Day 7: Turning the Wheel of Dharma amid Digambar Jains

Hatred will not cease by hatred, but by love alone. This is the ancient law.
Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. – The Buddha

Yesterday, a friend and I took a trip to the city of Sarnath, 13 km north of Varanasi city. Sarnath is one of the four holy sites revered in the life of Gotama the Buddha. The first is Lumbini, where he was born. The second is Bodh Gaya, where he achieved full enlightenment. The third is Sarnath and the fourth is Kusinigara, where he left his mortal body.

After Gotama reached full enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, he traveled to the Deer Park of Sarnath and delivered the first sermon on the “Four Noble Truths” to five of his former traveling sanyasin companions. This is traditionally called the first turning of the wheel of Dharma and the sangha or “community” was first established. Although the term “Buddhism” was never used during the time of the Buddha, some consider this to be the unofficial starting point of Buddhism as we know it today. 

  

In the 3rd century BC, Emperor Ashoka the Great discovered the exact site of this historical occurrence and erected a massive stone structure called “Dhamekh Stupa.” It towers over the landscape and can be seen from miles away. 

For those unaware, Ashoka was at one time labeled Ashoka the Cruel. He was a ruthless and cunning military leader with ambitions to spread his empire to the far reaches of the known world. He was very effective at uniting India and the surrounding area under a single banner, but he did so through fear. One day, he came into contact with the Dharma and the teachings of vipassana. Not long afterwards, he became a changed man and was from that point forward known as Ashoka the Great. 

  
During Ashoka’s reign he built pillars at the major sites of the Buddha’s life. I have been to the pillar at Lumbini twice, but unfortunately the pillar at Sarnath had toppled and was in many pieces. When it was erected however,  on top of the pillar stood the “Lion Capital”, which is a large statue of four lions standing back-to-back. It is now the national emblem of India. 

Without Ashoka, the meditation of Vipassana, which to me was the greatest contribution of the Buddha’s enlightenment, would have perhaps been lost forever. Ashoka sent fully enlightened “Arahants” to every part of his empire, as well as to every known land beyond his own. Out of all of these emissaries, only one country preserved the technique of vipassana and that was the in Land of Dharma, presently known as Myanmar or Burma. 

The technique was rediscovered in the 1960s and has been spreading throughout the world ever since. This is officially known as the second Buddha-sasana or cycle of teaching. I am very happy that I got to visit this site and I look forward to continue the pilgrimage through Bodh Gaya in the coming months.

Although I came to Sarnath to see the ancient ruins and the location of the Buddha’s first sermon, I was surprised to find a Jain temple nearby within a stone’s throw from the massive stupa.   I have many times heard about Jainism and how it is highly respected, but for some reason I have never had the chance to study it or to hear about it from a Jain follower himself. 

We visited the Digambara Jain temple, southwest of the Dhamekh Stupa, and learned what this religion was about. It is said that in this temple Shreyanshnath, the 11th Jain tirthankara was born. Within the temple were beautiful frescoes, explaining the life of the Mahavir who founded the present day Jain religion. It reminded me of a Eastern Orthodox church and was very nicely put together.

We entered the temple complex and found a very intelligent and kind man who shared what it was about. He showed us a tremendous amount of pictures on Digambar munis explaining the lifestyle that they live. They follow an extremely strict and austere spiritual life, including “hardcore” ahimsa, possessionless to the point of nakedness, and plucking out one’s own hair a single strand at a time rather than cutting it which to them would risk hurting bacteria or lice.  


 

The Digambars observe full vows of non-violence, truth, non-stealing, celibacy, and possessionless. They are mentioned throughout the Vedas and Puranas and Gandhi expressed deep regard for the Jains going so far as saying that he hoped in his next life to be able to live the life of a Digambar muni.

  

There are some distinct differences between their beliefs and other religions. The Jains believe that women cannot live the Digambar life, nor can they reach nirvana, but they can still support Jainism as lay people. In their belief, they will have to be reborn as men before they can reach liberation or enlightenment. Unlike most major religions, they believe there are no more tirthankaras to be incarnated and “they have had their full amount” as the man stated. Whereas, in Hinduism, they believe the 24th Vishnu incarnate will arrive one day. In Buddhism, they believe the Buddha Maitreya will come. In Islam, it is the Mahdi. In Judaism, they are waiting for the Mashiach and in Christianity they are waiting for the “Second Coming of Christ”. To me, this is a noticeable difference, but I think I know why they believe this.

After we left, I had to think about many things he explained. The only thing that makes sense to me is that they are doing two important things for the future. They are challenging women to reach the highest spiritual heights, which I believe they can, and they are challenging others to become a tirthankara, who they state will no longer incarnate. Furthermore, because of their hardcore “sadhu-ness” they are forever setting an example for others who live austere or extreme to compare their own lives to. This is extremely beneficial for people like me, who live semi-disciplined, but not as disciplined as they do. For example, if sometimes I think I cannot go on with my own spiritual and austere practice, it is much easier once I think of the Digamber Jains. 

Compared to these men, I can do a wide-range of things. I don’t think they believe that all people should live like them, but are just setting a “high-bar” to encourage others to carry on with their own discipline. Because I believe that we must consider the material life and spiritual life to be 100% equal, it would be impossible for me to live their lifestyle at this moment, but I highly respect those that do.

List of daily expenses and donations for April 29th, 2015:

Total spent on travel: $3.18
Total spent on food: $4.29
Total spent on room: $1.59
Random: $1.59
Total: $10.65 + 61.47 = $72.12 divided by 8 days = $9.02 each day.

