Tradition and Essentialism (Assessment)

The identity of places is very much bound up with the histories which are told of them, how those histories are told, and which history turns out to be dominant.

— Doreen Massey.

“So, might I offer you some advice? Forget everything you think you know.” (Doctor Strange, 2016)

In this blog post, I am going to talk about essentialism. Place essentialiasm promotes the idea of innate or internal ‘essence’ of a place. However, as Doreen Massey states, “[Place] is absolutely not static.” As a smart traveler, having an essentialist mindset is apparently not the most positive thing to do. I myself have been guilty of this in the months leading up to this blog post.

My first ever visual image of Nepal (aside from Mount Everest) was from the 2016 movie Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch. In the movie, we see the main character undergoing life’s lowest and travelling to Nepal in search of healing. We see him learn the art of mysticism and the energy from different dimensions. Naturally, this is what drew my main interest in Nepal.

Marvel’s DOCTOR STRANGE. Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Photo Credit: Jay Maidment. ©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

I essentialised Nepal as a place of spirituality and learning of Dharmic religions. I saw it as an abode of Hinduism and Buddhism, viewing it in light of the former Hindu Kingdom of Nepal. And it was with this mindset that I wish to travel to Nepal in the footsteps of Doctor Strange and study Tibetan Buddhism at Kopan Monastery.

Kopan Monastery. Image by: Shanker Hotel

My own view can be challenged by the very fact that now, Nepal is a secular republic. It is true that Nepal’s majority is Hindu, and there are inhabitants who practice Tibetan Buddhism. However, I am appropriating and essentialising what Nepal should be and forcing my view on it. It is more appropriate if I consider the fact that Nepal is one of the poorest countries on Earth and the 2015 earthquake there does not help the status quo. Essentialism is a problem because it deprives and neglects the fact that Nepal is real country facing real modern economic and social problems that demand a more profane view of the country.

Nepal may be full of culture and religious heritage, but is also facing real time problems and crises. Image by: Geographical Magazine

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