On life, death and impermanence. How travel can teach you to let go and embrace change.
I could understand why Hemingway would have sequestered himself in Havana for a period of time. While Dar is quite different from Havana in a lot of ways, it does share in common, based on my sheltered experience of Cuba, some stunning vistas typified by beautiful coastlines. While the Indian ocean and the Caribbean may be miles apart, they share a sense of the infinite as one stares over the shores towards the seemingly endless expanse of water beyond.
I sat there today watching the Indian ocean lap against the coast. This has been an age long relationship between Water and Earth, the ebb and flow of the waves against the seemingly immutable and unmovable coast. But as I sat watching the water recede from the crevices and cracks of the rock face I immediately realized that this dance between the ocean and earth has left permanent impressions on the latter. In the course of centuries and millennia, eons and epochs, the ocean has left its mark on the shorelines of every continent.
And I continued sitting there and realized, that which we think is permanent, ever lasting, unchanging, stubbornly unflinching like the rock of the coastline, is bound to the rule of decay and atrophy.
When my paternal grandfather (my Dadabapa) passed away I was awaiting my departure for London a month away. I was able to stay behind with my Dad in Toronto after the funeral and I found myself driving back with him to Montreal. While we were driving, this one ginan (Ismaili hymns from the South Asian tradition) played off of one of my dad’s CDs called Mal Khajina. The ginans are written in various Indic languages, mostly in Sindhi and Gujarati, neither of which I speak nor understand (I can recommend Ali Asani’s Ecstasy and Enlightenment or Aziz Esmail’s A Scent of Sandalwood for more info on this tradition). But as with all music or chants or hymns, there is a poetic, melodic quality that draws you in. You may not understand the words to Ave Maria, but you know it’s special upon hearing it. This ginan struck me in a similar fashion. I asked my dad for an explanation of this Ginan and given the circumstances that brought us to Toronto, it was very, very apt. My dad went on to explain it to me while driving down the 401.
The ginan speaks about how all the wealth that we accumulate is never truly ours. When we die, it doesn’t follow us. The palaces that we build will be swallowed up by the jungles with the passing of time. You are sleeping, deluding yourself in the belief that all things are permanent. Wake up! Wake up from your delusion and realize this Truth.
‘Even the trees will swallow up your palaces.’ Picture taken the ruins of Angkor Wat in 2009
This struck a chord with me but it wasn’t until I visited the ruins at Angkor Wat a few years later that I truly understood the implications of this Ginan. I stood there at the ruins observing the roots of trees encircling and engulfing a palace that had been built by the hands of man, an entire complex reclaimed by the jungles. Strikingly, between two winding roots, I saw the face of a smiling Bodhisatva statue stare back at me. The significance of this wasn’t lost on me. The Buddha taught 4 noble truths: 1) There is Suffering (Dukkha), 2) there is an origin to our suffering, 3) there is an end to suffering, and 4) there is a path to ending our suffering. The greatest thing we suffer from is the delusion of believing in our own magnitude and permanence. This, in Sanskrit, is referred to as vipariṇāma-dukkha, the desire to hold on to things that are always changing and saṃkhāra-dukkha, our dissatisfaction with the temporal nature of our existence.
So I sat there, the Indian ocean as backdrop for my introspection, the aquamarine of the ocean meeting the pale blue of the sky, watching the ocean slowly carve at the rock. Nothing is permanent We are nothing but waves, each one of us, colliding with the rock face. Even if we may never seem to alter the world around us, like every wave, we leave an imprint on the shores of life.