Monday, June 23, 2008
I have traveled all over the world but I keep going back to India, aka the sub-continent, or the Motherland. I have a ten-year visa, I love mango lassi, and between Ladakh and Kanyakumari, you can find anything that you are looking for. Despite all this, I never have a good answer for the one thing everyone always wants to know when I get back: “Why India?” What makes it so special? I have tried hard to answer that question for the ten years since my first visit. All of the obvious reasons easily come to mind, and that’s why they are obvious – the colors, smells, and sounds – India provides an unlimited tapestry for the senses. The hues of rajasthani saris, the cacophony of the streets in Delhi or Mumbai, the tingling complexity of a Trichur thali, the stupendous views from a Himalayan monastery, the endless markets, food vendors, and people from all walks of life, you can see it all in India. Fresh fried pakora and samosa, a steaming cup of sweet chai... But those are the obvious reasons, and everyplace has its fans, and its own unique food, culture, and people. I had to look deeper.
India is rich with culture, religion and wisdom. From the early Indus civilizations the history is full with babas, moguls, spice wars, and spirituality of all kinds. This rich tradition is interwoven into the fabric of the country maybe more than anywhere else. It is daily life. Whether at a mosque or temple, on the plane or rickshaw, people have a ritual, a practice. It may be a flower puja floating in the river, or incense wafting from a window. It may be the hours put into making the dhal. You will see it in the eyes of a street cleaner, bus driver, or beggar. India’s culture exudes from every aspect of its daily life, and this makes for a wonderful experience.
As my brain worked this riddle over and over, I realized that maybe I kept going back because I was searching for something too. India has a long tradition of people looking for answers, looking for gurus, reading the stars, and wondering where the wisdom of the Vedas came from. Yes, I had been many times - sitting in the cool silence of the monastery at Tabo, filing through the inner passages past Tirupathi’s devas, dipping in the Ganges at Varanasi’s ghats, and I was seeking my own answers.
What is the incredible draw of India? There is sitar music and tabla rhythm, prayer call and chanting, and temples, mosques and monasteries everywhere you look. Even the rivers are sacred, full of holy water that carries way your sins, and transports you to the other worlds. Not many places can claim that. So I sat by the river, it may have been the Sutlej, or the Indus, or the Ganga. I searched up on the flanks of Kinnaur and in the halls of Ki Gompa. I looked for it in the auto rickshaw and the night train. Was it in the chai wallah’s eyes, or in the myriad of childern’s smiles – yes, it was in all of those places. What I was looking for was always there, and I only “found” it when I stopped looking.
India is a place where 99 percent of the population believes in God, in something sacred, in some power bigger than ourselves that guides us on, and of which we are all a part. Everything is done with spirit in mind, from baking roti to driving a bus. You feel the energy in a child’s smile, a head nod, and the twinkle of an eye. Even at first if you don’t notice, a second look shows its there. Doing your task totally unselfishly, and devoting it to the universe results in some delicious bread, and gets most of the buses through the mountain passes unscathed. Doing your work from joy and with joy, because there is no other reason. It is karma yoga, it is devotional service, and no matter how it is labeled by religion, it transcends denomination. The veil between is very thin in India, and things are not so hidden. You can feel that energy everywhere if you take pause. It is that energy, that feeling, that connection that draws me back.