this realization seep into my mind.

I was spinning stories and lies for myself, telling myself just as the spider had said, that I had gone through a lot. Bullying, deaths, and other things of the kind, but I did not need to use them as a handicap. In fact, half the things I spun for myself I had already taken care of, just as I could see the light at the end of the tunnel behind the web know that I thought on it, I had always already gotten through such hard times and then gone back and blocked myself with them. Telling myself that I had gone through hard times, or that I had worked hard, when really there was still work to do.

“Right more work to do”, I thought, and images of my father and grandfather floated in my head. “Okay Perri lets clean up this mess” and I set to work sweeping away all the cop webs in the cave. Collecting the remains of the spider and her webs into my trash bag I walked forwards towards the light at the end of the short cave.

Leaving the cave, I saw a grey world outside. It was beautiful. Sunlight filtered in through the clouds and rested on different spots in the valley and on the foot hills. I had found myself on a flat grass outcrop that was half cut into the side of a steep mountain, towering up above me. The wind blew in a lively fashion and gave me a feeling of refreshment and thrill. At the end of the flat rest spot, there were steps leading up and down cut into the stone. It looked as if the steps had grown from the very mountain itself. Shouldering the trash bag and broom, I walked forward, deciding up was the way to go. So up I climbed, sweeping the steps when one seemed dusty or had a cobweb. The whole way, I was asking myself when the last time I had gone up this mountain was. It seemed far too long. Up and up I went till the cave entrance was just a speck away. Around another zig-zag I went and came upon another large spider, eyes glittering and inspecting me. I held my broom up ready to rid myself of any negative thoughts stopping myself from achievement.

The spider spoke, this time in a male’s voice. “You must be tired; you have come so far, farther then most. You can stop now, look you are hurt. You can stop now, people will understand.” I shook my head in response and said no more before hitting the spider in the head and turning him to dust. Again I set to work with sweeping away the cobwebs and thinking to myself.

Have these been the thoughts stopping me? I was waiting for something dramatic to happen, and when nothing happened, I would spin myself a story. True, a story based on real events in my life, but things I have already dealt with. Just because some one else has to cry and be upset over a friends death years and years later does not mean I had to carry this baggage too. I have decided to be happy, I decided that long ago. Why would I try to forget that? “I am happy! Why wouldn’t I be?! I do n’t need to let past events effect me. I know how to deal with things, why would I lie to myself about that?” I felt good after this announcement.

After cleaning up, I headed up further and further into the mountain. Again and again I would run into spiders, telling me the same things. Trying to spin lies of myself, and again and again I would sweep away the webs. Till at last I got to the top. It was flat and grassy at the top of the mountain with a fire pit dug in the center. Again I burnt the cobwebs and when the fire had burnt down I spread the ashes around the sides of the mountain. I looked out over the valleys and mountains, again I was struck by happiness but so much lighter now that I had realized the lies I had spun for myself.

Then I was drawn out of my meditative state by the singing bowl that Ani Karin rung, and I renewed my back straight to dedicate my meditation. Even now weeks after the meditation, I take the lessons I learned that day to heart. The lessons of Buddha, compassion, and wisdom, have done more than just fall on my ears. I have gained some understanding, even if it is by a small amount, of where this compassion and wisdom is needed in governing my life. Still I might catch a spider in my mind time to time, beginning the webs of a lie that would hinder me from taking in fully what a meditation or simply any experience could offer me. When I realize this is happening I can stop myself with the words of Buddha in my head reminding me I don’t need to add the extra baggage. I have been feeling lighter for days now and have been more comfortably engaged. Sitting through meditation became easer for the remainder of the retreat and even now, out in Kathmandu I can remember what it was I learned and can carry on
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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

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A Meditation on Lessons from Buddhist Dharma – Comparative Religion Final Reflection Paper

Perri Brierley-Bowers,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

Description

Buddha sat before me in a wicker woven throne. Its circler back rose just slightly above Shakyamuni Buddha’s black blue hair. He appears to be made out of gold, like the statues I see of him, for this is the only form of Buddha I have known. Before him is a light wood desk covered […]

