A prayer in the ancient Hindu Holy Scripture, Rig Veda, entreats upon God, ‘Tamaso Maa Jyotirgamaya, Asato Maa Sadgamaya, Mrityor Ma Amritam gamaya” or ‘Lead us from Darkness (Ignorance) to Light (Knowledge), from Falsehood to Truth, from Death to mortality:
Every human being on earth is in relentless pursuit of love, mental peace and spiritual happiness. According to Sanatan Dharma, the eternal religion, the proven way to overcome the tensions, stress and strain that one faces in daily life is faith in spiritualism (adhyatma), Spiritual practice (sadhana) casts ‘light to do away with darkness’ and liberates a person from sorrow, gloom and despondency. Spiritual enlightenment leads to blissful inner peace (samadhi).
Traveling across Nepal can not only be a fascinating physical and visual journey through high mountains, cascading rivers, pristine forests and unexplored landscapes, but also a spiritual journey as well. Viewing the country through the spiritual lens will help see the people and land in that extra dimensional element that one might have missed otherwise. Among the myriad and diverse attractions that have drawn people from far and abroad to visit Nepal, one aspect that is unique to this country, but has often been either overlooked or remained scantly noticed, is the exalted standing this country holds in spiritualism.
For many, Nepal remains a mystical land with its harmonious blend of two of the world’s prominent religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, its incredibly tolerant people living through a fascinating religious-cultural milieu and its amazing landscapes that in ancient times drew rishis (sages), ascetics, mystics and yogis who wandered in a spiritual mission in search of tatwa gyan (supreme truth), nirvana (enlightenment) and divine grace, and today draws spiritual seekers, aspirants of a new bewildered generation seeking tranquility, mental peace and answers to questions that people had long forgotten to ask.
Perched along the foothills of the mighty Himalayas, Himabatkhanda Nepal, as described in the ancient Holy Scriptures, has since time immemorial been a holy land recognized for its sacred status as the Abode of the Gods. Many holy sites and shrines associated with persons, places or events in the Epic Ramayana and Mahabharata and even dating back to the creation of the universe as narrated in the Hindu holy Scriptures, Upanishads and Puranas, abound in this land. Prominent pilgrimage sites such as Barah Kshetra, Mukti Kshetra, Baidyanath Kshetra, Pashupat Kshetra and numerous other holy sites recounted in the Upanishads, Puranas and Swasthani Brata Katha, sprinkled across the geography of the country lend credence to the fact that Nepal remained blessed as a spiritual land.
The isolated and inaccessible snowy Himalayas, the confluence of holy rivers, the sacred lakes, the pristine dense forests and the solitary mountain caves were the preferred destinations of sages, ascetics and yogis whose quest for nirvana (spiritual enlightenment) and mokshya (salvation) led them to places of serene solitude unperturbed by mundane distractions to engage in meditation, penance and self¬ realization.
Great sages of ancient times like the Saptarishi (Seven Superior Sages) – Kasyap, Bhardwaj, Biswamitra (Kaushik), Vashistha, Atri, Gautam and Jamdagni – and others like Bhrigu, Rishya Shringa, Ved Byas, Balmiki, Jad Bharat and Pulatsya made their dwelling and meditated by the mountain caves, deep forests and confluences of the holy rivers in Himabatkhanda Nepal. Profound thinkers that they were, it is their sermons, discourses and utterances on spirituality that have made Hinduism the enduring and encompassing faith that it is.
The spiritual quest and mental tranquility that people around the world come here to seek have been complemented by the socio-religious-cultural rhythm of the people of Nepal that has remained largely undisturbed over the ages. The spontaneity, hospitality and friendliness that the people of this country display towards visitors reflect the true ethos and spiritual essence of Nepal. It may be difficult for many visitors from abroad to comprehend how despite their hard life and lack of basic amenities, people could still remain content, cheerful and unprejudiced. The answer could somewhere lie in their abiding faith in spiritualism as has been practiced over the ages.
