[We post here today, a travelogue by Joan Stanley-Baker, Emeritus Professor of Art History specializing in Chinese Fine Arts at Tainan National University in Taiwan. Basically, she comes from British Columbia, Canada and recently was a team member of the Buddha Boy's ‘spiritual entourage’ from Sindhupalchowk, Nepal’s central hill district to Lamjung, the country's one of the west hill districts, for a special puja this February 22-27, 2014. We understand the Buddha Boy has not received yet as much 'reception' as anticipated from local media but her account describes the 'religious guru's popularity has grown leaps and bounds in the country and abroad as well. It seems Nepal has begun benefiting also from the ‘holy guru’s being there as multitudes of devotees from around the world fly into the county day and night. Nepal’s tourism promotion, jobs creation and economic development etc. get some boost seemingly .– Editor]
FEBRUARY 22-27, 2014 'LAMJUNG MAITRI PUJA' FOR WORLD PEACE
By Joan Stanley-Baker PhD*
In the Village of Khudi at the foot of the Himalayas, the eye can reach directly onto the snow capped peaks of Manasulu towering over 8163M above sea level, in an illusion of being only three or four kilometres away. This is the site of the last puja of the Nepali year, held in the District of Lamjung in northwest Nepal on the border of Tibetan. Devotees were gathering from everywhere. From Nepal – they arrived from Manang, Mustang, Pokhara lake, Kaski, Gorkha, Tanau, Dading, Kathmandu, Kirtipur, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Kavry, Nuwakot, Sindupalchowk, Ramechhap, Makwanpur, Chitwan, Parsa, Bara, Sarlahi, Sindhuli, etc. Devotees from the far distant mountain region of Mustang travelled across the great ranges taking more than three days for their journey. There were also Indian devotees came from Sikkim and Darjeeling among other places.
The air, as in most of the highlands of Nepal, is cold in the morning and evening, getting sun during the day, warming the breeze. But here in Khudi, the air seems especially fresh, brushing down from the highest peaks of the world, and quickens the heart with a strong feeling of being in the presence of the divine. Devotees who have attended many of the Maitri Guru’s Pujas, agree that there was something rather special about the Lamjung Puja.
For this puja, the Maitri Guru had left his mountain retreat of Badegaun in Sindhupalchowk on the morning of February 19th to travel with his immediate entourage for ten hours by jeep to Lamjung. From the very beginning atop the mountain in Badegaun, there were already twenty cars waiting to be part of a convoy and, when they reached the town of Sipaghad below, it seemed that more than thirty cars were waiting, and untold motorcycles ready to brave the long journey along the bumpy and dusty Nepali roads. Along the way, motorcycles and private cars seemingly out of nowhere, continued to join the motorcade, growing at an alarming rate even as devotees appeared standing in bare feet along the roadside with offerings of flowers, candles and incense, khatas and fruit, patiently waiting for the Guru. At times in certain populated towns the road ahead became completely blocked by devotees where nothing could pass, often requiring the gentle assistance of the local police. The vehicles continued to multiply as the day wore on, and the roaring wheeled assemblage came to stretch long and wide for kilometres, creating a veritable spectacle all along the roads leading to the large town of Chabel where about 700 devotees were waiting. There was a joyous celebratory mood among one and all. And whenever passing villages and towns, there were groups of devotees gathered along the road with flowers and other offerings to greet Guru’s passage and hoping for a glimpse of the beloved face, possibly even a blessing.
Throughout the day, devotees appeared on the long journey stretching the 180 kilometres between the districts of Sindhupalchock and Lamjung. Coming onto the darkness past sunset, they stood on the roads holding offerings of flowers, incense, khatas, and now also flickering candles. The reverend devotion shown by the tens of thousands of devotees was overwhelming. There were everywhere spontaneous local receptions all along the way during the more than ten hours of travel, giving the travellers an unforgettable sight. Guru’s journey was attended throughout by waiting devotees from town to town, and in between. There seemed to be more people, more new faces, more crowds than ever before.
By nightfall when the convoy reached Besishsahar, the largest town at the foothills, they stood there still, holding lights or candles in the darkness, their hearts kindled like their flames, eyes glistening for a glimpse of the Maitri Guru. For some years already, he has ruled their hearts in loving compassion. But now was the chance to be there, even for a fleeting moment, close to Guru’s actual aura, to feel the Maitri Presence.
Ten hours after setting out, Guru’s party arrived at the Lamjung site. Accommodations had already been prepared by the local Sangha. After a good night’s sleep, everyone rose to work on the preparations for the Puja itself. The great tarps were laid over the bamboo foundations, and flags in the Maitri order of blue, white, yellow, red and green were stretched in long strings in all eight directions across from the pole-top announcing the event On the newly made platform the Maitri Guru’s dais was placed, and on the surrounding fabric walls, thangkas of the great deities uniquely related to Maitreya were hung. And for two days feverish work joined all the fervent devotees in one large workforce, and people hitherto unknown to each other were working side by side for the same purpose with the same joyous dedication.