Posted On

05/6/11

Author

Perri Brierley-Bowers

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During our travels through Nepal we have gotten to experience many unbelievable things. One of the times that was eye-opening and a place of unquantifiable growth for me was Kopan Monastery. We went to a ten day crash course on the basics of Buddhism. Tyler and I took a pledge to remain silent for the entire ten days. It was during these ten days that I learned more about myself, and others, than I could have possibly imagined going into the silence. For on the silence helped me take the teachings to heart. When I couldn't talk about the things I learned I found that I took more time to analyze exactly what I thought and how I felt about everything. Having the time in silence to think about what I was learning helped me strengthen concepts I believed in. It also made me analyze concepts I didn't believe in and figure out why I didn't believe in them and if there was anything valuable in the concept even if I couldn't believe in it fully. Another thing that silence forces upon you, whether you like it or not, is patience. I learned patience on many different levels. The way I communicated was through charade-esque motions. Having the patience with myself while I tried to communicate and having patience with others while they tried to figure out what I was saying was a skill that I developed. Another form of patience was being patient towards others' ideas. Not being able to speak improved my listening skills immensely. Instead of writing off other peoples' ideas and telling them why they are wrong I had to sit and listen to what they believed. This patience was something that I know will help me in the real world. Along with hearing their idea sitting in silence made me figure out why I agreed or disagreed with what they were saying. The patience I learned at Kopan is a valuable skill I won't soon forget.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

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A Reflection on Ten Days of Silence

Brady Hemenway,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

Description

During our travels through Nepal we have gotten to experience many unbelievable things. One of the times that was eye-opening and a place of unquantifiable growth for me was Kopan Monastery. We went to a ten day crash course on the basics of Buddhism. Tyler and I took a pledge to remain silent for the […]

Posted On

05/5/11

Author

Brady Hemenway

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Meditating in a half lotus for two hours is not easy.My knees and ankles are throbbing and flickering flames like dancing butter lamps.Yet the simple art of sitting is a minor skill that is taught at Kopan Monastery.For ten days, our goal is lofty; with our ten intrepid students, we are here to study the nature of mind and to meditate on reality.

Each day, we are guided into meditation sessions and teachings on Buddhist dharma.In this ancient land, people have spent thousands of years honing a practice and inquiry that is aimed at understanding the very nature of our existence.Grounding the mind by focusing on each breath, setting intention, and looking inwards feels incredibly difficult when your knees keep complaining like an angry toddler.

However, in this noble quest, being hung up on the discomfort of sitting cross-legged is like missing the point altogether.The yogis and high practitioners of meditation sought a mastery of the vast forces of the Universe by cultivating complete control of the body and mind.As I breathe in and summon all of my energy to focus on my breath – and nothing else – I find my mind wandering with a collection of thoughts.Images from the past, anxieties of the future, and a million other voices that compete for my mind.I know it is possible, for I have seen swamis and monks and mystics all over Nepal in a state of utmost control, tempered and taut like the bow and bowstring.The arrow that is aimed is then able to penetrate and cut through all ignorance and distraction.


Even the simple act of meditation, thus reveals that Buddhism is hardly the passive fatalism of which it is often accused of.Rather, by delicately guiding the bowstring of our minds, we are led to an acceptance of each moment, resilience and serenity, calmness in action and intensity when calm.It has been said that a person seated in meditation is “the flame in the windless spot that does not flicker.”

The power of such concentration and mind control is immense.Yogis, dakinis, high lamas, and other realized beings know the true nature of this cyclical reality:Samadhi(one-pointedness, concentration, unification) may lead to a realization ofshunyata(void, or emptiness) and by channeling theprana(breath, living energy) may evolve into theprajna(transcendent wisdom) ofnirvana(beyond delusion, beyond all nature, life, and death, beyond becoming, liberation) which might itself be seen as an eternalSamadhi.Thus the circle is complete, every state is conditioned by each of the others, and all are inherent in meditation, which is itself is a window into Truth.

