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Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

 

As most of you know by now, I am a hypochondriac. I overreact to the slightest bodily unease with visions of my imminent demise. I guess you can say I am a melodramatic hypochondriac. What follows is my experience during my recent travels to Thailand.

With SWAC’s 20 kilo suitcase to deliver to friends and family in Thailand in tow, Dick dropped me off at the Capital Corridor station in Sacramento. About four hours later, I found myself standing at the Air China counter at SFO listening to the attendant tell me that there were no aisle seats available. I responded that if I did not get an aisle seat I would die of a pulmonary embolism like I almost did once before and I would bleed all over the plane from my recent operation and then my estate would sue the airline for all they were worth* and there would be a lot of trouble. She laughed, repeated “trouble” and gave me an aisle seat.

(* As my old torts professor told us that the victim in a lawsuit is worth far more injured and in permanent horrible pain than dead. So if you are ever at fault in an accident make sure your victims are dead and not injured. You will make your insurance company very happy.)

In the plane, a Philippine-American woman of indeterminant age (clearly too old to be young and a few years short of being old) sat in the middle seat next to me. She asked if I would be willing to change seats with her. I laughed and said, “I fought too hard for this seat to give it up now.”

During the flight, as I watched the movies (mostly cartoons), I noticed the woman next to me talking to the movie on her screen. So, I shut down mine, watched hers, and listened to her non-stop dialogue with the actors.

About two-thirds of the way across the Pacific, I realized I had not taken my blood thinner pill. Convinced I would die of an embolism if I did not do so, I rooted through my carry-on, found the bottle, and swallowed a pill. Alas, after I had done so, I recalled that I normally break the pill apart and take only about one-quarter of it. Believing my now super-thinned blood would soon leach into my body cavity followed by the bursting of the scars from my recent operation, I was sure I would be dead before we landed in Beijing.

I did not die. Instead, I experienced the Chinese international flight transfer passengers ritual. In the USA, the TSA continues to add more and more personnel to stand around and bully passengers but they never seem to increase the number of lanes for processing. The Chinese, on the other hand, place a single functionary at each end of several long halls through which the transferring passengers are forced to walk. Each functionary slowly checks over the same traveler’s documents (passport and ticket) as they pass from hall to hall. Finally, the travelers having had their passports checked by several functionaries, arrive at a place where many signs are posted requiring the passengers to empty their luggage of just about everything they could possibly carry and place them in separate bins to pass through the security equipment. This whole procedure so slows down the process that only a single security apparatus is adequate to handle the dribbling in of passengers as they emerge from the lengthy bureaucratic gauntlet.

Anyway, off I flew from Beijing on a much smaller aircraft. One without personal TV at each seat. About an hour into the five-hour flight, I developed a need to use the lavatory.

When I was discharged from the hospital after my recent operation, I was given a number of sheets of paper describing what I should or shouldn’t do as I recuperate. On one, in bold type, was written: YOU MAY EXPERIENCE AN EPISODE WHEN YOUR URINE STREAM IS THE COLOR AND TEXTURE OF CATSUP. THIS IS NORMAL. DO NOT BE AFRAID. At my post-op meeting with the urologist three days before my flight, the doctor repeated the warning and urged me not to be afraid if this happens. So here I was in the tiny restroom of an airplane 35,000 feet above China and I looked down to see a steady stream of catsup flowing out of my body into the bowl. Despite all the warnings, I was afraid — very afraid.

I made my way back to my seat and sat there somewhat rigidly, persuaded I was sure to die before we arrived in Bangkok. We arrived in BKK at about midnight and I was still alive. I took a taxi to my apartment and upon entering it went directly to the bathroom. The catsup was still flowing.

Now, convinced death certainly would overtake me before morning, I contemplated the possibility of spending my last night on earth running up Soi Nanna, dashing through the ladyboy center of the universe at Nana Plaza, climbing to the top of the building and throwing myself off to crash through the roof of Bangkok Hooters or Bangkok Bunnies night club as a demonstration of my opposition to the corporate commercialization of what used to be simple two-part exchanges. Alas, like most people when confronted with the end having not completed their bucket list, I went to bed — and dreamed:

I dreamt I was a very very rich and very corrupt man who realized that the world was rapidly going to hell, primarily because of the activities rich and corrupt people like me. I could, I thought, use my wealth and power to protect myself and continue living the high life while the world careened to its end. Perhaps even building a huge underground bunker somewhere in the Rockies where I could live with my mothballed yachts and automobiles until it all blew over.

