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Books I read while backpacking in Nepal & India
6 minute read.
This is an older copy. The new version is here.
any backpackers carry a Kindle but I prefer to carry a book. Books provide a tactile sensation that a Kindle does not, and I enjoy discovering new books while traveling.
Guest-houses in Nepal and India often have book-exchanges, stocked with books carried by backpackers from all over the world. There’s usually a common-area where travelers chat or discuss the books we’re reading. The photo here is the stack of books I returned to a library in a Tibetan monastery. Not all books are serious: look at the blue book barely visible on the back shelf, it’s by Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ll mention that again soon…
I bought several books in India from Depak, who for over 30 years had operated a book cart between the Tibetan University and a holy pilgrim site for several religions: Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Deepak sold books for ~ $2, which expensive for India, where salaries are commonly $1/day.
Deepak has sustained his business by choosing books valuable to his customers. He knows which books are valuable to his customers because he learns from them. For 30 years, he has discussed books, religion, and philosophy with scholars, pilgrims, professors, and travelers. His ethos is Truth Prevails.
We discussed books and life for two weeks. Before I departed, he invited me to meet his family and gave me a Buddha statue he had painted, hoping I could find space in my backpack. Today, that statue is on my bookshelf at home.
After a fun fact, I’ll summarize books I read on this trip.
A Fun Fact
If you look at the book-exchange photo, one of the authors is Douglas Adams, who wrote “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” about budget-backpacking in space using an electronic book similar to a Kindle e-reader.
The e-guide to the Galaxy, which is similar to a Kindle version of a travel guide to backpacking in remote countries, gives practical advice to travelers: “Don’t Panic.”
The photo below is Elon Musk’s convertible sports car, floating in space, looking at Earth. He had launched it into space the day I started writing this blog, and, if you look closely, the dashboard quotes the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s advice, “Don’t Panic.”
I still enjoy this fact, especially while writing about finding a copy of the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Nepal. Life if fascinating.
Books I read on this trip
“The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.”
I run around looking for the Friend
My life is almost over,
but I’m still asleep!
When it happens, if it happens,
that I meet the Friend,
will I get the lost years back?
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
I read Siddhartha in one sitting. During the final chapter, I realized I had been crying.
Possible author Lao-Tsu, translation by Gia-Fu Feng, Jane English, & Toinette Lippe
The Tao Te Ching was composed ~ 600 B.C., the same time as teachings of Confucius, The Buddha, and first authors of the Bible.
When there is no desire, all things are at peace.
Lao-Tsu is also known by Laozi; I’m lousy at remembering that.
The History of Hinduism
Many versions and authors
Hinduism originated from a belief that there’s one god and that god is indescribable.
The Upanishads are Hindu texts from ~ 3,500 years ago.
As the rivers flowing east and west
Merge in the sea and become one with it,
Forgetting they were separate rivers,
So do all creatures lose their separateness
When they merge at last into pure Being.
There is nothing that does not come from him.
Of everything he is the inmost Self.
He is the truth; he is the Self supreme.
You are that Shvetaketu, you are that.
The Buddha used the Hindu concept dukkha, which is approximately translated to “suffering” from obvious causes such as death, disease, and sadness but includes includes worry, anger, disappointment, impatience, judgement, or any unrest of the mind. Dukkha is anything other than experiencing a moment for what it is. My paraphrasing of the Buddha’s final words is:
“All I’ve taught is that there is dukkha, the cause of dukkha is desire, the end of dukkha is eliminating desire, and the way to end dukkha is the middle way.
All things created by the mind are impermanent. Practice your aim with diligence.”
Sudata’s biography: Born in Germany, defected from the Nazi army in WWII, wandered internationally to avoid prosecution, became a Buddhist monk, died peacefully.
Dance, Lalla, with nothing on
but air. Sing, Lalla,
wearing the sky.
Look at this glowing day! What clothes
could be so beautiful, or
Translation by Edward J. Thomas
In Hindi, Bhagavad Gita means “The Song of our Lord.” It is to Hinduism what the New Testament is to Christianity.
Translation by Meera Uberoi
The Mahabharata is to Hinduism what the Old Testament is to Christianity, Islam, & Judaism.
When we hear about people suffering we become upset or worry, but do not do anything. We do not even wish them happiness. We may say the words, but we do not feel compassion, or that compassion is temporary without becoming part of our lives. We experience suffering without ending the suffering of others.
Elie wrote Night, Dawn, & Day after surviving the Nazi holocaust. He writes vigorously, yet kindly.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Einstein unlearned conditioned beliefs about time; he saw things how they really are.
