Well Rishikesh was abuzz with holiday celebrations all week. Dussehra is the culmination of the nine day festival of Navaratri in which the triumph of good over evil is celebrated in the form of the complex multi day rituals of Durga Puja and Vijayadashmi. In Durga Puja the divine mother in the form of the warrior goddess Durga is worshipped. Large clay statues of Durga, along with Saraswati, Lakshmi, Ganesha and Kartikeya are brought into town on palanquins, where offerings are made, and then, at the end of the festival, immersed in the river, symbolically dispersing their energy back into the cosmic churn. Vijayadashmi is a seperate ritual where episodes of the hindu epic Ramayana are reenacted on a massive scale, the most striking of which is the erection of a giant effigy of Ravana, the scheming ten-headed king of Lanka who kidnaps Sita, the beloved consort of Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu. The effigy is burned with fireworks in a celebration of archetypal righteousness. For several days Rishikesh was overwhelmed with pilgrims and the air filled with the din of local drum troupes, high energy music blasting out of loudspeakers and the regular explosions of some rather deafening fireworks.
Unfortunately, my ability to document the holiday was a bit hampered by some technological failures. My decision to bring my computer to India was a difficult one. The length of my trip and my desire to write about it seemed to necessitate it, but I knew, based on my earlier adventures, that it might not survive. I hardly expected it to break within 5 days of my arrival after barely travelling at all, which is what happened. My last post was written entirely on a mobile phone and formatted in 20 minutes at a travel agency with a few computers hooked up to the internet. Luckily I was able to fix my computer cheaply, in what, for India, was a relatively short amount of time. I’m back up and running for the time being, but this minor crisis got me thinking a lot about technology and its consequences.
The biggest difference between being in India 10 years ago and being here today is essentially the same everywhere in the world, it’s the ubiquitous presence of smartphones. This is hardly surprising, but for someone who, perhaps despite my better judgement, fetishizes the spiritual journeys of people like Gurdjieff, Ram Dass or even The Beatles, it’s a fairly stark reality check. I joked on Facebook recently that if Ram Dass had Facebook and Netflix when he went to India he’d probably be alot less like Ram Dass and alot more like me. This is hardly a useful comparison for any number of reasons, but the basic assumption feels accurate. Technology, especially social media, plugs us into a world where distraction from the inconveniences of the here and now is constantly available, where the importance of being important is implicit and an idealized, romantic, and utterly false conception of how other peoples lives are going and how our lives are supposed to go is constantly reinforced.
This is a giant pile of garbage. They are everywhere in India. Rishikesh is actually relatively clean compared to some parts, depressingly, this multi-storey garbage pile is a comparatively small one and its the only one I’ve seen around here, but it’s right next to the Ganges in Tapovan, down the hill from where I’ve been staying and I walk by it literally every day. I’ve been almost hit by cars and motorcycles so many times that I’ve stopped reacting, and I’ve only been here 2 weeks. I went to see a physiotherapist yesterday because my left knee is bothering me to the point that I’ve had to drastically modify my yoga practice, and the intense 2 month course, which is the whole reason why I came here in the first place, hasn’t even started yet. Plus I’m still a grumpy, antisocial, judgmental motherfucker despite the change of scenery.
Now then. I’m fine. Everything’s OK. I just wanted to explicitly make the disclaimer, as I digitally exalt and solemnize my time in this place that I love, that the real story is complicated. Part of coming to a place like India is resigning yourself to the shitty things about the world that you are powerless to change. By being lost in a crowd of people with a completely different set of cultural assumptions and values who could not care one bit about your opinion of them one is purged of the illusion of importance. That’s how you realize that importance is a trap; Being concerned about your legacy; Feeling personally responsible for the future trajectory of society. Anything that uproots your consciousness from the here and now and deposits it in an imaginary future or a closely curated past is a trap. Many people will think that this is a recipe for nihilism, but it isn’t. Compassion is what happens when you leave your story behind, when you can appreciate things as they are and love them anyway. Nihilism is caused by hopelessness, by fantasizing about a future where destruction, decay and death is certain, without appreciating life’s attendant cycles of renewal and rebirth. Compassion is caused by gratitude, by accepting with reverence the way life is right now, because that’s the only life that exists. All the time we’re told to be selfless, but all we’re given as tools to understand what that means is an abstract sense of personal responsibility and personal guilt, both of them artifacts of the disconnected self. I think in order to truly be ethical, one has to understand that ones body is just a piece of the puzzle, an atom in the larger body of the archetypal force of creativity and birth and let that force, which is what you truly are on the deepest level, work through your body. In India that force has many names, one of them is Durga, another is Rama.
See what I did there? Everything ends where it starts.
Enough sermonizing. I am hardly an exemplar of this type of thinking. Think of this as nothing more then a rambling, public note-to-self.
It’s a clear, quiet day in Rishikesh. There are butterflies everywhere. I feel pretty good.