Monthly Archives: June 2012

Jung on Kundalini: An Introduction

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I came to the conclusion that I’d been sitting in my house alone ruminating on things too much so I went out to the bookstore and to pick up groceries. I was originally intending on buying just one book, but that never really works out. And then I was so stoked for what I’d bought that I forgot to go to the market. Looks like another omelette for dinner. At least I have books.

The first thing I’m getting into is Jung’s ‘Psychology of Kundalini Yoga.’ There are so many crossovers between Jung’s depth psychology and ancient Eastern texts and ideas, acknowledged by Jung himself, so I find it funny that I came to the two things by very different routes. As prone as I am to jump to conclusions regarding the tremendous similarities between many of the ideas from the two systems, I find it necessary to always keep on guard against lumping them together and forgetting that they each grew from markedly different cultural and historical backgrounds. Kundalini and Tantric texts are particularly difficult to grapple with from a Western standpoint as they can be, and often require, interpretation through a number of different lens, of which the Jungian is only one. By choosing to use the Jungian lens, in fact, one stands to gain far greater insights into Jung’s own ideas on the process of Individuation than on the Kundalini philosophy and practice itself.

Of all the forms of yoga that Jung could have chosen to explore, Kundalini provided a particularly useful lens in that it offered a perspective on developmental psychology that was entirely absent in the West. While the child had become the poster child for examining the development of the personality, Kundalini looked at something greater, providing an account of the developmental phases en route to a form of higher consciousness. At the most basic level, Kundalini is concerned with seven primary cakras, energy hubs that are formed along the individual’s central channel by the intersection of many other minor energy channels. This isn’t meant as a strictly physiological description of the inner working of the body but refers to a subtle body, a concept that doesn’t have any recognizable equivalent in the well-known Western canon. Each cakra has its own set of associated gross and subtle elements, thought to house the deities within the Self. The Kundalini energy is envisioned as a coiled serpent that rests at the muladhara, the foundational cakra, and is associated with the Universal Power. The primary goal of Kundalini practice is to uncoil this energy serpent and coax it up through the central channel, piercing each cakra as it goes until it reaches ones crown for the achievement of ultimate bliss. Jung saw this system as “a method of psychic hygiene,” providing direction to a psychological system ruled by anarchy. And, similar to views held by the Dalai Lama regarding Westerners adoption of Tibetan Buddhism, Jung strongly advised against people in the West taking up yogic techniques, warning of the tremendous power that might be unleashed in the wrong way. However, far more common then these psychological shredding energy surges are cases in which the yoga doesn’t lead to any substantial change: symbolic shifts occur at a purely intellectual level but leave the innermost levels of being entirely untouched. This led him to the conclusion that “in the course of the centuries the West will produce its own yoga, and it will be on the basis laid down by Christianity.” Given the current status of yoga in America as a good way to keep flat abs and a tight ass, I find that somewhat hard to believe, but I would love to be proven wrong. Jung cites alchemy as that form of Western yoga, but somewhere along the way it got swept up in the system that produced it and became chemistry.

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Delhi: Lotus Temple, Contemporary Art, and Jetplanes

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Despite only having 24 hours in Delhi, we packed in a ton of adventures, really taking advantage of the final day in the subcontinent. We arrived in the Pahar Ganj district of Delhi late on the night of the 26th, with our flight booked for the following evening. Of the five of us traveling together, four of us had the same flight back to the States, which made coordinating things far more manageable than things might have been otherwise. We had made online reservations at Hotel Kwality but I’d recieved a notification that my credit card was cancelled shortly after, so it was entirely up in the air when we showed up whether or not we would actually be able to stay there. However, there were literally dozens of hotels on the same street, all with absurd neon signs and looking like a Hindu Las Vegas, so not much would be lost if Hotel Kwality didn’t work out. Everyone else was pretty dramadreamed out from the 8 hour car ride so I took care of getting us checked in, which actually ended up working out. Nikhil, another kid from the program that had been traveling separately from our group, was also staying in the hotel for the night and on the same flight the next day so we met up with him. This meant we had three rooms across the 6 of us and a total of 4 beds, meaning I was sharing a double bed with only one other person, a nice change of pace from how cozy things had gotten over the previous week. And the room had A/C! Joy of joys!

We woke up around 7, made some vague plans for the day that ended up being more or less worthless, and headed to the Lotus temple. Architecturally, the place was an absolute marvel. The temple, which is the 7th major house of worship of the Baha’i Faith, is designed to look like an enormous lotus, India’s national flower and a sign of transcendence of this mundane reality. Each petal is clad in white Greek marble panels, creating an unimaginably majestic facade set against the sky. I found the temple to be a fitting stop for our last day in the country, providing an interesting perspective on the practical application of a lot of the ideas I’d been thinking about regarding the union between the secular and spiritual and the ways in which the human species will need to proceed in order to sustain itself. The Baha’i Faith identifies itself as “an independent world religion, divine in origin, all-embracing in scope, broad in its outlook, scientific in its method, humanitarian in its principles and dynamic in the influence it exerts on the hearts and minds of men.” Above all, it promotes the oneness and wholeness of the entire human race.

