A Blog about my life. Right now, that means being a "music journalist" for WESU Middletown here: wildwildlive.tumblr.com
Burn Baby Burn!
(title via The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno”/Varanasi famed burning ghats, the cremation sites along the Ganges river)
There is a tangible sense of discomfort that I feel about the title of my post this week. Part of it has to do with making something very serious and spiritual from another culture and making it something kitschy and ironic. Another part of it is the fact that it reminds me that young children, along with pregnant women, sadus, lepers, and people auspicious enough to die from a snake bite are not actually cremated but instead thrown directly into the Ganges, resulting in bodies floating up and bumping in to the boats of tourists that float past the ghats taking photographs. In any case, that discomfort feels pretty representative of my overall experience in Varanasi (aka Banaras) this past weekend so I think I’ll let it be.
My parents came out to India for this weekend, and I really appreciated having them around. I think family helps put your life in perspective, and talking to them reminded me that the whole world isn’t studying Buddhism 24/7. We chatted about the Dalai Lama, but we also talked about my sisters, Steve Jobs (R.I.P.), and one night when I came back late in Varanasi, communication, safety, and responsibility.
I picked them up at the airport right before the last couple Zen meditations, and then I took them around the International Buddhist whirlwind that is Bodhgaya. In, Varanasi, we stayed at a wonderful little hotel called Hotel Ganges View in Asi Ghat, one of the many ghats or docks of Varanasi. Raj, one of the many ‘friendly guides’ common in India, showed us around various temples, took us by a small burning ghat in the evening, then to the nightly ritual puja in Asi Ghat. If you ever visit Varanasi, I recommend trying this approach because it does seem like you’re witnessing the culture in a sincere way. I would recommend avoiding the main ghats where the nightly pujas and sunrise cremations get swamped with tourists from all over the world. Of course in either situation, you are the awkward foreigner standing around, but when you’re by yourself it’s easier to forget that.
At the burning ghat that Raj took us to, the night was quiet, the men standing around (women are banned from cremations lest the departing spirit sees them and remains to attached to this world) acted solemn but not tragic, and from a distance we could stand and watch the burning piles, occasionally distinguishing a leg or some fingers. That experience among others have left me highly aware that the body that I currently have is really just a corpse waiting to happen, and that I should really be grateful for every breath.
At the main burning ghats that we stopped at during our sunrise boat ride, we were surrounded by people who would lie to us about being workers at the ghats collecting donations for charities and hospices or try to sell us postcards. Literally jumping over piles of ash to avoid these touts, you could turn around and see boat after boat of tourists coming through photographing the whole ceremony. I don’t blame the touts and beggars for pouncing on the tourists. They’re foreigners, they’re there, and they have spare change. I was highly disoriented though and felt strongly uncomfortable. It’s bizarre to realize that the Ganges river, appreciated as a holy mother, is now populated by foreigners and boats, and even more bizarre to be in one of those boats.
Of course, India has been dealing with foreigners in one form or another for centuries, be they imperialists or retirees, and Indian culture remains unique and fascinating. It’s not as if anything is being destroyed. I think my discomfort primarily has to do with my conceptions about what spirituality should be and what tourism should be, and reconciling that with my current place investigating and studying spirituality from a foreign perspective.
Anyway, we now have Chokyi Nima Rinpoche teaching us, aka Yoda, and I am consistently amazed at the wisdom he seems to be sharing with us verbally and otherwise. I’m still processing his teachings but should be able to write more about him later.
I know this blog’s been dormant for a while, but in the next week I should be uploading pictures from a weekend a short time ago which including the caves where the Buddha practiced asceticism, Prayer flags on mountains, and a really really big tree.
I’ll leave you with a response from a dear friend of mine Morgan Byce about my last post’s discussion of regrets:
"This past summer i asked one of my middle school teachers if he regretted slacking in high school (lick-wilmerding) and then attending SFSU and becoming a teacher at MHS. he responded that he would maybe be more proud of his time if he had gone to a better college or done something different in life. but at the same time, he wouldn’t have had the same friends, had the same experiences, worked with the kids and made such a difference in their lives. and most of all, he wouldn’t have met his wonderful wife or had his beautiful baby girl. and he wouldn’t trade in anything for that.so i guess what i’m saying is that i don’t believe in regrets, and not in a “live life with no regrets” kind of way. but more in just a if i regretted something and instead had done something different in life, i wouldn’t be where i am now. and now is a pretty special place to be. and i can’t wait to see where my choices get me in the future.”
