Change of format. Welcome to the Dialogues.
Day #25. Those twenty-five days, one can say, made all the difference or, one can say, no difference at all. Here, at the Home of Spirituality (and Buddhism is rather about spirituality than dogma), we follow the Middle Path, so I rather tell you that those twenty-five days have put a bunch of dots on a paper of my life. And if you know who Steve Jobs is, you will probably also know that those (and all the other) dots will eventually connect.
What is also true, it’s that day #25 is quite different from day #1. On day #1, our chanting was more of a frog croaking, quantum physics seemed easier than Chinese characters, and chopsticks were seen rather as a threat to health and well-being of ours. On day #3, we were already singing the songs in language we didn’t even understand (though it’s never too dull to sing something which sounds like syan-miaow-chow). Now, I can already say “wo si-hwan cho-kuh-lee” (I like chocolate) and even write the characters, pick up a rice grain with chopsticks, discuss about opening chakras or bad karma and mean nothing supernatural about it (chakras are merely energy points which can get blocked e.g. because of improper breathing, or, to be even more down-to-earth, one’s bad habits can negatively influence their health, say wrong posture while eating might slow down your metabolism). I know 52 steps of taiji fan, practice meditation, and am able to self-check on compassion showed or contemplation done.
On the whole, I’m rather happy I’m here. This whole thing is an incredible piece of experience that enriches me in various ways possible. In case you wonder – no, Buddhism is not a magic remedy, and it does not give all the answers. Even so, it is a profound philosophy that, unlike many other religions, does not demean but nourishes and grows human spirit. It is also a great insight on Asian culture and way of life, which is rather mind-opening and mind-stretching.
One way or another, I have 95 more days to go. 95 days, taken piece by piece, day by day, hour by hour. No anxiety, no dissatisfaction, just calm and serene flow of the heart.
Sweet and savory, ancient and colorful, varied and genuine. Dusty and nasty, tiring and exhausting, even disturbing. You can see India this way, or that way, or hundreds, thousands, and lakhs of others. No need to glorify, nor to vilify. India is neither this, nor that. India just is. And what we see, and moreover what we tell about it, is merely our perception. It’s how we filter the reality.
I have spent here six weeks, ridiculous amount of time. Besides, India has been my first encounter with a culture that is very foreign to Europe. That suggests I’m rather ignorant to draw conclusions yet. Well, this country hasn’t charmed me as I thought it would. But I’m not willing to label my feelings. Let the time distill them a bit.
Also, the truth is that I haven’t explored India that much. I haven’t spoken to the right people, I haven’t experienced the routine of everyday life, I haven’t done lots of things. It was not my purpose. India was my gateway to the different. It transitioned me from being a European in Europe to being a European in Asia. And one can’t blame a fork for not being able to convey soup into their mouth.
One way or another, these six weeks haven’t let me stay where I was. I’m not a person I used to be back then. What is more, I have even more questions to answer. I hoped that India would answer some of those, but actually it only raised more questions, and questioned things I already thought to be answered. “Does a person create a journey, or does a journey create a person?” I’m not sure whether Louis Vuitton knew the answer, but I’m sure he knew that if something is there to mash up your world, journey it is.
Cognitive abilities of ours are not only precious as such, but also give us joy of growing wiser, revelation by revelation. I, personally, feel extremely joyful when I understand something I couldn’t grasp before.
Can you tell the difference between freedom and liberty? “I am free” vs “I am at liberty”. “Free society” vs “liberal society”. I see freedom as a personal choise to follow own values and respond (note: not ‘react’) to the life situations. One can be restricted to choose, but nevertheless free to choose. Liberty, I reckon, is merely absence of restrictions (note: I am not talking about ultimate liberty). One can be at liberty to choose, and nevertheless refuse own freedom. “To choose not to choose is also a choise,” existentialism declares.
So while liberty is an external factor, I regard freedom as an internal state. But is it the same to ‘be free’ and to ‘feel free’? “I know you gonna be free, but are you gonna feel free?”: a line from one of my inspirational songs, which I call ‘my personal anthems’. When I heard it for the first time, I was like “What is that about? Is it even possible? You’ve manifested your highest desires, you’ve proved to yourself your freedom, and still you are not feeling free?” Now that I’m experiencing manifestation of my freedom, I’ve grasped the difference.
To be free, as follows from above, is to choose your freedom. However, some manifestations of our freedom might put us in a situation where there are no conditions to practise our freedom. I cannot follow my values or respond to the life situation in a way I’d like to not because I’m restricted to do so, but because of absence of means to do so (note: it is not about blaming circumstances). Therefore, I don’t feel free, even though I understand I am free.