Rain blesses the beginning and the end of the Maitri Guru’s every puja, a long-time assistant of Guru said. It will rain when Guru arrives, and again when Guru leaves. Sometimes the rain may be big, sometime so subtle that people may not be aware of it, while at other times it is loud and wet. But for sure there will always be rain…. followed by the rainbow. This time the rainbow was unmistakable for all to see and marvel. A huge ring of a rainbow appeared around the sun, glowing in the mid-heavens and forming a complete and perfect circle. There was a smaller ring immediately around the sun, seemingly a rim of red and yellow filaments surrounding a relatively bluish sun in the middle, much like the pupil of a huge round eye. This phenomenon hovered continuously, suspended exactly above the Puja mandala holding the tent and blessing programme. The rainbow was so large, so clear, and so perfectly centred overhead that everyone was awestruck, wondering at the surprising and inspiring manifestation.
For three days the haloed sun-eye hovered overhead, enveloping the sacred precinct, passersby and devotees both were awed at the sight of such auspiciousness and benevolence. And for the last three days many devotees saw a bright light emanating from the middle of the Maitri Guru’s forehead, with a startlingly gentle and warm glow. Many such unforgettable sights around the Maitri Guru were then recounted by eye-witnesses and spread across the world.
The Lamjung site is situated at the base of the famous trekking paths leading up to Annapurna in the Himalayas. It is a stop for mountaineers. During those days many hikers passing by were drawn irresistibly to the Puja. Here they received unexpected blessing of unbounded love and compassion that flowed unceasingly from the Maitri Guru for more than eight hours each day. It has been estimated that several hundred thousand people received Guru’s blessing during the six days. There were many familiar faces among the foreign sangha, as well as new ones here for the first time, in all representing more than thirty nations. There were two Italian couples one of whom had brought along their blond child, named some couples bringing their young children. Many Buddhist and Chan monks came from monasteries in Korea and Thailand among others, and about seventy Nepali Buddhist monks in crimson and orange came to join the chanting of prayers and mantras, and to participate proactively in all proceedings.
When devotees saw the Maitri Guru in white robe with blue trim coming with his monks in blue robes and white tops, there was a gasp of surprise and awe. This was the first time the Maitri colours were worn in a public event, a startling contrast to the traditional clerical colours of crimson and orange, brown, black or grey. Gradually, devotees realized that something was rather different about this timespae. They were under a new banner, witnessing a new Order, and they knew that the world will be listening to a new language, and a new Message.
Guru ascended his dais, dropping into lotus position in one graceful move. In due course, he gave the world his Teaching. As ever, he instructed humanity to abstain from harmful actions, explaining cosmic oneness in there being no separation whatever between the countless life cycles of all beings of all categories in all worlds or between the atma, paramatma and anatma: all seemingly disperate energies are in fact inseparably part of One. Rather than enquiring about religions or techniques of meditation, Guru asked us to reflect first of all on what we have gained from our habitual passions and worldly attachments. He addressed humanity from a unique perspective of being in human form with feet on the earth yet with cosmic consciousness remaining in the sky, above and beyond the myriad illusions that since primordial times have imprisoned humanity in illusions. From this cosmic perspective, the Maitri Guru pointed out that whilst all other life forms already thrive in Maitreyan Dharma, human beings alone remain in the ignorance and suffering created by the empty words they have been perpetuating since primordial times. By simply surrendering in complete trust and faith to the GuruMarga – the Way of (all) Gurus - human beings, too, can quickly experience true Dharma. Bringing Maitri Dharma closer to home, Guru said that the drive and goal of all religions in their primordial stage had been to attain Maitri Dharma – the Way of Maitriya – ; that in the beginning, all religions had been on the same Maitri Path. And now the Guru Marga has descended to bring all humanity, with all religions, back onto the Maitri Dharma of universal loving compassion that had been here since the beginning.
And so starting off the Fourth Year of Maitreya, the New Age following upon the long preceding Kali Yuga or Age of Darkness, the Maitri Guru revealed yet a little more of the special attributes of the world to come, providing a hint of the peace and happiness that shall bloom forth once the basic precepts of universal respect, compassion, equality and true faith are revived in our hearts.
On the morning of departure, rain began to fall gently over the land, smiling on the convoy like a blessing. Again villagers from nearby stood along the streets in the morning sprinkle to bid Guru farewell. But once the motorcade left the district of Lamjung, the rain intensified falling loudly, soon filling the streets with small rivulets. By the time they reached the Naubisey highway going to Kathmandu, the road was congested for a full kilometre with cars that had been there for nearly ten hours. The passage became inundated, and water covered the tyres of Guru’s Jeep. Motorcyclists had water coming up to their waists. Miraculously, local sangha members appeared and in groups managed to open up a pass for Guru’s convoy of about thirty cars, buses and cyclists to go through. Curiously, throughout this stretch, the towns to the left or right of their journey remained dry without the least rain. By this time, close followers have become used to manifestations of the unusual !