Saturday, May 10, 2003

"Never commit any evil deeds.... Accumulate a wealth of merits.... Completely tame one's own mind...." These are the teachings of the Buddha hung on the temple wall in Dharmasala, in the village of Mcloed Gang, where the Dalai Lama resides when he's not off making speaches and collecting Nobel Peace Prizes. I arrived myself yesterday at this so-called "power center" in the Himalayas and the capital of the Tibetan Government in Exile. It's a town that shares much with Indian hill stations in its scale, and the lovely woods and scenery that surrounds it; the major difference is the large number of bona fide refugees from Tibet concentrated here.

What I'm getting at, I suppose, is that like a good many of the Indian towns that have been adopted by Westerners, the Buddhist influence competes amicably with the region's predominant Hinduism. But here, where the Buddhists are not just wannabes searching for spiritual fulfillment, the contrast in lifestyles and desires is striking. Because the Tibetan community values not just the idea that the world must be transcended, but does so while wearing Levis and Nikes. By and large, even in this land of profound and ancient religious practice, most Indians who desire these consumer objects appear to have misplaced a large part of their Hindu faith. My own conclusion is that Hinduism is not so far from Catholicism in terms of its adherence to ritual in the face of massive hypocracy.

I'm probably over-thinking and over-simplifying this, which may result from the fact that I slept nearly 12 hours last night. The primary reason for this was the long day's night it took to reach Dharmasala following my brief sojourn in Rishikesh, which I visited with my mom. The secondary reason that I seem to be on some sort of mental vacation may have been my mom's visit, in fact, which was nearly as delightful and as taxing as all the time we've spent in India to date.

In short, seeing family after being footloose and fancy free for months on end means adjusting expectations and priorities, and just because India prompts all comers to a new level of acceptance, doesn't mean that all visitors have to like it. Fortunately, there's plenty of shopping and lots of interesting cultural sites and beautiful places to visit, so even though it hit 110 degrees (F) in Delhi while we were there and there were a couple of rough personal moments, all turned out pretty swell in the end.

I even got to clear up a little of my autobiography. Indulge me: My parents divorced when I was 8, not 6. I'd always believed that I was younger, which reflects the fact that my mother miscaculated our age, although at 62, she now seems to have tracked down the right year. 1976, for those keeping score at home. This was quite a piece of news to get my head around. For most of my life, I had thought that my parents split when I was 5 years old, and finalized the divorce when I was six; in turn, I couldn't figure out why had so many distinct memories of my dad around the house, and not a few impressions of impending doom. Used to be these feelings got filed under "Buried Early Emotional Impressions," with little other explanation. But if I was actually 7-8 when the fireworks finally came, then there's some validity to my memory beyond just my early ability to discern my parents' emotional states .

That said, it's the sort of childhood-based waking that I think a lot of people expect to get in India; albeit, in heading to South Asia, more likely than not, they think that they'll tune in such details being away from their family -- not when Mom crashes the party. So be it! I was happy to get the information, and it was nice to make a mini-tour with Mom, checking out the Taj again (sans C, who had to work that day) and then head to Rishikesh, where the freaks were in heavy abundance, listening to trance music and smoking their hookahs to all hours.

Dharmasala certainly has some of that element, but being hard to get to and not having any white-sand Gangetic beaches, the local tourist scene appears to be a lot mellower. I woke this morning after my hard sleep, and after stretching in my room found that the terrace was occupied by a couple doing some yoga in the sun. My visit to the temple this AM included glimpses of many monks meditating. And, although the sun is still shining bright, the mountain breezes mean that the heat is not a great killer.

At any rate, I hope that brings everybody up to date.... All's well on this end. I'll try taming my mind before the next entry....