(Prologue: I’ve got first-hand experience that a real understanding of the laws of karma can substantially change our lives for the better. I created this weblog to share information and personal experience with others. May it be of benefit!)
Amidst all the suffering — which I knew was somehow connected to my karma, but didn’t understand much more than that at this point — in the 1970s, there were a few beams of light in my life. One of them was meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV at Brock University in the Fall of 1967 and my pilgrimage with 108 others to India to see His Holiness, among other teachers. The trip took place from mid May to mid August, 1971.
India and Pakistan were preparing for war. Before reaching India, we disembarked from the ship and took a sight-seeing trip to Tata to see some historial ruins. My friend Mary and I were almost kidnapped by the taxi-cab driver and his friend.
It was not uncommon to see tanks rolling along the roads in Northern India, where we spent most of our time. We arrived in Bombay in mid July. The transit system was on strike.
The trip was like a fiction story because the cultural differences appeared so vast between Canada and India: black market money exchanges; railroad stations that bring Dante’s Inferno to mind; babies purposely deformed so someone will have pity and give the mother some money; and a bureaucracy that made Canada’s look like a “love-in” scene…
I kept wondering how India could go on existing one more day — the continuing, grinding poverty; the 7,000,000 refugees; the monsoon floods; the eastern tidal wave; people who never leave the floor of the train stations. At some point the aware traveller is going to raise some questions, the type that never seem to have any answers as we conventionally think of them, despite all our sophisticated social scientific explanations.
Why does one country have so much suffering?….Actually, it can be difficult to compare the Indian experience with any other. In order to compare and contrast there at least must be a shared human experience.
There is: human suffering.
The following account is from a diary entry circa August 05, 1971 from my Trip Journal.
We’re on a train ride to Bodhgaya, place of Buddha’s enlightenment. A group of 15 gun-toting revs [revolutionaries] from Bihar [India's poorest province] have now gotten onto train.
Lock the doors! S- -t! Doesn’t work because one of the men in our compartment, with police uniform on, aids revs. Now there’s 15 of them + 6 of us in car that seats 6.
Confronted by hostility + aggression of enraged people. Brings out our prejudices + lack of understanding. Terribly frightened. Actually, terrified! Intellect not helpful here. At this point, it’s our smugness vs their guns.
What to do to change situation????
Can hardly discuss “the necessary and sufficent conditions of a revolution” with …violent revolutionaries pointing guns at us. No. Hardly skillful. Our attitude will decide outcome. … odd setting for a “conference table,” sort of like UN conference. Only way to bring about a unity is by dropping …the “them” and “us” distinction, Don’t speak each other’s language. We don’t have to. We still hear their message… struggle for survival….
Probably good thing we can’t speak each other’s language. “Reasoning” with them [in other words, manipulating the situation to try to convince the revolutionaries that our point of view is the correct one] would touch sore spot + cause them to ↑ fixation on their “cause.” Would inflame already dangerous situation.
Close eyes + meditate on loving-kindness [Sanskrit: Metta]. Militant voices become mild. Can’t say if Metta cause of the situation calming down. But at least aggression hasn’t ↑.
Update - October 11, 2009:
- The title asks “Can I turn these obstacles into opportunities?” The obstacles were our own lack of understanding; prejudices of various kinds; and our own self-righteousness, in the face of angry revolutionaries with guns. The opportunity was to use that situation to learn about loving-kindness, compassion, to learn about softening the hard places in ourselves.
- The experience with the revolutionaries is, for me, a good example of shenpa – getting hooked – as Pema Chodron describes it.
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