THINGS TO ENGAGE IN:
The word ‘Yoga’ comes from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” meaning ‘union’ or to join. Yoga is a spiritual science that has been practiced and developed by the rishis and sages of India over thousands of years. Yoga implies harmoniously integrating the body, mind and soul to attain a balanced life and spiritually uniting the individual with the supreme. Yoga is the symphony of life.
The various assortments of asanas, or postures, works with the body on a structural level providing enhanced physical strength, endurance and the resistance to diseases. At the mental level, it strengthens concentration and resilience raising the consciousness to a level where one can perceive the spiritual dimension. Yoga aims to attain the state of “Kaivalya” (emancipation or ultimate freedom) by means of its eight paths which in sequential order consist of Yama (self-restraint), Niyama (self-observance), Asana (body postures), Pranayama (breathing control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration of mind), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (self-realization, super consciousness). Yoga is, therefore, a spiritual quest whereby the aspirant attains health, happiness, mental peace and knowledge.
Nepal offers a number of places in the capital city, Kathmandu, and elsewhere to practice yoga and meditation. Among the prominent Yogic schools where Yogic Asana (postures), Pranayam (Control of breathing) and Dhyan (Meditation) are taught and practiced are the Yog Ashrams or Peeths as they are called. Yoga is immensely popular and practiced in Nepal.
There is a close inter-relationship between yoga and meditation. Ancient Yogis maintained that in order for a person to be in harmony with oneself and one’s environment, there is a need to balance the body, mind and spirit, that is Yoga and Dhyan (meditation). The tensions and strain of living in a hectic world create conflicting thoughts and actions that leave negative imprints in our mind. Meditation is an effective way to combat stress and tension in life. The Yogis claim that in human spiritual evolution, a stage comes when relationships and material wealth lose a sense of purpose, and a confused and weary person becomes disillusioned with the ephemeral nature of worldly possessions and sensual pleasures.
This awakening breeds in a person a quest for life that is eternal, one that is detached from the infatuation of the ephemeral and the blind pursuit of material possession and pleasure. It is then that the person starts looking for a meaningful life and a way to attain mental peace and permanent happiness. Such a state of mind is the ripe condition for the practice of Dharma. Meditation is a state of consciousness that cultivates a calm and positive state of mind and awareness. Through regular practice, the energy of the body and mind is liberated with a feeling of bliss that Yogis say, can only be experienced and not described.
In Kathmandu, meditation is taught and practiced in the Yoga camps Osho Tapoban, Vipassana Center, Kapan Monastery and Art of living Foundation, among others.
Vedic Vaastu Shaastra
The word ‘Vaastu’ originates from the term ‘Vastoshpati’ uttered in the Rig Veda. Vaastu Shastra is an ancient science that originated in India in the Vedic age where the sages reflected on the effects of sunlight, gravitational and magnetic forces flowing from the different geographical directions and sub-directions. They sought to stabilize the nature’s five elements, also known as pancha tatwa or Paanchbhoota, namely Akash (sky or ether), Prithvi (earth), Jal (water), Agni (fire) and Vayu (wind) in a proportionate way so as to bring about a harmonious balance amidst natural energies like cosmic, solar, lunar energy, etc. The proper combination of these five elements, life-force energy and geo-magnetic energy is believed to produce positive bio-electro-magnetic energy which moulds the natural environment, creating congenial living conditions for the inhabitants leading to a life of concord, happiness, harmony and peace.
According to Vaastu, two forces “positive” and “negative” are constantly interacting with each other on the surface of the land. These forces get disturbed whenever any structure is erected on a vacant land. If there are more positive energies than the negative energies, the result of such a construction would yield more benefits to the inhabitants and vice versa. Vastu Shaastra deals with various aspects of designing and building residential structures that are in harmony with the physical and metaphysical forces in the eight geographical directions: east, west, north, south and the sub directions north-east, north¬ west, south-east and south-west.
