When I was out walking in Kathmandu with a colleague from India and another from Mongolia, we came across these two boys, sitting with their father selling plates made of Saal leaves. My Indian colleague, who works here in Nepal, shared how they have been holding a series of youth gatherings in villages around the country. At the gatherings the youth explore themes related to their place in their world, the choices they make in their lives, and how they can live coherent lives and assist one another to contribute to the community around them, particularly by helping to educate those younger then themselves. The boy on the right would be just the right age to attend one of these gatherings I think, with participation starting around age 15 and going up to around 30.
It is quite difficult to organize these gatherings in remoter parts of the country, where the youth facilitating the gathering might walk 2-3 days just to get to the main village. Funding can be a challenge. My friend told me of one village where they had planned to hold a gathering for 200-300 youth but they need to reduce costs. After consulting about what they could do, all the families in the village went out to gather saal leaves and brought them to the homes of the 4-5 families who made these disposable plates, Within days they had stacks and stacks of these plates, which were used during the youth gathering.
There were more stories, too, of villages working together to support the gatherings. Of the transformation in the youth, and how they started classes for children or younger youth. How one boy began growing vegetables and selling them in nearby villages at a low price that would help those who were in financial trouble but still make himself some profit. He used the profit to put himself through school. His mother, a widow who had struggled since her husband’s death, was so moved by the transformation in her son that she began to assist at other youth gatherings, making food and helping with organization. I had the chance to meet a number of the young men and women involved in the organization of these gatherings, and heard their stories, stories both of hardship — days of walking, cold, scabies and the like — and of joy. They talked about joy they felt in the unity of the communities, and the happiness of the youth coming together to do something meaningful, and how happy they themselves felt as they saw how, over months, the youth in the villages gained both capacity and confidence
One thing that has struck me in all this is the sense of community and service that so many of these youth and their families demonstrate. They see their progress in the context of their community not separate from it, and take joy in the progress of those around them not just in themselves. One reason for this sense of community and belonging is that they see themselves as both spiritual and material beings, and see their actions as expressions of their higher, spiritual nature. It is an inspiration, a concrete demonstration of something we can aspire to in our own communities, especially for me, living in a concrete highrise in which I don’t even know the names of most of my neighbors.
For me, the question of community and how our higher nature is expressed in our lives is a compelling one. Here in Nepal one sees many expressions of spiritual beliefs. The city is dotted with temples, and people go to pray in the morning or evening as a part of their daily lives. In one of the temples we saw many people lined up to receive tikka or tilaka, the mark on forehead that is applied with the a prayer, “May I remember the Lord. May this pious feeling pervade all my activities. May I be righteous in my deeds.” It is a reminder to remember and express one’s spiritual nature, and a protection and a reminder to resist the forces of our lower nature.
It was a beautiful place, peaceful despite the crowds of people waiting to receive the tikka. Then as I got closer, I was reminded maintaining a sense of reverence and a prayerful attitude is a universal human challenge, just as hard in Nepal as it is in the rest of the world.