When I hired an affable and pious car driver for a short holiday to Gethia, I did not know that the driver would be driving nine hours without any food, just fruit juice. It was a day before ashtami, and his religious fast was unbreakable. Even any empathy that my wife and I expressed to him was met with calm resolute. For a brief moment, I wondered at the sacrificial nature of the fast, which is an offering that rewards you in life. Then I reminded myself that I have been witnessing it for years, but still it struck a fresh chord in me.
While I was staying in Gethia in a wonderful B&B called Two Chimneys, I accessed a book from their well-stocked library that was to consumer a major stay of my vacation. An End to Suffering by Pankaj Mishra was a half-travelogue, half-Buddha talks – a topic that has intrigued me far and wide for the past one year. I have to say in hindsight that this was to become my most spiritual and disturbed vacation.
On my way back after two days, we braved a traffic jam in UP where a procession was being carried on the ninth day of the Navaratras. The traffic was blocked and all you could see in the crowd, with due respect to the deity, were ill-behaved youngsters who appeared to be half-drunk. This triggered an interesting conversation with my driver who would later make it a monologue, with some vengeance. When I expressed my thoughts on the cult of babas that have flooded our country in the 20th century, he was quick to argue that babas are the mystics who acquire magical powers and if they misuse them then they are taken away by the god. Having spent a better part of my childhood in small towns of India, this was no surprise to me. I had already heard many tales of life-changing incidents gods and goddesses (and babas and matas) appearing while night-dreaming.
When I argued on the rationale behind his perceptions, he immediately carried on with staggering proofs. There is a certain baba who is always reflected in the water of a certain river, there is a man whose soul has been conquered by a ghost who can take on 50 people at a time, and so on and so forth. All this while I was being intrigued in an unprecedented manner. When I used to hear such stories earlier, I used to pass them. But this time, I was perhaps more intrigued as it coincided with a heavy hangover of An End To Suffering which says that the Buddha never propagated anything extraordinary that was not possible to be performed by an ordinary human being like his follower. In fact, he said to everyone that everyone was a Buddha (which means the enlightened one). They could access their own Buddha self, if they cared to remove the dust that had settled hard and thick on them.
While my mind was full of Buddha philosophy, my driver carried on with self-graduated discourse and solid belief in deities of all kinds. It appeared that he had extensive knowledge of temples, gods and goddesses.
Suddenly I thought of the Bhavagad Gita which terms the world and life as an illusion. The same Bhagavad Gita-abiding man was celebrating illusion (or disillusion?). I asked him the same question that I have asked many hardcore religious people – does worshipping end your suffering? The answers vary from karma of past birth to the inevitable aspect of it, to being punished for sins, also to that they never suffer.
This also made me recall a thought from And End to Suffering which said the Buddha found the four noble truths of Dukha or suffering and formed a noble eightfold path that would free you from suffering. Zen Buddhists practice it, and those who are enlightened, have been liberated from suffering. Even science proves that the brain waves of Zen Buddhists is different from an unenlightened being. I can relate more to this Buddha philosophy because I have been the closest to it. It has empowered my awareness and brought me to higher levels of consciousness. My yearning to seek the truth is inflamed. I have come to believe that the eternal truth lies deep within us, and that our own truth possesses stronger and further lasting blessing.
Meditation is the most difficult task for me. I may clear the sky of my mind for two minutes but then the clouds of thoughts appear again, and if I am aware, then I let them pass and focus on the clear skies. I have been meditating better ever since I have been practising the state of awareness in my non-meditating time. This has also led me to believe that there is definitely a non-illusionary truth that is housed in us, and the nature of this truth does not call for awe and applause. If I ever get to that truth, I know that it will be self-pervading. What is stronger than the man’s own will?
In the past three days, I concluded one argument that cannot change. India is not a spiritual land, as it is positioned in the west; it is a religious land. The spirit of religion is palpable. According to legend, when the Buddha attained enlightenment, he was asked to share his wisdom with people of the world to which he said: “I am against the current.”