“One may conquer in battle
A thousand times a thousand men,
Yet he is the best of conquerors
Who conquers himself.”
~Buddha, Dhammapada 103
I’ve noticed that I tend to identify with certain quotes at particular points in my life; the one above is a perfect summation of my first month in India. I handled the upbringing of my siblings after my parents’ divorce, worked my way to the top ten percent of my high school graduating class, and got accepted to Vassar College, now my home away from home. All of those things were pretty difficult, as I’m sure many of my peers can tell you, because in this day and age they have probably gone through similar experiences.
India, however, poses an entirely new set of difficulties; first and foremost, I chose to come here, to get up and meditate at 5:00 a.m. each morning, to cut meat out of my diet, to distance myself from everything and everyone I know and love. With the decision to come to India, I quite unintentionally started a new battle within myself. I came here looking for answers; answers about Buddhism and its traditions, the people and culture of India, and about myself. Well, whoever gave the warning to be careful what you wish for…they sure knew what they were talking about.
So far I have discovered that the Buddhism I have come to know and appreciate is merely a westernized ideal of the actual tradition (at least that of the Theravada sect, anyway). I’ve also come to realize that I take so much for granted back home—not just hot water, coffee, clean spaces, or technology. I mean having the right, as a woman, to walk around town by myself when I want to without having tons of friendly guides following me trying to have a conversation; having the ability to tell some guy off when he pushes me out of line at the post office because he has a penis; or just being able to wear capris and shorts when it’s extraordinarily hot and muggy outside. It would also be nice to not have to fear for my life each time I’m in the street, because there is no sort of traffic control or order here.
Despite being overwhelmed, at least initially, by all these things, I have not given in to that part of myself that wants to fall over with anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. Quite the contrary—I’ve actually learned to handle it quite well. First and foremost, I have an opportunity that quite a few are lucky enough to experience. It might not be a basket of roses all of the time, but there are definitely positive aspects. I have a good support system, people I can actually acknowledge as real friends; my professors and faculty members are grand and never let us wander astray; and I’ve actually discovered a few of the answers I originally set out to find. I’m ashamed to say that it took leaving the entire continent of North America to realize it, but the thing that I cherish most in this world is my family. I needed to leave the world that I knew in order to fully appreciate it and everything that lies within it: my family and friends, my school, the seasons, air conditioning, coffee—basic things that I know I take for granted. But it’s okay now that I’ve realized this—I have acknowledged and accepted this little skeleton of mine. There are surely many more to realizations to come.