15 March 2016

The Mandala Painters

I am one very lucky boy.
OK - old man.
This morning I was most privileged to attend the Graduation Ceremony for students supported by the In Giving We Receive organisation.
Nice name huh?
A nice and true philosophy too.
IGWR are a group of Australians supporting a heap of Nepalese children achieve their dreams.
The delightful Raja and his wife run the show in Kathmandu.
We help IGWR a little as we can.
Today I witnessed the graduation of three nurses, two teachers and a young lady who has finished her PhD in Business Studies.
Graduation is no mean feat for any child but for these particular kids it is truly life changing. All of the IGWR children come from impoverished and remote communities where there would be no hope for education at all.
If you’ve got a few shekels to spare and you want to make an immediate and big difference it is easy. I would highly recommend you throw them their way.
The shekels.
Google them.
IGWR Nepal.
Their leader is an incredibly kind man named Peter Humphris.
I was also lucky as it was a day of many stories too.
Not all of them were happy stories but most had drama and intrigue, some tugged at the heartstrings and others were a little mystical.
This is Nepal.
It is the ways things are.
I was talking last week to my dear friend the Lama and Guru Rimpoche who is the patron of the Snowland School in Kathmandu. I mentioned the IGWR organisation and simultaneously we said to each other, “I like the name”.
We smiled at each other.
I told Guru, “We will soon be so on synch that we will complete”
“Each other’s sentences” he grinned.
We both roared in laughter.
I love the Guru.
I really do.
Before heading off to the Graduation I was taking my breakfast on the terrace of my modest accommodations here in Kathmandu.
It is just outside the bustling tourist district of Thamel.
Whilst sipping on my delicious orange and ginger chai an old Scottish bloke who was seated nearby alarmed me and all who were seated nearby - by pointing at a place above and behind me, and screaming,
“By fook – I think he’s gunny joomp”
I guess I was probably the only one who could actually understand what the Scottish man said – as the other patrons of the café were all Nepalese - but in unison we followed the old guy’s pointed finger.
On a balcony on an adjacent building a rather alarmed and very skinny Nepalese guy looked panic stricken.
He was topless and sweating and he appeared to be doing yoga.
“By fook – I think he’s gunny joomp”, the Scot repeated.
He was now standing and waving his arms about and seemingly appealing direct to me.
I looked again just to make sure.
“I don’t think he is mate” I informed the Scottish man.
“I think he’s just doing yoga”
“Are yez sure yen?”
I looked once more.
Just to be certain.
“Yes I’m pretty sure”
“I ken see very will wi’out me glasses”
“I really don’t think he’s going to jump”
He wasn’t completely mad it turned out.
Just a little edgy - and semi blind without his glasses.
The Scots name was John and he is a long time visitor to Nepal. John teaches at a school in Kathmandu and he has lived here almost permanently since he survived a plane crash in a place called Lukla in 2008. Fourteen of the twenty passengers were killed and John told me that he decided to remain in Nepal and use the insurance and compensation that he received to support local schools and hospitals.
John told me that he thought that he would die here in Nepal but hopefully not anytime soon.
I told John that I knew what he meant and I too would like to die here.
Also not anytime soon though.
When I asked the Scot what it was like surviving an air crash he told me that it was pretty good.
He told me that it was a lot better than not surviving.
I asked John whether he had any ill after effects he just laughed and told me that he sometimes imagines young men jumping from terraces.
Only without his glasses on though.
At the Graduation ceremony for the IGWR kids I was most fortunate to meet Ayu and his brother and sister.
I first heard about them a long time ago.
Here is Ayu and me:
He's the handsome one.
Raja is the one who ‘found’ Ayu.
He found him begging in the Pashmupati Temple complex.
As he often is – Raja was curious. He wanted to know where this boy was from and why he was so badly burned. 
This was a number of years ago when Ayu was probably only five or six years of age.
Many of the burns on his face and neck and his feet were terribly infected.
I wont dwell on the story for it is a horrific tale. Suffice to say that his alcoholic father threw Ayu into a fire when he was an infant.
This was done solely to increase his begging prospects.
His mother was dead.
Raja and IGWR took Ayu in and discovered he had an elder sister and a younger brother but he didn’t know where they were.
Raja found them and they now live altogether in one of the IGWR houses.
Ayu has had a number of surgeries already and many more are required and planned to rebuild his ear and his foot and to better heal all of his scars.
I have never before met a child so strong and so brave.
The mystical part came this evening when I received the Mandala I had ordered from my village friend the Teacher.
All Mandala are mystical.
The Teacher lives in the remote village of Arubot where he oversees ninety children. He is only twenty-five years old and he appears to have become the BFF of the boyfriend of my daughter.
He teaches English and Computers and Nepalese History.
The Teacher and the BOMD have bonded strongly and instantly.
The Teacher told me that they are both the boys of a pair of twins – each with an identical sister. Both Teacher and the BOMD have two elder brothers too.
The Teacher thinks this is no coincidence and he refers now to the BOMD as “dai”.
“Dai” means “little brother”.
The BOMD refers to the Teacher as bhai.
“Bhai” means “big brother”.
“Babus” are “little boys and “Nanus” are little girls.
I often tease my seventy-year-old friend Babu that he is still a little boy and he beams every time.
I am grateful that the Nepalese children mostly refer to me as “kaka” – or “uncle” rather than “baaje” or “hajurbabu” – which means grandfather.
I’m not that old.
In his spare time the Teacher paints Mandala at the local mountain Thangka school.
A Thangka is not a large vessel used to transport bulk liquids.
That is a tanker.
Thangkas are beautiful and delicate Tibetan Buddhist paintings done by hand on silk or cotton scrolls.
Sometimes they are made with coloured sands - taking hundreds of hours of incredible steady hands and patience my Buddhist monks.
Then they are washed away.
Beauty is often superficial and rarely is it permanent. 
Mandala were originally very important teaching materials on Buddhism and historical recordings of important philosophies and lessons.
The Bhavachakra – or what we westerners call ‘the tree of life’ is a very common Thank. 
It is a visual representation of the ancient Abhidharma teachings.
The Art of Enlightenment.
A Mandala is a Thangka that is both spiritual and ritualistic.
All Mandala are squares within circles.
Or is it circles within squares?
They represent the universe.
There are four gates within each circle and then there are intricate patterns and symbols and stories painted within each circle.
One can stare at a Mandala and some use it as a focus point in meditation.
Gazing at Mandala can be hypnotic.
To me they are simply beautiful works of art.
I ordered a couple of Mandala from the Teacher a while ago.
I wanted one each for my son and daughter.
This evening he delivered them to me.
They are flawless and stunning and each took the Teacher one hundred hours or so to complete.
Whilst admiring them I asked him what happened if he made the tinniest mistake when he was painting.
He smilingly told me that the Mandala had to then be thrown away and another one started.
I asked him if this had happened before and he laughed and told me many times. 
The Teacher is always laughing and smiling.
He told me that Thangka is itself a type of practice of patience and meditation.
The Mandala painted by the Teacher are invaluable to me simply because they were painted by him.
My children will cherish them forever.
So too will I.

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