Friday, December 9, 2011

Then And Now

When I first went to India in the early 70s and saw, as I occasionally did, dead bodies in the street or in rivers, I told myself that Indian culture does not departmentalize the various realities of existence, that it has transcended the dualism of life and death, pure and impure, beauty and ugliness. During my last visit to Varanasi a few years ago I saw a bloated cadaver silently drifting down the river with a few crows picking at it and my reaction was different, far less accepting and ‘philosophical’. It struck me as callous indifference, municipal incompetence and as an appalling public health problem. Have I matured and ‘got real’ or have I lost my spiritual sensitivity? Was I right then or am I right now? All these photos are from the internet and were taken in Varanasi.


brahmavihara said...

Oh we in the west are so hung up about death and in the east it's all so cool, yeah right, I lost my spiritual sensitivity about this place (India) alooooong time ago.
Well no, come to think of it The Visuddhi Magga does go on and on and on about Asubha practices, so much easier when you have a corpse floating past I guess.

Madusanka Thilakarathne said...

Oh ! Actually I didn't know this kind of tradition is prevailing in India. I also feel it more like a health problem

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

Hi Bhante,

As I write this I'm in Dharamshala up in Himachal Pradesh. Last February I did visit Varanasi, which I found rather edifying in many respects.

As you're saying, my concern with all the dead bodies (and feces strewn about) along the river is the public health concerns. People dive right into the water, wash their mouths out and some presumably drink the water, too.

Maybe in years past it wasn't such a big deal when the city had a small population and the river wasn't so crowded, but with overpopulation and crowding along the river, it is a health concern. Even raw sewage is pumped straight into the river.

I think in general the tolerance for filth and lack of hygiene in India is a recent thing. Historically Indians were noted for their cleanliness in ancient times: using disposable cutlery and dishware, bathing after defecating, burying all waste, etc... but something went wrong and now the result is widespread Hep A + B among other diseases which could be prevented, but the public generally doesn't care enough for health measures to work.