Friday, January 01, 2010

On the bus

Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And you know that notion just crossed my mind.

The above words, as applied to the natural laws of cause and effect, portray an understanding of karma that any Buddhist would recognize and accept. But they originate not with a teacher or lama or sutra or scripture, or from the Himalayas or the Ganges plains.

They are from a popular song, lyrics written and performed by the Grateful Dead. I will sprinkle lyrics in bold italic type throughout this piece that I see as being quite interpretive to the Dharma path.


There is something about the dharma path, especially as it relates to the India-Nepal circuit, that is similar in some very significant ways to that of the path of those who listened to and belonged to what was referred to the extended Grateful Dead “family” – especially in the America in the late 60’s and 70’s before it became an industry.

These days many people roll their eyes at the mention of the Grateful Dead, that anachronism from days bygone. But for those who were a part of it (Garcia called it the next best thing to running away with the circus), it was so very rich.

The Grateful Dead thing was was called being on "the bus" . . . practicing dharma i s being on the "path to enlightenment/"

(I’m going to poke around and have some fun with this idea for awhile. I believe there are many parallel and complimentary aspects -- and of course, many differences as well -- if you’re reading this I suppose I came up with enough to publish it.)

Inspiration, move me brightly . . .

Initially small but growing is the number of people I’m running into here in Bodhgaya that I know from previous times I’ve been in India/Nepal, familiar people I haven't seen in years.

But this isn’t like a school reunion, where one meets up with people they have had no connection with for years, and are off doing disparate things. There is a warmth and familiarity as old faces see one another and connect, a delight that is akin to running into an old friend that you always knew you’d see again, just not sure when or where.

This is all a dream we dreamed some afternoon, long ago . . .

So, who just got here from Dharamsala, or Kathmandu, or Mongolia, or Kolkata, or who flew in from the USA or London or Australia or Mexico City. Who has just come out of an extended retreat, or is about to go into one. People looking just a little bit older, but with the same clarity and serenity shining through their eyes.

The traditional word for all these folks is “sangha” and it works. And all the travelling back and forth and the freedom that accompanies it makes it seem very “tribal.” There’s shared experiences that need not be communicated, a knowledge of certain “things” that accepts and bonds people regardless of what country they come from, what language they speak, how old they are, etc.

And it so reminds me of the Grateful Dead thing. That was a tribe too. People following the tour, from concert to concert, city to city, all sharing the same “hit.” Great friendships made, obstacles overcome, rides and rooms and sometimes beds shared, rich experiences had, always more on the horizon. Back then it was three nights at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley or the Manhattan Center; now it’s Mingyur Rinpoche’s teachings or a Lam-rim retreat at Tushita. The similarity of connected experience is, to me, inescapable.

Never could reach it, just slips away . . . but I try.

There are, of course many differences -- the Dharma path does not include mind-expanding drugs (but certainly does bring along real long-lasting and beneficial mind-expansion), and while the Grateful Dead experience was a shared one, there was no concept of bodhicitta or quieting the mind or any number of the practices that accompany the Mahayana methods of Buddhism. The concerts were loud and sometimes discordant, and come to think of it, not so unlike a Tibetan gompa during certain recitations at puja.

The clothes accompanying Dead tour are similar to Westerners' “gompa” style, especially for the women, where there is really very little difference. Beautiful soft flowing colors, loosely fitting. Sandals and barefoot. Back then, some sported images of Garcia and Grateful Dead iconic graphics, here for some it’s Dalai Lama quotes and Tibetan Om symbols.

Back then, men grew their hair long, here they shave it off; hair or no-hair as personal preference and perhaps statement.

Back then, filling the mind with perceived pleasurable sounds, sensations and thoughts and trying to suck each drop out of them; here it’s about not attaching to anything like that. That was concerned with "gross mind" . . . dharma practice centers around the subtle states of consciousness that exist under the gross.

Back then, it was Garcia’s guitar solos, whether the sweet and soft melodies that slithered like snakes darting in and out of woodpiles, or the ones that made you jump out of your skin. Here it is mantra, soft, beautiful mind-protecting mantra, the vibrations of sacred Sanskrit.

Both paths clearly appeal to a bit of a vagabond nature in its participants.


I think you get the point . . . within such different times, remarkable similarities . . . fun to think about, even more fun -- and fortunate -- to have travelled and tasted the unique enrichment of each.

Stopping the finger now, thanks for reading.