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Misha Gitberg our trot from London, Budapest, Viena, Rome, Florence, Venice, Sophia, Istanbul, Doha-all so we can finally get to India! then Nepal, and then Thailand! and then Laos, USA and Canada.

Nepal to Thailand

THAILAND | Friday, 7 March 2008 | Views [2981]

Dear Friends and Family,

I am writing from the hot, fragrant and modern Thailand where we have arrived three weeks ago.
It was only three hours flight from Kathmandu, yet the world of difference awaited us in the
super modern and stylish Bangkok's new airport, where clever machines aided impeccably
dressed in sexy uniforms workers and where one can eat from the spotless cool marble floor.
In no time we were out on an American style highway, speeding high above the city, past golden pagoda roofs of the many Wats (temples) to the center of Bangkok, marked by a host of Sky scrapers, in an air conditioned taxi. Shocked to face such convenience and in guilty disbelief about abundance of new cars, good roads and
general wealth, we inhaled fragrance of Jasmine and fresh fruits permeating the city, stepped across the goldfish pond into our small hotel in the middle of Kao San, a noisy tourist area, catering to every sensual whim of western nomads. 30 minutes later Teodora, I and Menno, a very nice guy from Holland (whom we met at Kopan monastery) were sitting under 28 C sun at a small road side restaurant, eating very good curry and drinking young coconut juice out of a real coconut. All of us, still full of very recent impressions of cold showers in cold Kathamndu, lack of electricity and common sight of lit candles romancing the streets during the "load shedding" times; poverty and beggars, pollution from burning fires (to keep warm) and from noisy generators -- were feeling out of sorts in this place, where even tourists suddenly seemed to be made out of different batch: gone those long haired and bearded or shaved bold spiritual seekers. They were replaced with folks who came to party, eat good sea food, receive countless Thai massages and consume company of cute in their petitness smiley Thai ladies. Actually any kind of sex is available here: women, men and everything in between. When we booked our hotel
online, options in the pull down menu indicated: man, woman or "both man and woman."
Later we learned that Bangkok is a capital for sex reassignment surgeries. So, here we were, feeling out of sink, not understanding how
is it possible to have such tremendous contrasts in the standard of life between the two countries, somehow feeling guilty to be able to enjoy it, yet getting excited about exploring this Paradise.

I will tell more about our time in Thailand, but first, let's go back to Nepal and finish this chapter properly.

Two months in Nepal turned out to be very productive: we did a good chunk of practice in the beautiful tranquility of Kopan monastery (about which I have wrote in my last letter).

After Kopan, we have travelled to Pochara, on picturesque Phewa lake, where we have joined a three days course taught by an American Tibetan Buddhist monk, Yeshe.

see pictures from Pochara at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mishateodora/sets/72157603837593827/detail/

Yeshe's teachings were very dynamic, clear and interactive, making us re-think main Buddhist's concepts from a very personal standpoint. Yeshe's passion for Dharma, his personable style and last but not least his passion for movies, magnetized a small group of us- a temporary family of unlikely table companions, sharing our life stories, travel impressions and jokes. These conversations I often find very exciting: they give me a feeling of standing at the crossroads of many paths, countries and fates. The world at such moments seem very small and our lives, no matter how diverse, seem very similar in essence.
After the formal course with Yeshe, and an informal hanging around dining room table and mixing with others for a few days, Teodora and have pulled ourselves together for a four days "couple retreat."

Our daily schedule included contemplation of impermanence, Vipassana meditation,
writing about our life aspirations as a couple, identifying habitual patterns we have already developed in the first months of our marriage as well as energy exercises (such as separation/merging), yoga and foot massage.

Although we spend loads of time travelling together, it felt very different to have this reflective and honest space between us. We took another look at our marriage aspirations and realized that while wording of them sounds very uplifting, for example, "aspiration to make our Union the focus of my spiritual practice", in reality we had only a vague sense of what it actually meant for us. So, the main work was to distill this pregnant with possibilities
vagueness into concrete practices we can do each day to bring our aspirations to life and I guess to see wit more clarity where we fail to actualize them.

Looking at our patterns, our aspiration was to move beyond mere adaptation to each other,
mere survival, even if it feels positive. We reasoned that habit was a habit and did not go well with developing genuine presence in life.

At the end of these very tender, thoughtful and collaborative days, we have renewed our marriage aspirations/vows in a small shrine room with only Buddha's image as our witness.

We lingered a bit longer at the Centre, enjoying the company of Yeshe, Edith (young Swiss woman who worked at an isolated ski resort there), Russel, a tall humorous middle aged Australian, who was "between jobs and girlfriends", a young couple from Florida, Michelle and Mason, who just finished their MSW programs and were planning to move away from fast paced and snobbish Maimi. There was also a cute recently married young couple who lived at the Centre: our shy Nepali cook Padam and his slim and composed beautiful Carla from Britain. So, there we were, forming this impermanent yet very cozy and warm group, one of the function of which according to Yeshe was to teach him the lesson of impermanence: people come and go while he stays put for now, developing warm human bonds and then seeing them break, over and over as people take on the road again.


