‘Immediately after arriving in India, the Western Heaven, alone, in New Years of 1931, I started on a pilgrimage to Lord Buddha’s historical remains. Starting from Mt. Grdhrakuta in Rajgir, I made my pilgrimage to Buddha-Gaya , Sarnath, Kusinagar and finally to Lumbini, Nepal in February. Among these Lord Buddha’s historical remains, Mt. Grdhrakuta and Lumbini lay in extreme desolation. As a Buddha’s disciple, I could not stop my tears of grief and sorrow. I made a vow, with my spirit stirred up, to reconstruct Lord Buddha’s historical remains.’ – Nichidatsu Fujii
After a 13-hour bus ride from Kathmandu, Mark and I arrived for our first visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site Lumbini in southern Nepal, a pilgrimage site for Buddhists and the place where, in 563BC, Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born.
Mark is from Tibet, and his name isn’t Mark, but that’s another story. Mark was a guest at Star View and I accompanied him to the World Peace Pagoda for an overnight stay in the adjacent Japanese Temple, inside the Monastic Zone in Lumbini Park.
The Monastic Zone and Sacred Gardens are still undergoing construction. A walk through the park on a foggy February morning will take you past half-built towers of concrete and rebar rising above the trees, all black in the mist. The atmosphere is post-apocalyptic and totally silent.
The World Peace Pagoda, Lumbini Park
I returned from my early morning walk, at about 6:30, to the Japanese Temple where we had arranged to stay for the night. Mark was drinking tea and telling some volunteers about how he’d come from Tibet to visit the site and meet the monk-in-residence. The monk was expected to return to the temple at 12pm. He arrived about 2pm. We asked if we could stay and were told we were welcome as volunteers for a night if we followed the programme – for overnighters that simply means attending prayer sessions twice a day, for two hours each time: 4:30am-6:30am & 4:30pm-6:30pm.
We left our belongings in a dormitory room (please wash your pillow case and sheets before leaving) and took our places in the temple for our first prayer session that afternoon. For two hours we chanted Na Mu Myo Ho Rengue Kyo while beating drums to keep the rhythm and stay synchronized: 1-2/1,2,3,4,5, 1-2/1,2,3,4,5/etc. It became awkwardly apparent after about 20 minutes that Mark has absolutely no sense of rhythm, and the lockstep groove attained by everyone else was continuously unsettled by Mark’s incessant clattering.
The food was fantastic; the atmosphere serene. It is a place for quiet meditation and contemplation; a place of healing, as one long-term volunteer told me.
The next morning we were up at 3:30am – when everyone must get up – and prepared to leave. Before we did Mark summoned the monk. Could he return after a few days and stay for a month? Despite his lack of coordination, Mark had decided to stay for a month and be a volunteer-in-residence.
I am now back in Bhaktapur. Mark has returned to Lumbini. I am happy for him that he has found a place of peace.