I think pain amplifies everything. Colour, scale, smell, significance.
Often I would find myself stopped by the side of the road, mouth agape at a mist-shrouded forest or a mashed up butterfly on the tarmac, feeling like I was understanding something.
It’s easy to drift off into emotional and spiritual incoherence when you are this tired in a landscape this beautiful.
Which probably explains the proliferation of the world’s cuddliest religion – Buddhism.
It’s everywhere here. It’s in the marrow of the place. Even the dogs reek of it.
You can hear it whispered through cracked windows at dawn, smell its incense thick in the air around monasteries.
And you can see it in the glazed eyes of the indoctrinated.
Buddhism, of course, is mostly silly nonsense. But such beautiful nonsense I have yet to encounter. For example:
‘Buddhism envisions the world as a net of jewels, each facet of reality reflecting every other facet.’
Have you heard anything more delightful than that? Or what about this marvellous piece of jibberish from the Dalai Lama:
‘Compassion sets in motion an exponential multiplication of our powers’….As if somehow, by being a nice guy, I can gain super powers. What a thought. What a guy. No wonder he sells so many books.
The Himalayas bristle with seekers of special powers.
In a one-bike village called Yuksom (the one bike was ridden up and down the only street, still covered in the plastic it was sold in), I met a bloke with a shaved head, sea-coloured eyes and a pectoral ridge accentuated by skin-tight, expensive t-shirts. He wore individually-toed shoes with no soles because it connected him to the earth more and strangely for someone without a bike – cycling gloves.
Consumed and quite clearly overwhelmed by the pursuit of ‘truth’, he explained to me during a particularly harrowing high-speed taxi ride that ‘Everything is a pattern, even us. Patterns within patterns. Programs within programs!’, he exclaimed as we almost flew off a cliff.
‘You know the Matrix?’ he shouted over the sound of our tyres spraying stones into the valley floor 1000 metres below. ‘It’s all in there.’ When I looked over at him to see if he was joking, his head was bowed, eyes closed. Totally away with the fairies.
But oh the beauty. Check this out:
‘In the midst of the seething darkness is Buddha – serene, unmoving, unperturbed – a luminous awareness that embraces all disturbances and converts it into energy and light. When we look upon the chaos of our lives with compassion and bemusement, we achieve a similar alchemy.’
Fuck. Me. That’s fantastic. ‘Bemusement’. Love that. Of course, you could just say ‘chill out’, and not have to build a whole belief system and loads of temples, but then you wouldn’t have all the seething darkness chat.
I guess it all boils down to this – these guys have all of this good will and potential to actually do something and what do they do? They spin a prayer wheel. They put up a prayer flag. They incant messages of good will for people who will never hear them or feel their effects, because there are none. This has been proven by it’s not being proven, ever. The beauty and wonder of their mythology and their temples aside, I couldn’t help feeling like it was all a big waste of energy.
I was in a musty, north-facing hotel room one night when BBC World news crackled up onto the screen. A group of very clever people at the European Space Agency had just landed a probe onto a meteor, an achievement which would enable us to learn a great deal about where we and our planet came from. That’s a real thing and it happened because people DID something, they didn’t just hope for it. Next up was the world’s first legally recognised cyborg – a man who had an antenna protruding from his skull that enabled him to hear colours. Before this breakthrough, he could only see in Grayscale. Amazing. Not as amazing as a dragon clutching a wish-fulfilling gem like you get in Buddhist art, but it gets extra points for being real.
But there’s a far more worrying flaw with Buddhism. If you choose Buddhism, you choose not-cake.If you do Buddhism, you can’t be attached to worldly pleasures. You have to break those chains. And that means no more cake. Ok, you can have it but you can’t really enjoy it. You can’t lust for it. You can’t be it’s prisoner. You can’t want it. But dammit, I want to want it. Without desire, what are we? Numb. Numb to pleasure as we are to pain. A flat tone. And there’s nothing more boring than flat, which you’d think would be obvious to people living in the Himalayan foothills but apparently not. For all their inter-dimensional sight they can’t see what’s in front of their noses.