Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2000 05:58:06 -0800 (PST)
Okay, so I'm back to some modicum of civilization, refreshed, replenished, recollected. Its strange that Calcutta is suddenly my notion of "reality" to which I'm returning. But I just spent the last two months in this sort of alternate dreamworld that I can't quite connect to any sort of conceptual framework. As a result, it feels like I'm returning from a strange trip, now back to India, which in bracketting the experience assumes the nature of "reality." I wish I could somehow convey the gravity of the experience of Bodhgaya. I wish I could send an email with an e for emotion. I wish I could take you all for a little tour of Bodhgaya on the sort of astral level that the real Bodhgaya exists upon. The superficial Bodhgaya's a dump. But on that other level, its about the most amazing place I've found. 2500 years ago Uruvilva was a tiny backwater community in the middle of nowhere where ascetics went to escape from the world. 2500 years of history have done little to change that fact.
There are three things to see in Bodhgaya, and the third thing isn't terribly special if you're adverse to stinging vines and weeds. You can see the entirety of the town in an afternoon, which is what most visitors do. And "The international meditation center" where I stayed for the last month is about as dysfunctional as a meditation center can be. And yet, for the space of mind I was in at the time I arrived, the chemistry of all these factors was perfect. What's most overwhelming right now is the unaffected calm I feel towards everything. I'm standing on solid ground for the first time. This experience was grounding, but at the expense of any concept whatsoever of the passage of time. I feel like all my friends were with me yesterday. And a year ago I was in Nepal. And my dream world sort of stands side by side with the waking one as equally valid. I may have been in Bodhgaya two days or two years. It's only intellectually that I realize its been two months.
Several days went by where I didn't talk to a soul, buried my nose in an abstruse ancient text translated into a british accent, and spent the rest of the day in meditation of some bizarre cross-cultural format I've devised. I read 15 books in the last two months, and I've gotten a taste of the bliss of meditation. Maybe that's where this missive should dwell...
There are two types of calm, two types of silent, two types of chaos, two types of noise. When you meditate enough, you cease to be sensitive to the first, and have some control over the second. I can meditate on trains or in busy public streets now. That kind of noise no longer bothers me. I can't explain what the other kind of noise is. You have to sit unmoving for at least two hours a day to hear the difference. In the final analysis, I found what I was looking for.
I shaved my head at the stroke of Midnight ringing in Y2K. I was sitting at THE TEMPLE, the Mahabodhi Mahavihara. This is the holiest of holys in the Buddhist world. It's Mecca or Jeruselem or St Peter's Cathedral. The temple has been rebuilt countless times and seen every kind of worship Buddhists and Hindus do. It's been defaced by Islamic Invaders and fallen into ruins under the Moghul Empire. But today its thriving with life and the archeological tell of Bodhgaya continues to grow. The temple now sits about 20 feet below the street level due to the accumulation of 2,500 years of debris. When you see how active the temple is, its hard to think of it as "ancient." It's about the most alive building I've ever seen. I don't know what is truth or fiction, but that's just part of the game in India; there is no clear line between myth and reality. In fact there's very little attempt to delineate. It does little good anyway. So now, I know so much about Buddhism, its history, ontology, contemporary practices, schisms, and sects that I feel like I'm going to burst. I've even refined my understanding of Hinduism. I began to feel like a tour guide in Bodhgaya. But that happens to me anywhere I stay for 48 hours. For three months of my travelling now my feet have remained on the ground. Wheeled conveyance has been shunned. for those of you who know my history with skateboard, rollerblades, and bicycle, you know that scarcely a day goes by when I'm not propelling myself along precariously. This is another level to the Bodhgaya experience.
And yet another. Every day I endevoured to do exactly the same as the day before. I ate the same foods at the same times of day at the same places. I meditated and read for fixed periods. I'm not notorious for this kind of behavior as well. There are many ways in which Bodhgaya was a retreat from everything with which I was familiar. The problem now is that I became so familiar with that new surreality I was living in that I could no longer concieve of life apart from it. So I knew it was time to kick myself out and hit the road again.
So now, I'm in this parallell universe where Calcutta seems like civilization and "the big city" and in many ways feels like some corner of detroit or the bronx, only more tropical. It doesn't seem like I'm outside of America any more. I'm just in another big city. I'm staying at the Salvation Army for 55 rupee a night ($1.25). But if I look at the objective facts of the situation, there is very little here that would suggest "america." If I step outside my own inmost natural judgement, I see that I am, in fact, in the same place that four months ago sent me flying to pen and camera, anxious not to miss a thing. Now it just seems ordinary. I don't even blink at things thought repulsive two months ago. I feel at home. Like I could throw my passport in the Ganga along with my westernisms, and find myself a home among one of the 10 million ahrams that litter the countryside. The step that long ago seemed so hard to take now is just a matter of rational decision to remain in this life, an architect for the sake of building a community for the sake of the general welfare of humanity and a few kicks on my own behalf. Nothing seems to weigh heavily on me anymore, and no decision "plagues" me as it used to. I've seen the Biggest thing in the world and Bodhgaya almost counts as "the smallest," now its just a matter of convention and perspective as to how one feels about one's place in the continuum. I've visualized my life played out in all the places in the world I've been, and I've come to realize what a blessing it is to be in America. Until you spend some time outside the system, you don't realize that that system which we (americans) are a part of is in fact the dominant culture in the world today. Everyone speaks english everywhere, everyone accepts the american dollar. Everyone watches american movies, and culturally, everyone turns to america. American news storys make up a large portion of the "international" section in the papers, and, in India, everyone gets dreamy eyed when they think of america. Its a cult of nationality. The natural reaction to this of course is revulsion if you happen to be from America and don't see it as an outsider. This is not a country to be idolized in the way that it is. But the Romans and the Greeks and the Egyptians probably said the same thing. And our little world supremacy is not going to last long, so in this generation we have the oportunity of being born in the world-leading culture, we have advantages that neither the non-travelling american nor Indian can even comprehend. India is a land of contrasts, and until you've been run across this grindstone, you haven't really seen everything. India is more "not like anything" than anything I've seen or heard about. Without exception. This is where old religions come to die. Zoroastrianism, born in Persia, is still active outside of Bombay. Christianity has been here since St. Thomas brought it to Kerala in 100 A.D. There is scarcely any religion not represented by a temple here. Okay, maybe the Hopi indians haven't gotten here.... yet. Give them time. America's a cryogenic freezer by comparison to the melting pot of India.
Maybe I'm just ranting. THe fact is, its a new world for me now. I'm at peace and relaxed, and still meditating. From calcutta I'm heading south to Auroville, a sustainable community of 1000 people in 40 villiages. Then north to the desert, then north still to Ladack and the Indian Himalayas. I'm not such a fan of the tropics, but hell, its not every day you get to be in India so I may as well check it out. Bodhgaya was icing on the cake of Mount Everest, now its just candy sprinkles and whipped cream. If I'm lucky I'll get a scoop of ice cream out there somewhere.
ice cream. haven't had that in 2 months either...
welp gotta go.