Friday, November 4, 2011

Mumbai, day 2; Ramesh Balsakar, more Colaba

My friend Joe had told me that his favorite Indian Guru, Ramesh Balsakar, was living in Mumbai and probably didn't have too many years left, so I should try to see him. He gave morning talks in his home so I got up early and made my way to his place.

The night before, the hotel security guard warned us not to use the taxis waiting outside. They'd be likely to drop you off in the slums somewhere (if not worse) and your bag at the nearest pawn shop.

It easy getting to his place, all I had to do was say his name to the driver and we were off. It was a thrill once again to drive through the city. I arrived just in time, and took a seat on the floor with about a dozen others who'd come to listen.

Ramesh was an Advaita Master, which is sort of a Hindu Zen, separate from Buddhism but likely influenced by Mahayana teachings. The core of his teaching that day was that everything is out of our hands. Everything that happens to us, everything we do, is already set out. Everything is a product of our environment our our DNA, both of which we have nothing to do with. Essentially, there is no free-will. Since everything is predetermined, there is no reason to worry, just accept life as it happens.

I asked about my thoughts, the process of making choices, considering possible outcomes and choosing one, and he said that even my thoughts are a product of outside influences and experiences. The reason I had those thoughts is external.

In the end, there wasn't anything I could argue, but a part of me wanted more. It was probably my ego wanting to think it was in charge, but really, I suppose, beyond right understanding, it doesn't matter wether my thoughts and actions are to do with "me" or not, as long as they are skillful.

Shelley and I had agreed to meet at a famous Hindu temple down the street from Ramesh's after the talk. She found the right one, I didn't... After an hour of waiting in the excruciating heat at a temple with the same name just down the block from where Shelley was waiting for me, we both gave up at about the same time, then wondered straight towards each other. Since, as Ramesh put it, there was no "do-er" involved in the mistake I'd made, I hoped she wouldn't be upset with me!

Nearby was the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghaat, an outdoor area where hundreds of workers hand wash clothing are hang in to dry on lines above the ghaats.

It was an interesting sight, but the drive back was even more interesting for me. A few minutes from the ghaats, we stopped for gas on the edge of a slum and I got as close a look as I cared to have. There are agencies that offer tours of the slums but the thought of it just felt strange. I wondered how families could all squeeze into the tiny spaces but it seemed as though they spent most of the time outside. I was amazed how clean everyone was, though, especially their spotless clothing.

Walking through Colaba, back to the hotel, the sidewalks were covered in vendors selling clothed, incense essential oils, carvings, sunglasses, antiques, and all kinds of junk. I remember one of the vendors was an albino and I couldn't help glancing at him every time we passed. With his pure white skin and yellowish hair, he looked very Eurocentric. Mostly we just rushed through the crowd, though, ignoring the calls for us to buy something we didn't want or need.

The afternoon, I really wanted to get a better look at the Victoria Terminus, known known as the
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a UNESCO World heritage Site and also the busiest terminal in Asia. After that, we just wandered around Colaba a bit more before going to find our bus to Goa. One of the more interesting people I met was a traditional herbalist sitting on the street selling medicine. He took a quick look at my itchy feet and gave me a small vial of oil, for about $3 that had my feet in perfect condition after just a couple of days.

Latter we travelled up to the bus station and sat on the side of the road with the rest of the people waiting for for the bus that was about 45 minutes late... Some kids came over begging, but an Indian man sitting beside us said they looked too clean to be street kids, so we shouldn't give them anything. They ended up being good entertainment until the bus finally arrived, and we headed off into the night on our way to Goa.

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