Oh guide, you do not, you cannot understand the joy we Westerners feel when we first,
set foot upon the soil of your country!
As the Dakota crosses the Four Passes, we see this green valley with its geometric
fields, its earthen houses of red, yellow, and white. The scent of soil and mountains is in
the air, arid there’s an age-old peacefulness in the atmosphere. You were born amongst
all of this, and so perhaps you feel that the embrace of these blue hills’ outspread arms
confines you. But we live in the plains or beside the sea. Our vision founders on a
horizon of land or sea, and so we know the affection with which the breast of these hills
forever clings to your sight. You have never had to suffer the feeling of insignificance
that is caused by a vast distance. Perhaps we are always adrift in vastness, my friend;
perhaps that is why this, your enclosure, appeals to us! Has it ever occurred to you that
the half-closed eyes of the Buddha seem to welcome you, even at the airport? It is as if
one acquires a calmness, as if one is returning once more to a resting place.
You have always known only how to give to the West. You’ve given us religion arid
the Puranas, images of brass and ornaments of ivory, manuscripts of palm leaves and
inscriptions on copperplate. You gave us a civilization and its wisdom and garlands of
jasmine flowers around our necks. You have continued in your giving, ignorant of what
others call “taking,” innocent of the notion of ownership. The very word indulgence is
unknown to you. My friend, I know your history. Before I came here, I spent several
years in our libraries, leafing through the pages of your priceless volumes. You are a
guide who will lead me down the streets and alleyways of the present, but I could take
you along your ancient ways. Even now I can see it clearly: the valley is filled with
water, and a lotus flower blooms where Swyambhunath now stands. Manjushri strikes
with his sword at Chobhar. I see monks and nuns receiving alms and spreading the
law in the nooks and crannies of the Kasthamandap. Behold the eyes of these shavenheaded monks. You cannot meet their gaze! It is called the samyak gaze. Do you know
what that means? It is perception, pure and without contamination; sight that perceives
everything in its true form. I’ll have just one more drink before dinner….
You live in a house like a temple, but you are unaware of its beauty, its enchantment.
In these wooden images, these multifarious ornamentations, these many styles, there
is the flowing music of a chisel in the hands of an artist. Do you not feel it? Tell me
about those happy, prosperous young artists working in the fields all day and creating
beautiful images of their personal deities in their spare time, who are now covered by
the dusts of the past.
Once, an artist was adding the finishing touches to a wooden image when his fair, tiny
wife came by, carrying her baby on her back, and poured him Raksi from a jug. The
foam bubbled over and congealed. Is it true that it was that foam that inspired the artist
to construct a roof of tiles? Oh, your land is truly great, this country where so many
different cultures found their home. Aryans, non-Aryans, Hindus, and Buddhists all
came and obtained a rebirth here. It must be the effect of your country’s soil, my friend;
it was the soil that enabled all these races to flourish together here. Come, I’ll drink one
more small one, it’s not dinner time yet…
I am greatly indebted to you for you have served me both Nepali and Newari food. Ah, momos… Just picture the scene: it is winter and an old man sits in the upper story of his house,
lit only by the fire. Perhaps the smoke is filling the room like fog from floor to ceiling.
Perhaps he is telling his grandson about each and every Nepali item that Princess Bhrikuti
took with her when King Amshuvarma sent her off to Tibet. The old lady smokes tobacco
from a bamboo hookah, and, mindful of the old man, she carries on making fresh mo-mos.
The son’s wife puts some of them onto a brass plate, and the old man’s words are garbled
and obscured by his mouthful. The grandson laughs, and the old man tries to swallow
quickly, so he burns his tongue and, unabashed, pours out a stream of ribald curses. . . .
These are scenes that cannot be read in an old book in a library, and that is why I’ve had to
come to Kathmandu and soak myself in its atmosphere, for which I’m greatly obliged to
you. . . . Now, cheers once again, to your great country, and to mine!
