Why India Should Be On Your Bucket List

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I’m not exaggerating one bit when I say that India will change your life. Spend a day there. Spend a week. Spend half your life there. I guarantee you’ll leave India a different person. Better, even.

I get that India isn’t always number one on peoples do-to lists. Between the poverty, poor infrastructure and a terrible reputation for mistreating women and minority groups, it’s not hard to see why people would rather hit up the Americas or Europe.

I’ll tell you straight up, India is not a ‘fun’ place to visit. Fun is definitely not the word. You can not avoid coming face to face with the harsh realities of life: suffering, hardship and the fragility of human existence. Big stuff, I know. And it’s easy for us westerners to roll our eyes at topics like that because we can afford to ignore them a lot of the time.

It wasn’t until I met people who didn’t understand the concept of ‘tomorrow’ let alone the idea of ‘next week’ that I realised how seriously I undervalued my life, and the life of everyone around me.

‘Time’ is a relatively new concept for us as a species. We have clocks and calendars so that we can think ahead. But take us back 10,000 years and none of us could afford to think hours ahead, let alone a couple of months. Life was not a guaranteed thing. And if I learnt anything in India, it’s that this hasn’t changed.

A lot of the people I met fully appreciated the fact that life was not permanent. They faced Death everyday. They could easily have concentrated on that, but instead they chose make the most of life. And it is this life and energy that takes your breath away. I truly believe that India is one of the most vibrant places on Earth. Despite the suffering, you won’t have seen so many smiles in your life as you will walking along the Ganges or through a sprawling slum.

These girls live in Sahibganj, one of the poorest regions in India.
These girls live in Sahibganj, one of the poorest regions in India.

I’ve been to India twice now, and I’m still trying to figure out why this is.

For the most part, I think the poor have a healthier concept of happiness than is generally found amongst the privileged. Before India, I thought happiness was a place you get to. You work hard at something, earn a reward and boom – happiness. I never saw it as something I could control. Certainly, it wasn’t something you could have when times are tough.

That was until I met Tali. She lived in a hut on the outskirts of a rural village. She had been abused as a child, and resultantly banished from the main community because of her ‘shame’. I met her at a special school which took in girls like her and gave them a chance at independence. She told me she was the luckiest person in the world because she got a place in this school. She explained that her life has been hard, and there are days when she cries, but ‘it could have been a lot worse, and so I am happy’.

I began to understand the role faith and spirituality have when it comes to happiness. I spent time amongst ruins that witnessed the birth of major religions. I sat beneath the tree Buddha supposedly found enlightenment underneath and I touched the river that supposedly gave life to the first Hindu’s. I also spent time in Christian missionaries and witnessed firsthand the generosity of Islamic hospitality. I spent a lot of time with people who dedicated their entire life to God. I began to see that faith wasn’t so much about giving as it was about receiving. One Hindu mystic explained faith to me like this: Bad things happen, that’s life. You can choose to look at bad things as inevitable and that’s the end of the story. Or, you can choose to believe that they happen for a reason, as part of a greater plan, and you can take some sense of solace from it. When you choose to see God, you will always see good.

"Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are. It solely relies on what you think" -Buddha
“Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are. It solely relies on what you think”
-Buddha

I learnt that no one can make me sad or angry unless I let them. It sounds like a pretty straight forward concept but it’s hard to get your head around at first. I had a lovely driver called Raj for a decent portion of the trip. We were walking through a thick crowd and Raj accidentally bumped into a well-to-do man. He spat on both our shoes and shoved Raj aside. I was so mad! I found Raj in the crowd and he patted my back and told me I was wasting my energy. He said India was a crowded place, your heart would stop if you tried to be angry at every person who bumped into you. Besides, he explained, being angry doesn’t change the fact that there is spit on your shoes. You can get your hackles up and spit back, or you can keep moving forward and enjoy the fact that they’re behind you.

