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.