Balazs Szasz and Sally Bierman
Before we get to sip our tea with Keith Dowman, legend sweeps us away. We soar over the almighty Himalaya, lap Kailash, even dip into the holy Ganga before touchdown into the Valley of Kathmandu.
- You see, this was the place of play for the Gods - says Keith, his eyes opening up. - They cavorted with supple maidens in the groves, bathed in the sacred Baghmati, took in the lighter side, the pleasures of life - he says, tasting every word. The Valley has been Keith’s playground, too, for the last 40 years, a perfect place for his work - delving into the living legends of the Valley, translating sacred Tibetan Buddhist scripts and passing them on to people worldwide. Keith’s awareness initiated originally through his time with the sadhu pilgrims and then synthesised into the formless Great Perfection of Tibetan Buddhism; Dzogchen. As a master, Keith is aware of the absolute clarity and purity of his own mind, and without trying to modify perfection, remains in the real state of existence. The aim of Dzogchen is to reawaken the individual to the primordial state of enlightenment naturally found in all human beings. Keith, like the gods and many humans after them, “gravitated naturally towards the Valley of Nepal”, drawn by the power of the chhetra. - A Chetra is defined as the space between the centre and the circumference of the mandala - explains Keith. Kathmandu is a fascinating phenomenon, the circular Valley, with a diameter of approximately 25 kilometres, envelopes a natural mandala with temples marking key postitions. A mandala is regarded as a map of the cosmos.
The spirit of the place embodies topography, water courses, natural chi and human modification of the landscape; of these the balance is essential - reveals Keith. This overall view is reflective of an open mind understanding and accepting the intrinsic connection of all.
It is very important to honour the spirit of the place, its original energies and this is being lost - Keith extrapolates. This insight lies dormant in the shadow of high-rise development. It was ancient knowledge not to pollute the waterways; the demigods were indeed the protectors of a place, the ecological spear of being - protecting the Earth, Minerals and Water - adds Keith. In Kathmandu valley the most prominent protectors are the Nag and the Garuda appearing above Nepali temple doors. They represent two different spiritual forces, complimentary and contradictory at the same time. The Nag is the instinctive commitment of human psyche and the Garuda is detached reflection. The Nags, however, have been the patrons of the Valley, long before any religion. They are guarding the treasures of the Earth, taming the burning fire below and are the protectors of water. Merciless due to their commitment, upsetting them could devastate the valley with an earthquake or an outbreak of water-borne diseases. In the times when the rivers were seen as holy arteries running through the Valley - “no one would piss in them” - blurts Keith in a frustrated tone - awareness and wisdoms were blessedly disguised and infused in mythos. These days there is a disregard for such teachings resulting for example, in bacteria spreading in the rivers of Nepal, killing forty children everyday.
- Whether the Nags truly dwell beneath the sands of Kathmandu valley is irrelevant. The thought-consciousness alone creates appropriate conduct that enriches the life of all who dwell in the valley - says Keith. This Valley mythology has no monopoly, thanks to the Newari, in whom two religions are represented - explains Keith. The Newars are the key to this valley’s secret. It is in their vision that the Valley took on power, real human treasury. Still the Newars continue today with two traditions, Hinduism and Buddhism. The focus point of this unbroken worship and the topographical center of the Valley is Pashupati “…one of the cardinal power places in the world” says Keith. “The naturally emerged lingam in Pashupatinath image onto which devotion is poured.” In the glory of the golden ages Pashupati was covered in the shade of countless green trees. Below the luscious canopy a plethora of wild flowers sang in bloom with the aroma wafting upto the peaks of the Himalayas, where the gods sat courting the heavens above. One Day Shiva, and his consort Parvati, the daughter of the Himalayas, came to rest in the sacred Bagmati river instead of his homes Varanasi and Kailash. They inhaled the spirit of the valley and grew graceful legs, their blue skin turned golden brown with white spots of snow, and a single horn emerged from their foreheads. Now disguised as a magnificent deer and doe they settled in the shady cleft of the river. The other gods were lost… the world incomplete without the god of destruction and recreation, so they started searching for their beloved Shambhu. Brahma and Vishnu in desperation took hold of the deer’s pearly horn and started pulling him by force. The spiral horn snapped and broke in three. The first part fell to the ground, the next one flew to Gokarna forest, the other to India… and all three naturally transformed into lingams. This spontaneous adventure of the gods infused the Valley with divine presence and the land, now holy, became a magnetic field drawing the humans near.
From these hazy beginnings history slowly reveals itself through testaments of scriptures bridging centuries. The wash of time left its imprint: the precious works of art seen in the temple merging dynasties into one. Licchavi kings presented the site with carvings.
As the temple grew in stature and beauty, so did the halo surrounding its namesake - “image as centre only so one may recognise it” - Keith enlightens. The human often need a object to concentrate devotion to open themselves further to the original energy surrounding. This adoration today is reflected in vows beginning with the name Pashupatinath, and The Lord of the Beasts is the protector of the country. Still today all speeches of the King are preceded by an invocation of Pashupathinath. The temple is the most important pilgrimage site in Nepal.
Today, one still enters a vast complex of temples, trees, monkeys, sadhus, trinket shops, where mystery breathes you deep. It remains a home, a birthplace for some, a crematorium for others. The huge pagoda’s tiers are adorned with Newari craftsmanship at its shimmering best: gold images of birds caught in flight, winged lions and griffins ready to take off, snakes forever bound to the earth - all servants of their Lord. In the sanctum of the temple lies hidden the legendary and all-powerful lingam. Its four faces are said to represent the four dharmas, Shaiva, Shakta, Vaishnava and Baudha. The fifth face on top is the centre of all forms of the Lord, the greatest Shakti: energy. The light from the centre of the lingam is believed to spread in all directions. Not far from the lingam we can find the water leaving the cleft of Baghmati near Guhyeshwori Temple - a symbol of the opening of female essence. Lingam and yoni. Shiva and Shakti. The two aspects of the one, reflected in the vision of the Newar, of Keith and the Great Perfection… non-duality.