Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Pilgrim on Thanksgiving

The historical Buddha was a man. Not a god or a demi-god, not created from the Holy Spirit—he was simply a human. On Thanksgiving Day, I became a pilgrim myself and visited Lumbini, the place of the Buddha's normal, messy, human birth.

hi, buddha
Lumbini isn't exactly Nepal's prime tourist attraction. Inside the Sacred Garden, the Maya Devi temple (named for Buddha's mother) encloses a stone, put into place a few millenia ago, which marks the spot where the Buddha was born. Just outside the temple, there is a sandstone pillar erected by the Emperor Akosha around 250 B.C. The brick-lined pond where Maya bathed before the birth is just around the corner. The Maya Devi temple is surrounded by sal trees covered in prayer flags on a grassy lawn.

maya devi temple, the pool, and akosha's pillar on the left
North of the Sacred Garden are monasteries and temples from every Buddhist country and several that are not (France, Germany). I stayed overnight in the Korean Monastery, which provides room and board for pilgrims and travelers for a nominal donation. The Korean Temple itself and the evening service held there were beautiful.

inside of the korean temple...  very beautiful
And that's about it. There's not much to see. Lumbini Bazar, the tiny village outside the park, has one street. Many of the temples and monasteries within the park are still under construction. If you're not Buddhist, there's not much of a reason to come here.

The local bus from Lumbini to Pokhara, where I met up with the guys, took 11 hours to cover 180 km, as it stopped every few hundred meters to pick up or drop off someone. Unfortunately, it didn't stop for bathroom or food breaks. The two women in the seats in front of me alternated vomiting out the window, so I sat on the roof of the bus for a while. When I went back inside the bus, a chicken shat on my foot. I'm not complaining, though—this was not the worst Nepali bus ride I've endured.

the bus from hell.  i recommend the roof rack seats.
The bus ride gave me plenty of time to think about pilgrims and pilgrimage. The obvious connection was between Pilgrim/ Thanksgiving and pilgrim/ Lumbini. But the first definition given by Merriam-Webster online is actually “one who journeys in foreign lands: wayfarer.” Under the usual religious devotee definition, the online Free Dictionary's defines pilgrim as “one who embarks on a quest for something conceived of as sacred.” By these definitions, I've been a pilgrim since February.

The end of the journey—the end of the quest, if you will—is nearly here. Lately, I've been reflecting on this trip, whether I've found something sacred, whether I've found anything at all, what happens once I reach the destination. I've determined...

I don't know!  I don't know what I'm doing in 2011.  I have no job, no home, nearly no possessions, not many ambitions.  I'm feeling, though, that the pilgrimage won't be complete when I land in New York City around the New Year.  Maybe, if I'm lucky, the pilgrimage will never be complete.

And that might be my deep thought of the week.

P.S.  Happy Thanksgiving!

No comments:

Post a Comment