Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Visions of a Healthy World

First appeared in Outwords, July 2010.

Visions of a Healthy World
It's easy, these days, to bemoan the state of the world. Regardless of your political persuasion or metaphysical belief system, everywhere you turn it seems there is someone telling you how bad things are. Every headline, every top story seems to trumpet doom and gloom. It's easy to be overwhelmed by the darkness and the ever-present predictions of immenent collapse, easy to sink into despair or a protective apathy. But if one is determined to not be overwhelmed, to rise and to float on this “sea of troubles,” then one may eventually ask oneself, 'what can we do to heal this world?'.

Now, I wish I had an answer to that question, I really do. Unfortunately, I don't. I have, however, had the good fortune to spend the last month (and a number of months over the last five years) with a very unique sort of healer, and I have learned from him one important aspect to answering the above question.
Kalinath Aghori Baba came to Nepal about 45 years ago from India. A renunciate monk, he stayed first at Pashupati temple in Kathmandu, before moving on to the temple of Jotilingeshwar in a village on the outskirts of the Kathmandu valley and then, 13 years ago, to the hilltop of Mahankhal where he resides today. He apprenticed under Dr. Ram Nath Aghori, from whom he learned Ayurvedic medicine, but the type of healing he is presently engaged in is of a somewhat different variety.

In his book, Coyote Medicine, Dr. Lewis Mehl-Medrona says that the essential act of the medicine person or traditional healer is to maintain a vision of the healthy patient, especially when no one else, not even the patient, can or will. According to Mehl-Medrona, the healer must first create this vision of health and wholeness and then impart it to the patient. Once the patient believes in the possibility of a healthy future the healing process can begin; but vision and belief are the necessary prerequisites.

In the village of Challing, Nepal, on the hilltop of Mahankhal, Kali Baba (as he is commonly referred to) is performing the work of a medicine man not for one single patient, but for the community as a whole. Kali Baba is firstly a man of vision. He sees possibilities for betterment where others see none, he believes in those possibilities when others scoff, and he actualizes those possibilities, against what seem to be daunting odds. The story behind how Kali Baba came to Mahankhal is instructive in this regard.

As mentioned above, Kali Baba lived for some time at the temple of Jotilingeshwar as the resident holy man. Then one day Kali Baba had a vision that the villagers should erect a 27 foot tall iron trident at the temple (the trident being a symbol of Lord Shiva). The temple committee scoffed at the idea. The temple is in a rural area where a large monument was unlikely to attract many tourists or devotees and besides, the villagers from the surrounding communities were too poor to contemplate such a large project.

Unfazed, Baba simply decided to fulfill his vision somewhere else. He left Jotilingeshwar and walked to the top of a nearby hill where there was nothing but a 500 year old banyan tree. Here, on a barren hilltop, in an even more impoverished area than the one he had just left, Kali Baba determined to actualize his vision. Four years later I was lucky enough to be in the parade that escorted that massive trident from Patan in Kathmandu up to the hilltop of Mahankhal where it stands today. Nine years later, that barren hilltop sports a lovely little temple ground and has become a favorite picnic spot for people from all over the valley.

More recently, Kali Baba decided that the village was in need of an ambulance to take emergency patients to the hospital in Kathmandu. Once again, the goal seemed unlikely, given the poverty of the local populace, but Baba organized a seven-day festival at the temple which drew hundreds of devotees from around the valley and raised enough money to not only purchase the ambulance from India, but to run it for several years. As an added bonus, the ambulance was delivered without any import tax, in deference to Baba's stature as a holy man.

For the last few years I have been assisting Kali Baba in realizing his latest vision: a school for the nearby village of Challing. At times the obstacles have seemed daunting, but once again Baba's vision of a better world has proven more powerful than any obstacle. A three-room school building now sits on a hilltop that was once used only for military training. Teachers and students have been selected, and by the end of August we plan to open the first free school in Challing. There will of course be more obstacles to overcome, unforeseen difficulties in the road, but with vision and faith we will be successful. With devotion and belief we will help to heal our hurting world, even if only this one small part.

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