In September 2019, ma told me, she wanted to visit Nepal, in the month of October. Like travelling to any other place, I got excited about this one as well and started planning the trip. As per the finalised plan, we decided to visit Kathmandu, Nagarkot, Pokhara and Lumbini, in that order. Being closer to the Indian border, Lumbini was our last stop in the country.
On one hand, Kathmandu, the capital city of the Himalayan Kingdom, holds in its womb, the treasure of the royal history of Nepal and on the other Nagarkot and Pokhara, boast of the bounties of nature, which in the words of Nepal, mean the Himalayas.
Very different from these three places, is Lumbini, which is known for being the birth place of Buddha. It is said that Buddha in his teachings had highlighted four main pilgrimages for Buddhists, which were, Lumbini (Nepal), Bodh gaya (India), Sarnath (India) and Kushinagar (India). Bodh Gaya, is the most important site of all, as it was here, that Buddha got enlightened. The place houses the revered Bodhi Tree, under whose shade, Buddha is said to have attained nirvana. Sarnath is where Buddha delivered his first teaching, to his 6 disciples. And the fourth is Kushinagar, where Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana (gave up his mortal body).
Lumbini Master Plan
The UNESCO World Heritage Site in Lumbini, is a huge complex. Rectangular in shape, the southern end of the complex, has the Mayadevi (Buddha’s mother) temple (which has the exact spot where Buddha was born), the sacred pond (where she took bath after giving birth to him) and the Bodhi tree. The east and west zones are dedicated to pagodas from different Buddhist cultures across the world. And towards the North, lies the World peace pagoda, built by Japanese Buddhists.
A brief about the East and West Zones
The East Monastic Zone is dedicated to the Theravada (Hinayana) school of Buddhism. This zone has some beautiful monasteries like, the Royal Thai Monastery, Cambodian Temple, Myanmar Golden Temple and Sri Lankan Monastery.
The West Monastic Zone is allotted for Mahayana Buddhism, with monasteries from China, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Myanmar, Germany, Austria etc. Apart from monasteries, the west monastic zone also has three meditation centers. Some of the other interesting things to see are, the statue of standing Baby Buddha, Central Canal (currently under construction) etc.
At the World Peace Pagoda
After seeing the Mayadevi temple, the sacred pond and the bodhi tree, we arrived at the World peace Pagoda. While we were exploring it, ma noticed an interesting looking shrine on the left hand side of the pagoda. She started walking towards it and we followed her.
It was a small shrine, dedicated to a Japanese monk. As we were looking at the interiors of the Shrine, a monk walked in. He asked all of us to come inside (the barricade) and sit. Pointing to the image at the centre, he said that it is his master, Nichidatsu Fujii. According to him (and I also read it up later), Nichidatsu was greatly influenced by the powerful thought of non-violence, post his meeting with Mahatma Gandhi. And eventually, he decided to build peace pagodas around the world to propagate world peace.
Life of a Japanese Monk
The Monk who asked us to walk in, introduced himself as Grato. He asked us where had we all come from and once we introduced ourselves (including an Australian couple), he started telling his story.
Born in North Japan, Monk Grato was curious about life since childhood and wanted to know the purpose for which he existed. He left his home early, at about 13 years of age and reached out to several monks in Japan to seek answers. Soon, he started living and travelling with them. Gradually, he realized, that he was born with the purpose of serving mankind. He then travelled across the world, doing voluntary work and serving people. During one of such travels, he met his master. Eventually, work pulled him and his master in different directions.
He was in Africa, when his master called out to him. He said that, they needed his help in setting up the world peace pagoda in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. He was informed that the monk who was leading the project, had been murdered by anti-buddhist extremists and hence, his master had chosen him to take the work forward. So, at the call of his master, he came to Nepal. Since then, brick by brick they (others and he himself) set up the peace pagoda.
Chanting with Monk Grato
When he had shared with us, his journey this far, he felt it was time for some chanting. He sat in vajrasana and asked us to repeat after him, “Nam mu myo ho ren ge kyo”. He told that, it is a mantra which was expounded by a 13th century Japanese Buddhist monk called Nichiren. And the chant translates to, “I devote myself to the Dharma of the Lotus Flower Sutra”. The Lotus Sutra, is said to contain the last teachings of Buddha, before his mahaparinirvana. The core message of the sutra, is that, every person can attain enlightenment, in his/her lifetime.
I had heard this chant before as well. In fact, I know of people who chant this mantra on a daily basis and claim to have received peace of mind through its chanting. When I was exposed to the mantra earlier, I didn’t feel anything special about it, apart from it being a Buddhist chant. It was like a normal mantra, as one would hear on many occasions. Of course, I have very limited understanding of mantras and their essence, so, this was my interpretation (on the basis of my limited experience).
However, here in Lumbini, in that Shrine, when Monk Grato, sat us all down and chanted the Mantra, it immediately felt intense. The vibrations of every word he uttered, were deep and impactful. As he chanted, it sounded as if, someone was beating a Gong, with its oscillations escaping into the air. When we joined him, and repeated “Nam mu myo ho ren ge kyo” , “Nam mu myo ho ren ge kyo”, with every word, I felt like, every cell of my body, my very core, was vibrating with a strong positive energy. It was as if, through these universal sounds, our frequencies were resonating with that of the universe. And this immense power, was corroding away every negative thought of our minds. As we continued to chant in unison, the energy reverberating within, unified us.
Invitation for some tea
After the chanting was over, we sat there for a while, absorbing the energy of the chant, and reliving the experience in our hearts and minds. And then, Monk Grato invited us for some herbal tea, in his quarters. Although we were getting late for our visit to the rest of the monasteries (east and west zone) in the complex, we decided to stay back. It was great to listen to more of his experiences, philosophies and thoughts.
Time to leave
Finally, it was time to leave, so we said our goodbyes, thanked Monk Grato for his time and went ahead to finish the rest of our tour. We rushed through our visits to the monasteries, as it was about closing time of the complex. Although we missed seeing some of the monasteries, but there was no regret in our hearts. We were very delighted with this unique and meaningful experience, which will stay in our hearts, forever.