May 22, 2016 § 1 Comment
I first got acquainted with this word while learning meditation last May. It was a poignant time of the year, when all the unfortunate events had seemingly become more acceptable than, unfortunate.
How did that happen?
Anicca in Buddism translate to impermanence. A notion that all things exist without exception, is transient and in a constant state of flux. Life is like water, fluid to change and follows the flow of the tide.
During my trip to Burma last week, I chanced upon Anicca while reading up about an old temple in Old Bagan. Amongst the 2200 pagodas and temples scattered all over the flat plains, there weren’t one that did not signify the importance of impermanence. The beauty of sunsets and sunrise was encapsulated by the majestic horizon along with layers of orange hues, tints of red and shades of yellow. The glowing circular star gently falls and rises upon these plains while transforming colours of the trees and comings of mammals. A bird could fly to seek shelter before it gets any darker; a rooster might crow to its heart’s desire at the break of dawn; families walking down the dusty roads chewing on betel nut leaves. An event cannot happen without the other to make a lovely picture of this heritage site.
It is hard to imagine that this beautiful quiet village was once a cosmopolitan centre for religious and circular studies. We were told to keep our activities to the minimum at 10pm and behave ourselves around the city. A much unlikely behaviour for hostellers traveling from bigger towns like Bangkok or Phnom Penh, where clubs or pubs don’t shut till wee hours in the morning and alcohol is cheaper than sparkling water. Nevertheless, we found ourselves back in our rooms early in the evening, all ready to tuck into bed for the 5am wake up call to catch the sunrise.
As I faced my chest towards the sun in tadasana, my heart is lightened with the bright sunlight; as I inhale the fresh dense air and reach down towards my feet for the first sun salutation for the day, I feel grounded as the exhale travels into the roots of my body. How can one not find solace or peace in the quiet moment with the rising sun?
The night before my arrival to Bagan, I took an 10 hours overnight bus from Yangon’s hectic Aung Mangalar bus station. JJ express bus ride was amazingly comfortable and affordable. I arrived at Ostello Bello Bagan in the wee hours, but was treated with a warm welcome. There were showers and beds on the rooftop for early guests and a huge locker room to keep our belongings safely. Bike rental shops are just across the street and restaurants are in abundance. I took the chance to explore new and old Bagan with the e-bike. It was no more than 4000kyat (which is USD 3.50) for the entire day.
A fellow German hosteller said “one can never be done with Bagan”. She is right. There were just too many temples and pagodas to explore. Though the view from the top is almost similar, every building tells a different story. The style varies as empires or monarchy changes. Yet they preserve a certain ornate charm which symbolises the holiness of Theravada Buddhism. Golden status, red paintings on stone walls, large chambers and so on. We climbed to the roof top through hidden staircases, and waited for the sun to set.
Suppose yourself gazing on a gorgeous sunset. The whole western heavens are glowing with roseate hues; but you are aware that within half an hour all these glorious tints will have faded away into a dull ashen gray. You see them even now melting away before your eyes, although your eyes cannot place before you the conclusion which your reason draws. And what conclusion is that? That conclusion is that you never, even for the shortest time that can be named or conceived, see any abiding color, any color which truly is. Within the millionth part of a second the whole glory of the painted heavens has undergone an incalculable series of mutations. One shade is supplanted by another with a rapidity which sets all measurements at defiance, but because the process is one to which no measurements apply,… reason refuses to lay an arrestment on any period of the passing scene, or to declare that it is, because in the very act of being it is not; it has given place to something else. It is a series of fleeting colors, no one of which is, because each of them continually vanishes in another.
— Ferrier’s Lectures and Remains Vol. I, p. 119, quoted in Sarva-dorsana-Sangraha, London, p. 15
Marie, a 22-year-old French girl, spoke of her work experience at a sports news channel. “I love my job, but the people were fake, and the reports were all fake”, spoken in her thick French accent. Her English wasn’t very good and she admitted it with a hysterical laugh. We had no other language in common but carried the same spirit of a seeker. After Bagan, she planned to ride a horse through Russia and move to Argentina for a new chapter of her life.
Back in Yangon, I met a Burmese journalist who recently just quit his job at a news agent as well. He spoke deeply about his experience and the country. “No discipline, bad spirit”, he pointed with his index finger while squinting his eyes. The Burmese are very peaceful people but they can be very lazy. Spending most of their time, drinking, chewing betel nut or sleeping. Sometimes praying. “Pray for change, pray for freedom but no discipline”.
“Education”. The level of education has increased significantly but not enough to catch up with the rest of the ASEAN countries. He continue to compare the schooling systems between Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and China; how the next generation are much more driven than the average Burmese.
It’s a scared nation. Although they have given the freedom to speak up and practise their human rights, they are afraid to take adequate steps for a better tomorrow. How can one blame them after being colonised and ruled under such strict laws for decades? At it’s best, Burma is still a teenager with an old soul.
Aung San Suu Kyi has given “strength and unity”, but the rest is still up to the people.
In the city, street side bookshops are set up along the alleys. Perhaps to attract foreigners or to encourage locals to read more. Unfortunately, not everyone is literate. It isn’t rare to find a scene of an old gentleman filing official letters for people around government buildings.
I took the night bus back to the city and arrived at Aung Magalar bus station at 5am. I have no clue how I navigated myself through the messy streets and trusted nothing but an internal compass that lead straight to a bus company office. As I wait for my cab driver to arrive, the sun begins to rise. This time, my surroundings were so different. It was frantic, smelly, dense and delivered a sense of fear. But beyond that, I felt calm. Somehow backpacking or traveling alone has brought a tranquil courage. All the unbeaten paths I took through my life, whether it was driving across the States with a broken soft top or choosing to drop school for a chance to love, were done with no regrets. If I had to do it all over again, I would.
Whilst doing so, I found people who empathise with this journey more than others. Those who does are far and few, and shall only share the love to them.