The paradox of our Age

An almost palatable milky-chai aroma catches the soothing Himalayan breeze as a group of monks congregate upon a quaint cafe roof terrace with steaming white teacups. Below, a Chuba wearing woman adds a Spiritual awareness poster to the multitude of Reiki and Yoga notices already adorning its walls. The Dalai Lama’s Indian home of exile, Dharamshala, is a microcosm of the Tibetan way of life. It beats at its own pace; while the India around it searches for further acceleration.

Himalayas (1013)

In 1959, the Dalai Lama completed an enduring fifteen day escape from Lhasa and arrived in India.  As one challenge folded, another unveiled itself. A global journey to support the welfare of Tibetans would expose him to the gulf between his ideologies, and the western-world. Witnessing the eternal chase to satiate endless desires that now lays bare in his adoptive home would have provided inspiration for his poem; ‘the paradox of our age’. The essence and simplicity that once embodied his Tibet is becoming harder to find in a world of growing complexity.

We have bigger houses but smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; We have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgement; more experts, but more problems; more medicines, but less healthiness;

In the sculpture classroom of the Zorig Chusum School of Traditional Arts in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, a poster reads, “If you’re a good human being, then the skills and knowledge you Himalayas (376)acquire will benefit the whole society. Otherwise it’s like giving a weapon to a child”. One student carefully ushers his paintbrush between the lines of his sketched “four harmonious friends,”  a universal Bhutanese image of a bird, rabbit, and monkey standing on each other’s shoulders on the back of a patient elephant, symbolising social and environmental harmony.

Education is not just a means to an end for the Bhutanese; it is an end in itself- to learn how to think. The ornately decorative architecture and the intricately painted murals of the country’s IMG_20131113_180757Dzongs and Chortens that are carved and shaded in the classroom, are not ostentatious items of show to portray power or yield monetary gain. Their worth is in preserving culture and tradition, and perpetuating morals.

We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbour. We build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication; We have become long on quantity, but short on quality. These are times of fast foods but slow digestion; Tall men but short character; Steep profits but shallow relationships. It’s a time when there is much in the window, but nothing in the room.

On the path to Chimi Lhakang, the divine fertility temple in Bhutan’s Punakha valley, several workers begin sifting through the rice fields. The cloudless November morning sky allows the sun to radiate freely down upon them though fails to nullify their community spirit and the merry rhythm they have developed to their livelihoods. BoutsIMG_2605 of laughter echo from corners of the valley, which ebbs and flows with the motions of the farmers, while a gathering of children titter at the symbolic phalluses lining the temple route.

We may see opportunities to make rice growing faster, picking more efficient and the whole process, more profitable. Yet, from their Himalayan viewpoint, like the Tibetan monks enjoying afternoon tea, the Bhutanese prefer to embrace a life where values are multiplied, and possessions are not.

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Dousing the flames of history

A dusty heat swirls through the t-junction at the base of Golden Temple road in Amritsar. It carries with it a bready scent, airborne from a gently tandoor-oven heated breakfast roti. The rickety put-put of a rickshaw drills over echoing verses from the famous temple, as its smoky exhaust disturbs a Punjabi man’s attempt to tame his beard in the vehicle’s wing mirror.

Outside the iron-black gated entrance to the Jallianwala Bagh memorial, India rolls on as normal. Inside India stands still in remembrance where a symbolic commemoration, the eternal flame, burns. It remembers the hundreds of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs that perished in 1919 after the British Indian army opened fire on them in the bagh, where they had gathered in protest against oppressive British rule in India. As unsuspecting martyrs, they became the spark that lit the path to Indian independence. Mahatma Gandhi carried the torch. His message of non-violence compacted by championing the united spirit of all Indian people ultimately ousted British rule.

Today’s global interdependence, technological and communicational advance makes tantalising the progress that can be forged by the power of global unity. Yet, our mark on history continues to be blotched by the divisive proclivity of humanity. We continue to see our differences as barriers, before seeing richness in our diversity. Though we may be making dramatic progress materially, our thought is yet to evolve.

In the midst of the Israel-Palestine conflict flaring up again in tit-for-tat warfare, killing hundreds and solving little – we are drawn to hashtaging our allegiances; dividing ourselves and pointing our fingers. These actions only serve to exacerbate all party’s ailments. It aptly represents the middle-east as a whole; where richness in natural resource and intellect is being plundered by the region’s inability to coexist as a cohesive unit of diverse beliefs.

Even where religious beliefs are common, geography and political alignment can divide. 100 years ago, on 28 June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was shot dead near the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo by a Serbian assassin Gavrilo Princip. The shots fired from Princip’s semi-automatic pistol on that cobbled street corner, changed global history, igniting the First World War and setting in motion the ever restive European borders. A resultant continent blighted by border conflict wars has pacified through integration of goods and people, which until recent tensions have driven its unified prosperity.

Often our apparent differences are manipulated as politicised tools; we fear being the minority. A trio of red-robed monks wander out from the quaint Tibetan Mandala Cafe, which looks out onto the plush Indian Himalayas from its cushy spot in Mcleod Ganj. Soothed by masala chai, they initiate the day’s second tour of the Tibetan struggle exhibit at the Tibet Museum. For Tibetans, Chinese occupation has driven them to self-immolation. For Russians in eastern-Ukraine it has driven them to civil war. In either case the loss of innocent lives, certainly evident with the downing of flight MH17 in the latter, merely adds to the suffering. It offers fitting symbolism of humankind’s self destruction, with the deaths of renowned HIV researchers upon that flight.

Back in the dawn commotion of Amritsar, two raggedly dressed children fight over rights to the morning warmth of the roti, under the nose of the startled Punjabi man. Fashioning his now ruffled beard, he tears the breakfast snack in two and returns a half back to each of them, who then proceed to eat in silence. For Gandhi, change was sought by teaching the British the value of Indian cooperation, and not by being marginalised by their power, or perpetuating the anger of the Jallianwala bagh massacres. In current climes they are poignant lessons if we are to begin writing our own history, as oppose to repeating it.

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