My Father’s Wisdom and Remembrances of Our Life in Nepal
I was born in a small town called Khandbari, which is about forty-five miles southeast of Mount Everest. It is a hilly area with two rivers, at an altitude similar to Boulder, Colorado. The population of my village is a few thousand people, including the surrounding rural areas and farmlands. My father, Surya Bahadur Shrestha, was a farmer who later became a businessman and a politician. He was also a philanthropist and a deeply spiritual being. My mother, Chanda Kumari, was the head of the family, the “home minister,” as it were. They were Sun (Surya) and Moon (Chanda). Nepal is a melting pot of many races and tribes, with their own customs, languages and dialects, though the main language is Nepali. My great-great grandfather, Baktuwar Shrestha, came from the Kathmandu Valley to Khandbari, where he farmed. His son, Dilla Singh, my great-grandfather, was much respected for his kind-hearted generosity to the villagers. My grandfather, Jit Bahadur Shreshta, continued the flow of respect from all the villagers and was deeply spiritual. My father helped build a school for our village called Himalaya, and brought two teachers from India to teach us.
Since the time of my great-great-grandfather, my family has been deeply involved in the spiritual life of the community. Near my family home in Khandbari there is a temple that is devoted to Ganesh and Bhimsen, built by my ancestor. There is a second temple near my parents’ home that my great-great-grandfather built about a hundred fifty years ago. This temple is devoted to Jalapa Maa, a form of Divine Mother as Parvati, the consort of Shiva. There is a smaller third temple to Shiva and Devi also nearby.
It is a ritual that the head of our household does the puja at these temples each morning. Growing up in my parents’ home I would hear my father rise after the roosters’ call around 4 a.m. He would take a flashlight or lantern, go outside to bathe in the spring, then dress in clean white clothes. After that he would go to Jalapa Maa and then to the Shiva-Devi temple to offer puja. Then he would return home and sit in our meditation room until sunrise. The Dhunge Dhara Temple is about a twenty-minute walk from my village, so my uncles would offer puja and worship there. Whenever I go to Khandbari, we stop at each temple and make offerings to the deities, bow in respect, and circle three rounds of the temple.
My father was a very saintly man. He never spoke badly of anyone. He taught us about the power of sound to convey good vibrations and bad vibrations. He told me that, “If you say to your wife, ‘you are bad,’ she will become bad, but if you say to her, ‘You are an angel,’ she will become sweet.” He kept his personal frequency clear and bright by chanting throughout the day. In my village, he was known as a peacemaker. If there was a dispute about land or fighting within a family, those arguing would tell us, “Ask your father to come here.” He was very wise. Even within our family, if his siblings or his children were fighting, he was there to make peace. He would tell us that, regardless of any quarrel or disagreement within the family, as soon as we step out of the front door we should smile and take a bright face to the community.
One time when my father was walking from one village to another, he found an ailing babaji, a sadhu, lying along the road. My father carried him on his back to the family home, where he bathed him and nursed him with herbs, which were the dominant village medicine. In our village at that time there was no hospital. The sadhu stayed in
our home for two months and gradually got better. I was a young boy, so this made a big impression on me.
My father loved animals and had a pet fawn. My oldest brother Basu had found a wounded fawn while walking our family land in the Terai, several days walk from our village. The Terai are marshy grasslands and forest bordering India to the south. My brother brought the deer to Khandbari where it was nurtured and healed by my father. Such a loving bond was developed between them that even after the fawn was healed, everywhere my father went the deer would follow him. Free to return to nature, the deer chose to stay close to my father until its natural death.
Another time my father received a Bengal tiger cub as a gift. One day, a sadhu came and said, “Look, I don’t own anything, just this kamandalu (a begging bowl). Can you please take this in trade for your tiger cub?” My father said, “You need the kamandalu, so, you can take the tiger cub and also keep your begging bowl.” But the sadhu insisted, saying, “You have to take something from me.” When I was eleven years old my father showed me the kamandalu that was exchanged for the tiger.
My father told me that when my grandfather was fifty-two years old, he told his family, “Pack everything for a death ceremony. We are going to Ganga to take a bath and I will leave my body there.” My grandmother had argued with him, “Don’t talk about death, we’re just going for a pilgrimage.” The pilgrims were my grandfather, my grandmother, my father’s older brother, a few villagers and porters. From the village, with every step my grandfather took he said, “Ram, Ram, Ram….” It took nine days to reach Varanasi, walking the whole way, and as soon as he touched the Ganga my grandfather passed away.
My father also knew the time of his passing. He was seventy-eight years old. It was 2002 and he was living in my home in Centennial, Colorado. One day he said to me, “Let’s have a supper. This could be my last supper,” adding, “…but if I pass 10 p.m. it will be okay.” He told me to call every sibling to my sister’s home and they came. That night at about 9:45 p.m. my sister asked me to go and buy some cough drops. I didn’t want to remind her to wait till 10 p.m., so I went quickly and came back just around 9:55 p.m. As I was coming in I heard loud crying. My father was having a heart attack. He lived several more weeks but passed away in the hospital. In final farewell, we took my Father’s body to Nepal for cremation at the Bagmati River by the bank of Pashupati Temple. After he passed away, one lady told us, “I saw a dream with your father. He was sitting in the lap of Shiva.”
For five generations my father’s ancestors have been caring for the community through social and philanthropic works. For his social work my father received the prestigious “Gorkha Dakshina Bahu” award from the late King Birendra Bir Bikram Sahadev. We believe that if your ancestors have done good you will be doing good, and your children will do good. There is a big temple on the Arun River, which is a few hours walk from our village. The temple is called Mana Kamana, “the wish-fulfilling Goddess.” There used to be a very steep path to this temple, so during the rains it was very slippery, and people would fall. At this time, my father, who already had four sons, yearned to have a daughter. So he prayed to Goddess Mana Kamana, “My heart’s wish is to have a daughter, so I am going to build, for all the villagers, steps to your temple.” After he built the steps, my sister Shanti was born and the villagers named the path Shanti Road.
