I had to stay a couple of weeks near the great Stupa of Boudha* before I could understand why one eventually surrenders here. the sway of the world turns and turns just the way thousands of people walk around the Stupa everyday. Monks chant or walk hand in hand with businessmen, children play, dogs and beggars sleep or bark, merchants sell, while Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Hippies, Buddhists and tourists circle around in prayer or conversation. Buddha eyes follow everyone just the same.
One could miss this world, take a picture of strange things to settle for saying you’ve been here. but if you linger long enough to take in the underbelly of Boudha; slabs of meat and hoofs covered by flies on open carts, legless curled up figures, the smell of incense mingled with dal or dung at every corner, you can”t help catch something different in people’s eyes. if you’re preoccupied by some project or other far away thoughts, you’ll miss the subtlety of currency here.
Once I recover from the withdraw of familiar comforts, like pristine toilets, expensive cars and the choice of a hundred foods, I began to appreciate how a
day is filled by one to three things to do rather than a list longer than I can ever accomplish.
The currency here, the real wealth is time and space, or perhaps it could be called the spaciousness of time. most people have enough space in their faces to smile your way, for there doesn’t seem to be anything else on their minds.
It’s not that poverty goes unnoticed, yet it seems the scant resources, daily rations of electricity and dusty traffic-crammed roads are taken in stride by locals with only mild grumbles. Urgency here moves at about the same pace as the occasional cow chewing at scraps on the city streets. my desire to change or uplift things, that’s sewn into the nerves of my American psyche, has no choice but to quit.
there’s something else I notice. I’ve lived in New York, and other cities where housing is as cramped as Katmandu. especially at night, I thought scolding wives or children, lovers spats and blaring boom boxes were just a way of life. Sure, the homeless dogs who breed unchecked here are truly noisy pests. What’s missing is the undercurrent of irritation. If snarly outbursts are happening behind thin doors, they’re well hidden. I haven ‘t heard a raised voice in weeks.
I think the slower life, the less hectic pace is more than the nature of a mild mannered people; I think it’s the Buddha Eyes.
Why are stupas built like this? They’re different than churches, where you go inside to close off the world. A stupa is an outdoor event where Instead of getting away from it all, you can hear and see the going- ons all around you; you’re in the middle of it.
Then there are those eyes.
Atop a huge spire around which one circumnabulates the base, sits not a golden sculpture of Buddha, nor a symbol of a saint. The stupa is crowned with painted eyes. Not having been here to experience the effect for myself, I’m not sure I’d like the sense of big brother watching me from every direction. at first I thought they looked silly; like a gigantic tacky cartoon that was not particularly artistic or spiritual. Now, pondering their effect on this strange city, it’s why I like them so much.
At night while peaking between butter lamps through a tiny opening of the Stupa, I listen to several monks chanting the city goodnight. in the middle of ceremony one monk gazes my way. captured by his suspended smile, we recognize each other in Buddha’s Eyes.
*The Boudha Stupa was built in 600 ad near the birthplace of Buddha. It sits in the center of Katmandu.