India won’t make you any better at saving money, you won’t come home and want to eat less because of what you see over there. You’ll still like expensive watches and pretty things. But you will hug your family a little tighter and you’ll find yourself smiling more than ever before. You’re not smiling because you’re life is any different, but because life means so much more than it did before.

I learnt that happiness is not something you find at the end of hardship or suffering, it’s something you find in spite of it. There is no such thing as a perfect world, or a perfect life. Happiness isn’t about perfection, it’s about appreciation. I learnt that things could always be worse. And they can always get better.

Witnessing the sun rise over the Ganges is considered a blessing.
Witnessing a sunrise is considered a blessing in India.
This is the last Tripping With Grandma post. For more by Ally, visit: allylynch.wordpress.com

ILY Brisbane

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I’m happy (and a little surprised) to report that we made it back home, safe and sound. It was an unbelievable four weeks. And I don’t say ‘unbelievable’ nonchalantly – I’m actually having a hard time digesting everything that I saw while I was away. I will attempt a final summary but I need a bit of time to let it all settle in. (Also I’ll be really busy over the next few weeks because I’ll be eating cake oh my god I really missed cake. And cheese. And water from a tap.) But I wanted to say a big thankyou to all of you, for sticking around. For whatever reason, this blog touched a fair few countries which is pretty excellent because I was worried I was talking to myself… and that’s never a good sign.wow

Zen And Other Nice Things

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We have internet again! I thought this leg of the trip would be the best internet-wise because we’re passing through all the tourist hot spots but I was mistaken! Since we last spoke I’ve been through Varanasi, Jaipur and now I’ve just checked into Agra! It was frustrating not to have internet in Jaipur because it was by far the best city I’ve seen in India so far. Luckily, frustration is one thing I’ve learnt to cope with this trip.

20131210-203151.jpgThis is What Jaipur looks like atop an elephant

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Frustration is something that you have to deal with if you’re traveling – especially in India. Things just don’t go according to plan – that seems to be the general rule here.

20131210-203526.jpgThis is me ruining a photo op because two young boys distracted me with the thrusting movements they were making in my direction

Up until this trip I think I had anger and frustration confused. I balled them into one. And I think a lot of us get the two confused which is why we can be not very nice sometimes – because we don’t know what we’re feeling so we don’t know how to fix it.

(Here comes an introspective piece so to keep you entertained I’ve sprinkled some photos throughout.)

20131210-203757.jpgThis is Amber Fort – an alright view I guess

Frustration is when you’d like something to be different, but it’s out of your control. You can see how things would be better – but you yourself can’t change things because of physical limitations or money or smarts or whatever. The priests at XTTI taught me this. They had led such incredible lives but like all things, life ran its course. As Gwen Stefani once said – all good things must come to an end. I could see there was so much they wanted to show me and there was so much they wanted to say, but for many of them their health simply wouldn’t permit long conversations or day long trips around bustling Indian streets. And sometimes I think it’s easy to mistake that frustrated ball in your stomach for an angry knot – which isn’t good because then you waddle around trying to fix something that it out of your control and you eventually just spontaneously combust. Or something. Maybe you don’t blow up but your brain gets sore, that’s for sure.

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20131210-204020.jpgThis is the ‘most larger-est sundial in the whole world’ said Arron our guide

The priests at XTTI, back in Patna, taught me that the best way to deal with that frustrated ball is to simply let it go. Once you realise that it’s out of your control – the only logical thing to do is move on. What’s the point in worrying if it doesn’t change anything? It’s easier said than done but I’ve been practicing over here and I’m getting pretty good at it. Pretty well everything is out of my control over here because I have to rely on guides and drivers and shop keepers to be relatively honest. If they’re not… The ain’t too much I can do about it! So I reckon frustration is pretty easy to deal with once you realise that’s what you’re feeling . Anger is a bit harder to let go of because the cause is a bit more complicated.

