Category Archives: Travelogue

Adventure Time!!!

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I feel somewhat dishonest using ‘Adventure Time’ as the title for this post since I don’t really know if what I’m posting about qualifies as an adventure. However, considering that I spend 95% of my time circling between the same 3 small towns scattered across the mountains, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that going anyplace else is a pretty substantial adventure these days. It’s also another one of those posts where I don’t actually really have anything to say, but took a handful of pretty cool pictures so I thought a bit of text would be nice to balance it out.

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Yesterday I went to Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery, which is about 2 hours outside of Dharamsala. It was beautifully sunny on the drive out, which consisted almost entirely of cruising through the countryside. After having spent so much time up in the mountains constantly shrouded in the clouds, getting out into Kangra Valley was wonderful. So much green, and everything smelled like earth, growth, and sunshine. Hands down 3 of the greatest smells ever.

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When we got to the nunnery it was a complete ghost town. There were a handful of Indian laborers around doing some construction work since the whole facility is relatively new, but I didn’t see a single nun. All of the buildings, including the gompa (meditation hall) were locked, which was a bummer considering that we’d come so far to take a peek inside. I’d heard that Tenzin Palmo was supposed to be in residence at the moment, but apparently she’s currently in Taiwan. Before coming to Dharamsala this summer I had never heard of Tenzin Palmo, but she has a pretty remarkable story, which is told in the biography of her life Cave in the Snow (which I’m planning on picking up soon.) She was one of the first Western women to become ordained as a member of the Tibetan Buddhist monastic order and made a strong commitment to achieving enlightenment in the female form regardless of how long/how many lifetimes that might take. She spent 12 years living in a cave pursuing freedom from cyclical existence, practicing incredibly arduous forms of self-discipline, growing her own food and sitting in a meditative pose while she slept (for only 3 hours a night!) After she came off retreat she took up the cause of securing equal rights for nuns and, in 2000, took substantial steps towards achieving this goal by founding the Dongu Gatsal Ling Nunnery. I’d heard some pretty incredible things about it so making the trip felt necessary, especially considering how comfortable I’ve become with my routine here. The idea of breaking up my ordinary schedule was pretty enticing.

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It was a bit concerning that nobody was around, but we ventured into the ‘no entry’ area where all the nuns live so we could beg someone to open the gompa for us. I was incredibly thankful to have made the trip with a woman since it was pretty clear that none of the nuns were interested in talking to me. We were lucky enough to make it inside the gompa and….wow. It was relatively small and only one room, but it was certainly one of the most remarkable temples I’ve ever seen.

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The gompa had only been finished in 2012 so all of the paintings were in as perfect condition as possible. Although the art was very clearly in the style of every other Tibetan Buddhist temple, there was somewhat of a different flair to it, especially in the way the backgrounds were done. There are fairly strict guidelines for how bodhisattvas and arhats (the equivalent of saints) should be depicted iconographically, so artists don’t have much leeway in that regard. However, the backgrounds are where the artists can really let their creativity shine and it was definitely clear that the painters of this gompa were remarkably talented.

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However, the most remarkable thing about the gompa was that nearly every figure painted on the walls was a female. There were images of Shakyamuni (“the Buddha”), Padmasambhava (the great teacher/mystic that brought Buddhism to Tibet), Milarepa (a legendary figure that achieved enlightenment in a single lifetime), and Marpa (Milarepa’s guru and a great master in his own right), but aside from those 4 figures, every single other image was female. Dozens of female arhats, bodhisattvas, yoginis, and protector deities lined the walls. There were also two astoundingly beautiful stained glass windows, which I’d never seen in a Buddhist temple or monastery before.

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I was explicitly told not to take photos, and I usually abide by that protocol since I think it’s disrespectful to take photos inside of a space that’s considered to be sacred. Additionally, there’s definitely something to be said for needing to capture an experience as fully as possible in a single moment without photos as a future aid to recollection. However, desire got the better of me and I had to get a few quick snaps. I undoubtedly picked up some bad karma by directly going against a nun’s wishes (even if she didn’t see me) and taking photos inside the gompa, but maybe someone will see one of these photos and be sparked to enlightenment, which theoretically balances the whole thing out.

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Sunshine Doe!!!!

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The past couple days have been terribly exciting, whatever that means relative to how I usually spend my time these days. It was completely clear for almost 24 straight hours, meaning I got wonderfully blue and sunny skies during the day, as well as the waning moon, endless stars, and the Milky Way at night. After so much rain the good weather definitely invigorated me to get out and do something.

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Yesterday I went to Norbulinka, the Tibetan center for the arts in lower Dharamsala. It was started in order to preserve Tibetan arts in exile. I don’t have all that much to say about it but really just wanted an opportunity to put up some of the pictures I took there. It was awesome to get to see the thanka painters at all different phases in their work. After spending so much time reading about how intense thanka painting was in feudal Tibet it was amusing to see a bunch of Tibetans in their early 20’s listening to their ipods and wearing backwards hats while painting these incredible pieces of religious art. I also found a way to get on the roof of the gompa just as it got clear so I had a perfect view of the snow on the mountains. Then I hopped around to a bunch of places between Bhagsu and Dharamkot for the rest of the night and ended up on my roof looking at the stars while a jam session was going on next door with solos from all sorts of Indian instruments.

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Today I went to get registered to go see the Dalai Lama speak on Monday and Tuesday. It was kinda a pain because I couldn’t find the place for the longest time and it turned out I needed some things I didn’t have. It was so nice out today that I was happy to walk up and down the hill a bunch of times. In the end it only cost 20 cents to go see the Dalai Lama so my trouble was probably worth it.

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This afternoon I finally succeeded in finding the best Malai Kofta in the area. I had to have tried it at a least a dozen other places but today I finally had one that was by far the best food I’ve had since I’ve been here. I posted up there for awhile reading Heart of Darkness and the Wizard of Oz.

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I started going to a yoga class too, which I plan on doing on a daily basis until I leave here. It’s in the late afternoon so it’s a nice way to segway from reading for most of the day into my evenings (since I’ve really been raging a lot here,) and it’s only $2 for 2 hours so it’s hard for me to justify not going.

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Having so much time to read has been killer. Over the past 4 days I’ve read 1984, Brave New World, Farenheit 451, Heart of Darkness, and 2 of the Oz books. Going over past visions of a dystopian future has been really interesting. One of the most standout commonalities across all 3 visions is the necessity of eliminating anything that encapsulates the ethos of the past. In 1984 this is taken the furthest by falsifying data on a daily basis in order to keep the past perfectly in line with what the government dictates is happening in the present. But even in Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 the government takes the destruction of books as seriously of possible. Knowledge found in books makes people feel inferior in relation to their more well-read peers, confuses them with their foreign concepts and ideologies, and, worst of all, prevents the gradual shrinking of language in order to limit the capacity for critical thinking. As Orwell puts it, “he who controls the past controls the present. He who controls the present controls the future.”

