It’s been over a month since I got back from Nepal for a 10 days mini-retreat-pilgrimage. Many asked me to share about the trip, others ask me if there were new revelations or insight. For a month now, I’ve been dragging my feet, or pen, or keyboard. There was just much inertia to write. Maybe it’s because it’s been awhile and I’m having writers’ block, or maybe the retreat got me quietened, so I have nothing to write! ha!
Below are my reflections … I mean ramblings from Nepal …
Take a look at the above picture and soak in the surreal scenery. It was around 5+ in the morning at Nargakot, Nepal and the sun was barely breaking dawn. Clouds and fog were indistinguishable. For that matter, both are moisture in the air, just given different names! (insight alert! haha)
The Start and the End
The above view is so breathtaking, one could just stare at it for a long time. Or at least as long as the sun had not completely risen. The sunrise is nice only when it is rising. Once it’s risen up, most people don’t bother. When the sun is setting, the whole world take on a different hue. Kinda like how we look at people, events and things in our life. We are concerned about the start and the end, and usually don’t bother too much about the middle! Yet, it is quite the middle that the whole earth get its much needed daily supply of solar energy for the trees, plants and all living beings.
The above picture is also very misleading, because it is so postcard type of view. So I took another picture.
Here, I stepped back and shot a picture of the visitors / tourists who were snapping away at the sunrise! Just a few steps away and what a different view! Suddenly, it is less surreal or romantic as someone had pointed out about the first picture.
Sometimes I hesitate to take pictures. I feel that the pictures only ‘capture’ a perspective and only the visual perspective. Maybe videos will do better, but it just feels different from being there in person. In the past when cameras were on 35mm film with 16, 24 and 32 … not GB but picture cartridges, one had to really choose wisely what picture to take. And after that, it is a mystery what was captured. When it’s developed into print, getting the photos back was always an exciting moment to see what shots were brilliant and what is under or overexposed. Then there were the Mr-Ms-shaky-hands or Power-Finger photographer, who never fail to apply more than 30lbs per square inch force on the puny snap button. The result is fantastic blurry pictures! But I digress…
I took another shot to show the viewing tower in its full glory!
Here you see the tower with tourists lining the perimeter and ah yes, that’s a communications dish and there are multiple telco gsm transceivers all over!! You don’t get to see this in postcards!
So which picture would you send to your friends? Which is the misleading picture?
If you wait until the surrounding is perfect … …
The retreat was spent in a homestay guest house in the outskirts of Kathmandu, so we were away from the hectic rush of city but still had basic amenities like lights, toilets, 3g mobile, internet access, LCD TVs, curry, nepalese food … wait, did I mention 3g mobile, internet access and LCD TVs? Yes I did! I was expecting a countryside homestay but we got more. Apparently Ncell was available all over Nepal, even when we were in the mountains … which the locals insisted were hills. haha
After being in the homestay for a day, I started to realise one difference it had with a monastery. First off, most monasteries I’ve resided in had no televisions, and if they did, it was as a teaching aid for us to attend recorded Dharma lessons. The television was perpetually showing something and there was always someone chatting, discussing or something.
It was an interesting experience trying to meditate there and we did for awhile, then we tried meditating on the roof area or in the ground floor when it was too sunny or rainy. As a senior monk once advised me, “If you wait until the surrounding is perfect before you cultivate (meditation), then you will never cultivate!”.
Birthday at Lumbini or Not
We spent a few days on the road and was to visit Lumbini, the birth place of the Buddha. We managed to visit it but owing to the schedule of the ground guide, we had to decide whether to insist on staying for another day or not, so I might spend my birthday at Lumbini. In the end we didn’t. It was a nice idea, but will it help me progress in my cultivation? I don’t usually celebrate my birthday anyway and definitely did not celebrate it at Lumbini for the past 39 years anyway. In Buddhism, attachment even to the Buddha’s birthplace can become a point of contention! For that matter, attachment to anything!
In the end, there is nothing wrong with the birthplace nor with the idea of celebrating one’s birthday at Lumbini, but if one becomes attached to it and insist or demand for it to happen, to have it our way then we can get all stressed up.
I didn’t celebrate my birthday in Lumbini but I didn’t let that give ‘birth’ to stress or unhappiness.
A flat Tire and a Dried Out Carburetor
Along the way back from Nargakot, the car broke down with a flat tire and when we returned from Lumbini, the jeep broke down with an overheated carburetor just 20km away from the perimeters of Kathmandu! Talk about uncertainty. Things do break down. We should maintain it where we can, but “Subject to change are all conditioned phenomena!”. Realising this, we won’t be so surprised when our MRT breakdown or the JEM ceiling collapse … oh wait, let’s not go to the other extreme of becoming resigned to ‘fate’!
Some people think that Buddhists are and should be resigned to ‘fate’ or ‘karma’. But the reverse is true. The teachings on karma is not a passive resignation to our lot in life. It is a teaching on how our actions (karma) have consequences and we are responsible for them! However, if we have done our best and things still fail, then we should recognise that there are no suitable conditions and accept the results with equanimity. Knowing the difference is Wisdom!
I sometimes find my ‘insights’ funny. Like after a novice retreat almost 13 years ago, my fellow Dharma brothers each shared their aspirations to cultivate and practise, my take away from the retreat was that I don’t need so much food, so my post-retreat ‘practice’ was to eat lesser, just enough was enough.
Hope you had a good laugh at my ramblings from this mini-retreat! At the very least, enjoy the misleading pictures! haha