Arising above the muck

Before this trip, I’d known literally nothing about Baha’i, which is probably more of a testament to my own ignorance than lack of its value (or maybe just lack of PR), so I figure a brief history of the world’s newest global religion might be interesting some other people that are as uninformed as I was before visiting the Lotus Temple. Most of what follows is taken from pamphlets given to me in the Lotus Temple’s accompanying museum. In 1844, a Persian youth known as the Bab (meaning “the Gate”) proclaimed that he was the forerunner to prepare the way and herald the appearance of a new Spiritual Figure, the next prophet of God. His teachings were profound and relatively widely accepted but, unsurprisingly, were considered heresy by the religious orthodoxy. The Bab was persecuted and finally martyred in 1850. Over the next two decades, over 20,000 of his followers were brutally killed as well. One of his followers that managed to survive was Baha’u’llah (meaning “the Glory of God”). From an early age he was distinguished by his extraordinary wisdom and adherence to many of Baha’i’s central tenets. Due to his deep devotion to the Baha’i Faith, he was imprisoned and tortured. In 1853, during this period of imprisonment, he received an intimation from God that he was the Promised One foretold by the Bab, which Baha’u’llah publicly declared in 1863 while in exile in Baghdad. During his time in prison, Baha’u’llah received thousands of inspired writings which, along with the writings of the Bab and Abdu’l-Baha (Baha’u’llah’s son), became the basis of Baha’i’s holy scriptures. These writings are unique in that for the first time the holy writings of a major religion are authentically available in the handwriting of its founder. Before perishing in 1892, Baha’u’llah spent the remainder of his life traveling throughout the Middle East and Asia, spreading Baha’i beyond Persia and the Ottoman Empire to the Caucusus, Turkistan, India, Burma, Egypt, and the Sudan. Following Baha’u’llah’s death, his son, Abdu’l-Baha, took up mantel as the leader of the Baha’i community. During his ministry, the Baha’i Faith spread to the United States, Canada, Britain, and Europe. Within the space of the 154 years since its inception, the Baha’i Faith has established a global community comprising more than 2112 different ethnic groups in over 360 countries, territories, and islands, representing a true cross section of the human race. Some of the central ideas of the Baha’i Faith follow:

The Oneness of Mankind
Independent investigation of Truth
The common foundation of all religions
The essential harmony of Science and Religion
Equality of Men and Women
Elimination of Prejudice of all kinds
Universal Compulsory Education
Universal Peace
The adoption of a Universal auxiliary language
The abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty
The institution of a World Tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations
The glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society
The exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service to the rank of Worship
Religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations
Spiritual solution to the economic problems
Strict obedience to the government of one’s country

On the whole, I find very few objectionable tenets in that list. It really is a beautifully idealistic concept. If the peoples of the world could be convinced of the benefits and sustainability of such a situation, surely the world would be a far better place to live in. The Parliament of World Religions has produced a similar plan in the form of Towards a Global Faith: an International Declaration in 1993, but there is still a long way to go. Even if people see the benefits of such a system and the detriments of the current way of life, it’s difficult to let go of tradition, which is one reason that I think Baha’i is so promising since one can live by all of the tenets of the Faith without entirely abandoning their native religion. It’s something I wish I’d heard about earlier in my life and that more people knew about. I have no plans of converting (what I’d be converting from is pretty ambiguous too) but it certainly provides a good creed to model one’s life by.

From the Lotus Temple we walked to the largest electronics market in India, which we never ended up finding but we did get some good Lebanese food and McFlurries (mindblowing.) Next, we caught autos to Hauz Khas to make a final shopping trip, but didn’t find much to buy so the group split up so some people could go find another market and others could go to National Gallery of Modern Art. Corinne and I ended up being the only ones going to the museum and the trip was completely worth it. One of the most amazing museums I’d ever been to. There were some interesting sculptures outside but the paintings inside were what was really incredible. I didn’t have a camera or pad and pen but managed to remember the names of a handful of artists: K.V. Haridasan, G.R. Santosh, Om Prakesh, Shanti Dave, Jyuti Bhatt. A lot of the art incorporated figures from various Indian religious traditions and other forms of spiritual symbolism, but it never did so in any sort of preachy or excessively chaste way that a lot of other religious art seems to be. I found Indian contemporary painting to be fascinating in general, resembling no type of art I’d ever seen before. It was constructed from within an entirely different cultural consciousness than work I’d previously been exposed to so the whole experience was tremendously eye-opening. I was hoping I’d be able to buy a bookl of the museum’s collection, which is something I’d never even had an inkling of desire to do at any other museum, but they didn’t sell one so I satisfied myself with a few posters (only 75 Rs apiece versus the $30 I’d probably pay in the States.)

Jama Masjid

From the museum we headed to Chandri Char market since we had a few hours to kill before I needed to head to the airport. We passed India Gate, Delhi Gate, and the Red Fort on the way there so I guess I can say that I saw all those too. The market was complete and total chaos. As we walked through we were packed into 6 foot wide hallways of shops, people grabbing and yelling from every side, selling trinkets for little kids and an absurd amount of clocks and watches. There wasn’t much worth buying there so we headed to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, which was only a walking distance away. We were in a bit of a time crunch so we basically just did a quick lap inside but I was happy to have the chance to visit it, if only for a brief moment. I definitely got a wide religious perspective today.

Rushed from the mosque back to the hotel to pack up and load into a cab for the airport. Getting to the airport was easy enough but the shenanigans really kicked in once we got there. We waited in line to check in for nearly two hours and when we finally got to the end we were told that our visas should have been registered at the police station when we arrived. We were then notified that we would have to travel back up to Dharamsala to get things squared away. The people at the check-in counter gave us the okay but said it was likely that as we went through customs we would get sent back. Thankfully, that prediction never came to fruition and we made it through security relatively problem-free, albeit with only 10 minutes until boarding closed. Ran to the gate and made it on the plane to head back to America.

Sitting on the plane was when the sadness over leaving finally kicked in. As I mentioned earlier, the program ending wasn’t particularly sad for me since I still had a week left in India with some of my best friends from the program. It was an incredible week with incredible people in incredible places so having to say goodbye to them and India in the same day was really rough. I loved my time in India far more than I ever could have imagined, especially after the time I spent here in high school. I saw a lot of different faces of India and even if they weren’t all pretty I loved every minute of getting to know them. India certainly isn’t perfect: there’s a tremendous amount of poverty, filth, and corruption. Even as the economy has been surging forward over the past decade there have been recent hiccups and overpopulation is a serious problem. But the lifestyle runs at a pace that people seem to find far more manageable, even if productivity isn’t necessarily being maximized at all times. It’s a way of living that definitely suits me and I expect to be back someday soon.

