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Photo by Catherine Von Holt, Nepal Semester.

Learning to walk

Last night, we visited the Boudhanath Stupa for the first time. During the windy evening, we were awoken from our daze of journaling and reading to grab a jacket as we were about to head out. With paani bottles in one hand and perhaps a camera in the other, we began our walk through the uneven stone streets.

There were barely any street lights as we blindly followed the person in front of us hoping to avoid each puddle we came across. About a block down from our hotel, a man opened a gate for us where we exchanged uncertain “Namaste”’s. Stumbling through the courtyard of another hotel, we passed a construction site full of dirt and tools. Tripping over our own feet, we crossed a pool of mysterious matter guided only by Micah’s phone-light. Stepping on unstable wooden boards, there was no telling where we were going and how exactly we were getting there.

After about 5-10 minutes, we were suddenly enveloped in light. Fruit stands getting ready to close, a couple convenience stores still open, people from all over the world walking to the same destination. Different languages all being spoken and the sound of bells in the distance filled the air. Above the hustle and bustle, presiding over everything, were the blue eyes of the Buddha.

Once we finally arrived at the stupa, everything was as bright as daylight. Stringed lights mixed with the prayer flags were hanging from the top of the stupa. Different shops advertising handcrafted Tibetan goods still open, and the hotels and restaurants lit with neon signs advertising the best view. Our group made a small circle near a large bell where Sharon described to us the iconography of the stupa. The Buddha’s passionate eyes with his nose symbolizing a “one”, the lotus flower close to the top, the air, fire, and water,all expressed in the stairs and dome shape.

With turquoise beads threaded through string in our right hand, we took our time walking counter clockwise around the Stupa 3 times, a circumambulation. We walked around the Stupa as a way to meditate and, as Buddhists believe, to increase our good karma.

As I walked, I noticed all the different people around; a couple tourists taking photos at this wonder, monks walking as close to the stupa as possible spinning the prayer wheels as they walked, an old woman sitting on the ground with prayer beads in her hands, a man on a bench repeating a mantra while he clapped to the pace of our walking, and a man on the street playing bells and a drum as he sang. The smell of roasted nuts and spice filled the air meshing with the incense burning by this sacred space. It was hard to tell how far one had gone around the stupa at a given time until you reached your starting point again. The sensory overload made it hard to focus on one thing, but I couldn’t tell if I really was thinking in the first place.

After completing the 3 circumambulations in 15 minutes, we met up again by the bell, one by one making our way out of the stream of people circling the dome. It felt as though no time had passed walking through the dark streets on our journey here was a lifetime ago. As Geoff put it, we could have continued walking around the Stupa forever – at least all night. Can we choose how we walk? With a purpose as we go ‘round and ‘round or do we stumble through life with uncertainty? Not knowing where we’re going or how we’ll get there…