Alas, I realized instead, sooner or later things would get so bad that the proles would grab their guns, break into my bunker and shoot my sorry ass even before the rest of the world ends. So, I decided the best way to protect myself was to save the world myself and while so doing become even richer and more corrupt. As an added benefit, should I be successful, I, eventually, would be considered a saint or hero by the public who survive along with me.

The next day I woke up at about noon and found that I was still alive. In the bathroom, I checked and found the catsup gone replaced by something that looked more like year old green tea dregs. I took this as a sign that I would live for a few more days at least, so I decided to eat a breakfast of instant coffee and some buns from 7/11 that were renowned for their lack of taste. By the time I finished eating and staring at the wall, it was 4 o’clock and almost time for dinner, so I dressed, went to a small restaurant near the apartment and had a pretty good plate of sweet and sour pork. I returned to my apartment and was struck with jet-lag so I went back to bed. And I had another dream:

I was riding in a car driving along a ridge near the California Coast and as I looked our over the ocean I saw, far off, a wave building that was higher than the ridge we were driving on. The driver said it looks like we were going to be hit by several giant tsunamis and we must get over the mountains and into to the Central Valley to be safe. He drove me about five miles inland where he dropped me off to meet my brother. We planned to ride our bicycles across the coastal range and into the valley. But, unfortunately, my bike was lost. So my brother (who was nine years old) and I ran for our house. We climbed to the third floor hoping to ride out the Tsunami. The first wave hit. I protected my brother with my body. We survived. I knew we had to leave before the next wave arrived.

I went to the front of the house where some relatives lived to see if they survived. I despised this family — no that’s not strong enough — I loathed them. Even that is not strong enough. I hated them since I was two when I went directly from the security of my baby bottle to loathing these people. (I have many unresolved anger management issues in my dreams.)

During my youth, not knowing where my parents were, I spent much of my time being passed around to various families among whom were these particular relatives. Among the many reasons for my hate of them in addition to their generally detestable behavior was that they told me told me Santa Claus was not real then laughed at my disappointment. Actually, there was one member of the family I could tolerate. He was always very nice to me. Many years later I learned he became a serial child molester.

They all survived the tsunami except for my uncle by marriage’s mother. “I had hoped you all were dead” I screamed at them. “I’m glad the old lady is dead. Now we don’t have to drag her wretched boney ass across the mountains.” I ran back up to the third floor and picked up my brother who had shrunk from a nine-year-old to a three-year-old.

We stood there by the window looking out at the mountains. We saw our father driving what looked like a 1925 Rolls-Royce Phaeton racing a 2016 black Lexus down the mountain. They drove straight at the house. At the last moment. they swerved off in a wide circle around the house. When they appeared again, they seemed to be heading back up the mountain. Suddenly my father’s car slid on a puddle of water, skidded across the road, bumped over the curb careened through a large parking lot and over another curb, smashed through a fence and climbed up a billboard where they stopped teetering on the edge. My mother and father exited the car and climbed down from the billboard on which it hung. My father stood there, arms upraised shouting, “Why me God? Why me?” My mother, furious, stalked away. They were dressed in 1940s style. My mom in a smart floral print dress and a tiny hat and my father looking a bit like Clyde Barker.

I was distraught, I imagined that we would have to walk up the mountain with the slight hope of crossing it before the next tsunami. In addition, I would have to carry my now screaming and urine soaked brother. I also would be traveling in the company of relatives I despised and wished were dead while being forced to listen to my parents argue. I imagined my mother saying something like, “Why God? I’ll tell you why God. Because you’re stupid, no you’re a fucking idiot, that’s why God.”

Suddenly I started laughing uncontrollably and the laughing woke me up and it woke up the Little Masseuse who was sleeping on the floor at the foot of the bed. She said, “You crazy. You very crazy.”

