|Subject: The Final Episode! (warning, may cause eyestrain)
Date: Sat, 26 Aug 2000 01:09:26 -0700 (PDT)
So this is it! The last malaprop-riate missage from
the hinterlands or ought I say unterlands for all
y'all stateside. I'm T-minus three days from the
USA. Holy Cow! Or more appropriately, No Holy Cows!
ah the cows. How I shall miss thee... never did I suspect that ye would earne my deapest respect. My love and admiration, my fond gaze from balcony top, as I watchest thee my beloved stroll by. I never knew how much I'd miss you when I left... don't be afraid if you notice me hanging around in pastureland, playing in the Dung, fondly stroking the underside of the neck of a heiffer. I'll simply be recalling daily life of days soone yore
WEll, in fact I don't have much to say, if you hadn't guessed. It's all sheepish sentimentality from here out. I left Delhi for Agra, Varanasi, and Bodhgaya. Agra was predictibly beautiful, and actually is done full justice in photographs. Lets talk agra
Well, the Taj was exactly what I was expecting. Except for one minor detail. As its located outside of Agra, the Taj Mahal has done nothing to improve the city. All the tourists stay near the taj, and Agra remains a typical indian city (read: dirty, dilapidated, potholes and crumbling mortar coated brick constructions...) So I was expecting the fame of the Taj to have boosted Agras self esteem. But no.
Well, anyway, the view you have of the Taj in your mind is actually exactly the way it looks in reality. Unlike many gardens which place the piece' de resistance at the center of crossing paths, the taj sits on a bluff over a river at the end of a single path. There are two grand gates and four flanking structures, but everything is fairly flat and lacking in depth. The Taj is (as is typical with indian architecture) nothing to see from the inside. There's Sha Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal (the queen for whom Taj Mahal is in homage) lying in the center of the room, a circumambulatory passage and the seven other spaces in the radial directions closed off from public procession. But there's nothing to see there anyway; once you've seen one quarter of the taj, you've seen it all. Perfectly symetrical. And since it sits at the end of a singular axial datum, there is only one view of the taj. I tried my best, but couldn't finish a single roll of film I ended up photographing scum in the river and funny bugs with oversized butts and bright read shoulders. They were great. They flew like obesse bumblebees, Butt hanging straight down. And I saw four ferrets, but they where to quick and stealthy to photograph.
See its no good being an Architect (perhaps I should say, Seeing as an Architect). Everyone else gets to see the grand marble building. I can only see marble tiling over red bricks. Everyone else gets to see grandure of a monument to love. I get to see the cost accounting for the materials and know exactly where that money came from. I didn't want to go because, as some of you know, its not even a civic building, but one man's demonstration of the size of his genitalia.
And so my view is skewed. Another one of those monuments to conspicuous consumption that predictably draws capitalists from around the world, and Indians from around northern India to exploit the rich foreign tourists. Lots of hassles, lots of fronting. The whole thing has the quality of a stage set for a holywood movie. No structure has more than one facade; and if circumstances dictate it to have more than one side, its the same on both. And they charge 500 rupees for westerners... okay so that's five time the cost of any other monument or museum in India... but then they charge five rupees for the admission ticket, five more for the museum, and two rupees for storage of all your cigarettes and lighters which aren't allowed inside. So grand total 512 rs. That's so typically India. Its not enough to exploit the westerners, they have to put that extra twist in. (never mind with conversion its 12 bucks, five nights in a hotel, 25 thalis(meals)).
But in all I wasn't dissappointed. I KNEW exactly what to expect a priori. It was no mystery what the #1 tourist destination of india would be like. But nor was I pleasantly surprised. It took all my yogic disipline to bring myself to a state of enjoyment. And so lets do it again, now. Just for the record.
So I got off the train and escaped the mobs of rickshaws and shoe shiners by slipping out the side door of the platform. And approaching the parking lot from an oblique angle rendered my intentions dubious. Then, with true forsight I bought my onward ticket when I arrived at the station, instead of having to come back later. That's when I saw the horse cart. Decided to splurge the 75 cents extra for the horsey ride. And that's how I approached the Taj, which was closed that day. So I wandered around, found an ashram and a Baba who fed me in exchange for packing chillums for the group there gathered. Fair trade, fairly interesting night. But just as I was maneuvering to sleep there that night, one smartass Indian who speaks english remembers that foriegners need to be registered where they sleep and that if I were to stay there there could be problems with the police; so thus, after dark, I'm out on the streets. Wander in the direction of the Taj and find a decent hotel, haggle the price down just for fun...
