I have been living in Kathmandu Nepal for the last four years. I sometimes think of Kathmandu as a combination of a post apocalyptic Mad Max-like world and a heavenly realm. Together they form one of the most spiritually vibrant places on earth: Here, people have to scorch for resources like gas, electricity and clean water, walk through pollution and garbage- and yet, this seems to be the last place on earth where the ancient wisdom traditions are still alive and kicking. It seem like quite a contradiction that a place, squeezed from the outside, between two political superpowers and eaten from the inside by corruption and environmental disasters, can house something as beautiful and potent as its spiritual tradition. Because it is here, at the ancient crossroad of the Himalayan trade routes, that the Hindu and Buddhist traditions live side by side. It is here that they have created some of the most beautiful monuments of religious art in the world and scattered the valley with sacred temples and meditation caves.
This is also where the Tibetan Lamas have fled to and rebuilt their monasteries after the Chinese invasion. And it is here they keep their tradition alive by teaching the Dharma. Therefore Kathmandu has more Lamas and Rinpoches per square kilometer than any other place in the world, -which means that the sum of enlightened individuals makes this place a spiritual powerhouse! So for my Buddhist friends, the fact that they live in such close vicinity to their spiritual guides, their Lamas, and amongst a supporting Sangha (community of fellow practitioners) is the main reason for living in Nepal.
Just stop for a minute and consider it: what impact would it have on your life to have a spiritual friend (Lama) who can look straight into your heart with compassion? Someone who helps you distinguish between what is truly essential and what is your mind's deception. What would it mean to have someone who is themselves a great example and who keeps inspiring you towards practice? Someone to turn to for guidance when torn between what the heart wishes and the mind's demands? Just the fact that those great minds are around inspires us, and the fact that they keep giving public teachings and receiving students in private, is what really makes the difference. Because their only intention is to guide us towards a happy mind and a purposeful life, they never tire of instructing us. When you start the real work of improving your mind -of removing negativity and generating compassion, you realize that the "external world" is really a product of the mind and the eyes that see it.
In Kathmandu there is no escape from the facts of life. As there are no government institutions operating to keep the sick, the mad and the old folks off the streets, we are constantly faced with the suffering of living beings: beggars, sick people lice infested street dogs – they are all there right in our faces reminding us of our vulnerability and impermanent life spans. Yet, this is a key to being grateful for what you have got and to try to do something meaningful with it. Had it not been for the challenges we are faced with in Kathmandu, we would perhaps easily have forgotten about our practice and sought distractions and comforts in order to make ourselves happy (which, of course, we all do, -but now at least we know it!). Only a stable mind, achieved through practice, remains happy -independent of circumstances, so this, my friend, is the secret of living in Kathmandu: inner happiness!
Find out more about Ellen's next Nepal Retreat