Ang Sang- Faces of Buddha
Sometimes, a rock is just a rock. And a river nothing more than a river. Then the rock rocks; the river runs, and all hell breaks loose in one cold sweeping sweat. Nothing is what it appears to be and everything’s in a flux. Duality’s twins are enfant terrible, putting on a fishy show that mocks and shocks dire conventions.
In some it hits the liver. Hard. Critical. Changing life as you know it.
A toothbrush will sharpen your teeth, give you fangs, and keep the germs away. A Korean girl with a French boyfriend who’s threading hippy necklaces, wristbands and anklets asks me if I believe in former lives. I’d have said a resounding yes, but now I’m like that rock. No. I do not. This life already weighs too heavy a burden, I don’t even have the energy necessary to summon up some past conjuring. The thought itself is alienating. But I can’t be blunt and dismissive. Gotta have tack, even if it’s a tackles point. So I say what I find myself saying and hearing recently, as if there were multiple talkers and listeners within me having a conference.
No. I don’t think of former lives. I’m just about aware of the one unfolding right now. This minute. And that is such a consuming task. Fulltime. No concessions. No intermissions. No respite at all. “I think I was a Tibetan,” she ventures. “I feel like I’ve a strong connection with them. Plus I look Tibetan.” She’s right. She does look Tibetan. Put her in a chuba or drop her somewhere in Tibet and she’ll blend right in, at first sight.
“Where you from?” I ask, genuinely. “Korea” she answers. “How is it? Korea?” I ask, curious for a Korean’s answer. “Shit” she declares. Her French boyfriend elaborates, saying the place has got too many global brands, life’s hectic, consumerist, and that tradition’s taking a toll. “People don’t know what’s it like to live without electricity. We live on an island in a Mongolian yurt, and we’re teaching people to live without electricity,” she jumps in and adds. “I know what it’s like to live in the dark without the telly, the car, and other luxuries now commonplace,” I chirp in, recalling the seventies, “but if you aren’t aware of those things you don’t miss them.” That’s quite true. Now I couldn’t live like that, being aware of the things I’m aware of.
They realize they’re talking to a yeti. “You from Bhutan? Are people happy? We’ve heard they’re very happy. The happiest!” Its high praise and an increasingly common comment amongst travelers who have heard something about Bhutan, and it seems mostly like a happy one. Almost a cliché. Almost but not quite. In another phase, I’d have lapped it all up, somehow found a way to bask in that fleeting glory. Like I was personally responsible. Or we were a special breed. A band apart. A blessed species. But reality grows on you, embarrass you, tells you to keep it real, not clichéd.
So I try. People are people. I don’t know if the Bhutanese are happier than the African Bushmen. Arctic Inuit. The Native American. The Australian Aborigines. Or in general people anywhere, everywhere. But if there’s a degree of some inherent kind of happiness, inherited or otherwise, I guess that’s the level of happiness of the Bhutanese people, generally speaking, I add; a tad awkward at this happy slotting. And maybe we’ve a government with a neat PR, I add on. Which opens the subject to its next logical conclusion. “Why so expensive?” I used to blanket this query with the word, “protection” but somehow it doesn’t ring true. Not entirely. “We can’t cope if the borders are flung open. We’d become one big messy Khao San Road and that would be the end of it,” I clarify. And mostly it works.
No one wants one big messy capitalistic Khao San Road and yet everyone’s there. Even the most seasoned of travelers come aghast but go back. Disgusted at the total deprivation of anything remotely human, and yet fatally attracted.
When the conversation veers to this rather depressing angle, I now make a few suggestions. Like are you good, or really cool, at doing something? Can you paint? Do art? Music? Teach? Volunteer to help and in return sample the locale sights and sounds? If you do and you’re honestly interested in the authentic preservation of the country’s cultural treasures and all that jazz then you can Google, research, and get in touch with a fair number of NGOs that try to do wholesome work in the kingdom.
Obviously if you want it easy then there’s no way in, other than as the chauffeured guest. On the other hand you gotta earn your memories. Specially the good ones. A fair exchange in dark trading waters.
I’ve been on the road for quite long, and by Bhutanese standards, very very long. I’m always the first Bhutanese in most places I land up, away from the landmarks. And there’s never been a Bhutanese for me to hang out with. My mother tongue is a memory seldom spoken. Nothing to be proud or ashamed about; there’s just nobody to talk the lingo with. And even if I did, it would be minimal. Workmanlike. And in many ways, even inconvenient as I couldn’t indulge in unnecessary digressions, the gravy train of all running conversations. Now it’s mostly saying what I mean and meaning what I say, in a rare display of perfect expression wrought by linguistic limitation.
Like the rock. Except in this case the rock is always the rock. Nothing added, nothing subtracted. Unlike the life I live, fraught with daily creeping doubts, on whether I’m frittering away a life to nothingness, in this escapist search to seek a vague goal of no certain standing, or can I sense something they do not? Or perhaps that’s just the price of being alone, or even the prize. Who knows? It’s my conjecture. Here a river both sits and runs at once, and a rock rocks.
But I’m living on the fringes of the edges. A conscious choice. It’s a precipice that entices. A ledge holds and I cling on. There’s no safety lock in my gun. I didn’t know. Now it’s just so. And I’m running away from the center. Home, and everything familiarly comforting, reassuring, with that sense of security.
