Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Same Same but Different

“Same same, but different.” How many times have you heard it? How many times does it make us laugh? You are standing in the morning fog at the government bus stand in Manali at 4am. Its cold, and you haven’t found chai yet. All you want to know is if there is still a bus, is the pass snowed in? Is this bus going to Leh? “Yes” is the answer you get, maybe even a “no problem” suffixed. What you don’t learn that you need to make four changes, stay overnight at 5000m in a tent, and that there is no food available because the herder’s hut on the pass is already closed for the season. But alas, that was not the information that you asked for with your simple question. The ticket wallah is not clairvoyant, or is he? You do catch strange twinkle in his eye.

Can I rent a jeep in town? “No” is what you hear, but you really can if you get 3 forms signed by three different officials in three different buildings 3 kilometers apart as long as you don’t’ catch one of them on a tea break. Is the pass open? “Not possible”…..but surely only locals would want to use that dangerous snow covered pass. So your frustration grows as you try to decipher the riddle; is the answer “Yes”, or No? You are sure they mean different things, but somehow they seem to be the same.

“Same same, but different.” You see it on t-shirts in Banglamphu, you hear it on the train to Goa, and then you laugh about that silly phrase as you tell your friends of your travels back home. It’s the classic mix of language barrier, culture barrier, and information barrier that is so common to traveling, and it is translated universally as: “same same, but different.” Which curry is not spicy? Which is vegetarian? Is that parantha stuffed with potatoes or onions? You may hear the answer “same, same” to any of these, but surely they are different, unless you cannot even trust your senses anymore.

The more you travel, the more you begin to hear this phrase’s nuances. You may even begin to see that it actually is a koan, a nugget of philosophy so powerful, yet so simple, that it remains well disguised. And, since it is usually attributed to originating in India, what better place to provide a hidden guru.

“Same same, but different.” Are we all the same? Not really the same personality, not the same skin color, not the same job, not the same tastes or desires. But we do all share some commonality as humans, and as souls. Are we really that different? We all want a warm meal, a nice house, and someone to care about us. We are all wandering this world, in a common human plight, fighting our fears, and revealing our happiness. So no matter who you are, you are here, and you are human. That is same same, not so different different.

Does it really matter what you did on vacation, or at work, or in this lifetime – well, of course on one level it does – our actions have cause and effect, and we can hurt and love, and lie and be true. We can go to medical school, or live in a cave, or farm the land, or become a monk. And yes, these are very different lives on a certain level. But if we step back, and look at this through our time compression goggles, it all gets a little fuzzy, at the same time getting clearer. (Those are magic goggles) If we are all really the SAME, which ultimately most traditions agree on, then all theses differences are merely illusions, distracting us from our enlightenment. Karma is going on as we are all going on, like a yoyo, up and down and up and down, like breathing. If we look at it from duality, it all appears different – night and day, right and wrong, good and evil, you and me. If we look from unity, it all becomes the same.

Same same, but different – Different different, but same.