And the next day I go in to the Taj. Wow. I bought a role of slidefilm just for the occasion. While the photographs DO do it justice, it is a testament to the sophistication of the architectonics that that's the case. The precise proportions of the elements, the scaling of the sparse oramental inlays, the sculptural elements ofsetting the planar surfaces, all with consideration to its place in the composition (as concieved from the main gate at the other end of the axis) makes the whole thing seem as if its a small scale model of itself. So while its over 150 feet tall, it looks quite small somehow... Anyway, the four minarette towers at the corners are in fact small by comparison to the structure, thus emphasizing its massiveness. And the whole thing is set up about twenty feet on a platform. There are two structures facing the two sides which are mirror images of eachother; one's in theory a rest house the other a mosque. Open structures, and quite large. The Garden plan is simple. Take a square and divide it into four quarters. The line are your walkways and fountains. Now divide each square into four again, these are your secondary walkways. Now line all the outside squares with trees, carefully gridded, and perhaps fill some of the squares with grids of shrubbery, add some undergrowth of pretty flowers, and voila, one moghul garden. Some say its beautiful, but the French style of formalism puts this to pedantic shame, and any non-grid based garden plan (even random tossing of seeds) is superior to this kind of enslavement of nature. Oh wait I was being positive... Okay, however, given the quadrilateral symetry of the focal point of the garden, i.e. the mausoleum, it is fitting that this strict symetry is repeated in the garden, in fact the plan of the building and the garden is essentially the same. Thus the microcosm reflects the macrocosm and the landscape and the architecture thus are perfectly harmonized. At least that's what they taught me in school. I still think its bullshit. The Getty museum gardens in L.A. are expressions of the 20th century equivalent of this horseshit. That is except the main garden which was done by a man of antithetical sensibilities to Mr. Meier. Thus is colorful, flowing, somewhat imaginative. It stands more as an art piece within the context of the museum than not. But I digress.
So anyway, wandered around all day, and that night got on a train to Varanasi. You've heard about it before. Took my obligatory bath in the holy Ganga, arrived at my hotel by boat (through contrivance, mind you) And wandered for a few days still getting lost after all this time. Spent my last day watching bodies burn in the pyres on the Burning ghats. Nothing beats that. especially when the logs on top burn down a bit and you see the faces of the deceased. And while watching the face, you see the fire babas break the legs and fold them over the chest. And when you see the gushing of boiling fluid erupting from eye sockets, then you've seen something. The Buddhists have a primary teaching of meditation upon the nine stages of decay of the body. And Varanasi's probably the best place in the world for that. Except maybe Orissa after a cyclone. Its okay to use roadkill and such, but human faces being consumed by flames really makes you think about your own mortality. Good stuff.
And then Back to Bodhgaya. You recall that I stayed there two months and three seperate visits so far. Well, my home was the International Meditation Center with two senile directors, who were good fun and bizarre. And the dysfunctionalisms where really a pleasure. But now I return in the dead of the monsoons to discover that my home, the IMC is the only Rest House or hotel in all of Bihar that is occupied beyond capacity. Surreal. over 300 Sri Lankan Pilgrims in, like, five tour busses have packed the house. So the Senile old meditation teacher, whose name I never did learn, turned me away after all this time. I was crushed, but it was all handled with tact. And I went back to the Burmese Vihar, which is apparently where I was supposed to be.
I met Michael Brickman and "Surya"/ Ron. Both have been in India for most of the last 12 years. In their late 40's, the two became excellent cousil for me. Surya is an ex-monk who's wandered from Nepal to Sri Lanka under various teachers, only to settle on the faith-based, Amita Buddha Pure Land sect. Basic teaching is never mind the precepts (the do's and don'ts for monks) and simply remember Om namo Amita Buddha every day, all the time. The other, Michael gave me the names of several liberated Tibetan masters in the Americas, and encouraged me to find a teacher there. There are three sects of Vajrayana (Tibetan/esoteric school) Buddhism. Gelugpa is the Dalai Lama's sect, they are mostly concerned with philosophy and doctrine as the path to liberation. Then there's the Kalyapa sect; they hold that the "path is the path" and encourage the practise of various tantras (magical/ritual ceremonies) and yogas(internal practices). The third sect, the sect of all these teachers whose names he gave me, is the Nyingmapa sect. They are the shamans of the Tibetan tradition. They feel the fruition is the path. In other words, never mind how, focus on why. Nyingmapa is therefore extremely guru-based, and all teachings are fundimentally imparted via mind to mind transmission. Thus, it is highly based upon faith in the guru.