But spotlights’ blinker and blind. Home is not anonymity, and being anonymous was what I sought. Not that I was ever famous to begin with, but sometimes a man wants to erase all he’s ever known, in a bid to rediscover himself in some new light. But first I’ve to confess I’m indeed most humbly indebted, and that inasmuch as I feel the gratitude, that I can’t deny a sense of personal wanderlust that has ever led me away from the things I love, to the things I’d love to love. That there’s yet too much unrest, and this agitation has led me farther and farther away; to seek what might fulfill the emptiness within.
Writing about it complicates the matter ever more, but there’s no other way to express what’s limitless in some limited hindsight. If I were to be accused of it, I’d also need to learn to reacquaint myself with words such as being an escapist, irresponsible, selfish, egotistical, uncaring, apathetic and the bunch.
The accusations stand and I’m guilty of the charge.
No defense. Justification’s gone. We’ve no say or control over how we might be seen, perceived, received and the like. It’s the same from where I stand and how I see things my own way and not the Lateral-Highway. Beasitmay, the river stays still and runs, and we’re the result of whatever we’ve already done, and whatever we might become will also be the result of whatever we’re doing right now.
I’m mumbling the words but the gist of it was laid down by the great Guru Padmasambhava.
The question is what have you done? And what are you doing?
I’ve done little of note. But I do have questions; some burning, others as scattered autumn leaves. Like who are these people that faint at concerts? What’s mass hysteria? What’s the pride in being gay, lesbian, a single-mom, having kids, being employed, fighting wars, scaling mountains, holding the nationality of a certain country that you were unwittingly born and bred into?
How do you forge an identity and then be proud of that identity?
Proud to be and of what? It bugs me, as much as the soul-searching questionnaire. I’m drawing lines. It seems to me that all that we are and all that we are not point to the same beast, screaming down at us, beckoning us, and calling us to come atop, or get off the boat and meet the shoreline. So we seek, in our own ways and means. The gross parts are easy to see. The subtle shades shifty.
Obviously I’m not getting it. My name bothers me. My form bothers me too. I’ve found out they’re hyped up. And I’ve been the hyper, wittingly. I’ve also been an accomplice to my own fabrication. The more I know the less I believe. The stuff I used to love I now loathe. Part One’s over. It’s a brief intermission. If I’m not careful, Part Two’s gonna be more of the same. Nothing different. I’ll stop asking when there’s nothing to be asked. For now the heart-beats and head-aches. If I get a taste of that meal I’ll know. Until then I won’t, and the quest for the perfect thali stands.
But nope. I’m not after happiness. I feel sorry for happiness; so much burden, so much expectation, so little appreciation, so little regard. And so sought after everywhere that happiness is now guilty by association, and unduly sad. There’s too much of happiness in happiness.
It can’t keep up the volume. If anything happiness should be valleys and peaks. Ups and downs. And even this stretches it too far. So it snaps. Recoils. Rightly. And eventually frustrates. The conceptual becomes real, and the virtual takes-over. Redefining happiness is just another re-definition. Textual. Wordy. Academic. And ultimately dead and meaningless.
Finally happiness is nothing but an empty nine-letter word. Pretty long on the count.
The absence of such happiness is not some godforsaken sadness. Here a rock is just a rock. My own world is not the grounded earth. The blue hanging planet’s too big a planet. Unfathomable. The Milky Way sounds good on the tongue and abstract everywhere else. It’s too massive. Too gargantuan. Too impersonal. My world’s small. And shrinking. Everyday. The older I get the smaller it becomes. Tiny. In size it’s like a Tibetan Yogi’s cave.
A cave. How sophisticated. Plato’s nightmare’s here. And it’s real. People in the Himalayan region have been doing it for ages. Almost returning back into the ground whence we came. To find themselves again. Rediscover their being. Going within is the answer to coming without. Delving-in to open-out. Where the rock rocks and the river runs. Such is the allure of the one thing that’s certain in a phenomena of uncertain limbo.
Let me try wording it using Sadhguru J. Vasudev’s analogy:
That a spacious void is where we are. Spacious. Humongous. Hanging here in limbo-vertigo moves the planets, known and unknown. Amongst the planets the one we inhabit is home in what we call The Milky Way. Moving. In-flux. Billions of years old. Still expanding. Alive. Where planets and constellations are dying, and being born. In such a sphere time and space is merely-suggestive. As are the compass-points; here we make assumptions up and down, left and right, to enable us to navigate, relatively. The only certainty in this void of limitless formless forms seems then to be withdrawing within. Coming back to ourselves. A certain conviction is palpable here, in a hearty-beat, in our own solar-plexus. Tangible intangibility.
So the bosom beckons. The heart beats. The breath lives. And more withdrawal is necessary for the navigation to home-in. Solitude’s a necessity. Being alone is relearning companionship. A luxury if and when you master it. Until then, an apprenticeship. You sacrifice your company. Exit the rate-race. The dog-eat-dog turf. And escape. Yes. Escape. Nothing dishonorable in that. Escapism can take on responsible facades and self-righteous faces. Non-escapist success works as deceptively, finally failing.
It’s a funny lot, realigning the external-oriented-senses back on themselves. Like pointing your fingers at your fingers; seeing your eyes with your eyes; hearing your ears hear with your ears; smelling your nose with your nose and tasting your tongue with your tongue?
Getting acquainted with yourself with yourself and discovering your mind with your mind?
And what do you see? Watching, needling, and clocking back the hands of time with the hands of time? Gauging life with life?
It’s maddening. It’s foolish. It’s cracked. It’s sad. It’s bad. It’s fearsome. It’s loathsome. It’s lonely. It’s suspicious. It’s doubtful. It’s recurring. It’s unwise. It’s hard. It’s insane. Its folly.
And it’s frustratingly inexpressible; worth the effort of every single breath that gives your life your life.