Donations given to 4 random strangers = 40 Indian rupees or $ .64 
Donations given to 3 sadhus or holy men = 30 INR or $ .48
Donations given to Digamber Jain Temple of Sarnath = 100 INR or $1.59
Total = $2.71 + 425.74 = $428.45 divided by  days = $53.56 each day

Expense account = $538.33 – 10.65 = $527.80 (Avg $9.02 each day will last 59 more days)
Donations account = $174.31 – 2.71 = $171.60 (Avg $53.56 each day will last 3 more days)

The man walked into the kitchen at 6:30 in the morning to roast his favorite local instant coffee, BRU Super Strong. In the lower corner of the room, a rustle was heard near the red-plated gas tank. A rectangular cage was shaking, but it was hard to see what was causing it as the light was still dim. All of a sudden, a rat the size of a cat lifted the trap door and streaked out like a lightning bolt under the stairs. 

As if nothing unusual had happened, the stove was lit and water was placed to boil. Meanwhile, Dolly the arthritic shitzu came to investigate the great escape. She could smell it. It was there, and close, but it was hiding and Dolly would be unable to catch her prey. If only she was a pup again, that rat would have met his match, or so the shitzu thought. Next time.

The coffee was finished and served. It had a burnt aroma, like country coffee, but that is the way he liked it.

“After today, no more coffee for me,” exclaimed Shanti. 

“And for you Kumiko?” said the man. A subtle nod was given.

After coffee, the typing always began.

Thinking of Nepal. Continue to stay strong. 

  

New mantra up. Shiva Shiva Shiva Shamboh: http://chirb.it/8v9qcH

Blessed.

  

Day 6: Daring to Dream a Dream that has never been Dreamt

Imagination is more important than knowledge. – Einstein

Knowledge is of the past. Imagination is of the future. I can’t change the past, but I can change the future.

If I can imagine a world that I want to see, there is a greater chance that world will take shape. If I don’t use my imagination and don’t care what the world will be like, then I leave it in the hands of other dreamers to decide. Throughout history, there have been many dreamers, but not all of them have necessarily been “on the side of the greater good”. My imagination and my dreams now-a-days only represent what I would like to see for the greater good. I have given up dreaming or wishing only things for myself.

If we never learn to use our imagination to envision a better and brighter future for all, then we will be trapped in living the dreams of the past generations, which can never be as bright as those from the present moment. When we learn to use our imaginations to create new possibilities that have never been thought before only then will we enter into a new reality. Only then can we take control over the creation.


Yesterday was a very pleasant and adventurous day. After the morning’s coffee with Shanti, I met a new friend at the Kumiko House and we wandered all the way down to Assi Ghat eventually leading to Banares Hindu University. On the way we ran into Mama Marish and three other sadhus who invited us to sit with them. They constantly smile, laugh, and joke with one another and I am always reminded of the simple joy of companionship. Whether it is their natural demeanor or the effects of a little early morning ritual I am not for sure, but I would lean towards the former.

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Shanti and his sweet companion Dolly.

Banares Hindu University is one of the biggest in all of Asia with over 20,000 students. It has a beautiful campus spread over 1,400 acres with a very L.A. Noire feel to it. The construction and layout was carefully planned and the buildings have been wonderfully preserved. Although we did not enter any of the departments, we visited the newer Vishwanath Temple as well as the botanical gardens located nearby. There are rows and rows of streets lined with flowering trees planted near it’s inception in 1916. I have a feeling I will be back there sometime in the future.

Later, we took a tuk-tuk back to the guesthouse and on the way ran into the Shibendu Lahiri Kriya Yoga center that I had been to two years ago. It is a very special place carrying the transmission of former and current Kriya yoga masters.. Before I learned vipassana, I was a student of Kriya yoga and believe it was instrumental in paving the path for my future spiritual self.

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There are a number of amazing hand-carved full-body statues in the center. These three men are from the family of Lahiri, with Lahiri Mahasaya in the bottom left. He was the guru of Sri Yukteswar Giri who was the guru of Paramahansa Yogananda, the author of the infamous book, The Autobiography of a Yogi, and founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship.  I highly recommend anyone to come and visit the center if they are in Varanasi.


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This tablet is from the Ashtavakra Gita, one of my favorite scriptures in Vedic literature. It is a dialogue between Ashtavakra and the king Janaka about reality, the soul, and bondage. Anyone can download a free PDF from here.  I quote from it often on this blog and in my journal.

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The final picture is of Mahavatar Babaji, one of the highest level gurus of all Kriya yoga who has supposidely lived in the Himalayas for thousands of years. According to Wikipedia, “the first reported encounter with Mahavatar Babaji was in 1861, when Shyāmacharan Lahirī (called “Mahāsaya” by disciples, devotees, and admirers) was posted to Ranikhet in his work as an accountant for the British government. One day while walking in the hills of Dunagiri above Ranikhet, he heard a voice calling his name. Following the voice up the mountain, he met a “tall, divinely radiant sadhu.”[6] He was amazed to find that the sadhu knew his name.[2][6] This sadhu was Mahavatar Babaji” I consider it an honor to have just the pictures of statues of these wonderful human beings on the blog.

Today, I will be going back to Sarnath to do a proper exploration of the entire park and ancient ruins. Hopefully,  it will be an action-packed day of realization  and rememberance.

List of daily expenses and donations for April 28th, 2015:


The blog’s 3rd donation came in yesterday for $100, sent from a special friend back home. I have divided half into the expense account and half into the giving account. With additional funds coming in, additional funds can be directed. I took advantage of Facebook’s pledge to match all money donated to Nepal’s Earthuake Relief Fund through the International Medical Corps and channeled $150 extra which will be backed by $150 by Facebook for a total of $300. Through your donations, we have now helped to raise and send $500 to Nepal.

