Travel to the Land of Many gods: What a Christian Learned in Kathmandu Part 1: Observations

by Dr. Dave Coryell, General Secretary World-CE and Executive Director CE-USA

Stories. I thought they were just stories. Tales have been told in books, movies and legends of men and women reaching mid-life crisis only to part with worldly possessions in order to journey to Kathmandu, Nepal or neighboring Tibet, China. The goal is “finding oneself” or discovering some inner peace that had remained unapproachable or at best impossible to attain in the western rat race.

I rose early and ate breakfast. I had an outstanding conversation with an especially joyful waiter at the hotel restaurant before heading into a temple touring day. Each temple had just a few westerners that matched every stereotype my brain had been trained to picture. The majority of the people, however, were sojourners from countries where the Hindu or Buddhist religions are strong. My experience at the Boudha Stupa was especially telling. The Boudha Stupa is a World Heritage site and is the destination point for Buddhists wanting to trek to their most sacred site in the world. I paid my fare (which was significantly elevated for foreigners) and walked toward the large round white structure with eyes painted on top.

I observed a huge festival in process. People were going around Stupa in a clockwise fashion which was apparently important to know. Hands were reaching out to touch and turn numerous prayer wheels that were inset into the temple walls. At a key point I found an entrance into an inner temple ring. I walked through the entrance and saw where lime could be purchased to rub on the temple’s inner ring wall. Just beyond the lime shop I came upon the place where I could pay to write my prayers on colored flags that would be pulled on a string close to the eyes of the Stupa. Large vats with incense were waiting to be purchased so these pungent leaves could be burned in temple fire places for a small fee. I began to walk the inner ring, whispering the name “Jesus” toward any person who walked by.

Reaching the Temple front I looked down upon a special section set apart for people to do spiritual exercises. When I say “exercises” I mean it! Yes, a few could be seen with criss crossed legs and a meditative pose. The ones who surprised me were the ones who were doing what I could best describe as a spiritual burpee (burpees are physical exercises used for intense training). People were going up and down, up and down, up and down.

Physical posture, breathing incense, spreading lime, prayer pennants, spinning prayer wheels with incantations along with groans and moans by monks in orange robes made for quite an experience. Religion- the hope that doing just enough of the right things in the right way while making a god appeased, approachable or even, attainable in a microscopic way. People go through all these steps and celebrate with exuberance when they claim a minuscule amount of calm.

How is the way of Jesus more fulfilling? Be on the lookout next week for part 2 of this blog, which will explore three insights from my observations in Nepal.

One thought on “Travel to the Land of Many gods: What a Christian Learned in Kathmandu Part 1: Observations”

  1. Sounds like everything you witnessed involed worshippers paying some kind of a price for penance. And I’m sure it gave you an even deeper appreciation for the Grace we freely receive from Christ!

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