It is with pleasure that we welcome our first AoM of 2019, Evelyn Rysdyk, who features here with The Nepalese Shamanic Path, an experimental guide to the shamanic spiritual practices of the Himalayas, co-authored with twenty-seventh generation Nepalese shaman Bhola Banstola.
As a girl growing up on Long Island in an urbanised suburb of New York City, my only knowledge of Nepal came from pages of books and National Geographic. For me, the images of its unusual architecture and strange customs epitomised the very concept of foreignness. Like the Himalayas themselves, Nepal seemed an incredibly mysterious place that was distant in both space and time.
By the late 1960s and 1970s, the Himalayan region and its traditions drew closer to home with more Westerners visiting Nepal, the flowering of Tibetan Buddhism in the states, and pop singers “going to Kathmandu”. Still, I never would have imagined myself going there, counting a Nepalese shaman among my close friends, or, for that matter, practicing shamanic spirituality for thirty years.
Bhola Banstola and I first met well over a decade ago at a gathering hosted by the Society for Shamanic Practitioners. We made an immediate connection. Over the years, I have enjoyed exploring his marvellous culture and shamanic traditions as they relate to my personal practice. Bhola is an extraordinary person, a gifted shaman and a heart-centred teacher whose work should be more widely experienced.
I am deeply indebted to him for agreeing to collaborate in bringing the teachings preserved by his ancestors into a written form. With this agreement, he chose to contribute to not only our understanding of shamanism, but also our awareness of our collective human history and wisdom.
Shamanism is a spiritual tradition that has been practiced across the globe and has endured for tens of thousands of years. It has its roots in animism: the idea that there are spirits in all things. These spirits, which are in animals, birds, plants, and everything else in creation, are available to us for relationship. The shaman knows that we are surrounded by and connected to sentient beings who can offer their wisdom, guidance, perspectives, and healing power in support of human life. In return for these gifts, the people offer their respect and nurturance to the spirits. This mutually respectful and honorific interaction is the basis of shamanic culture.
I thought a long while about the best way of approaching the material that was to eventually constitute this book. The shamanism practiced in the Himalayas is an outgrowth of both the culture and the region. As such, finding an effective bridge to allow Western shamanic practitioners a viable doorway to the richness the Nepalese traditions was challenging. It was important to both Bhola and I that we present his traditional practices while also preparing a meaningful resource for a contemporary practitioner.
Along with journeying, my dreams are an effective resource for my creativity. When I asked for a dream about this book, a temporal panorama of ceremonies, songs, and rituals of my time spent with Bhola in his homeland of Nepal arose. In seeing this patchwork of the spirits from the region and my own tutelary spirits working together over different times, places, and seasons, I immediately realised the perspective being offered by the spirits. I was being asked to present the Nepalese shaman’s world through the lens of their methods used to promote healing, balance, and harmony. The spirits of the region, with whom the dhami/jhankris or shamans collaborate, also revealed their underlying nature to me in the dream so that I could assist those, like myself, who are not born into the Nepalese culture, to understand their powers. Through the introduction of Nepalese shamanic methods and ceremonies, a reader could develop a better understanding of the dhami/jhankri way, whilst being led step-by-step through ways of incorporating magical implements, mantras, and ceremonies into their shamanic practice.
In Eastern traditions, the ultimate truth, substance, and mystery of being are believed to transcend all description, all naming, and all categories. In this way, the ultimate Divine is beyond any anthropomorphic understanding or behavioural depictions. At the same time, this animating creative energy, which the Upanishads declare as being beyond our knowing (“There, words do not reach”) is also recognised as the ultimate reality of our being. Therefore, Eastern philosophies, religions, and practices are focused on assisting an individual to realise and experience their self as an aspect of the mystery that transcends any individual perception of self. This awareness suggests that nothing is separate from the ultimate Divine that infuses everything. In other words, each being is a manifestation of “that which is,” and the deities of the East are not ends in themselves but rather function as guides and/or metaphors who collaborate with the devoted in that path of realisation.
