By the way… there is a popular saying that:
When “someone has their head buried in the sand…the person is ignoring obvious facts or refusing to accept advice, hoping that simply denying the existence of a problem will make it go away.” 
It’s possible that this derived from the claim that ostriches bury their head in the sand as a defense mechanism against predators, with the logic that ‘if I can’t see them, then they can’t see me’. As it turns out, this is in fact not true. Obviously the logic is flawed, but also the behaviour of the ostrich is simply not true, according to myth-debunkers online. The ostrich digs a hole below the surface-level of the sand, lays their eggs, and turns them multiple times per day.
The thought about ostriches came to mind while I was meditating (actually I thought it was the Flamingo…). So long as I meditate I cannot know about this supposed threat, and there is actually nothing to fear. Yet when the time came, I bravely opened my eyes, and came to realize that what I heard and had suspected turned out to be true. As you saw in the video from ‘Part 1’ of this story, there was a crowd gathered. You may have heard in the audio “these people have gathered now, looking at me. So I did my morning stretch…now I’m not sure what to do.”
My morning stretch
Anxiety was rising, some fears were passing through the mind: further training in meditation. In retrospect, it was a good thing that I had just been meditating: my mind was centered and able to observe the anxiety, observe the fears and ‘wild imagination’ playing out. I considered to myself: If all these people weren’t here, what would I do?
So I stood up, made some space for myself on the stoop, brought my arms up in front of me and began opening and closing my hands. Thus began that day’s session of a daily practice to warm up the body. For a moment I considered myself as a wizard and that some people in the crowd might be perceiving me to have special spiritual powers and that this opening-and-closing of the hands had some deeper sinister purpose. I quickly shook that thought aside, lest it become true.
The morning stretch continued without significance. The crowd was waiting patiently.
There was one part of the stretch where the hips were brought about in circles, like a belly dancer. I couldn’t help it but to laugh as I heard giggles from the crowd.
…yup, thrusting my pelvis to a group gathered to observe this meditator. There is always room for humour. 🙂 …
Here’s my cue
The morning stretch came to a close. What next? What would I do if all these people weren’t here? I packed up my blanket/meditation seat, sat down to put on my shoes, and then thought that I really should get a picture of this…hence the video.
At the end of the video comes the voice “Namaskarum, namaskarum” (Namaskar is used to show respect, usually to elders, rather than “Hello” or “Namaste”). We can see this man approaching a second or two before that. He introduced himself, and asked if I was practicing Vipassana meditation. Quite perceptive, I thought to myself. He went on to say that he used to be a professor of meditation, and expounded the virtues of the Vipassana technique. Later on I received kind admiration as he complimented me on the capability to remain concentrated in mind. Then came in a bit of magic. His home was next door! Next door, as in literally the very next building over! How is that for a coincidence? I had been walking in search of a place to meditate for nearly 20 minutes, and chose an inconspicuous stoop and it turned out to be next to the house of a professor of meditation, well-versed in the technique of Vipassana. The mind went ‘click’, and I was laughing.
He invited me into his home. On the one hand I felt this resistance, this desire to find my own way out of this situation, to receive no help from any outsider and to do this on my own (like a teenager…). Then I considered how this person may actually be doing a gigantic favour for me, and that this could completely erase my fear of the crowd. So I followed.
Before we began moving, the crowd approached and asked questions in the local language(s). My new friend, we’ll call him Dr. N, translated to inform me that they wanted to know my name and where I came from. I obliged and fed the answer.
“Come, come.” And I followed. Internal resistance showed its head, I observed and continued moving.
We moved through the crowd and arrived at his gate. A man from inside the property emerged and began ‘shooing’ the crowd, presumably saying “go away”. I asked: “is he telling them to go away?”. “Yes.” I felt uneasy inside and began to consider the circumstances. I looked inside the gate to the front courtyard, then turned around and looked at the crowd. Oh. I see. “If I go in, they cannot follow, right?” I got the response as expected. So I stayed standing where I was. Dr. N was ushering me forward in a pleading manner, inviting me for breakfast. I was motioning to the crowd saying “but they cannot join, and they’ve been waiting, and I guess they have questions.” I won’t mislead you, reader, my ego was being stroked in this moment. If I was so arrogant I would have believed that I was a spiritual guru. Instead, I observed that this belief was coming up to the surface and that I knew the truth of the matter, that I was simply meditating, and had nothing of significance in speech to share with these people. Still, they were innocent, curious, and had been very kindly patient. It did not feel right to simply walk through this gate to have it shut behind me and in their faces.
Hmm. What to do…?
They asked a few more questions, mostly about my name and where I came from. It was funny to me that they actually had no questions about the meditation, nor anything of depth. Maybe they did in their own language, but through their english and the translations from Dr. N, these were the only points of interest to explore. Dr. N continued with his invitation, and I began to feel guilty that I was allowing him to stay in this uncomfortable position, between his house and me and the people on the street. Surely he might have been feeling some pressure from the crowd, and may have been wondering why was I not simply accepting his invitation and entering into the peacefulness of his courtyard. So I chose to move swiftly forward; not yet stepping in through the gate.
I turned to one of the crowd members, and asked “Is it ok if I go inside?” while pointing past the gates to the courtyard. He asked a question, and I answered. I turned to the next person “Is it ok if I go inside?”. He returned a head-nod. That’s 1. Next person, another head nod. That’s 2. One more would make three, yet it would not be enough. The fourth had several questions, and maybe he gave compliments about my looks, and my hair (people often do this…just saying…), maybe he commented that I looked like Jesus Christ. “Can I go inside?”; “Go have your breakfast”. That’s 4. One more will do. I glanced across the crowd and made my selection. “Is it ok with you if I go inside now?”. A head nod signalled ok. That’s 5! Putting hands together I made a slight dip to the crowd, said goodbye, and facing Dr. N, spoke innocently: “shall we?”.
