Many people are interested to hear my stories. I’m one of these lucky fellows who have had the pleasures of travel and the leisure for philosophy. I’ve spent about half of the past ten years in India following pilgrim routes and spiritual places; I didn’t intent to, that’s just the way it happened. I’ve spent considerable time in various destinations around the world that have some connection to healing, spirituality and indigenous cultures.
I consider Varanasi India to be my home and I hope to one day own some kind of home/workshop there some day. Sanjay is my brother, his family – my family. I’m the beloved outcaste brother. This is not a negative designation, but rather the reality of the foreign values and western corruption I have brought into their home. I don’t even write corruption in a negative way; but the individuality, lack of traditional values and other things are a corruption of the traditional life still represented so strongly in Varanasi.
Varanasi is not just a spiritual city. Varanasi also has a strong culture of arts and entertainment. Worldly enjoyment and deep spirituality in one place makes it the epitome of Tantra. Dark and light are equally present in everything here. Looking at many of the spiritual practices that go one here; one might even think that the light, the pure, the sattvic is better represented in the worldly enjoyments (bogha) than the worship (yagya).
Varanasi is famous for many other things beyond culture and spirituality: garbage, shit, pollution, corruption, poverty, mystery, cheating; it all goes on here. Everywhere Varanasi gives off a dark and disgusting image on first look; everyone looks so poor, just covered in pieces of cloth that have never been stitched together. Tourist often ask: “What’s the difference between a holy man and a bum?” Only when we see more deeply within ourselves can we see within others. If you have a holy man within you; you will find one.
The places we choose to live tell a lot about a person. Home and happiness are closely connected. I’m happy in Varanasi. I love all this filth that keeps people away. We don’t need to clean India, or clean Varanasi, or even clean ganga; the filth keeps the image conscious people away.
I haven’t had a home in Canada for many years. Even when I did have a steady apartment I was constantly on the road somewhere living out of my car, my tent, or hotel rooms. I’ve spent time all over Canada in the mountains, forests, prairies; small towns and cities; on the rivers, the ocean, and some of the massive lakes we have in this country.
I’ve travelled hard, I’ve dug deep to find my inner will power; I’ve pushed hard, broken too many bones, explored every kind of fear and too many emotions and too much pain in every way. I’ve cried like a baby in the face of the most trivial fear. I’ve never conquered my fears; not once. When they come, I feel every bit of them, but what choice do we have but to keep going in life.
Many people think I’m crazy, many others think I am freer than most, living the good life. I think many people imagine their two-week vacations and assume my life follows that pattern. Most don’t know what to think: I’ve been years wandering foreign lands; I’ve become as foreign as the lands I’ve been traveling; an outcaste in my own land.
And I have to argue against being any more free than the next person. We are all free; we just need to cultivate the awareness to recognize it. The limitations of our bodies and minds and our place in time and space are incredible. All of nature limits us in the ways we think we are free, and we are free where we think we are limited. But if there was no nature and thus no limitations what would there be?
Many modern secular materialists don’t believe in anything higher than nature. I have no difficulty in believing that nature has tremendous power, but if there is only nature, it becomes impossible to express freedom. Nature is well represented by the movement of the planets that are, from our perspective, in perpetual motion due to the complex balance of various natural laws that are the domain of the modern science.
I come at life as a skeptic, doubting everything and always asking: why? I’ve always been this way. I want to know for myself. You could say that besides the question, “who am I?”, the next main question I’ve spent my life on is: “how am I free.” I can assure you I have not found any evidence of freedom in the material world. I’m sure scientist would agree that we are, for the most part, just carrying out the activity of the natural laws. Hormones triggered in the spring become more dormant in the fall. Our attachments and repulsion are merely chemical and electrical signals in our bodies responding to chemical and electrical signals in the world.
So why am I writing this now? Why not wait until I’m an old man and can avoid the criticism of self-indulgence? Who am I to write some story of my life? I’m certainly no one special. I have not achieved anything that is particularly noteworthy; unless you count my joy of living. And perhaps this is enough these days when so many people are unhappy and feel trapped in their situation; unable to do what they think they really want to do.
Perhaps I’m at a turning point in life. I feel secure in my spiritual life. It’s not something that comes and goes; there is no struggle to maintain a spiritual outlook despite living in the Canadian cities again. I can safely mingle with the material world without it dragging back into its oblivion. There is actually nothing spiritually negative about the material world, it’s the distraction it causes, making us oblivious to our true nature; bringing our awareness up to the surface of things and making us think that “image is everything” (as one young man recently pointed out to me). As long as we can maintain awareness of that true nature then matter is just another extension of consciousness; a power, or a means for consciousness to express itself.
Anyways, you get my point. I’ve done nothing, yet people are amazed. I have nothing, yet people a jealous and want what I have. Everything I have is inside of me; I can offer with my words and my presence; but what people take from this has little to do with me. I don’t take it personally: neither the praise nor the criticism. Whatever they get from me was already there inside the person; it didn’t really come from me. At best, I’m a signpost; at worse I’m a distraction.
In any case, lets go back to 2007 when I found myself buried in debt and facing a work lay-off with a Canadian winter quickly approaching. I thought about several options: wintering in the back country, throwing away whatever I had left on a week or two in Cuba, living out of my car and perhaps heading to the southern USA. At some point I decided on Cuba and actually made it all the way to the travel agency before suddenly changing my mind for India in the moments I waited for the agent to get off the phone.
I had already managed an Indian restaurant, loosely followed Buddhism, and had dreamt of going to Asia, so, why not? I gave myself five weeks to prepare. These days, five weeks preparation for a trip would feel like a lifetime, but for my first really foreign travel it seemed like an insanely short timeline.
Anyways, I was fed up with Canadian culture and society, and I certainly felt like I had more to offer than the physical effort of my construction job. The romance I was involved in was completely dysfunctional from the very beginning, and the truth is that I didn’t know either what I wanted, or what I had to give. Life was pretty much lived without vision. I was mostly too exhausted from work and worry that I didn‘t even have a concept of awareness. Chronic pain was still a serious issue for me then. At the time, I felt more like a passive agent only able to react to what life threw at me. But I can see how it all arose from me. It helped me to forge this sense of personal identity that I am now projecting onto the page and use daily in subtle ways to fulfill all my material and social ambitions. Life is not actually as complex as we make it out to be: our egos are useful in the material world; even the most out of balance ego completes its task. Like children, we don’t have to worry about the many things mother is taking care of, yet we do worry all the time.
So, off I went to India in 2007. It really did blow my mind. It shattered my dreams and made me realize just how small my vision of myself was compared to what it could be (or compared to who I really am). How small was my vision of life?
“When a yogi walks; behind him is nothing, before him is the infinite.”
How often do we hear people say, “I’m only human,” and then insist on their free will? Can we choose for ourselves or can’t we? Are we free or are we bound? Are we personally responsible, or are our actions the result fixed laws of the universe?
Thank god Indian logic allows us to accept both propositions. We are free. We are bound. We are free, but due to incorrect knowledge, we have, as it seems, chosen to be bound. Too much freedom can be a dangerous thing.