Wednesday, June 20, 2012

From ‘turtle feet. A memoir. The making and unmaking of a Buddhist monk’ by Nikolai Grozni

“It’s about freedom,” I replied. “There’s a certain pleasure in knowing that you are done with this world, and now you can focus on finding out what you’re made of.”

….. he lacked the stuffiness and the ubiquitous geeky expression of those who replace their own thoughts with the building blocks of a particular dogma.

My father’s no-nonsense approach to parenting never failed to inspire in me a deep sense of suspicion and contempt for the world of grown-ups.

Rooms are like people – they transform space with their personalities. Some rooms are loud and happy, others are sinister and gloomy. Ani Dawa’s room felt quiet and slow, almost suspended in time, yet restless, like the reverberation of an unresolved seventh chord. Everything in Ani Dawa’s room was in a state of suspended anticipation. The open door was waiting for a visitor; the door curtain was waiting to be lifted; the two cups of cold milk tea on the table were waiting for the flies to drown; the rats, peeking down from the wooden roof beams, were waiting for an opportunity to ransack the bag of vegetables hung high up on the walls across the room; the moths were waiting for the sun to go down. Ama-la was waiting for her six children who died in Tibet to miraculously appear at her front steps.

“I know the definition of direct perception: a nonconceptual, unmistaken perception.”
Geshe-la seemed very amused by the fact that I had volunteered this information ………..
“Do you have direct perception?”
“I do,” I said.
“And what do you see?”
I pointed vaguely at the table. “Apples.”
“I don’t see apples,” Geshe-la announced belligerently.
I looked at the bag of apples and then at Geshe-la, trying to understand what he was getting at. “They look like applies to me.”
“If a cloud looks like a rabbit, is it a rabbit?”
“Then how do you know you’re seeing apples?”

I walk into the first decent-looking hotel in Paharganj and tell the guy at the reception desk exactly what I want: a bed and a shower …….. I go to my room, turn on the shower, and wait. Nothing. The water is ice cold and forms giant rainbow-colored bubbles, the kind that you see floating on top of the Yamuna river when you enter New Delhi. I wait for half an hour and go downstairs. ‘Where the fuck is the hot water?’ I ask the receptionist. ‘Hot voter coming, sir,’ the guy says to me. ‘Don’t vorry!’ Fine, I know this is India – trains are three days behind schedule and letters travel for six months, presumably strapped to the back of a blind donkey in the final stage of Alzheimer’s – so I go back to my room, turn on the water, and wait: nothing. Half an hour later I’m still standing in my underwear, and the whole bathroom is covered with pink bubbles, like I’m running a chemical laboratory. I go downstairs and the receptionist again says, ‘Don’t vorry, hot voter comingh!’ Unbelievable. I wait another half an hour, and this time the receptionist starts wobbling his head as soon as he sees me on the top of the stairs. ‘Hot voter on second vloor!’ he says to me, like that solves everything. ‘After van minute, dirt vloor!’ At this point I’m pretty angry, but I return to my room on the third floor and turn on the water one more time. Five minutes later I hear a knock on the door. I open it and see an old Indian man carrying a bucket of steaming water: ‘Hot voter, sir!’ and he’s got a big grin on his face ……….

He ……. walked with the manner of someone who was afraid to occupy more space than he’d been granted by the karmic forces.

I opened my eyes and saw two strangers – a man and a woman, both wearing shalwar kameez outfits – sitting on my bed (the man was actually sitting on my foot) and speaking animatedly in Hindi as if they were in their own home ……. I retracted my feet and sat up. What was going on? Who were these people? I could tell …… that they were locals ….. Maybe I was missing something, some essential piece of information that could explain why there were local villagers sitting on my bed and having a chat at eight o’clock in the morning. …….

Tsar opened his eyes and sat up.

“Who are they?” he asked ……

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“Did you bolt the door last night?”

“I did.” ………..

Exasperated, Tsar lit a biddie and shook his head. “I’m giving up. India is like this giant octopus that attaches its tentacles onto your brain and doesn’t let go until every aspect of reality crumbles and you start speaking to pink elephants in foreign tongues. I can’t fight it anymore. I don’t understand it. I can’t figure it out. Would this ever happen anywhere else? ……….”

“But this is India,” I reminded him. “Things happen again and again for absolutely no reason.”

……. Who are you? …………

“I am the same as a rabbit with horns,” I said confidently. I’d found that this was a relatively safe answer. The self, just like the notion of a rabbit with horns, was a pure fabrication – a fantasy of a permanent center from which the spokes of duality shot out to form the grand, subject-oriented wheel of existence, which had little to do with the way the self actually existed: as a mere thought projection arisen from the confluence of time, space, and the flickering of ephemeral mental images.

Geshe Yama Tseten, of course, was right: Westerners are fickle. He had predicted that I would disrobe, fall in love, write silly books, and live like a fool (drinking wine, playing chess for hours on end), and I had acted accordingly. But he and I always disagreed on one very important point. He believed that there was only one way – his way. I, on the other hand, believe that in order to understand something clearly, one must first give it up.

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