Yes, I realize you’re probably already bored with me talking about driving in Kathmandu. But I tell you, it’s such a significant aspect of the local reality that is so radically different from what any of us who don’t live here are used to, and certainly different from anywhere else I’ve been, that I simply can’t look away.
I took off this morning at 7:45, heading for the White Monastery way up a hill (they’re always way up a hill). I studied the google map before leaving to identify the exact turn-off from the main road. When I got there, there was no there there. I did get redirected and on the correct road shortly. After riding too far and realizing I was getting further from my destination, I must have asked 5 different people, including carrying a young man on the back of my motorbike for about 2km, and then took every possible wrong turn until 45 min later I discovered the Monastery is now closed to all visitors for 6 months. No entry. So I came home. This is about as close as I got to the White Gompa.
Two hours later, after similar preparation, I took off for another monastery much closer than the first. But again, way up a hill. Google maps made it look fairly direct, showing a relatively straight line from the main road to the target. But this is a place where google and reality do not concur. Again I took many wrong turns, leading me deep into the maze of winding roads here, asked many people for directions, and finally did get there.
It was worth it. But on the way back, same thing. I took a different way back that looked(for a minute) to be more direct. I must have been completely lost for at least a half hour. The streets are utterly disorienting in their twists and turns, with some alleys counting as streets and some streets not counting at all. Some people know how to get where you are going. Some do not, but they give directions anyway. They mean well, but have no grasp of how complex the situation is for you, the visitor. Some do not know left from right. It’s absolutely wild. Finally got back to a familiar road about 1.5km further away from where I should have been.
This is all a perfect metaphor of the spiritual path, is it not? Or should I say life? The way is littered with obstacles, blind alleys, potholes, wrong turns, road hogs, false instructions, fearsome vehicles honking and kicking up dust as they bear down on you. There are moments when you will feel crazy, lost and exhausted. Your objective seems as far away as ever. They don’t put those monasteries in remote locations for some random reason, ya know.
Once you get there, it is clear that Kapan Monastery is a remarkable place. It is part of the Gelukpa School, the same one to which the Dalai Lama belongs. The lineage was founded by Je Tsongkhapa, centered in the sanctuary, in the 14th century. The founder (1972) and lineage holder of this monastery is Lama Zopa, also well-known in America.
In front of the main stupa here (above) is a small raised circular bonsai-style garden (not visible in this picture). In this garden are multiple tableaux of what I guess we should call Buddhist non-action figures.
Gradually, through all the trial and error of traveling the path to the sacred, we might learn to distinguish between bravado and truth, between the false and the true direction because our bones have endured so many bumps on so many false paths that our inner compass begins to orient and clear itself of misdirection. That’s how I felt on finally arriving at Kapan Gompa.
This place and so many others like it make the Kathmandu Valley not just a hotbed of spiritual history and practice, not just a center worthy of its multiple World Heritage sites, but a Disneyland. Because whatever direction you decide to go, it’s gonna be a helluva ride getting there.
When you do, the colors are so vivid and the view so vast, everything else is subsumed. All struggle evaporates. The bones are eased. The turbulent mind settles and opens again.