Walkabouts and wonders

"A life not examined is a life not lived" – Socrates

Tag Archives: buddhism

Network living and why I think my Buddhist friends are (probably) mistaken

This blog has reached its fifth draft, partly because I have hesitated over putting too much profundity into what is, essentially, a travelogue. But without wishing to follow Socrates all the way, I really ought to worry a little less about losing my audience.

A few years back, the in-word in business was “networking”. Of course, they borrowed the term from internet circles, who probably got it from somewhere else, like the telephone. But as I blog about this walkabout, I am starting to see that networks are really everywhere – indeed, it seems to me that life and existence are much more to do with networks and cooperation than to do with individuals. This is where my Buddhist friends will probably be saying, “At last, he gets it”, but I’ll get to them in a minute.

A while back, when I was in West Bengal a biologist I was talking to (who is also a Buddhist, as it happens) remarked on how Darwin was only very narrowly right. Yes, she said, competition may determine which particular plant survives in a particular circumstance, but it is cooperation that shapes ecology and therefore evolution. From the complex interactions of predators and prey in the Serengeti, to the way in which our whole metabolism depends on bacteria with which we have no conscious connection, the evidence for the interdependency of life is overwhelming.  My brains work – indeed live – by the formation of ever developing networks, whole cascades of which have to cooperate in order to get a fork-full of food into my mouth. And so we can see that it is the whole environment and the networks within it that evolve, not just the individual species.

Itinerant painter and philosopher Horatio

Itinerant painter and philosopher Horatio

And these networks, of course, stretch into our more immediate realities. Families, clubs and nations, professions, religious congregations and high wire trapeze acts all form networks which, in their interactions, form larger and more intricate relationships across time and space. Take, for example, my meeting with Horatio, the painter. A less likely pairing, you would work hard to find – me, the semi-retired business man, with his camera and laptop – him, the itinerant who travels and lives on the strength of abstract pictures that he draws with acrylic pens. My questions about his art and his about my accent, lead to a conversation that stretches from Paris to Wellington and from Martin Luther King to Henry David Thoreau, while we sit in the shade of a café awning in Fremantle. As we talk, we explore our common and different networks and it is thus that most relationships are formed and strengthened. Do we not say of someone we find of no interest, “We have nothing in common”?

But here’s another question; what is it that sustains the network? Well, clearly there is huge variance, but it seems to me that the most fundamental features are energy and incompleteness, after which come value and then inertia. Energy only flows and therefore, associations and networks only form when things are incomplete or hungry (be it for energy, social interaction, influence, recognition). When a person declares that they ”love” Paris, or they “hate” New York in winter, are they not conveying to us their values and therefore their networks; inviting us to join with both?[1]

But, if our lives are really about the ebb and flow of networked values and energies, what then is the value of our sense of individual self? My Buddhist friends might have us believe that our sense of self is effectively an illusion; existing only by associations that will die as soon as our brains do or as we free ourselves from demeaning attachments. But surely, for any network to exist, it must have nodes by which it is bound and forms by which it is channeled.  Yes, they may evolve, develop or diminish, but we all have that experience in life, of changing yet, in some fundamental sense, continuing. And if networks are really the whole, why should we seek to detach from them? Surely the passions of the great “yes” or the great “no”; the great love or the great defiance, the great comprehension; those great moments of spiritual incandescence  – these both announce and make a powerful something, a permanence of value and belief, distilled from our very being and the networks that we are part of, that can extend beyond death, making us permanent carriers of those very values that we cherish and the networks of which we are part. And so, in some sense, is part of the meaning of this life, to forge the values, the beliefs and the networks that we will carry into the next?


[1] Curiously, I think this suggests that in some profound sense, we humans are the most incomplete of all. Do we not form the widest and most varied networks, not just between our kind, but with animals, plants, localities, that we add to, incessantly, as we travel from place to place?

The Shwedagon Pagoda

The Shwedagon Pagoda from the West

Schwe Dagon_2The Shwedagon Pagoda is a Buddhist temple complex that lies a little way apart from the centre of Yangon, in its own parkland. Local legends suggest that the first temple on the site was built more than 2,000 years ago. The present structure is more recent  – the gold plating originating with a Queen Shinsawbu, who ruled Burma in the 15th Century. In the decades following it has been added to, repeatedly to include hundreds of shrines and meditation halls.

