Aung Sung Su Kyi Lost in (translation in) Kathmandu

Notes on a felicitation program for Aung San Su Kyi held in Kathmandu on June 15, 2014.

It started an hour late. Nepal Elastic Time (NET). The audience got very fidgety and a bit noisy. The program was disorganized, with people not ready on time for their entries and exits, and the felicitation letter was the length of a novel.

The English translation for the felicitation letter was embarrassing since this was an event of international proportions with a visiting Nobel Peace Prize Winner. Perhaps in an attempt to keep the poetic spirit of the letter, it seems it was a word for word translation from Nepali to English, which drew groans and laughter in equal amounts from the audience. 

But “The Lady” taught with just her presence and her very short and sweet speech everything that Nepali (mostly old, male) leaders are doing wrong.

While the audience and the people on stage were clearly starting to get flustered, displaying body language that showed their impatience and distress; arms folded across the chest, shifting in their seats, shaking their feet, groaning and moaning, checking their facebook accounts on their smart devices, or speaking on the phone, she sat demurely and with great poise, one hand placed over the other, dropped to the side of her knees, without moving much at all. As cool as a cucumber.

Mind you, she had before this program been to many other commitments including an airplane trip to Lumbini, the “birthplace of the Buddha” so she must have been physically exhausted. But she looked as fresh as a morning glory flower at daybreak.   

At one point, I smiled inwardly; it was a humorous and ironic sight to see several old Nepali men, politicians and bureaucrats, fumbling and fussing on stage throughout the program all around her while she sat still and composed like a statue.

She sat there appearing fully tuned in and present and mindful of what was going on around her but not bothered by it at all.

She patiently waited and when it was her turn to give her speech, the highlight of the program and what the audience were clearly waiting for, she walked briskly to the dais and without any long, painful elaborations that are part of Nepali speeches, she got right to the core of her message.

Her speech was in two line sentences, nothing long and windy. She must have kept it that way because her words had to be translated but either way, I think it was very smart of her to keep her point to two sentences or less.

There were personal anecdotes, humor, a gentle tone that still managed to draw people in to listen attentively and a roar of applause.

Our politicians who think that they need to speak for a loooong time and scream and shout to make themselves heard can and should take a page out of her book. One can be soft and still be inspiring enough to be listened to.

I loved her gentle voice. I also loved that she had no prepared speech; at least that is what it looked like. There was no paper in front of her.

She started by saying that it was wonderful to be in Nepal and that everywhere she went, she was received with loving-kindness. The translator used the word “karuna” to translate loving-kindness and noticing the error in word choice, she corrected him by asking him to use the word “metta” which is the more accurate word for loving kindness. She also had said that she felt her being in Nepal was very auspicious, a word commonly used by Buddhists. The translator did not use the right word, using the equivalent of happy.

At the end of her speech, she said she would like to give her best wishes to and felicitate especially the children and youth of Nepal because children and youth are the future. She ended with a line that went something like this; “to the youth of Nepal, make sure that the world you shape is the one that you would like to to pass on to your children”. Unfortunately, the translator forgot to translate this part, which I thought was the essence of her speech.

In Nepal, where most of our politicians are older than 60 and our prime minister is over 70, one will hardly find a politician felicitating the youth. Instead we are asked to wait our turns, to not interrupt when adults are talking, to always listen to elders. It’s rare to find a leader who fully embraces the youth and women, one who does not just pay lip service, but who sees us as equals with equal value and capacity.

My other takeaway from this event is that in Nepal these days even though the symbols of “Buddhism” are used like khata (the silk scarf with the eight auspicious symbols) or the stupa and statues of the Buddha – all used during this program – and much was made during this program of Aung San Su Kyi being a follower of the Buddha, a global symbol of non-violent peaceful protest and of Nepal being the birthplace of the Buddha, most Nepalis, including myself, are maybe a little bit familiar if lucky, but not thorough with what the Buddha taught.

As for bringing into practice what the Buddha taught, that looks to be quite a long way away. Maybe in our children’s generation. The irony I think is that the historical Buddha who was born some 2500 years supposedly in Nepal was a reformer (of thought). For example, he was opposed to practices that discriminated against women. Looking at the way things are in our current day reality in Nepal, one must wonder what happened in the last 2000 plus years. But as we know, everything in this world is cyclical.

We love to get all angry and shook up when India claims its soil as the birthplace of the Buddha but yet we don’t know anything about the Buddha, what he realized and taught, and neither do we practice some of his methods such as mindfulness meditation, loving kindness, attaining inner peace, and so on.

Our perception shapes the world it is believed. So if we have peace inside, we will have peace outside. If we have agitated, restless, minds, this is the shape our outside reality will take as well.

Calm mind, kind world.
Aggressive mind, violent world.

Wishing for a gentle Nepal and wishing auspiciousness for peace to flourish in the future. Inner peace and outer peace.

At the end of the program, I happened to pass by Aung San Su Kyi who was being escorted by a human chain of men. I got a close look at her. She looked so fragile, like she might get blown away at the slightest provocation. But this is a woman who has calmly faced the barrel of a gun without batting an eyelid.

Knowing that she has many struggles yet in her path, she said “I will take your loving kindness with me and always remember them during my struggles in the future” Referring to the first noble truth that the Buddha taught, the truth of suffering, she said; ““Dukha is not something we can avoid as human beings but if we share it together, it feels a bit less bad.”

Wishing Aung San Su Kyi continued strength and calm to face her struggles.

Outside from this event, her humility was displayed when she went down on her knees when she visited Dhammawati, a nun from a Buddhist vihara who had taught her Buddhism when she was younger.

May I be as humble as her.


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