Thursday, August 29, 2013

Do not be afraid, little brother...

And so, unnatural death comes to your family too, finally, the kind you read in the newspapers everyday, the kind that happens to "other people". A 24-year-old cousin brother brought back home, unrecognizable, from the wreck of a car that a truck ran over. 

While you sit on the cold floor next to the case where his body (or whatever remained of it) is kept, listening to his inconsolable parents' loud sorrow that is all that can be allowed to matter now, because it will never end, you remember the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which you had revisited just a few days ago, the film version, narrated in the haunting voice of Leonard Cohen. You find yourself repeating in your mind, 'Do not be afraid, little brother, do not be afraid".
You want to believe that we are but "incipient compost", that this is it, that with the destruction of the material body, everything is over. But for this abruptly terminated young life, this little child, you want to believe that this is not the end. How fickle we are, how weak.
Amongst all deaths, is your own the least painful to imagine, you wonder.
*          *          *          *          *          *          *
In the Himalayan communities where Tibetan Buddhism is followed, when someone dies, the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, is read every day, for 49 days. According to this text, the consciousness of the dead person lingers between one life and another for a period of 49 days. During that time he is capable of hearing. The text is read aloud to encourage and guide him.
The Book of the Dead describes how at death, the consciousness is suddenly separated from all the circumstances which made up daily life.
Both life and death, according to the Bardo Thodol, are a continuous flow of uncertain transitions called bardos. In the bardos of death, if mind does not recognize its own nature, it becomes ever more solid, until it enters a new form of life.
The Phowa, a method unique to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, assists the consciousness to release its attachment to the physical body, at the time of death.
The text is read aloud in the room where the dead body is placed.
"O Son of Noble Family, that which is called Death is now arrived. Now for the benefit of all beings, recognize Luminosity, which dances before you. This great blazing massive light is Enlightenment itself. It is the natural mind. It is the essence of your own mind.

Recognition and Liberation are simultaneous."
*          *          *          *          *          *          *

You want to scream, but what does a 24-year-old child know? Will he able to recognize all this, does he have the understanding? Or is his soul already old, and therefore capable of such knowledge?
The sound of the mother's heart-rending wailing is obliterating all belief, wiping out your hard-earned wisdom. Will the knowledge of her son's potential re-birth be of any consolation to her now? Can it possibly make up for the daily phone call, the beloved voice that she will never hear again? You want to be unreasonable, you want to just beat your head against the wall and cry, you want to be a stupid dumb animal that can only collapse completely in the face of such pain.
*          *          *          *          *          *          *

"Polden Tsering, you have died. The light of this world is fading, completely. The light of the next world is not yet appeared. Your body has lost all feeling. This is what death is. Let yourself go.
Now you should think like this: Now I will abandon clinging to this body and to this world. I will go forward. I will abandon fear and terror. And I will recognize that whatever appears is a projection of my own mind."
According to the Bardo Thodol, if the deceased has still failed to recognize his basic nature, and if he has failed to recognize the peaceful deities as projections of his own mind, then they transform into terrifying wrathful ones.
"Polden Tsering, do not be afraid, do not be confused. Recognize them as the projections of your own mind. Do not be afraid for they are your innate wakefulness. If you recognize this, you will be liberated."
Recognition and Liberation are simultaneous."
*          *          *          *          *          *          *

Do not be afraid, little brother, do not be afraid...

July 30, 2011

Saturday, August 17, 2013

We need more hairbonds

There is no such thing as boredom

When you are stuck in a traffic jam, when you are waiting for someone, when you are stranded on a shop verandah during a downpour with a contemplative cow who is not in a mood for conversation, when the power goes off and the dog has just eaten the only matchbox, when you have nothing to do, you could Make Theories instead of pulling out that mobile phone. There is no such thing as boredom, believe me.

For example, this one happened in one of those gaps:

Part 1: Anti-lice shampoo killed more than lice

In the beginning….okay, in the very olden days - the Neanderthals were supposed to have spent a lot of time picking lice off each other. They were very hairy people, so these must have been solid long sessions. Apart from de-lice-ification, this also served the very important purpose of social bonding especially at a time when language was yet to develop. Physical proximity with people whose affection you are sure of, was, and continues to be, the most important calmant, comforter, and de-stresser known to man.

Before anti-lice shampoo was invented, women, up to the modern times, spent a lot of time on these group de-licing sessions, picking out lice from family, neighbours, and children. And people had thick long hair, lots of place for lice to breed. These sessions were also major talk-and-bonding sessions - women complained to each other about their husbands, mothers-in-law, children, ailments, and got free advice, consolation, psychotherapy in the bargain. Plus the amazing comfort of someone's fingers in their hair. Altogether Therapeutic.
(Men also had long hair in the very ancient past, I presume some of these sessions happened in families too, but maybe with only one woman around to do the de-licing.)

With the invention of anti-lice shampoo, this ritual stopped. (Additionally, no modern woman would ever admit to another that she has lice!) And with it was lost these moments of bonding and de-stressing and relaxation. We are much poorer for the same, I believe.

Part 2: We need more hairbonds

The same holds good for oiling, combing, and braiding hair. Bonding Big Time. Hair-time is conversation-time. And since when you are oiling, braiding hair, the oilee/braidee does not have to face the oiler/braider, conversation on difficult-to-talk-about things is also easier. The warm massaging of loving hands on your head/shoulders/back also relaxes you no end. Enough oxytocin would be created in your body to last you a few days. (Oxytocin, the feel-good, immunity-building hormone that is produced in your body during physical closeness, the cuddling hormone as they call it).

With the cutting of hair in both sexes, with the belief in oil massages coming down, with less time, with even perhaps a lessening of such willingness-to-do-something-just-to-make-someone-feel-good, in a more self-centred world, this is another bonding ritual we are losing sadly. A paid massage at the spa/parlour, I do not think, produces the same amount of oxytocin as the hands and presence of someone who loves you.

If people revived these hair-rituals (okay, maybe not really cultivate lice for the purpose, but the oiling, combing, braiding part), I believe we would all have more immunity, and less stress, and therefore the world would be a more smiley-wiley place.We need this all the more today than ever perhaps. (And Kerala would be the next Super Power exporting coconut oil faster than they can produce it. So we'll have oil-sheiks in lungis instead of in djellabas, oh boy.)

And perhaps that is why Buddhist monks shave their heads as the first step to entering monkhood? A voluntary renunciation of human comfort, a loosening of bonds, a decisive acceptance of contemplative, meditative solitude?

End of Hair theory. 2005