The Principle of Relativity: A Collection of Original Memoirs on the Special and General Theory of Relativity
Everything slides along curved space; we perceive this as gravity.
Mass bends space; the more mass, the more space bends.
Time is not uniform; it curves with space.
What we called ‘space’ we now know as space-time.
The center of the earth is younger than the surface because of gravity. We’re aging faster than satellites that are farther from Earth’s center of gravity but also moving faster and E=mc>2.
Our smart-phone’s location uses satellites, which require space-time calculations. We can measure relativity using atomic clocks on tall buildings.
Many people can quote relativity, few truly understand it.
Humankind can see black holes by detecting Hawking radiation.
Stephen Hawking explains Classic & Quantum Physics using a vocabulary of a few hundred words. He wrote these books in his wheelchair, selecting letters and words from a computer screen by twitching his cheek.
Meet Balram Halwai. The White Tiger: Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer.
After 18 years of starting and stopping this book, I came within 40 pages of finishing it. Other people have been more persistent: 100 Years of Solitude has more than 600,000 ratings and 22,000 reviews on Goodreads.com
Translation by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
The Buddha said, “Let a wise man watch his thinking. The mind moves with extreme subtlety and is not noticed. It seizes whatever it desires. To watch the mind is conducive to happiness.”
We appreciate life when we embrace its impermanence.
Buddhist teachings can seem confusing; some say “go right,” others say “go left.” They are coming from the center.
“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.”
Richard J. Herrnstein & Charles Murray
Data supports their claims, and they don’t claim more than data reveals.
A modern version could analyzes actions, which aren’t less debatable than intelligence. The internet tracks our actions, and our actions have consequences that affect ourselves and others.
Many authors, edited by Steven Fraser
A lot of people have opinions about The Bell Curve.
I believe many people are reacting emotionally to a problem that our future will address statistically: how to measure, and improve, social equity in a world that will have 9 Billion people by 2050.
Many authors: owners are Maureen & Tony Wheeler
I carried both books, in my backpack, for months, including hiking over the Himalaya mountains with a heavy backpack, and would carry them again.
Interesting, to me
I read “Bird of Passage” in a guest house where the authors had stayed 17 years prior. I realized this as I read how much they enjoyed the owner’s cooking, while watching the same owner prepare our dinner.
The guest-house owner in the photo was a catalyst for me attending the first international conference on “Mind and Modern Science,” attended by the Dalai Lama. At that conference, I saw the Dalai Lama offer respect to Samdhong Rinpoche, the author of a book I summarized in this blog. I did not know that when I discovered his book on Tibetan Meditation.
I taught physics, study religious philosophy, and enjoy American wild-west movies: In the Himalaya Mountains, I stayed at guest house because it was decorated with physics posters, Buddhist art, and Clint Eastwood western-movie posters (in Dutch). It was the home of a Dutch physicist and his wife of twenty years, a Nepali Buddhist, and a reason I read several physics books on this trip.
Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Walpola Sri Rahula (when quoting the Buddha) use the words “relativity, space, and time” to describe concepts. Hawking and Rahula use the word “annihilation” when discussing something that ceases to exist in physical form. In other books by Einstein and Hawking they uses phrases that originated with the Buddha, 2,600 years ago. That had bothered me for years; I wouldn’t understand the root source until six months after returning from this trip and reading Einstein’s later essays and biography (I’m editing my original post with this information in August 2018, soon after reading Einstein’s essays). Einstein was influenced by the philosopher Schopenhauer who developed theories similar to Buddha’s, and Einstein would later discuss Buddha’s insights and compare them to his way of thinking. Einstein obviously influenced other physicists which may be why the words and way of speaking propagate. Plus, I believe the Buddha “saw” physics of the universe but didn’t have the words to describe them 2,600 years ago. He was too far ahead of his time, described things as best he could but admitted that words are limiting. The more I study what we know of his original words the more clear it becomes to me that he understood the conservation of matter, elements, atoms, and probably more. He created the phrase “conditioned genesis” to describe all phenomenon but only in the context of removing suffering from all humans. Today, we are just beginning to understand that all matter is a form of conditioned genesis, of particles being created and annihilated in a continuous process. As I understand more of what the Buddha taught and quantum physics I see more behind Deepak’s ethos of Truth Prevails.
I published this blog in February 2018. In March 2018, Stephen Hawking died at age 76, more than 50 years older than expected.
“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first”
“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.”
He was able to train with astronauts in zero-gravity simulators. I’m happy every time I imagine the joy he must have experienced. Rest in Peace Professor Hawking.