Perhaps I came to India in search of spirituality, but really it has been more of a distraction. The traffic, the touts, the shit-stained rail stations. All to take my mind away from what I find most perplexing.
Varanasi is supposed to be this holy city, where thousands of individuals pilgrimage to bath in the waters of the Ganges River. At sunset, they burn the dead on the banks of this waterway, while the bodies of the innocent (children and holy men) are disposed of directly into the river without any cremation.
I was approached by an old man in a long yellow robe. He offered to explain what was happening, and was quick to declare that he wanted no money. Perhaps this was to set him apart from the touts, who roamed the ghats like a plague of desperate opportunists. We sat beneath a golden temple, as the monkeys swung from the lines above us, watching the funeral pyre as the bodies of the once living, breathing human beings, now went up in giant balls of flames.
"You are good," he said, "I can see it in your face. You are an honest soul and want to do good for the world. The problem is that you forget that everyone is not like you. Not everyone is good. Some people are bad, but it's alright because God sees it all."
I`m not a religious person. I lean more towards the evidence provided by science and evolution. But does that mean there's no place in my life for spirituality? For the longest time, I have wanted to believe in karma. It was enough to address the balance between good and evil that must exist in some capacity. Now, I'm not even sure if I believe in karma anymore. It's like a girl I met in Indonesia once said,
"How can there be karma in a world where genocide exists?" It's a real observation. Bad things happen to good people, and bad people walk away with the spoils of their plunder.
"It doesn't make a difference," the man in the yellow robe went on, "Because we all end up the same. Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, we are all judged by the same God. Whether we live our lives for good or for evil, we will all end up as piles of dust." He said this while motioning to the bodies before us, empty vessels evaporating to clouds of smoke. What each of these individuals did for themselves doesn't matter any longer. The impact they made on the world will live on, while all self-gratification will simply go up in flames.
When it comes to the concept of good versus evil, all I can relate to is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even when I'm surrounded by temples and mantras, monks and meditiation, my mind is on Whedon. Is it any wonder why I can't find enlightenment?
What happened in the first half of this trip was a lot like season seven of BtVS. I felt I was facing Caleb, a force so heavy and misogynistic that even my strong will faultered beneath his power. He blinded my friends, instilling doubt, relying heavily upon the first's ability to morph identities with the object of manipulation. As a result, my team turned their backs on me, even though I've fought for good since episode one.
It's easy to side with evil - it's seductive and alluring. It is easier to buy temptation, accepting the lies that reside on the surface, than to have to dig deeper in search of the truth. It is easier to give into manipulation, allowing others to determine your thoughts and perspective, than it is to seek wisdom and to think for yourself.
Now I find myself in search of the magical sythe that will not only reinstate my power, but help me share strength and reason for good. Is it in India, Pakistan, or is it in Turkey? Perhaps my sythe is back home in Chicago? Will it appear in the form of the American justice system, that which must fight for what is just and true?
I may not believe in karma anymore, but I still believe in truth, beauty, freedom, and love. These are my convictions and I vow to stand by them. I will continue to live for the good, not because it benefits me, but because it is right. Because sythe does matter.
For some of us who value the truth and goodness, our biggest downfall is the desire to believe that everyone we encounter lives for the good. We must remember that we do not all share the same perspectives. We must never forget that evil exists. It is essential that we constantly be on the lookout for destruction. Bad people target those who are good, because we're eager to trust and we want to believe. Those who are good must resist susceptibility, lest we turn into demon magnet Xanders.
Some people in our world have no sense of remorse, and this is the surest allusion to evil. From high power CEOs who pollute for profit to low profile scammers who corrupt our identities, they take and they take and then they take some more. They are unable to consider the consequence of their actions. They witness the vulnerable, and feel the urge to exploit. They cannot see the world outside their own spheres.
I am lucky to have been blessed with empathy for others, and the ability to feel pleasure or pain as a result of my actions. My ability to sympathize, feel, and even cry are simply the symptoms of my own humanity. I'll be damned if I trade my mortal qualities for the gratification of soul-less immortality.
Truth is the path to freedom, and nothing worth doing will ever be easy. It doesn't matter how bad it feels in the process, so long as I stand behind my conviction to good. Suffering is just because I, too, will be dust in the end. I would rather die knowing I lived a life that was true, than die leaving behind riches that were acquired dishonestly.
So long as I commit to standing up for my beliefs, I will be attacked, and I will be injured. I'd rather choose a life that is difficult and real, than live in a fog of ignorant bliss. Yet, I need to remind myself that this choice isn't for everyone. At times I may find myself standing alone.
In Varanasi, considered by many to be the mouth of heaven and/or reincarnation, the man in the yellow robe continued to teach me about the tradition unfolding before us. He explained that centuries ago, wives of the dead were expected to throw themselves into the flames in a motion of self sacrifice. If they did not go willingly, their families would force them because death was their gift. We must walk through the fire when there's nowhere to turn.
Today, the sacrifice of women on funeral pyres is no longer practiced. Instead, female family members are banned from attending the cremations, because it is believed that women tend to get too emotional. My, how we're evolving. Perhaps one day, women will be respected for their strengths, and not be put down for displays of humanity. Until that day, we must fight for what's true.
I know my strengths, and they're in my convictions. I will stay strong in the battle of good versus evil, and silence the hellmouth, at least for a little while. Afterall good, like evil, is in the eye of the beholder. In a world of good, there is good versus evil. In a world of evil, there is no good.
Finally, someone brought Whedonism to motherland India! I look forward to the Buffy shrine which will be erected on the Ganges alongside all the world's most sacred temples. In the meantime, the man in the yellow robe was eager to bring me to his friend's silk and sari shop, where he hoped I would unload some of this money that seems to be such a burden. *Sigh*
I hope I die penniless and full of love, because suffering is our gift, it's what makes us strong. There's no need to fear death when you live for the good.
-Kat Vallera, NomadiKat Travel Media
Author of Around the World in 80 J's, now on Amazon. Also, obsessed with Buffy.
Whedon, Joss. "Chosen." Buffy the Vampire Slayer. UPN. California, 20 May 2003. Television.
BTVS photo credit Mutant Enemy Productions
Note: All photographs from India were taken with permission from the subjects, except the funeral pyre (2nd to last). I took this on accident, not knowing what it was. I meant no disrespect to the families in taking this photograph, and thank you to the man in yellow for explaining this tradition. I chose to use the photograph for educational purposes, so that others can learn about Indian funerary traditions. If anyone is offended by this photograph, I would be more than happy to remove it. I wasn't sure if education outweighs offense in this case, so I figured I'd post it and feel out the response.
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