Friday, December 31, 2010


You're in the jungle, baby!  Chitwan National Park to be more precise.  The concept of a "jungle walk" sounds okay in theory, but then you're actually out on even footing with the tigers and bears and leopards and elephants and rhinos and you realize the guide's stick isn't going to offer much protection when one of these mother sentient beings comes charging for you.  Nor are you calmed by the guide's advice on how to "defend" against an attack:

Rhino:  Climb a tree (analyzing every single tree I passed along the way for its potential as an escape route, I can tell you this is not a realistic plan of action).

Tiger:  Maintain eye contact and don't run (ooookkk!).

Sloth Bear:  Stay in a group and make as much noise as possible, and if necessary, fight.  (My guides seemed legitimately concerned that I would abandon them in the event of an attack, asking twice that I help out if we encounter an angry sloth bear.  I got you Prakash and Sunina, no worries.)

Elephant:  Pray.

So the entire walk is fairly unnerving.  When I asked one of the guides whether she had ever been attacked by an animal her response was "sometimes".  Actually, I learned that it is not so unusual, so I was somewhat glad to have encountered only deer, monkeys and a peaceful rhino during my walk.

Oh yea, upon arriving in Chitwan I caught the final day of the 2010 International Elephant Festival, which included elephant soccer and elephant races.  That was weird.

That's about a wrap on Nepal.  Hard to believe that I just about took my ninety day visa to its limit.  Although in the last couple days I have noticed myself unconsciously doing the Indian/Nepali head waggle which can be used to express just about anything - acquiescence, gratitude, directives, apologies - depending on the situation.  (At least that's when I've noticed myself doing it - perhaps the Nepalis think it's weird I keep signaling "yes" to them in all kinds of inappropriate situations).

From here I take my waggling head to Myanmar/Burma for twenty-eight days.  I'm pretty sure I won't be blogging from Burma, so it could be as late as February before there's another post, but you never know.

As Simon put it, happy extremely merely labeled new year!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Very Kathmandu Christmas

My ancestors would be happy to know that despite all this Buddhist practice, I kept the sacred traditions of Judaism alive this holiday season, making sure to enjoy a fine Chinese meal on Christmas Eve.  Actually, it felt like a pretty authentic experience as the food was amazing, and the place was filled with Chinamen (in this case, I believe it is the preferred nomenclature) shouting and smoking cigarettes through the meal.  After dinner we tried to complete the Jewish Christmas by going to see a movie, but alas, there was no showing on this most holy of nights.

I'm again spending some time in Kathmandu proper, as I wait for the Burmese embassy to work out my visa.  So today my buddy Simon and I went over to Pashuputinath, a Hindu holy temple complex outside of Kathmandu.  Pashuputinath is very Indian.  Dodging a gauntlet of beggars with horrific disfigurements, we entered the complex running along the Bagmati, which looks more like a stream of sludge running through a garbage dump than any river I've seen.  Wandering sadhus use Pashuputinath as a kind of home base, so around each corner of the complex Simon and I would bump into another half-naked, face-painted, dreadlocked, holy man.  Most of the sadhus just hunker down with a blanket in whatever corner of the complex they can find, though higher up the river there are some caves in which some of these most revered Hindus set up tiny temporary meditation/sleeping coves.

While young and filthy street kids played in the slime and gangs of monkeys climbed and fought their way around the temple walls, Simon and I sat and watched a few of the human cremations in progress.  It's a sight I witnessed last time around in India, but today we stood on an overlook more or less right on top of the funeral pyre, watching as the weeping family laid the body on the wood pile and lit the fire that would consume their loved one's form.   As in Varanasi, there is a kind of hospice situation (i.e., a row of beds) no more than one hundred meters away from the burning ghats where the dying can smell their oncoming fate, inhaling a mix of air and ash with their final breaths.

Not sure what else to say about this one. You might think that after spending six weeks thinking a lot about death that I'd be able to internalize the experience a little better, but the ego still refuses to really UNDERSTAND that no, that is not a fake body, yes, just days or possibly hours ago it was a real living person like me and everyone else, yes, someday my body also will be put on a funeral pyre or buried or fed to vultures or whatever.  So we just sat, watching and failing to get it, until we felt we had inhaled enough dead people for the day.

Wow, that one got intense kind of quickly, eh?  Happy Holidays everybody!!!!

