Toward the end of our eight-hour train ride from Amritsar to Haridwar today, a boy approached our first-class seats and turned to the side, to show us his missing arm, in the hope that we would give him money.
I looked away. The Indian man in the seat in front of me barked at the boy, pretty much telling him to get the f— off the train in Hindi. The boy showed his missing arm once more, as if to beg for compassion, and the man shooed him away.
I’m an American, so when I see a child with a missing arm, it breaks my heart. That’s how we are conditioned. In our everyday lives we don’t walk around with gratitude for the medical care we have, for the safe, warm, secure homes, for the abundant clothing and food, for the fact that we do not get polio or hepatitis or gangrene or die young.
A trip like this, even with our top-of-the-line hotel stays, awakens you to the real world. To how easy we have it. To the inequities.
By way of explanation, Katherine said, “We all contract for the life we’re in.”
“I’m not so sure I believe that,” I said in response.
According to the Vedic Scriptures, we live 70 lives in suffering before we are ready to ascend. We have karmic contracts for each life we live. You can believe it or not, but it’s a neat way to explain the haves vs. the have-nots.
And think about it. Every time we complain about…well, anything…do we have the right to be so pissy? Is life truly that bad? You’re cold on the way to school – at least we have school and education to set us on an employable path. Bitching about this winter’s insane cold and snow – at least we have more than a tent or a mud hut or a cardboard cover to protect us from dying in the cold.
We endured a really tough train ride, all day from one chaotic dusty city to a peaceful Himalayan refuge, and when we arrived, our smiling guide chatted with us in the van on the way to our hotel. Nishant is a mountaineering expert, taking 28-day climbs in the Himalayas. A Hindu, he wears the signature stainless steel bracelet of the Sikhs, proclaiming religious harmony.
“In the cities we always run – we run for the money, we run for the jobs, we always run away from the Self,” he said. “In nature, we run TO ourselves – yoga is about finding yourself.
Rain poured down on the drive from Haridwar railway station to Rishikesh. A true cleansing, and one we needed, to shed the discomfort of the train experience, and the beggars on the platform, and the have-nots all around us whom we tried not to see.
There was no defroster in the van. The driver used a rag to wipe fog from the windshield,
clearing the lens by hand. So he could see the way. So he could navigate the winding road.
As we wound up the mountain switchbacking one-lane, the rain cleared. We could see the Ganges far below. Up above, we were told that summer storms wiped out thousands of villages and dismounted a 30-foot deity statue by the ashram where the yoga festival is.
It always works out. “Tomorrow will be bright sun,” Nishant told us. There again, the smile.
Monkeys sat in the treetops above us. At the hotel, the staff sang us a welcome. “You are on a journey of spiritual evolution,” they told us. “You are seekers – for
transformation. Blissful, prosperous living comes from when we are all calm within.”
And we thought we were just seeing the world. It’s always more than meets the eye.