New Delhi: Sitting in the car, Shym driving, and I’m in the back seat looking out through tinted windows, incognito. Slow down and stop at the traffic lights. Street people and traders walking up and down between the vehicles, selling kiddy’s toys, books, and all kinds of stuff. Children with bunches of wilted roses knocking on windows, and discussing with passengers in auto rickshaws. One of them presses her face against my window, hands and arms cupped around her head so she can see inside through the tinted glass film. A shadowy head and face spin around looking for where I’m situated in the dark interior. Finds me, then some kind of eye contact, and: tap-tap-tap-tap on the glass with a small coin…. tap-tap. Doing it just to see what’ll happen. Shym puts the car in gear and drives forward a little bit, trying to discourage her but she remains stuck to the glass like glue, walking sideways, legs slightly back out of the way of the turning wheels.
I slide down the window and give her a folded 10-rupee note. Hot street air enters the cool interior of the car like a blast from a huge hair dryer, and I see a dark girl about 9, with hair a light reddish-brown colour, dusty with the street atmosphere. The entrepreneur. How does it look to her? A foreigner gives her money, somebody with colourless eyes, pale, half invisible; like a creature that lives at the bottom of the sea, no sunlight. Her dark eyes hold my attention, intense, penetrating; there’s only ‘the look’. I slide up the window again. Giving her a few rupees is encouraging this kind of livelihood – that’s not really what I want to happen… but what to do? The lights change and we’re off, accelerating through the traffic, overtaking on the left, or the right, wherever there’s a space.
There’s a small smear on the glass where she was looking in. How does the world seem, seen through her eyes? Must be a no-choice situation; hardship at a level I can’t comprehend – we’re not watching the same movie. But it reminds me of something in the early times in Scotland. In those days I was pretty much caught between polarities. A rocky road. I went down South to England and I’d look at other people’s lives there; unbelievable to me, how their reality seemed to be so… bland? Where I was living you’d open the door of your house to go out and the wind would blow you back in. Extremes of climate, extraordinary confrontations; the rough and tumble. At that time, I didn’t know about the Buddhist perspective on suffering dukkha, all I had was the experience of it. The cloud of unknowing… life was held by random karma. Consciousness was a kind of unconsciousness. Awake but unclear, living in a dream… dum-di-dum. Subject to all the whims and fancies; tugs and pulls. Like/unlike – and for long periods, quite lost in samsaric realms. I thought I could just carry on like that, hoping to muddle on through…
Carefree, at times, and reckless, not happy, no sense of an applied mindfulness other than, okay, so… what’s going on here? Sometimes I was nearly right, other times terribly wrong. I’d weather the storm and somehow things stayed okay. The mistake was (although there are no mistakes) I’d be trying to get ‘it’ to do something or be something or become something (or not become something), without realizing that I didn’t have to do anything with it, or make a ‘thing’ out of it, or have it become anything. Just letting it be there in the background, or the foreground or seeing it in the middle distance, not focusing on it unduly – whatever. So the ‘it’ became not so important; less and less of an identity found in the ‘object’, more like a larger subjectivity. It’s the same for everyone but at the time I thought it was just happening to ‘me’.
It’s not about guarding that little self-construct called ‘me’. The Buddha’s Noble Truth of Suffering is about receiving the suffering as it is, conscious experience. Open wide and let it in so then there’ll not be a self for it to attach to. If I can allow the Suffering to enter, I’m not confused by it or perplexed by the fact that I don’t know why I don’t know what it is. I ‘know’ what it is: maintaining a ‘self’ that isn’t there. So I can let all of that go. It’s about relinquishment, giving it all away – a shared experience. A kind of generosity, like giving money to the girl at the traffic lights; she was there to enable my simple act of generosity (raison d’être for panhandlers). Who knows, maybe she has the wisdom I’ve been looking for all these years. I’ve been caught in delusion, a dull puzzleheadedness, caused by the influence of the painted consumer god, the psychiatric witch-doctors – is it so very different from her world? Failing to see that if my life is never nourished by anything greater than what I need and want, I become cynical and negative. There are some people like that; holding on to ‘self’ with such tenacity, they get old and bitter with disappointment. Offering something to somebody else makes me feel good, brings gladness into my life… ‘The Buddha-Dhamma spreads out from here to all sentient beings throughout the universe. Mettā, loving–kindness and goodwill is generated for the welfare and development of all beings everywhere: seen, unseen, born, not born yet, animals, devils and angels. The whole cosmology of possible sentient beings is included in the practice of mettā bhāvanā…’ [Ajahn Sumedho]
These little moments are incredibly revealing about inner character. And to have taken that moment, wrapped in the greater journey, and created this masterpiece… I bow in awe.
Some would say you did wrong, on many levels, most intriguingly at the soul level: your apparent act of altruism in fact being one of ego pleasure meaning you have doomed your own salvation. Bollocks to that! Your 10 rupee note may have meant the difference between eating and not… I’ll gladly take the road to hell on that particular account… 🙂
A small person taps at your window, enters your life, then she’s gone and you spend a long time trying to find a context for it. It triggers all kinds of reactions. I agree with what you say about what some people would describe as the act of giving encourages poverty – this is too far away and intellectual to be of any practical value – ‘the difference between eating or not.’ Thanks for pointing out something that makes it clear to me that we need to recognize the human ‘sameness’ with the girl at the traffic lights. Thanks also for: ‘Beyond liked’:-)
I am struck with a profound sense of both anatta and empathy. Thank you for a wonderful post 🙂
Thank you and sorry I’ve been offline, in hospital with stomach infection – and I could write another post about that. Your observation, anatta and empathy sums it up in a way I hadn’t thought of. The girl’s life must be so much out there in the public realm, it radiates this kind of trust in emptiness…
I’m so sorry to hear about your infection. I hope you are improving!
Thanks, recovering from the antibiotics now…