The city is also home to many religious traditions that have long rubbed up against each other, resulting not just in the parade of stupas that we’d see, but also in an almost overwhelming profusion of gods, spirits, demons, carvings, masks, mendicants, monks, music, prayer, ritual and meditative practices.
I’d need a lifetime of study to understand the various manifestations of Hinduism, Buddhism, animism, tantric tradition and their offshoots, but I can say, albeit in extreme oversimplification, that most Hindu practice revolves around individual deity worship. Buddhism, which came out of the same ancient Indian religious culture as Hinduism, centers on its four Noble Truths, which articulate, among other things, that all suffering comes from craving.
Is one path more peaceful than the other? I wouldn’t know. I do know that in Nepal, they’re often all mixed up with one another, or coextensive with one another, or share the neighborhood, as they do in Patan Durbar Square — a different Durbar Square from the one we’d already visited, this one in the Kathmandu Valley city of Lalitpur, the ancient seat of the Malla dynasty. Though now subsumed by the greater Kathmandu sprawl, Patan’s Durbar Square is cleaner and more hippie-free than its counterpart to the north.
Up a hill and over and around stood many temples devoted to numerous expressions of numerous deities. By now it was late afternoon on Day 1 of the tour, and my brain was exploding — or, rather, imploding. It was a lot to take in, particularly since it was well past bedtime in New Jersey. Not to mention that, because I enjoy low blood pressure, I tend to keel over when I’m tired or hungry. At an elevation of 4,593 feet, Kathmandu would have been challenging for me even without the overstimulation. As if he could see into my soul, Sanjay sent us back to the bus via rickshaw.
As the tour continued and I wandered through temple complexes, past statues of deities and among robed monks, I began to have a new appreciation of how being rooted in spiritual tradition might be a key to something akin to serenity, to life fully lived.