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I’m backpacking in Nepal & India, offline until late January, 2018
I’ll be off-line until late January, 2018.This is my email auto-response while backpacking in Nepal and India. There’s no reason to read it, unless you’d like to learn more about this area of the world.
6 minute read.
BOB SEGER & THE BUDDHA
I’ll arrive in Kathmandu. I don’t have plans. No hotel, no itinerary, no objective. I’ll depart from India, a couple of months later.
To prepare for not having plans, I’ve been studying the history and culture of Nepal and northern India. The topics ranged from prehistory, to Buddhism, to modern challenges of being a nuclear-capable country with 1.3 Billion people.
This is the perfect time to share Bob Seger’s 1974 song, “I’m Going To Kathmandu!”
I think I’m going to Katmandu That’s really, really where I’m going to If I ever get out of here That’s what I’m gonna do K-k-k-k-k-k Katmandu
I think that’s really where I’m going to If I ever get out of here I’m going to Katmandu
I got no kick against the west coast Warner brothers are such good hosts I raise my whiskey glass and give them a toast I’m sure they know it’s true I got no rap against the southern states Every time I’ve been there it’s been great But now I’m leaving and I can’t be late And to myself be true
That’s why I’m going to Katmandu Up to the mountain’s where I’m going to And if I ever get out of here That’s what I’m gonna do Aw, k-k-k-k-k-k Katmandu Really, really where I’m going to If I ever get out of here I’m going to Katmandu
Oh Take it…
Buddhism is the world’s 4th-largest religion. It’s attributed to a person known as The Buddha.
The Buddha, originally known as Siddhartha Gautama, was born 2,500 years ago, approximately 500 BC. He was a prince, with a luxurious life, a family, and a son. Siddhartha Gautama led a sheltered life until he left his palace and saw four people:
After seeing these four people, Siddhartha left his life of luxury to seek the nature of suffering. He spent six years as a recluse, deprived of worldly pleasures, then meditated on the Truth and discovered the Middle Way to inner-peace and enlightenment.
The Buddha never claimed to be anything other than a human. Like other spiritual leaders throughout history, he used parables so that different people could hear something to which they relate. His teachings weren’t written down until approximately 100 years after his death, after Buddhism had developed variations.
I researched the sources of what the Buddha taught. The most shared belief is that, for 45 years, he taught other people how to extinguish suffering to obtain inner-peace.
“Suffering” is an incomplete translation of the word he used, “duhhka.” Duhhka is suffering from physical pain and sickness, loss of loved ones, and death; but duhhka also includes anxiety, stress, or becoming attached to things that make us happy but are impermanent therefore make our happiness impermanent. Freedom from duhhka allows unconditional inner-peace.
For 45 years, the Buddha taught others how to achieve enlightenment by eliminating dukkha. On his deathbed, he reiterated the core of his teachings by saying (I’m paraphrasing) “I’ve taught that there is duhhka, there is a cause of dukkha, there can be an end of dukkha, and the path to end dukkha.”
The path to end dukkha includes having compassion for others and being mindful of oneself.
If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend reading “What the Buddha Taught,” by Walpola Rahula.
In ~ 230 BC, a king named Ashoka became emperor of most of India through traditional methods of conflict resolution that persist today: war, aggression, death, dogma, and suffering. When Ashoka understood teachings of the Buddha, he changed his kingdom to practice non-violence, compassion, and tolerance. Ashoka inscribed his peaceful intentions, known as The Edicts of Ashoka, on rocks and stone structures throughout India.
In present times, Ashoka University, and the Ashoka Foundation, advocate peaceful, social innovation to address global challenges.
I taught at an “Ashoka-U” before I had heard of Ashoka. Ashoka-U are universities that receive funding to build upon their foundations of Social Innovation. I designed and led engineering classes at The University of San Diego, a Catholic University, whose “Mission and Values” includes service to the poor. Some of my classes were held in inner-city middle schools and homeless communities. We had fun helping others, and learned practical engineering skills.
The Upanishads originated in northern India approximately 600-800 BC, a few hundred years before The Buddha taught in that region. To me, the Upanishads sound like poems that facilitate sharing knowledge between a teacher and student.