Once I’d arrived at the west gate, a huge structure in itself,  I found that I was still 200 yards and 200 feet below the summit of the hill on which the temple stands. A long climb, but this is what I saw when I got to the top

In fact, this picture is a bit of a happy accident –  the place was actually teeming with visitors – quite a few European types, but mainly Burmese, for this is a country in which religion still plays a large part in peoples’ lives. In many part so the world, people circle the stupas clockwise, chanting as they go, but here people wander everywhere alone or in groups – families or friends; walking, talking, pausing to offer a prayer, or sitting to meditate.As part of their devotion, a line of people sweep around the stupa, in unison.

One of the only group devotions - a line of people sweep around the stupa, in unison.

One of the only group devotions – a line of people sweep around the stupa, in unison.

A solitary monk meditates in one of several shrines

A solitary monk meditates from one of many shrines that face towards the stupa

Shortly after I arrived, I started to hear a group of people chanting – intrigued, I went in search of the source, expecting to find, perhaps a group of novice monks at prayer. Instead I found this group of teenage girls, many in uniform, chanting but also preparing some kind of meal, and occasionally, it seemed catching a moment to swap some gossip.

Schwe Dagon_9

I spent about an hour circling the central stupa myself, engaged in my own self-alignment exercises, before I thought it was time to go, struck by the ease with which I had been able to formulate and enact the exercise. Returning downhill I paused briefly at the side of the steps, only to catch the eye of an older local man who was limping towards me. “You are just in time”, he said but the next few words were obscured as he walked past me, pointing as he went; “…… bats ……., wait …… picture…” was all I caught. So, naturally, I stopped and waited…. and waited…… and  waited….. And then they were there, thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of small bats flying in a thick stream out from under the temple roofs and off into the gathering sunset. Despite it going on for nearly half an hour, I got few good pictures, but these may give you a sense of it.

The first swarm of bats flying low above the covered walkway in.

The first swarm of bats flying low above the covered walkway in.

The bats heading westward

The bats heading westward

Well pleased, I eventually walked off to find a taxi back town.

Yangon – bridging moments

The landing point.

The landing point.

There is a ferry landing, made up of lashed together floating docks and barges, that juts out into the Rangoon river, away from the centre of Yangon. Through an early morning haze, dozens of small motor boats ferry in workers from the cheaper villages on the south bank of the river, threading their way between the fast-moving freighters that supply this former colonial city.

The ferries themselves

The ferries themselves

There are no intermediate steps or stages, so the passengers help each other to scramble over the sides of the barges and cross the planks that span the gaps between them, before they reach the bridges that lead to dry land. Two women spread food and sundries across stalls in the shade of a shed built on one of the barges. As I watched, they are passed by a small group of teenage monks, laughing in their freedom from early-morning disciplines.

Boys will be boys

Boys will be boys

Standing there, I felt a first connection with the land and the people of Myanmar. Even though the immigration official returned my smile as she handed back my passport (sorry – immigration official? smile? – yes – it happened) it didn’t really create much of a bridge. Completing this writing a week later, the feeling of that first day’s connection is less tangible, but still there – the people have a cheerful buoyancy that was a great contrast to the hurried urgency of Mumbai. Bartering is still done hard but with a smile and a shake of the hand, whereas there was always a more desperate edge in Mumbai. It’s not that Myanmar isn’t poor or that people don’t need the money, but it is not so overwhelmingly overcrowded and the extremes of poverty are not so evident, at least in the city centre. But I owe the people of Mumbai a bit more than that – they have their dignity and their courtesy, too, as I found in the slums by Bandanga. Perhaps it is under more continuous and corrosive threat in Mumbai, and therefore it has to be more fiercely held and defended.

By the entrance

By the entrance

Back in Yangon, close by the landing, is the small monastic compound from which the teenage monks had come and across the road from there, is the Botataung Pagoda. The entry-way is thronged with early morning supplicants, and I wonder a little at what chance there might be for quiet contemplation, as I pay my $3.00 to the government official who guards tourists’ shoes in his hut[1].

