Castles in the sky

With its regal gold and crimson finishes, the strong white walls of the Tiger’s Nest monastery jut majestically above the verdant Bhutanese mountainside. It sits with a somewhat precarious comfort; as if it were held in place by the web of prayer flags radiating from its base.

Whatever castles we create above to house our beliefs, and however we choose to access that belief, through diverse ritual, tradition and storytelling, what ultimately connects humanity is the universal trait of having faith altogether.

Inside the monastery, a monk kneels down before a large shrine of Guru Rinpoche, known as the ‘second Buddha,’ and effortlessly glides his velvet robed body flat across the dark wooden floor with Himalayas (685)his arms outstretched in front of him and his hands clasped firmly together. After repeating the motion three times he takes a sip of holy water from his palms and splashes the rest over his shaven head. The Guru is believed to have meditated in the caves upon which the monastery was built, after he had flown from Tibet on a tigress’ back to subdue a local demon.

In the North Indian hill station, Shimla, a woman frantically circumnavigates the Jakhoo temple, dedicated to the Hindu monkey deity Hanuman. As the sun hides behind the cascading hillsides, a Himalayas (860)number of notorious scurrying monkey silhouettes aptly come into view. The woman touches every depiction of Hanuman, and as she recounts how Hanuman famously lifted a mountain to deliver a life-saving herb to a companion’s wounded brother, she asks him to lend his strength and bravery.

A Sikh man gently lays his clothing down on the white marble floor and immerses himself in the pool of nectar at Amritsar’s Golden Temple.  He methodically cleanses his face and hands with the water. Guru Arjan Dev the son of Guru Raam Das, the fourth spiritual master of the Sikhs, completed the excavation of the pool, and proclaimed that bathing Himalayas (1172)inside the pool will wash away all the sins one has committed.

On India’s North-western edge, the roar of a buoyed Indian crowd chants ‘Vande Mataram….India Zindabad’ in unison at the Wagah border ceremony, which officially closes the India and Pakistan border each day at sunset. In the oddly extravagant event, Indian border officers were pictured this year offering Eid gifts to the Pakistani Ranger wing commander during the ceremony. Here national banter appears to transcend religious differences.

Though, in our modern society where faiths mix together in an effervescing cauldron stirred by mass media and our increasing social interconnectedness, we are reminded more of our differences than our similarities. Religion’s power to unite is being wrongly realigned to a tool of separation.

Only a few hundred kilometres north of Wagah, the region of Kashmir remains in a state of flux. A purely geopolitical issue has become embroiled with a religious label of Hindu and Islamic dispute. In Burma, a nationalist movement headed by the Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, the self-proclaimed ‘Burmese Bin Laden,’ has been inciting hatred against the country’s minority Muslim population, and threatens to spread to other Buddhist nations. Whilst globally, Al-Qaeda has used religion to brainwash disillusioned Muslim men into killing themselves in the name of Allah. The rivalry and territorial tendencies that has historically underpinned human nature is driving these issues, but has been lost in translation and wrongly attributed to or wielded as inherently religious.

In the crisp Bhutanese air, the prayer flags weave down through the Paro valley, binding together all that they touch, revealing their pentuple of colours. Each represents its own sadhana, or purpose, pertaining to the five elements; Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Sky.  Himalayas (220)The last of these, the sky, reflects that which is beyond our everyday experience, and fuses the elements together, just as the monk sipping holy water, the woman praying at the feet of Hanuman’s large statue and the Sikh man bathing at the Golden Temple are bound together by faith.

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