Somehow never managed to take a picture of the 5 of us that were traveling together. Pretty sad actually. This is the closest we came.

Dope.

Rishikesh: Waterfalls, a Sanctuary and an Aarti

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Made it to Rishikesh in 1 piece. We’re settled here for two nights and three days, which is a nice change of pace after the whirlwind couple days we’ve had so far. It’s remarkable that it’s only been five days since the program ended and we left IBD Sarah. It feels like ages ago, but in the best possible way. What a week. I’m definitely feeling good being out of Chandigarh. Very clean and well-planned, great for middle-class Indian retirees, I’m sure, but not so great for tourists. We’re staying in the Laxman Jhula part of Rishikesh, which straddles the Ganges/Ganga River and refers to one of the footbridges that spans the water. We arrived fairly late in the day so we wandered around the area for a bit and got dinner at a place overlooking the river. Also, I’m realizing that I’m switching tenses all over the place but it’s hard writing about the past in the present tense so…..sorry?

Woke up early our first morning in the city, before everyone else, and took a 2+ hour walk around the area. I checked out a lot of the obvious temples and shrines, enjoying the relative quiet and time before the sun really came out. Met up with the group for breakfast but we parted ways again as some people wanted to see the stuff I’d done earlier in the morning and I was looking to check out some nearby waterfalls. It had originally seemed as if walking to them would be possible, but it turned out they were 7 and 12 km away so a cab made a bit more sense. Not quiet as impressive as the falls in Manali but it was incredibly refreshing nevertheless. There was also the Neelkanth Mahadev Mandir another 12 km down the road but the driver refused to take us for a reasonable price so we headed back to Laxman Jhula. We hopped out of the cab with about 1/2 km left to go so we could meander down to the rivers edge and watch all the rafters go by. There’s a huge river rafting scene for Indian tourists in Rishikesh, which I found amusing since there are no rapids whatsoever to speak of. I’ve met very few Indian people (in India) that can swim, though, so I guess getting in a raft is excitement enough. As two white people lounging on the rocks riverside I guess we made quite an attraction since all the people that went by were waving and yelling like crazy. After spending some time at the Ganga we walked back into town and performed a gradual circumambulation of a 13-story temple, briefly stopping at the innumerable shrines inside along the way to the top floor. Then we stopped for some lunch before heading to the Beatles Ashram.

The Pearly Gates

What’s the light without a little darkness?

The Church of the Mindnut

The Beatles Ashram, which is actually called Maharishi Makesh Ashram, has been closed since 1996 but visitors can still access it by paying the government guard a nominal fee. Being white, we probably paid a bit more than was necessary but it was absolutely worth it since the Ashram was undoubtedly the high point of my entire trip. The Beatles visited the ashram in 1969 and intended on staying for 2 weeks but ended up enjoying it so much that they stayed for 3 months (except for Ringo. He and his wife had a problem with being vegetarians and missed their kid so they left. Sucks.) During their time there the Beatles wrote 47 songs, many of which ended up on the White Album. The place was officially closed in 1996 and went to the Forest Service in 2003, but has been pretty poorly maintained and is essentially in ruins. Despite being in complete disarray the ashram was incomprehensibly beautiful and peaceful. It’s hard to describe why it was so incredible, but the entire place just had this absolutely incredible energy about it, reverberating with the aura of every single spiritually dedicated person that’s walked through its grounds. We walked through the underground meditation chambers that the sadhus had used and I sat for less than a minute but felt indescribable surges of energy. The whole thing was just too powerful to articulate.

The chance of life was very slim but the sun gave light and life did begin

Kali: The Wrathful and Loving Mother

Earlier in June 10 artists from around the world had come to Maharishi Makesh and spent a week painting the interior of one of the buildings as an homage to the Beatles, Maharishi Makesh, great Indian philosophers, and all that’s miraculous in life. It was one of the most overpoweringly beautiful places I’d ever been. Turns out the Church of the Mindnut already exists and it has a sanctuary. I also found out that our group had been inadvertently following in the artists footsteps on our way to the ashram. I’d seen some work that they’d done in Dharamsala in Carpe Diem, some more in Manali on the way to Jogini Falls, and in other parts of Rishikesh, all without realizing that much of it was being done by the same people. It’s all just too synchronistic for words. For anyone that reads this and plans on going to India in the future, go to Rishikesh and the Maharishi Makesh Ashram. It’s worth your time far more so than the Taj Mahal or any other tourist trap you’ll be directed to.

Siva and Sakti are One. They are the Universe.

Our savior: Swami Vishwananda

We left the ashram just in time to head down to the Ganga for the Ganga aarti, a nightly puja done on the bank of the river before the sunset and a massive statue of Siva. We sat down on the steps facing the statue but soon got ushered away to go sit someplace else since we were in an area designated for followers of a particular swami and other dedicated folks. Corinne and I loitered around on the steps while a lot of other people left and I guess it was pretty clear that we weren’t about to go anywhere because a guy long hair and a beaming smile waved us over and motioned for us to sit near the instrumentalists. It turned out that he was Swami Vishwananda, one of the central figures in the aarti and founder of Bhakti Marg. We were sitting next to a group of Indian boys who couldn’t have been more than 15 that were playing the tabla, harmonium, ravanahatha, and hand cymbols. Even though he was so young, there was also a boy chanting that sounded like an old Indian classical master. They played for about 2 hours as the sun set behind the giant statue of Mahayogin. As it got dark, spotlights were projected onto Siva, causing him to appear as if he were emanating light and levitating above the Ganga. The crowd then passed around long golden candlesticks with hooded snake handles, which people swirled in a circular motion, everyone rushing to touch the candlesticks as they got passed around. We also paid 50 Rs to get a small bowl made of leaves and filled with incense, to which we made a wish and a dedication before setting it alight and releasing it into the Ganga. An absolutely magical ceremony, and day on the whole, for that matter. Took a nice leisurely walk back through Ram Jhula, stopping at a couple shops, before crashing for the evening.