Vaastu Shaastra has been in practice in Nepal since ancient times dating back to the Lichchhavi period in Nepal’s history when the Lichchhavi kings took recourse to this erudition to build the famous temples. Every detail of Vaastu was meticulously followed from determining the site and direction of the complex to the positioning of the deities within and in the periphery of the temple in their respective geographical positions to bring about the most harmony in its worship. They also followed Tantric principles and rituals in determining the location and in the construction of the temples.
Vaastu played an important role in the establishment of settlements and towns in ancient Nepal. The ancient towns in the Kathmandu Valley were designed in certain shapes with the gods and goddesses (Shakti Peeths) being established at certain locations along the periphery surrounding the towns according to Vaastu and Tantric principles in such a way that the people dwelling in the center remained protected by them. Among such Shakti Peeths (places of worship consecrated to the goddess Sati) in Kathmandu are Swet Kali, Kankeswari, Rakta Kali, Shova Bhagwati, Pachali, Raj Rajeswari, Bhadra Kali, Sankata, Dakshin Kali, Guheswori, to mention a few.
Jyotish (astrology), Tantra, Vaastu and Yoga constitute the four fundamentals that are said to influence a man’s life from birth to death. Peace and harmony can be attained if one pays attention to these four fundamentals. Astrology determines the value and timing to do any work. Tantra mitigates things that could go wrong and makes the situation favorable. Vaastu balances the five basic elements and geographical directions. Yoga makes for a healthy body and mind. Combination of these four fundamentals is thus deemed necessary for a balanced happy life and peace.
Astrology and the Occult
As Hindus, the people of Nepal put faith in rebirth and karma. They believe that the constellations of the planets (graha – nakshyatra) exert certain influence over the destiny of a person, which is decided by the alignment of the stars at the precise time of his/her birth. As such, they have a horoscope (Janma patrika) made by learned astrologers that is said to interpret the guideline of the life of the person, the highs and lows and important incidents in his/ her life. Nepalese people in general have fair amount of trust in the horoscope, astrology, palmistry and such other occult sciences when it comes to matters deciding important occasions in life, and especially when going through a difficult phase in life. There are learned astrologers who make horoscopes of persons if given the precise time and place of birth. It may be worthwhile to know what the future has in store for the uninitiated.
Where to go?
“Tapoban in Sanskrit means a forested place for meditation. Located in the Nagarjun hills, some 12 kilometers west of Kathmandu, Osho Tapoban, the ‘forest retreat’ is an international commune that came into existence through the joint effort of Swami Ananda Arun, an intimate disciple of Osho (who is also the coordinator of Osho Tapoban) and Osho disciples or sanyasis as they are called. Osho desired to live his last days in the Himalayas, but that with remained unfulfilled. However, the ‘Osho Samadhi’ at the Tapoban contains the sacred mortal remains of the Guru. The Tapoban has turned into an increasingly popular destination for meditation and Osho teachings.
The Centre has meditation camps, a meditation hall, common rooms, dormitories and deluxe rooms to accommodate the guests. The sylvan surroundings, serenity and scenic beauty at the place provides a peaceful environment of inner tranquility where one can explore oneself in meditation. The retreat offers the perfect opportunity to reflect on one’s life. Osho Tapoban conducts Satsang programs and meditation camps of varying duration every month. Satsang, yoga and meditation are aspects of the healing process from anxiety, depression and mental stress.
Kopan Gompa is situated on the outskirts of Kathmandu, near Bouddhanath Stupa in Bouddha. lt is about 8 km from the airport and 12 km from downtown city.
Kopan was conceived by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche as a place of study and meditation for students from the Himalayan sangha (fraternity) and foreign countries. It started as a monastic school for the local children in the Solukhumbu region (route to Everest base camp); the monastery was later shifted to Kopan, Kathmandu in 1971 to escape the high altitude harsh climate which made study in winter well-nigh impracticable. Hence, the name Kopan. Nearby is the Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery for nuns. When started in 1979, it was an uncommon practice in Tibetan monasteries at that time to admit women to monastic education. Khachoe Ghakyil Nunnery opened the doors of classical Buddhist education to the nuns.