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I find Huxley’s view the most convincing, though I generally hold a high opinion of Huxley so I’m biased. The society he envisions is guided by two fundamental concepts drawn from Henry Ford and Sigmund Freud: mass-production and the equalizing of the pleasure principle and the reality principle. Through mastering mass production of people by cloning and accelerating their growth process and conditioning them through hyponopedia (teaching people while they sleep) the government creates a remarkably efficient and stable caste system. Carnal desires are no longer stigmatized and monogamy breaks down, eliminating any possible discontent from repressed sexuality. And if a basic sensory need isn’t being meet, one can simply take some soma to go on a reality-disassociating psychedelic trip. If all basic sensory pleasures are no longer restricted in any way by society, and if people are naturally conditioned towards certain psychological dispositions, it’s very hard for anyone to ever become unhappy.

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This stands in opposition to Orwell’s vision of a society built by restricting any and every form of pleasure. 1984 is a society built almost exclusively on control by punishment and the fear of punishment. Furthermore, society is permanently at war, functioning both as a way of dumping all of society’s labor into an endeavor that doesn’t improve standard of living, as well as a method of justifying authoritarian behavior since permanent crisis can be said to justify permanent control of everybody and everything by the government. I can understand how Orwell might have conjured up this vision for the future based on the behavior of Hitler and Stalin’s governments, though Huxley’s portrayal strikes me as more in line with our present day situation. I actually was reminded a lot of my experience in China while reading Brave New World. At the end of the day, even if the government is infringing on what I (as an American) would consider ‘basic liberties’, if standard of living is high enough and sensory demands are being sufficiently met, it’s very hard to imagine people rebelling. Obviously this is a vast oversimplification of the situation and far more could be written on the topic, but, frankly, I’m enjoying a Kingfisher right now and don’t feel like writing any more right now.

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Return to Triund

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Haven’t been in much of a blog writing mood lately. I’m afraid I might have burned myself out writing 2-4 entries a day for about a week. It’s been raining pretty constantly for 10 days now so the options for how I spend my days are pretty slim, meaning I don’t really have a whole lot to write about. I don’t actually really have anything espescially interesting to say right now but this was the best excuse I could come up for posting the first batch of half-decent photos I’ve taken since I’ve been here so…enjoy that.

On Sunday I decided to take a hike and go camping so I could get myself to the best possible vantage point to see the supermoon. When I woke up it was raining pretty heavily but I figured it would pass so I set off anyways. Besides, I’d planned on making the hike for almost a week so I would have felt pretty badly if I decided to pack it in just because I was afraid of getting my dreads a bit wet.  The hike itself only took about 2 hours and was relatively rain-free. I was inside of clouds almost the entire time so I didn’t have much of a view to admire, but at least I wasn’t getting drenched.

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I got to my destination around noon, with 7 or so hours to spare until sunset. The place I was planning on sleeping, Triund, is a pretty ideal spot to camp when the weather’s nice. It’s a spacious plateau covered in lush grass that’s kept fairly short due to all of the cows, horses and goats that graze up there. Since I had so much time on my hands I decided to scramble around the boulders for a bit. I thought it would be nice if I could find a cave to spend the night in, really do the whole Buddhist thing right. However, I only managed to come across 2 suitable caves, one of which was already occupied and the other was filled with trash. So I decided to bite the bullet and shelled out the 600 Rs ($10) for a tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag.

I met some other guys that were spending the night up at Triund so we put our tents together and got to work on making a fire.  It had been raining pretty regularly so we could only salvage wet wood but at least we got something burning. They’d each only been in India for a week so far so it was kinda amusing to play the role of some sort of tour guide to area.

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The guys I was with decided to turn in pretty early before the sky had cleared up much but I decided I would stay up as late as it took to get a good look at the moon. After all, that was the whole reason I’d made the trip up to Triund and all I had planned for the next day was strolling back down to Dharamkot.

There were pretty heavy clouds and a rainless lightning storm for an hour or so but some heavy wind came in and finally pushed it all away. For about 20 mintues I had a perfect view of the moon, which was huge and golden, surrounded by bolts of lightning and pouring rain that was still far enough off in the distance that I managed to stay dry. However, the wind kept coming in and it started pouring on me so I decided to turn in for the night.

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So…yep, that’s whats up these days. I also met a group of Tibetans that are around my age so I’ve been kicking it with them at night, which has been fun, though they keep trying to give me tattoos since they’re all just starting to learn. Might have to hold off on that, at least for the next month that I’m here so they can get in a bit more practice. I was intending on going to a birthday party for the Karmappa tonight but had no idea how to find where it was being held. I wandered around between Dharamkot and McLeod for about an hour before it started to rain and I gave up. Oh welllll. That’s monsoon season for ya.

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The Sad Tale of Slug

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I just spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get the Internet working so I could post this. Every day at this place they change the wi-fi so you can’t come mooch if you aren’t buying anything (though I’ve been here enough times already I can get away with it.) I was told today’s password was ‘sugar’ but it just wasn’t working. Finally, I tried ‘suger’ and it worked. Wonderful.

The worst thing that’s happened to me today was that I accidently stepped on a slug this morning. I was walking downhill to get some masala chai before breakfast and was looking at my phone so I didn’t see the slug, but I could feel it squelch the instant I put my foot down. I felt awful. I’d actually gotten into the habit of actively moving slugs off the path if it was somewhere that somebody might step on it.
So, considering that was the worst part of my day, it’s been a pretty okay.

I thought it would be nice to include photos in my posts but I’m afraid there isn’t much to be taking pictures of. I think tis beautiful here but it doesn’t really come across in photos as anything more than standard mountains and sky. The moon has been astonishingly bright, even as early as 6, but my iPhone camera doesn’t do it justice. I’ll bring my real camera up to Triund for the supermoon but that’s not much better than my iPhone. Oh well. All I can do is encourage everyone else to get to as high a point as possible to see it.

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Woke up around 7, did some meditation and set motivations for the day, and then rushed out to try and find someplace to watch a stream of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. That was obviously a ridiculously unrealistic expectation, so I contented myself with constantly refreshing the ESPN homepage until the Internet crashed. I headed off to meditation, getting updates on the game via text the whole way, but had to start meditation with 30 seconds still left in the game. There was a split second when I debated bailing on meditation so I could find out the result, but I realized how absurd that was so I went in.

