The Train

The imagined horrors of a two day train ride in India far out-weigh the actual discomfort of the journey. There are endless hours of footage of the desperation, grime, and poverty of the Indian railway sleeping somewhere in news stations the world over. These were the images I couldn’t shake when our tickets had finally been booked, but the reality was not so bad. We booked 3AC, which is the cheapest of the “luxury” travel options, 1AC being the highest. With our booking we were provided bunk beds, a sheet, and a blanket. 3AC is, however, the most crowded of the high-end options, so our journey was fairly noisy. 

The noise bothered me at first, especially the loud belching of the woman below me, whose burps I can only describe as “chewy.” 

How could I stay angry, though, when at lunch time she and her family offered us bread, butter, and sweets? 

So, outside of the burps, the journey was smooth. I mostly just read and slept. Had I been in the cars with no beds, however, I’m sure I would be whistling a different tune. There is undoubtedly a group of people who would claim I have no basis upon which to judge the train experience in India because I didn’t go with the roughest sleeping option. I’m not trying to generalize the Indian railway experience here; I’m just relaying what I got out of the endeavor. 

We were supposed to arrive in Varanasi at noon, and I had read online that the train is typically delayed ten minutes at the final terminus, not, as it turned out, two hours.

Billy handled this delay with his usual tact. I, on the other hand, was seething. The anger came from my fear that I was now delayed in letting my loved ones know I was safe. I absolutely hate the idea of them worrying about me, and I felt completely helpless with no way to get in touch with them, surrounded by people who spoke no English who couldn’t communicate the situation to me. That feeling of helplessness quickly transformed into anger. 

This, they say, is one of the benefits of practicing mediation: that in a time like that I would have been able to calm myself and sooth my racing mind. I don’t doubt the truth of that assertion, but I want to preserve all of my emotions, even if they’re occasionally good-for-nothing or damaging. If I’m a poor Christian than I’m an abysmal Buddhist. I want to keep my “monkey mind” that constantly clatters out ideas and reflections. I want to not just feel emotions but to act upon them too. I want to have opinions and principles that I am willing to uphold. I want I want I want. 

But I will be free from suffering if I dedicate my life to surrendering desire. At least that’s the claim, anyway. Nirvana. Total enlightenment. Supreme mental clarity. 

Sounds boring to me. I will endure suffering if it comes at the price of actually living a life, as opposed to withdrawing into some pallid cloister where one may never taste the disposition to love and hate, or indeed acknowledge any of those passions that make us human. 

“I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” says Shelley in his famous “Ode to the West Wind.” Better to have fallen and bled, and to have taken that two-day train ride, than to have sat at home, trying to ignore my human impulses.

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