Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Mantra of Avalokitesvara

How does a denizen of the Nepali Himalayas become affluent in a non-touristed region? Join the Indian army. Send the money home to your devoted wife, who purchases a TV and satellite dish, solar panels, Tibetan carpets, thangkas, and various adornments for the shrine. A large poster of an English manor and flower garden...true paradise. A sink and an improved hearth. Copper pots. A comfy bed. And a high quality sound system.

Thus it was that I found myself in a surprisingly clean and well-managed tea house in the non-touristed Ganesh Himal. In the early evening, hail pounded down on corrugated metal roofing, a good time to slurp Tibetan tea and rakshi.

At 6:00 AM, I was blasted out of a cozy sleep via the above Mantra of Avalokitesvara, piped directly into the sleeping quarters. The reaction was irritation. I paid good rupees for my sleep. Those feelings dissipated quickly. The sky was clear, the Himalayan foothills green, prayer flags flapping in the breeze, and the villagers were an hour into their routines. This rendering of the Mantra is mind-blowing, as far as I'm concerned.

Some folks, mostly Westerners, describe this take on the Mantra as "new-agey" or "inauthentic" or "over-produced". You wouldn't have heard this melody wafting out of Himalayan gompas 15 years ago, much less a century. The instrumentation is not entirely Tibetan. That doesn't stop lay Buddhists, and even some Hindus, from dropping the cassette into cassette players (no iPods as yet) as they trod through the mountains, rewinding every 23 minutes and 55 seconds. The tune, if it can be called that, emanates alongside juniper and pine incense from shops in Boudhanath, Thamel, and elsewhere in the Kathmandu valley. I feel a tinge of pity for anyone who fails to be transported.


Margit said...

Hi there, we are new to Bangkok, but not to Asia (20 years on this continent). I loved your mantra, thank you. As a non-religious person I have no need for some sort of museum like 'authenticity', and have been enjoying the joyful morning sounds. Brought a smile t.o everyone

KenG said...

That's nice to hear, Margit.

Too bad the melody gets cut off abruptly after 9:56. I've heard the melody here and there in Bangkok, in the sorts of shops that sell incense and Indian goodies. Look for a CD called "Tibetan Incantations" if you're interested.

speakfreely said...

After my second trek around Annapurna (the first was 1997, the second 2004) this is what was wafting out of all the tourist shops in Pokhara. Your post transported me right back there, and reminded me that Tibetan Incantations is somewhere in the CD rack on my wall (I have had no compelling reason to get an Ipod yet.).