20131210-204423.jpgThis is a great example of something frustrating: A Hindu king built a palace only to find out he built it on flood lands

There is a fine line between anger and frustration – but I think I’ve learnt that anger evolves when your expectations of something isn’t met. So a lot of the people I’ve met here are angry with their government because a democracy isn’t really a democracy if there is corruption. I’ve been angry when things we planned on doing where cancelled. The thing about anger is that along with that expectation not being met, you’re frustrated that you can’t change things. One lovely priest explained anger to me like this: imagine you have a knot of anger… And then you put it inside a ball of frustration. So before you can get to the knot of anger, you need to first let go of frustration. He explained that that’s why we can spiral into such angry fits – because we’re trying to untie a knot that’s all wrapped up. So the ball just gets bigger and bigger. Once you acknowledge the fact that you have very little control, the problem becomes much more simple.

20131210-204838.jpgThis is a pillar was built by a Muslim king. He mixed Persian, Islamic and Christian design into it, hoping it would help everyone in his parliament get along

Change what you can change and move on. I reckon most of the things we get angry about are caused by moments when we think we have control, but we don’t – as opposed to frustration where we don’t have control to start with.

20131210-205038.jpgThis is Raj – the bestest driver you will find in India – he’s frustrated because he doesn’t like photos but I take them anyway

So we get angry when someone says something we don’t like, or when we don’t get the price we wanted, or when luggage goes missing. In the same way we get angry about serious things like corrupt governments, gender inequality, ignorance and bigotry. But the root of anger – for little things and small things – is the same. Control is key.

We want things to be a certain way, naturally. But we have a false sense of being in control of these certain things. Ultimately, most things in life are not orchestrated by you – it just happens. A good meal, a great friend, true love, a loving family – most of it is luck of the draw. You can position yourself as best you can to catch the good stuff, but if it flies past then you have to deal with it – or run screaming down the street trying to catch up with whatever it is that you didn’t catch.

Once you acknowledge that you have very little control, it’s hard to become angry when things don’t go according to plan. Because really, there isn’t a set plan. There are ideas and projections, expectations, but nothing is ever set in stone. So if I’ve understood what the priest was trying to tell me – you can dissolve anger, basically, by realizing ‘it is what it is.’ If I had a nickel every time I heard an Indian say this, I’d be a rich lady. I reckon it’s this attitude that keeps everyone calm and collected. I don’t think I’ve met a truly angry person while I’ve been here – they’ve been tense moments, sure – but everyone is very quick to accept it and move forward.

If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that you can get through life in two ways. You can walk backwards and have a great view of what was or you can face forwards and see what may be. Either way, you have the same capacity to change what you see. But I know which view I’d rather have. Sometimes I think we can be our own worst enemies. We could bother about things we can’t control – or we could leave them be. We decide to be frustrated, so we can decide not to be. Sounds easier said than done but practice makes perfect.

Letting go of anger isn’t about giving up or being a push over, it’s about trying again and moving forward. It’s about looking towards something better.
20131210-205854.jpgThis is an actual palace and it was our hotel for a night
20131210-205203.jpgThis gentleman met Prince Charles because he is very good at painting miniatures

20131210-205320.jpgThis is The Abandoned City, outside Agra, looking pretty

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Thankwho

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We’ve made it to Varanssi! The holiest of holies for the Hindu people. Now, this is a only going to be a short post, because people are starting to give me weird looks and I’ll have to pack up soon. I’m writing by myself in the hotel dining room because Jill is fast asleep in our hotel room (I’m assuming she’s fast asleep – otherwise she’s locked me out of the room for the fun of it).

But I’m going to power through the awkward stares because yesterday was an important day. It was the day we transitioned into proper tourists and checked into a luxury hotel in Varanasi. It marked ten years exactly since my Dad had life changing surgery. And it was also the day I worked out what was causing the cracking feeling in my chest.

