Culture shock?

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Photo by Julia of butter candles, which are found near sacred places which are common in Boudha.  

Beside me is a red and orange book, open to a page where, emboldened, it reads “Attitudes toward Women and the Feminine in Early Buddhism” (by Alan Sponberg).

 

I am reading a book about Buddhism, sexuality and gender. I am in Nepal. It’s both more than I can comprehend and perfectly right.

I am cozy in the crook of a bookshelf and doorway, with five other students sprawled across the floor and papers everywhere. After writing for a while, chatting easily, we stand and leave toward the Boudha Stupa, only a few short minutes from the Yantra House. Once there we begin to let our minds wander, walking to shops or reaching down to scratch friendly street dogs, finally finding our way up a narrow staircase to an umbrella-covered table at the Golden Eyes Café.

We spoke with our waiter and I tried to ask him a few questions, although neither of us truly understood what the other was saying; but he laughed and smiled and we ended up with a variety of drinks.

We sat under the umbrella for hours, speaking of politics and telling stories.

After a while, though, I found myself thinking of the juxtaposition of the café and the sky… I could see the mountains with fog spilling down their sides, peeking up from behind the trees. The sky was cloudy but light blue-gray, the sun setting to my left. I looked at the Stupa and the people performing kora, or circumambulations. I couldn’t think of a word or description for what I was feeling. I listened to the wonderful people surrounding me and felt out of place.

I am in Nepal, yet in the United States. I am stuck in my own culture yet rooted as well; it is positive and it is imprisoning. Today during one-on-ones I met with Hubert, the director of our program and he told me that getting out of your comfort zone is misleading. Instead, we must strive to understand the paradoxes we notice between our mental state, our mindset, and others’. We must attempt to accept and comprehend what makes one person believe in a cycle of samsara, of suffering and rebirth, and thus to tap at the glass of our own paradigms which, of course, remain mostly unknown to us.

I now realize that I have let myself already become complacent with the comfort of my culture. Yet we change, constantly, and in simple recognition I have changed.

This is what I am here for. I am letting old habits be old, and finding new ones. I have that choice. I am here not to sight-see but to comprehend. This does not mean that there is no time or place for the former, but we each must find what brings us meaning in life and I think I understand this for myself a bit more. The quest itself is inherently selfish ~ I have encountered a dilemma in which I understand that, to make myself happy and give myself peace, I must give somehow. It is a paradox. I will think more on this and hopefully come to understand it better, but for now I will follow this drive and seek opportunities here. Am I here to become more deeply happy, more truly at peace? I thought I had a better reason, something more altruistic, but when I am honest with myself… what else drives a person to act? I thought I wanted to study compassion… but then what?

My plan, then, is to learn. I will try to open my mind and be ready for something greater than myself.

 

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