I’m glad I did since it was a really good session. Over 45 minutes we worked on dissolving each of the elements in the body in turn (earth, water, fire, wind, space) until nothing remains but consciousness, basking in the clear light of its own awareness. Despite a mentally scattered morning I found focus and clarity quite easily today. Even if clear light isn’t actually experienced by anyone but the advanced meditators and individuals at the moment of death and orgasm, sufficient concentration and imagination definitely produced an incredibly clear, alert, and blissful feeling. I actually totally forgot about the basketball game until I was out of meditation and turned my phone on again. I’ve also realized that I can now sit for 45 minutes straight with nearly no pain in my lower back or knees, which was unthinkable even 2 weeks ago. I’m sure it’s the type of thing that will disappear if I don’t keep up it so it’s a strong incentive to maintain a daily practice.

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I had been planning on going to the Tushita library to do some research on mandalas after meditation but the hours were changed today so I ended up getting breakfast with a handful of people from my retreat that are still in the area and have been coming to morning meditation. It was the first time in 4 days that I’ve had a face-to-face conversation with someone for more than 30 seconds so it was incredibly enjoyable. That being said, I’m finding it remarkable how absent any feelings of loneliness have been. Before coming to Dharamsala I was anticipating enduring a couple weeks of existential crises as I adjusted to living by myself without any regular contact with the people around me. I think the retreat helped me become a lot more comfortable in my own body and accepting of the idea of living contentedly with myself, so it accelerated the whole process and crunched it into a week and a half long period. The more time I spend around people at cafes and restaurants the more I become with not really engaging with them. It’s usually a group of people sitting around smoking chillum, talking about nothing in particular. I certainly met a lot of fascinating people the first few nights I was here but I think a lot of that was through my group from retreat, so it was a rather particular crowd. A lot of the people hanging around here just wanted to kill some time someplace relaxed and cheap for the summer, so Dharamsala is pretty ideal. Having a particular purpose here has been nice, though, and all of my projects have essentially been collapsing into one.

After breakfast I went to my usual lunch spot and posted up there for a few hours with a book on the dialogue between psychotherapy and Buddhism. It rained for about 4 hours so I didn’t have anything to do besides hang out and read, which was pretty great. The book hones in on two of the areas I’m most interested in, so reading detailed analyses of crossover between the them was fascinating, though I ended up taking so many notes that I barely finished 40 pages over the course of the whole afternoon. Still, it’s not like I had anything else to do or anywhere to go so it’s hard to complain. This is really the first time in my life when I don’t feel any need to rush through reading. It’s nice to be able to take as long as I want to digest something. As I found out with Siddhartha, reading like that drastically increases the amount of enjoyment to be found in any reading endeavor. Even in the past when I’ve been reading for fun I’ve felt the need to rush through to get onto another book, for no real reason besides to say that I’d read it and catalogue it in my mind. It’s a pretty useless way to read and it’s shocking how little I end up digesting unless I’m responsibility for the material for school so it’s been a nice change in practice. Reading mindfully I guess.

When I got back to my room I found some 25 lb dumbbells lying in the courtyard of the guesthouse and was told I could hold onto them while I’m here if I want. I don’t plan on developing a particularly extensive workout plan while I’m here but I’m finding with all the time I spend sitting around reading and writing it would be nice to get some exercise in addition to my self-guided yoga sessions. No matter how much clarity and peacefulness come about through meditation, there’s something immensely pleasurable about the satisfaction and soreness that can only come from a good workout. Plus, it would be nice to be completely flabby by the time I get back to school in the fall. My ego isn’t so transparent at this point that I’m entirely indifferent to my physical appearance, though my beard is coming in nicely. I brought a bunch of razors but I like the idea of growing a beard for 2 months or so. It’s not quite worth the work of maintaining any sort of special facial hair when I interact with others so infrequently and the bathroom mirror is so tiny I can’t barely see myself in it.

A enourmous wasp just fell into my drink and is struggling and I don’t know what to do. I’m cringing washing it but am certain if I pluck it out it’ll sting my hand, and I can’t just pour out my drink onto the floor. It’s a shade of orange and I’ve never seen a wasp so big, so I’m wary of getting stung. I wonder if this is bad karma. I guess I’m intentionally allowing another being to die because I’m overly concerned with my well-being. On 2nd thought, it’s definitely bad karma.

Probably to make matters worse, I didn’t take any precepts today so I’m seriously looking forward to getting a big dinner and a Kingfisher later. After the rain lets up the night is usually pretty clear so I’m hoping I can get a good view of the moon as I eat. Last night it was so bright that I was able to read outside by nothing more than the moonlight. Counting the days until supermoon!

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On an unrelated note, I’ve been enjoying reading 1984 again and have nothing in particular to say about it at the moment but wanted to keep hold onto this quote and this seemed as good a place as any to put it:
“By 2050-earlier, probably-all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Bryon-they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like, ‘freedom is slavery’ when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking-not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

Low-Key Livin’

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Another fantastic day today. I always feel like I’m not actually doing anything here but when I look at how I spend my time it turns out I’m doing a pretty decent amount of activities. I guess I don’t have any of the stress that often motivates my efficiency back home so it’s easier to feel like I’m doing nothing when I’m really doing something. Funny thing about stress. Not as necessary of a motivator as I often give it the credit for.

I woke up at 7 and sat for 20 minutes, followed by taking the 8 Mahayana Precepts. Ideally, I should be waking up before dawn if I intend on taking the precepts that day but I don’t quite have it in me at this point. In any case, I don’t currently have the full directions for taking the precepts so I’ve been going about it by setting an intention for the day and then committing myself to maintain the precepts until sunrise of the following day. It isn’t official but, given where I’m at in my practice, I feel good about what I’m doing. Taking the precepts consists of abstaining from:
Killing
Stealing
Wrong speech (lying, gossip, idle chatter)
Sexual activity (including thoughts and with yourself)
Intoxicants
Wearing perfume, ornaments or jewelry
Singing, dancing, or playing music
Eating after noon

All in all, it’s a pretty easy set of guidelines to abide by when I’m spending most of my time by myself. I’m generally disinclined towards killing and stealing, and it’s hard to engage in wrong speech or sexual activity when my interactions with other people are so minimal. Still, I definitely need to keep an eye on myself to make sure that my mind doesn’t wander off into the gutter when I’m out on a walk. The two biggest difficulties for me have been avoiding playing music and eating after noon. Having lunch as my last meal of the day is actually pretty freeing, though, since it means I don’t need to plan my evening around dinner (but I’ve hardly been doing that anyways.) I’ve also been doing a lot of hiking so hopefully cutting back on meals will help balance out the fact that all I eat are carbs. Plus, it saves me money, though my meals usually only add up to $6-$8 a day anyways so I’m not especially concerned about that. In general I find taking the precepts to be a good practice to constantly keep me aware of what I’m thinking about and cutting non-virtuous thoughts off at the source before they carry me away.

