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On the Whim of a Prayer

The breeze blows gently through rows and rows of hanging prayers. Each prayer a different colour, a different mantra. Each prayer steeped with hope and belief.

I gaze through each whim of hope, remembering the day before. On arrival to Lumbini, the sacred town which claims to be the rightful birthplace of Buddha, we were greeted with a most unexpected spectacle. Filled with awe to be so close to sacred ground, the screams came down on us like thunder. These were no shouts of joy nor secret, whispered prayers. The scene is one that is repeated world-wide – a husband beating his wife, the wife fighting back and shouting, a group of male onlookers with folded arms. Two children watched the scene while playing with their puppy. It was when the husband then backed away to return with a cycle,  that a group of young monks passed by, dazed by the noise, by the violence happening on the steps of their quiet retreat. In disbelief they stood and stared, frozen in their gentle steps, too bewildered to either continue to their destination or call for help.

Evening soon covered Lumbini, leaving the distasteful scene burning in our minds. Domestic violence is not restricted to class nor gender, let alone different economic worlds. Domestic violence, regardless of how ruthless and cruel, is well alive world over. The shock however, was this violent scene to take place ironically so close to a holy world heritage site. After years of wrangling with India, Nepal finally obtained the right to claim Lumbini as sacred, thus hoping to attract Buddist pilgrimages while boosting tourism in the region. Fatefully no prayer flag was to be heard that day and with a scene of domestic violence, so we were greeted in Lumbini.

There were still thousands of kilometres to cover, leaving no time for mourning nor dwelling on how to solve domestic violence around the world. Early morning, grey and soft, was spent on the holy grounds of where Buddha is said to have been born. We respectfully bowed and paid homage to an empty, bullet-proof box – the exact spot where Buddha was born. I looked into that empty space, slightly bemused. Empty space is what is left when religions have run out. Yet there I was, paying my respect to a box of emptiness.

Throughout the gardens there were constant reminders of Buddha’s teachings. Were these signs for people like me, who question to the final drop every religion, or for those who in despair and good practice, leave their prayers in the winds?

My questions were soon answered by a group of monks on their knees. I sat quietly nearby, letting myself be transported  by their melodic chants, prayer flags whispering in the breeze. Who was I to question faith? What right did I have to probe into religions and the practice of the faithful? Did not all religions share the same common principles? Did these prayer flags not hold proof that prayers are to be shown and claimed?

However, what one sees depends on what one wishes to see. Perception is an individual nuance, shaped by one’s culture and assumptions.

Prayers may be deeply felt, given in homage or plea; the temple a mere tourist attraction, as worthy as the trees that surround it. At times one has a choice to select one’s perception. Other times, one is misled by what one observes.

The monks who chanted me into a calm universe,  turned out to be imposters.

It was only when I left the sacred grounds, after duly paying homage to a tree where Buddha’s mother is said to reside, after listening to more mystical prayers and watching how one monk sat aside and smiled at the picturesque scene, that I was told that the monks chanting under the tree were from India. They were not monks but poor migrants, who in the hope of financial aid, donned monk robes and exercised prayers and chants for those who otherwise would not spare them a penny.

I could not help but smile.

Perceptions and prayers balance delicately in the winds.

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