Oh, since the last post a few people have mentioned to me that they went out and bought Awakening the Buddha Within.  Please keep in mind I'm not getting kickbacks here people.  Awakening is fantastic, inspiring and entertaining, but its quite long and towards the end becomes very meat and potatoes practice talk, so if anyone is actually interested in this stuff, you might drop me a line privately, as I may have a Dharma book suggestion that is more suited for your own unique and wonderful personality.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Dharma Project

My first real introduction to the teachings of the Buddha (the "Dharma") came in the form of a book I read when I was in college: Awakening the Buddha Within, by Lama Surya Das.  Lama Das - originally Jeffrey Miller, a Jewish guy from Long Island - had given up a possible future as a New York City attorney to move to the east, study Buddhism, and become a highly regarded teacher in the Tibetan tradition.  For many years Awakening sat unopened in a prominent place on my bookshelf, and I consequently forgot the specifics of Lama Das' story, such as where he had gone to study the Dharma. Nonetheless, the book had inspired me and set off a chain of events such that nine years after I originally opened the book, I found myself sitting in a newly-constructed library at the top of Kopan Hill, surrounded by gleaming snow-covered Himalayan mountaintops, re-reading the first sentences of Awakening:

 I am in a small, clay, mud-floored hut at the top of Kopan Hill, surrounded by gleaming snow-covered Himalayan mountaintops.


Being that one of the days at the monastery coincided with my ten year high school reunion, I couldn't help but imagine how the Noah that graduated Holmdel High School (go Hornets!) in 2000 would react to this news if the Noah of today could let him know.

29 year old Noah:  Hey buddy.

18 year old Noah:  Ugh, what do you want?

29:  Wow, you really are a dick.  Just thought you might be interested in the reason why you were unable to attend your ten year high school reunion.

18:  Was listening to some sick beats at club Exit, I have to assume. 

29:  Actually, you were spending 6 weeks in a monastery in Nepal.

18:  WHAT?!?  A monastery?  But I just finished a Bertrand Russell book while listening to my favorite Bad Religion album.  You were in a MONASTERY?

29:  Yea, well actually a Buddhist monastery.

18:  Buddhism, huh?  Can you light yourself on fire like the guy on the cover of the Rage Against the Machine Album??  Cause that would be SWEET!

29:  That WOULD be sweet, but unfortunately I'm not confident that after six weeks of study my meditative absorbtion is at a point to allow self-immolation.

18:  Six weeks?!  I hope you brought your discman.

29:  Actually these days we listen to music on i-po....  Nope, no discman.  No music.

18:  No music?  You have your guitar at least?

29:  No guitar.

18:  No guitar?!

29:  No guitar.  No TV, no movies, no internet, no non-dharma books, no magazines.  You get the point. 

18:  Jeez, weirdo.  Well, how was it?

29:  Yea, the experience doesn't lend itself to being described really.

18:  Ok, well thanks for bringing it up then.

29:  From a cultural point of view, it was an amazing and unique opportunity to make a Tibetan monastery home for a period of time and be a part of its daily routine.  Listening to the monks chanting each morning and night, taking part in their rituals, dodging their flying arms while walking through their debates, watching the flow of daily tourists come and go.

18:  Sounds boring.  Can we get down to business now?  WHERE is the sports almanac from the future so I can become rich by gambling?

29:  Stop watching so many movies.  Also, take the few coins you have and invest in Apple and Google.  Stay away from gin and girls named Doris, hide out on the docks when the cops come to Craig's, and bet on the Giants to win Superbowl XLII.

18:  Doris?  You mean you're not married to Amanda??

29:  Oh, buddy.  And shave that ridiculous strip of hair off your chin.

18:  Look who's talking.

The most perceptive of you may have noticed that the subtitle of the blog has been modified.  One of the great and profound revelations I had at the monastery was that the name of the blog, "No-Blog", could be misinterpreted to be a play on my name.  This was not my intention, as that would be terribly, unbearably corny.  Instead, the intent was to make a play on the Buddhist concept of emptiness (e.g., no-self), which is terribly, unbearably corny AND terribly, unbearably geeky.  As for what the new words really mean, well I've spent the past few years and the greater part of the past six weeks trying to figure that out, so if anyone knows, let me in on it!

Here are some pictures.

Pictures and links, I'm getting this blog thing down!