I lay back on my pillow and tried to figure out what the dream meant. I remembered that I had read somewhere that dreaming about water had something to do with sex. Putting that together with the rest of my dream, I realized I did not want to go there. So, I practiced my breathing exercises and contemplated the words of that great American philosopher and wry observer of antebellum Georgia society Scarlett O’Hara who, following Sherman’s laying waste to everything important in her life, opined, “Tomorrow is another day.”

At least, I certainly hope so.

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181255

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu

 

 
While conversing with my friend Peter in front of Bernie’s coffee shop in Noe Valley San Francisco, for some reason we got into a discussion about India where Peter and his wife Barrie spent many years and where I have, for a long time, longed to go. I mentioned a book about India I read several years ago of which I was quite fond. I could not remember its name but promised Peter I would search for it and let him know. After three days of searching on my computer, I located the book and sent the information to him. I also decided to buy the book on Amazon and reread it on my Kindle to see if it was as enjoyable as I remembered.

After reading a few pages, I recalled that the book was also one of the reasons I had put off traveling to India. You see, when I travel, I prefer traveling alone and although I enjoy the “Great Sights” like anyone, I especially like searching for the odd and a little dangerous — like the night I found myself in a knife fight in a rural town in Turkey that eventually prompted the leader of the Turkish mafia to demand I persuade him why he should not have me killed. I knew India for me would never be merely a visit to the Taj Mahal or the Red Fort and the like, but a lifetime commitment.

“A journey, I reflected, is of no merit unless it has tested you. You can stay at home and read of others’ experiences, but it’s not the same as getting out of trouble yourself.”
Shah, Tahir. The Complete Collection of Travel Literature: In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, Beyond the Devil’s Teeth, House of the Tiger King, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Travels With Myself, Trail of Feathers. Secretum Mundi.

 
Anyway, I guess the book can be considered a travelogue. There are many great travel books, like “A Short Walk Through the Hindu Kush,” and several by Krakauer that read like great novels. Tahir Shah’s book is one also — where the travel leaves off and the novel begins, however, is difficult to discern.

The book begins with Tahir Shah as a young boy in England visited by Hafiz Jan, the hereditary Afghan guard of the tomb of his ancestor the great Muslim general Jan Fishan Kahn (a nom de Guerre that translates to, “He that Scatters Souls.”) He traveled to England because he had a vision of young Tahir, the last of his line, falling into a culvert and dying. He believed it was his duty to prevent it. Hafiz Jan is welcomed by Tahir’s father and takes up residence in Tahir’s home where he sleeps on the floor in front of his bedroom door. The Afghan guard had also spent some time as an apprentice to a great magician in India before assuming his hereditary duties guarding the tomb. The magic we are talking about here is not magic but illusion — the illusions of magicians like Houdini and the Indian god-men and sadhus for thousands of years. Hafiz Jan began teaching the eager young Tahir some of the secrets of illusion he had learned as the magician’s apprentice. The training went well until one day, during an exhibition of Tahir’s magic educational accomplishments, a mishap occurred that almost set his parents on fire. Soon after, Hafiz Jan was sent back to India to resume his hereditary duties.

Years later, Tahir, as a young man, traveled to India found the guard, apprenticed himself to the guard’s teacher, a rather overbearing sort and after a mostly unpleasant education sets off at the request of his teacher to travel throughout India searching for “insider information.” What one learns along with Tahir are the tricks of the trade of the god-men, sadhus and the like that have enthralled millions of poor and gullible Indians and attracted hundreds of westerners to journey there to sit at the feet of holy mystics absorbing their wisdom — for a price.

“Because,” he called out, “we were on a quest . . .” “A quest for what?” “For a third eye. You see, in the seventies, India was Disneyland … it was the Disneyland of the soul.”… “[W]e had all been to India in search of the third eye, but had left with nothing but diarrhea.”
Shah, Tahir. Sorcerer’s Apprentice: An Incredible Journey into the World of India’s Godmen. SArcade Publishing.