Thanks Morgan! I think a good way to reflect on regrets in a Yom Kippur like setting is to think of the ways that your actions might have hurt others, and hopefully making up for those in some way. As far as various paths we’ve taken, I think I agree that we should just sort of be where we are and not stress too much about how we got there. Hopefully there’s enough to be grateful for that we shouldn’t have to dwell in past ‘mistakes.’
Love to all! Wishing y’all well!
P.S. Special thanks to the wonderful folks at Wesleying for linking the blog! You guys da best.
Kol Nidrurga Puja
(title via prayer from the Yom Kippur totally absent here and the Hindu holiday omnipresent at the moment)
Bodh Gaya is a different city every week and each day here can be radically different from the next. One day, you’re feeling like there’s nothing to do and the town is finally peaceful and quiet. The next, you’re juggling interviews, running across town for meditation, and surrounded by millions of Indians celebrating some combination of Christmas, Woodstock, and idol worship.
I really appreciate the friends I’ve made here, and I’m starting to appreciate the wonderful way that the various temples, monks, and pilgrims here make an international Buddhist patchwork. At the Mahabodhi temple, Tibetan monks sound trumpets and hammer away at drums, Hindu pilgrims perform a ritual for deceased ancestors, Sri Lankan pilgrims dressed in white chant as a group, and various travelers, monastics, and yogis sit in silent meditation.
A friend and I were talking there about where we were supposed to bow at the Bodhi tree. We realized that here more than most places there’s no culturally normal “supposed” because everyone comes with their own traditions and practices from their own homeland. Since few of us have a Buddhist background, we have to pick and choose our own practices and find what we think we’re supposed to do. Or want to do. Or will do. Or something…
Right now in India, the sun has set, so Yom Kippur just started. I still consider myself Jewish, and to stay connected this past week I’ve been dipping my apples in honey and missing home. Tonight, I started fasting, and hope to think about my regrets, or maybe the nature of what regrets are. Some people say, “No Regrets…” A lot of people regret things anyway.
I’ve been thinking a lot about time and music. I’ve always loved that music only exists in a time period, and cannot exist in an instantaneous moment because of the very nature of sound and vibration. Now I’m thinking that’s probably true for everything, so there really are no moments and just a continuum. Not particularly original, but I think I’ll have to consider it while I review my regrets tomorrow.
ANYWAYS, sorry this blog has gotten so pretentious and pedantic lately, I’ve kind of been preoccupied by thoughts lately.
I wish everybody well. I’ll try to make the next post pictures and stories. I know I said that last time, but tomorrow I’m hiking to some cool caves, and right now I’m gonna dance in some Durga Puja celebration.
Shit! God Dhamma! Get Off Your Ass and Jhamma!
(title via P Funk/The Pali word for the Natural Way of the Universe/Living)
Just a quick post top let everybody know I’m alive. Kind of a lot and kind of a little happening lately. I’ll share some of my favorite Buddhist-ish thoughts of late that I’ve heard from people around here or read somewhere:
- What we should let go of is not exactly ourselves and the whole universe, but the illusion of the distinctions between ourselves and other things in the universe. And maybe also everything about the universe. Still undecided on that point.
- I don’t BELIEVE anything. I practice and experience until I KNOW.
- Do something! Whatever it is, we should do it. Even if it’s not-doing something.
- The laws are not arbitrary or pointless, but they’re not the truth either. Think of a mango. The juicy delicious part is the mushy center, but you could not have the center without a firm protective skin. The laws are the skin, the truth is the center.
- Our mind is like electricity, always changing but also always seeming constant and the same. Our brain is like a computer. A VERY VERY VERY smart computer with a lot of very smart programs. But our brain is not our mind. Our mind is the electricity that powers the computer.
Sorry I don’t have more time and haven’t posted in a while. I’ll try to put up something with photos and some anecdotes soon. Peace!