Woke up the next day with plans to depart in the early afternoon. I did some more wandering in the morning and made some final shopping stops but it started to rain so Satoshi, Jackie and I settled ourselves in a small cafe looking out at a small square and the Ganga. The rain picked up and soon enough turned into full monsoon rains, unleashing a torrential downpour on the river. The last time I’d seen rain like that was when I was in Vizag 4 years ago, catching the tail end of monsoon season then. It was as if the sky got slashed open and every single drop of water came pouring out. The whole thing lasted for over two hours, after which it finally laid off enough for us to make the trip back to the hotel to grab our stuff and head to the cab stand.

Emergence

Rishikesh was undoubtedly my favorite city that we visited and a wonderfully fitting way to wrap up an amazing week before heading back to Delhi. The city is remarkable in so many ways. Every building, every street, every shop absolutely exudes spirituality and devotion to something greater than the Self. It was all too perfect for words. It makes sense that such a place would exist straddling the Ganga. Even if it is superficially dirty, its waters are still unimaginably cleansing and refreshing. Goodbye Rishikesh. You’ll be missed tremendously. See you again soon.

And, as usual, I stole every single one of these photos. Props to Corinne and Terence.

Chandigarh: Night Drives, the Rock Garden and Death by Heat and Exhaustion

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In order to make the most of our precious little time left in India, the gang decided it would be a good idea to travel by night from Manali to Chandigarh. We didn’t know much about Chandigarh, but it serves as the capital of both the Indian states of Haryana and Punjab, is its own union territory, and is regarded by many as a haven for middle-class Indian retirees, so we imagined that it had something going for it. Taking a night bus wasn’t an option so we opted for a night cab, which we payed an absolutely absurd amount for (even by American standards.) We were assured that there would be enough space for all five of us and our stuff, which there technically was but the driver neglected to mention that the backseat were two seats facing each other, creating one of the most awkward and uncomfortable sleeping situations I’d ever been faced with. Thank goodness for Dramamine and long Indian days. We left at around midnight and finally arrived in Chandigarh at 9 am, just as things were heating up. We wandered out of the cab delirious from exhaustion and found ourselves in a part of town we probably didn’t want to be in. However, the cab driver didn’t speak English, nor did anyone else we could locate, so we were forced to settle on the hotel the driver had chosen for us. Terence went inside to try and get us a deal and ended up getting pushed around (literally) by the owner, before we finally managed an A/C room all five of us could sleep in. We had big plans for the day in Chandigarh but ended up passing out almost instantaneously.

The Rock Gardens were oh so refreshing

I wish I had any recollection of seeing this

We woke up around 2 pm with absolutely no idea where I was or what was going on. We wandered outside and caught an auto rickshaw to the Rock Gardens, one of Chandigarh’s main attractions. I’d like to say that I was blown away and that the experience completely reversed my negative first impression of the city, but I was way too tired and oppressed by the heat to appreciate the huge expanse built entirely out of found materials. The Gardens were built by Nek Chand over the course of 15 years in secret before they were finally discovered by the police. They planned to demolish the grounds but the public got behind the project and Nek Chand had soon recruited a number of volunteers to help him expand his project. All of this information was listed around the park but I was too deliriously tired to read any of it so I’m grateful that Wikipedia could inform me after the fact. The whole place was like a giant labyrinth, populated with amorphous rock structures, castle-like spires, tiled mosaics, and waterfalls. I really wish I’d felt better so I could actually appreciate it.

Heat stroke in process

From the Rock Gardens we headed to sector 17 (the whole city is laid out on a grid and divided into sectors for simplicity’s sake), where the ‘downtown’ shopping center is. Even after only spending 5 hours in the city, everyone was feeling pretty beat down by Chandigarh so we decided to spend the night in the hotel we had already paid for and then head to Rishikesh for the final 2 days before heading back to Delhi. We went to the bus station to figure out the bus situation and after about an hour of wandering around trying to make sense of what was going on we concluded that we were traveling with far too much luggage for a bus to be feasible. With not much left to do we went back to the hotel, took a walk around the neighborhood (which was surprisingly vibrant at night) and called it a day.

Downtown. So classy. So trashy.

We woke up early the next morning to get in some sight-seeing before heading out of town. Our cab was scheduled for 2 pm so by getting up at 7 we assumed we would have time to check out Sukhna Lake, another one of Chandigarh’s main attractions, and a local museum. We showed up to the lake and found that nearly the entire lake basin was dried up in the heat. There was a small patch of water with a number of decrepit looking swan boats floating in it. The whole thing seemed to be an eerily fitting image of our experience in the city. Next we headed to the museum, which didn’t open for another two hours. With that final bit of discouragement we went to the cab company and left a few hours earlier than intended, content with all that we’d seen and all that we’d managed to avoid in Chandigarh.

Chandigarh. Classic.

As unfortunate as much of my experience in the city was, I’m ultimately grateful that we took the time to stop in Chandigarh. I’d been spending so much time in the small, laid back, hippiesque communities across the North that I’d forgotten what so much of India is like. Walking around the area near the hotel brought me back to Vizag in a lot of ways: shops filled with piles of broken automobile parts, fruit stalls, rip-off jewelry stores, and people giving tattoos on street corners. I’d had a far less positive relationship with India the last time I was here so it was oddly refreshing to get a reminder of urban India and all of the things I initially had disliked about it. As much as I’ve loved the cities I’ve seen in the North, it’s a pretty skewed picture of what Indian life is actually like so a reminder of the rest of hte country was much needed. India isn’t all temples and waterfalls, but also has a lot of serious problems, many of which are mitigated in more developed nations like the U.S. Over the course of this trip I’d been getting a far more romanticized view of India than was accurate so a reality check was much needed. Gotta have some hate for me to have so much love for the country. One-sidedness just wouldn’t be any fun.

