(excerpted from Chapter 7: Trekking with God: The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries)
As a butterfly lost in a flower. As a bird settled in a tree. As a child fondling mother’s breast. For 67 years of this world I have played with God - Sasaki Roshi
In search of a hotel, I wander down a side street and notice a sign that says “Tibetan Guest House”. I walk up a narrow staircase and a pudgy 14-year-old girl comes to the door. Her pleasant demeanor captures my imagination. She and her six brothers and sisters are huddled around a television watching Bill Cosby. I take a room.
The girl brings me a huge bowl of vegetables and noodles with chopsticks, followed by the best coffee I’ve had in India. Her little brother climbs up on a chair, grabs of pack of Four Square cigarettes from atop the refrigerator and offers me one. Their mother brings me a soda. Their father walks in with fluorescent bulbs for the whole house, as if my arrival has brought them spirited rejuvenation. The kids surround him and wait for their turn at a hug. Some are content with a pat on the head. These are people who know intimately the secrets to happiness. I need to stay awhile.
I wonder if praise is not one of our biggest mistakes. When an Ituri Pygmy hunter comes home from having killed a springbuck, he gets no praise from his fellow tribesmen and is the last to receive his portion of meat. Out of this silence the hunter learns humility. He learns that his fate and that of his tribe are one. Praise for his efforts would only create a schism of the whole and fill the hunter with arrogance. In America, when one praises a friend exceedingly, that friend often begins to mistreat his or her admirer. To praise someone is to put them on a pedestal – separate from the masses of un-praised others. It is a product of dualistic thinking athe root of scores of flawed Western philosophical underpinnings.
This conundrum may explain why I always feel that I need to leave America where I treat everyone as if they are intrinsically good. Westerners, trained in dualistic thinking, take this as weakness on my part. They see my kindness as a green light to take, to gain some emotional advantage. I do not find such a dilemma in India or for that matter any other Third World nations I have visited. Here kindness is greeted by reciprocation.
I guess Reagan and his supply-siders are right in one sense about their trickle-down theories. An evil government imparts its paranoid set of values to its citizenry, whose collective denial of a bloody colonial history only reinforces the “taker” mindset. To stop and question the rules of this rigged game would be to risk losing one’s television or VCR or, God forbid, one’s cherished automobile. Westerners live in a state of guilt, shame and fear – knowing in their guts, but never acknowledging, the trail of tears they have left in their wake. Their penance is their work, their half-hearted daily grind, their boring monotonous meaningless assignment from the cruel Great White teacher. Their weekends are spent indulging in a swirl of contradictions that, by gosh, they deserve after spending all week doing penance. They break out their speedboats, gorge at fine restaurants, guzzle copious amounts of alcohol and throw their hard-earned money back into the whirling cogs of the system. They do not deserve freedom. They must repent. They are the system.
No one’s heart is sad at birth. No one is filled with gloom when their tiny eyes first awaken to the world outside their mother’s womb. No amount of phony social Darwinist propaganda can make it so. Charles Darwin, whose “survival of the fittest” terminology is often invoked by wealthy fat Republicans as justification for their callous journey through this life, actually argued that the most important key to human and animal survival was “cooperation within species”. The entire debate over whether man is naturally good or evil is itself a dualistic windstorm that could only take place within the simplistic minds of the colonial West.
Surely man has the ability to do both good and evil. He must choose which path to embark upon – one of fear and greed, or one of love and compassion. Yet his circumstances greatly influence the nature of his soul. His environment plays a much greater role than his DNA. Most pit bulls are socialized to be family protectors or worse – stone cold killers. But some pit bulls are not instructed so, and are as gentle as lambs. A grizzly bear in Kodiak, Alaska – well-fed on salmon and unused to human interaction – is much less likely to maul a person than one in Yellowstone National Park, where his habitat is a tiny island of government protection and where ignorant humans are constantly pestering him for photographs.
While the Aryans have a lock on colonization, there were rapists among the Zulu and murderers among the Lakota. These bad apples likely were impacted by negative events in their childhood and the like. But Aryan history books exaggerate these anomalies in an attempt to justify colonial endeavors. Tribal peoples treated their offenders much more compassionately. Wrongdoers in tribal cultures were shunned and sent away for a period of time. Wrongdoers in colonial cultures are executed, upsetting the cosmic balance and reinforcing the dualistic thinking that alienates industrialized man from both earth and other cultures. We can kill criminals because we believe in the dualism that they are the bad people and we the good. The fact that tribal cultures did not kill their criminals speaks volumes to their humility, to their lack of dualism-driven fear and to their earth-inspired wisdom. By all accounts the shunning of offenders worked. Recidivism among Lakota offenders was virtually non-existent. The person knew he did wrong, but he also discovered that his life was too valuable to be taken. Thus, the value of all life was reinforced in both his mind and in the collective mind of the culture.
Modern-day prisoners in South Africa, Israel, the US or China – all subject to death at the whim of their governments – hold no such respect for human life. Nor do the people who live in those countries. The nature of human existence holds no relevance in arguments for or against the death penalty. Nor does it matter in any discussion of social policy. Our decision is one of which path we shall take from right here and now. Will we choose a path of darkness and nihilism, or will we choose one that restores balance and harmony to earth and its inhabitants? When we feel good about who we are we do good things. Happiness and justice are two results of harmony – one and the same thing.
