Bhola Nath Banstola, an indigenous Nepali shaman, soon will be making his third visit to the Twin Cities, teaching a weekend workshop on June 12 and 13. Banstola was born in l966 in the Bhojpur district of east Nepal. He was called by the sprits at a very young age to become a shaman and was initiated by his grandfather, who had been the shaman of his village. He is the 30th generation within his family to be chosen by the spirits to be a healer.
After receiving degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Naturopathy in Nepal and India, he practiced for a time as a naturopath and herbalist in the Kathmandu Valley. He has also conducted extensive research on shamanism within different ethnic groups and traditions in his native country, as well as in India.
For six months each year, Banstola and his wife conduct trips to Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and India. On these trips participants have a unique opportunity to get an in depth look into the culture and traditions of these countries, as well as meeting and having special sessions with shamans and healers. The trekking tours follow easy trails through the Himalayas allowing the participants to experience not only the beauty of these mountains but also sacred sites. The tours to Tibet are pilgrimages to some of the most holy temples and monasteries both in Lhasa and in the country side. A side trip to Mt. Kalish, one of the holiest places in the world, also is offered.
I spoke with Banstola in preparation for his upcoming visit to the United States.
Tell me about shamanism as practiced in Nepal.
Bhola Banstola: Nepali shamanism is based on an animistic belief that honors Mother Earth and respects the spirits that reside in all living things. This world view is key in preserving the ecology of the land and in bringing harmony to all things. Regardless of their religion, the majority of Nepalis turn to the shaman for their physical and emotional healing.
What role does the shaman play in Nepali society?
Banstola: Shamans are a central figure in their communities, for they are not only the healers but also the storytellers, match makers, diviners, herbalists, dancers, singers and musicians. The shaman’s main role is to work as a mediator between the spirits and the clients. They acquire their shamanic talents and spiritual power through their personal helping spirits, which can take the form of animals, birds, deities and ancestors. The shaman works with these helpers by voluntarily going into an altered state of consciousness.
Like many shamans around the world, the Nepali shaman believes in the existence of three worlds; the Upper, Middle and Lower. These are connected by a tree called Kalpa Vriksha (the tree of immorality), which has its roots in the sky and its branches and leaves in the lower world. The shaman, in an altered state, travels between these worlds to get information that will heal their clients. Shamans also have knowledge of sacred places and the spirit keepers who reside there. The sacred places may be mountains, lakes or rivers. The hidden language of the place is felt in the form of rhythms, vibrations and in warm and cool sensations. If a place is spiritually dead or out of balance, the shaman must bring it back into harmony by calling on the spirits of the place.
What is the healing role of a Nepali shaman?
Banstola: The Nepali concept of health is quite different from that found in the West. We believe that sickness is not only caused by imbalances in the body, but also by nutritional imbalances, soul loss, spirit intrusion, sorcery, home sickness, planet alignment and karma. It is the shaman’s role to discover the source of the illness and work with his or her spirit helpers to cure the sickness.
In Nepal, it is believed that the soul never dies but moves from one body into another in many cycles of death and rebirth. Because Nepali people feel they possess a part of all their ancestors, the ancestral deities are a strong source of power and protection. Without the ancestors’ blessings and help, shamanic healing sessions are difficult.
You will be doing individual healing sessions during your stay in the Twin Cities. Can you describe such a session?
Banstola: A shamanic healing session must take place in a very safe and calm environment. Healing can be a long process for some, and for others it may happen during one session. The more we are open and collaborative, the faster the healing takes place. The shaman in his altered state of consciousness travels through landscapes, symbols, colors, shadows and lights. During this journey they try to find the cause of the client’s problems, and through songs, metaphors and symbolic actions, they bring balance and harmony to their clients.
There are really no words to describe a healing session. It is an individual feeling and one should try and see how it feels oneself by taking part. Shamans are not really the healers; they are the facilitators and creators of the sacred space within which an individual can receive the healing energies brought by the spirits. Healing is not only meant for curing the affected body parts, but also should bring about a profound harmony between the spiritual, emotional, energetic and soul parts.
As Nepal modernizes, has the role of the shaman changed?
Banstola: For the past fifteen years, there has been a decline in the shamanic traditions of Nepal caused by political and economic unrest. Local healers have found it difficult to practice their healing art, and many Nepalis have had to leave their birth place and migrate to cities or even to India to look for work. Despite these difficulties, shamanism is still a living tradition in Nepal.
For more information about the weekend workshop and healing sessions see www.lenaswanson.com or call Lena Swanson at 651.206.0644. For more information on Bhola Banstola’s travel opportunities, see: www.nepaleseshaman.com or www.nepalese.it.