POSTCARD #249: Lucknow, North India: A short flight from Delhi brought us here, hired car to the Ambedkar Memorial Park. A vast space of nothing but polished marble flooring – no trees, no earth left uncovered. Two and a half acres of marble paving rising in a gentle slope, with some monuments and an avenue with hundreds of life size elephants carved in stone.
The panorama of it, an oasis-mirror-like flatness as far as the eye can see; a heaven realm… hold that thought, from two thousand five hundred years back in the distant past, comes rushing towards us now, into present time, 2017, the Buddha’s First Noble Truth – as valid as it was all these centuries ago.
‘The Noble Truth of Suffering’, yes, I’ve been wondering what that bad feeling was, gnawing away at the innards… the urgency of the human condition applies to everything I can possibly experience or do, or think concerning the past, the present or the future. The relief is in knowing the Buddha has a name for it.
That’s what it is, situated at the heart of everything, caused by the constant craving for something, anything that’ll satisfy a created hunger; the yearning for it not to be like this, please, no, I want it to be better than this. Thus, relentlessly on the run from what we don’t want it to be, towards what we want it to be; that just-out-of-reach object, or state of mind, or any way of seeing it, by any means possible.
This great marble-floored landscape of Ambedkar Park is exhausting; it needs to have something immense in it. The sense is of something huge that’s missing perhaps. Or is that what it’s intended to be? Can’t think, there’s nowhere to sit, then we see a marble bench over there, so we head towards that and stop for a rest. Thinking still of those who are caught in the conundrum of chasing foreverness, conditioned by society into this way of thinking.
Now I’m in fear of this floor dissolving under our feet into a lake of water, grasping at anything and everything, but I’m sinking anyway. Then I see something I can hold on to coming towards me as if it were a boat… but it’s not a boat, it’s dry land, so it must be me who’s on the boat. Step on to this small island… a space opens in the mind: this must be the neither-here-no-there place… this gentle detachment from things, neutrality, “the middle way”… and I find there’s room enough to see how I can think about what a thought feels like without getting involved in the content of it. Flames of desire flash all around but do no harm. Allowing it all to ‘become’ without becoming it. Recognizing the sense of self without that solitary aloneness of the enclosed ‘me’.
There’s just this huge space, maybe one day filled to capacity with the ‘many crores’ (millions) of people gathered here, to be part of this vision of Shakyamuni Buddha as a political and social reformer. According to Ambedkar, a person’s unfortunate conditions are not only the result of karma or ignorance and craving, but do also result from “social exploitation and material poverty – the cruelty of others.”
Until that happens, there’s only the empty space, a sense of the vast no-thingness, suññatā.