Manali: The Voice of God, Manu Mandir and the Silver Triangle

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View of Old Manali

Another crazy afternoon, doing things that couldn’t happen anyplace in the world besides India. We’ve been spending most of our time in Old Manali, which has a far more peaceful feel than the semi-urbanized New Manali, which lies across the river. Woke up and took a walk to Manu Mandir, a nearby temple in honor of Manu, a man who occupies a similar role in Indian culture as the Judeo-Christian figure of Noah (of The Ark fame). As I was walking there I saw a large gathering going on in a small square right off of the road. Since many of the houses in Manali are built in the same Kath Kuni style as the temples I assumed that the building everyone was standing in front of was the temple so I didn’t go any further. I went into the crowd and saw a ring of men playing a number of ritual-use instruments around a man who was convulsing slightly while standing, hands clasped around a wad of bills. Another man joined him and they they both started to alternatively speak in Hindi, voices rising and falling and incredibly abrupt intervals.

There were two other white people in the crowd and I saw an Indian man explaining things to them in English so I wandered over since I was completely and utterly confused. I’d seen some similar things when I was with the Tibetan community but this was my first involved experience of a trance in the Hindu religious context. The man was saying that the voice of God was speaking through the two convulsing men (which God, he didn’t mention), and that the music was to hep sustain the trance. The non-entranced men standing across from them were responding to much of what the conduits of God were saying, trying to glean as much information from the divine as possible while the opportunity had arisen. Then it just stopped. The men wiped their faces of the tremendous amount of sweat that covered them and the one with the handful of cash distributed it to the other participants. Prasad of small leaves was given out to the crowd for people to put in their hair and people started leaving.

I talked with the two white girls for a bit, one of whom was from Canada and the other from New Zealand. They were asking me about the program I’d been on, and they also brought up the Karmappa so we talked about him for awhile. It’s been so cool to run into people randomly that know who the Karmappa is and want to talk about him, as well as any number of other fascinating topics. I think I’m going to get absolutely decimated psychologically when I go home and have no one to talk about these things with. They invited me to go get some Chai with them but since I finally realized that I hadn’t been at the Manu Mandir I decided to head up there and figured I might run into them around town again.

It turned out that Manu Mandir was only about another 200 meters up the road, and its huge guard tower looking roof was actually visible from where I’d been standing the whole time. Yet another temple that carried on the interesting Norse/pagoda/pyramid style of architecture that I had previously had no idea even existed in India. I’m finding that I actually prefer the wooden temples to the stone ones, largely because it’s easier to make incredibly detailed carvings so there are often many more of them (though nothing compares to Ranakpur, which I saw four years ago), plus the roofing style is extremely aesthetically pleasing. Manu Mandir had been reconstructed on the site of the original Manu temple, paying homage to the man who survived the Great Flood with the help of Visnu’s Matsya (fish) avatara. He brought seven great rshis with him and not only repopulated the earth but also set up many individual and social laws, such as the varnaashramadharma system, which lays the ground for the caste system. There are a number of local myths about his feats of mysticism.

Inside the temple had a very understated feel, extremely clean and simple, but was also somehow majestic as well. It was fairly empty except for the womb chamber in the middle with a number of ancillary shrines to Ganesha, Krshna, Kali, Durga, Visnu, and Siva circling it. I’ve been loving going to all these different temples, each with their own characteristic feel and attributes. There were also a number of people sitting on the floor preparing a large palanquin by decorating it with garlands and cum cum powder. Locals will often enlist spiritual men to bring these palanquins as vehicles for the deity to their households, where they will perform puja and hold a large feast. En route, these palanquins are carried on men’s shoulders while they are followed by a large procession playing ritual instruments.

(I tried to upload a photo I took of one of the marijuana fields to put here but somehow WordPress knew and blocked it. The Internet is a magical thing.)

Manali has been a fascinating town in general. There’s a very hippie, New Age-y feel to it. Fittingly, it’s known as the marijuana capital of India. There are patches of it growing all over the place and I’ve casually strolled by a number of fields. Even when I was at the police station yesterday there was a small field growing adjacent to it. It isn’t legal, but there’s such minor presence from any sort of authority that nothing really gets done about it. Even if something would get done about it, the corruption runs so deeply that police protection is purchased at a relatively cheap price (at least by the standards of foreigners.) Manali is part of a huge drug trafficking ring known as the Silver Triangle, which also includes Dharamsala and Leh. The trade is primarily run by Israelis who will drive from city to city on their Royal Enfield motorcycles with vast quantities of drugs on their backs. Although marijuana is one of the primary tradable goods, opium, ecstasy and LSD also make a large presence in the trade. For around 10,000 Rs (~$180) one can buy an acre which will produce around 40 kg of charas/hashish. The drug cartels in the area will often maintain headline fields that can be sacrificed if under pressure from the police but the ones higher up in the mountains are rarely touched by authorities. So looking at the economics of it, it’s not at all surprising how many people have flocked to the area to get in on the action. Given my current facial hair and overall appearance a lot of people have mistaken me for Israeli, so I certainly got asked a lot of interesting questions over the past two days.

Israeli?

Misadventuring Up to Manali

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I had a serious scare this morning. We intended on leaving Naggar for Manali around 9, but when I woke up at 7 to pack I couldn’t find my passport anywhere. I tore through my suitcase and backpack, as well as digging through every nook and cranny of the room. My disappeared passport case not only held my passport but also driver’s license, credit card, and about 20,000 Rs. All in all, I was essentially stranded without it. It had been locked in my suitcase all day the previous day, which was in my locked room. It was on top of my unlocked suitcase the previous night, but the door was still locked, so I had no idea what could have happened to it. The only conclusion I could reach was that it had been stolen, but had absolutely no idea how that could have happened.

