The purpose of the Spirit
is to conceive and bring forth a New Creature
Strap on a helmet, grab a cup of coffee, and join us for
some controversy, the complete part of your breakfast!
The True Religion
Let’s talk about other religions, shall we? You know,
following the topic of “good Muslims” versus “evil
bombing Muslims” and the supposed brotherhood of the
world’s religions as simply separate ways to find Nirvana
or the Supreme Being.
Two days ago I watched a sacrifice to Kali.
More than thirty Nepalis crowded around, most of them young
boys. A few women hung back, looking on with interest as they
jogged brown babies on their sari-ed hips. They watched the
goat—the sacrifice—in anticipation of some great
miracle or ancient sign they learned from their fathers, just
as the school-age youngsters were learning now. The goat,
its horns and head decorated with red dye, suddenly shook
itself all over, sending up puffs of Nepali dust. A sigh like
rapture and satisfaction ran through the crowd. One shake
of its smelly tough hide, as innate as a wet dog and just
as meaningful, and the goat’s fate was sealed. The men
surged forward and with one hand gripping the skin of the
rump and another holding the skin of the neck, the goat was
hauled back up into the temple. They held him upside down
and sawed through his throat. The goat cried just three times,
loudly in fear and surprise, then burbling softer, melting
away. The steaming blood fell into tin pans as the goat was
completely decapitated. With the blood, the men anointed Kali’s
temple and her clay images with reverence. They also anointed
each other, a smeary dot of red in the forehead like a gunshot
wound boring into the recesses of their superstitious brains.
Carefully they checked their red markings, the ritual marigolds
behind their ears and adjusted their cloth, peaked, “Welcome
to Taco Bell” hats in tiny mirrors hung about the temple.
Their strange brand of blood worship is naturally vain.
With happy prattle they trickled from the temple, bare feet
spattered with fresh blood, padding along in the dirt. They
held plates of red dye, blood, and unidentifiable body parts
from the goat. One elderly man posed cheerfully with a headless
chicken, the previous sacrifice, for a Japanese tourist.
Over the stained crumbling temple spread a bloated black
tree that would not leaf out this summer or in any other.
Like ribs, the iron tangle of its roots enclosed the beating
heart of Kali’s image, wet and refreshed with surrogate
lifeblood. There is no rain in this high plateau, hot and
dry in the noon sun. The blood soaked into the ground and
roots to be sucked up into the heartwood and bark, nourishing
whatever rotted spirits were trapped there.
Standing near, watching this, faint images of the West’s
tempered Hinduism passed ghostlike through my memory. Gwen
Stefani’s hot pink bindi, Madonna’s mendhi. If
they could see the red and black before me, feel the radiation
of some dark, deep thing squirming with pleasure at the dutiful
actions of her children who only serve their 30 million gods
because it grew out of the earth with them, a religion as
indigenous as the people, I wonder what they would find so
free and beautiful in this madness. Pippa, a 19 year old Brit
teaching English in Kathmandu tells me beerily late on St
Patrick’s day, that being in Nepal makes her question
her Christianity. I feel like I’m hearing some B.S.
line that she read in a women’s magazine, that she is
acting out the role of the 19 year old seeker in mystic Nepal.
I can’t imagine what to say to her—that Hindus
have no loving god? That they worship only in appeasement?
That she needs to grow up and look around? Walking around
Kathmandu, the only foreigners are latent hippie youngsters,
blasted by high altitude sun and plentiful pot, ragged, dirty,
seeking enlightenment in the most unlikely place on earth.
This is a culture standing on its head. Animals are more
precious than human life, killing a rat in the house unleashes
karmic poison on the inhabitants, the men gamble and drink
Roxy, the local mind mangling firewater while the women work
in the fields, and the “holy men” can be found
half-asleep and filthy in temple compounds overrun with monkeys,
many rabid. At Peshpedi, a temple we visited twice, the attraction
is not the friendly people nor colorful architecture—these
do not exist. It is a drug corridor for Westerners, an injection
of the frighteningly surreal, so bizarre no junk is needed
for the trip. (Where the Sandus ‘go’ when they
smoke their holy hash, I tremble to imagine.) Running through
the temple grounds is the barest eddy of a river that flows
suddenly to the Ganges. Alongside are altars for public cremations,
if the family is rich enough to afford the wood pillaged from
Nepal’s vast deforestation. Today there are several
pyres burning, charring, smoking, and on others, fluttering
bright funereal orange shrouds are wisped over with incense,
waiting the torch. The smell fills the air as the corpses
burn, not to strong and faintly sweet. It makes one in our
party sick. “Bad memories…napalm,” he whispers.
Strewn on the ground are Sandus, holy men of Hinduism. Some
are passed out, limbs splayed to the four winds, so still
and deathlike beneath the white chalk dusted over their nearly
naked bodies, one cannot tell if they’re alive or dead.
They are somewhere in between, lost in a drug-induced shadow
world where Vishnu bids them do unhappy things. Masses of
unwashed knotted hair, gray with age and dust and smoke, cover
their faces or even serve as clothes. Others lean back on
tattered wool blankets, inhaling deeply from a clay pipe.
One performs a headstand, his thin leathery body quivering
with righteous exertion. The Sandus who claim some lucidity
follow the few foreigners, touching them and asking for money.