At the start of the trip I thought it was pity which was causing the ache in my chest. But I had too much respect for the people I was meeting so it couldn’t be pity – so maybe it was guilt? I mean your stomach just drops when you realise how much you waste back home. And there is almost a kind of ‘survivor guilt’ type sensation. Here I am in a luxury hotel and there you are on the side of the road. Why isn’t that me? By luck, some impossible chance, I was born in Brisbane with parents who love me and who have jobs that could send me through excellent schools and keep me fed well enough that I need to run off excess food. This is sounding awfully cheesey/corny (why do we associate cheese and corn with sentimental feelings? I’ll look it up and report back) but seriously I keep looking at people on the streets and thinking how easily that could have been me. Why was I so lucky? And why don’t I share it?

So for most of this trip I assumed my heart was breaking because of crushing guilt. Until yesterday.

We arrived in Varanasi by train and were chauffeured to our hotel. We checked in around lunch time. Naturally, we headed straight to food. Oh my god, you can not imagine the contrast between here in this hotel and where we were a day ago. You can’t see struggle or pain or suffering – it’s blocked by mountains of chocolate cake, fancy salad things and hotel shampoos.

20131204-211809.jpgJust as we sat down to our lunch I got a text from Mum reminding me that it is exactly ten years that Dad has been Epilepsy free. And then a waiter came over smiling saying ‘Anything I can get you ma’am? Anything at all. You can have whatever you want.’ I had to wave him off because I was afraid if I opened my mouth to speak I would start crying. You know that awful knot you get in your throat and you know if you open your mouth a little wussy sob will escape? I realised then that the cracking ache was gratitude. But a frustrated gratitude because I didn’t know who to be thanking. I realised That it’s hard to see how lucky you are when most of the people you know are also lucky. Kind of like if I’m on a pillar a million miles in the air and you’re on a pillar also a million miles in the air – and we both never think to look down – it’ll feel like we’re on ground floor. Nothing special. But then you look down and HOLY MOLY YOU ARE SO HIGH UP.

So that choked up moment in the hotel was me getting back onto my first world pillar and looking down properly for the first time. My Dad is healthy and happy (although probably not while he’s reading this because he doesn’t like it when people talk about how incredible he is. Ugh humility is so over-rated), I have a loving family, more than enough food, an excellent education, perfect health and as a result of all this – a lot of potential. And it’s all because I happened to be born in 1993 to Louisa and Kieran in Brisbane, Australia. Somehow I landed on a really tall pillar. The chances of happening is literally something like 10 in a billion. And it’s not something you can feel guilty about because you had no choice in the matter – you’ve just got to be grateful it happened.

This was all swirling around my head while at the table next to us, a woman was digging into a very spicey Samosa. She obviously doesn’t cope with hot food very well – she ordered orange juice to put out what she described as ‘the fire in her mouth’. Maybe five minutes had passed and this lady was hawkishly looking about for a waiter to accost for the late juice. After ten minutes she was more than angry – disgusted is a more accurate description. The orange juice (or lack thereof) had, I think, ruined her morning. After a couple of angry and disgruntled glances were thrown at several waiters, the orange juice appeared. She explained to her companion that when you pay for something you expect service and that’s why she was upset. Which I can understand – and it’s true. But at the time, I was literally choking on gratitude and it just seemed crazy to me that you could get so worked up about an orange juice when there was so much else that could go wrong but hasn’t.

This is going to sound a bit captain obvious, but I reckon you make life a bit easier for yourself when you focus on what’s going right. And it’s such an easy thing for someone like me to do because so much is going right. So I could get worked up about a late meal – or I could be happy that a meal is on the way. I could get worked up about someone being nasty to me – or I could be grateful that I know what it is to be kind. I could focus on what I don’t have or I could focus on what I do have. I can stress the little things, or make the most of the big things blah blah you can see where this is going.

Sorry I’ll take my cliche hat off now.

Basically, from what I’ve seen in my whole 20 years, yes – sad things, even devastating things, walk into everyone’s life at some point. It doesn’t matter how lucky you are, you will have to deal with some kind of tragedy eventually. But that doesn’t mean nothing good will happen again and it doesn’t mean you’re not lucky. That’s just life. And you can either have a bad time and hold onto the bad things and be negative and sad or you can move forward and be grateful for the good things and be positive and happy.