The Upanishads described a higher class of person who could understand the wisdom of the Upanishads; The Buddha differed in that he knew anyone could obtain enlightenment by eliminating dukkha. Common themes between what the Buddha taught and the Upanishads include non-violence, temperance, self-restraint, truthfulness, charity, non-hypocrisy, and compassion.
Many people get stuck on words, unable to see deeper concepts. The Upanishads, the Buddha, and Jesus all shared a common parable, that people who focus on words are like “the blind leading the blind.” If we look deeper than the words, all religious teachings let us see that we’re part of something greater, whether that greater thing is God, Nature, Physics, or The Tao.
In that perspective, please appreciate one of the oldest Upanishads:
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.
Nepal is famous for the Himalaya mountains. They’re big. Really big.
View of K2, one of the mountains in the Himalayas
The Himalayas include 50 mountains taller than 7,200 meters, which is approximately 4.5 miles high.
Like I said, they’re really big. Because of tectonic plate action, they’re still growing.
The most famous Himalayan mountain, Mount Everest, is 8,848 meters, or 5.5 miles, high. It attracts tourists from all over the world who hire guides to carry food and oxygen up the mountain for several weeks, at a cost of up to $100,000 including permits.
There are challenges with these mountains becoming tourist destinations. Trash litters trails, and over 200 corpses remain in the high trails as evidence of the risk humans face at these altitudes.
There are effects and consequences to having a region depend on tourism from wealthy foreigners. Just like happiness from temporary conditions eventually leads to dukkha, an economy that depends on external conditions is also impermanent. I’ll be aware of this when choosing where I spend my money.
Less-known trekking routes follow centuries-old walking paths that are still used for trading between villages. By trekking these routes, independently, tourists meet local people and spread tourism dollars throughout the country, rather than concentrating it with tour agencies.
Trekking for weeks at a time requires safety precautions.
I usually travel with a Frisbee. It provides more safety than weapons. I’ve witnessed combat, riots, and family reunions; I’ve never seen a bad situation escalated by throwing a Frisbee.
One of my favorite flying-discs is from “Life is Good.” They donate 10% of profits to
I’ll sample street-food and working-class restaurants as often as possible. I try to experience what average people in different countries enjoy, like a “middle path” of culinary travel.
Indian food is too diverse to summarize, but it’s characterized by flavorful spices (not always “hot” spicy) and often associated with vegetarian cooking. Many recipes have been used for thousands of years, and modern science understands that the combinations of ingredients are synergistic for a healthy lifestyle, especially for vegetarians.
Friends and I cooked our favorite Indian dishes, labeled in the photo below:
Indian food and spices are healthy, especially with ingredients like garlic, turmeric, tamarind, etc. Epicurious.com has plenty of Indian recipes.
POLITICAL HISTORY AND CURRENT NEWS
1.3 Billion people live in India. They are trying to feed, educate, and sustain 1 out of every 7 people on Earth.
Hundreds of languages or dialects spoken, and they have some of the world’s poorest and most densely packed cities. There’s too much going on to summarize, and the history is long and complex compared to what most of us (in the West) have experienced.
If you’d like to learn more, the BBC provides overviews:
I used BBC as a reference source, sarcastically, because of England’s history of meddling in the region. Most famously, Mahatma Gandhi led a non-violent revolt against the British that led to India’s independence. He won the Nobel Prize for Peace, and was assassinated.
Gandhi would have been influenced by the Upanishads.
India independently developed space travel and nuclear missiles, meaning they use different technology than most of the western world that shared or collaborated on this science. India borders Pakistan, which also has nuclear weapons, and the two are notoriously unfriendly towards each other, having had military confrontations at their border.
Image from CNN news, 1998, one year after India first developed nuclear technology.
New Delihi has problems with smog. The Chief Minister of New Delhi called it a “gas chamber.” Their smog is 30 times safety limits of the World Health Organization. As I’m writing this, an airline canceled flights to New Delhi because of the smog.
I’ll be okay; I’ll have a Frisbee.
India has challenges that reflect what’s happening globally. China has a similar population, and similar challenges. Combined, these populations are approximately 30% of all humans, almost 1 out of every 3 people on Earth.
The population is growing, and we share the same oceans, atmosphere, and resources.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME
I’ll be back in late January.