Anyone taking pictures is badgered with all the ferocity hashish
allows. We speak to them in French and Spanish and they trail
off, seeking Americans and Canadians—the sacred cows
to be reverently and frantically milked until the cow drops
dead and dry and is cremated by the polluted, sacred river.
As we leave, smoking ashes are sloshed off the pyre into the
river to join thousands of others. A black stain moves towards
a monkey troop, haunches in the shallow water. They scamper
out of the river and onto the temple, playing and fighting,
holy banana thieves.
In Kathmandu we reunite with an old family friend, Debbie
Martin. She tells us how she was attacked by monkeys when
leaving a market with bananas. It made the front page the
next day, headline news in bustling Kat. She lives in Nepal
as an aid worker educating village women about pregnancy,
birth, and infant care. Women, she says, don’t even
know what causes pregnancy, and are considered unclean at
the birth-time and so are ostracized by both men and women,
left to labor alone in a windowless stall outside the village.
If mother and baby survive, they return to the village two
days later. The death rate for infants and women in Nepal
is one of the highest in the world. “Women are dogmeat,”
a Canadian expat says of Nepal’s social order. Yet the
kingdom recently banned midwifery, concerned that it made
them look not up to par with the West, afraid that their status
in the world’s eyes would suffer. Meanwhile there is
one doctor for every 300,000 people, and only uneducated self-proclaimed
healers in the remote areas. Debbie herself has been threatened
over and over with expulsion from the country in spite of
her work and Nepal’s own nurses’ support. “Don’t
want world help,” someone graffitied on a wall near
the palace. This is a tiny angry kingdom, ruled by a self-absorbed,
tight-lipped elite caste that imprisons journalists for trying
to expose the Maoist problem and only allows foreign aid workers
to stay if they pay bribes. They deal with the Maoists by
telling the world nothing and placing sandbagged lookouts
and 50 caliber machine guns all over the city, including inside
many Ministry courtyards. There were two such guns behind
retaining walls aimed at the entrance where Dad went to work.
Kathmandu sweeps up the dirt sidewalks at about 10pm because
of the existing state of emergency, and military soldiers
kill villagers suspected of giving food to Maoists. It’s
a damned if you do or don’t situation for the villagers,
who live in crippling mortal terror of the Maoists. Apparently
they’ve learned some carving tricks from India’s
terrorists, and practice their butchery on the peasant farmers.
Debbie sees all this, the corruption and dark religion, inseparable
and flawed. Still, she speaks of her love for the Nepali people,
and walks through the city like a magic figure, a wool shawl
around her shoulders and sandals on her feet. Speaking Nepali
she makes instant friends with the locals. Guards take their
hats off and she nearly converts our shy Hindi driver, Krishna,
just by her presence. (She talked him out of it; it’s
against the law to change one’s religion in Nepal, and
stoning is common for converted Christians. She told him it
was too big a decision to make in one day, though he was transfixed
by her tale of a God of love.) She believes God is working
here, that she’s meant to be there, and tells us that
it is a place where Biblical miracles happen every day. “The
dead have been raised in Nepal,” she says, her eyes
shining. From where I sit above Pattan city square, ragged
and adorable children with gold nose-studs play, flared roofs
to temples ripple out into the reddish haze beyond which lies
the promise of the elusive and imperial Himalayas, and lower
caste Nepalis make their living transporting couches, refrigerators
and bureaus on their backs supported by a long strap across
their forehead—it is such a strange country, at turns
marvelous and disturbing. Anything can happen.
We do get to see the Himalayas and King Everest from a tour
plane that flies up near the pristine range. Before our windows
frost delicately with mountain air kisses, everyone takes
pictures through the window and even–shockingly—go
to the cockpit to take even clearer pictures and chat with
the pilots. There is one mountain they point out that is holy,
therefore no one is allowed to climb it. I look for Shangri
La from the air but see only green terraces of subsistence
farms and no roads at all. It is an electric experience to
come so close to something so powerful, high and moveless.
To be in their shadow or be a bird soaring nearby, you could
feel the joy of life they project, a sheer, cold joy to be
alive, rejoicing in their own creation and existence. Though
we are in a plane, it is a breath of Himalayan air to be so
far from diesel-choked, tourist-abusing Kathmandu. Here we
do see God’s handiwork in its vaulted, if earthly, glory!
After five days in Kathmandu I am tired of being treated
like I am not human. “Like a fat turkey to be plucked
alive,” one of our party glumly summarizes. I am tired
of my nose running black from the pollution and waking in
the middle of the night, my hands and mouth cracking open
like a desert-hollowed hull from the dry air, the Wizard of
Oz-ish “hoom de hoom” Tibetan chant that plays
all over the city pounding along with my heartbeat.
If you think meditation leads to the same goal as Christianity,
if you think Hinduism is a gentle if misguided religion, you’ve
not seen it firsthand, thriving in the cradle of its man-made
inception. We are not created equal. Religions and cultures
have never been equal and never will be. What can this mean
for our hope of living together peacefully? History shows
us only examples of turmoil and war. However, it is more important
for us today to realize that Christianity is our only hope.
The Hindus have a religion. They have rote, rule, law, and
fearful bondage lest their gods be unappeased. We have a spiritual
calling to exit the limitations of this mortal realm; we have
a higher path than religious ritual. We have the example of
Jesus Christ—he did it. He transcended realms. He became
a source of life and agape eternal. He is a living path for
us to follow. And it may be a relief to know that he does
not require animal sacrifice!
"Do What He Did, Get What He Got!"