Total spent on travel: .80

Total spent on food: $2.27

Total spent on room: $1.59

Random: .65

Total: $5.31 + $56.16 = 61.47 divided by 7 days = $8.78 each day.


Donations given to 9 random strangers = 80 Indian rupees or $1.42
Donations given to 10 sadhus or holy men = 100 INR or $1.59
Donations given to Lahiri Kriya Yoga center = 100 INR or $1.59
Donations given to Nepal Earthquake relief charities = $150 $(300 with Facebook bonus)

Total = $154.60 + 271.14 = 425.74 divided by 7 days = $60.82 each day given

Expense account = $493.84 + $50 – 5.31 = $538.33 (Avg $8.78 each day will last 61 more days)

Donations account = $278.91 + $50 – 154.6 = $174.31 (Avg $60.82 each day will last 3 more days)

 

They walked into the lassi shop and had to cross over a few peoples’ legs to reach the back room. After placing an order for one apple lassi, the music began to play.

A small human being saw his chance, jumped up on the makeshift stage and began to do what he had done in the mirror countless times before. He shucked, he jived, he dreamed of being a Bollywood star.

The lassi came and was enjoyed over simple spiritual conversation about life and the pursuit of happiness. If only we could go back to this kid’s passion for dance, everything would always be alright.

Children are the true dreamers. This kid dreams a dream that has never been dreamt everyday.

Blessed.

Day 5: For those stuck in Nepal who practice Meditation or Yoga

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18

Because of the shortages in Nepal of food and supplies, I thought it may be a good idea to present an option to those who practice meditation and/or yoga and are in Nepal at the moment. This is specifically for those that practice vipassana meditation or Kriya yoga with pranayama as the emphasis. Both of these practices can help to alleviate one’s own hunger, increase energy levels, and can raise one’s own “metta” or “positivity” levels which can create a beneficial atmosphere to the surrounding area. Furthermore, many people do not know these techniques and will benefit from the extra food that will be freed from those who can. If you are in a position where you are not using a lot of energy, this may work for you. Do not force yourself to do this. If you are hungry, eat. If you can though, let the Dharma sustain you.

If you are used to eating three times a day, with these practices it is easy to eat twice a day. If you are used to eating twice a day, it’s possible to eat only once. For those with fasting or semi-fasting experience, try to fast once every few days until more resources arrive or if you are evacuated from Nepal. Nepal is a very spiritual country and there are a large amount of vipassana meditators and Kriya yoga/pranayama practitioners within the affected population, foreign and domestic. 

Even a slight reduction in the consumption of food and a slight increase in the amount of “metta” and “positive vibrations” can have a noticeable effect in an ongoing crisis with no end in sight. If you don’t practice meditation or yoga, please pass this on to others who you may know that do. Perhaps the idea hasn’t came to them yet, but if they hear it they will know what to do.

To show my own support for this idea, I will be fasting once a week and will be limiting my own meals to once a day with the hope that some of the food that I will not be eating will make it to Nepal. Since I am not far from Nepal, perhaps this food will somehow make it’s way there. I will be primarily focusing on my meditation and yoga practice, not necessarily to take my mind off of Nepal, but to gather strength while fully assessing my own situation. 

I have received so much support from friends and loved ones recently and I am tremendously moved by all of it. The main emphasis from everyone seems to be patient and not to act too hastily. Whenever I don’t know what exactly I should do, I meditate. I will continue with this until I do know exactly what I should do and how to proceed. 

On the positive side of things, I moved into an amazing place near Pandey Ghat right on the water called Kumiko House. Experiencing the sunrise this morning on my face while sitting on the roof meditating is something hard to describe. Like I am being fed with love and energy to continue on. I will continue doing this everyday for at least the next week and hopefully guidance will come to me.

  

The couple that own the guesthouse are in their 70s and are extremely special people. Kumiko is from Japan. She met her Indian husband Shanti when he was a student in Tokyo in the 1960s. I made him some coffee yesterday and we talked for sometime while he mended my broken sandals. Thank you for answering this small prayer and bringing me to this wonderful place.

My room is a large dormitory on the top floor that I share with a young Japanese man. It looks much like an old prison cell turned into a dorm but with poems, drawings, and paintings covering the walls from former travelers. Most people may see the pictures and think it is a trash, but you know how the saying goes: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” To me, this place is a treasure and I feel very lucky to have found it.

  

Many times I contemplate that perhaps I created a place either in the past or the future for my present self to enjoy and this feels like one of those places. It’s extremely special and the vibes are extraordinary. The rooftop is enchanting and monkey proof if need be. Shanti repeatedly reminds me that if I do not close the doors behind me, monkeys or bandits will break in to cause havoc. It seems he likes to exaggerate, but I am sure he has seen a lot here in the past fifty years. To top it off, the dorm costs only 100 rupees per night or around $1.50. If I can find a good dormitory, I always prefer it to a single room as the people that I meet make up for the lack of privacy.

I met a nice baba on the ghats near the  Kumiko house named Mama Marish. Tomorrow he is leaving for Rishikesh to “escape the heat and mosquitos”. He spoke nearly perfect English and I felt we had an instant connection. He gave me a special rudra with six sides, rather than the normal five and claimed it was very powerful and would bring me strength. I don’t take these things lightly and so I humbly accepted it and added it to my mini-collection of trinkets that people have given me over the past year. We talked about Nepal and sang mantras together to bring protection and goodwill to Nepal.
  

