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A Question of Faith

May 6, 2001

Nepal news


A few days ago many thousands of people all over the developed world demonstrated against economic oppression. Of course they were only allowed to march in a few selected streets and shout their anger at empty buildings. Thousands of armed policemen prevented any other show of strength and the politicians stayed safely in their palaces watching events on television.

Perhaps they have nothing to fear. Modern technology allows constant camera surveillance in every street and instant information about every individual. The State has a complete monopoly over arms and ammunition and any uprising can be crushed without even disturbing the Prime Minister's luncheon. Everyone needs money just to exist in the West and every political party supports the power of money. Therefore at election time there is really no choice for the electorate. Their votes might change the individuals in power but the system that governs always remains the same.

And now the foundations of that system are firmly established in Nepal. Demonstrations may only take place if they are completely ineffective. The Opposition parties may shout their rage at government corruption but they are not allowed to do anything about it. They are not even allowed to investigate and stop the hundreds of government vehicles being driven by corrupt officials for unauthorised private use. And they are certainly not allowed to organise street protests as an expression of public feeling. They are simply expected to behave and wait for their turn in office whilst millions of citizens lose all faith in the democratic process.

At this terrible time I expect that many of you will be in despair for Nepal. Everything has gone wrong in our wonderful country and we hunger for the good things of the past to return. But if we have faith in our Gods then perhaps despair can be turned into understanding.

About 25 years ago a middle-aged woman was also in despair at her tiny home on the edge of the valley. After many years of marriage Ganga was beyond normal childbearing age. She had given her husband only daughters and he had taken another wife to bear him sons. Alone and desperate for his return, she visited a holy man who was well known for curing illnesses and blessing women with sons. He was a devotee of Vishnu and had spent his life at Budhanilkantha learning the essence of his faith.

Ganga performed his rituals and wore a special 'bhutti' that he had blessed. He would not tell her what was inside the tiny cloth wrapped package that he tied around her waist. She only knew that every week she had to perform a private ritual and believe in the powers that he had given the mysterious fragment. After the ceremony the guru told her what would happen. He said that she would indeed have a son and that he would be healthy and strong. But he would have no ordinary life. "He will not be the son that you are expecting", the guru said. "He will become famous but he will not experience the traditional life of a Nepali son and you will never eat his fruits". Ganga was given no explanation of this prophecy but she was told that her son would be born on the last day of Dasain and that she must name him Jayaram. Of course she went away worried and confused but her faith in the holy man was undiminished.

A short time later Ganga became pregnant when her husband unexpectedly visited for a single night. And the child she bore was indeed a healthy son. But his birth was sudden and premature. Instead of the last day of 'victory', Jayaram was born on the first day of the festival during a moonless night. The guru said that her son had to perform a 'rhudri' every year on that day in order to fulfil his destiny. And Ganga, even though she feared that destiny must mean a premature death for either the boy or herself, fulfilled the rituals with careful attention.

Twenty years later the prophecy was finally understood. Ganga's husband could not afford to keep both his families and her young son soon needed to leave home and find work. But like his namesake, Jayaram met a foreigner who took him abroad and educated him. He was adopted into a Western family and never lived the traditional life of a Nepali son. He became famous when defeating British attempts to deport him and the fruits that he eventually gave his mother came not from him but from the whole family that had adopted him. Her faith had triumphed in the end.

Today the old man who once gave that prophecy still lives at his tiny home opposite the boarding school on the road to the Vishnumati bridge. The locals call him 'Mahatma' and many of them still remember the powers of his prime. It is such faith that is the blessing of Nepal. The Western culture has long ago surrendered any idea of living faith. Their religions are based on ancient texts rather than living inspiration. And so their temples are but empty museums and their people worship only at the altar of money.

But the world needs faith for civilisation to stay alive. We cannot measure civilisation by the number of cars on the road or the material wealth of the people. Our achievement can only be determined by the quality of our philosophy and the inspiration it generates. That has always been the strength of Nepal and its constant attraction to millions of Western travellers. If we allow that source of faith to die we will have lost everything that is our nation. Of course senseless violence and ruthless murder are not acceptable forms of demonstration. But neither can we simply ignore the cloud of immorality and corruption that is choking our society. We must all search our souls and find the inspiration to change our circumstances in the way that we think is right. If we have pure hearts our Gods will always guide us in the right direction. That is the very essence of faith.

With my best wishes to you all,