Travel Blog-Day 17
This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China. I’ll make one post roughly every week until it’s all finished.
Day 17: Lumbini
I start the day quite early. The Lumbini Pilgrimage Park opens at 6:00am. I get a bike from the lodge owner.
I ride into the park and go to the Mahadevi temple. The Asoka pillar is right next to the temple. To the north of the temple is the pond, now a tank, where Mahadevi supposedly bathed before giving birth to the Buddha. North of the pond/tank is a Bohdi tree. This is not the tree underneath which the Buddha was but, but it appears to be highly revered.
I go into the Mahadevi Temple. It actually is an excavations site. The excavation appears to be ongoing. At one point in the middle of the temple, there is a stone, which marks, supposedly, the exact spot where the Buddha was born. Whether this is true or not, the place is very moving. The brick wall next to the stone is covered with gold leaf people have rubbed on it. This appears to be standard practice. I saw this in Bodhgaya, Sarnath (for the first time), and Kushinigar. This was the only place in Lumbini I saw it.
I ride for a while, but it’s incredibly muddy. I decide to take the bike back, since it’s easier to walk, and the distances aren’t as bad as the guidebook says. In the meantime though, the gate has been locked (for security reasons). People can pass through, but nothing else. I find a guy who helps me out by lifting the bike on one side of the fence while I grab it from the other.
After returning the bike, I go back into the park. I find that the map in the guide isn’t really quite accurate. The park is divided into two sections by a canal. At one end of the canal is an eternal flame; at the other is the Lumbini Museum. Starting from the eternal flame, the left side of the canal has the Mahayana temples and monasteries. On the right side of the canal are the Theravada temples and monasteries. I decide to visit the Mahayana side today and the Theravada side tomorrow.
I walk by the Panditarama International Vipassana Meditation Centre. Unless one is staying there on a retreat it’s closed. It does look like a good place for a retreat. I turn left and left again onto a dirt road, its monsoon so the “dirt” road is actually a mud road. I go into the Drubgyud Chöling Gompa. It’s a very beautiful gompa. A Nepali man sweeping the place let’s me walk around and take photos. He has me buy a butter lamp for 10rs. Right next to the gompa, they’re building a stupa. It looks as if it’s almost finished, but you never know here. The stupa is quite big and imposing; when it’s finished it will be immense. I go back out on the mud road and walkabout 50 meters to the Manang Samaj Gompa. It has a beautiful, huge chörten, but unfortunately, the gate is closed.
I walk back out to the main road, there’s this huge complex that looks unfinished, but usable. It is completely cement, no color at all and dominates everything around it. Before I get there, I see the Zhong Hua Chinese Buddhist Monastery. There’s a great deal of construction going on. I turn down an even muddier road and ask the construction workers if I can walk through the construction yard to look around. They say sure. It’s really muddy. I can barely get around. After about ½ hour of this, I work my way around the entire complex to the front. It seems if I had walked about 25 more meters I would’ve come to the entrance, which is a paved road, no mud! The temple itself is very beautiful, but the statue inside is comical. It’s the fat Budai, the Chinese folkloric deity normally associated with Maitreya Buddha, found in Chinese fast food joints in New York. It is covered in gold and is quite big, but still it’s comical.
Across the road is the giant cement complex I mentioned before. This is the Korean Buddhist Temple. I go inside and find it’s very, very beautiful. A nun is chanting and beating a rhythm on a wooden block. There’s a Korean woman doing prostrations. Other than the three of us, no one is there. This is it. I grab a cushion and decide to sit down and meditate. I’m smelly, sweaty and covered in mud. I try to clean off the mud before I sit. There’s a well with a pump, so I at least get the mud off. I sit and try to meditate, but I’m listening to the nun chanting. She’s really good. It’s very musical. After awhile, I know I can’t do this, so I get up and leave. It says there is a ceremony every 5am and 7pm. I decide to come to the one at 7pm tonight.
Now is when this whole walk gets really dirty. I see a sign for the Linn Son Temple. I try to follow the signs and wind up going through a swamp. I do get to what looks like the front of the monastery and there’s a sign telling me: “Closed Due To Construction”. I walk back through the swamp to the road. I follow the road to the main canal, which is empty. At one point there’s sign again for the Linh Son Temple, but also for the Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa, the Nepal Temple, and the Sokyo Gompa. I decide to take this turn. The swamp to the Linh Son Temple was nothing compared to this. It begins to drizzle. It’s not just muddy, it’s a real swamp, to the point where my sandals are being sucked off my feet. After about 15 minutes of this, I get to a complex of four monasteries surrounded by a lake with a pretty big island in the middle. Except for the pathway around the lake, which is total mud, the place is actually very clean. Linh Son Temple is closed on this side too. The Nepal Temple and the Sokyo Gompa are also closed, but the Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa makes the trip worthwhile. It’s a beautiful complex of buildings with a domed temple in the middle. Tibetan Buddhist Temples are usually rectangular. I’ve never seen a domed one before. It seems very strange. The murals are stunningly beautiful. The glass has etchings of scenes from the life of the Buddha on them, not stained glass, but rather etchings. When I first come into the grounds, I take off my sandals, which are covered in mud. My legs are covered in mud from my knees down, so taking off the sandals really makes no difference. This place is spotlessly clean. The guard looks at me and has me go to a pump well and wash. I get clean and I feel a lot better.
A fountain, when you first walk in, has a statue of a turtle with a wooden yoke around his neck. This is a reminder of how precious our human lives are. The Buddha, when asked if a lower realmed being can be reborn as a human, said yes, it was possible, but it was easier for a blind turtle at the bottom of the ocean to come to the surface and by pure chance put his head through a floating, wooden life preserver, than it would be for a lower realmed being to acquire rebirth as a human.
The gompa has two huge prayer wheels on each side. The entire gompa is very large, very beautiful, and very clean.
I leave, and walk on the mud path around the lake. I get back to the main road, am filthy again and decide to go to my room and take a shower.
Around 6:00 I go to the Korean Temple for the ceremony. It starts at 7:00, but I want to meditate a bit before the ceremony. I get there at 6:25, grab a cushion and sit. I normally sit in half-lotus. In Tibetan tradition, one’s left leg is on the bottom and the right leg goes on top. A Korean monk comes up to me, point at my legs and says change. I ask what he means; he says that my right leg has to be on the bottom and my left on top. I pretend not to understand and he leaves. It is now 6:35. The ceremony starts. I guess schedules don’t really matter. I’m glad I got here early. It’s a very beautiful, musical ceremony. It’s over by 6:55. If I got there at 7:00, I would’ve completely missed it.
A thing I noticed is how, even though everyone is trying to sing in unison or octaves, a great deal of harmony is going on. Parallel fourths and fifths are common. At one point everyone hit a first inversion major triad. It really makes one see and understand how organum developed in Europe during the Medieval period. Absolutely beautiful!
Mahadevi Temple at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park
Ashoka Pillar at the Mahadevi Temple at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park
Pool at the Mahadevi Temple at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park
Eternal Flame at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park
Drubgyud Chöling Gompa at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park
Drubgyud Chöling Gompa at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park
Korean Temple at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park
Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park
The fountain with the turtle at the Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park