People carrying their belongings in Lalitpur, near Kathmandu, on May 16
People carrying their belongings in Lalitpur, near Kathmandu, on May 16
Roger-Pol Droit

-Essay-


PARIS — Once again, the Nepalese are burying their dead and tending to their wounds. It's impossible to rebuild for now while everything is still so wobbly. Between the houses that disappeared, the villages erased, the roads cut, the survivors are trembling — for the present suffering as much as for the colossal task ahead of them. The earthquakes lasted only a few seconds, but the rebuilding will take decades.

It doesn't take an expert to know that the hardest part is still to come, when the television cameras are gone, when the spotlights are turned off and when the last tourist influxes vanish. Soon, under the monsoonal downpours, the only people left there to help the Nepalese will be a few humanitarian aid workers, doctors and specialists from international organizations. The path to recovery will be long and steep.

Of course, their days will continue to be filled with pain, sadness, stupor and depression. No human being can endure the sudden death of family members and friends, the destruction, the nights in the cold, hunger and solitude without these feelings taking over. Not to mention the fear of more quakes.

Fortunately, the human mind is recognizable for a stubbornness to survive, its capacity to overcome the worst through hard work and endurance. But this common trait manifests itself in multiple ways. If horror and bravery are the same for all of us, the mental maps we use to find our way differ. It's important to remember that.

A spiritual grounding

Nepal, where 80% of the population is Hindu, is a conservatory of Indian thought traditions. Coexisting without any real conflicts are many schools and branches of Hindu, not to mention Buddhists, which represent about 10% of the population. All are living in what is believed to be Buddha's birthplace.

The Nepalese are therefore permeated with a metaphysical, cultural and spiritual background different from that of Westerners. The list of contrasts is long. It goes, for example, from reincarnations to karma doctrines, from the more or less illusory nature of the so-called real world to the specific obligations of each person, depending on their place in society, the caste they belong to — not to mention the nonexistence of ego. Without necessarily being present in each and everyone's identity, this thousand-year-old thread is what makes the backdrop of Nepalese thought and sensitivity. And it can make them survive catastrophes differently.

For instance, instead of a unique universe created a single time, the Indian culture has always imagined a quantity of successive worlds. "The creations and destructions of the world are numberless," according to the Laws of Manu, a fundamental work that was one of the first texts the Calcutta School translated from Sanskrit in the 1780s.

Everything deteriorates, from one age to another. The climate is less temperate, human life is shorter, traditions less pure, virtues less widespread, laws less respected.

This inevitably ends up in chaos, murder and widespread violence before the world eventually erases itself and starts again. Endlessly, with no real goal, no cosmic design. Everything depends on the Purusha, the great cosmic being. When it wakes up, it shapes an ordered world — like when we regain consciousness after having slept. As Purusha dozes off, its mind-world becomes groggy and disorganized, giving way to a dreamless sleep that puts an end to the universe. Its days and nights create worlds that succeed each other.

Of course, this doesn't prevent the reality of earthquakes, of humans and yaks being killed instantly, of the survivors' tears and panic. These myths can never erase the pressing necessity to re-erect the walls, reopen the roads and rebuild the schools. But everything will be lived, experienced, thought, felt and done with a mindset that's completely different from our own.

Underlining this doesn't reduce our obligation to help Nepal. On the contrary. We should avoid disembodied humanism, so that we live in a world that is closer to the truth, a world where physical distance is not an obstacle to the proximity of hearts.

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