The smell of betel nut pervades the air – a bit like rotten meat. You can tell who consumes these nuts by the red lips (who needs lipstick?), missing teeth (hey, cut down on dentist bills!), and the lovely wads of red spit decorating the dirt nearby, and sometimes hovering in the air just a bit too close to your shoulder. And when these betel-nut people, mostly women, smile! Oh, like Krishna on his battlefield at the moment of truth, opening his jaws wide like the gates of hell to show Arjuna the horrors of every demon ever known. Dear reader, please never, never put a betelnut in your mouth.
Sunday is market day in Paro, a much different affair than Thimpu. No rushing streams, fewer stalls, in fact no covered stalls at all and everything is laid out in (sort of) neat piles on the wet ground as today, there is rain. Besides the betel nut vendors, there are walnuts, bananas, little plastic cans of white paste (hmmm), and hanging intestines stuffed with I do not really want to know what.
Amazingly, I came here with no money. Other than a few Indian rupees (which fortunately are accepted here) I just forgot to bring any cash to Bhutan. Having become accustomed to modern convenience, I thought surely ATMs would have hit Bhutan. In fact they have, but only if you bank at the local BOB. It feels rather appropriate in a culture so unmoved by consumermania. And besides bright red apples and huge walnuts, there is nothing I really need or want. It’s quite refreshing to leave the consumer tendencies behind.
I even forgot my camera. Or rather the battery charge for it, so it is useless to me. The most beautiful country ever seen, and I can’t record any of it. All I can do is look. And write. So I wander around this magic place with the playful eyes of a gallery goer, rather than a shopper. I am free to see the art of Bhutanese life without wanting anything back, not even a photo.
This market experience makes me think of a quote by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche that a friend recently sent me. Rinpoche was dismayed by the frivolous and fickle approach many westerners display towards choosing a spiritual path. He called this dis-ease Spiritual Materialism:
‘The study of spiritual materialism is very important. Some people tell you to hold your breath, and you’ll feel blissful. Some people tell you to breathe out, and you’ll feel blissful. Some people tell you to eat a carrot right now! Some people say, “Stand on your head.” Some people say “Sit, then stand on one foot, then lie down on your back and have a good massage.” Or swim in cold water and that will help you. Swim in hot water — that will help you. Reading this might help you. Say these few words over and over to yourself. Or shout your words; project out. Dive in. Dive out. Wear certain clothes. Get a certain hair cut. Do certain eye gazes. People suggest all sorts of things, which is what’s known as the “spiritual supermarket.”‘
Sometimes, in the western consumer mentality, we expect that a spiritual practice should behave like a commodity: we spend good money, time and energy to learn practice from the teacher, now we want what we deserve! We want peace and happiness and freedom! Now please!
Pattabhi Jois says, “Do your practice and all is coming.” He does not say, Do your practice and only good sweet lovely things are coming: ALL is coming. And ego doesn’t necessarily like all of it. It wants its money back.
So it shops around, looking for bargains and specials.
The point is that if we look to a spiritual path to save us, we will always be disappointed. Because “we” don’t need to be saved. “We”, or our conceptual understanding of ourselves, need to be destroyed. Or at least shown that we don’t exist in the way we think we do. So shopping around, while entertaining, is ultimately counterproductive to resting in the natural state of awareness. It entices and drags us out of where we are, luring us into false hopes of somewhere better. And what place could possibly be better than here?
At the moment I return home, the skies let loose and pour down with the fury of a last hurrah. The monsoons should have ended 2 weeks ago. I seek shelter- hibernate in my “cave” for the rest of the rainy afternoon. And while I am all for returning to basics and living with the ways of nature in pre-materialistic times, I wait out the storm in elegant creature comfort, warm, cozy and dry, without complaint.