The Beatles couldn’t be wrong. I haven’t seen so many tourists anywhere but in Rishikesh. And everything here is for them: from (pseudo) German bakeries and Italian restaurants to laughing yoga classes, dancing meditation, people reading aura and opening chakras. Book stores go further with books on power of Om, enlightment, and tantric sex.
I wanted to go a bit with a flow, and be more of a tourist. So I went fancy and rented out a hotel, was eating out in restaurants and drinking galoons of black coffee and freshly squeezed juice. Those things are more than affordable here in India, but still I’m usually keeping away from them. There ain’t much joy in there, those are merely guilty pleasures that one doesn’t derive much satisfaction from. On that occasion, though, that was what I needed. And at times, you need to get what you need to get.
Sure thing, I attended a yoga class. That was pretty different from the ones in Europe, more authentic, I dare say. We started off with chanting “Om” and our teacher singing a prayer in Sanskrit, something about healthy mind in a healthy body. Then a two-hour lesson followed, with really good explanations and analysis, besides practice. And we finished with a supposed-to-be deep relaxation, which was not really deep because of the flies tickling the legs. And the prayer.
Next stop – the holiest of all cities, Varanasi. Praised by Mark Twain. Its ghats, stairs leading to the waters of Ganga, represent life, and death, and everything in-between. They are full of people already before sunrise. Tourists are getting on boat rides, pilgrims bathing in the holy river, cows doing the same, locals washing and drying their clothes, people doing yoga, selling, begging, soliciting, walking, taking pictures, or contemplating over a cup of chai or a bottle of coke.
Burning ghats is another rather striking experience. At first, I was wondering why they wouldn’t call them cremation ghats, but then I understood that burning is what it is. No ceremonies, no rituals, no hassle, just corpses in colorful clothes being thrown on fire. Makes one think. And be happy they are still alive.
Bonus fact. One of the most ridiculous professions I’ve ever seen is an ear cleaner. They have a case of various instruments, most of them looking rather scary, with a big note on it: “Ear cleaner”. They can also provide you with pictures and references of happy clients. I pushed away the one reaching to my ears with a long sharp metal thing: “I’ll just look, it’s free”. I rather have my ears as they are.
I don’t want to be happy.
Many recent choices that I’ve made, some of them rather drastic, have been based on my thirst for happiness. And now why is that I’m refusing what I was preaching?
Being happy is being content, or satisfied. Many monks are happy, because they learn to be satisfied with little they have. Some people are satisfied with what they possess or have achieved. “What else can I wish for,” they say.
I don’t want ever be satisfied. Remember Steve Jobs? “Stay hungry”. Hungry is what I wanna be. Long for more. Yearn, be eager. Not to be anxious, enjoy present moment, celebrate what is today, but never, never be content with it.
Never satisfied. But joyful.
Mountains. Magnificent. Great. As a bus was making curves along serpentine of the road, I was admiring them through the front window. I also tried to convince myself that a driver went there and back hundreds times, and I shouldn’t worry about his tricks like overtaking on narrow turns with other cars driving towards us. All that despite road signs like “Peep peep don’t sleep”, “Speed is knife that cuts life”, and other rather poetical warnings.
An infamous Kashmiri “attraction” is getting involved into multiple touts that houseboats owners arrange in order to take advantage of naive tourists. Like the one which happened to me: with a car stopping the bus, story which makes you almost a criminal because of not having some papers, a fake police officer, and a “helpful” houseboat owner. Since I was not that naive, they didn’t get away with their tout, and everything ended with them dropping me to the place of my destination and apologizing for what had happened. “It’s business, you know,” guy said.
Kashmir is not India. That is what they say, and that is what you see when you get there. Even Kashmiri chai is salty (while Indian is sweet). People identify themselves rather by their religion than by nationality, and when cricket (most popular sport here) matches take place, Kashmiri are always for Pakistan (another Muslim country), and not for India.
As if it was not cold enough (I slept under five blankets with a hot water bottle between my legs), I decided to go to the mountains. While in the summer the Himalayas are green and pretty, this time they are covered with a thick layer of snow, which occasionally produces avalanches. My trekking, or shall I call it crawling, to be more precise, opened precious views of the snowy tops, which were becoming clearer and more beautiful as I was ascending higher. And I thought it was pretty much life-like journey. We awkwardly crowl towards our dreams which are not even very clear, but we know they are there, and this is a path towards them, and as we come closer to our dreams, they become clearer and shine brighter in their beauty.
Not that I am back to India, I am happy to see colorful women, holy cows, and somewhat romantic road dust. The Himalayas? I should see them again in about a week. Inshallah.