Letter from Bodhgaya
Bad Manners and Perverse Behavior
Your correspondent is at a low ebb right now, a condition not wholly attributable to the waning moon in Sagittarius as I write. It stems partly, I’m sure, from the unrealistic expectations I have of others, as well as an underestimation of the terrifying nature of samsara. I’m just perhaps beginning to understand that this unbearable prison of cyclic existence is not a pleasure grove, but because the practice of the three higher trainings is not yet planted firmly enough, nor the first of the three principal aspects of the path, (renunciation, dear reader), small events still cause unsatisfactory turbulence in the mind.
So, when I found myself reciting my morning practices hunched over on the top berth of the Rajdhani Express train to Delhi last week opposite a young comely lass from Gaya who also appeared to be sitting in a half lotus and with eyes closed in a serene posture, I presumed she must be meditating, and further that she must be a very nice and kind person as well. The bubble burst when she uttered an uncouth statement due to an incredibly minor inconvenience, and later rudely snatched from my hand without so much as a thanks a bag that I had kindly handed to her from a place where she couldn’t have easily reached it herself. A college student perhaps, glad to study or work in Delhi away from the provincial dust and dreariness of Gaya, but without that quality of good-heartedness or respect for others that Rinpoche urges us to inculcate in our Maitreya School students again and again. It was discouraging, I must say.
Since then I’ve encountered more of these brash, young, self-preoccupied students who relate with others more on the basis of self-importance than on any genuine attempt at what I consider meaningful communication. Maybe I’ve been in the countryside too long, away from the emerging mental landscapes that mirror the increasing speed and superficiality of modern Delhi. Or perhaps, as I approach 50, it’s the age factor.
You’ll be glad to know my irritation at these minor misdemeanors of my fellow mother sentient beings was soon replaced with a sadness at how the latter have to live and work in dehumanizing environments. For example, the young IBM computer engineer in a high-rise office near Connaught Place, who most kindly did a free appraisal of the state of my clapped-out dinosaur of a ’90s ThinkPad laptop, was working in an environment perfect for a computer but unsuitable for a flesh-and-blood being. Grey, pictureless, seemingly airless, not a flower or plant in sight. I wish I could have sat him down, had a chat, and escorted him magically to the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya to watch the wind ripple the leaves and hear the chants of the faithful. And remember, he’s a lucky one, with sufficient salary, etc., unlike the laboring masses who flock to Delhi, many of whom are reduced to begging. I’m paying 15,000 rupees for dental work this week but find it difficult to give small sums to street beggars, I have to confess.
I go back to Bodhgaya tomorrow. You’ll be glad to know I have paid for my ticket and am not one of the many ticketless travelers in this great country. Recently, my Buddhist organizer friend in Gaya said he and fifty people had traveled to and from central India (where they’d attended a Buddhist course) without tickets. The reason? No money! How convenient. They talked the ticket inspector into accepting the situation, stating as one irrefutable good reason to let them go free the fact that they had embarked on their journey with only good intentions in mind – that is, to do the course. The next talk I give them will have to include the karma of stealing. The dear organizer was also a bit put off that one of the institutions in Bodhgaya hadn’t given him a large Buddhist flag to accompany their non-paying delegation. The formula seems to be: cheating the railways + displaying the Buddhist flag prominently = successful Dharma tour! I exaggerate only slightly.
What is to be done? And what about the poor indigenous hungry-looking wallahs in monks’ robes swarming in the Holy Place of Awakening recently, some of whom have in the past admitted that they wear the robes for the season, earn some money and food by roaming from one puja or prayer festival to another, and then go back to their families or whatever after the winter season. You can begin to understand why the kind guru wants to do something for the re-establishment of a genuine Indian Sangha.
And so, as my brother in Israel is wont to say, life goes on. I hope one day to be able to cherish with great compassion those around me who disturb with bad manners and perverse behavior. But how can that happen when I myself am still not sufficiently out of line with the distracted worldly beings who are attached to this life? It’s not just a matter of Kadampa club membership being a long way off yet. Sometimes it feels as though the most basic building blocks of the spiritual life have to be built afresh. Je Tsongkhapa says that up to now we have been under the control of our delusions and that we need to reverse that unhappy situation. Right now, life is challenging but not drastically so. The question to myself is, what’s going to happen when the going really gets tough and the familiar, comforting reference points I’m surrounded with begin to change or fall apart? I think something of this nature may happen soon, and you’ll need to keep watching this space to see how I cope. If I’m honest, I may then see chez moi the perverse behavior I now see so readily in others, and if you’re fortunate, you may get one heck of an entertaining read for a change.