Monday, March 26, 2012

Touching My Toes and Calling it Yoga

"I wish everyone would get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that its not the answer."
 ~ Jim Carrey (Yes, THAT Jim Carrey.)

"Only contentment can make you happy - desires fulfilled breed more desires. Keeping away from all desires and contentment in what comes by itself is a very fruitful state - a precondition to the state of fullness. Don't distrust its apparent sterility and emptiness. Believe me, it is the satisfaction of desires that breeds misery. Freedom from desires is bliss."
 ~ Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Happy people, I've been enjoying the groovy vibes of Rishikesh, one of the more famous yoga centers of India, for the past month. It's not an unreasonable question, but I'm never happy to hear it: "So, what are you DOING?" What is it with all these questions, like it's the frickin' Inquisition or something! Hence the title of my post. Now quit asking.

Though I barely have any ambition remaining in this body, I'm trying to shed what little I have. It probably sounds like nonsense to the majority of you, but it's not exactly a joke. It's actually a practice, and not such an easy one, to live, brace yourself: a free and unencumbered life. To see through the notion that there is a set of conditions that I can avail myself of, where, once those conditions are met, I Will Be Happy. You know how happy you can be when you finally have something that you've longed for? Some say that it's actually not the "having" that is the source of your delight; it's the lack of longing that accounts for it. That fits perfectly with what the Buddha said about the nature of life and its "unsatisfactoriness": it's caused by clinging desire. 

Hold your desires loosely, and see what happens. No need to trust in the teachings. See for yourself.


I wondered how they get the paint into the deep cracks of these statues. Now we know.
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It kind of made me want to have a go. Maybe next time.
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A Belgian couple had ridden this tandem bike from somewhere like Hungary. Google Maps tells me the most direct route would be 8,000 kilometers, or 5,000 miles. Some people are tough! This is the patio area of the Vishnu Rest House, with the Ganges River just in front.
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A vegetable seller in the lanes of Varanasi.
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Revisiting the "Holy Sidewalk Dentist Baba from Varanasi" as I referred to him in this 2006 blog entry. The sharp-eyed among you may notice that he's cleaned up his act a bit: haircut, trimmed beard, and a shirt! (Maybe an IPO is in the offing?) But he's still working, hard, on the side of a busy street, at the gutter. The people standing up are in the waiting room. I arrived just in time to see a bloody tooth being yanked with a pair of pliers. The guy in the far left does that type of work.
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Baba builds dentures and the like, while you wait. I don't know his story, and who gets the money, but he is really busy and working hard. He looks to be doing good work, too.
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Nearby, I thought to let this guy know that his roots are showing. But I thought, heck, why burst his bubble?
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On to holy Rishikesh, an 18-hour train further upstream on the Ganges. This giant statue at a big ashram is the monkey-god Hanuman, opening his chest to show that Sita and Rama reside in his heart.
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I'm so not a hippie, but you might not think so if you saw the people I hang out with. This is the rooftop of my $5/night hotel in Rishikesh, where it turned out there was a big dance party fundraiser ($6 a ticket!) The Ganges runs through this valley way below, and you can make out the towers of the walking bridge in the center right.
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This is the Original Choti Wallah! He's the mascot for a big Indian restaurant. Sitting a few feet away is the other Original Choti Wallah! Two brothers, apparently, had a falling out years ago and split their big restaurant in two, each of them calling themselves the original. I always go to the Original one myself - cuz they have ice cream.
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Holy men and unholy men and miscellaneous stragglers line up waiting for handouts from generous Indian pilgrims.
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Lovely Lucie, from the Czech Republic. I met her two years in Dharamsala and bumped into her this year in Tiru, in the far south, then again in Rishikesh. That might sound improbable but it's not uncommon. Her hair is growing out after she shaved her head recently - also not uncommon!
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A kid and his sister had to be coaxed out of their house for these photos. I'm not always successful, but I'll give it a good try.
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The little sister, who makes me melt.
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My friend Jen volunteered six years ago at this orphanage in Haridwar, about an hour downstream from Rishikesh. She's there again this trip, and I came to visit for two nights.
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Field trip! Taking a farm tractor and trailer to a nearby Hindu temple. 
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These adorable and healthy kids have really excellent care and look happy as can be. Their stories before they came to the orphanage, though, would curl your hair. Unless it was already curly, and then it would straighten it.
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I love these two! I helped them on the monkey bars for a long time. They were just small enough that they couldn't quite manage swinging across on their own. Or maybe they just liked telling me what to do!
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Yeah, OK, I love this kid, too! How could you not...
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I'm not used to seeing water buffalo used to pull wagons, but here you are. I find it fascinating that this method of transportation hasn't changed much for thousands of years.
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I forgot - I love this little girl, too.
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We took another field trip the second day, to a nearby national park where there are wild elephants, plus these working elephants.
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That's quite a load. That's all food for the elephants. We were surprised to see that they stripped off the leaves and only ate the branches.
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The trunks are so dexterous. They're amazing animals, and I didn't like to see them chained.  
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This beauty's mom is a German woman who came to the orphanage to volunteer. She ended up staying, and has lived in the orphanage with her Indian husband (and two beautiful kids) for 17 years!
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Through the bus window. We were parked for a bit while the kids went for a walk, and Jen and some kids were waiting in the bus. A BIG male monkey climbed through the window and sat down on a seat and started going through a bag. Jen said all she could do was yell, "MONKEY! MONKEY!" Monkey wasn't bothered, but eventually left. 
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(The End)

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Name of God is True

"Ram Naam Satya Hai!
Ram Naam Satya Hai!"
 ~ the chant of pallbearers walking down the lanes of Varanasi on the way to the burning ghats
A possible translation: The Name of God is True; meaning God exists, and he is true.