Another experience in Pochara that stuck in my mind was a visit to the Rainbow Children Home, an orphanage, which was started in collaboration with a Dutch woman,who reportedly disappeared after they accepted 19 children into their custody.

you can see photos of these kids at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mishateodora/sets/72157603954843075/detail/

It was a neat experience to be able to play with kids, see them eat, take care of each other, dance to pop Hindi songs on TV and sense their excitement about our interest and affection. My heart was stolen by Saraswati, 11 year old very shy girl, who as I later found out was somewhat developmentally delayed. She would grab my hands in expression of affection and joy, yet would simultaneously try to hide her eyes away in embarrassment. It was bittersweet, leaving this place, having kids hang on us like grapes on trees, their hugs and kisses speaking of starved needs, hesitant hopes and may be even flickering knowledge of ultimate reality of just this one day with us: " Sir! Sir! Madam! will you come back tomorrow!?" I have never been so thoroughly hugged in my life by so many different kids. Who benefited more from this visit I do not know. This kids had to survive, I do know if they could learn from, Impermanence. Day by day, having visitors, who come with good intentions and affection, yet do not linger for too long.
I regret we found out about this place only after we have already made arrangements for the onward travel; it would have been great to volunteer with this home, although I would be at a serious risk of adopting a dozen of these kids. Apparently, some of them come from severe poverty and neglect. We were told that in many cases poor families have to pack their eldest for a bus to Kathmandy where they had to fend for themselves. The could be 10, 11 years old.


After Pochara, we came back to Boudha,

See pictures of Boudha at:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/mishateodora/sets/72157603784230914/detail/

where we had very good time serendipitously meeting a few nice folks from the Kopan monastery as well as some Russians in the Buddhist scene, one of whom, looking rather thin and orphaned, straining to hear while pointing his ancient hearing aid in our direction, have recently came down from meditating in the cave for 4 years. He was very intelligent and interesting to talk too, although also disappointing in the way he, despite some obvious spiritual realizations, smoked and drank rather heavily. I wondered if it is actually possible to have spiritual realizations and still radiate neediness?; Just as serendipitously we also ran into Mathew (Gehlek) from Gampo Abbey,who was very much enjoying his Tibetan studies at Pulahari monastery and was planning to join Thrangy Rinpoche's 7 years Schedra (Tibetan Buddhist school.) We had great conversations over Tibetan momos and Japanese miso soup, and he was very kind to load our iPod with many hours of Dharma talks (Thank you Mathew!). He also led us to Thrangu Rinpoche. We went to see Rinpoche in Losar's (Tibetan New Year) blessing line, full of excited little young Tibetan nuns. His presence was very impressive: kindness and peace radiated from him were palpable. He did not appear orphaned at all! On the way out, his monks ushered us to a red and gold room where we were served Tibetan butter tea, as salty as ever, and some savoury cookies.

Boudha in Losar was full of traditionally dressed pilgrims, students of Buddhism, smiling colourful villagers, and the air buzzed with atmosphere of uplifted celebration, aided here and there by Cham Dancing (Tibetan Mask Dancing, performed by monks) at many Tibetan monasteries, ubiquitous butter lamps flickering at the dense darkness of nights and by the clear silver of monastery bells.

Now, if you still with me, let's go back to Thailand. Bangkok captivated our senses and stupefied our minds; Golden temples were eye popping and jaw dropping simultaneously, so needless to say I have taken gazillion of pictures of all angles possible and it still seemed insufficient!

see pictures of Bangkok at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mishateodora/sets/72157603894680586/

After 10 days or so of luxuriating in Bangkok, we managed to re-remember our spiritual goals and took an easy 3 hours bus ride to Bun Kanjanaram Wat in Pattaya, a busy beech town and an incredible attempt to create Paradise on earth, for farangs (foreigners), Thai style. In a pick up truck converted into a group taxi (Song Tae), we zoomed by long stretches of uninterrupted rows of beech chairs/umbrellas and thousands of baked naked bodies; we took a sigh of relief at the quite Wat and headed to our assigned personal Kutis (meditation huts.), spacious and luxurious by Indian and Nepal standards of spiritual accommodation.

see pictures of the Kuti at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mishateodora/sets/72157603968666603/detail/

Vipassana, or Insight meditation practice here, was developed by the late Achaan Naeb. Her surviving student, Miss Vattoon, a tiny Thai lady in her late 70s, who was a nurse in New York City in her youth, met with Teodora and I every morning on her veranda to teach the practice and to inquire into our progress. With a strong flavor of surreal, in a few days we found ourselves speaking our new vocabulary of Pali (language the Buddha spoke), Thai and English. Like a physician doing her daily rounds, Miss Vatton made inquiries into our practice the way the doctor would ask about presence of too much gas:
"Did you have foong (wondering mind in Thai)?" We had to confess that yes, we had troubles with Foong.
Buiddhas Noble truths became our daily discourse: annicca (impermanence of all compounded things), dukka (suffering, inherent in human condition), annatta (lack of inherent self in all phenomena) and other such concepts.

