by Jack Ventura-Cruess
Here I am now, reflecting on the moments of the past to give a glimpse into my time spent in India. An accurate representation of my experiences is not within my ability to convey nor will I capture the cultural depth and spiritual diversity that this territory has to offer. To be here now, in India, is to posses great fortune and is truly an opportunity of a lifetime that I deeply appreciate, lessons that I will carry forward wherever I may roam next. Nonetheless, I reflect.
I was met by Passang-la on the night of my arrival at the airport. We grabbed a tuk-tuk and swerved through traffic, narrowly missing oncoming trucks. The adrenaline was pumping but Passang’s cool presence relaxed me as I slumped into the green and yellow three-wheeled taxi. Passang-la spoke loud, competing with the banter of honks and engines, and told me that when the roads are crowded people are cautious but when the roads are clear people are careless. Does too much freedom lead to recklessness? Do open opportunities yield fence-sitting indecisiveness and a lack of genuine conviction? How does congestion help with responsibility? When the roads are crowded in the streets of Delhi, filled with a variety of vehicles and animals, each moving entity travels with an intention and certain direction. The cautious individuals, who tend to be the majority when traffic is heavy, remain mindful of the intentions and varying speeds of the other drivers. But when the roads are clear, the blessing of a clear road is quickly transformed, perhaps in the name of efficiency or pleasure, into the freedom to drive as fast and recklessly as possible. This carelessness, stemming from the ill-perceived blessing of a clear road, is the result of complying with the personal desires of the ego. That the congestion of traffic is therefore the opportunity to step outside the shell of the self to realize the collective interdependence on the roads, to manipulate a vehicle with responsibility arising from the compassion towards the other.
If we take this example further, expanding the vehicle to represent our body, the driver to our mind, and the roads to the world around us, we find that this model can be useful when applied whole-heartedly. Our bodies are in relation to our minds and that both are inherently interdependent on the world around us. When the mind and body have too much space to maneuver, it can easily get lost and distracted capable of slipping into selfish desires. But when the body and mind, combined into consciousness, are forced into specific situations where we are tested or stretched into uncomfortable zones, the opportunity for growth is greater. That within freedom there are risks and within limitation there are opportunities. I continue to question and formulate ideas, perhaps looking too deep or perhaps not deep enough. Despite my swirling thoughts, we made it safely to our Hostel to sleep and my first experience in India was complete.
The following days in Delhi were a conglomeration of rancid smells and delicious meals, witnessing no-eyed beggars and devout spiritual sanctuaries, where the monks would wear a cloth over their nose and mouth in order to not swallow and kill a fly. This is accordance to a full devotion to the principle of ‘no harm’. Meanwhile, dogs, cows, and monkeys roamed the streets dodging cars, tuk-tuks, and motorcycles. The crowds of people swirl around charismatic vendors shouting and selling reversible belts and tobacco-rolled biddies. The city breathed, the atmosphere thick with motivation and superstition, caution and carelessness, humor and passion, desperation and contentment, as I wandered aimlessly nearly missing the taxi to the train for Amritsar.
Words are not sufficient to explain my experiences in India because words are empty. They only make sense through their relationship to the concepts we have assigned them and even then our individualized designation to a words concept might vary vastly from person to person. Despite this one of the few concepts that I revisit often while here in India, is His Holiness’s idea of secular ethics, or the foundation for an ethical education based on compassion and selflessness. It is the pursuit of an inherent ‘good’ within all human beings regardless of nationality, sexual orientation, religion etc. to serve as a link between all beings rooted with the goodness inherent within altruistic love. The realization that the ‘self’ is intrinsically dependent and the emptiness of any singular entity, leads to the understanding that all subjects and objects in this world as we know it, are interdependent. If this is the case, then what better way to act than with graciousness and compassion toward all sentient beings. This is under what I consider to be a fairly safe assumption that all beings strive for happiness not suffering. Still, the TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) Schools motto of ‘others before self’ rings frequently in my ears.
I was reminded of our interdependence during the hike of Triund. On the way I up I followed two dogs, running hard to keep up with the pack as they showed me the shortcuts. I had made it to Camp one and lay down soaking in the astonishing view of the massive ridge of Himalayas like the spine of prehistoric creature. Camp two, Snow Line, was not far off and a few people decided to push on. We stopped for a hot chai tea, a habitual practice to take a moment for a laugh or to relax. We took pictures and we began to note the ominous clouds moving in. We started to down the mountain trail as the grey fog rolled in. I wrote this free-form to describe the way back down;
Something stopped me at the start of the way back down
mid-trail shivers went up my toes to my head
My eyes spun around looking at where I was, trying to soak it all in
The slop of green and grey as the thick white mist glides effortlessly upward the cliffs face
Too much, its just too much, as thoughts of loved ones here and passed across my mind
Beauty at its brim, liquid salt ran down my face with gratitude
If any is pure joy it was that moment.
Then mothers tears came to cleanse us all like frozen continuous streaks of silver
Shivering yet talkative we barreled down the river trail, rocks slick
Hail soon followed as calves and ankles cramped and strained
Dead sprint in this condition is a sprint to death
Slow Down! Stay together! One slip is all it takes
Running on Pure reserve energy now
Back to the guest house as adrenaline pumped on
The warm water fell on scrunched body under facet
Cackled like a fresh born, no difference between crying and laughter
Something loves us, something loves us
Upon later reflection I began to recognize the importance of the interdependence, that without each other as physical and mental support, it is hard to tell whether all of us would have made it safely down the mountain. Still, it remains as one of the highlights of my trip thus far.
I have also left out many unique individuals who have made my stay here much more adventurous and comfortable. Dharamsala is a hodgepodge of ancient traditions and advanced technologies, a worldwide community, from ratty dreadlocks to shaved monks, from hip youngsters to devote elderly, mingling and meandering at a rather slow and relaxed pace. Places like these makes one ponder about the arbitrary nature of borders and boundaries, how people are people regardless of where they are from or who they think they are. This place is like a dreamland.
My apologies for such scattered thoughts and descriptions but these experiences come in blissful blurs extracted from the bustling life in India. Most of all, my time and experiences in India gives me a space for a deeper reflection towards my copious blessings. It is sometimes uncomfortable but in a manner that expands my horizon and increases my flexibility towards people and their lives.