Life is so much more present in Nepal than it is in Western countries. And so life is also much more present at Buddhist temples than at our Christian churches. There is no wheelchair access – one must often climb many steps to the top of a hill, where the view is stunning. There is no one solemn building but many places to worship: shrines of various deities and images of Buddha, and places to leave little oil lamps burning together with a thought or two. Or why not send a thought to the universe by spinning a row of prayer wheels?
Flower garlands, rice, and red tika dye color the holy statuettes with reverence. Prayer flags wave in color, tightly spun around trees. Incense slowly releases quiet prayers into the wind of the world. Here faith is an integral part of life and the philosophy of living. Faith is imperfection: old torn prayer flags beaten by the wind. Faith is equal: the wealthy mingle among street dogs and beggars. Faith is living: children chasing each other around the stupa. Faith is moving on: birds perched on the limbs of a deity feasting on offer rice grains.
As I squinted at the eyes of Buddha on the stupa, ever watching over Kathmandu valley, I could not help but reflect on the difference between a Western church and a buddhist temple: in a church we are to walk in, wipe the smile off our faces, stop talking, light a candle, and sit down in solemn silence. In the Swayambunath temple we are to walk in together, gaze at the sun, talk with our family, light an oil lamp, and have moments of meditation at our own leisure. And perhaps offer a garland of strikingly orange flowers.