Everything is an opportunity if you look at it the right way – even tragedy. Tragedy gives you a chance to take stock of what’s really important and it propels you to make the most of what you have left.

At least that’s what I overheard a hippy Buddhist lady say at breakfast this morning. But she wasn’t wearing deodorant or a bra so I don’t know how reliable her advice is.

(This post ended up being longer than I thought it would be… They brought out a sorbet cart and I would walk over glass for sorbet so I figured I can put up with people staring at me while I eat by myself… As long as they thought I was busy and important. So I kept typing to make it look like I was emailing someone or something)

Here are some interesting photos to make up for the corny cliches:

20131204-212807.jpgThis is what the Ganges looks like at sunrise

20131204-212918.jpgThis is Varanasi looking pretty

20131204-213129.jpgThis is also pretty

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A Little Goes A (reaaaaaaaaally) Long Way

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Im back! Well, if you’ reading this it means I’m back in Patna with an internet connection. Right now I’m actually lying on my back trying to type on an iPhone with two men sleeping above me and three men sleeping to my right. Gotta love Indian night trains. (Jill is in the berth next door and I can’t imagine she’s having a good time.) People, mainly men, have been walking in and out at every station which means you have shoes coming on and off constantly and I really struggle with smelly feet. I also have issues with people snorting and coughing in confined spaces. And after the last couple of days I’ve had, I hate that I’m complaining about anything, but seriously there is a foot dangling above my face right now and ahh my god every time the train jolts forward the big toe gets closer to my nose. But again, I shouldn’t complain.

One thing that struck me while being in Sahibganj – one of the poorest districts in India – was how little people complained. About the only complaint I came across was ‘I’m upset you can’t stay longer’. As I wrote earlier, people deal with the hand they’ve been given remarkably. Obviously I don’t think people are happy to be poor, or married off at age 9 or miss several meals a week or watch other kids go to school while your family makes you work – but they are remarkably adapt at dealing with, and making the most, of their situation. As one young girl said ‘complaining won’t get you anywhere.’ So I won’t complain about the fact that I have a blocked nose and a chesty cough (but I do and it’s a real bother sad face emoticon).

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I’ve been out of blogging action for the last couple of days because of the no internet situation, so let me try catch you up. A couple of days ago we caught another night train – one from Patna to Sahibganj – so I could visit the friends I made two years ago when I last came to India.

20131202-165224.jpgThe poverty in this place is staggering. More so than what we’ve already seen – which was devastating in its own right. This being said, I realised how easy it is to switch into ‘TV’ mode as opposed to ‘oh my god this is actually real life and these are real people’ mode. We were driving to a small village and on the side of the road I spotted two young kids – maybe three or four years old – with their hands inside a dead, rotting stray dog, collecting its innards and putting it them in a cooking pot. I quickly looked over at Jill to find she was distracted, looking intently at her phone waiting, I think, for a pocket of reception.

It’s not right to try and sum up in words how hard life is for people here, especially for young children. No matter how you word it, it’s always going to be a hollow representation of reality. Which is why it’s hard for us in Australia, or other lucky parts of the world, to really get what it is to live in poverty. It’s more than huts and dirty children. Despite how hard it is to show poverty accurately, it’s easy to show you how positive the children who do get an education are, despite the incredibly difficult hand they’ve been dealt.

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To give you an idea of how mindbogglingly positive the kids are, I’ve uploaded a video of me with some of the hostel kids. Most of them are girls who were lucky enough to have parents who saw the value in an education, rather than marriage in two or three of years. They were particularly excited this day because I had managed to squish in two friszbees from Australia. http://youtu.be/J-xUdb6s7y4

Gratitude and grace have also been two huge themes for me these last few days. When I came home two years ago I knew the school needed help raising money for a water filter -$2000 and thousands of kids would have access to safe drinking water. It only took 15 minutes of my time to stand up in front of a church congregation and ask for spare change. People here wouldn’t believe that a community could have $2000 in spare change but it’s not a huge ask in Australia. Absolutely no biggy.