Monks and nuns from the age of seven come from all over Nepal and the Himalayan periphery countries to receive a classical monastic education. Education at the monastery is totally free for all monks and nuns, financed through meditation courses for foreign visitors as well as through a sponsorship scheme in which people supportive of the monastery sponsor the living cost of a monk or nun.
Today, Kopan has become a unique meeting place between the East and West. Kopan draws large numbers of foreign visitors every year, mostly those seeking mental peace, a meaningful life and inner happiness. Regular month-long introductory sessions in Buddhism and meditation are conducted. Course participants are supposed to strictly observe certain house rules of austerity, appropriate dress codes, adherence to time schedules and respect for the monks. According to monastic rules, accommodation for male and female visitors is segregated.
Vipassana is a form of meditation propounded by Lord Buddha some two-and-a – half millennia ago. Vipassana meditation is at the heart of Buddha’s teachings.
Though the practice lost way in the course of events in history, it was later revived. Vipassana means to see things as they really are. It is an art of living which frees the individual from all the negativities of the mind, such as anger, greed, envy and desire. It is a practice which develops positive creative energy for the practitioner. It includes practices aimed at developing insight and wisdom by seeing the true nature of reality. The path (Dhamma) is a universal remedy that can be practiced by anyone at any place at any time.
In the practice of Vipassana, the devotees or pupils are first taught to see things dispassionately so that one is not emotionally involved. The very first thing they learn is to create a mental space, so that what happens to oneself, pleasant or unpleasant, is seen objectively. The pupils are taught to realize, understand and see the “three marks of life”, i.e., suffering, impermanence and selflessness. Understanding of the impermanence or transient nature of pleasure is of utmost importance because it is the very craving for those worldly pleasures and the urge to cling to it is what takes away the mind from the goal. When a person sees pleasure for what it is, impermanent and transient, for him worldly pleasures become worthless and the person assumes a state of dispassionateness and detachment. Vipassana teaches one to see and feel this truth with full concentration of the mind.
Vipassana was introduced in Nepal in 1981. Nepal Vipassana Center is situated at Dharmashringa, Mohan Pokhari, Budhanilkantha, some 16 kms from downtown.
Satsang (Group discourse in righteous company)
Satsang is attending and joining a group discourse with like-minded aspirants where bhajans, spiritual discourse and recitation of the Holy Scriptures take place. Religious gatherings are a common and regular phenomenon in Nepal’s towns and villages where pundits, ascetics and spiritual personalities render sermons, sing bhajans and recite the Holy Scriptures like the Puran and Shree Madbhaagvat. Devotees in hundreds and thousands throng such gatherings to listen to the discourses on spiritualism and offer puja. Devotees are seen to donate freely huge sums of money, in cash, kind or land, during such Puran Baachan (recitals) for some noble cause.
ISCON Temple, Budhanilkantha
The Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Budhanilkantha is an ideal place for a Satsang. This place of worship is a 10-minute walk from the famous Budhanilkantha Shrine, the reclining massive stone idol of lord Vishnu. The temple is situated amidst tranquil countryside surroundings at the foothills of the Shivapuri National Park and on the bank of the Bishnumati River. The temple complex covers an area of 50 ropanis of land that includes the main temple, guest house, garden, gaushala (cow-shed) and a restaurant. Daily bhajans (chanting of prayers) and aarti (offering of lighted lamps) are conducted in the morning and evening with discourses on the life and heroic acts of lord Krishna.
The Sacred Garden of Lumbini where Siddhartha Gautam was born offers a placid environ for meditation and spiritual quest. Spiritual discourses on Buddhism are offered at the monasteries here every day. It is the ideal setting for meditation and spiritual enlightenment. Countries with significant Buddhist populations have constructed monasteries and stupas in their native design reflecting their art and culture, and they offer space and a tranquil environment for mediation and spiritual quest.