I'm sitting in a train in India writing this, reminded of how things have changed over the years I've been coming here. The essential nature of the place isn't changing very fast, praise Shiva. I just had a conversation with a guy on the train platform in Varanasi and he asked what was my favorite place in India. When I said that beautiful Varanasi is my favorite, he laughed and said, "Beautiful? How can someone say that?!" I thought he wasn't from here, but he was, but he couldn't understand how someone from the land of wide highways, big cars and beautiful houses could think that. Yeah, sometimes I wonder too. 

I tried to explain how, yes, the West is beautiful and clean, but India is SO full of LIFE! It's all on display, like it or not, and among the burning corpses there are foraging cows and dogs and kids playing kites and building projects and chai makers and head shavers and laughing and not so much crying and a sea of vibrating energy that either lifts you up or washes over you and tries to drown you. Your choice. 

"But everyone is happy in America!" he said. I begged to differ, and he said, "I bet 90% of the people are happy." I said, "The problem in the West is that people think they can manage their way into happiness by having the right set of conditions: a nice car, big house, the right clothes, food, temperature, colors, gadgets, etc., etc., etc. And not a single person has ever achieved lasting happiness from a set of conditions. Money doesn't buy happiness, and neither does poverty." 

"I think we need some of both," he said. Fair enough.


This kid with the 20 year-old expression is about two, and sitting on the gas tank of her Dad's motorcycle. What a beauty.
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For those of us who have been coming to the Sarnath program near Varanasi for years, this is a welcome site. Stone workers at the Thai Monastery have been chipping away at massive stones since I first came in 2000, all with this giant Buddha as the final goal.
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This little girl wearing what look likes underwear is begging from a fancy bus full of Asian tourists.
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My favorite sweet shop in Sarnath, and my favorite gut-busting dessert: longlata.
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This is Christopher Titmuss, former Thai monk and meditation teacher for the last 40 years. In the sharing group at the end of our 10 days together, where I'm normally silent, I said that I remembered resisting coming to my first retreat with him in 1995, (then came to about five more), didn't want to come to the first Sarnath program (which I now love,) and was only moderately interested in the first Dharma Yatra walk in the south of France, where I've been six times (and LOVE it.) I said, "Christopher, you're the father I never wanted, you've ruined my life, and for that I am forever indebted."
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A set-up for a modern Indian wedding. They're getting more gawdy, over-the-top and LOUDER as time goes by. I didn't see any elephants in weddings this year, though.
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Beautiful little kid in the village of Sarnath.
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Ah, Varanasi. Dodging the water buffalo as we make our way to our favorite chai stall on the lanes. Don't worry, folks! There's plenty of room for everyone!
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Jen entertained some beautiful kids for at least an hour, including this kid with beautiful green eyes.
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The nightly "aarti" puja at the main "ghats," or steps leading down to the Ganges River. Thousands of people are watching from the steps, and looking out you see all the people sitting in boats in the river.
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A lovely kid near Vishnu Rest House, where I've stayed since my first trip to Varanasi in 1995.
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So adorable.
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Shivaratri, the Night of Shiva, begins. Mayhem follows. Seriously.
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Why is everyone so keen to drink tea? Cuz it's not tea, it's marijuana-laced lassi, a yogurt drink. On this night, and only this night, virtually the whole town, including families with young kids, drink these "bhang" lassis. 
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A small temple just up the steps from the Ganges.
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Much partying was had by all. 
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This character was in a procession, and so fired up with religious fervor that he was grappling with his friends like they were fighting. But they were just being boys.
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Crazy boys dancing behind HUGE booming speakers.
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He's dressed up as some God, no doubt. The snake wrapped around his neck is real. This guy was off his head, and when the cart came to a stop, he almost pitched forward face first.
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This is Shiva, or a dressed-up version, as he stands next to Parvati, who he marries yearly on Shivaratri.
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Who is this scoundrel? His head looks to have evil thoughts therein. He might be scheming on Parvati. 
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I can't explain it. I guess he's a priest, covered in colors, and offering blessing to people along the lanes.
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A small temple next to a lovely courtyard restaurant.
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This full-sized door isn't. It's a stone carving in the same temple, about six inches high. Amazing detail.
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I can never get a straight answer when I ask about why people wear this wide yellow stripe.
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A nice handlebar moustache.
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Oh, yeah. I love this one!
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Jen is standing in the lane as a body is carried down to the burning ghats. "Ram Naam Satya Hai!"
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The girls having a henna party.
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It's traditional for the oldest son to have their head shaved when a parent dies. It's amazing how fast they can shave a head.
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Sunrise over the Ganges. I don't see many sunrises, so I make sure to take photos when I do!
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The famous ghats of Varanasi. The other side of the river is completely flooded in monsoon, so the city is only on one side.
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I can't explain it, as much as I'd like to. He looked Indian, but his clothes didn't.
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(The End)