20131202-165703.jpgBut the school appreciated it so much that they honored us in their annual school concert, which we luckily could attend this weekend, (crowd of 3000+ so it’s by far the towns biggest event of the year) by naming us and presenting flowers at the beginning of the event – and letting us sit in the front row of the crowd where we were served tea and biscuits along with the political dignitaries who attended. I’ve never felt so humbled in my whole life and I don’t think Jill has ever felt so special. When you help people like this, no matter what capacity you have to help, they say thank you in a way that makes you know they mean it – I could have donated 3 bucks and I reckon they’d still find a way to make me feel as special as they did the other night.

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In case anyone reading this is interested – this is an idea of how far Australian dollars can go in India:

$25 is a teachers salary for a month
$15 is a hostel student’s school fee for a year
25c is a decent three meals for a student
50c is clean bottled water for a week

20131202-165856.jpgRoughly, 1 Aussie dollar equals 60 rupees

I couldn’t tell if the people I was meeting knew how easy (money-wise) it was for us to help. I think that’s a huge indicator of how graceful the priests and sisters here are. Obviously we have more money than most of the people in the villages could imagine having collectively, let alone individually, but we were never made to feel that way. They would listen to my Grandma comparing beach houses with village living (forgetting the hardships that go along with that ‘rustic home made’ feel) without blinking. They never commented when we whipped out our iPhones (easily worth 15 years of school fees each). The sisters would always offer us a cup of tea and sweet biscuits despite the fact that they were already living over their merge budget trying to get as many kids as possible through school. When I was getting sick they didn’t hesitate in offering tissues and pills that might help – despite the fact that half of them had the same cold.

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I’m completely overwhelmed and I really hope what I’m saying is making sense because I would love it if what these people are doing here could make a difference to you, too. I know a lot of people my age have difficulties with the Church. A lot of people ask my why I’m so involved with ‘church people’ if I don’t like everything they’re doing. And my answer is always the same: how can you hope to change something you don’t like if you choose to ignore it?

Yes. I wish the conservative wing would leave gays, condoms, women and divorced people alone. I wish the institution as a whole would be more transparent and I hope one day it will adapt to context and begin moving into the 21st century. The bible was written a long time ago and as much as tradition is important, growth and development are also important. I think that’s what the people here understand. The priests and sisters working in schools and rural areas could’ve decided only to educate Christian children, or force their Hindu parents to convert to Christianity – or they could set an example of Christian kindness and generosity and lift up whoever comes their way. Which is exactly what they are doing.

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I may be wrong, because I’m not a theologian or a priest or a nun – but that to me is what faith is all about. You invest in someone or something before you know for sure that it’s going to work out. But you give your time anyway, because of the hope that you might make a difference. I was chatting to a Hindu girl (in broken half English, half Hindi) who lives in the hostel in Sahibganj about Jesus. They must have just had a religion class or something because they were all talking about ‘Jesu! Jesu!’ I asked her why she liked him so much and she said it was because he wanted her to be happy, simple as that. He didn’t want her to be a Christian, she didn’t need to be a Christian – she just needed to be happy. And on the whole, I think that’s what religion is meant to be about. I suppose converting people is important when it comes to sharing messages and spreading ideas – but I don’t think it’s essential for a religion to be considered successful. To me, religions are made of different teachings that, when listened to with a context in mind, show you a way to live life a little better, a little happier. I think that’s what God (or cosmic energy, karma, spirits – whatever you want to call her/him/it) is concerned about – not labels like Catholic, Muslim or Atheist, not word for word following of texts written thousands of years ago. I reckon she/he/it is more concerned with whether or not I’m living a life that makes me happy and a life which promotes the happiness of others*.

*But again, I stress, I’m not a priest or a nun or any kind of spiritual expert so don’t take my word for it. I don’t want to be responsible for your eternal damnation or something if it turns out I’m wrong.

