Well, you may then ask, ‘What is the difference between buddhas and sentient beings?’ It is nothing other than realizing or not realizing mind. The substance of the awakened state, of buddha, is present within you, but you don’t recognize it.” (Guru Rinpoche Terma Teaching)

The caves of Pharping, Nepal, are major power sites in the spiritual development of Padmasambhava. It is said that Padmasambhava gained enlightenment in Pharping, practicing and meditating in the lower cave for seven years until he realized the true nature of mind. He then moved to the upper cave where he spent another three years to ‘stabilize’ the realization.

The caves, which are located some 30 kilometers from Kathmandu, present something of a metaphor for Nepal’s spiritual migration. The first cave, which sits above a brackish reflective pool, includes a melange of Buddhist and Hindu iconography—prayer flags hang over a Garuda (eagle) statue next to a relief of Brahma the bull.

The second cave sits further up the hill and involves a long climb of winding steps. This cave is managed by a local Tibetan monastery and includes the continuous presence of a monk, who (during our visit) leaned against the exterior wall of the cave, reciting mantras and turning his mala beads.

After visiting and ‘sitting’ in both caves, we climbed to the top of the hill with the first of many Triptych Journey prayer flags. After writing our prayers on a few of the panels, we turned the colorful flags over to a young man who added their aspirations to the hill’s tangled web of flags.

In between our exploration of the two caves, we stopped into a Tibetan Momo (dumpling) restaurant. While most of the team leaned back into the cool lime-green walls, photographer Jon Schechner captured the momo-making process.

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