You also don’t eat full course dinners for 3 bucks, and drink 16 ounce beers called “The Godfather," (which they call “water” when you read the restaurant tab). You don’t hear free concerts and group chants every night on the pier, get a swanky five star hotel with a pool and breakfast for $40, or meet people every day who just want to chat and learn about who you are and where you are from.
My consumption of literature too, has changed, drastically. For the first time in my life I am studying, really studying, Buddhism, emptiness, and the social philosophy of the Dalai Lama, along with a little quantum physics by Stephen Hawking thrown in. The two actually go together, and you see this clearly when you read “Universe in a Single Atom” by the Dalai Lama himself, a guy who has loved science since a boy, and is quite a tinkerer when it comes to studying the mind as well.
After a few books on these topics, here in a nutshell, is what the scientists amongst us, say we now know.
The theory of relativity is consistent with the time/space warp, but it isn’t consistent with the more recently uncovered theory of quantum physics. So to make up the difference we say there are Black Holes out there. Stuff we can’t see, taste, feel or measure, where light goes in but can’t crawl out, yet surprisingly the lion’s share of the scientific community is pretty darn convinced it’s there. It’s not a big deal though. Black Holes only makes up about 85% of everything they think exists, so not to worry.
There is also a pretty hefty body of knowledge that indicates there may be something to this reincarnation and past lives thing, at least there is going to be a lot of explaining to do if anyone gets a chance to ask God the question and comes back to report on it. And some of that fits with the whole “energy fields” thing, and how everything gets recycled in our lives and in the universe and how we are all connected to everything else. On this, Stephen and the Dalai Lama are like two peas in a pod.
After a few weeks here, my Sweet yet Adventurous Wife and I can solemnly confirm that they were not wrong. We are now living here in Varanasi, 24/7, just five minutes from the banks of the sacred Ganga River. A typical day starts with us hunkering down in our 3 room flat for most of the morning, writing and reading, then venturing out in the afternoon.
As we walk down five flights of stairs from our flat we keep a wary eye out for the monkey troop, said to be part of a 150 strong troop that leaves at dawn from the Monkey Temple, about a half mile away. So as we exit the elevator onto the ground floor, our monkey stick is held tightly in hand. We drop our stick at the gate with the guards, and empty out into the streets with full tanks of enthusiasm.
As we do, we are hit by a fire hose of sights and sounds and smells. My Sweet yet Adventurous Wife seems to gain strength and energy with each passing minute. I on the other hand, feel like I am Apollo 13, with Tom Hanks at my control box, slowly shutting down my inner spaceship to a bare minimum of power in hopes of having enough fuel to safely return to earth. As we Tuk-Tuk down the street, the wife keeps calling out, “did you see THAT? Did you hear THAT?!!” and I honestly can say at each juncture, “no, I did not.”
After an hour or two of such inner peace, I know I will recover quickly (as did Tom Hanks after he splashed down, FYI), and begin reading the local paper and internet.
There is so much of interest here; political fights over eating beef, burning Varanasi cop cars so the Fundamentalists can earn the right to place lead-base painted idols in the Ganga River, fighting female oppression yet banning films that document violence against women in India, even grand visions for making Varanasi, one of the oldest cities on earth, a “smart city”, run by technology that would surpass Hong Kong. With each of these news items, religious practices and conflicts are the underlying theme. It’s a secular democracy here, and Nepal just voted to strengthen their fledgling secular democracy as well. As Egypt and Turkey and other neighbors struggle to not let that Secular Light go out, one sees clearly how things might play out if it does.
While I have not made a definitive decision on this yet, the philosophy of Buddhism, as expressed by the Dalai Lama, with its emphasis on non-violence, compassion toward all sentient beings, and the results of a mindful practice (what I, as a layman call “getting my head screwed on right”), makes a lot of sense to me. I can even get down with the idea of reincarnation. It doesn’t hurt anyone, makes some scientific sense-at least a tiny bit-and is a nice way to think about things. And, I love that Buddhism makes room for all religions and doesn’t get all preaching about “The WAY”.
And it all fits nicely with the work I’m trying to do here with new social media tools, amongst Tibetan and Indian and US students abroad…. Maybe all this-the Buddhist study, the Mindfulness, the repurposing of Twitter, can be the seeds of my own, logically consistent Theory of Everything?
Which even Stephen Hawking hasn’t come up with yet, due largely to the sticky problem of Black Holes.