Alex is a student from the University of St Andrews studying anthropology and psychology. He is the project leader of Daughters of Dolma documentary film, and plans to study Tibetan Medicine afterward he graduates. Here he gives My Destination some insight into his inspiring stay in Nepal.
I have been to quite a few countries, but Nepal has captivated me especially, mostly due to the strong presence of Buddhist practitioners there. As a culture enthusiast, I know that Nepal’s Buddhist practitioners are a minority, and do not adequately represent the diversity of this majestic country. However, the Buddhist presence in Nepal is historically strong, and it has mixed well with the rest of the country’s ethno-syncrasies.
I visited the country with a group of five other university students (Adam, Stefan, Nadia, Kasia and Tenzin) to make a feature-length documentary film about Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Nepal, entitled Daughters of Dolma. For this project, we resided in two nunneries for a month, partly for personal enrichment, and partly to get a first-hand glimpse of how female Buddhist monastics live in the midst of the bustling city of Kathmandu.
Staying in these nunneries perched on the hills of Kathmandu provided us with plenty of opportunities to get closer to nature and the stunning local scenery. Not only that, we were able to focus on the nuns’ daily routines and communal values. Yet, amidst their intensive prayers and studies, they often went down to the city to replenish their food stocks and have occasional breaks too. We would join them excitedly, riding in the back of a pick-up truck.
On the eve of the Saka Dawa (Full Moon Ceremony), the Buddha’s day of enlightenment in mid-June, many nuns went to do night time circumambulations around the sacred Swayambunath Temple Complex. According to the Buddhist belief, doing circumambulations (walking around a sacred object), especially during holy days, purifies one’s negative karma. We decided to participate, despite the warning that this event attracts tens of thousands of people from Kathmandu’s Buddhist population every year!
It is ideal to do 13 full circles around the temple complex, which takes a gruelling seven hours. When we arrived, mobs of devotees were already encircling the temple, lighting candles, doing prostrations and counting their prayer beads. We joined in, only to stop half-way through, defeated by fatigue. True enough, as we climbed the hills towards the nunnery at 2am, the full moon illuminated our uphill path.
We also had the opportunity to go down to the city when the nuns joined other monastic groups to carry out a larger prayer gathering which spanned several days. Thus, during their break times, we were able to glimpse Swayambunath during the day and also to visit another of Kathmandu’s famous pilgrimage sites – the Great Stupa in Boudhanath.
In terms of exploring the entirety of Nepal’s cultures, this trip was just the tip of the iceberg, but it was a great start to a journey we will continue someday.
“Daughters of Dolma takes you on a journey revealing a distinctively female experience of Tibetan Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley. This feature-length documentary brings to the screen not just Buddhist spirituality, but also reveals how gender and modernity are moulding contemporary spiritual practices in Nepal.”
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Category: Guest Post