The view from my usual reading spot

The view from my usual reading spot

After taking the precepts I had a couple croissants and a cup of masala chai for breakfast and then headed off to morning meditation at Tushita. Today’s meditation was on the 6 senses, which I really liked, though admittedly I had some other things on my mind that kept coming up. It’s a very simple, yet powerful meditation, so I intend on posting it as one of the first entries in my ongoing series on meditation.

After meditation I went down to McLeod Ganj with my backpack filled with all the stuff I don’t need here in India. Getting it shipped was quite an ordeal. I had to get it wrapped up in cloth (which was a seriously impressive process to watch), then hand over a few photocopies of my passport, and fill out some custom forms. It ended up coming out to $80, which could have been my rent for the next 2 months. Still, it feels great to have been able to unload half of my things. I’m not moving around a whole lot but I know I will be in the future so it’s nice to know that I can keep all of my possessions in a bag on my back and that the bag isn’t even full. I have very little faith that the stuff I shipped actually makes it back to the States but, hey, it will be a nice surprise if it does.

Getting a bag sewn to ship my backpack in

Getting a bag sewn to ship my backpack in

After shipping my bag off I got some lunch and caught up with some people back home. I took advantage of having such good Internet and did some research on applying for a Fulbright. I’ve decided I’d like to be an English teaching assistant in Mongolia. The more I learn about the country the more parallels I see to the situation that Tibet is in so I think it would be interesting to explore how two different peoples have worked to maintain their cultural and spiritual identity under the oppression of alien forces (China.) I also exchanged my copy of Siddhartha for 1984, which is another book I read in high school but likely had only a fraction of the appreciation for that it deserves. Then I went back to my room and washed my hair, which would have been quite nice if the hot water hadn’t run out after 20 seconds. I also think I fried my blow dryer even though I could have sworn I was using the right converter, so it looks like I’m air drying from here on out. Oh well. Just being able to submerge my head in a bucket of cold water was seriously refreshing.

Stitching my bag up

Stitching my bag up

I also decided that I’m going to hike up to Triund on Sunday night to get the best possible view of the supermoon. There’s someone at the top that rents out tents so I’ll hike up there with just a small backpack and pray for clear skies. I’ve found that I’ve been spending a lot of time in a very small circle going between Bhagsu, Tushita, Dharamkot, and McLeod Ganj, so I think a long hike and a night camping higher up in the mountains will be a nice change of pace for me. Plus, gotta work on getting my legs in hiking form for Machu Picchu (Machu Pikachu?)

And sealing it up with wax

And sealing it up with wax

All in all, life is very low-key and very wonderful. I’m tremendously enjoying having to do so much walking to get everywhere I go and having so much time to read and write. Today I was trying to think about all the things I miss from back home and I only needed the fingers on one hand to get through the whole list:
Friends
Family (which includes my dog)
Potable tap water
Adventure Time
NBA Playoffs
The fact that 40% of what I miss is related to TV might be a sign that some material desires still need to be curbed but I’d like to think that every time I watch Adventure Time I’m becoming just a little bit wiser.

See you in Boston! (maybe)

See you in Boston! (maybe)

Oh, The Nettles

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I’m finding myself falling into a nice rhythm here. I woke up at 7 and took a short walk to get some tea and a croissant for breakfast while checking some emails. Then I made the hike up to Dharamkot for an hour and half long Vajrasattva purification ritual. I’ll get into this meditation much later after I’ve gone through a lot of practices that aren’t so strictly Buddhist, but the general idea is to cleanse your mind of all the negative imprints that it has accumulated through unskillful thoughts, words, and deeds in the past. Although my back had been bothering me a lot towards the end of retreat from all the sitting I’ve found that all the hiking I’ve been doing has put my body in a good state so I can happily sit on the ground for over an hour.

I walked out of the gompa feeling quite light and happy. I spent the next hour or so in the library at Tushita reading about mandalas and yantras. It felt good to be doing some real concrete research for my SURP, and I find it to be tremendously interesting stuff so it doesn’t really feel much like work. I realized I’d run out of water so I walked back over to Bhagsu, grabbed my computer and headed to get some lunch.

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I was originally planning on starting doing some yoga today but on my hike this morning I got run off the path by a flock/hoard/pack of goats and stumbled into a knee-high patch of nettles. I didn’t immediately know what they were so I was a bit scared because my legs immediately felt weird, but someone told me they were nettles. Admittedly, the first thing I thought of when I heard that was Salad Fingers.

My legs are pretty numb and tingly so walking around and doing yoga doesn’t sound particularly enjoyable so I’m planning on posting up with my computer, notebook, and Siddhartha for the next couple hours. I’m hoping the numbness passes and I can walk down to McLeod to mail some stuff but I was told the nettles pain is supposed to last for 24 hours. On the plus side, the tingliness is apparently because of all the blood rushing to my legs, which I was told is good for me, so….that’s something.

Settling In

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This post is all over the place, kinda just pulling together bits and pieces of my experience over the past couple days as I attempt to reorient myself in the world beyond retreat.

I'm living in the red roofed building

I’m living in the red roofed building

After my 3rd move in 3 days, I think I’ve finally found a good spot to hole up for the next month and a half. It’s got about the same specs as the last place: California king, overhead shower with hot water, Western toilet. However, this time I have a sink in my bathroom AND a mirror, so I might actually decide to shave once or twice while I’m here. Though if I do shave I’ll probably just go into town since it’s only $2 for a shave with a face/head/neck massage thrown in. I’ve also run into the odd difficulty that I have more issues with bugs after I shower since my body wash smells so sweet. While I could easily go out and buy some new soap, the more logical conclusion seems to be to cut back on showering. It’ll save water and I figure it couldn’t hurt to do the Sadhu thing for a minute if there’s no one around I’m trying to impress.

As I’ve been moving around it’s become increasingly apparent to me how much stuff I brought with me that I just don’t need. I have 3 pairs of pants, 3 pairs of shorts, and 6 shirts. I only need a fraction of that. I also have a small day bag in addition to my backpacking bag, which is completely unnecessary as well. I was considering giving a bunch of my stuff away but decided that’s something that I’ll probably regret once I go home so I’m just going to fill my extra bag up with all of the things I don’t need, wrap it up in a big cloth and ship it home. Even if I’m not currently moving around much I like the idea of being light when I do move. There’s something very special about having all of your possessions on your back but I currently have far too many of them to make the experience as enjoyable as it could be.