I talked to Bhittu and he notified me that I could go to the police station and talk to them, which would launch a full scale investigation in which all the hotel guests would be confined to the hotel, each having their bags searched by the police. Naggar has no police or police station so I took a trip to a nearby town to talk about my options. I ended up deciding just to report the missing passport since the investigation would have taken at least 3 days in which nobody would be permitted to leave the hotel and I doubted it would uncover anything if the passport had been stolen as I suspected. I was given an affidavit that would enable me to get a new passport upon my arrival back in Delhi at the American consulate. I went back to the hotel do one final search before getting the police more involved and making a trip up to Manali, where the only legitimate police station in Kullu valley was. I unpacked and repacked all my stuff, went through the room one last time, and picked up my suitcase to go check out and head to Manali. And there was my passport case. It had been sitting between the rails underneath my suitcase the entire time, so as I’d been moving my bag across the room, the case moved with it.

After the waves of mortifying embarrassment passed, I finally got all my stuff together and loaded up to head to Manali. We arrived in the early afternoon, found a wonderful hotel room with two floors and two beds (for under $10 a night), and hung out in a cafe and explored the town, trying to walk off an absolutely absurd morning. All in all, it was a good wakeup call to keep alert at all times (though it’s not like I was being particularly casual with my passport to begin with.) I’m glad it was a lesson I was able to learn without actually losing my passport. Would have put quite a damper on the rest of my trip.

Day Trip to Manali: Jogini Falls and Hadimba Devi Mandir

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Fake Life at Jogini Falls

As impressed I was by the waterfalls in Dharamkot, they got absolutely blown away by the waterfall we went to visit today. On the way there we stopped in the small town of Vashisht to bathe in some hot springs. They ended up being attached to a Kath Kuni style temple and the whole area reeked of sulfur so we decided to hold off in favor of waiting for a dip in the falls. From Vashisht, it took about an hour to hike at a leisurely rate to Jogini Falls. There were a lot of Indians bathing in the pool at the bottom but we stopped at one of the higher ones and went scrambling on the rocks in the water for about an hour. I’d like to say that the pictures do it some justice but it really doesn’t even come close. The afternoon was one of complete and indescribable bliss. The water felt amazing, the sun was shining, and I was with good people with whom I love spending time. Couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Hadimba Devi Mandir

After the waterfall we trekked back and hopped in a cab to the nearby town of Manali. We visited the Hadimba Devi Mandir, a huge wooden temple that resembled a pagoda more so than any other piece of Indian architecture I’d seen before. The area was packed with people so we couldn’t go inside, but there was a small ceremony going on in front in which a guy went into a trance, so it’s hard to say that it wasn’t worth the trip.

Yak Yak City, Bitch

I met a yak. We’re boys.

Terence Getting Friendly with a Cobra

We had a couple hours to kill wandering around Manali before the cabs needed to go back so we did a bit of exploring. We got accosted by a guy with a cobra in a basket who let us all take pictures with him and then demanded 500 Rs, at which we immediately walked away. We originally planned on doing 4 nights in Naggar but exhausted the activities there pretty quickly and loved Manali so decided it would be worth relocating to spend a couple days there. Just one instance in a series of many proving that plans are meant to be broken, particularly in India.

Temple Hopping in Naggar

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Sun Rays Slicing up the Sky

After a 6 hour cab ride from Dharamsala we arrived in Naggar, which is to the east in Kullu valley. I was traveling with a group of 10 which soon thinned out to just five of us (myself, Terence, Corinne, Satoshi, and Jackie) within a few days. We didn’t have any plans for lodging so we rolled up and checked out a few places, all of which were full, before finally stumbling upon the Snow View Inn. From the moment we got there the owner Bhittu was remarkably friendly, telling us a number of places in town worth checking out and offering to take us on an excursion to some hot springs in a nearby town and a waterfall close by.

After getting settled following a long car ride, we took a walk around the town and it became clear very quickly that we were the only tourists in the entire area. We had a quick lunch at the Zenith Café and then a couple of us set off to go see a nearby Siva temple. All of the temples in the area are constructed entirely out of wood and have an oddly Norse feel to them. I found out later that this is called the Kath Kuni style, which translates literally to wood corners. In such a forested area, I guess it makes sense that the abundance of trees would prove more useful as building materials than stone. The Siva temple was closed by the time we showed up but I managed some terrible Hindi to the man that maintains it and he offered to open it up to us so that we could look inside. Since we were very clearly not practicing Siva worshippers, we were restricted to peering in while sitting outside, but he still gave us a small offering of sugar as prasad, as well as a tilak to mark that we’d been for darshan with the deity.

Kath Kuni Style Siva Temple

Into the Temple

I’d heard that there were a few other temples nearby so we walked further down the path into the woods but weren’t having much luck. We came across a guy standing on the side of the road and asked him if he could help us and he offered to take us on a tour through his orchard to two nearby temples, which we gladly took him up on. The friendliness of Indians is absolutely astounding to me. I can see a lot of people being skeptical of the willingness to follow a stranger into the woods around sunset but I think it’s the type of thing that needs to be decided on a case by case basis and this guy was undoubtedly friendly. And it was absolutely worth following him. He lead us down a number of footpaths that I never would have seen without a guide, taking us through brush until we popped out near Nag Mandir, a small wooden temple that was inaccessible due to overgrowth. Even from a distance it was clear how impressive the remarkably intricate wooden carvings that covered the front of the temple were. From there we headed deeper into the woods to a temple dedicated to a great rshi, known primarily as Babaskati. Even though our farmer friend’s English wasn’t great, he told us a brief story about how the rshi had been meditating on the spot of the temple when an adversary launched a large boulder at him. Babashakti stopped the boulder in mid-air with his tremendous powers of energy manipulation and a temple was build on the spot to commemorate his prowess. Since the sun had just finished going over the mountains, we decided to meander back to town and grab some dinner, reaching the road just as darkness fell. We had a light dinner with some Fosters (no more Kingfisher!!!!) before heading back early to get some sleep before the next day’s excursion to the waterfall.

