illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
Yes, I'm publicly very quiet this month. Yes I’m okay, I'm still very much smiling to whoever I'm in contact with, simply this is quite limited to direct communications at the moment (and even those replies might take a while to come).
I have now left Chennai, and I'm on my way back to Europe, but I'm travelling around India in between… This might sound like a holiday, which in some sense it is.
In some other sense, the holiday is forced upon me anyway, because travelling in India on a budget doesn't equate fast reliable internet connection wherever you go… Of course, the budget is even more reduced when monthly donators decide to cancel their contribution.
Moreover, I've been sick for the last few days, nothing dramatic but, in high temperatures, even a cold can be taxing… so creativity is very low.
So how to remain unperturbed in all occasions? One practices in all occasions.
You can get annoyed at the personnel of the hotel assuring you that the internet works fine, when it really only works in random bursts and only achieves a few Kb of bandwidth at best, which might allow to get some of your emails (at least if no one sends you sizeable emails with pictures of herself to spontaneously declare she wants to know you and build a serious relationship…) but certainly not navigate properly, book the next hotels easily, etc.
You can get annoyed, or you can embody patience and perseverance (and prioritisation, and even detachment e.g. from “having to post" often on g+).
There’s an epidemic of swine flu hitting India at the moment, in regions and towns I stayed in, so day-to-day practice while sick requires not to let mental proliferations pollute one's life.
Having been to Varanasi, a city very much organised around death (with the belief that if you die here, you automatically achieve moksha… and with its burning grounds —knowing that sadhus who are considered Liberated are not incinerated but simply thrown into the Ganges attached to a stone, as they don’t need a ritual fire if they don't go through rebirth anymore), being sick in the city of death is a powerful reminder of dukkha and the length at which people go to try to ignore, then accommodate, death to make it acceptable / manageable. We all know people die, but we still pretend it only affects others and we still cling to people in ways that cause us pain when they go.
Some of the drawbacks of religion could be experienced in Varanasi, for example my wife considered making a pooja (ceremony) for her ancestors, notably her father, but she couldn’t… because her husband is still alive! Men do the poojas (for the own ancestors), women can only do so (in the place of their husbands) once widowed: in any case, by birth a woman is seen as inferior and, once married, a wife has changed family and is literally only there to serve her husband’s family.
No wonder Indians still favour sons, to the point of killing (more or less actively) baby girls; until the religious views evolve enough to allow women to pray for their ancestors, people worried about their after-life will favour sons. It would only take to get the message across that foeticide or homicide of girls is truly bad karma, and that if you worry even just a little about after-life, killing is a pretty poor choice to improve your chances… but as long as women are seen as inferior, of course people think it’s not so dramatic or karmically negative to kill girls! So progress has to go via allowing women as first-class ‘persons’ in the religious arena, e.g. by allowing them to participate before being widows, and by allowing them to pray for their own parents. [Sure, there’s progress since sati, when a widow would join her husband in death (burnt alive on his funeral pyre) but not the other way round; but there still are a few opportunities for further progress!] This constitutes a strong reminder of the causes of dukkha: views! Inappropriate, unhelpful religious views (and this includes ‘buddhist' views) might cause tremendous suffering.
And just to make sure the practice never stops, my camera broke one day before arriving in Bodhgaya! So I might soon share some photos e.g. of Sarnath where the first sermon was given, but I'm unlikely to have anything of high quality on Bodhgaya. Even in Sarnath, the site of the bodhi tree (an offshoot of the more famous tree in Bodhgaya) isn't properly captured… since it's when the mirror of my reflex EOS 5D detached! Among the beautiful sights, I thus will never share views of the beautiful Japanese temple (Nichiren) nearby.
Having your equipment break down anyway, no matter how great care you took of it, also is a powerful reminder of impermanence. How much you assumed it would last until you no longer ‘needs’ it directly informs how much surprise, anger and/or disappointment is experienced when something breaks down. What to do here and now, how to engage with the situation at hand, is the question asked by life!
You can throw away your camera feeling betrayed by it, you can rush and buy some glue and try to fix things yourself, you can patiently search for the most suitable solution then patiently wait for the right conditions (e.g. geographic proximity to a Canon-approved repair centre) to arise…
You might even appreciate how reality ‘conspires’ to make you be fully present in Bodhgaya, rather than ‘seeing’ things only through lenses and the semi-transparent mirror involved for the viewfinder.
So, yes, I'm publicly very quiet this month. Yes I’m okay and… the lessons keep coming in: one only has to look at one’s experience, and refrain from impulsive reactions.
Keep looking! The goal is in seeing reality as it is; the lessons are in the reality that surrounds us, therefore we can practice in all occasions.
photo: Sarnath © Denis Wallez