Thus, my final stay in Bodhgaya, I had the oportunity to tie up a few loose ends, and pick up a copy of the longest sutra in the Mayayana canon of Sanskrit texts (vajrayana, zen, and pure land are all mahayana schools). This is the Prajnaparamita Sutra, or The Perfection of Wisdom. It is from this text that the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra are culled. Heart sutra's a couple pages. It can be compared to the Apostle's creed for Buddhism. The Diamond Sutra's just one of the best; its fifty to seventy pages, I don't remember. I read that on my way to court in Richmond, Virginia a few years back and credit it for being in such a chipper mood through the whole proceedings (when everything is emptiness, why worry?). Anyway, this one's a 665 page version of the same, only in explicit detail. I read a bit of it on the train to Delhi, but I'm saving the rest to treat my reentry shock.
So I bid farewell to the Bodhi tree with a vow to return again in this lifetime, I was choked up like I was leaving a lover... And after much ado, and several prostrations, I pulled myself away. And much to my amazement, it was smooth sailing all the way on to the train, which arrived on time, and my waitlisted ticket would get me on the train in second class sleeper compartment, but no bed for the night. No matter. I was on the train to Delhi on the same day as I planned, which was more than I ever expect from Gaya junction. The dysfunction and blatant corruption of Bihar is inconcievable to the western mind. Actually inconcievable. They're actually splitting the state in two parts because of it. Ironically "Bihar" is an old british spelling for "Vihar" (V is sometimes rendered B due to the Hindi pronunciation). And a Vihar is a Temple (as in Bodhgaya's Mahabodhi MahaVIHAR).
So now I'm in Delhi. Geeze. I didn't think I had anything to write about. Guess I just wanted someone to talk to this morning. And when email's 20rs an hour, who's counting the minutes. Well, there was that french girl behind me... She was whining about the disconnections and reconnections. You can always spot the newcomers... We westerners have this strange strange tendancy to attach principles to our dollar bills. And thus, the newcomers are always acting from the paradigm of moralizing over money. "I'm not going to pay for fifteen minutes I couldn't use!" she was saying. That fifteen minutes was less than one franc, the amount of money she wouldn't bend down to pick up if she dropped back home. "But its not the amount its the PRINCIPLE," is another newcomer's mantra which I was quite fond of in the beginning. This is the one you use when arguing over one rupee (2 1/2 cents) on the cost of a banana and tea. People claim it adds up... it's true; I think in ten months its added up to about 20 bucks or so. Five rupes here, 2 rs there... But in the end you have to realize that there's the cost of the banana and the cost of your frustration. How much does it cost for you to get angry? and, How much does your anger cost you? "How much does you're anger cost you" has been one of the pivotal lessons for me this trip. I finally have come to the Buddhist conclusion, and this is something the Dalai Lama harped on last December, that anger costs too much. Its one of those afflictive emotions that in any quantity at all is killing you. And the thought of getting upset over money feels like the devil in my soul. That money could thus be killing me, that my "principles" are upset by cost accounting, that I am comprimising my enjoyment of the day over any amount of money seems bizarre and heartbreaking. And that being harrassed by some low-class derelict (who exist in all castes) should bring me to anger, and ruin my afternoon... how much does anger cost? How much is equinimity worth? What's the price of detatchment?
These and many more Koans are in store for you when I return. I'll be (hopefooly) playing connect the dots with the continent of North America at some point this year and next. Looks like an ongoing trend in fact. With friends from Toronto to Bellingham to Charlston and beyond, and parents on the east coast, while I'm living on the west... how can one foresee an end of travels with this scenario? I do predict someday contracting longer and longer spells of employment, but not real soon. So these Koans and many more await when I show up on your door step with my cardboard "will work for food" sign in hand. Besides the Buddha said that the best way to achieve liberation is through homelessness... And furthermore, when you realize all is emptiness, how can you be said to dwell anywhere?
So three days left in Delhi, then a 27 hour flight sorti from Delhi-Paris-Atlanta-Charlotte. Bringing me fully round the world. In three days time I'll be sitting upside down from the position I'm in now, probably checking my email while mom and dad are at work, and I'm hyperventilating trying to figure out if it was all actually a really wierd dream... wondering if I was abducted by aliens... pondering the nature of "home" and wondering if that's where I am now, or where I just was, or where I'm still going...
Oh lord. So I'm off to the red fort if I can get motivated. Its now early afternoon. I've been typing for an hour and a half straight I think. I need a chai (Among other skills I've developed in india is the ability to make a mean cup of chai; something else to look forward to in the "Greater America Will-Work-For-Food-Tour"). So lets see...
This is the end of a year's worth of spam. Enough spam for a lifetime to be sure. I really can't justify continuing this for a stateside tour; its too pedantic, and who really cares? So keep in touch and I'll do the same. The planet is the size of a bandwidth these days.