Oh, and another thing that is not to be found in any book is the smile on the faces of these
people. It is a smile of welcome, as if our meeting were neither accidental nor our first. It’s
as if I was the farmer’s eldest son, coming home after a long day’s work in the fields, as if
my labors had been fruitful and I was content and at ease with my father. It’s as if I have
taken the world’s most beautiful woman for my wife and have brought her along behind
me, and my mother is smiling a welcome from the door. It’s as if my sister’s husband and
I were the closest of friends and we, her brother and her husband, were coming along with
our arms around one another, singing songs of drunkenness. It’s as if—I cannot explain;
however much I try, I cannot describe it fully. That smile is full of wisdom; it is a smile
from the soul, a smile peculiar to this place. . . . One more drink, to your Nepalese smile,
that sweet smile!
And then there are the eyes. The eyes of the carved lattice windows, the eyes painted
on the door panels. The eyes on the stupas, the eyes of the people. And the eyes of the
Himalaya, which peep out from the gaps between the hills like those of a neighbor’s
boy when he jumps up to see the peach tree in your garden. This is a land of eyes, a
land guarded by the half-closed eyes of the Lord Buddha.
Even if all of the world’s history books were destroyed today, your eyes would build
a new culture; they would reassemble a civilization. My appetite for eyes is still not
satiated. Tomorrow I shall go to a lonely place where there is a stupa with eyes that
are clear. There I want to see the pleasant light of sunset reflected in the eyes of the
Buddha. Show me beautiful, full eyes, eyes without equal, eyes whose memory will
make this journey of mine unforgettable…. Come, let’s go to eat dinner.
Come, my guest; today I am to show you some eyes.
This is Chobhar hill, where you people come to see the cleft that was made by
Manjushri’s sword and the outflow of the Bagmati River. Today I’ll take you up the hill
where few of our guests ever go and no tourist’s car can proceed. There (in your words)
the dust of time has not yet covered the culture of the past. Do you see this worn old
rock? A young village artist has drawn some birds on it. Nearby, he has sketched a
temple, leaving out any mention of the religion to which it belongs. Further up the hill,
in the middle of the village, stands the temple of Adinath. In the temple courtyard there
is a shrine of Shiva, several Buddha images, and many prayer wheels, inscribed Om
mani padme hu.’-‘ You say it is a living example of Nepalese tolerance and coexistence.
Children play happily there, unconcerned by the variety of their gods, religions, and
philosophies. But my guest, I will not take you there.
You have already seen much of such things, and you have understood them and even
preached them. Today I’ll take you to a house where I feel sure you will find the
pulse of our reality. They are a farmer’s family, probably owning a few fields here and
there, where they work and sweat to pay off half the proceeds to someone in the city.
There is no smoke to fill their upstairs room, they cook no mo-mos in their hearth,
nor do they discuss Bhrikutl’s dowry in their winters. There is a child in the home,
who is certainly no divine incarnation, either. Attacked by polio and born into a poor
farmer’s household, the child is surely incapable of spreading the law or of making any
contribution to this earth. He has taken birth here in one of his maker’s strangest forms
And moreover, my friend—oh, the climb has tired you; would you like some filtered
water from the thermos flask?—my intention is not to show him to you as any kind
of symbol. Yesterday you were swept along by waves of emotion, inspired by your
“Black and White” whisky, and you urged me to show you eyes that would forever
remind you of your visit to Nepal. So I have brought you here to show you eyes like
The child’s whole body is useless; he cannot speak, move his hands, chew his food,
or even spit. His eyes are the only living parts of his body and it is only his eyes
that indicate that he is actually alive. I don’t know whether his eyes have the samyak
gaze or not. I don’t even understand the term, but his face is certainly devoid of all
emotion. His gaze is uninterested, without resolution or expression; it is inactive and
listless, unexercised and lacking any measure of contemplation. (Perhaps I have begun
to speak unwittingly in the terms of the Aryan eightfold path, which will either be your
influence or a virtue bestowed upon me by the child.)