This practice, contrary to Shamatha or single pointed concentration on breath, had the whole body as primary object of observation. We were instructed to observe Rupa (body) in 4 positions: walking, standing, sitting and lying down. We were supposed to stay in one position without changing until strong discomfort, or "suffering of Rupa" necessitates the change. The idea is to see that the cause of change in position is suffering and not pleasure associated with the change. Thus Miss Vattoon's next regular question: "Have you seen suffering in Rupa (body)?"

While changing from one position to another we had to "yoniso",
carry awareness of pain from one position to another, in order to unmask the fact the each new position of Rupa was to cure suffering of the previous Rupa. "Yes, I yoniso-d all right!",we would confirm to her while struggling to decipher her accent and embedding this new Pali word with a strange ease into the forgiving structure of English language.

One day in reply to Teodora's report of having difficulty staying with "my Rupa", Miss Vattoon, suddenly launched her crooked yet righteous finger at sitting across from her unsuspecting Teodora with: "Who are "you"?!?!" The question was semi-rhetorical as she continued with a satisfied expression without retracting her pointing finger: " You are Nama (mind) and Rupa (body), there is no "you"!"

In our 6 days at the Wat we ate only two meals (at 7 and 11 am) delivered to our Kutis in stacked metal containers which were left hanging on a rope with a hook at the end and which we pulled up to the deck of our meditation ship, ready to relieve the suffering of hunger. We practiced to observed "walking Rupa", "sitting Rupa" as well as "Nama seeing", "Nama hearing" as devoid of "I" On the days when we had too much "foong", we were happy to remember that "foong" is not "us" either and there was nothing to worry about.

It was very interesting to see how this practice aimed at realizing suffering and impermanence, as well as developing skills of awareness in one's natural environment (walking, sitting, eating naturally) rather then still meditation pose. Yet, deliberate cultivation of detachment from the body and mind, seemed rather contrived to me. I think that such profound spiritual realization should arise spontaneously rather then be manufactured.

I also mused about how in this tradition, the goal was to achieve a state, seemingly very similar to a state one often observes in post-traumatic syndrome, when one feels like an automaton or a robot, disconnected from one's body and feelings, even seeing one's body from a distance. Is it possible that traumatized people also have a glimpse of spiritual opening? Could it even be that it is this glimpse of spiritual awareness and the resulting fear that are mainly responsible for perpetuation of post-traumatic state? I better stop raising these questions(at least publicly) before I am excommunicated from the trauma therapists community :-)

After our time at the Wat, we made an array into Pattaya (stay tuned for more detailed stories about Pattay's Paradise, Indian Saddhus, meditation at the Wat etc coming to

my narratives:
http://journals.worldnomads.com/misha/

which amused us to giggles: seeing unimaginable number of geriatric men with young Thai ladies, old boys riding Charley Davidson to the beach, seduction of grilled sea food, fresh exotic fruit, Thai massage, sex of any kind, warm sea, fine sand-all readily available and cheep. Yet, strangely enough this version of Paradise failed to produced happy faces: most people we saw looked stressed or plain unhappy; frowns and density of gaze were incongruent with the alluring promise of Pattaya Paradise. One of such man, accompanied by his all-legs petite and silent Thai woman, wore a T-shirt saying: "Good boy goes to Heaven, Bad boy comes to Pattaya!" I truly hope he managed to feel like a "bad boy!"

After us sweating to come closer to Enlightenment at the Wat, we finally felt deserving enough to be seduced by Thailand. We travelled 6 hours by bus and one hour by boat to Kho Chang (Elephant island), which is still not as touristy and crowded as other places by the sea.

See pictures from Kho Chang at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mishateodora/sets/72157603965117856/


We are staying put here for another week (three weeks altogether), enjoying Thai cooking class, snorkeling, swimming, reading Haruki Murakami, watching movies we bought in Nepal and planning to ride an elephant (this is where you can let yourself to feel envious :-) )

Our plans are to explore other meditation systems in Thailand, travel to the mountainous North, while making plans for our return journey. We are negotiating with some meditation centers in the USA and Canada as we hope to stay at a spiritual community upon our return: not forever (as there is no such thing anyway), but for a transition period-from the easy life of loafers to the seriousness of responsible adult existence.)

Thank you to all of you who continues to write and share stories, even at times when it feels there are no stories to share. There are always stories.

Hope you all are well and happy,

with love,

RupaNama complex
(previously called Misha)

Misha Gitberg
my visuals: http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/
my narratives:
http://journals.worldnomads.com/misha/

Tags: Beaches & sunshine

 

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