Natural Health Care, Arogya Ashram
Arogya Ashram founded in 1964 is located now at Tangal in Kathmandu. The Ashram offers training in Yogic exercises and services in therapies such as herbal therapy (physical therapy with herbal products, oils, powder, leaves and pastes), massage therapy (therapeutic massage, hard, soft, pressing massage, dry or with oil) and steam bath (which activates the internal immunity system given locally or to the whole body).
Other remedial cures as Reiki (natural force or energy that opens and cleans the blockage and toxins of the body) are offered at the Reiki centers in Kathmandu. Acupuncture and acupressure therapy is available at the Nepal Red Cross Society building at the Baghbazaar Bus Park. The science of acupuncture maintains that the flow paths of life energy in our body called meridians are connected with certain points in the body called acupoints. By injecting needles and pressing those certain points, many health problems can be cured.
Certain places in Nepal are known for natural hot springs that claim curative healing powers for a series of ailments from skin to gastric. The most well-known is the Singha natural hot water spring in Myagdi district in mid-western NepaUt is a continually flowing hot water spring that has recently been channeled into ponds – separate for men and women. As news of the curative powers of the hot spring bath have spread far and wide, there have been a heavy rush of patients, both local and foreign, to take a dip in the hot waters to heal ailments that patients complain normal allopathic medicine allegedly failed to cure.
Another hot water spring is located near the border with Tibet, China at Tatopani.
Dhaami / Jhaankri or Shamanism
Shamanism refers to beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world. Practitioners of shamanism, known as shamans, or dhaami /jhaankri in Nepalese local dialect, engage in alleviating traumas affecting the soul/spirit and in treatment of ailments / illness of humans or domesticated animals supposedly caused by evil spirits. Shamanism believes that the individual as well as the community itself is subject to invisible forces or spirits intending to do good or bad, and that the dhaami /jhaankri can heal such illness induced by the evil spirits.
Shamanism is practiced by a large number of Nepal’s ethnic and linguistic tribal groups. Shamans function as spiritual leaders of the community and therapeutic healers. Even today when modern medical treatment is comparatively available in most of rural Nepal, illness over a prolonged period of time often prompts the patient’s family to seek out spiritual guidance and remedy from the dhaami or jhaankris (shamanic healers). The shamans try to heal the patient by entering the spirit world into an ecstatic trance, chanting and quivering, being possessed by the spirits which apparently gives them healing powers to drive out the infectious sirit. Most dhaami / jhaankris are said to possess experienced knowledge in medicinal plants native to their area, and as such also administer herbal treatment for illnesses.
Tantrism, a primeval religion, was in practice as a way of life in pre-medieval Nepal. Tantra antedates probably every major religion that is in practice today. Tantra is evident in Hinduism and Buddhism, the two major religions of Nepal, and Shamanism. This is corroborated by the paintings and sculptures, where deities are often depicted in different postures. The Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu is a prominent center of Tantra worship. Lord Pashupatinath is worshipped according to certain Tantric rites.
Sri Yantra, the main symbol of Tantra, a labyrinthine maze of interlocking triangles, is used in the worship of ‘Nath’ as the Lord is reverently named. The Yantra is used to establish the deity to envision the presence of God. Temples in Nepal are said to be built according to tantric principles where deities are enshrined there according to Tantric rites. Various deities like Surya, the Sun god, Ganesh, Shiva, Durga and Shakti are placed at precise geographical positions within and outside the temple according to Tantric and Vaastu principles.
More than a religion, Tantra is a lifestyle whose goal is salvation. Tantra has two fundamental aspects. The first aspect is the theory of creation, which postulates that the universe has no beginning and no end, and that all its manifestations are merely the projections of divine energy of its creator.
Tantrism comprises of obscure techniques, rituals and beliefs which can be said to be both exotic and erotic. Tantriks believe the greatest expression of the deity is feminine in nature. Love and sex form part of the Tantric rituals and is identified as the cosmic union of the individual with the infinite. Tantrism aims to realize the potential power of sex-energy force and to harness it. Tantra asserts that instead of suppressing the sex energy, they should be cultivated and properly channeled.
source: IMAGE NEPAL, Aug-Sept 2013