My guest, these are the eyes you wanted. A living being accumulates many capabilities in
one lifetime. It feels happy and it smiles; it feels sad and it weeps. If it feels cold, it seeks
warmth, and if it is hungry, it prepares food to eat. It seeks to learn what it doesn’t already
know, and it succeeds or it fails. It has many experiences, some bitter, some sweet, and
these it relates when company, occasion, and mood seem suited. How commonplace all
of these actions are! My guest, yesterday you said that we Eastern peoples were always
making contributions to the West, did you not? (Shall I give you some water? Are you out of
breath?) Here is a child who can neither give nor take anything at all. Just put yourself in his
position for a moment. You want your finger to do something, but your finger refuses. You
want to speak, but speech will not come to you. Every vein, nerve, and bone is powerless to
heed the commands of your brain, and yet . . . you are alive. I know that this disease occurs
in your country, too. But the ability to endure it and to maintain a total indifference in the
eyes, even, perhaps, to foster the samyak gaze, this capacity for remaining speechless,
inactive, powerless, and immobile, and yet to survive without complaint . . . this can surely
only be found in an Easterner!
Come, come closer. I have lied to his parents; I have told them that you are a doctor.
Look . . . their faith in you shows in their eyes. There is intimacy, kindliness, and
gratitude in their eyes, as if your coming here were preordained. That smile you
described is on their faces, as if you were their eldest son who has brought a liferestoring remedy across the seven seas for your brother. The old peasant woman is
smiling, isn’t she? It’s as if she’s rejoicing at the birth of her first grandchild from your
wife, the beauty of the world. I know that this same smile will remain on their faces
as long as you are here. I know that it will be extinguished when you turn to go. Once
you’ve gone they’ll sink back into the same old darkness.
The child has a sister whose body functions properly. He watches her as she crawls
around, picking up everything she comes across and putting it into her mouth, knocking
over the beer, overturning the cooking stone. Just for an instant, the ambition to emulate
her is reflected in his eyes, but then it is reabsorbed into the same old indifference.
Once his mother was scolding his sister, and a light gleamed in his eyes. I couldn’t
tell you to which era its vision belonged, but I realized that he wanted to speak. With
a gaze devoid of language, gesture, or voice, he wanted to say, “Mother, how can you
appreciate what fun it is to fall over? To crawl through the green dub grass and rub the
skin off your knees, to shed a couple of drops of blood like smeared tears, and graze
your flesh a little. To feel pain and to cry, to call out for help. That pain would be such
a sweet experience. She can rub her snot or spittle into her own grazes, or pull out
the thorn that has pricked her, and throw it away. Or she could pull off a scab that has
healed over a buried splinter of glass or spend a few days resting under her quilt. She
can climb up onto the storage jar to try to pull a picture down from the wall, and when
the peg slips out and the picture falls and the glass smashes with a wonderful noise,
she feels a wave of fear as she realizes her guilt. She has grown up, learning from
experience the facts that fire can burn her and water makes her wet, that nettles cause
blisters and beer makes her dizzy. That if she falls she might be hurt or break a bone
that if something else falls it will probably break. That if someone dies, she is able
to weep, and if someone laughs, she can laugh right back; if someone makes fun of
her, she can strike them, and if someone steals from her, she can steal from them. My
sister, who learns arid remembers each and every new word she hears, is the result of
the self-sacrificing practice of thousands of years of human language. She embodies a
history, a tradition, and a culture, and it is in her very ability to speak that the future is
born. But not in one like me, who cannot even move his lips. In my body, in its strength
and gestures, an unbroken cycle of historical and human development has come to its
conclusion. A long labor, a chain of events, a lengthy endeavor, and an endlessness are
all at an end. The future ends and is broken abruptly.”
And these are the eyes, my guest, that look at you but see nothing; this is the gaze that is
incapable of self-manifestation. This is beauty that is complete and has no other expression.
These are eyes surrounded by mountains; their lashes are rows of fields where rice
ripens in the rains and wheat ripens in the winter.
These are the eyes that welcome you, and these are eyes that build. And in these eyes
hides the end of life. Look! They are just as beautiful as the setting sun’s reflection in
the eyes of the Buddha!
Short Stories Notes – All Units