Guavas and Nostalgia

I am supposed to be doing prostrations right now. In fact, I usually do prostrations before dinner, but my stomach hurt and I wanted to go for a walk and buy guavas and plantain chips in the late afternoon sunlight. So I did.

Guava and Opinel, Ink on Paper, 9" x 12"

Guava and Opinel, Ink on Paper, 9″ x 12″

And then I came home and ate guavas and plantain chips instead of dinner, which, surprisingly didn’t make my stomach feel any worse and maybe even helped? I washed the guavas in my sink, dried them thoroughly, sat on the floor, and peeled them with my trusty Opinel knife that comes with me everywhere. Guavas here are round and rich and the size of an apple. They are custardy and sweet inside with spirals of little crunchy seeds. I ate two, in halves, savoring the creamy flesh and daydreaming over pages of food blogs.

I spent today aching and dreaming. Aching because my stomach is not used to being fed rich meals three times a day and anyway, I seem to process change and uncertainty in my belly as much or more than I do in my thoughts. Dreaming because my mind has been full of nostalgia, pastel colors, and the feeling of running your fingers over lace spread out on a table.

It’s a funny thing, seeking. Everywhere I go, my questions come with me. I spent today dreaming about time spent inside of kitchens and outside of cities. These are the places I go looking for comfort, wherever I am. Lately I have spent my days listening to texts written centuries ago, lists of descriptions of how the world is and how the world is not. I feel I have hardly had moments to be in the world to feel how it is and how it is not. Of course, this isn’t true. Short of deep, deep sleep or a sharp blow to the head, there is no moment when we are not in the world.

But this is the nature of nostalgia. It is longing for what we do not have now. Often, I find myself believing that I long for something I had once or would have elsewhere. But I have been in a kitchen making pastry, while dreaming of being where I am now, and look how that works out. I have even been in a kitchen making pastry while dreaming of being in a kitchen making pastry–another time, another place, another way to feel.

Like always, nostalgia comes accompanied by the wondering of what will happen to me. To France; to retreat; to home; to learn Tibetan; to some other unimagined fate? It is a dream of the future as much as the past. Yearning and questioning come on the heels of uncertainty, the coattails of doubt. I am young and untamed and my mind is wild with such things, though I know they do me no good.

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Perhaps I will long for a kitchen until I am in a kitchen, where I will l long for the place I am now. But tonight I will take my longing and lay it down before Buddha and ask for example in how to let go of what hangs on but does not help. This is the path. May it guide me.

Self, Painting, and Pastry

Evening comes, and I can feel my tiredness. Sunday is rest day, but I haven’t yet learned how to budget my energy well enough that I don’t still end it sleepy.

Silent Sunday, Ink and Acrylic on Paper, 8 1/2" x 12"

Silent Sunday, Ink and Acrylic on Paper, 8 1/2″ x 12″

When I am sleepy, I tend to be grumpy, too. And let me tell you, it’s funny to be sleepy and moderately grumpy and surrounded by Buddhists. Everyone just wants to offer something. And sometimes, I just want to say, “Erm…know what? I’m actually okay with being grumpy right now.” Admittedly, one must remember not to dwell and mire oneself more in whatever frustrations arise, but really, some days, frustrations just arise. Little things; big things; whatever–depends on the day.

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Buddhism teaches that the self, which most of us cling to as our identity, has no essence. When we act from this understanding, we become more generous and less reactive because we aren’t so busy trying to protect our own views and often to prove others wrong. At the same time, I’ve seen in myself that this can backfire on occasion. I’m not enlightened (big news, hehe) and that means that, inevitably, I do a lot of self-clinging, like worrying about what others think of me or being annoyed when the world doesn’t meet my expectations and I have to adjust. In these moments, I often find myself castigating myself instead of realizing that it’s okay to make mistakes and that if there really is no fundamental me then there’s also no one to be mad at, just an ebb and flow of ideas and feelings held together in a body that hasn’t quite figured out what’s what in this world.

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And even if the confusion about self is a pretty basic source of suffering, while we are still mired in this view of the world, we can use our sense of self to help us develop wonder and appreciation, which lead to care for others and our (non) selves. Even thousands of miles from the places that feel familiar, even while dedicated to the study of equanimity, I do a double take when I pass a pastry shop and I return to blank pages and pigment when I want to understand what I am feeling. I still feel giddy and grateful to discover a new culture’s approach to food and the delight to be found in the flavor and artistry of dessert. I still can’t help just a small shopping spree when I stumble across art supplies in one of the labyrinthine markets of Delhi. Doing so helps me appreciate all the other beings who relate to the world in these ways, even in a country so different from the one I come from. It helps me notice that joy can transcend identity, that I feel most like myself when I am sharing something with others, in life and in spirit. It helps me see, in one experiential way, what the Buddha may have meant, when he taught that self is non-dual, but exists in relation to all other things.

Emptiness and Interdependence

This is home now. Not like any home I have known before, and yet only a week has passed, and I find myself at ease here.