My Boy the Orchard Owner

The Ending is the Beginning

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Goon Squad

As the program wrapped up today I found myself feeling remarkably unperturbed by the whole thing. It’s not that I didn’t care, just that I think it had essentially run it’s course and it had to come to an end at some point. Impermanence in action. I think a lot of that had to do with a tremendous feeling of satisfaction with the program and all that’s happened over the month. When I came to Dharamsala, I had almost no prior knowledge as to what I was about to experience and was relatively expectation-free. If anything, my main goals were to reexperience India and hopefully develop a more positive impression than I’d previously had, as well as to learn a bit about Tibetan Buddhism. While I imagine I’ll accomplish the former over my next week of traveling, I would say I achieved the latter and so much more. The opportunity to live in a community of monastics, surrounded by people with expert knowledge on the tenets of Buddhism and its philosophical system has helped expand my worldview in a way I ways I couldn’t have even imagined. While I feel that getting beat over the head with the whole “Buddhism is compatible with science” and secular ethics bit certainly helped drive this expansion, the environment was particularly conducive to reflection on the state of things within myself, both as I am in the U.S. and how I am in India, ultimately leading to a more positive vision of what I could be. While I think that there’s definitely an argument to be made for the dangers of belief in becoming (as I’ll hopefully write about in the future), I think it’s impractical at this point in my life for me to be completely satisfied with myself and what I do with my time. It’s really just a disservice to the world around me. I may be incredible cynical of many aspects of society, but it’s undeniable that it has produced me and, if for no other reason at all, I should give something back to it. As to what that is, some grand realizations on that are still forthcoming.

In general, this whole experience has really pushed me to think about a lot of things that I’d previously never even touched. I’m finding that my beliefs about most things are fluctuating between poles as I try and figure out what makes sense. As affected as I’ve been by many of the Buddhist concepts I’ve learned about over the past month I find the counterviews presented by U.G. Krishnamurti to be almost equally compelling. As I’ve been reading his book “Mind is a Myth” I’ve been grappling with a lot of his central ideas and what follows is basically my attempt to work it our stream of consciousness style, so it will likely be disjointed and not ever actually lead anywhere productive. It might actually end up sounding horribly cynical and depressing, so keep in mind that this doesn’t reflect my true views on things but just some ideas I’m trying to make more sense of and integrate into my personal ideology in a more palatable way.

U.G. rejects the idea of any truth-revealing system or ideology, holding that there is ultimately no great truth to be discovered. He regards these ideas as merely defense mechanisms created by fearful organisms as barriers to naked interaction with experience. He maintains that there is no Self to be separated from the Universe and experiences the Self claims to have; rather, we ultimately are only the experience of our form interacting in tandem with the environment. We use thought as a barrier between Self and the world beyond, constantly interpreting and filtering, never truly experiencing. By doing so, we deny our true nature: we are unimaginably complex automatons that perpetually live in the present but use thought as a way of constantly taking ourselves to another time or place. All of this is ultimately directed to the search for meaning in life, which is the most futile quest of them all. But by doing so, we ensure that we will never find it. By searching for purpose, we confirm that whatever we are currently doing is purposeless, always placing the goal in the future, and yet the future never comes, keeping purpose eternally just out of reach.

From this view, if there is any purpose to existence, it is the experience of life itself. This isn’t hedonism in any sense; it is only thought that can label one experience pleasurable and the other painful, one good, one bad, so when the barrier of thought is gone, hedonism cannot exist. Pure experience does not discriminate since each is as the next as at the one before, but it is also always new, as experience has no memory, no collected knowledge from one’s culture.

But U.G. even claims that living purely in the present is not the purpose of life either. So if experience isn’t the meaning of life, what other purpose could there be? (U.G. would say there is none but I think its worth at least considering some other views.) Buddhism would claim that it is genuine happiness for all sentient beings, but that would seem to deny our very nature as biological organisms, unable to ever be completely free of suffering. We strive for a state of oneness within happiness, but this is qualitatively impossible. We seek one sidedness but are far too multi-faceted for that dream to ever become a reality. We seek to eliminate all suffering through cultivation of the mind, but what is mind really? Do any of us truly possess our own minds? As creatures conditioned from the moment of conception, what could ever arise in man that is not part of the collective mind of mankind, which spans culture and history? Any thought you’ve ever had is part of a causal chain, however infinitely long and complex it may seem, that began with something received externally: “Your culture, your philosophy, your society has conditioned you, and now you think you can change or in some way modify that conditioning. It is impossible, for you are society.” So to be free in this sense, one would need to become entirely divorced from society and all knowledge of the past.

In the end, essentially nothing he says can be proven either way, since everything could be an illusion or psychological defense mechanism. Things really exist insofar as we devote our mental energies to them. Does the Mindnut exist beyond my own mind? Even “I” only exist within my thoughts. Cogito ergo sum. We fear the death of thought because it is ultimately the death of ourselves. We create this false continuity between moments to help strengthen the idea of a continuing Self, linking one moment to the next. What are we besides our perceived stream of consciousness, illusory pieced together moments, infinitely touching back to back to back, forever contorting a system that will always remain a system. Many people say that want to be free of this conditioning, but if they really wanted it, it would just happen. It cannot ever be achieved if it is kept as a goal to be reached in the future; this only strengthens the belief that you aren’t already there. Even the desire for that freedom is conditioned by society, further fueling a cycle in which escape must be both instantaneous and spontaneous. And once you understand, life is no longer suffering, it just is. This sounds somewhat nihilistic, but it isn’t really. There just isn’t any discrimination between anything because there are no thoughts to discriminate between. Maybe that’s the emptiness that Buddhism talks about?

