Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Selfish Boodist

Pokhara is full of Dharma-wits that are coming or going to Pashmina Meditation retreats (I know it’s called Vipassana, thank you) and most of them seem filled with the vacuousness you’d expect of someone that hasn’t spoken in 3 days and got no idea why.

Rachel also spent time in a monastery but has uniquely brought some critical analysis to the experience, and is able to say more than most participant’s “It was amazing”. According to her, this sort of Buddhist invites initiates to pick and choose rituals from the monastery menu which are only practised by the most extreme monks after years of devoted study. To delve into this deep end of rites and practices without the understanding is as useful as buying a ticket for a ride at the Buddhism theme park.

Apparently one of the cores of Buddhism is that there is no Self. I’ve been struggling with what this actually means. Rachel who introduced me to this idea, thinks that outside of the context of a Nepali upbringing this can’t really make sense to a westerner, who’s every cultural stimulus since birth has rewarded the urge to feed one’s own needs.

At first I thought this absence of the Self meant you had to defer to the community, perhaps explaining the penchant for Nepali Maoists militants to commit acts of unconscionable violence in rural areas. But that’s not it by a long way.

Another friend who has signed up for a monastic course for people managing emotional distress (or the chronically-fucked-up as she and I call them) has been sending me emails, on the one hand parodying the other incumbents on the course and their neurosis’ , emails that make me cry with laughter, and simultaneously telling me I could benefit from controlling my emotions and should sign up for a dose of “Buddhism for the chronically fucked-up”, accommodation, food and spiritual salvation included. Just check your cynicism (or critical thinking as some might call it) at the door.

I’m getting this third hand so it wouldn’t be surprising if I’m missing some of the more salient details, but by “speaking right”, resisting the temptation to be rude or angry, or allowing your emotions into your communications, you can control your thoughts and consequently your emotions. I don’t think that’s true, you can hide your emotions, but that’s not the same as controlling them. But even if it does work, I don’t really see how that’s a benefit. Emotions are for having. We should have them. We need them. Acting on them is the problem. It’s OK to be angry just don’t make decisions based on anger. Use logic, reason, reductionism to plot your course of action, but you can still be pissed off when you carry it out..

I think that is a much better way of not having a Self. Denying your emotions by bottling the feelings is counter to human instincts, but controlling them is what separates us from animals. If you ignore your feelings for long enough, they don’t eventually just disappear. On the contrary, you may find your Self shooting up a high school.

During this trip I went through a phase of being really angry at the injustice I received; As a wealthy foreigner if someone caused me a problem like a dent in the bus or spilling oil on my clothes, they would just shrug it off and I’d have to accept that’s just the way life goes, but if the roles were reversed, I’d be expected to make amends. Now, I’m much more resigned to the unfairness, and I’ve accepted that if I want to drive my bus around the world, this is how it is. This acceptance is a form of compassion and forgiveness for my fellow human beings who dent my truck and spill engine oil ON MY ONLY PAIR OF JEANS, MOTHER FUCKER! Forgiveness and compassion are both important Buddhist mainstays, which I think mean I have in some ways shelved my Self.

Above all, the journey has taught me that disappointment is a totally futile emotion. How can you be disappointed with something that fate deals you? And everything that happens in life is something that fate deals you. That’s how it goes. Disappointment is nothing more than thinly veiled Self pity. Its only purpose is to act as a wet nurse for our damaged egos. Get over it, the world is big and it’s not all about you, because there is no you, no Self and no ego in this vast world. You’re so small, and the world is so big, you and your problems just don’t count.

This logic makes perfect sense in countries where nature is vast and powerful and might, on a whim, chose to destroy everything you have tonight, where people live under corrupt governments and don’t know their rights because they can’t read, where people are indoctrinated into a caste system which enslaves them, and where people have limited access to healthcare because of geography or poverty. In the West we have liability insurance and lawsuits which rewards the Self’s every disappointment with the promise of cash pay outs. But even then, there are times when we feel utterly helpless and defeated. Perhaps that’s the moment we should let go of our Self, and rejoice in being the flotsam on life’s beach.

As a good Buddhist, I should also stop desiring. But that’s just crap. Stop consuming, OK. But the desire to do, and to change things is a crucial ingredient in the recipe for good, and relinquishing ambition for it is just stupid. Nothing would ever get done. Did Buddhists invent gunpowder, the printing press or the compass? Er, well actually yes, I think they nailed at least 2 out of 3 of those, long before rationalism was even a glint in Plato’s eyes. And that’s a pity, because my point was going to be that sacrificing desires and ambition means you don’t contribute to making things better. The same forces can also make things worse too, but to deny them for that reason is to live by the creed of head-in-the-sand-ism, and not a valid reason to stifle your Self’s curiosity.

If you don’t have any feelings about things that are bad, you’re unlikely to try to make them better. Here more than elsewhere I feel like I’m missing the trick with Buddhism, but apart from this, just by being much more fatalistic than I used to be, I think I could pass my Self off as a convert.

I’m petrified that I’ll wind up fulfilling the hippy cliché and find myself smoking pot and playing the guitar in some dead-end Westerners hangout 20 years from now, droning on about what it was like to drive to India “back in 2010 man”, so it’s worrying to me that this journey from the UK may have unwittingly touched me spiritually, enlightening me without me noticing, and that heaven-forbid, I have unknowingly adopted some of the tenets of Eastern philosophy. If that’s the case, then the one saving grace is that there’s an awful lot of money to be made teaching this Buddhism stuff to Dharma-wits. Perhaps if I’d washed the bus more often I’d have learnt Karate by now too. Wax on, wax off.

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