McLeod Ganje sits above Dharamsala, which is perched at 6,400’ above sea level. McLeod is a refuge for Tibetans who fled their homes following the 1949 Chinese Revolution. Their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama led them to this new mountain home, also a refuge for travelers to India who grow weary of the hot crowded hassle-ridden lowlands. Here there is much compassion and deafening silence, echoing cheerfully off snow-capped peaks.
Today the 14th Dalai Lama speaks at a three-day celebration of Tibetan culture. His presence is gentle power to an open heart. His message is compassion, which is the central tenet of Tibetan Buddhism. This ideal emerged from the philosophies of Ghautama Buddha, who centuries earlier in northern India, recognized that of all the values revered in his native Hinduism, compassion was the only one that really mattered. The Dalai Lama does not blame the invasion by Chairman Mao’s Red Army for his people’s tribulations. He attributes the act to the karma of the Tibetan people themselves. He discourages divisive language of any kind since it creates a reality where dualistic thought becomes the paradigm. Without duality there can be no enemies. He encourages compassionate living as the path to good karma and nirvana. To en-courage is to be courageous. To dis-courage is cowardice.
This tiny village is living peace – heaven on earth. I have not seen a happier, more content or more compassionate people. I feel it in the simple gourmet food, in the sparse spotless hotel rooms that you pay for when you leave, in the suddenly smiling Westerners taken aback by the joy of the place, and in the Himalayan foothills that surround the village and remind me of my smallness – peaks now shrouded in gray-white billowy clouds through which even more remote villages come into view. This evening the sound of Tibetan gongs mingles with the chattering of rhesus monkeys and macaques playing in the surrounding forest. The few cars here carry Indian tourists back down the mountain, leaving in their wake a silence so profound that I feel every dry swallow and breath of air. The sun lays itself to rest over the Changra Valley and the gentle hand of the Buddha blankets McLeod Ganje in starry darkness.
After my usual breakfast of lemon curd cake and mint tea at the Toepa Restaurant, I begin my ascent towards the Tibetan children’s village, where a festival is in its second day. I pass dancing monks in outrageous costumes and a monastery where young monks debate with the fire of Fidel Castro. I can’t stop walking. Soon I arrive at Dal Lake. I turn left on a road heading up into the Daula Dar range. I pass through the village of Niddi, where Gadi nomadic herder girls tend their sheep and goats. At the next village of Talanu the pavement ends. I take a narrow winding dirt path around the side of a majestic mountain and suddenly, I am struck with awe.
Perched high on a ridge jutting out amidst a panorama of Himalayan peaks sits Nande Ashram. I walk to the door and am greeted with a gentle smile. The man does not say a word, but motions me inside. He leads me to a bare room, closing the door behind him as he leaves. I sit in lotus position and meditate for many hours, focusing on the in and out motions of my diaphragm muscle – focusing on my breathing, emptying my mind. I emerge into the fresh mountain air a new person. I have escaped the torture of my own mind. I notice everything. I have empathy and love for everyone. I cannot wipe the smile off my face. I pass a young Gadi girl herding goats as I begin my walk down the trail. She is glowing in her bright purple dress and headscarf. She is God.
I float back to the dancing monks feeling myself a tiny but important part of a collective streaming consciousness. Surrounded by Tibetan children, I take a seat at the festivities towards the back of the crowd where I can observe the entire scene – the dancing monks, the exuberant crowd, the sun on the meadow. Westerners snap photos, bored children fidget, and mothers serve their families tea from air pots sitting on blankets on the cool grass. The colorful monks move in slow motion to the deliberate rhythms of a small drum corps, occasionally twirling suddenly as if disturbed from their slumber.
Tonight I go to Bhagsu School, site of an all-night party. I am greeted at the door with a glass of Tibetan beer. Before I am finished, I have another full glass in my hand, then another. There is no talk of money. Only more smiles and more rice beer. Three hours later I stumble down the hill. In the moonlight I notice a woman. Soon we are laughing uncontrollably and smoking hash. She is a gem-smuggler from the Netherlands. I zigzag my way back to the Tibetan Guest House for one last night’s sleep in heaven.
A man on a scooter picks me up in the morning chill just outside Dharamsala. He agrees to take me to his hometown of Kanga. We stop for a warm-up and tea. He is an Indian lawyer, a well-educated public defender. He launches into a political diatribe denouncing CIA involvement in the Punjab drugs for guns trade that fuels the war in Kashmir just north of here. He says the CIA pushes brown sugar (unrefined heroin) on India’s youth in an attempt to shut down their minds, while providing arms to separatists in an attempt to partition India. He says that India’s leadership in the Non-Aligned Movement is what makes his socialist country a target of the US.
I wait at the bus station in Kanga, fending off Indian youth and their predictable inquiries regarding American women and war movies. The bus to Dehra Dun leaves at 10:00 PM. I will go to Rishikesh, where John Lennon and George Harrison spent time meditating on the meaning of life. The Garwhal Mountains beckon. I pass time reading J. Khrishnamurti, who proclaims that it is at the very moment when one sees oneself as separate from the other – from the whole – that corruption begins.
Dean Henderson is the author of four books: Big Oil & Their Bankers in the Persian Gulf: Four Horsemen, Eight Families & Their Global Intelligence, Narcotics & Terror Network, The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries, Das Kartell der Federal Reserve & Stickin’ it to the Matrix. You can subscribe free to his weekly Left Hook column @ www.deanhenderson.wordpress.com