He showed me his journal and it appeared that a few people had written some poetry about him so I decided to copy and share it. I added my own poetry but didn’t write it down so the next person can find it somewhere down the line.

  

I hope everyone has a good day and will continue to send prayers and support to Nepal in it’s time of need.

I promise that the sun will rise again.





List of daily expenses and donations for April 27th, 2015:

Total spent on travel: .48

Total spent on food: $5.49

Total spent on room: $1.59

Random: .86

Total: $8.41 + 47.75 = $56.16 divided by 6 days = $9.36 each day.

Donations given to 10 random strangers = 130 Indian rupees or $2.07 

Donations given to 10 sadhus or holy men = 100 INR or $1.59 

Total = $267.44 – 3.66 = 278.91 divided by six days = $45.19 each day

Expense account = $502.25 – 8.41  $493.84 (Avg $9.36 each day will last 53 more days)

Donations account = $282.57 – 3.66 = 278.91 (Avg $45.19 each day will last 6 more days)

If you built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. – Henry David Thoreau


Taya Ta Om Muni Muni Maha Munai Om mantra:  http://chirb.it/McMLh2


Blessed
.

Day 4: Clearing My Mind in Sarnath, Sending Metta and Donations to Nepal

“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”  ~ Hermann Hesse 

It is still hard for me to think about what happened a few days ago in Nepal.  The death toll has climbed to over 3,200. I ask God why He put me so close to the catastrophe and yet removed me from being apart of it at the last moment. He knows that I am looking for this kind of work and danger. I have asked for it. And yet I don’t know whether to go back or to stay in India. I am trying to view it from the perspective there is a reason that I was not there. Maybe I can do better work where I am now than if I were still in Nepal or dead for that matter.

I am very torn at the moment and I just don’t know what to do. I am not used to indecision, but I guess this is just a time for me to be patient and to wait for God to guide me in the right direction. I don’t know if they are even letting people into the country at the moment unless they are with a specific relief organization. Without a doubt, I will be back there when the time is right.

If I were to return, I would perhaps be of some help as I speak Nepali, I am good at construction or deconstruction and “getting my hands dirty”, and I could provide much needed moral support, but I would also be another mouth to feed and would take up another much needed bed or tent, which are in high demand at the moment. They can’t even find enough food or water for those that are there at the moment and it has been less than 48 hours.

When I think about Nepal, I don’t think of it in terms of a few singular friends, or singular places, or experiences. I see Nepal as an image in itself. It is hard to explain. I consider every single Nepali, even those that I have never met, as friends. I see all of their faces as one. It has been a rock of support for me the past five years as I mentioned in my previous posts.

The image I have of Nepal is characterized by pristine-ness, purity, and perfection. It truly takes an “act of God” to shake an image such as this and yet this is what has happened. I know they won’t lose these characteristics, it is just the “image” has been shaken in my own mind and it is difficult to accept at the moment. I just keep telling myself there has to be a reason that I am not there and a reason for it to happen altogether; that Nepal will be a better place in the long-term because of this event.

If one or two people died, or someone lost their home to a landslide, it would be a tragedy of course. This earthquake is the one thing that could have happened that would literally affect the entire country or “image” of Nepal. Why do I not feel the same way when something similar occurs to my own country? Why is it different when it happens to Nepal? Is it because a natural disaster of this magnitude is impossible to affect the entire U.S.? Perhaps because I view the Nepali people with such high regard in terms of their pleasantness, positivity, and purity I feel stronger about this situation. I have never met another population like them. My feeling is “they don’t deserve this.”

At what point do I step back and not allow myself to be too attached? At what point do I move on? At least in the short term? At the moment, I am thinking I will not go back to Nepal even though I want to. To me, there has to be a reason that God didn’t want me there. With that said, I am doing all that I can in my own limited way to help them out.

Yesterday I attended a one day vipassana course at Dhamma Cakka in Sarnath that I had signed up for before the earthquake hit. I dedicated the course and all of the “metta” (love, compassion, and goodwill vibrations) to all the sentient beings of Nepal and the surrounding area. Perhaps, with supreme pure intent and wish, this “metta” will go to the people who need it most. I will continue this practice three times daily for my entire time in India. Perhaps because I am still near Nepal, this practice will be more effective. For those that know how to send or spread “metta” please do so as much as possible.

Financially, on behalf of the readers and donors of this blog, I transferred $200 to various emergency relief funds yesterday afternoon. The faster that they can raise funds, the more lives that will be saved in the immediate term. This will be an ongoing effort for years or decades to come. If I had any more money personally, I would send it all to them. I am sure that I will figure out what more I can do as time goes by. I am adding a new feature on the blog and that is to allow donors to add funds to either the expense account or donation account at their own request. If someone wants all of their dana to go to the expense account or donation account, I will move it either way.

I mentioned yesterday that I am confident that Nepal will be fine and will rebuild itself better than before. The people there are extemely “tough” and this could be a time for them to bridge any divides that have existed in the short or long terms. Furthermore, I have met so many foreign travelers there in the past five years that I am confident they will get the outside support that they so desperately need now and in the future. I will continue to pray that the worst is behind them.

On this page, there are a few links where donations can be sent:

Yesterday’s post with donation links.


List of daily expenses and donations for April 26th, 2015:

Total spent on travel: $5.41

Total spent on food: $1.35

Total spent on room: $1.59

Total: $8.35 + 39.40 = 47.75 divided by 5 days = $9.55 each day.