My new digs

My new digs

My current room is also about as ideally located as possible. It’s a 15-minute walk uphill from Bhagsu, so I have relatively easy access to a small collection of shops and restaurants. There’s a guy just a few doors down that does dreadlocks so I can get mine touched up by him for exponentially cheaper than I could back home. The school of poi is only 15 minutes away, as is the place where I intend on starting to attend yoga classes. Tushita, where I’ll be doing daily group meditations and conducing a lot of my research, is a 25-minute walk and McLeod Ganj, the biggest town nearby and where location of the only post office in the area, is about 45 minutes down hill. Perhaps the best part is that there’s a café just around the corner that has jam sessions every night so I’ll be able to listen to a lot of really amazing sitar, tabla and flute players over the next couple weeks. I met some guy who wants to give me flute lessons but I can’t imagine continuing that back in the States so I’m thinking I’ll pick up a different skill.

I’ll be doing a lot of walking while I’m here, but I’m pretty excited about that. It’ll kick my ass a bit, keep me in good shape, and start preparing my lungs for Machu Picchu. Today I strolled around for 4 hours or so today to get the lay of the land and check out all the flyers in the area so I could figure out which type of classes I’d be interested in taking while I’m here. So many travelers come through the area so there are dozens of 5-10 day courses being offered in Tai Qi, various types of yoga and meditation, Reiki, massage, etc.

I’m having a tough time throwing myself immediately into doing work but today actually felt like a productive day anyways. The past 2 days I’ve basically spent all my time relocating and then lounging around cafes playing chess and backgammon and sharing stories with other travelers. It’s all fine and well but hanging out in cafes all day is hardly the best use of my time.

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I’ve also started to get sick (just a cold, not India sick), which is almost certainly because I’ve been taking far worse care of myself than I was on retreat. I’ve only been sitting for 45ish minutes a day and haven’t been getting as much sleep as I should be. Last night there was a rave on the roof of the place I was staying so there was trance music playing until 4 am. I’m glad the place I’m at now is much more quiet so hopefully I can adjust my sleep cycle to coincide with the coming and going of the sun.

During my wandering today I went to a small wooded area that overlooks McLeod Ganj. There are two stupas there, as well as 40 or so small clay retreat houses where monks go to spend extended periods of time. I met one monk who couldn’t have been more than 35 (though it’s hard to tell with monks) who told me he’d been on retreat since 1993 (so almost the entire time I’ve been alive.) During especially harsh winters he returns to his village in the south, but the rest of the time he’s around his hut, meditating for a couple hours in the morning, reading a bit around lunch, and then meditating for a few more hours every evening. It definitely provides an interesting counterpart to all of the people sitting around Bhagsu that are smoked out of their minds all day.

I was experiencing minor waves of anxiety this morning over the fact that I hadn’t started my research in any sort of meaningful way since I’ve been here. Then I realized that I literally have nothing scheduled for the next month and a half so there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. Now that I have a place that I can comfortably and quietly live I’m already feeling far more motivated. Since I’m by myself here I’m ultimately really the only thing that gets in the way of me doing work. That’s always the case but it’s especially apparent when there’s no one else around that I’m trying to coordinate things with. I’ve already met a bunch of fascinating people but I’m not really looking to establish any serious friendships in which we’re actively making plans to do things. With the exception of the guy I met that I’m planning to go do some cave meditations with in the near future I like the idea of keeping myself as free as possible and not getting tied down by anything. I’ve been constantly running into a couple Israelis that I’ve become friendly with and I like spending time with them. It’s very common for Israelis to wrap up their mandatory military service and have a nice sum of money so they come to Dharamsala to relax and recalibrate after life in the military. I’d never spent much time around people in the military so it’s been an interesting experience. The general consensus is that the war is nonsense but being in the military is quite fun so long as the job doesn’t actually involve any conflict. They all agreed that none of them ever wanted to hurt anyone and were tremendously lucky to not have had to kill anyone, but there are a handful of “sadistic fuckers” that are always looking for an opportunity to gun someone down. I’ve also been learning a lot about guns so hopefully I don’t forget it all by the time I get home since I’ve got a friend who I know would be more than happy to talk about it.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m still not feeling tremendously motivated to start doing my research but I constantly think about what else I can write for this blog. My mind is as fresh and clear on a lot of topics as it has ever been so I’m trying to capitalize on that and communicate my thoughts to people at a time when they’ll be most easily apprehended. It’s also easier for me to type up my thoughts than write them by hand since I can let things flow much faster. I’m keeping one draft entirely unedited on a document on my computer to keep the experience as pure as possible and then putting the slightly more polished versions of each post up on the blog.

Not anymore

Not anymore

It struck me this morning that by the time I leave here I will have spent more than half of the past year outside of the country. Between Tibet, China, Thailand, Bhutan, and India, about 7 out of 12 months will have been spent in Asia. Just thinking about it makes me extremely happy. Once I go home I’ll (presumably) be back in the States for at least 8 months, a thought that vaguely terrifies me. The idea of going back to the States at all kind of scares me (don’t worry mom and dad, I am 100% coming home.) I definitely find that a lot of what I do when I’m at school is pretty meaningless. I’m really good at school but that doesn’t actually amount to much or produce anything positive in the world unless I actively make something of it. I guess that’s what it comes down to though: my time is as meaningful as I choose to make it. There’s nothing inherently more meaningful about taking a walk to go circumambulate a stupa than going to get breakfast burritos at Lily’s tacos or getting down at Table Manners, even if I’m inclined to place value judgments on my activates. This is one of those scenarios in which contemplating emptiness would prove highly beneficial to me. There’s meaning where I choose to make it. And while I’m finding a lot of meaning here in Dharamsala, I can just as easily create that same amount of meaning back in Claremont if I make a conscious effort to do so. Thankfully I’ve got another 2+ months to contemplate how to best do that.

To Bhagsu and Beyond

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In the interest of maintaining some semblance of still keeping travel blog I thought I would write some brief updates from my time on the outside. I woke up at about 8 this morning, which is quite late for me considering I was waking up with a gong at 5:45 for the past week and a half. I headed down to the main square in McLeod Ganj but not much was open since most Tibetans don’t work on Monday. I made a quick trip to the post office and then headed up to the daily group meditation they hold at the retreat center.

We were in a room about half the size of the one the retreat had been held in and there were about the same number of people so we were all pressed knee to knee while sitting. I recognized a handful of people from the retreat and couple faces from around McLeod and Bhagsu but hadn’t seen most of the people before. It was a tough session. There was a very strong sense of dullness in the room and, despite having had a very solid meditation session right when I first woke up, I could barely keep my head together during the group sit.