Every one of my eight siblings continues my family’s tradition of doing good in the world. Each of us sponsors projects in Nepal, some in other countries as well. My second oldest brother, Ram, created the Manaram Foundation, which has built a library in every one of the seventy-five districts in Nepal. Narayan, my third oldest brother, founded Surya Boarding School in Khandbari to honor our Father’s dedication to education. He also founded a nonprofit, Helping Hands Health Education, through which much philanthropic work has been carried out in Nepal, Nicaragua, Vietnam and other countries. In Khandbari, my wife Ruby and I established a small orphanage where five children are cared for by a Brahmin and my cousin. The orphanage came about after my best friend in Nepal passed away suddenly in 1994. I had promised his wife that I would send their daughter to school. When the girl became six years old, my friend came to me in my dream and said, “This is the time for my daughter to go to school.” The orphanage has a tutor, a cook, and we arrange their education at the same boarding school.
After the Earthquake
After the devastating 7.8 earthquake in Nepal last April, I went with my wife Ruby and my daughter Sarina to deliver donations, including some given by friends and colleagues. In our village there were twenty-three homes that were damaged beyond repair. We stayed in a barn, heated from below by the cows. Near the barn is a nice village house, and all the villagers who had suffered great losses were invited. We gave each of these families fifty kilos of rice, blankets, pillows, bed sheets, mosquito netting, and cash. There was a seventy-five-year-old lady there named Indra Kumari Karki, and when she received these things she was dancing and singing. My daughter said, “They don’t have anything. They live in such a humble place. Even their food they have to get from a charity. Look at them: they’re so happy,” and she started to cry. Their spirit is so inspiring. The most beautiful and amazing thing was that Indra grabbed that fifty-kilo bag of rice, put it on her back with a strap, picked up the bundle of bedding, put it on her head, and started walking to her house!
During our visit there was a big landslide near our village. A helicopter had to come and move the survivors. We gave donations to the chief district officer to pass on to the affected families. Then we went back to Kathmandu and met the former crown princess, Himani Shah. We gave additional donations to her Himani Trust for the earthquake victims of Nepal. As I told her, it is not about the money or how much we are giving. What counts is the heart: our prayers and thoughts and hearts are with the people of Nepal, our roots.
Also in Kathmandu I met my old friend, Kaman Singh Tamang, who wanted us to go to his village, which was at the epicenter of the earthquake. His head was shaved in mourning and I asked him why. He said, “My sister, who was high school age, was just outside the home when the earthquake hit. She was trying to help her grandfather, who was sitting beneath a verandah, but he couldn’t move in time, so they were both crushed.”
He also told us that the village school had been destroyed. Two brothers from same village who live in America had sent donations to build an office and they were teaching the children in a tent held up by bamboo poles. But there was nothing in the way of supplies.
So the next day we purchased supplies for all 354 children: book bags, notebooks, pencils, and pens. The classrooms had no teaching tools, so we supplied them with white boards, markers, bookshelves, globes, maps, sports supplies and many other items. We loaded everything into a truck with my wife and daughter in the front seat and our
helpers hanging onto the back. And there I was riding behind my old friend on his motorcycle. It was a grueling six-hour drive from the capitol, some of it on cliffhanger roads and through landslide-damaged areas. It was very scary and also very sad.
The village we went to is called Kaule. When we arrived at the school, all the children were lined up outside to greet us, arranged in rows according to their grade. We did not have time to give to every child individually—so, the school arranged for ten children from each of the grades to take the supplies on their behalf, and then they distributed to everyone. We could not stay long as we had to fly back to America the next day.
The people of Nepal are amazing and highly spiritual, no matter how sad they are. One lady who I saw on YouTube was smiling and saying, “That’s my father’s house; it’s all gone. This is my house; it’s all gone.” A reporter asked, “How come you are smiling and talking?” She replied, “If I cry, will I get my home back?” As human beings we all have ups and downs. My father used to say that when we are up we should not be too excited, and when we are down we should not be too depressed. Be balanced. That is one of the most important things I learned from him.
My father and mother taught me the importance of silence. In a large family, we could be rowdy at mealtimes. One day my mother observed this and said, “Eat without talk.” I took what she said as a bertha, a ritual penance. I was seven or eight at the time and I did not talk during meals until I came to America after graduating high school in Nepal. As I was about to leave Nepal, my mother said it would be difficult for me to maintain silence during meals there. She said, “I will make an offering in the temple. You can now talk during meals.” My experience is that being silent is a good mantra. My Father said, “If you have any argument with others, use silence as your mantra.”
My father’s wisdom has been a great inspiration for his nine children, twenty-eight grandchildren, and twenty-one great-grandchildren. He and his roots are always in our hearts, and we are honored to carry his wisdom through our generation, continuing the family tradition of good works in our communities and in our world.
© 2015 Suren Shrestha. This article was edited from interviews with Light of Consciousness in July and August 2015. Suren Shrestha is the owner of Serenity Tibet and founder of Atma Buti Sound Healing School in Boulder, Colorado. He is the author of How to Heal With Singing Bowls: Traditional Tibetan Healing Methods, and a master Tibetan bowl practitioner who teaches healing and sound therapy with singing bowls. For more information our website: www.atmabuti.org, SoulMedicine501c3, and www.serenitytibet.com.