Non-Attachment - the long road from Nepal

Trip Start Aug 05, 2009
Trip End May 29, 2010

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Flag of Indonesia  , Bali,
Saturday, December 26, 2009

“Namaste! Namaste! Namaste”!

Hi! Remember me? Ha! Yes – it has been a long time (again) since I've updated you all! I'm the one who was supposed to by now – have found great enlightenment at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, I should be getting ready to go to study with the Dalai Lama in India, and was supposed to be this ultra pure spiritual being with fabulous wisdom, and I thought I'd most likely have shaved my head by now to prove it. Well – that was one idea anyway!


Right! Well things don't always work out as planned.... and I even have a 100% unshaven head of hair to prove it!

So let's start with the basics. I begun by saying Namaste. That word echos through the streets of Kathmandu, through the paths of the Himalayas, from porters lugging 100kg on their backs through mountain villages, to farmers working in the rice paddies, to rickshaw drivers and adorable - yet grubby little kids - who put their hands together in prayer and greet you with... NAMASTE! Its actual meaning translates to “the divinity in me recognizes and honors the divinity in you”. It's their beautiful national greeting and a wonderful introduction to the Nepali people and culture.

So as for my adventures, as mentioned, things don't always work out as planned. In fact, not a single thing did! As a recap - the first week in Nepal included an amazing trek up over 6000 stone steps that line the Himalayan mountain side. I think we got to about 3200 meters – and climbed 2100 meters in a day and a half. My calves were screaming murder at me!! But it was amazing! Then back to Kathmandu to meet my dear friend Chris. We were to set out on the first of our pre-planned 2 week adventure together, only to be met with unplanned misadventure and really shitty luck!! But there's always a gift. Two weeks in Kathmandu rotating in and out of dentist's offices was not fun, but it was bountiful with gifts of the human spirit. I don't remember much of the anguish that I know swallowed me whole at the time. Now I remember the kindness of my dear friend, the support from strangers, and an incomparable depth of compassion I received throughout the whole experience. It honestly stirred my soul.

So the day after Chris and friends left for Everest, I got teeth again and I was happy and filled with anticipation. The next step was a full-on immersion into Tibetan Buddhism at Kopan Monastery with a one month crash course in the Lam Rim – the Graduated Path to Enlightenment. Tibetan Buddhism at it's finest! I was ready!!

Well, actually, that might be an exaggeration. I don't know how I could ever really been ready because I had no idea what to expect. I tried not to have expectation and just be open to the experience. But of course, I inevitable did. I was hoping the course would present wisdom, challenge, truth, discipline, insight, peace, and ideally many more gifts I had not thought of. But as we well know – things sometimes don't go as planned!

The cab ride on the way there was filled with emotion. The accident was pretty fresh in my mind and the experience still had me emotionally in a different place then I'd ever been. The journey winded through roads filled with potholes, burning garbage in the gutters, diesel fuel exhaust from the overpopulated roads, random cows wandering down the streets, and hundreds of people living their life along the street side in the dirt. They eat, work, play, bath, cook, and do business within about 4 feet of the road's edge. And unfortunately my earlier fascination with goats has long disappeared. I still think they are kind of cool, but I've seen too many slaughtered and hanging in road side shops and well... just being dirty goats! But I may have brought a few to the Dharma and “saved their soul” ha! More on that later!

So now at the monastery. Up for 5:00am prostrations (kneeling down, forehead to floor and back up, and repeat), followed by meditation, breakfast, 3 hours of Dharma teaching, lunch, 3 more hours of teaching, mediation, teaching, bed. It was good. There was always an echo of chanting monks somewhere on the grounds, nuns studied their texts and sung mantras all throughout the day. It was peaceful, immaculate gardens with huge shrines (called stuppas) and oversized Buddha statues and spinning prayer wheels a plenty.

At first it was magical. The teachings were interesting and I thought rather profound. Although my body protested much of the time for sitting in lotus position on the floor for 12 hours a day, it was worth it. But then something changed. The teachings had a bitter twist to them. I'll spare a lot of the details but the course was presented from a fear based perspective, all too similar to medieval Christianity, only this time based on the consequence of being reborn in a realm with acid bats, torture, fiery hells where people chop each other up with axes, or forever starve, freeze, burn, drown, etc etc – depending on your crime (stepping on an ant = 1.62 billion years, for example) if you don't adopt their methods! This went on for days!! 12 hours a day of agonizing about hell – about the suffering and misery of living – all to encourage the renunciation of this world. It was described in agonizing detail from our teacher who proved himself to be a disgruntled old Australian monk who I think felt trapped in his life and disdained westerners. It was so depressing! He had us imagine it, meditate on it, and live it for days and days. I soon realized this was not the course for me!