To break the serious tone, here are some more interesting photos:

20131202-170337.jpgThis is Grandma keeping me company during the two hour wait for our late train

20131202-170453.jpgThis is probably where I picked up my cold

20131202-170557.jpgThis is Father Benji, principal of a 3000+ school, looking chilled out as he organises a ridiculously huge event

20131202-170740.jpgThis is the definition of ‘cute’

20131202-170911.jpgThis could also be where I found my cold

20131202-170959.jpgThis is Jill next to the Ganges

20131202-171044.jpgThis is the most loved Frizbee you will ever meet

20131202-173025.jpgThis is me with some Germans and students

20131202-173236.jpgThis is me in the place where I stayed two years ago

I Basically Met Buddha No Biggy

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So much to write about in such little time so forgive the brevity as I try and quickly explain my day yesterday. We were up at 4am and on the road at 5.30 heading to Bodh Gaya. For those of you unfamiliar with the city – it’s about a four hour drive from Patna and it is effectively the birth place of Buddhism. No biggy.

Yesterday I sat under the tree that Buddha sat beneath when he received his enlightenment. I’m a bit of a history dork so to think I was walking on the same ground that the Buddha walked on was mind blowing.

As you’ve seen in the previous posts, the word chaos and India are pretty much interchangeable. Things never slow down – except in Bodh Gaya. There is a different quality about the air, I mean it’s not any cleaner, but it’s noticeably calmer or maybe a better way to describe it is mindful? I don’t know if mindfulness is a quality you’d associate with air but I reckon the best way to describe the place was mindful. It’s pretty hard not to be in awe of the historical significance of the place.

This sense of mindfulness is palpable as you enter the monument that marks the place where Buddha found enlightenment. I haven’t been to Jerusalem or any other sort of ‘birth of a religion’ type place, but I bet those places would have the same feeling. No matter what you believe , to know that your in the presence of history, any history, is a powerful thing. Watching Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists all bowing and paying respect to the same moment in time, some guy sitting under a tree more than 2000 years ago, was skin tingling. I had goosebumps most of the day.

Under that tree all those years ago Buddha came out of meditation with a realisation that would radically challenge the common beliefs of the time. He lived in a society, a Hindu society, that believed some people deserved more than others. Buddha realised that this ingrained inequality was the cause of all suffering. Those with more can never be happy because they’ll always be fighting to keep it and those with less will always be in pain because they can’t afford to live with dignity. Not only did he realize that each human spirit was equal, but he also believed that humans were no better than the trees and the grass and the other animals that made life on Earth possible. In other words, each and every thing is a part which contributes to a whole: life. Like a puzzle, you can never have the whole picture of one piece is missing. In effect, each puzzle piece is equally valuable no matter what part of the picture they depict.

Really, what Buddha had to say under that tree 2000 years ago has never been so relevant. A lot of the problems we face in today’s world revolve around the fact that we all want to get ahead. At least there is certainly a feeling that we need to get ahead in order to survive. As a result we have huge poverty margins, a very sick planet and dysfunctional governments which can’t afford to address human issues for fear of neglecting the economy.

It is impossible to change an entire culture over night. In fact social studies show that it is harder to convince a group of a fact than it is to convince an individual. And I think Buddha new that. Instead of focussing on preaching to huge groups about equality and his idea of the circle of life, and writing books to sell and propagate – he would only address small groups and often just singular strangers he met on the road. And he never wrote any of his teachings down – he relied on people seeing his and others example and following it.

In the same way, I don’t think we’re going to be able to fix problems over night with one big Obama speech or a new UN convention. But I don’t think that means it’s impossible to change anything. I reckon if individually, everyone endeavored to live more ‘other’ centric, rather than ‘me’ centered, then slowly a lot of our problems would cease to exist. Slowly people would begin to feel comfortable sharing what they have, the need to fight would dry up and I think we’d take better care of our planet. So we all have a responsibility and a part to play in making things better – you don’t have to be Prime Minister or a multi-billionaire. You just need a good attitude. It’s funny, I realised yesterday that often we’re our own worst enemy. We want to be happier but instead of focusing on what makes us happy, we focus on things that distract us from being unhappy. Holidays, new clothes, good food and fun company just distract us for a short while, it won’t do much for someone who isn’t happy with who they are – but focusing on the happiness or well being of another person will in turn affect how good you feel about yourself. THEN you can go buy fast cars and big houses and have big parties andbe happy. Distractions and happiness are not mutually exclusive.