Eastern traditions have more strongly preserved elements of the earlier shamanic perceptions about spirit. Oriental deities, particularly those of the Hindu pantheon who are also honoured by dhami/jhankris, work in concert with or are depicted as having animal anatomy.
As a result, the devotional structure guides individuals to respect, feed, nurture, and protect all of life, as every aspect is divine and intimately connected to the incarnational cycle of human beings. There is a foundational understanding that everything is profoundly interrelated; I base my own shamanic practice on the principles of Reverent Participatory Relationship.1
Approaching the spirits in the Himalayan shamanic pantheon as accessible representatives of concepts, forces, and ideals that would otherwise be very difficult to enter into relationship with allowed me new ways to enter into connection with universal energies. This was essential because the work of shamans is primarily focused on influencing the spiritual, mental, and physical worlds to negotiate harmony. An awareness of the parties who are participating in the process is therefore vital.
Shamans accomplish this work by contacting the spirits, respectfully negotiating with them, performing rituals, and making offerings of gratitude. Since being alive is a process, not a static state, the shaman needs to constantly participate in the balancing act that is life. The harmony being sought in the shaman’s work may be within the body of a person for better health; between different people to resolve conflict; between people and aspects of the natural world, to create mutually beneficial resolutions; or to balance the elemental forces within the natural world, to preserve the life of all creatures.
Altering consciousness the way that shamans do is an inherent human capability. Shamans are those who have learned to use these states of awareness to solve the urgent problems of survival. In doing so, they are able to benefit the members of their community.
Since shamans have been intentionally expanding their perceptions of reality for millennia, they have tapped into a transcendent field of knowledge and wisdom. It is for this reason that I believe that ancient shamanic cultures around the world have each preserved pieces of this collective treasure. As we examine the perceptions held by each shamanic culture, we have opportunities to incorporate the wisdom preserved for us by our distant forbears. The Nepalsese Shamanic Path offers an opportunity to explore the shamanic traditions that have been preserved in Nepal, not just as a curiosity, but as a way to piece together the guidance our communal human ancestors knew would be necessary in the future.
Nepalese dhami/jhankris have a marvellous way of perceiving the delicate balance of nature. It involves a great structure referred to as the Divine Pillar. The story of its creation begins in the infinite, primordial Cosmic Ocean. This undulating sea of all vibrations is inhabited by the Nagas. The writhing of these divine serpents supports the sea of all possibilities—to stay in constant motion. Vasuki, the enormous king of the nagas or Nag Raja has at least seven hooded heads, but they are truly infinite in number, as are his coils.2 As time evolved, Nag Raja desired a permanent place where he could bask and rest to find respite from the constant motion of the waters. In the great sea, his undulations brought forth a gigantic conch shell.
As soon as Nag Raja settled into his new spot, a huge turtle sailed through the cosmic sea to rest upon his many coils and hooded heads. The cosmic deign soon attracted eight mighty elephants to stand upon the turtle’s back. These great beasts stood facing outwards in a circle to delineate the eight directions in which the material plane could continue to manifest.
No sooner as these elephants described the framework of the physical directions, Dharti Mata, the creative energies of the Great Mother manifested into form as Bhumi Devi, who took her place upon the elephants’ great backs. There she reclined and while she slept, she began giving birth to all the species. Aquatic beasts, terrestrial animals, and creatures of the sky emerged from her womb in great profusion. She also gave birth to different types of plants and trees to nurture her many children. Our universe itself was born from her womb.
Expressing the perfect equilibrium that is required to sustain life, this cosmology reflects the profound truth of our interconnections. Everything relies on something and someone else. If any aspect is thrown into disharmony, everything suffers the consequences—immediately or at a later date. No being is immune to these shifts. The same interconnectedness is reflected in our spiritual, energetic, emotional, and physical aspects, which must also be kept in a balanced state.
