small journeys

 IMG_2126POSTCARD #120: Bangkok/ChiangMai flight: it just happened by itself, we got on the plane and it took off, M said na boowa (boring) and spent most of the time reading her book, 400 pages, a detective novel. It’s the largest book she’s ever read, and now 2/3rds the way through, I’m amazed and I can’t find anything to say, so I have to read my book too: Rabindranath Tagore: ‘The Religion Of Man’, a series of lectures at Oxford in the 1930s, in which he insists on a higher Self – must have been ground-breaking in those days. Looks to me, now, like wishful-thinking although there are so many examples of folk songs and ordinary utterances; I’m more or less convinced. He was popular in Oxford because of his high class (Brahmin) lineage. I ask M about her detective story and receive such a complicated narrative it’s difficult to follow: okay, yes that’s interesting, so we can talk about this later.

We get landed and mommy is waiting to receive us, a big hug, into the car and we’re away. Stop for lunch on the way and I can see M has this hang-up about having to eat… she’s not hungry but mommy has this anxiety about it, so we have to go eat. M performs the best she can and I eat until I’m full… required to set a good example, although M can see through that – it’s a game we play; a secret we have. Back in the car and they drop me at the condo. A world alone just me and the pills I have to take for high blood pressure and the silence of no questions from M. I fall asleep and dream about all kinds of dialogue with M even though I know she’s not here. Wake up in the darkness and it’s the same as if she were here, watching a YouTube video and when I ask her a question, she doesn’t answer… just a presence.

This is how it is without her…

“It cannot be gain-said that we can never realize things in this world from inside, we can but know how they appear to us […] the sky and the earth are born of mine own eyes, the hardness and softness, the cold and the heat are products of mine own body, the sweet smell and the bad are of my own nostrils” [ Rabindranath Tagore. “The Religion of Man”]

34 thoughts on “small journeys

  1. He was popular in Oxford because of his high class (Brahmin) lineage.

    Hmm, I can’t help thinking his Nobel Prize and superb writing may have had something to do with it too.

    It’s been a long time since I read The Religion of Man and though I remember it as reflecting a poetically transcendentalist sensibility rather than a rigorously scientific or philosophical one (which disappointed me at the time) I’m not sure what you mean when you say it manifested wishful thinking. If you’d care to elaborate I’d appreciate it.

    (BTW, one thing I remember thinking when reading The Religion of Man was that Osho’s writing on the Bauls had been lifted from Tagore without attribution).

    • Disappointment is the word, it’s an example of the ruling class oppressive dominance and control of the masses in ignorance ( that which they ignore) a clever trick we can see through now….

      • Are you saying Tagore was speaking to the Oxford dons as a fellow upper class/caste oppressor? I’m writing from near ignorance here as I can remember very little of the text beyond his anecdotes about Bauls but considering how conscious of class oppression I was at the time I’d have thought I’d have been exquisitely sensitive to such an interpretation and I don’t remember considering it. Mind you, I’ve long had the tendency to idealise Tagore and may have blinded myself to it.

        It’s always seemed to me that Tagore was very down on the interpersonal and spiritual poverty of Western civilisation (as were his fellow transcendentalists Thoreau and Emerson and his fellow anti-colonialist Gandhi) and I simply can’t see him joining up with British elitists to sneer at their ‘inferiors’. He did, after all, reject his knighthood.

      • And I didn’t know about Osho’s writing about the bauls. It happened that I met a Baul long time ago and I took him back to my place together with other friends in Delhi, He sang and played his simple stringed instrument and he was wonderful…

      • And I didn’t know about Osho’s writing about the bauls.

        I think he wrote several books on them but the only one I read was Bauls: The Singing Mystics. The first few times I was in India there were a lot of Rajneeshi Sunnyasi around and his books were everywhere Westerners hung out.

        I’ve never been sure what to think of Osho. In many ways he was an obvious conman and an unrepentant elitist to boot. OTOH, there was no denying the breadth of his scholarship and two of my wisest friends were Rajneeshis. A trickster perhaps.

        He sure left a few messed up Westerners wandering around India after he died.

        It happened that I met a Baul long time ago and I took him back to my place together with other friends in Delhi, He sang and played his simple stringed instrument and he was wonderful…

        Ah, a twinge of envy. Mixed with delight at your good fortune of course.
        So far as I know I’ve never met a Baul.

        Would that instrument have been an ektara? (One string running between a double bamboo neck to the centre of a drum membrane in the resonance chamber. You can pluck it, strum it and tap or beat the drum while changing the pitch by squeezing the flexible sides of the neck.) I loved messing with my ektara and the friend I gave it to became very skilled with it.

      • Yes but in those days (thirty years ago), I was sure of myself. Not so nowadays. The Baul is probablby dead now, smoking chlam with huge inhale. I don’t remember the instrunent as you describe. only the voice, it filled the room….

