Wanderlust

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A Butter Lamp Offering for Anthony Bourdain

By Brent Olson | 8/2/18

Butter lamps burn on a Buddhist altar in the Himalaya

Like millions of people around the world, all of us at GeoEx were deeply saddened by the untimely passing of Anthony Bourdain. We love to travel and explore the planet’s cultures and cuisines, and while most of us had never met him, we felt a deep connection to and affection for him. I thought of Mr. Bourdain as a mentor. His intelligent and humble approach to understanding the world generated world-bridging insights and awareness of places and people, some exotic and faraway, others down the street from where we live. He will be sorely missed.

One of Mr. Bourdain’s last episodes of “Parts Unknown” was filmed in Bhutan, a place very close to my heart. I’ve been traveling to this corner of the Himalaya for the past 32 years and regard it as a second home; I see my Bhutanese friends and colleagues as family. Over the years, whenever I have experienced the death of a beloved friend or family member, I have organized butter lamp lighting ceremonies for them, whether they were Buddhist or not. Regardless of one’s beliefs about death and the afterlife, I have always felt solace in taking the time to stop, remember them, light a lamp in their memory, and send them sincere and heartfelt wishes for their onward journey.

In Buddhism it is believed that when you die, you journey through the Bardo for 49 days. At the end of this time, you find your next incarnation based on the karma of your past life. Buddhists hold that this is an important time to do everything possible to ensure the deceased finds their way to the best incarnation, so many prayers are said and butter lamps are lit to light their way forward. It is believed that the lighting of the lamps and the prayers offered not only benefit the soul of the deceased, but equally the karma of the people making the offering.

As our good friend and Buddhist scholar Dr. Robert Thurman explains:

"Butter lamps are offered in Tibetan Buddhist temples regularly as an offshoot of the ancient Indian arti offering, offering light as a visual sense pleasure to divine and enlightened beings, reflecting the light of their blessing back to them in gratitude. On special occasions—such as when a dear person is traversing between the death and rebirth state—lamps are offered to please enlightened beings who might intervene in the person’s journey to help them reach a better destination, and also to encourage the Bardo being to steer toward the bright light and not try to hide in shadows. There are even examples in Buddhist scriptures of highly advanced beings lighting their own bodies on fire to make of their own body an offering to celebrate the ultimate triumph of wisdom, bliss, and love over darkness, fear, and suffering! Om Ah Hum Vajra Aloka Praticchha HUM is the mantra coupled with the offering, the Sanskrit āloka, referring to the bright white light at the surface of the subtle reality plane known as 'clear light of bliss of the void.' As one offers the light, one thinks of the departed person being embraced by and merging with the infinitely powerful light of compassion and love of all enlightened beings."

Along with our friends and colleagues in Bhutan, we organized a butter lamp offering for Mr. Bourdain. The ceremony was held at a sacred monastery high in the hills above the capital of Thimphu on July 27, Mr. Bourdain’s 49th day. This video was taken during the ceremony:

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We were grateful to be able to take a moment on the 27th to stop and reflect on Mr. Bourdain’s life and his incredible contribution to our world, and to light a candle to illuminate his path forward—as he so often illuminated our worldly ways.

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Brent Olson is a Bhutan expert and a beloved leader for GeoEx. He has accompanied Dr. Robert Thurman on many important journeys. They will be traveling together again in January 2019 on Spiritual Journey to Sri Lanka. If you are interested in joining the trip, give GeoEx a call at 888-570-7108.

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