While searching for these Godmen, Tahir and his sidekick, a 13-year-old thief and con-artist named Balu, spent some time at a luxurious mostly pink ashram of a well known Guru and in addition to describing at length the oddness of the entire set up,  Tahir recounts some of the Godman’s more private weirdness:

“When it came to divine eccentricity, Sri Gobind was no exception. His followers took great pride in the tales of their teacher’s irregularities. Every so often, gripped by an insatiable desire, the guru would jump naked from his bed. Running into the heart-shaped gardens, he would relieve himself in the bushes. Or, in the middle of an address, he had been known to rip off all his clothes and anoint his flabby belly with buffalo milk butter. Each morning, his fans averred, the holy man would douse himself in a bath of potassium permanganate. The immersion gave his skin its exotic purply-brown tinge. He would dress his hair with a pomade of seasoned egg whites,-dab his earlobes with witch hazel; and spray his nether regions with his own blend of catnip cologne.”
Shah, Tahir. Sorcerer’s Apprentice: An Incredible Journey into the World of India’s Godmen. Arcade Publishing.

During his travels, Tahir explores and writes about the economic and social life of India through stories about the people he meets. People such as the cadaver collectors and their business providing the bones for the skeletons in most medical school classrooms of the world, and the women who rent cows after the owners milk them in the morning then stand on the street corners during the day selling the pleasure of feeding the cow to passers-by and in the evenings selling the cow patties to brick makers before returning the cows to their owner. The reason why India with its incredibly concentrated population is not sitting on a pile of garbage and human refuse is that that very garbage and refuse is the resource that supports much of the population.

“Real travel is not about the highlights with which you dazzle your friends once you’re home. It’s about the loneliness, the solitude, the evenings spent by yourself, pining to be somewhere else. Those are the moments of true value. You feel half proud of them and half ashamed and you hold them to your heart”
Tahir Shah

Pookie says, “Check it out.”

PS: Amazon had a special on where one could buy all of Tahir Shah’s travel books for the price of one, so I bought them all. I am now enjoying his story about finding a fake map of the mythical King Solomon’s mines in a curio shop in Jerusalem and setting off to Ethiopia where he believes the mines described in the fake map might have been located — if they were real. There he hires a taxi driver as an interpreter, travels by some of the most uncomfortable and dangerous modes of transportation imaginable, explores an illegal gold mine where children are sent into the narrow tunnels and many of them die, spends several nights in an Ethiopian jail, just misses a dinner with Idi Amin, is befriended by the manager of a government gold mine who wants to emigrate to America, travels to a land where the men, instead of head hunting for a hobby, cut off the testicles of their enemies and carry them in sacks around their necks and so on and on. Alas, despite the danger and discomfort he finds nothing but adventure.

“Most journeys have a clear beginning, but on some, the ending is less well-defined. The question is, at what point do you bite your lip and head for home?”
Tahir Shah

(It sounds a lot like life, doesn’t it?)

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images

During my weekly massage, my masseuse likes to watch the Thai soap operas on television while she administers the various pains and pleasures of her therapy.

Now, as I am sure we all know, soaps are a window into the dark, twisted soul of a society, so it is with Thai soap operas.

To me, they all appear to tell the same stories and contain the same characters. There is the beautiful innocent heroine and the equally beautiful though not so innocent young woman. You can usually tell them apart by their eyebrows. The innocent heroine’s eyebrows are somewhat rounded, while her evil counterpart’a are straighter. They are accompanied by two equally attractive young men, one good and the other not so good. These four then are supported by a cast of actors and actresses of varying ages often playing family members of the protagonists. There are also one or two comic characters, usually played by ladyboys.

Although the stories are, generally, all the same, their location varies. I have seen Thai soaps set in the homes of the rich, and others in the homes of the poor living beside a klong somewhere. I have also seen them set in grocery stores, health clubs, and farms. Some occur in modern times others in old Siam and still others are set in times of magic or in some guerilla campaign somewhere.

Anyway, this particular day the masseuse was watching a soap in which the straight-browed beauty dressed all in black, carried a sword and had just done unspeakable things to a group of poor people locked in cages.

Viewing this through my western acclimated eyes that see everything as a conflict between good and evil, no matter the atrocities performed by either side, I commented, “She must be the bad girl.”

To which my masseuse responded, “Good or bad, it makes no difference. She is beautiful and everyone cares about her and what she does. If she were not so beautiful no one would give a damn at all about her or anything she does.”

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My approach to traveling is somewhat like my approach to life; it is not arriving at your destination that is important but what happened along the way.

For example, assume that I depart from San Francisco intending to

A Ignudo, Sistine Chapel

A Ignudo, Sistine Chapel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

travel to, say Rome to visit the Vatican and see the Sistine Chapel. If that is what I efficiently did and returned home equally efficiently, I for one would be unsatisfied indeed.