At least that’s what Buddha, Jesus, Santa, Allah and all those good fellas had to say but prrf what do they know anyhow.

20131127-133528.jpgA small tribute to lord Buddha

20131127-133715.jpgForget centuries of history, look at this Frangipani tree

20131127-133809.jpgI called in to see the Dalai Lama but he was in his other house in Tibet. He stood me up. When he stays in India he lives just up those stairs.

20131127-134011.jpgThis is the monument which marks where Buddha found enlightenment

20131127-134059.jpg Don’t know what this is but it’s a pretty colour

20131127-134154.jpgThis terrifying security guard with a very big gun wanted to hold my hand and take a photo

20131127-134338.jpgThis is the Buddhist flag – Jill guilted a monk into parting with his and I almost died

20131127-134442.jpgThis is the trunk of the tree where Buddha found enlightenment

20131127-134530.jpgThe walls which protect the tree are coated in a goldy alfoil

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20131127-134642.jpgThis is a Hindu priest

20131127-134836.jpgWe were not allowed to take photos in the sacred heart of the Buddha tree monument but a sneaky monk took one for me while he prayed

And these are for the history buffs who like looking at thousand year old stuff

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Meet The Streets Of India

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If you ever want to walk the streets of India at a leisurely pace while feeling relatively safe, I can not recommend a religious procession enough. Seriously, yesterday was about the coolest possible way to see the streets of India. Jill and I walked with a 7000+ crowd for about a kilometer through Patna. It’s hard to imagine – but try and picture 7000 people lined up in two straight lines, one on either side of the road, processing through the chaotic streets of India, without a single disturbance or hiccup. (That being said, there were terrorist blasts a couple of weeks ago, very nearby, so there was a definite security presence). To get the chance to look at the detail of the streets and the people living in them was incredible. Anybody who has been to India or someplace like it understands that you can’t possibly explain how crazy it is with words – so hopefully these photos will help give you a sense of the place. The only risk I’ve found with showing photos instead of trying to explain with words is the that people sometimes miss the detail because there is too much to take in. So when you’re flicking through these photos one thing to look out for is space – you’ll find there simply isn’t any. I was talking to some friends here and I showed them a google map street view of where I live and their only comment was how far away from each other the houses are in my street. It’s not like I have a paddock in between my place and the neighbors – it’s just your standard suburban street – but still, that short walk between properties equals privacy. It’s easy to forget the value of privacy when you’re given it everyday, but over here there is no such thing as personal space. Everyone does everything (actually everything, I’m not being hyperbolic) on top and all over each other. I’ll never take for granted a quiet street after this. Another thing to notice is how dusty everything is. When you have millions of people walking over dirt roads you tend to kick up a fair amount of dust – the pollution in the air is staggering. I mean you literally stagger somedays because it’s difficult to breathe. With rain only falling at a certain time of the year there isn’t anything to wash the dirt away so everything is coated in year old muck.

Here are some interesting (and sometimes devastating) photos of the streets of Patna:

20131125-175430.jpgThis is the most orderly procession I will ever see

20131125-175548.jpgThis is a local family atop a wall plastered with cow patties (poo) which are drying in the sun to be used to fuel a fire later in the night

20131125-175834.jpgThis is a rubbish dump in the middle of the street

20131125-175955.jpgThis is why I will never worry about public transport again

20131125-180607.jpgThis is why I’ll never worry about public bathrooms again

20131125-180702.jpgThis is why I’ll never complain about feeling cramped again

20131125-180849.jpgThis is where I will never get my hair cut

20131125-180948.jpgThis is security – nothing says safe quiet like a rifle

And this gives you gives you a good look at the streets

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