If I walk straight out my gate and take a left at the vegetable shop and then the first right and walk about 10 minutes I will come to a structure called the Boudhanath Stupa. This is the central point of Boudha, the area or suburb I live in. The Boudhanath Stupa is the largest stupa in Nepal and one of the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temples outside of Tibet. It is the center of Tibetan culture here in Kathmandu. It is an important place of pilgrimage and meditation for Tibetan Buddhists and a very popular tourist site. Surrounding this area are many shops and different places to eat or get coffee. When I first arrived here I was told that if I was ever lost to just have a taxi driver drop me off at the stupa and I should be able to find my way home from there. This Buddhist temple is a huge landmark for me and a constant reminder to pray for the Tibetan Buddhist people.
The other day on one of my prayer walks around the stupa my eyes seemed opened to everything that was happening around me. About a block from the entrance I saw a father and his son coming towards me, their prayer beads or malas in their hands, a look of accomplishment on the young boy’s face who smiled at me as I walked by (On a mala there are 108 beads, representing the number of worldly desires that must be overcome before attaining nirvana. They believe that saying a prayer or mantra for each fleshly failing will help purify them. Each time the beads are touched a prayer is said and a merit is earned). I took time to try and listen and recognize some of the Nepali words that were being said among the bustle of the different fruit and vegetable shops that line the stupa’s entrance. I then walked through the gate and was overcome with the smoke from the incense not only burning at different areas of the stupa but in all the shops that create the wall that surrounds this temple. I look to the left and there is a man in orange with a silver pan selling food for those who want to feed the pigeons. Straight ahead of me is a line of people waiting to go into an area of the temple to spin a large prayer wheel also called a Mani wheel and another line of people there to buy and light candles for prayer and enlightenment. (Prayer wheels can be large or small. The lower wall of the stupa is lined with prayer wheels for people to spin as they walk by. There are also hand prayer wheels that people hold and spin. In a prayer wheel there are rolls of thin paper imprinted with many copies of a specific mantra that are wound around the axel. Large decorative versions of the syllables of the mantra are also carved on the outside cover of the wheel. Large wheels like this one at the main entrance of the Stupa can contain myriad copies of the mantra and many sacred texts. The wheels are always spun clockwise for several reasons: it rotates the syllables so that they will pass a viewer in the order that they would be read, it follows the direction of the sun, and it matches the clockwise circumambulation of stupas). All around the stupa there are hundreds of people walking clockwise, spinning prayer wheels and counting beads as they go. As I turn left to walk on the outside of their prayer circle heading to my favorite coffee shop to do devotions I am suddenly aware that I have tears in my eyes threatening to fall. Doing what I can to control myself and blink back the tears, I continue to walk and pray for each face I see. In one specific area as I walked was a line of around twenty disabled beggars and people with piles of 5-rupee bills. I stopped for a minute just to watch as different people placed a 5-rupee bill in each beggar’s plate, the act reminding me a little of a parade and kids getting candy. No longer aware of the other things going on around me, I feel my heart stop and the tears that were threatening me before are now sliding down my face. People are looking at me funny as my heart squeezes in pain. I quickly brush the tears from my eyes and turn to finish my last few strides into the coffee shop. I take a window seat, place my order, and continue to watch and pray. A monk is sitting on a bench reading out loud for those who care to listen as they pass by. I see a woman take a step, prostrate herself on the ground, stand up, and continue this with each step as she makes her way around the large temple. My tears are no longer sliding down my face but rolling as I watch each one of these people, so lost and hurting doing whatever they can to earn good merit for the next life and personal growth towards enlightenment. (Earning merit can almost be thought of as a bank account in which doing bad things withdraws and making merit is a deposit. Merit is made by doing things such as: helping monks, praying at temples, feeding birds, tying prayer flags, repeating chants, turning prayer wheels, making offerings, lighting candles, and giving to the poor. All good deeds earn an individual merit, however, some earn more merit than others. Acts higher in merit include visiting special pilgrimage sites, offering food and shelter to monks, and giving your sons to become monks.)
The people who are searching for answers and crying out for more are all around me. I have known this since I arrived here in Kathmandu a year ago, but God broke my heart for it this particular morning. How you minister to these people I still do not really know. A lot of walls have been built up here towards the Christian faith, but God is good and if I can hurt for the people here I know He hurts that much more. So, I ask you to pray that the walls will come down, people’s hearts will soften, and doors will be open to bring the amazing love of Jesus to these people.
The location of where I live is not an accident. My team leaders positioned themselves here knowing the importance of the stupa to the Buddhist people. Due to its location I probably go through the stupa area at least five times a week. However, it is sometimes so easy to get caught up in what I am doing right then that I miss the people and the pain. Pray that God continues to soften my heart and give me His love for all who surround me.
“You cannot find God’s vision for your life or your community until you look at people. For you see, they are what God is looking at!”