Religious Specialists

Q-1: How did Bhirendra become a shaman? Identify the order of events he went through to become a shaman (refer to the readings and slides).

Q-2: Compare a similar order of events as seen through the lens of your own culture. What would you do if you experience what Bhirendra experienced? How would you think about yourself after the experience and how would you react to what has happened?

Q-3: How would your society (consider friends, family, etc.) perceive your experience and react to you? Imagine that you have to tell your parents and friends about the experience as it is recurring, what would be their reaction and suggestions?

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Q-4: Imagine that you decided to see a psychologist and/or a psychiatrist after having these experiences, what would they do after listening to you? How would they help you to understand and perceive what has happened and what actions would they take to help you?

Q-5: Now explain and reflect on why is there a difference in the way an experience is perceived and responded to? More specifically, how in one culture this experience could be seen as rewarding and gaining wisdom and in another culture could be seen as an abnormality/a condition that needs to be medicalized and addressed to help the individual to return to a normal state (make sure to link it to the topics we covered in the course where relevant in your explanation and reflection, i.e. worldview, culture, etc.)

The Story of Bhirendra of Nepal: “How I Became a Shaman” 

When I was thirteen, something came over me. I started shaking violently without knowing why. I couldn’t stay still for a minute even when I wasn’t trembling. My grandfather was making me mad through possession, and I ran off into the forest, naked, for three days. I found myself where three rivers cross, in the cemetery. The cemetery was terrifying. Out came a horde of demons with long crooked fangs, and others with no heads at all and eyes in the middle of their chests. Some of them carried death flags, and still others brought decaying corpses along with them. I ran. They chased me and leapt on me and started eating me. This was the end.

“Help, help!” I cried. “Help me, gods, I’m only a boy!”

I drew out my dagger to defend myself, but I dropped it. It fell on a rock and out came a long spark. Immediately everything changed. It was daytime and I was alive. The demons were gone.

When I got home I told my parents everything. They said, “Your grandfather saved you. It was his dagger that saved your life. You have to know that your grandfather went off to Tibet nine years ago and never returned.”

My father said, “You’re going to need a guru to train you in Shamanism.” My shaman uncle started to teach me: rituals, prayers, everything. My good grandfather’s spirit, the one who made me mad in the first place and who protected me, was with me all the time, inside of me, teaching me.

I had no choice in being a shaman. I was chosen. If I refused, I’d have gone completely mad and committed suicide. I’d never have been able to stop shaking. I was cured by becoming a shaman.

I learned to do healing. I learned the ritual to open the top of my head and let my spirit go out on a journey accompanied by my protecting spirit, in order to seek lost souls separated from their bodies.

The last stage was a ritual of vision in the cemetery, a climb to the highest heavens. For this the people went to the cemetery and erected a temporary shelter on stilts and decorated it with white soul flowers. For six days I played my drum alone, fasting. On the seventh day I saw myself walking into a beautiful garden with flowers of many colors. I saw a very tall building that reached up into the sky. It had a golden staircase of nine steps leading to the top. I climbed the nine steps and saw at the top Ghesar Gyalpo himself, the supreme god of the shamans, sitting on a white throne covered with soul flowers. He was dressed in white and his face was all white. He had long hair and a white crown. He gave me milk to drink and told me I would attain much power, shakti, to be used for the good of my people.

I left the sanctuary and returned to the village. The people and my guru were on the way out to meet me, and cheering they carried me back.

It’s hard to explain this experience to you. It—it makes me cry. It was the most significant experience of my life, and from then on, my entire life changed. (paraphrased from Peters [1981, 79–110 passim])