the journey to get there


Nepal/India border: Trying to find a wet-wipe in my pocket to remove a food stain on my white T-shirt here in the hotel dining room (on the way to Lumbini). If you’re on the road, you have to carry all your possessions in your pockets and it ends up like you’re a walking bathroom cabinet, laden down with personal effects and bits and pieces from the journey. I start to unload things, a toothbrush, a shaver, a wrapper from a holy piece of gold leaf, a ticket stub that allows entry to Bodh Gaya shrine, a pack of tissues, a wad of 10 Rupee notes (US$0.18) for giving away to beggars and all kinds of coins in small denominations; heavy bulging pockets but no wet wipe, so I go to the bathroom to get some water to wash the stain out.

Step inside and the floor is covered in water of dubious origin, splish splash across to the sink. Wash stain off T-shirt and I just know that if I start thinking, I don’t want it to be like this, I’m going to make it worse than it is already: ‘Feelings of pleasure and pain, like and dislike, arise from sense-contact…’ [Ajahn Chah, Timeless Teachings] So I focus, mindfully, on the task right now and, splish, splash, splish out into the sunshine. I suppose it’s just a different way of looking at priorities. There’s a whole lot of things going on here I just don’t know anything about – some of it is difficult to accept, all of it is richly vibrant. Another instance of it was when we entered the hotel dining room, white linen table cloths and silverware, and there was this absolutely deathlike chemical smell. Somebody said afterwards it was the disinfectant that’s used here. It was like something volcanic. The sensory cognition mechanism gets hold of something it hasn’t experienced before and attempts to identify it by retrieving files from the data bank. What gets conjured up is a series of exotic possibilities. After a while, it became less noticeable, then it seemed like it was completely gone – maybe it was still there but we just didn’t notice anymore.

I’m inclined to think visiting the Buddhist historical sites is mostly about the journey to get there; if you’ve done it, you’ll know what I mean. There are extraordinary and wonderful stories about this journey, some can be found in Ajahn Sucitto’s two volumes: Rude Awakenings and ‘Great Patient One’. And I’m wondering how things were during the Buddha’s time, less people and pre-industrial, but was this vibrant energy, that’s here now, present then? Could this have been, in some way, the context that played a part in and inspired the effort to find a way out of suffering?

All kinds of stuff going on. Some time later in the day, I passed a cow eating cardboard packaging from a wastepaper bin. It raised it’s head from the bin and there was a long strip of torn cardboard dangling from the mouth, chomp, chomp chomp. Then later I saw another cow tearing off a piece of paper poster stuck on a wall, using it’s long grey tongue with front teeth to trap the small paper scrap quite skillfully. It must be the paper saturated in paste made from some kind of ingredient like flour and the cellulose in cardboard is edible. Just snacking; they  looked like healthy animals. In the time of the Buddha they wouldn’t have been eating cardboard, they’d have been eating other things but allowed to roam around freely, same as they are now. And here I’m looking at things that are not much different. The centuries pass, industrialization arrives, and the cows wander into the 2nd Millenium AD in a rural environmnet that’s pretty much the same as it was in those ancient times.

Upper photo: view from the bus to Nepal, Lower photo: from the Witit Rachatatanun Collection

3 thoughts on “the journey to get there

  1. That’s true about carrying your life in your pockets on the road!

    I am actually about to do an exercise with my students where they see what they can learn about someone from the contents of his/her backpack. Doing the same with pockets would be an even more interesting practice.

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