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Welcome to KIBI. This is the gompa, or the temple building. It’s also where we have class, and it houses the library, student lounge, dining hall and living space for important people. The rest of us live in dorms that ring the gompa and surrounding courtyard. The compound and structures are built in the style of a Tibetan monastery, which is what they are. In addition to the forty ragtag Westerners here for the course, there are about twenty monks living at KIBI. I’ve met a few of them, and am becoming friends with a couple, but I must admit, I am a little shy of them, and they, I think, a little shy of us. Our lives and histories are vastly different, and our language too, which is perhaps the defining barrier. But slowly, slowly, we exchange smiles and good mornings, and there is the comfortable comradeship that comes from knowing you are in pursuit of the same good.

And as for that good, what a pursuit it is. Classes started on Monday. There are three classes a day, which focus on different topics depending on the day. Essentially we are studying two main teachings plus the foundations of meditation. The teachings are called Madhyamika and Abhidharma, and I don’t recommend trying to figure them out on your own. Here is a teeny bit of explanation based on my own understanding, which is a student’s view and not necessarily correct, but all these things are muddling about in my mind and it helps to write them out. If you find this stuff interesting, I recommend finding a Buddhist teacher who comes from a traditional lineage and can explain it properly to you. They are around, surprisingly enough, and not hard to find via the great internetz.

Anyway, here goes:

Madhyamika focuses on the emptiness of phenomena, that what we perceive is based on concepts we apply rather than any intrinsic nature to objects and experiences. Simple right? But think about emptiness long enough and your head will start to spin and the floor will drop out from beneath you, which is the point, I think. All of your ideas about the world become ungrounded in the face of emptiness, which, in the long run, makes us flexible, and in the really long run, makes us enlightened, but which, in the short run, mostly makes us dizzy. Makes me dizzy, anyway, and that was the general consensus over dinner last night, hehe.

Abhidharma focuses on what is translated into English as “dependent origination,” which is immensely complicated but which I often think of as the way that our sense of self arises in conjunction with our perception of external phenomena. The thing about dependent origination is that it applies not just to self but to everything. It is the idea that causes and effects exist entirely interdependently; there is no cause without an effect and no effect without a cause, but they don’t appear one and then the other. They come about simultaneously. The moment the correct conditions come together, they are the cause, which in that same moment manifests the effect, without any time lapse. Fine, makes sense. But there are so many causes and conditions in the world, and they are all intertwined, so it’s very hard to know what leads to what. The study and practice of how this all works gives us some ability to distinguish causes and effects, which is important because then we can engage in positive actions that will have positive effects, i.e. benefit ourselves and others and help us to experience less unnecessary suffering. Sounds good to me.

That’s the word these days. Love to all. Also, words are getting emphasis over pictures because pictures take bandwidth, which is scarce in India. But there was plenty of great travel-writing before photoblogging, so hopefully I can live up to that tradition a bit. I’ll try to supply imagery when I can.

Suffice to Say, I am in India

No photos yet, as I’m on a school computer and this is my foray into internet-dom. They will come soon.

At the moment, I am mostly amazed that I am here. It took about twenty-four hours of travel to get here, from Los Angeles to New York to Delhi. And that’s not counting the roundabout cab ride from the airport to the center, hehe. Things of note:

The center, formally known as The Karmapa International Buddhist Institute, looks like a Tibetan monastery, and in fact most of its inhabitants are monks. Students from around the world have been trickling in. So far no other Americans, but I’ve met several Germans, a Canadian, and a Dane. Everyone is friendly and everyone is dedicated to the Dharma. This is a good place to be.

There is  a temple in the middle of the compound where people meditate and do prostrations. The statue of the Buddha there is the most impressive and inspiring I’ve ever seen, entirely gold and probably twelve-feet high. It’s quite cold here, which is very encouraging of prostration practice as it heats one up considerably. I’ve been doing one hundred a day, but I might start doing extra before bed to keep warm.

Outside the center, directly close by is all institutions; there is a hospital, the Indian Statistical Institute, and various places with Hindi names that I don’t understand, but which have impressive buildings to go along with them. A short walk away, through a park and off the nearest main road is what I would guess is a more typical neighborhood, where tall buildings stand close together, street vendors sell everything from fresh curry to room heaters, and men speed by on motorcycles while honking their horns maniacally.

There are no squirrels here, but energetic chipmunks with striped backs and a single ring on their tails. There are crows, as there seem to be Corvidae everywhere in the world; the ones here are black with gray hoods that stretch over their breast and half down their backs. The blackbirds, if they are blackbirds, have orange beaks and orange around their eyes, and there’s waterbirds with fat bodies on stick-like legs near the river that runs by a park just a short walk from the center.

I imagine I will be at the center most of the time, working and practicing, but perhaps on weekends I’ll venture out to nearby destinations of interest or to sample the local fare. Everything now is new and unknown. You’ll know when I know what life has in store.

CA LYFE

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Today I went to my last yoga class at my favorite studio and took my last walk on the beach with my mom. Tomorrow I pack my bags and hug my friends goodbye. Thursday, I say peace to my family, the familiar, and this California LYFE, and then I fly.

See you on the other side.

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