My room the first night off retreat

My room the first night off retreat

After meditation I went back down to McLeod to check out of my hotel and trek on up to Bhagsu, which is about 20 minutes further up the mountain. It’s quieter, cheaper, and most of the non-locals that are there still spend a couple weeks in the area so its easy to find some social circles to run in. Plus, I found a school of poi that rented out rooms so it sounded like a pretty ideal situation. It turns out that the place isn’t actually as quiet as I thought it would be (and one of the walls is completely water stained and leaking all over the place, but that’s less of an issue) so I plan on moving further up into the mountains tomorrow to get some isolation while I work. It’s a shame since I had a California kingsize bed, a Western toilet, AND an overhead shower with hot water. Best part was that it was only $4.50 a night. Living with low expectations for standard of living makes life so much easier. Unfortunately, I can’t really ignore the sound factor, especially when I have so many quieter options just a short hike away.

After figuring out my (temporary) room situation I went to get some food. I ran into some guy that I’d met a couple nights ago so we played some chess and ate together. He strikes me as a pretty perfect example of the type of fascinating people you meet traveling in India. I’ve already met a lot of interesting and interested people from around the world but this guy particularly jumps out at me. His name is Krishnababa. He has dreads about the same length as mine and facial hair exactly like I had going into retreat, which gave me the effect of looking at some sort of funhouse mirror from an alternative timeline 10 years in the future. He’s originally from Romania but has been living in India from the past 3 years, sustaining himself by giving tattoos with a portable kit. He’s also a semi-pro MMA fighter and used to play in international chess championships before coming to India, so he absolutely wiped the floor with me in our game.

Chilling at a cafe

Chilling at a cafe

I also found it equally interesting to get his assessment of me. He told me that he would have taken me at 26, though that my eyes gave me away after I corrected him. Also, like most people here, he guessed that I was Israeli. And as far as my accent he said it sounds like “slight New Yorker but with the touch of someone that grew up in the Tibetan countryside.” So, needless to say it was quite an interesting lunch.

I’ve basically just spent the remainder of the day lounging in a café reading. It’s been raining pretty steadily since it looks like monsoon season came early so not much to do when the storms come in. There was a brief 45 minute period when I was sitting in complete darkness since the power to the whole town of Bhagsu went out but thankfully it came back.

My room at the poi school, leaky wall and all

My room at the poi school, leaky wall and all

Moving further up the mountain tomorrow and I don’t think there’s Internet so I’ll probably be posting blog posts in flurries like today. It makes so much more sense for me to write them someplace pretty when it’s nice out and then just dip into a café for 5 minutes to post them and send my pre-written emails.

I personally find the straight-up travel writing to be far less interesting than the philosophical reflection pieces, though that’s really just because I don’t feel like I’m actually doing anything special with my time. Then again, that might just be because I’m currently living it.

Retreating Into Reality

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In yet another act of me falling ass backwards into one of the best things in my life, I just completed a 10-day silent meditation retreat in Dharamsala. I initially signed up for the retreat because I thought it would be beneficial to my grant research, but at the time I just assumed that I would be in class for a few hours in the afternoon and be spending the rest of my time out and about in the Dharamsala area.

The experience turned out to be essentially the opposite of what I expected. Rather than using the time to springboard myself into research, it instead gave me the opportunity to go on an intense exploration of myself, bringing me to a level of clear headedness and purpose beyond any that I have ever achieved before. I could not have imagined a better way to launch off my first true adventure in the subcontinent.

I was in silence for the entire duration of my time at Tushita (the meditation center), with the exception of 1-hour discussion groups for the first 2 days of the course. Even as far as these retreat courses at the center go, this one was highly irregular in that Lama Zopa Rinpoche, an incredible high lama and one of the founder of the center’s umbrella organization, Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, was present on site for a retreat. The third night of the course he joined us to watch the movie Mystical Tibet, in which he’s actually the star. After that night, he decided to push his retreat back in order to teach on emptiness every night until the rest of the program, which was concluded with him giving the oral transmission of the Vajra Cutter Sutra.

I have a hard time immediately articulating the significance of the whole experience and will likely work it into my writings over the next few weeks. Nearly all of it is deeply personal and I’m still debating how much is worth sharing, though I’m inclined towards bearing more rather than less in the hopes that it might help things resonate with people. If I could even begin to wake just one person up, I’ll feel as if I’m accomplishing something truly remarkable with this blog.

One thing that did seem worth bringing up in its own post, though, is the whole idea of going on a retreat. Coming into the experience (once I’d actually realized what I was doing) I was having a difficult time accepting the validity of the retreat experience. To me, it seemed quite easy to cultivate all of these virtuous Buddhist (but really just human) ideals when placed in an environment so totally cut off from the outside world. No phone, no computer, not even speaking to the people around me. Put simply, it seemed like an escape from reality. After all, what’s there to be stressed about when you don’t need to deal with school, work, or interpersonal relationships? If anything, it sounds like a vacation.

Very early on, however, it became clear that this was absolutely not the case. Far from offering me an escape from reality, my time on retreat brought me as close to it as I’d ever been. Back at home when I’m in school I become so unduly concerned with things like school, life after college, staying in shape, navigating social situations etc. I treat all these things as the end all be all of existence.

But that is a complete and total illusion. It’s just a case of me getting caught up in my small world, 1 world that exists among 6 billion (not even including all of the animals that also live in their own small worlds.)

Furthermore, when I have inner problems stemming from my skewed view of my existence, there are an infinite number of distractions that I can throw myself into: exercise, TV, music, the Internet, drinking, spending time with friends, and so on. There’s literally no limit to the number of ways that I can us to avoid the reality of my situation.

Yet even with all of these possible distractions at my disposal, sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes I can fall into such a state of existential despair (this happens far less these days than it did in the past) and there’s just no way to get out of it. No matter what distraction I seek out, nothing can calm the storms in my mind. The problem just continues to arise and pervade my entire reality, yet I refuse to just sit with it and embrace the discomfort, instead continuing to find a way to use the external world to run away from it. I’m afraid this is a thing that many people do, especially in a society in which many of us have such incredible material means with which we can distract ourselves from our self.

In the end, my solution always seemed to be to just wait it out, knowing that sooner or later external ‘causes’ (this is putting aside the question of how much an external event can and should effect your inner world) would shift and things would settle back to my happy equilibrium of comfortable fantasy existence.

On retreat, I can’t do that. Over the past 10 days, I have spent so much time alone with my own mind and have had absolutely zero distractions to draw myself away from my problems. I simply needed to look each of my delusions in the face as it arose, facing the reality of the situation in a way that I had never done before. Sitting in a meditation hall with nothing but my own thoughts, I couldn’t possibly keep reality out. I was forced to struggle with my demons and, even if it hurts sometimes, fuck, it feels good because I know it’s really and truly bringing me to a better understanding of my sense of personhood.

