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EAST WEST ROLE REVERSALS

Each time I visited Hyatt Regency Kathmandu, the visits getting more frequent following the cessation of armed hostilities in 2006 until the world economic meltdown of 2008 melted away the boom in incentive travel; the management more often than not invited me to the coffee shop for lunch. From nearby Bodhnath and surrounding lamaseries there would inevitably arrive a table-full of chubby looking monks in their maroon habit to nibble at the delectable Hyatt offerings that comes, even to us, at prohibitive prices. This incongruous situation became even more curious when, under closer observation, thick Rolex gold watches were seen on the wrists of a few important members of the congregation.

I remember when we were attending St. Xavier's School in the early sixties, there used to be a huge Tibetan Refugee Camp in front of the Zoo adjacent to the school. The Chinese administration of Tibet had started a brutal campaign to introduce Marxist dialectical materialism to the ancient people of Tibet steeped in their own rich traditions, but to Mao's China the traditions smacked of superstition and feudal backwardness. Thus a wave of refugees had come to Nepal in 1959 following the Dalai Lama's flight from Tibet after a failed uprising and, under the auspices of the Swiss government, tented camps had been pitched in Jawalakhel. As a kid I was always scared of those fierce looking Tibetans with unwashed matted locks of hair and dirt caked faces staring at us with opaque eyes mirroring the hardship of the journey south on foot over the god-forsaken Himalayan passes to face an uncertain future. They stank of sweat and putrid butterlamps. Their kids did not play like us, often times cowering behind their parents watching the local children run and kick ball.

The mid-sixties saw the hippie movement come to Nepal on overland buses from Europe, flower children escaping from the ironic emptiness of western abundance, in search of a meaning to their unfulfilled lives. They smoked cheap hashish from Kabul to Kathmandu, got stoned on Dylan and Joplin, made free love and fooled themselves that this was Nirvana. Within a short while the emptiness returned, the purpose of life still as illusive as ever. Then they discovered the esoteric religions of the East. The Hare Krishna movement and Rajneesh transformed their beliefs. Around this time The Beatles experimented with classical Indian music by taking lessons from maestros such as Ravi Shanker, suddenly making things Indian fashionable. Tibetan Buddhism too attracted many hippies with promise of re-incarnation after death giving hope of a coming blissful life if certain corrective measures were taken today; a welcome antidote to the Christian notion of damnation and eternal suffering.

This is where the East and West met in the sixties and traded attributes. The westerners heaped their generosity on god men and incarnate lamas and made it cool in the west to be so different. They sold their possessions in Hollywood and Malibu and donated to build monasteries. They rewarded a particular god man with a fleet of Cadillac and Rolls Royce in the desert of Oregon. The hippies transformed themselves into monks and the original ones went to Hollywood in search of yet more souls to save. God does work miracles. Even as the Tibetan monks are enjoying the benediction of meals at Hyatt, in nearby Kopan Monastery are seen scores of Western followers living spartan lifestyles. East West role reversals have special resonance to me in this country as I grew up at the crossroads.

Comments

  1. I too have come across some Buddhists monks who have money to burn.They drive SUVs,and have a rich man`s attitude about them.
    This is true of many Hindu gurus as well.Rajneesh was supposed to have 30 Rolls Royce cars at his ashram in Pune-one for each day of the month!I guess they are the modern version of the Maharajas.

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  2. The economic rise of Tibetans, monks as well as 'civilians', have a political background. The US would like to extend Pax Americana for a bit longer and China can stop them from doing that. Tibet is the dice which is played in the 21st century version of the Great Game. So money flows to the monks as they are seen to be the vanguard of the pro-Tibet movement.

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