The pagoda from the dockside

The pagoda from the dockside

Around the central spire of the pagoda, there is constant movement; young and old, city workers, school-children, labourers and the like, pausing for a few minutes or staying the whole morning, to meditate and pray in one of the dozen halls and shrines that are dotted around the site. A few monks are in evidence, here and there, but these are Theravada Buddhists – their approach to enlightenment emphasises individual dedication and development; so only a party of school-children and the odd group of Europeans has any obvious guide or leader. All is covered in gold, including the hollow pagoda[2], which is reputed to hold a hair of the Buddha himself, within its walls.

One of the shrines, across a pond full of terrapins

One of the shrines, across a pond full of terrapins

As I turn towards the gates to make my exit, I realise how quiet I have become – whatever its outer bustle, something about this place allows me to relax into the peace of my inner self. This peacefulness stays with me for much of the rest of the day. I wonder where it really comes from and what I might do when I return from this walkabout, to make such connection more conscious.

Dedication, family style

A family cleaning one of the shrines, as you do…

The main meditation hall

The main meditation hall


[1] Foreign tourists are expected to pay entry fees at each of the great temples. I am quite happy to do that, but suspect that much of the money goes into the dubious pockets of a government that has been described as amongst the most corrupt in Southern Asia.

[2] Nearly all other Buddhist pagodas and stupas are solid structures many reputed to contain offerings and relics of either the historic Buddha himself or one of his kind. After the Botataung Pagoda was fatally damaged in bombing during World War II, many such objects were found an are now openly displayed inside the rebuilt structure.

Fun in Singapore (?) 2

Who knew? – Singapore houses the best modern museum of art and culture that I have ever seen (at least in Europe) in the form of its Museum of Asian Civilisations. I am sorry to say that I couldn’t get enough decent pictures to do the place justice –  just a few steps beyond my current skill-levels – besides there weren’t just artifacts and stills, but multimedia presentations on where they came from and how they were made, interactive bits made for children and amateurs like me and so on. And it probably has the best and most intelligent presentation on Islamic art and its foundations in that faith, that I have visited. Frankly knocks the Victoria and Albert Islamic and Chinese galleries in London, back into the 19th Century (sorry guys – the Singapore museum even has a nicer restaurant attached).

If you think I am going a bit over the top, go have a look at the website for an idea of its rangeº and, if you live in Singapore or get a chance to visit the island, let this place surprise you.

http://www.acm.org.sg/home/home.html

And although I didn’t go all the way through them, what I saw of two other museums – the National and the Peranakan was pretty impressive, too.

The Insolvency (England and Wales) Rules 2016

Discussion about the new rules and their commencement

Where's my backpack?

Romancing the planet; a love affair with travel.

ICI & LA NATURE PICTURES

Walk and Bike in France. www.icietlanature.com

Daily Departures

Taking Off from the Daily Grind

Lakshmi Loves To Shop

The Nirvana of travel, shopping and spirituality...

Globe-T.

Le Bonnet voyageur • The travelling Winter Hat

PhotoCory

A blog by Corina Mitrescu

Life Through A Lens

Amina Abu-El-Hawa Photography

vectoriana

New chapter into artistic (and possibly commercial) creativity...

somethinggoodintheworld

Small steps towards a big difference

KeO BLoG

Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel.....

Listful Thinking

Listless: Lacking zest or vivacity

Save Mangar Bani

Aravalli's sacred ancient forest grove

everythingelseandi

everythingelseandi is about all the things that matter in my life!!!!! love, laughter, clothes, shoes, pets, music, art, culture, travel and everythingelse and i.

timetosmile

The world's most unplanned adventure

Fractions of the world

Road trips & traveltips

Flight of the Condors

A journey through South America

Gelli Power

6 months in the hills of Snowdonia. Living in a stone cottage with no electricity, heating or running water, we are getting our warmth through the winter by running, hill walking and blogging!

The IDEA Bucket

Brings you the latest brew

Places Unknown

Dmitrii Lezine's Places Unknown is fine art and travel photography from around the world. Enjoy!

%d bloggers like this: