March 23rd, 2005
The Burning (Cremation) Ghats along the Bagmati River
In insatiable appetite, a greedy fire spits out the flames of a violent hunger. Riding a wave of wind, a whipping tornado of smoke takes a turn back towards the ground and the heavy breath of burning flesh engulfs its circle of male mourners.
They do not flinch.
On the deck of the burning ghat, tearless faces await shaved scalps; A sacrifice to symbolize their new un-chosen un-attachment to the body that burns. A single, small and circular black patch on their heads is all that is left kept, seeming to me like an X marking and respecting the last line of connection, and a path we will all one day walk, between this world and the next.
In the fire, a human thigh, blackened beyond recognition, falls from its bone. Immediately, a bamboo pole is thrust into the pyre and the thigh is pushed like a log deeper into the coals. The fire rages; As if it too longs for and appreciates the consumption of that considered rare and sacred. The men sit squatted, flat feet, arms crossed, watching without word of protest, as Immortality burns.
The mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts and nieces are not here; Their tears thought too likely to lure the eye of a soul caught in the bardo (between worlds) back to a reality where their vessel is no longer capable of the carry. So once again, the men and women are pushed to their separate corners of the dance floor, women to the corner of birthing and life and men to that of dying and death.
The men sit in silence. This is the first place I have ever noticed where the swinging doors of conversation on politics, business and sport are solemnly shut. Instead the men stick their fingers into the warmer crevices of their bodies and, without word or commentary, watch the silent captions that scroll in their minds underlining the scene.
And the fire burns.
Without discrimination it burns all our accomplished and failed dreams, all our material gains and losses, all our relations of love and hate, all our deeds of both good and evil intention, and all else that ever once, positively or negatively affected our formations of earthly ego.
The wind blows again and the heavy breath of burning flesh engulfs its circle of male mourners.
They do not flinch.
What does it take for death to become an unflinching matter?
Custom? Numbness? Aloofness?
Enlightenment? Unattachment? Understanding?
Torture? Habit? Pain?
Respect? Courage? Love?
A one-eyed money sits on a perch beside me, watching with curiously human-like gestures, and less blind than I, as the fire continues to dance under death.
Just want to say thank you, again, to WorldNomads for renewing their sponsorship and continuing to insure that my travels are safe and worry-free. Having been in regular contact with their staff and in use of their super-internet-friendly and overall excellent service, I feel fully confident putting my name on theirs. So if you’re planning travels and in the market for travel insurance, there’s a trustworthy and practical contact for you.
I’m entering a meditation retreat at the Kopan Monastery, so I will be offline and unable to respond to emails for awhile. In the meantime, there are a few new pictures in the *new* Nepal photo album to browse through.
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