Donations given to Nepal Disaster Relief funds = 4 x $50 = $200

Donation given to random stranger = 10 Indian rupees

Donation given to Dhamma Cakka Vipassana center = $10

Total = $210.16 + $57.28 = $267.44 divided by five days = $53.49 each day

Expense account = $510.60 – 8.35 = $502.25 (Avg $9.55 each day will last 53 more days)

Donations account = $492.73 – 210.16  = $282.57 (Avg $53.49 each day will last 5 more days)

At 7:30 a.m. sharp they left for Sarnath. The Deer Park is where the Guatama turned the “Wheel of Dharma” by teaching the five sadhus the four noble truths and creating the first sangha of Buddhism.

The tuk-tuk was a little like a bowling ball on pavement that had to be hand-cranked to start every few miles. Luckily, it didn’t knock down any pins. The driver was a nice guy though and anytime the man offered to help, he would not accept it.
On the left-hand side, before the park was reached, an 80-foot statue of the Buddha stood in the distance, welcoming visitors and purifiers into this ancient holy land.

As the gate was finally reached and the fare was paid, the man wondered if he could control his thoughts long enough to meditate. He said a prayer, knocked on the door, and went in with a peaceful feeling inside. The people of Nepal were on his mind.


  

Blessed.

Om Mani Padme Hum protection mantra for all the beings in Nepal: Om Mani Padme Hum

Day 3: Tragic 7.9 Earthquake hits Nepal, 1500 Confirmed Dead

Now I am become Death, and the Destroyer of worlds. – Bhagavad Gita

Almost 24 hours later, the tears are coming more and more. I don’t know what to do except to spread the message about what just happened in Nepal.

Yesterday at 11:56 a.m. Nepali time, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake occurred 50 miles outside of Kathmandu with Lamjung as the epicenter. I was in Kathmandu only three days ago. Although my body was in Varanasi, my heart and soul were still in Kathmandu and Nepal. I may be living, but I feel my heart has been shattered. It seems now the plans that I had for India are trivial compared to what they are going through there and it is hard for me to go on.

According to the Guardian, Vim Tamang, a resident of Manglung, near the epicenter responded, “Our village has been almost wiped out.” “Most of our houses are either buried by landslide or damaged by shaking.” He reported that half of the village’s population was missing or dead. “All the villagers have gathered in the open area. We don’t know what to do.”

My friend Ang who works at the guesthouse I was staying at mentioned on Facebook how, “I saw death in front of my eyes.” Another man I recently met named Alex from England described that it “felt like a huge wave beneath us and I was nearly sick like a sea sick feeling and dizzy. I saw many people being sick right afterwards … very surreal.”

I have been in Nepal seven of the last thirteen months. How I managed to leave two days before the quake hit I am not exactly sure. I mentioned in a few blog posts back how I feel “protected” or “guided” when I am in Nepal and this is an example of this in action. Why did I leave twelve days before my 90-day visa expired when, 9 times out of 10, I stay the maximum amount allowed on any visa I use? At least now I am able to help out their cause from a standpoint of relative safety and I promise to do my best to bring them the support they need at this moment.

UN Nepal has put out an initial report and here are a few main points:

  • Most affected areas are Gorkha and Lamjung Districts (north-west of Kathmandu). Damage in Kathmandu Valley limited to historical densely built up neighbourhoods.
  • Latest government figures on total causalities are between 700 – 1000. This is expected to increase.
  • Government has called emergency meeting with CNDRC followed by Emergency Core Clusters.
    Updates on this to be shared shortly.
  • Total affected population not yet determined but 30 of 75 districts are reported to be affected.

I could feel the earthquake here in Varanasi as my bed shook violently for at least a minute on the 4th floor of the guesthouse. It reminded me of the tremors I felt in Japan except longer and stronger. For some reason I knew instantly where it was originating from. I have studied earthquakes in Nepal’s past for some time and I remember writing quite a bit in my journal about it a few years back. Here are a few photos from the last one that occurred in 1934.

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Here is a picture of Kathmandu Durbar Square that I took last week before the earthquake.  I meditated in the temple in the middle almost everyday.

 

Here is a picture of it after the earthquake hit.

Now here is a picture of Bhaktapur Durbar Square in the 1934 8.0 earthquake with an epicenter in Bihar, Nepal.

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Initially, it looks like the damage during this earthquake is much worse than the one 81 years ago.

Here is a shot of the damage to the Dharahara tower in Kathmandu after the 1934 earthquake in Nepal.  National Seismological Centre Nepal.

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Here is a shot of the damage done to the rebuilt Dharahara tower yesterday.



As you can see, the damage seems to be worse again as the building fell to the bottom floor this time. As of this writing, 180 people have been confirmed to have died in this tower. I walked by this place everyday as it was near where I was staying this past trip. Something kept telling me over and over “go up in this temple” and yet I never did. I pray for those who were trapped in this during the shaking and I can’t imagine what it must have been like.

In the 1934 earthquake, 16,000 people lost their lives perhaps because of a lack of response time and emergency funds. The death toll is officially over 1,500 for this earthquake, but it may be much higher because of how spread out Nepal is. The buildings are generally built cheaply and do not go by any sort of “earthquake code”. Hopefully, with a quick response time and emergency funds pouring in from around the world, the death toll will be stemmed and Nepal will rebuild itself once again

This “big one” was predicted for many years as Nepal has had one every 80 to 90 years. I think Kasthamandap is also gone. It was built in the 16th century from a single tree supposedly. If this building fell and it survived the previous earthquakes we can start to see the true magnitude of this quake.

Throughout the day, people in Varanasi were mostly outside because of the fear of aftershocks. Varanasi is built much like Kathmandu, with temples and ruins built on-top of temples and ruins; not exactly the safest place to be during an earthquake.