I also initially struggled with the idea that a high level of discipline brings about greater freedom. At first glance, this idea seemed to be completely paradoxical. However, with a strict code of conduct and a rigid schedule, the mind doesn’t need to concern itself with basic day to day functioning and contemplating how to spend leisure time. It opens up this vast store of mental energy that can be directed towards anything it wants. It isn’t about physical freedom but mental freedom, which is ultimately far more valuable. If you can be mentally free, physically conditions almost become trivial. This tremendous degree of spare mental energy and clarity proved immensely helpful in helping me achieve some of the ego penetrating work I mention above.

It also provided an extraordinarily necessary opportunity to sit and reflect. In many ways, my life has been moving non-stop since the last time I got back from India just over a year ago. From taking classes and working part time over the summer, to traveling to Tibet and China, and then returning to the States to begin plotting out ‘my future’ and relearn how to navigate college, I feel as if I’ve been mentally engaged in something or other for a very long time. During this time I’ve been exploring a lot of religious and spiritual philosophies, yet with little time to sit down and truly reflect on what they meant and how they might apply to my own experiences of the world.

The retreat environment provided me with that opportunity in such an incredible way. I was finally able to spend substantial amounts of time in meditation, as well as receiving Dharma talks on Buddhist topics, to turn my intellectual knowledge into an experiential understanding that comes from my gut. Not to say that I have successfully reached that point, but things are penetrating me far deeper than they were when I walked onto the retreat grounds a week and a half ago. I walk away from the experience with a far more intuitive sense of all of the philosophical systems I’ve been burying myself in for the past year and a half, even finding words flowing out of myself in conversation that I find to be so shockingly on point I don’t see how I could possibly be saying them. Forgive me for the humble brag, but it’s merely to communicate the point that we all have much of this knowledge lying within us, but it becomes covered up through years of habituation to worldly existence.

One thing that did slightly undermine this process of transforming the intellectual into experiential understanding was, perhaps ironically, the constant feed of Buddhist philosophy flowing into me from my meditation instructor and Dharma teacher. There were often times that I would be contemplating emptiness or the law of karma or anything really and before I reached a conclusion, a voice would announce the answer that Buddhism had arrived at. In many ways, this makes perfect sense because it gives as pure a view of Buddhist philosophy and contemplation practices as possible. Yet at the same time I believe it also compromises the experience of retreat in that it often interrupts the stream of thought before it reaches its logical conclusion, keeping knowledge in a strictly intellectual realm.

Curiously enough, this wasn’t something I noticed at all until leaving the retreat center. The first night I was off retreat I went out with a bunch of the people from my program, figuring it would be nice to get to know the people I’d been sitting in silence with for the past 10 days. The early end of the evening consisted mostly of discussing our backgrounds and future travel plans but as things moved deeper into the night, the conversation inevitably shifted to questioning of our existential condition. Speaking with a self-taught guru named Sai that I met in a bar shortly after leaving the center, it became quite clear that many of the people around me resorted to merely packaged answers in responses to his question “who is the I?” and other related queries. At one point he actually said, “Stop with all the Tushita bullshit and tell me what you think. Who are you?” Although I didn’t find myself using generic Buddhist philosophy 101 answers, I did notice how deeply the courses get into my head without even realizing it.

I’ve ultimately decided not to go back on retreat for another 2 weeks tomorrow. While I don’t believe it would be unbearably difficult as I actually had a shockingly easy time committing to the retreat environment, I don’t think it would be productive. I still have so much to digest and I need to return to worldly activities in order to integrate the teachings into my life and avoid having them sit in a mental vacuum.

As usual, this piece has dragged on substantially longer than I planned so I’ll cut it off here and leave further discussion of my retreat experience for future posts. However, I don’t want to leave this piece on a negative note, since I can honestly say that the past 10 days have proved to be the most valuable 10-day chunk of time I have ever experienced. I would seriously recommend embarking on a similar experience to everyone that I know that can afford to spare the time. In a way, I don’t think anyone can truly afford not to.

Learning to Live in the Hand of God

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无为而无不为 (Do nothing and everything will be done.)

Each affects the other and the other affects the next. The world is full of stories but the stories are all One.

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Apologies on the overly dramatic title. I figure to get anybody scrolling by this on their newsfeed to pause and take a look I need a header that packs a punch There’s definitely an easy opening for a Dr. Strangelove reference there but I figure I should just let it be. Throughout the rest of the piece I refer to It as the Universe, though as far as I’m concerned the term is interchangeable with God, Logos, Dao, Nature, etc.  Take your pick depending on whatever jives with your personal philosophy.

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Note: I put a lot of pictures in here because I know what a pain it can be to read chunks on chunks of text. Though the photos don’t necessarily pertain to what’s written immediately above or below them, they’re roughly in chronological order, moving from my time in high school living in Vishakhapatnam/Vizag to last summer in Dharamsala. Photos from this summer are soon to come.

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I’m currently writing this on the (physical) road to Dharamsala. Woke up early this morning to get to the airport by 6:30 to catch a flight to Amritsar. I was planning on visiting the Golden Temple for a few hours before heading south to Dharamsala but ended up having my flight delayed by over 4 hours so I opted to cut out the Golden Temple in order to get into Dharamsala before the middle of the night. At least I got about 20 minutes in the car with the tour guide that was going to show me around Amritsar, which proved to be highly informative and amusing.

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After asking my name to confirm that I was the person that he supposed to be picking up, he immediately questioned whether or not I was an Israeli, which is actually a question I hear fairly frequently when I’m outside of the States. He told me that since I was going to Dharamsala he was curious if I was going to be running drugs (for more information on why this is actually a completely reasonable question check out this piece I wrote last summer when in Manali.) When I responded that I wasn’t Israeli (or planning on running drugs) but that I was Jewish he remained equally enthused. He let me know that Indians love Jews and that they are very admiring of the Jewish work ethic that has led them to so much success. He then told me that he was sorry about the Holocaust and that Hitler was surely just jealous of the Jews’ business acumen. I didn’t really have much to say on the matter so I just accepted his condolences.

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Beside my brief little history lesson on the true cause behind the Holocaust, I also learned that, although Punjabi’s make up only 2% of the population in India, they constitute 70% of Indians living abroad in developed countries (which my guide described as the US, Canada, Australia, and most European nations.) I don’t actually have any way of verifying this fact so I really just have to take my guide at his word. Not much more to say on that but I thought it was a nice little fun fact to know and tell.

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Even though essentially all of my time back in India up to this point has been spent in and out of airports, the experience has still been enough to provoke a remarkable amount of déjà vu. Even in Boston I was having flashbacks of walking through security in Terminal E at Logan with all the other kids on my SYA program back in high school. Once I arrived in Delhi, I was continually hit with images of myself walking through customs and standing at baggage claim with the people on my Emory program almost exactly a year ago. I can only imagine what it will be like to return to various places in Dharamsala that I visited last June, though I’ll be finding out soon enough.

