Lumbini, Nepal: The Birthplace of Buddha

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It’s amazing how much good a solid night of sleep can do. After contracting a pretty nasty stomach bug and getting twelve or thirteen hours of sleep so deep that corpses were probably jealous, I awoke on my first morning in Lumbini, Nepal feeling approximately eight million times better. I was positively bursting with verve and vigor, a huge contract from the previous day, when I thought I was going to pass out from walking across the border to Nepal. (Forgot to mention that in my last post. At Sunauli, you make the land crossing from India to Nepal on food. So I can now technically say that I walked from one country to another!)

Unfortunately, my stomach issues were (spoiler alert) not completely over, but at the time, I was back on my feet and thrilled about it. Lumbini is a village famed for being the birthplace of the Sakyamuni Buddha, and I basically just bounced around the giant temple complex. Part of my energy came from my stomach no longer threatening to erupt, but the larger component of my excitement came from the fact that Lumbini is one of the coolest places I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

A misty morning in Lumbini
A misty morning in Lumbini

We went to the temple complex housing the supposed physical birthplace of Buddha early in the morning, when the sun hadn’t yet risen and chilly fog hovered over the water and cut the visibility down to only ten meters or so. For a place so steeped in religious history and mysticism, it was the perfect atmosphere.

The foundations of past temples.
The foundations of past temples.

When visiting stupas (dome-shaped Buddhist shrines), there’s a certain etiquette to be followed. Of course the usual “be quiet, dress respectfully, don’t climb on anything” trifecta, but one thing I didn’t know is that you’re meant to circle the stupa in a clockwise direction.

No smoking, of course...but leave your plastics at the gate, too.
No smoking, of course…but leave your plastics at the gate, too.

 

"If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him." ~Buddha
“If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.” ~Buddha

The exact physical spot of the Buddha’s birthplace is encased in bulletproof glass, and no pictures are allowed inside the building itself. The walls flanking the case have been covered in gold leaf, and a few flecks of it had clung to my fingers after I let my hand trail over the rocks. The sweet, slightly cloying scent of incense hung in the air, as well.

Monks and military
Monks and military

Before long, the sun burned through the mist and we were treated to the sight of Tibetan prayer flags draped from tree to tree around the temple. Some had obviously been there for months. The already flimsy cloth hung tattered and the brilliant reds, blues, greens, yellows, and whites had faded to much duller hues. Others had only been hung recently, and their colors still provided a kaleidoscope of color around the temple.

Lung ta, fluttering in the breeze.
Lung ta, fluttering in the breeze. 
The five colors are arranged in a certain order (blue, white, red, green, yellow), and each represents a different element. Blue stands for the sky, white represents the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green stands for water, and yellow symbolizes earth.
The five colors are arranged in a certain order (blue, white, red, green, yellow), and each represents a different element. Blue stands for the sky, white represents the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green stands for water, and yellow symbolizes earth.

I didn’t bring back too many souvenirs from this trip, but of the few that I bought, my prayer flags are my favorite. I’m not a religious person, but I don’t think that you have to be in order to appreciate the beauty of symbols like the prayer flags of Lumbini. Prayer flags hung horizontally are known as lung ta (which means “wind horse” in Tibetan) and are thought to bring strength, wisdom, compassion, and peace. (Flags that are hung vertically are darchor.) It’s believed that when the wind blows, the mantras on the flags are carried through the air, purifying and blessing it. The cloth is so light that even the slightest breeze stirs them.

Traditionally, a horse. symbolizing the transformation of bad fortune into good, is in the center of the flag. On its back are three flaming jewels (ratna), which symbolize the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings), and the Sangha (his community). Surrounding the horse are various mantras and blessings. Finally, the Four Dignities (dragon, garuda, snow leopard, and tiger) are depicted in the corners.
Traditionally, a horse. symbolizing the transformation of bad fortune into good, is in the center of the flag. On its back are three flaming jewels (ratna), which symbolize the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings), and the Sangha (his community). Surrounding the horse are various mantras and blessings. Finally, the Four Dignities (dragon, garuda, snow leopard, and tiger) are depicted in the corners.
A small altar built into the trunk of a bodhi tree.
A small altar built into the trunk of a bodhi tree.

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And then we were off on another five or six hour bus ride through the mountains to Chitwan National Park, where rhinos, elephants, and tigers awaited us!

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