New Delhi: Moving through the streets to get on the highway to the airport; rough and bumpy, chunks of road surface missing. Demolition and construction, the urban environment is getting knocked down and rebuilt. We stop at an obstruction in the road caused by a large lorry unloading bricks, sand, cement and all I can see is the rear end of all these small vehicles standing together, jostling to get through… transportation of goods and services; bits of pipes and fittings, cables and plumbing items. Packages wrapped in plastic, held with bungee cords on the back of motorbikes; components, textiles, items boxed in packaging. A cycle rickshaw with a refrigerator on the back, and another one blocking the space with a large plywood panel tied on with rope at an awkward angle.
Drivers getting upset, the sound of horns, people walking around this blockage and through the traffic, carrying things on their heads, dragging children. Pavements are not for pedestrians, there are obstacles, tree roots, missing paving stones, sometimes no pavement at all; heaps of rubble, deep holes below where the drainage system is seen. The earth is beneath the streets, beneath the tarmac and the concrete and the clay, a substance created by erosion, geological conditions. The ‘developing world’ – no such thing as the ‘developed’ world. All of it is subject to change.
Up above, there’s a mass of overhead cables slung between high concrete posts, and a barefoot technician is up there on a bamboo ladder resting on the cables themselves, pushed out in a big stretch to accommodate the weight of him on the ladder. He’s threading another set of cables through, his partner below holding the ladder and traffic gets past them like the river flows around the stones in its path.
The infrastructure of the city is in the centre of my vision, not hidden. Everything that the environment is made of; all this is seen, the inside of it as well as the outside. Systems, processes, how things are done – evidence that the world itself is a constructed thing, put together, assembled, built. It has an unfinished look, bits of it are missing, removed, or not installed yet, or just left exposed; somebody took away the screws that hold the cover plate in place.
Things are unexpected, uncertain, everything is so much not what we think it is, there are no assumptions. The Western point of view that it ‘shouldn’t be’ like that – it ‘should be’ like this, is a concept imposed on a living organism, alive and moving. If I allow the organism to be as it is, I can disengage from the mind state where I think it’s something it’s not, and everything that’s currently bothering me about that disappears. I choose to be with the uncertainty of it, more and more; look at the dilemma of suffering without attaching to it; and challenge my tendency to see it in terms of a constructed self: anicca, dukkha, anatta – impermanence, suffering and no ‘self’.
Arrive at the airport, check in, and through to Departures, happy to be in these ‘normal’ surroundings …the flight for Bangkok is now ready for boarding… I’m just a visitor, on my way to somewhere else. It’s difficult for me to have the infrastructure poking through into the way I choose to see things, because usually I have negativity and unpleasantness hidden away. Since childhood, my belief has been based on affirmative statements: the act of creation and the idea of a heaven… only pretty words. The truth is that ‘heaven’ is a reality beyond description – language doesn’t go that far. This kind of childlike ‘heaven’ is a fiction, not real in the sense that I am in the real world; the nuts-and-bolts of conscious experience, the present state of affairs. This here-and-now reality is fundamentally the same as it was 2,600 years ago, in the time of the Buddha, here in India.
What I’m trying to do now is to resolve the issue of fearful uncertainty by accepting the fact that there is an underlying sense of suffering (1. dukkha) in life and I need to contemplate this feeling with forbearance, rather than run away from it all the time. The direction this contemplation takes is simply to find out what it is I’m doing that’s causing the suffering (2. tanha), and stop doing that. It’s about letting go of whatever it is that’s causing it and I notice when that happens, the suffering stops (3. nirodha). This insight suggests there is a possibility I can stop the suffering completely and I follow the guidelines (4. magga) that show me how to do this consciously, in daily life. [The Four Noble Truths]
Time to go now, hand over the boarding pass to the Thai staff, she separates it along the perforation and hands me back the tab with my seat number. Goodbye India! I’ll be back in two months. Laptop bag on shoulder, and off down the passageway to the aircraft…