Last time this occurred, Gandhi visited Nepal soon afterwards.



Hopefully we can get a “Gandhi-esque”  response from around the world to help those affected.  I have many friends in Nepal that I consider to be family.  I will keep a close eye on how this develops and will find out the best possible way for people to donate money or resources to someone or somewhere that will be put to the best use.

So far I have heard from many friends there and everyone has responded that they and their families are ok. The only way that I could find out though if a friend has died is if they were friends with another one of my friends on Facebook. Perhaps, they will put out a list soon. I have tried not to think about it.

I am very sad though as I feel obligated to be there for my Nepali friends and family as well as all of the amazing foreigners that I know are currently there. I am 100% positive there is no country in the world that will pick itself up as fast as Nepal will and that makes me feel better. I am sure that the new Kathmandu will be stronger, safer, and better than ever, but it will be very difficult to see it different than I remember it. Nearly all the ancient temples have vanished. How do you replace something like that?

I promise to stay strong on my own journey and to send metta, love and compassion to the Nepali people everyday from now on. Please send prayers and support to Nepal when possible. Although I do not know which is best, CNN has put together a list of around 10 different organizations who are collecting money and resources. Furthermore, here are a few links to donate support.

List of places accepting donations from CNN

Link for Voygr that has credible organizations accepting donations.

Facebook link for the Nepal Relief Effort

List of daily expenses and donations for April 25th, 2015:

Total spent on travel: $0

Total spent on food: $3.39

Total spent on room: $3.97

Random: $1.16

Total: $8.52 + past $30.99 used = $39.51 divided by four days = $9.85 each day.

Donations given to random strangers in need = 20 Indian rupees

Donations given to sadhus or holy men = 115 INR

Total = $2.17 + past $55.11 given = $57.28 divided by four days = $14.32 each day

(I was a bit sick today and trying to find out information about the earthquake all day.)

Expense account = $519.12 – 8.52 = $510.65 (Avg $9.85 each day will last 52 more days)

Donations account = $494.90 – 2.17 = $492.73 (Avg $14.32 each day will last 34 more days)

He woke up dripped in sweat with a hot coal burning in his gut. What was this feeling? Sickness had become merely a memory of the past. Now once again it was real and destroying him from within.

What could it have been from? The street food? The lassi? One of the many cups of water he drank from the local establishments? Shiva’s anger at not partaking in the ceremonial toking of the chillum?

Either way, something had to be done. He ran to the toilet and couldn’t figure out which way it needed to go out first. Hot tip. Pull the trigger first when there is no toilet paper to be found. One, two, three times it flowed. Pressure was released. Electrolytes. He needed electrolytes. Note to always bring one extra bag for emergencies such as this.

He didn’t look down upon the sickness. For him, it was just another obstacle or even a “gift” from India that is always given eventually. Perhaps the sickness was always inside him, but India had the “cure” to bring it out of him and to the surface to be eradicated.

Slowly, the sickness will go away and the journey will continue. It is impossible for anyone to be permanently sick… If they believe it.

(The earthquake hit when I was typing this.)

To top things off, an earthquake began to shake  the hotel he was staying at, knocking out the power and ceiling fan.

Someone was letting it be known, this wasn’t going to be an “easy” trip.

It’s weird that I felt so sick right before this happened. Finally as the sickness was going away, the earthquake hit.

I will go now and do the thing that I am best at, meditating and sending my love and metta to the people of Nepal. I am sorry that this is all that I can do for now and I am constantly thinking about you all.

Blessed.

Day 2: Wandering around Varanasi

Yesterday was quite an interesting day, even though I was just wandering around this ancient city and acclimatizing myself to the heat.  I got to see some old friends and meet some new ones. I think it is a good time of year to come to India as it is hot, but not crazy hot like it was two years ago when I came. Since I am here now, as it gets hotter, my body will be able to adjust with the increase rather than all at once.

It was pretty late by the time I got the post up as the internet was a bit slow where I am staying. I decided to have an early lunch and so went to this whole-in-the-wall “thali” place not far from me. 40 rupees for a full meal of veggies, rice, roti, dal and chutney. That’s less than 70 cents. Pretty darn cheap if you ask me. It wasn’t ready though so they suggested I visit a few temples in the surrounding area. I made the round and saw Durga Temple, Hanuman sankhat, Pancha mandir, Tulsi mandir, and the “Monkey Temple”.


 

Here is an illegal photo I took of the inside of Durga Temple. I have a special fondness for Durga who is the goddess of protection and guardianship. I said a special prayer to her to keep me safe over the course of the next three months in India and afterwards.

After I returned and ate the scrumdiddilyumptious thali, I decided to go for a walk down the ghats to my old stomping grounds. Everyday it is a blessing just to walk on these ancient docks next to the mighty Ganges. The featured picture above gives you a feeling of what I am talking about.

On the way, I found a new place to stay starting a few days from now. It’s called Kumiko House and is owned by an older Japanese lady with the name of, you guessed it, Kumiko. She was sweet and since I just spent six months in Japan I got to use a little bit of the Japanese I learned here. She laughed and smiled at my attempts. The rooms are serious, serious cheap and the dorm overlooks the Ganges. All for 100 rupees or $1.50 a night. Count me in.

The Ganges gets a bad rep.

The walk along the ghats was one he remembered well. The lack of shade along with the sun’s reflection off the stone created quite a hot noon day. Luckily the Ganges always welcomed swimmers. The key was to find a spot clear of debris. Since debris is pretty much everywhere, a lack of floating body parts would have to suffice.