I stuck with it for almost 3 weeks and finally, after much deliberation and suffering in my own little world of hell – I found peace with my decision to conclude and move on. In the end I still have respect for the Tibetan approach to the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, but I realize the importance of picking your teachers wisely. What is important is to listen to our hearts and never get stuck, taking each experience as a stepping stone along the journey to our development. Sometimes we enter things with the intention it will be the “be all end all” - but when we find out it is not – it becomes the grand lesson in non-attachment. We find our way and we find our path, and sometimes that means walking way. So this course that began with 240 students, by week 2 it was down to just over 100. For me – and a few others – it was time to keep movin'!

The cultural experience, however, was amazing! There was such a splendid array of superstition, faith, wisdom, and a tonne of fanfare. One of the “grand masters” arrived with a parade of hundreds all waiting to just touch him or hope he would bless them, as he was apparently the reincarnate of an enlightened being from long ago. Trumpets were blowing and drums beating! His teachings were almost completely undecipherable. I wondered if he was enlightened or just insane! When I mentioned that all I heard were coughs and stutters when he spoke, I was told that if you are spiritually pure and have good karma you will be able to understand him better! Apparently my karma is crap... and I'm sure, in their opinion, a spiritual moron! (wow – thanks – that's so encouraging and helpful!!) We were asked to walk goats and rats and rabbits around the stuppa to introduce them to the Dharma so they'd get happy rebirths and be “saved”, sing mantras to water buffalo, spin prayer wheels, chant the names of Buddhas thousands of times all which is all said to increases your karma! (Apparently I could use a lot of that!!)

So anyway – after saying goodbye to the Kopan monastery, I found a wonderful travel partner and together we rejoiced in this amazing sense of freedom and peace from having left the monastery grounds (he too took the course). We trekked through the Himalayas, went on a safari with rhinos, bathed with the elephants in the river, and I started to once again feel like myself. I met wonderful friends, had beautiful moments around the campfire, raced rickshaws through the streets of Kathmandu, and although it did not follow the path I thought it would, it has planted a seed that I know will flourish for a lifetime. My “spiritual quest” and study of Buddhism does not stop here. More stories will come. That I promise!!

So Nepal as a whole is a wonderful country. Yet the overt lack of opportunity and education, poverty and dire living conditions is shocking. Kathmandu has grown by 50% in the last 30 years and it has absolutely no infrastructure or economical base to support it.. With 25 political parties in power and mass corruption, it is one of the poorest countries in the world. The locals say NEPAL stands for “Never Ending Peace And Love”. I can see why but sometimes you really need to look for it. I'll save my political commentary, but suffice to say its hardship is an undeniable part of daily life. The day I left was day 3 of anther Maoist strike / demonstration. No cars on the road (if they did they would be stoned... or worse), no businesses dare open, none of the daily life activities were allowed. The city was in shut down. I had to have a police escort to make my way through the streets just to get to the airport.

Yet still humanity survives and beauty prevails. Although the ideal of “Never Ending Peace And Love” is within the hearts of the Nepalise, sometimes.... things don't always go as planned.

So if expectations get sideswiped and plans don't necessarily work out – it is best to embrace spontaneity! So I am finishing this blog on Christmas night, sitting on a balcony, listening to a waterfall, and feeling the sweet humidity sticking to my skin. I'm in Bali!! My dear friend, her husband and their son have retired for the night. I sit here at the night's end in awe of how diverse, impermanent, ever-changing, loving, unjust, hopeful, beautiful, and magical the world and life is. I don't understand it yet. Then again, I'm still alive so the lessons, I trust, will keep on coming.

Namaste everyone – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!

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Malynne on

Beautiful. Thanks for sharing this amazing experience Shelley! You rock! Love you. Xoxo

Keith Burns on

Cool Shelley, continue the adventure, stay safe and have a great New Years!

irish_boy on

Hey, i was thinking of doing a retreat with an australian monk at kopan monastery this summer!!!!! I'm glad i came across your blog, i've heard so many good things about the monastery, its nice to get a balanced view. Would you do a retreat there again if it were a different teacher?

shelleygrant on

Hi - if it were a different teacher, I would more than likely do it again. The teachings are profound - but finding the right teacer to teach and interpret those teachings is cruitial. Also, be sure you absolutely know that Tibetian Buhddism is appropriate for you. It is avery unique approach - much of thier customs, traditions and interpretations are "additions" to the original teachings of the Buhdda, which come from thier culteral perspective, and not what the Buddha originally taught. (Mahayana vs Theravada)
But Kopan is a special place. I too, have heard of many people who really enjoyed it. Sometimes I think you need to experience it on your own to find out if it is for you!
Good luck! And all the best!

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