Tied up in these confounding circles, I reflect on impermanence and death, and immediately think of being alone in the High Andes, caught countless times in my journeys by the clanging bells of thunderstorms.Once on a remote high pass, caught in a brutal snowstorm traveling solo, I felt overwhelmed and exhausted, all thought and emotion beaten out of me.I momentarily lost my sense of self, my existence and survival surrendered to the sound of a heartbeat that I had no control of.What I was feeling was the heart of the world, and my palpations were the unwavering sighs of the earth and the big silence of the mountains.Somehow, when in the claws of Yama, the Tibetan Lord of Death who clutches us insamsara– the endless cycle of suffering and pain in this sensory world – this experience seemed less frightening but rather affirming.

During our days in Kopan, floating atop the bustling capital on a cloud of introspection, Kathmandu seems a world away, and each leaf, each flower, and each blade of grass in this blessed place takes on a new meaning.Often, spiritual experiences for me are moments when life seems perched on some sort of an edge; climbing on high craggy alpine walls, or in lush meadows, or when moving through life in an ecclesiastical sense of flow.Kierkegaard called this “the sickness of infinitude,” describing the void that opens with deep meditation upon the dramatic realization that at the bottom of each breath there is a hollow place that needs to be filled with meaning.What, after all, do we do with our finite days on this earth and why are we here?

Sakyamuni Buddha, a wandering ascetic himself who walked the same lands we’re treading on over two millennia ago, answered this question with the Four Noble Truths.Buddha perceived that man’s existence is inseparable from suffering; that the cause of this suffering is desire and attachment; that the only way to attain peace is by liberating oneself from this craving; and finally that this liberation may be brought about by following the teachings of thedharma, “the path.”

This evening, the day ends with a light-offering ceremony.We each light candles and set positive intentions for ourselves and for all sentient beings.Ani Karin, our guru here at Kopan, begins an otherworldly melody and we follow chanting OM MANI PADME HUM.


Led by the unwavering faith of this lifelong Buddhist nun, Ani Karin’s wizened hands knead dark beads on her rosary and the mantra becomes a vehicle for transformation.This is the mantra of wisdom and compassion, the two most valuable qualities of the Mahayana Buddhist path, and the wish that the two may be unified to call the universe to attention and shine the way to enlightenment.

Hundreds of butter lamps are now ablaze, lighting the stupa perched atop this hill high above the city in golden light.For a moment, and just for a moment, the shadows beyond the dancing flames cease to exist, and there is a brief sensation of clarity and meaning.Now, after ten days of sitting and meditating, I’ve finally learned to move past the pain in my knees and momentarily still the quiet flame in my mind.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

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Om Mani Padme Hung

Japhy Dhungana,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

Description

Meditating in a half lotus for two hours is not easy.My knees and ankles are throbbing and flickering flames like dancing butter lamps.Yet the simple art of sitting is a minor skill that is taught at Kopan Monastery.For ten days, our goal is lofty; with our ten intrepid students, we are here to study the […]

Posted On

05/1/11

Author

Japhy Dhungana

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    [post_content] => It's difficult for me to say how my beliefs about religion and spirituality have changed over the course of this semester. Though I can tell that encounters with very spiritual people (like Swami Chandresh, a wandering Hindu Baba, the Ven. Ani Karen, and a shaman) have had a significant impact on my spirituality and views on spirituality, their exact effect on me is (for the moment, at least) unknown to me. But, I will try to probe and explain as best I can.

The relationship between people and their religion or spirituality in Nepal is, in general, very different from how I have seen it in America. In Nepal, religion and spirituality are integrated into public life to a far greater extent than they are in America, but almost paradoxically they seem to interfere less in public life. There are temples on every corner here, but people are adamant that the state should remain secular. This has led me to doubt my pessimistic views about the relationship between religion and society.

I have also seen many cases here where a person's deep spiritual connection has enriched their life and their character in obvious ways. Swami Chandresh, the wandering Baba, and Ani Karen are incredible people who drove this point home for me. In America the ultrareligious are most prominently conservative television ranters or creationists, but here they are a clear boon to society.