With such an extended layover and an 8-hour car ride, I’ve have a nice chunk of time to look back on exactly how I’ve ended up here. I generally find that constructing retrospective narratives often lends a sense of coherency to one’s journey that’s falsely superimposed on a series of essentially random (or incomprehensibly causally linked) events, but even with the benefit of hindsight I’m having a hard time finding a common thread in my evolving relationship with India. In a lot of ways, I really fell as if I fell ass backwards into the whole thing.

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During the latter part of high school, I developed a strong interest in economics and began to imagine myself going into some econ-related profession. I’d always been incredibly young for my grade so my advisor at the time proposed that I take some time off of school to go abroad. Given my interest in economics, traveling to a country with a rapidly developing economy seemed to be the most practical course of action, placing India and China at the top of my list. I put shockingly little consideration into my decision and somehow ended up on an academic program in the south of India, focusing on sustainable economic development. It still boggles my mind how little time I spent thinking about which foreign country I wanted to move to for 4 months. Without going into any of the details, the experience wasn’t quite what I hoped it to be (though, frankly, I had pretty few hopes or expectations for my experience from the onset since I knew so little about what I was getting myself into) and I left India with a bad taste in my mouth.

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During my first 3 semesters in college I continued down the economics path, though becoming increasingly disillusioned with the whole thing after lackluster experiences both in class and with internships in the finance sector. In the spring of my sophomore year I was feeling especially fed up with my international economics course and decided to drop it so that I could pick up another course to fill a general education requirement. I remember lying in bed at 2 am on a weeknight going through the course catalogue and stumbling across an introduction to Hinduism course. Without any outstanding or even identifiable reason for doing so, I added it to my course catalogue.

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Over the rest of the semester, I found myself becoming increasingly engrossed in the remarkably complex mythological and religious symbolism of India. I’ve always been fascinated by myths, beginning with the tales from Ancient Greece and Egypt that I learned about in elementary school, but a comprehensive college-level overview of the roots of Hinduism opened up a whole new world for me. This was the point at which I really had to question my plans of pursing an economics degree and I soon decided to abandon it in favor of something else, though whatever that something else might be wasn’t yet clear to me.

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At the same time, I was beginning to reevaluate my initial impressions of India and started considering the prospect of returning. Given that I had no plans for the upcoming summer, it seemed like a prime time to make my return. I started looking into academic programs in India so that I would have somewhat of a foothold once I arrived there. I came across a relatively new program being led by Emory University that made heavy use of connections within the Tibetan community and government-in-exile. As with my initial decision to go to India, I put relatively little thought into applying to enroll in this particular program. If nothing else, Dharamsala sounded beautiful, peaceful, and like a nice change of pace from the southern part of the country, which is all that I had previously experienced. Additionally, the program’s premise of exploring how science and spirituality might work together in modern society intrigued me. However, I knew absolutely nothing of the concepts that lay at the heart of the program, those of Tibetan Buddhism. My newly discovered interest in religious studies had been focused almost solely on Hinduism, with brief overviews of Buddhism, Jainism, and Sufism. Up until that point, I’m not even sure if I was aware that Tibetan Buddhism was an identifiable religion in and of itself. I still find this rather shocking given that I would now consider it one of the academic subjects I’m most knowledgeable of.

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The month and a half that I spent in Dharamsala as a part of the Emory program was nothing short of life changing and is chronicled in far more detail throughout the earlier entries in this blog. It proved so transformative that it has ultimately brought me back to Dharamsala this summer to continue research that I began at my time enrolled in the program last year. This time I’m here alone and for a far longer time with a much clearer purpose. As a side note, I essentially picked last summer’s research topic at random. A number of groups had already formed and I had no idea what I was doing so I basically tacked myself onto a group with some of the people that I was most friendly with. We looked into the use of sound in Tibetan Buddhist practice, a topic that I initially had no knowledge of and very little interest in. Only as I got into the research did I realize how deep there was to go and how fascinating the bottom of the rabbit hole might be.

If I could go back and time and speak to myself four and a half years ago when I was first leaving India it would be utterly impossible to convince myself that this is a country that I would ever return to, let alone come back multiple times. I first came here with the goal of learning more about economics (but really just to break the monotony of high school and being at the same school for 12+ years) and now I’m back to dig even deeper into Tibetan Buddhist meditation. I can scarcely think of 2 topics any more distantly related.

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The path that’s brought me here has been fraught with accidents and poorly thought out decisions, generally guided by the desire to figure out what the fuck I want to do with my life without actually having to think about it too hard. This path that continually brings me back to India has undoubtedly made me a happier, more self-possessed person with a greater sense of direction than I ever could have imagined having when I first set foot on it. Hell, I didn’t even realize I was putting myself on a path. At that time, I hardly even knew there was any other viable path to be on besides go to high school, go to college, get a good job, find a wife, have some kids, retire, and die. I am immensely grateful that I’ve come to realize that there are many other ways to live a successful life and that there is not and can not be one single path to happiness.

Over the past 4 months I’ve made a strong commitment to work against my now natural tendency to plan ahead, guided by the Daoist phrase with which I began this post (无为而无不为-Do nothing and everything will be done.) This is certainly still a work in progress. Though I’ve made many strides, I continue to struggle to let go of uncertainty surrounding my future and the sense of insecurity that that often instills in me. However, I’ve found that leaving myself to rest comfortably and passively in the hands of the Universe has brought me levels of both happiness and excitement that were previously completely unknown to me. The past semester has been more enriching and fulfilling than it ever could have been had I attempted to plan it out. I’ve been finding that good things continue to come my way even as I question how it could be possible. Whether it’s the workings of karma, the law of attraction, or some other metaphysical force, I can’t say. Maybe it just comes down to the fact that, like everything else, I’m merely a small part of the Universe and It always provides for Itself.

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I’m sure one of the other lessons here is to not look a gift horse in the mouth, though I admittedly mull over how the hell things could possibly be working out so well for me on a near daily basis. In any case, my tremendous fortune in the recent past (and, honestly, my whole life) is cause for me to feel tremendously blessed and embraced in something far larger than myself. As I head into a 10 week adventure on which I have very little concrete idea of what I’m doing, I find supreme comfort in the fact that things work themselves out in one way or another, often for the better if one remains open to new opportunities.

Given the way the past few years have gone, I’m more aware than ever that it’s impossible to accurately predict where one’s path is leading but in the spite of the uncertainty (and perhaps because of it) I could hardly be more optimistic.