Inside the gate
How things changed in a moment…
Suddenly I found myself without the attention of 50 or so people, a slight vacancy appeared within.
I washed up, and was served a meal. Since no one was eating with me (perhaps a serve-the-guest-first kind of attitude) I moved my chair into the sunlight and followed instructions from my Human Design chart.
Some conversation followed, and to myself I was thinking how great it would be if I could stay here for a day or two and gain some rest before moving forward to Nalanda. But this wasn’t in the cards. They learnt that I had come here only to pass through, and I learnt that this family had connections with the university at Nalanda. Dr. N’s son, PJKK was a student there. Within a few minutes he was finding out about trains that could bring me there that same day. As it turned out, the morning train was running late as compared to its schedule, and we had a few minutes until it arrived. We said our goodbyes, and on the way out I was pulled in to a classroom to address the students and speak with the teacher. Asking basic questions about my country and name, I saw an opportunity in front of all these children. “Can I write on this whiteboard?” “Sure.” I had just come from giving a presentation about Permaculture at the Champa Christian Hospital in Champa, Chhattisgarh, so I pulled from that and wrote this:
Actually the above photo was taken while in Champa, but the content was more or less the same.
I felt proud walking out of that classroom, potentially having just spread the seed of Permaculture to blossoming young minds. I also felt proud to have addressed the teacher as an equal while he instead treated me like someone he could control..I digress…
PJKK drove me on his scooter, and I observed as we passed familiar streets, and passed the place where I had first considered practicing meditation, reflecting how different the journey turned out, and how proud I was of myself to have followed my gut feeling. We arrived at the train station, he even bought my ticket, and then brought me to the platform. There he called a friend who was staying at the university, a young monk, who would greet me when I arrived.
Gradually, I was welcomed into the university campus, speaking with some professors and establishing where I might be able to stay. They informed me about a guesthouse owned by one of the professors, and assured me the price would be reasonable. Two students were enlisted to be my guides and they took me to this guesthouse where I was given an A/C room on the top floor with a balcony. For some reason doubt didn’t enter my mind, and instead the only reason I hadn’t asked about the price was because I knew the professor would be able to negotiate a price with me. As it turned out, the room was quite expensive. Even more to this, someone else was going to stay in this room that night, but the professor had them moved to another guesthouse for the reason that: “there was a Canadian guest who needed a place to stay”.
…the things we learn later on…
These two student chauffeurs offered to take me on a tour around Nalanda after dropping my bags at the guesthouse.
…there are very hospitable people in this country of India!…
We met some other travelling youth along the way and had a pleasant adventurous day.
When the night came, the professor still had not visited the guesthouse, and one of the workers had told me the price of the room. I explained that this was not affordable to me (2500 Rs. compared to the 100 Rs. room I would have searched out on my own). I called the professor and we agreed to discuss in the morning over tea. The next morning he explained the situation about how someone else was scheduled to stay in that room, and so the lowest he could go was the discount rate this person was getting at 2000 Rs. I considered the situation and counted myself fortunate that I arrived at a comfortable room, and that the adventure leading up to it, combined with the tour of Nalanda, and the free lunch I had received, all amounted to a reasonable exchange.
…have you seen those TV infomercials selling some product, and near the end they say “but wait, there’s more!’….
But wait, there’s more!
This professor was responsible in some part, or connected to the person responsible, for a seminar starting that very morning. He told me how during the previous day he had made arrangements for me to attend if I so wished. It was a 3-days seminar on the Buddhist Manuscripts of Bihar.
A little history: back in the day, the Nalanda University had housed some 10,000 or more students, and an astounding collection of Buddhist manuscripts. This housing complex, among the best universities of its time, and all the nearly 9 million manuscripts were destroyed by an invading leader: Bakhtiyar Khilji …
…Funny eh? Bakhtiyar Khilji ←→ Bakhtiyarpur…
For 3 days I received the rest I so desired. I was listening-in on discussions from scholars about Buddhist manuscripts, in a comfortable A/C environment, receiving breakfast, lunch, and dinner (though I skipped dinner) for free, and was even gifted a nice backpack and heavy Buddha statue (both I re-gifted as I travel light). I found a room at the Chinese monastery for 100 Rs. per night and so I was well within the comfort zone of my budget.
While visiting I checked out the library and had made attempts to look into the possibility of learning some Pali, enough Pali that I could understand Goenka during his recorded Pali sessions within the Vipassana retreat. The opportunity didn’t surface, and neither did my acceptance/seat at the course in Nalanda. So I made a quick application to a center in Sravasti, and within a day was on my way to my 2nd Vipassana course.
The seminar taught me how there is a big difference between the teachings of Buddhism and meditation, and the practice. It showed me how there are people who delve deep into the story of manuscripts and appear to be interested in their meaning. Also, there are people who delve deep into the practice, believed to be taught by Gautam the Buddha, the practice which laid out the original inspiration for the formation of all these manuscripts, the practice upon which a significant part of our society is now built.
Yet at the same time, I’ve heard it said that for every person there are that many techniques of meditation…to each his or her own…
- Do Ostriches Really Bury Their Heads in the Sand? [Online]. Wonderopolis. Available at: https://wonderopolis.org/wonder/do-ostriches-really-bury-their-heads-in-the-sand/ [Accessed: 13 Dec 2017].
- Shreya Pareek. (2014). The Ancient Indian University Which Is Taking Students Again After 800 Years! [Online]. The Better India. Available at: https://www.thebetterindia.com/13918/ancient-nalanda-university-reopens-monday-know-lesser-known-facts-great-university/ [Accessed 13 Dec 2017].