A dhami/jhankri makes offerings and performs ceremonies to affect the fabric of reality for the purpose of supporting harmony and balance. The shaman uses special implements and ritual methods to accomplish this work.
Since everything affects the entirety of the whole, a ceremony to maintain balance in the Divine Pillar (Mansaune ceremony) may seek to heal either an individual or a group of people, or indeed anything that interferes with healthy and life-giving harmony on Earth. As with all shamanic healing, the release of disharmonious energies is balanced by making offerings and by energetic and spiritual renewal. It is but one ceremony presented in these pages.
The image of the Divine Pillar can help us to have a new understanding of ourselves, to remember what we are made of and where we stand. In having this way of understanding interconnectedness and the inherent fragility of balance, we can see how individual choices and actions affect the entirety. In this way, we can see the great merit in performing actions to support peace, harmony, and balance.
Bhola and I believe that our species is on a path that is much like the process any true shaman must endure to be transformed into one who dances with the transcendent forces of nature. Initiations force the novice to abandon illusions of self and those of their familiar surroundings; this experience, though fraught with emotional, mental and even physical dangers is necessary so that all previous reference points are dismembered away, and the future shaman can fully embrace the true nature of reality that has been revealed.
It is clear that the world’s shamanic practitioners, with their abilities to grasp the wider view and access hidden resources of knowledge, are the ones who can support the harmony required to reconcile our conflicts and find solutions for saving our beautiful planetary home.
Shamans have always been activists, performing rituals as well as taking concrete actions to support health, balance, harmony, and wholeness. There has been no better time to take up the drum, to fill our hearts with passion, and to live our lives with the greater purpose of making the Earth safe, healthy, and harmonious for all beings.
We cannot know how long this great work will take, but it is clearly the next and most important step in our evolution. Through prayer, ritual, and healing and by taking direct, positive actions, we can do what needs to be done. May the spirits empower all of us to do it in time.
Evelyn C. Rysdyk
1 More about this concept may be found in another of my books, Spirit Walking: A Course in Shamanic Power (San Francisco: Weiser Books, 2013).
2 As with all deities in the Nepalese pantheon, Nag Raja encompasses the Queen Naga (Nag Rani) and many maiden naginis or naga kanyas (female snake spirits or daughters of the snake), too.
Evelyn C. Rysdyk is an internationally recognised shamanic practitioner and bestselling author whose titles include The Norse Shaman and Spirit Walking: A Course in Shamanic Power. Along with her writings, Evelyn is an impassioned teacher and a featured presenter for The Shift Network, Sounds True, and other international, online programs.
Whether through face-to-face contact with individual clients, workshop groups, and teleconference participants, or through the printed word, Evelyn uses her loving humour and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling, and purposeful lives.
She acknowledges that as people awaken their full selves, they are much more likely and able to make their unique contributions toward transforming our world.
Still bemused that she was shape-shifted by the spirits from being solely an artist into a writer, she lives and manifests all manner of creative mischief on the coast of Maine.
Bhola N. Banstola is a twenty-seventh-generation, indigenous dhami/jhankri from Nepal. He also holds a degree in cultural anthropology from the University of New Delhi.
He spent long periods with the shamans of the Himalayas (Nepal, India, Bhutan, Tibet), reworking shamanic techniques that allow him to be a bridge between his ancient culture and the modern world. He participates in international conferences and lectures and facilitates courses in Europe, North America, and Nepal. With his wife, Mariarosa (Mimi) Genitrini, Bhola founded NEPAL SHAMAN, a cultural association created to promote the preservation and expansion of traditional shamanic practices and cultural knowledge from Southern Asia with a specific focus on the Himalayas and Nepal.
Bhola is committed to preserving and spreading the ancient traditions of his people through this book, through workshops, teleconferences, and videos, and by hosting travellers to his homeland.
Bhola and Mimi live in Italy as well as Nepal and spend months traveling across Asia.
His website is www.nepal-shaman.com.