Man, I think I need some lighter reading…

Even if U.G. is right about all of this, it doesn’t even really matter as far as 99.9% of the population is concerned. I originally had a difficult time trying to reconcile the desire to help other people live better, more satisfactory lives with many of his views. His stance is that no one can ever truly ever help anyone since his understanding is purely experiential and cannot be conferred on another, or even on one’s Self, by any means. This may be true, but I don’t think that level of understanding is what most people seek, and that’s the crux of the issue: it all depends on how you want to help and what you want to achieve. In the absolute sense, sure, maybe U.G.’s level of satisfaction is non-transferable as he exists outside of social reality. But most of us live within society in which that form of reality is about as real as it gets. It almost parallels the different goals between Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism: one seeks enlightenment for the Self for the sake of escaping the system of samsara whereas the other seeks enlightenment for the sake of others and sticks around within samsara to help, since it is ultimately only from within the system that one can help those that are trapped within it. So one may strive for perfect understanding and a clear vision of reality, but what good is that if it’s only used for egotistical purposes (though by that point there is no ego to boost, so the goal really just becomes understanding for its own sake.) Again, I think some lighter reading might do me good.

Back to the note of the program ending, I think another big reason for my lack of sadness regarding its wrapping up is the fact that I have another week left of traveling in India, for which I’m incredibly thankful. Although the program was in technically in India, it was undoubtedly far more of a taste of Tibet and Tibetan culture than the country that’s housing the exiled government.  I didn’t have much of a chance to see India beyond Vizag the last time I was here so it’s going to be amazing to see a good portion of the North. The original plan was to do Naggar for 4 days with day trips to Manali and 3 days in Delhi but, writing this retrospectively, things (thankfully) didn’t work out like that at all.

Did the Buddha Have Free Will?

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From memory arises intention; from intention, thought; from thought, exertion; from exertion, a wind in the body; and from this wind comes the action. What does the soul do in this process?
-Vasubandhu

One of the central tenets of Buddhism is that of pratityasamutpada (dependent origination), the belief that all phenomena exist within a web of mutual interdependence. Within this web, all causes have effects and there can be no effect without a preceding cause. This system of causality is manifested within the lives of sentient beings through karma, which translates from Sanskrit as ‘action,’ and has been discussed briefly in my earlier post the Law of Karma and the Chinese Occupation of Tibet. To many people, this idea of karma smacks of determinism, the belief that everything that happens is caused by conditions such that nothing else can happen. This view would hold that our lives are controlled purely by past karma, suggesting that as sentient beings we have no free will. This idea is completely anathema to most people since it suggests that we are merely at the mercy of our past actions, forever reaping the fruits of what we have sowed.

However, when people claim that they believe to they have free will, their definitions of the term often vary, so some clarification of what I mean by ‘free will’ will probably be useful. On its most basic level, free will is the ability to voluntary choose how to act and to act without a predetermined cause or constraints.

But what would it really look like for man to be able to act without causes or constraints? I could smash my computer, back flip off the roof that I’m writing this on, run a half-marathon up to McLeod Ganj, and chug a Kingfisher that I stole from the store. Clearly this could not be the state of things, so the pure indeterminism of free will doesn’t seem particularly palatable either.

In discussing the relationship between karma and free will, the Buddha propounded the middle doctrine in which there is neither absolute free will, as in the scenario described above, or hard determinism. Because the Buddha realized that it is was impossible to conclusively prove either of these stances (as it still is), he adopted a pragmatic approach, rejecting both of these extremes due to the harm that these would cause to our lives, understanding that at both poles our morals would be entirely irrelevant.

We don’t have completely free will because we are constrained by physical needs and circumstances, as well as by our many mental obscurations that cause us to act reactively to our thoughts and emotions. Additionally, we are also restricted by the many natural laws of this universe. Even the omniscient Buddhas do not have completely free will; if they did they would be able to liberate every sentient being instantaneously. Furthermore, if things are completely indeterminate as they would be in a situation of absolute free will, reality would be completely random, removing any incentive to act morally. If things could happen for any reason at all, what would be the good of having moral responsibility?

Conversely, our lives are not entirely deterministic either: this would discount the powers of volition and metavolition (volition about volition.) The ‘right effort’ element of the Noble Eightfold Path would be completely meaningless if we lived in a reality in which effort had no impact on outcomes. If we were completely subject to the karmic chain, it would be impossible to take any action that might result in generating good karma or bad karma independent from what our past karma has already dictated. Additionally, as with pure indeterminism, hard determinism takes away all incentive to act morally as well, since unwholesome behavior would have no effect that isn’t already determined. There would be no motivation for affecting personal growth since the person we will become is already written.

So we lie somewhere between absolute indeterminism and hard determinism. It’s a situation in which there are multiple feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and present actions. There is free will, but it is somewhat restricted by the past (and also by present obscurations of the mind, as will be addressed shortly.)

But who is the actor that exerts this degree of free will? Since Buddhism doesn’t believe in any autonomous self (see: Did the Buddha have a soul?) who could be considered the figure acting with volition? It has been asked:

Who is the doer of karma?
Who reaps the fruit of Karma?
Does Karma mould a soul?

To which the Venerable Buddhaghosa responds:

No doer of the deeds is found,
No one who ever reaps their fruit.
Empty phenomena roll on.
This only is the correct view.
No god nor Brahma can be called
The maker of this wheel of life:
Empty phenomena roll on,
Dependent on conditions all.

So it would seem that there ultimately is no identifiable actor. Will power need not necessarily belong to any particular autonomous entity, but could rather be a characteristic of the mind itself. Karmic imprints are made upon the subtlest level of consciousness, which lies within the 5 aggregates (constituent parts) of human beings. Because this very subtle level of mind is obscured by the afflictive emotions of hate, greed, and ignorance, man’s ability to act freely is severely limited. We can certainly act freely, but only within the restricted domain posed by these afflictions. Buddhists would consider one to possess free will if one is able to control one’s mental states, and to the extent that one has mental freedom when choosing, one has free will. In it’s purest state, a being that subsists in the subtlest level of consciousness would be able to achieve the closest thing to what would be considered to be pure free will, unhampered by all karmic seeds and mental obscurations: our lives are as deterministic as our mental afflictions and conditioning dictate. So this view would suggest that while we currently have a limited degree of free will, it can be increased and enhanced as we free ourselves from the ignorance that causes us to act reactively, constantly influenced by the obscurations of our own making.

So the Buddha didn’t have perfect free will, but he had substantially more than I do.