Nepal, The Spiritual Roots To Guide Earthquake Recovery

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


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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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

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We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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