Mind of a Pilgrim

During the winter of 2002 and 2003, my students began retreat near the great stupa of Boudhanath in Nepal. For them it was glorious to be able to join the flow, the river of people who were circumnambulating the great stupa.

This is one of the eight original great stupas containing holy relics of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni The devotion and the feeling around the stupa is absolutely marvelous. However this is lost on those arriving with the mind of the tourist who can hardly wait to get some quality photographs of people holding their little prayer beads in their hand or turning a prayer wheel.

It is perhaps also lost on some others with the mind of a shopper taking the shortcut around the stupa counterclockwise to get to the shop to buy something. But for those who have the mind of a pilgrim, who have come from far away and they are there...I watched my students glow with the happiness of actually being there.

In my just before life, the eight Domo Geshe, I did not go to Nepal. However, Geshe Ngawang Kalsang, the seventh Domo Geshe was well known for going to Nepal and had taken groups of his students there and also on to India on pilgrimage. Like that, I was in a place that was visited by my previous, previous. My first time there in this life or my just previous life.

There are always many young monks and itinerant monks that would come and sit at the side of the stupa and do their evening prayers. They would put a little handkerchief down or a little plastic bag and many people would offer them one or two rupees as they passed. This is the tradition. There might also have been some poor monastery in the area where the one in charge would direct monks to go down and collect money for the monastery.

The rising and falling of chanting voices of these many groups - two, four, six in each, spread around the stupa. You could hear the small children with little high-pitched voices chanting. One small boy looked maybe about five or six years old. As I was going to give him some money I leaned down and thought, "What is he saying, what is he saying?" I had to listen carefully because of the sound of chanting prayers and also from a nearby shop the sound of a popular CD --OM MANI PEDME HUM, OM MANI PEDME HUM. Even the tourists with their cameras go (sings tune) so it's very catchy.

I'm leaning closer to this small boy, "What? What are you saying?" He looked up at me and he did not even know the mantra he only making a sing- song sound. But he had such a sweet, innocent little face I gave him the money anyway.

I, myself, had quite an extraordinary experience at the great stupa. I'm standing there at the side, out of the way, people are moving by, the sound of the monks chanting and the quality of the light as the sun is going down caused me to look at the people again. Some people seem directly from Tibet in traditional clothes and burnished cheeks. Many local Tibetans, Newari Buddhists, Nepalis are all circumnambulating the stupa clockwise. And lo and behold, I notice many foreign people. Many Oriental I'm sure, and I also see many Western people moving among them. You know that these people are pilgrims. They are not there just to see a curiosity of Buddhist culture.

It pleased me greatly. I stood there and looked at the great stupa, this pilgrimage place. This is a magnet created for practitioners to come for pilgrimage or retreat. I looked again and suddenly; a larger frame of reference came into my mind from early early early times. The process is not just inside Tibet; the process is alive and vibrant and goes on and on. It was an alive place. It was marvelous.

I felt like the sky move away and unlimited potential for the dharma to continue. Whatever small activities I had done in this present lifetime, in other lifetimes as a teacher guide and other distant eras was connected to a larger whole. I felt connected through the deep transmission process from very early times and still participating. I felt connected to these people, these pilgrims through that authentic Tibetan lineage transmission to the Buddha and felt joyful. I felt like everything was OK, the work still goes on, no doubt. I was transfixed in this for some time. Then it getting time for dinner, students waiting. I turned clockwise so the stupa was on my right side and joined the flow.

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