Saturday, June 1, 2013

Lessons from a Buddhist Stupa

Colorful prayer flags catch the daily breeze, "sending peace to the world," according to Buddhist tradition. Giant eyes, fastened to the top of the stupa, stare at onlookers, frighten little children, and provide a central reference point for all who venture this route in Kathmandu. Prayer wheels spin as devoted followers touch their wooden spindles, hoping that somehow their desires will be fulfilled. Emerging from beneath the dramatic archway that leads into the shrine, men and women, eyes creased with care and hands motioning toward the gigantic stupa, pause with eyes closed, convinced such a place provides safe haven for their worship.

This is Nepal, where 10% of the population practices Buddhism. Nirvana, karma, reincarnation--ideas the Western world uses in thought but not stereotypical worldview--dominate this culture, where 81% of the culture is Hindu. It is a polytheistic world, where animals, viewed as human or sacred, roam the streets unhindered and people greet each other with a phrase that, taken literally, means, "I bow to the god within you."

The idol store, located directly across from the giant eyes of the stupa, with its scores of images displayed for shoppers to take home with them, reminded me of the words of Psalm 115:4-8, which states, "Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands.  They have mouths but they speak not:  eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not:  noses have they, but they smell not; They have hands but they handle not:  feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them:  so is every one that trusteth in them."

Dumb. Blind. Deaf. Insensible. Unable to perceive. This is the condition of those who follow idols, who bow to a god that is insensible of their deepest needs, while they blindly adhere to this man-made tradition, misguided, unenlightened, ignorant. The care-worn faces, upturned at the unseeing eyes, remind me of such darkness, such inability to perceive because the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not.

But then I stop and consider that idolatry does not only affect those who are chained to the god of this world. Indeed, Colossians 3:5 warns believers to "mortify. . . covetousness, which is idolatry." Covetousness. Idolatry. Idolatry. Covetousness. Whenever I want what I don't have, what isn't God's reality for me; any time I am not satisfied with God's provision--this is covetousness indeed. And it is a horrible, awful sin in the sight of a holy God, who demands that all my heart, soul, and mind be consecrated to Him alone.

As I pass the Buddhist stupa in my next days in this country, may I ever remember that those giant, unseeing eyes reflect idolatry, the condition of my blinded heart when I am affected by the miserly sin of covetousness.