The teachings at Kopan, the Gelug-pa monastery where we just finished a ten-day introductory course on Buddhism, have had an impact on my relationship with spirituality, especially the teachings of emptiness and impermanence. More significant for me, though, has been what I read while at Kopan. The Tao Te Ching and Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind have led me to question how I lead my life and the relationship between my "self", my ego, and the "natural state". MindScience: An East-West Dialogue has led me to question my belief in radical scientific materialism. Overall, this semester has had an incredible impact on how I view religion and spirituality, perhaps far greater than I now know.
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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

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Religion and Spirituality in Nepal

John Imbrie-Moore,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

Description

It’s difficult for me to say how my beliefs about religion and spirituality have changed over the course of this semester. Though I can tell that encounters with very spiritual people (like Swami Chandresh, a wandering Hindu Baba, the Ven. Ani Karen, and a shaman) have had a significant impact on my spirituality and views […]

Posted On

04/30/11

Author

John Imbrie-Moore

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    [post_date] => 2011-04-26 00:00:00
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After reaching Dudh Kunda, or Milk Lake, we stopped on trek to spend a morning doing service work at a monastery on our way back to the airport at Phaplu. This monastery in Junbesi is over 350 years and the community was busy preparing for the arrival of an important Lama and preparing the grounds for a Cham (mask dance). We found that they could use some help with painting, cleaning windows, and preparing food. They had enough work to keep us all busy for a few hours and kept us entertained as well with lively conversation and Nepali, Tibetan, and Chinese pop music. It was a well-spent morning and we were happy to have the opportunity to give back to a community in an area which had shown us so much hospitality.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

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Monastery Service Work

Instructors,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

Description

After reaching Dudh Kunda, or Milk Lake, we stopped on trek to spend a morning doing service work at a monastery on our way back to the airport at Phaplu. This monastery in Junbesi is over 350 years and the community was busy preparing for the arrival of an important Lama and preparing the grounds […]

Posted On

04/26/11

Author

Instructors

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A highlight of our trek was a chance encounter with a Hindu sadhu- an ascetic holy man- who arrived into our camp barefoot in thin cotton robes in the evening of a snowstorm at over 13,000ft. He was radiantly happy and apparently completely unconcerned about the cold. While we tucked into our sleeping bags wearing every piece of warm clothing we had, Babaji sat in meditation through the night on a piece of plastic sheeting with only a thin shawl over his shoulders. At breakfast the next morning, he accepted some porridge as he carried no food, and kindly answered questions about his life and even taught some yogic breathing techniques. He explained that he does not lie down or wear shoes or warm clothing because that would make him lazy. He is 45 years old and began the ascetic life at the age of 8 when he met his guru while traveling with his parents. We met him on his way to Mt Kailash in Tibet- the most holy mountain in the world for both Buddhists and Hindus- and more than 1,000km away across the highest mountains in the world. He was in no rush to get there as he does not have a home to return to, but continues on pilgrimage, inspiring those he meets along the way. We were all astounded by this man who demonstrated our extraordinary potential as human beings, and were left with a feeling that we had been truly blessed by this remarkable encounter.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

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A Remarkable Encounter

Instructors,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

Description

A highlight of our trek was a chance encounter with a Hindu sadhu- an ascetic holy man- who arrived into our camp barefoot in thin cotton robes in the evening of a snowstorm at over 13,000ft. He was radiantly happy and apparently completely unconcerned about the cold. While we tucked into our sleeping bags wearing […]

Posted On

04/22/11

Author

Instructors

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    [post_author] => 39
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We have recently returned from a spectacular trek in the Everest region. Everyone now has strong walking legs from some long days in one of the steepest mountain areas in the world. Those legs are now crossed at Kopan monastery where we are getting an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism and meditation until April 30.

From spectacular high mountain lakes and scenery, to meetings with a shaman, a Hindu ascetic and immersion in Sherpa culture, our trek offered many welcome surprises and opportunities to learn more about this unique area of Nepal. We are incredibly grateful to our staff who kept us well fed, healthy, and happy for 18 days, as well as to the communities we visited and the unparalleled hospitality of Nepali people.

Here are some photos which speak more than words to the extraordinary area we were privileged to pass through.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

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Everest Trek

Instructors,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2011

Description

We have recently returned from a spectacular trek in the Everest region. Everyone now has strong walking legs from some long days in one of the steepest mountain areas in the world. Those legs are now crossed at Kopan monastery where we are getting an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism and meditation until April 30. From […]

Posted On

04/22/11

Author

Instructors

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