Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dharamsala - Relax Just a Little More!

Dharamsala - a pleasant few weeks

I completed a ten day meditation course while in Dharamsala. It was both a meditation course and an Intro to Buddhism course. While learning about the dharma and 4 Noble truths, we sat inside a decorative and symbolic monastery for 45 minute meditation sessions. Not only were the meditations memorable, but the pain in my legs also remained long after arising from the sitting lotus position. After ten or twenty minutes, however, my legs would fall asleep and I simply let the pain subside - not physically, but mentally. This is part of what I learned through mediation - how to deal with pain, or in Buddhism, suffering. I never thought that relaxing would be such a struggle. During the course, we took a stroll to see some stupas in the surrounding areas. A stupa is a type of shrine set up for a memorable guru or lama. The stupa we visited was the burial place for one of the teachers of the current Dalai Lama. He was cremated, and the stupa was built upon his ashes. The picture above is the area near the stupa, which is coated with prayer flags by passerbys like us. As a group, we too, put up some prayer flags.
To celebrate the joyous yet frustrating 10 day course, some of us attended a local Indian concert with a light yet jubilant tone of music. There were those singing and playing the Indian bongos. This was also my first experience with a live suitar, which was played with much delight. The crowd, though silent, let the music sink in and take over.
One day was spent on a casual and relatively short hike to some nearby waterfalls. This was a nice change of pace, ecscaping the crowds and again, finding solace within nature. As if the meditation course was not relaxing enough, I continued on this relaxing run and let this momentum lead me to more nature. Some decide to sit at a distance and gaze at the natural wonders, and some like to get wet. I stripped down, reluctantly leaving my underwear on due to the small crowd gathering and hopped in - but slowly. Again, this Himilayan river water is really cold. I started by simply placing my feet in, then lower body, and finally, after not being fully ready, submerged head and body. I quickly swam to the base of the waterfall and allowed the thunderous onslaught of water pound upon my head, receiving a feeling of intense yet terse blissfulness. I recommend waterfall baths to anyone, it's the best feeling in the world!
Another evening graced us with some musical dance parties. This time a family from Rajastan journeyed their way to Dharamsala to generate a nice drum circle. Some danced, some drank, some did both, and the rest simply relaxed!

Vanares and the Puja Dog

Puja Dog. Only in India, and probably only in Vanares. If you ever want to come to India and see "real" India, Vanares is the place. Vanares is where they host funerals for the recently passed away. Along the Ganga River, the funerals are open for any passerby to witness. They burn the bodies with large fires while offering certain prayers for the deceased. No pictures were taken of this as it is quite disrespectful. Again the River Ganga is said to be extremely holy in Hinduism, and to die here is seen as a blessing from the Gods and instant access to heaven or a good afterlife or rebirth. Everyone has their own idea about the afterlife.In the evening, the people of Vanares perform a public puja, or prayer or offering, that is visited by many foreigners, Indian tourists, and locals as well. There are two main platforms along the River Ganga where the young Hindu practitioners gather to participant in the devotional dance and prayer offering to the Gods. It may be difficult to see in the picture above, but there are many people who arrive in a boat to witness the Puja and watch from the river. It is quite a scene, viewing the platforms in the foreground and the many boats in the near yet fading distance. The Hindus pray to a multitude of Gods, so if you are ever in any sort of trouble, you can pick a God, any God, for your issues to dissolve. The favorite I have found, and also a favorite of mine, is Ganesh, the elephant headed God. This is the God that removes obstacles. Typically, Ganesh is prayed to before any other God, so as to remove whatever may be in the way for the next God to be worshipped.Oh, this guy! Just one of the characters that catches your attention and just want to stare at. Well, this is just what I did. At first, I stood at a distance and secretly shot photos of him, maybe because I was afraid he would pull some Shiva mystical powers out and strike me down - Shiva is the God of destruction. It turned out, after slyly snapping some shots, he glanced over my way and invited me over. I learned he not only is a Shiva follower, but also the head of a local orphanage. What an outfit though! This may be my next Halloween costume.