He slowly removed his cloths and camel-leather satchel and placed them on the stairs leading into the water. Brahmins were already doing their daily dip on both sides of him.

The water was not cold, but also not warm. It was a perfect temperature. With no noticeable smell, it reminded him of the lakes and creeks at home, only wider and more heavily used. It was exactly what he needed. The Ganges gets a bad rep.

In the distance he could see his old friend, the Maha Naga Baba Raj Giri.

After a Brahmin man painted my forehead, I met up with an old friend and his revolving entourage of sadhus. Since Varanasi is the city of Shiva, chillums are a part and parcel of life here. After a while I headed for a very famous lassi shop and a very famous temple nearby.  The Maha Naga Baba is in the left of the photo showing how to properly hit a chillum.

On the way to the temple I ran into an amazing sadhu snakecharmer who brought three friends with him everywhere he went. A black cobra, a brown cobra, and a crazy little orange snake with not much girth. And to think all I have to do is document my trip. He travels with snakes!

The lassi shop I went to is called “The Blue Lassi”. The temple is called “Sri Kashi Vishwanath”. It has an unbelievable amount of security to enter and I still don’t know why. Perhaps because it is decked out in gold plate? Needless to say I couldn’t take photos of the temple, but I got one of the lassi shop.

 

The Blue Lassi has some of the best lassis in Varanasi, but I must say never ever order the “maharaja” bhang lassi. It will knock your socks off in a hard way. Or at least that is what someone told me. 😉
On my way back towards Shivala Ghat, I noticed the enormous buildings that align the river and realized that they are why I wanted to come back here. For some reason, I just have never seen another place like Varanasi. It seems so simple and yet so unique.  Kind of like an abandoned “King’s Landing” for any Game of Thrones fans out there.

 

 

Today, if my stomach is feeling up to it,  I will check out of my guesthouse and explore this old maharaja’s abandoned estate before heading to Sarnath to serve one day at the vipassana center there. I will follow it up with a one day course which will help me “jumpstart” the old spiritual engine for this blogging journey.

I am going to do a little “parkour”-style mission to get into this place and will document how others can to. Something about meditating in ancient gazebos overlooking the Ganges just sounds damn good.

 

I’ll try to finish tomorrow’s article and schedule it to post the morning that I will be sitting the course, but it is not 100%. If not I’ll just do another two-day post in one.


List of daily expenses and donations for April 24th, 2015:

Total spent on travel: $0

Total spent on food: $2.38

Total spent on room: $3.95

Random: $ .40

Expense total: $6.73 + 24.25 divided by three days = $10.33 each day.
Donations given to random strangers in need = 85 Indian rupees = $1.35

Donations given to sadhus or holy men = 183 INR = $2.91

Donation total = $4.26 + $50.84 divided by three days = $18.37 each day

 

Expense account = $525.75 – 6.73 = $519.02 (Avg 10.33 each day will last 50 more days)

Donations account = $499.16 – 4.26 = $494.90 (Avg $18.37 each day will last 27 more days)

 

I just wanted to add a quick note about how I also do a meditation technique called “metta bhavana” after my main meditation three times daily for all the readers and donors of this blog. Spreading “metta” literally means spreading love and kindness to others. Although I wish it for all sentient beings, I especially wish it for the readers and donors of this blog 🙂

I hope everyone has a great weekend. Everything is going really well on this side. It is all quite a challenge, but one that I am sure that I can handle. Especially when I get into the right “mode” which I am in the process of easing into. Cheers!

Here is a link to the new “Dana (Donation) Page” – Click here.

New mantra up. Om Namo Narayana: Click here. 

Blessed
.

Day 0  +  1: Kathmandu to Varanasi. Blog fully donor-funded for two months.

“Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” – Mark Twain

I have made it to India. It is as dirty, smelly, hot, wild, and unruly as ever, but I love it. It is still as beautiful and pure as I remember it from two years ago. A beautiful woman who wears rags and gets splashed with mud daily is still a beautiful woman.

My tuk-tuk driver helped me to find a decently cheap room near Shivala ghat at Sandhya Guesthouse. It was quite warm when I arrived so what was the first thing that I did? Go for a swim in the Ganges over course. Well it wasn’t really a swim… more like a dip, but oh did it feel good. I didn’t see any floating body parts so either the snorkelers searching for gold teeth or dogs searching for bones are doing their jobs well.

I arrived yesterday in Varanasi after a 28 hour overland journey from Kathmandu. It took one taxi, two buses, one train, and a tuk-tuk to get me here but it was quite worth it at only $13.76. It could have been faster and cheaper though. If I would have taken the 7 am bus from Kathmandu I would have been able to take the night train from Gorakhpur to Varanasi and shaved off around 6 hours. Because I was late for the night train, I chose to sleep outside in front of the station, but there were hundreds of others doing it so it felt plenty safe. If I would have stayed near the bus park or taken a very early bus there, I would have saved another $3.75. $14 is pretty cheap though when going from one country to another in any fashion.

India will forever be considered to be one of the “birthplaces” of spirituality and religion.  Last time I was here I was doing a bit of partying, toking with most of the sadhus that asked me, etc. Varanasi is considered to be the city of Shiva and so everything is legal here. This time, however, I will “stay on track”. Yesterday I was hanging out with a lot of sadhus and the chillums were ceremoniously passed many times, but it was no problem for me to turn them down because of my adhitthana. I don’t think it is wrong, but smoking anything doesn’t take my mind to the place that I want it to go on this trip. Today I will go to a few temples that I missed last time.


Bus from Kathmandu to Indian border.


Here are the donations and expenditures for the past two days:

Donation received from two very special people: $1000.  $500 has gone into both the expense and donation account.

Expenses:

Total spent on travel: $13.76

Total spent on food: $6.54

Total spent on room: $3.95

Total: $24.25 divided by two days = $12.13 each day.

Donations Given:

Donations given to daily strangers = 90 Indian rupees = $1.42

Donations given to organization or cause = Dharmashringa meditation center = 5000 Nepali rupee = $49.42

Total = $50.84 divided by two days = $25.42 each day.

Expense account = $550 – 24.25 = $525.75 (Avg $12.13 each day will last 43 days)

Donations account = $550 – 50.84 = $499.16 (Avg $25.42 each day will last 20 days)

Eventually the daily expenses and donations should average out to around $10 or less, so I am thinking that the $500 left in both will last around 50 days from now without any other donations coming in.


The “Varanasi Bullet”

The train conductor made his way through the 3rd class “sleeper” of the Kashi Express, called by the locals “Varanasi Bullet” for it’s record trip from Gorakhpur in the summer of ’82. Not necessarily the nicest train out there, but resilient for sure. The conductor approached the man meditating in the top bunk of cubby C2. Dressed in all khaki, he was in a state of mere observation, mere knowing.

“Ehhh mmm”, mumbled the conductor, “ticket please?”

There was no response from the man who was deep in meditation.

In his thick Hindi accent, once again the conductor asked, “Excuse me sir, do you have a ticket?”

The man above tilted his head towards the Indian and formulated a thought in his mind to send to the conductor: ‘These are not the droids you are looking for...’ Lo and behold, the conductor moved on and the man in the bunk was left in his state of mere observation and mere knowing.

In only a few more hours he would reach the holy city of Benares.


Here is an example of a routine that I will be easing into over the course of the next week. 

5:00 am Wake up

5-6:00 Meditate

6-7:00 Yoga and Pranayama

7:00-7:30: Post daily blog post

7:30-8:00 Breakfast (Usually just a little fruit and tea)

8 – 11 : Free time (Writing, doing artwork, wandering around, etc.)

11:00-12:00 Lunch

12:00-1:00 Siesta (Rest)

1:00 – 2:00 Meditate

2-6:30 Free time : (Writing, artwork, bhakti yoga, wandering, etc.)

6:30 Small dinner

7-8:00 – Meditate

8:00-? Work on typing post and general blog work.

Try to fall sleep between 9-11 PM

It might not be exact, but will be something like this. Routines only work for me if their is plenty of free time in the middle. The “anti-routine” routine.

Here is general idea of where I will be going and when over the next few months.

April 23-24 – Varanasi near Shivala ghat

April 25-27 – Sarnath (20km from Varanasi) for vipassana service/1 day course at Dhamma Cakka

April 28 – May 4th – Varanasi

May 5-15 – Vrindaven (May stay with friends)

May 16-26 – Bodh Gaya – 10 day vipassana service at Dhamma Bodhi

May 27-30 – Bodh Gaya and surrounding area – Staying with a friend.

From this point forward I am not for sure what will happen. I eventually would like to go down to Pondicherry and spend a week or so volunteering at Auroville to get a feeling of what a planned spiritual community is like. Perhaps I will make my way South from there and then down to Kerala. Perhaps I will escape the heat and head into the mountains, either near Darjeeling or Kashmir. If anyone has any suggestions feel free to send them.  Two months from now I will hold a vote for which country to go to next.

Visions of the Future:

When I reach a certain “mode” in my spiritual practice, a pretty continuous stream of intuitive theories and visions begins to flow about the future or how the future could be. It is my great joy when these come as I do not really look for them to come nor do I control them. They just happen. Since I have a pretty strange background of different focuses within my life, I can realize when the visions are unique or not. It is my “choice” to write and share them as they come, as many times I stop thinking about them after I write them down.

I divide the visions of the future into two categories. The first being “it would be cool if this happened.” The second is “I am pretty sure this will happen.” The first is more of a possibility that I would aspire to create. The second is more of one that I just have to accept if it does eventually happen. The visions tend to be more mid or long-term, although some are short term as well.

This process is just deductive reasoning that my mind “automatically” does based on it’s “training” of the past. My original love and degree is in history. They say, “if you understand history, you can tell the future.” Then I began to follow “alternative news” sources online, which led me to politics and the “anti-war movement.” Non-profit work came before and after working in the entertainment industry making documentary, short, and feature films.

For the last ten years off and on, I have worked in banking, private equity, and as a commodity futures day-trader “forecasting” financial trends. My passion the past few years has been religion, alternative religion, philosophy and spirituality. Furthermore, my current spiritual practice is very effective at “clearing the mind” to where it can “see” things where others usually can’t. There are less blockages so the “puzzle pieces” naturally come together

Here is my first short to mid-term prediction for the site that we can see if it comes true. Rand Paul will be the next President of the United States. Although I was a huge supporter of his father, I don’t plan on being a “huge supporter” of Rand. I am just not as political as I once was. But, I do think that he will be the next president and I’m excited about it. Let’s see how it turns out since we are still one and a half years away from the election.

My main goal over the course of the next week will be to get into this “mode” that I speak about. It is not very difficult for me now and I have it planned out for how it will happen. The whole point of this blog is to have an outlet for when this “mode” is enacted and the “flood” wants to be released. Perhaps, it will continually come over the course of the next year and perhaps only at certain times. Inshallah.

Have a great weekend!!!

The readers and donors of this blog are special to me: http://chirb.it/yxOIxr

Blessed.