Trekking in Nepal

Practicing Buddhism

According to its teachings, Buddhism leads to the finding one’s spiritual center and eliminating suffering in life. Through a lifetime of ritual and meditation a person renounces the agonies of human nature and loses themsel[f.. Word autocorrects this the wrong way] in nirvana, the “extinguishing” of the fire that is the id in human consciousness. This causes a very different view of life and the emotions and physical effects in the world.

photo by Alison Wright from The Spirit of Tibet
The practice that fills the days of a Buddhist’s lifetime is praying and reciting mantras. These phrases are composed of simple syllable in succession, each holding deep philosophical significance. By repeating the mantras, shutting out the distractions of the world and delving into the implications of the principles, the person recognizes the elements of the carnal existence and detaches themsel[f] from them. An aid to tracking the progression in reciting the mantras is the string of “mala” prayer beads, similar in concept to the beaded rosary in the Roman Catholic faith. This is typically a long necklace with loosely strung beads and “counting strands” for tabulating the number of complete circuits made. The typical Tibetan Buddhist mala has 108 beads, with a larger bead at the top called the “guru”, and each time the person recites the mantra 108 times, they will slide one ring on the small strand. Completing 10 circuits around the string progresses to sliding one ring on the next strand. A mala with 4 such strands will count 108 * 10 * 10 * 10 * 10, or 1,080,000 repetitions. Some very short mantras take only seconds, and some last over 15 minutes each. Typically this will take decades to complete, but for someone who is fast and dedicated, it can be done much faster, though the true benefit is to take time contemplating the principles.

There are other daily rituals, such as burning incense, keeping prayer flags and making humble offerings to God. In the Sherpa villages you will likely awaken each morning to the pungent smell of juniper branches burning in large urns. This is an offering to God and an invitation to all to reflect on the principles of service and enlightenment. A related Sherpa custom is to add wheat flour to the burning juniper at the passing away of a family member. The smoke from the wheat wisps into the air and is sustenance for the soul of the departed relative. No doubt you will also find colorful flags hoisted on rooftops and bridges. These colors, like the syllables of mantras, each hold spiritual meaning and are a reminder of these principles. Sherpas also make a humble offering to God with each meal; they set aside the first portion of their meals to welcome and please the deity. Faithful Buddhists also strive to make pilgrimages to the legendary Mt. Kailash in Chinese Tibet.

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