      • Thanks for that video. He was a man of course but it could be the same song, all I remember is the orange robe and I had eyeglasses that were hornrimmed, kinda orange in colour. He wanted to have them, tried them on, looked good on him but I couldn’t give them away and that was okay he forgot about it…

      • Reminds me of a singing, tabla playing sadhu I met in Vashista near Manali.
        The thing he spotted of mine that he coveted was my cassette of Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland (he wasn’t a very strict sadhu – he owned a big ghetto blaster he was always scrounging batteries for). He told me he’d been trying to get a copy for nearly twenty years. He got it.

        In the clip Parvathy Baul looks like she’s playing to one of those intimate soirees that seem to be a feature of life in Trivandrum and is one of the reasons I love the city (if I had a choice of any Asian town or city to live in it would be Trivandrum). I was often invited to small gatherings of no more than a couple of dozen, usually in a private home, to be entertained by amazingly skilled singers, dancers, poets, art or philosophy lecturers, etc – some of them quite famous within India. Trivandrum has the most vibrant intellectual and cultural life of any place I know, but much of it’s pretty low profile until you get to know some locals. Like so many places in India, once they get your measure they just slot you right into their community as if there was always a place waiting for you.

      • Yes but, I can’t help thnking it was the ‘association’ Tagore wouldn’tve gotten into the Oxford club hadn’t it been for the upper class thing. That’s how Oxford is. Any means to achieve the goal or to create some direction towards that – I’m sure he was thinking of that, but it all gets confused (Paulo Friere. “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”) when I look closely at Tagore’s words I can’t see anything that’s saying that which is out of the ordinary so I guess that was the oppression of Oxford or naivety or both. they tricked him…

  2. You cracked me up here… with your needing to set a good example… forced to read your own book because M has committed to reading hers… There is something comical about that for me. Particularly in the book-reading example, where the adult is seemingly not wanting to be out-adulted by the child… We all have to keep up appearances! Hilarious! And lovely. Your sensibilities as ever are delightful to read.


    • Thanks Michael, you can imagine it’s not easy in all kinds of ways. Everytime I come over to Chiang Mai to take care of M, I put on a lot of weight because of setting a good example by eating food enthusiastically. Then I go back to Delhi and get myself back to normal weight. Another thing is that we have to encourage M to go to sleep by around 8.30pm and so that means I have to do that as well. Cannot use the computer because M would think it was ok to use the iPad too… so I go to bed and read for a bit but usually fall asleep. Not good for health to eat all kinds of kiddies food and go to sleep early. She’s recently starting to get smart about all this and the truth is getting kinda obvious. I’ll be glad when she gets a bit older and all this eases off a bit…

      • My father always said: “Do as I say, not as I do.” And, well, I honestly don’t know how well that worked. Maybe not so well. But, this stuff is different. I think you don’t have to eat and sleep, etc. carried to extremes. I am sure M will get the message after a bit.

      • I know what you mean; iy was like that for me too. The difference here is it’s about me trying to assimilate into the Thai culture, I do what all other adults do, not wishing to create the West/East discordancy. Anyway, M is almost a teenger now so things will change, she will make up her own mind about how she wants to spend her time…

    • It’s amazing, M is a very affectionate individual, indeed all Thais have this kind of quality. I, on the other hand, missed out on my own childhood, single parent family – same old thing. Oddly enough M is also from a single parent family and I’m one of the few men in the family who come to see her regularly. So it’s a sort of reciprocal thing. You’re right we are blessed to have each other. I often follow her example, actually learning how to relate to people in a more loving manner, that which was missing from my own childhood. A sense of responsibility too so I do everything by text book example… thanks Ellen, it is quite lovely.

      • It is very touching. And a relationship like that can make all the difference in the world for each of you. I was fortunate enough to have a close relationship to my Sicilian grandparents and, as I had a chaotic and problematic home life with my parents who loved us as best they could with their serious problems, the relationship with my grandparents, especially Grandpa, saved me. I see the same loving relationship with you and M. Italians, like you say about Thais, are very loving. Namaste, Ellen

  3. This is to be posted later today. (All being well. 🙂 ) Seems an appropriate comment here too.


    The Universe seems
    In one way hard to endure
    While in another
    It seems we creators make
    It up as we go along

    • I like the idea of it being a unicyclist 🙂 Suggests to me that the Buddhist no-self doesn’t include ‘we creators who make it up as we go along’, and that’s why it’s hard to endure?

      • Karma seems pretty straightforward to me.

        When you see yourself as something separate from the rest of the universe you’ll come to imagine you must push against it to get your way or protect your interests.That’s karma. Vipaka is the universe pushing back (See. Space-time is elastic, just like Einstein said. 😉 ).

        The big question to me is how that perception of separation arises in the first place.

        It’s easy to say it’s an evolutionary device. Survival of the fittest implies competition, hence separation. But the notion of individual (or species-based) survival is already begging the question.

        You can tidy it up a bit by making it anthropocentrically circular. We ask ‘why?’ about survival because we’ve survived to ask the question. But somehow that’s not very satisfying.

  4. “I” always have difficulty distinguishing between the individual and the overall. But then I grew up within an age when an individual wearing overalls was common place. 🙂

  5. Pingback: everything is a metaphor | dhamma footsteps

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