Today I witnessed the extraction of a complete stranger's cornea.
The procedure was preformed in small derelict room on the edge of the Bagmati River — where an average of 40 bodies are burnt daily. Halfway through the procedure, the lights in the room went out, and the two Nepalese surgeons instructed family members to shine the lights from their mobile phones onto their dead relatives face. This was not difficult. This was not difficult because they were already filming the procedure. My Western eyes found this particularly bizarre.
I tried to imagine the same thing occurring in a Western context and obviously could not. I couldn't help but wonder Why.
Would the video be used to show friends and relatives who were not there? Was it a way of parading the selflessness of the man? Or was it simply for remembering? I couldn't imagine any context such a graphic video would be shared.
Yet here the recording of cremation practices is completely normal due to Hindu's belief that after someone dies their body serves no useful purpose. In his paper, 'Death Beliefs and Practices from an Asian Indian American Hindu' (2011) Rashmi Guptaa conducts several interviews with a variety of people who worship Hinduism from around the world. One of the participants, Bhagvad Gita, remarked that after death,
"...a man sheds the body and goes into another body just like changing clothes.’’
Another participant from the survery, (Mr. J) said:
"It’s like our body came from dust and to dust it is returning so there is no clinging to the body.’’
I left the operating room confused. On my walk home through the bustling, smoggy streets of Kathmandu, I felt strangely reverential to my surroundings. Being saturated in death has propelled me into a state of conscious awareness — a state of waking mediation and I realised that I shouldn't try to understand Pashupatinath on a logical level. If I was going to attempt to honestly document what was in front of me I had to stop trying to approach things from my logical, Western eyes.
Some words of advice from Siduri:
“As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.”