If on the other hand I were to depart on that same voyage and along the way be diverted by circumstances outside of my control or through my stupidity and thereby facing perhaps danger, or passion, beauty or tedium and return home without ever getting to see Michelangelo’s frescos (the chapel would probably be closed anyway, for repairs or for some obscure holiday), I would consider my trip a success.

I guess, one could consider it something like Buddhism, but from somewhat the opposite viewpoint. Where Buddhism urges one to withdraw from perception’s unreality, Papa Joe suggests you revel in it.

When I look back into my own life, anytime I single-mindedly pursued a goal and overcame many obstacles to achieve it, I almost always came away dissatisfied, became depressed and soon decided to spend my time doing something else. On the other hand whenever I was diverted from my path, or failed to achieve my goal or found myself hopelessly lost, I often was overjoyed. Why? Because there was so much experience, so much pathos and so much joy, and, oh the stories…

Yes, of course there were things that to this day I wish never happened, but they did and the exquisite, if odious, memories of the experience accompanies me like tattoos on the skins of generation Xers.

For those males of a certain age, some of you may recall that time when you were a kid and in you imagination played the announcer of your life. “The great slugger stands at the plate. Here comes the pitch. He swings. He misses….” Or, “Here is the world famous runner running through the woods. Will he break the record? Oh no! He trips. He falls. Will he be able to get up, finish the race and break the record? Stay tuned.”

Well, I still do that. “Here is the aging hero walking along the side of the road recalling past loves, triumphs and failures. Out of the corner of his eye he spies a small yellow flower, stops and contemplates its beauty for a moment and then walks on, crosses the street, the freshly painted striping glowing so whitely in the sun it hurts his eyes. Suddenly he remembers he forgot to buy that bottle of milk. Should he return to the store or proceed on toward home? He stands there at the edge of the road, like the brave Ulysses on the beach contemplating whether to return home to the aging but loyal Penelope or spend another night in the arms of the beautiful Calypso?”

Speaking of Ulysses, Homer’s account is not quite how it happened. It actually occurred something like this:

One night the short, bandy-legged, scraggly bearded young man named Ulysses, who lived in a subdivision on a small island in the Adriatic, left the home on a cull-de-sac he shared with his wife, young son, various hangers-on, and a pack of dogs, telling everyone he was going to the store to buy a carton of milk, or an amphora of wine or new sandals or whatever. Now twenty years later he stood on the corner of the block down from his old home, broke, hungry and older. He contemplated the excuses he would have to tell his wife explaining his long absence. He concocted stories about ships and strange wars, jealous gods, wooden horses, one-eyed monsters and to cover up the long periods of time he spent living with a succession of comely young women, he fell back on the tried and true excuse of philandering husbands of the time, bewitchment.

On the other hand, the also aging but still zaftig and supposedly loyal Penelope wanted no part of the smelly midget bastard’s return. She had happily spent the past 20 years screwing the Mexican pool boy and every young stud in town. The assholes return would only mean she would have to give up the good life and return to working on that Goddamn loom. Besides, she needed an excuse of her own to explain why for the last 20 years the same old piece of cloth hung on that machine with no further work done on it since he left. She told all her boyfriends that she would choose one of them to settle down with when she finished weaving the cloth. They were so stupefied with the thought of getting into her toga whenever she lifted it for them they forgot all about the status of that rotting rag.

She believed however, that she would need something better to convince the crafty asshole of her unbelievable 20 years of fidelity. She decided to elaborate on the story and planned to tell her returning husband, if unfortunately he should ever return. She would tell him that she weaved at the loom all day and every night she tore out what she had done during the day. If the simple and unbelievable story had worked on her lovers why wouldn’t this expanded version work on that scheming lying bastard Ulysses?

Nevertheless, she still was surprised when the testosterone poisoned dwarf suddenly and unexpectedly showed up at her door and started killing all of her boyfriends and the Mexican pool boy as well.

Sadly, Penelope was forced back to working all day at the goddamn loom and at night diddling herself while the drunken scumbag lay snoring among his dogs after buggering some prepubescent boy-chick.

As Holden Caulfield would say, “Crummy.”

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