Cycling & Mysteries On The Trans Himalaya Cycling Tour
“The Buddha’s teachings are like travel guides that show the way to enlightenment, to ultimate knowledge of the nature of the mind and of the phenomenal world.” – Matthieu Ricard, The Monk and the Philosopher
It was a mere three months ago that I stood under a sacred Bodhi tree in Madagascar of all places, seeking enlightenment at the end of the Magical Madagascar Cycling Tour. Today I am actually standing under another Bodhi tree, this time in Lumbini, Nepal where, according to believers and anthropologists, the spiritual teacher known as Buddha was born.
We have arrived in this place after an arduous but nevertheless enjoyable six week cycling journey and most of us spent the day visiting the complex of temples and monasteries here in Lumbini. Here a pilgrim (or a cyclist) will find monasteries built by various Buddhist Associations from around the world – Sri Lanka, Cambodia, China, Thailand and even France, Germany and Canada.
These monasteries and temples, some of them quite spectacular, are obviously to venerate Buddha. Included in the middle of the park is a beautiful golden statue of a child Buddha which gives visitors a great opportunity to take a ‘selfie’. Watching this made me think of Buddha’s teachings about attachment to the ‘self’ and the need to “unmask the imposture of the self in order to recognize the true nature of things”.
Though I did not take a ‘selfie’, I did ponder what Buddha would say about all of this. One branch of Buddhism, the Zen Japanese, actually says ‘Kill the Buddha’. According to the famous French monk, Mattheiu Ricard, who abandoned a promising career in science to study Buddhism and eventually becoming an ordained monk, Buddha made it clear that “his teaching should be examined and meditated on but never simply accepted as true”.
It is while having all sort of such random thoughts running through my head that I found Richard, one of our riders, at the Chinese monastery. He was on the front steps of the temple watching a caterpillar inching along. He commented that the caterpillar was ‘happy’ and is doing what it is suppose to be doing. Though not a practicing Buddhist, Richard revealed that Buddhism, unlike Judeo-Christianity, always appealed to him ever since he was just 13 years old and received a gift from a girl upon whom he had his first crush. The present, a book, happened to be Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.
We continued our discussion about how it seemed that all human beings had a need to find meaning in their lives as well as in their symbols. I then ran into Yanez, our Assistant Tour Director on the Trans Himalaya Cycling Tour, and we continued exploring this vast complex of temples. One of them was locked and looked through the gate to be a bit ‘Disneyesque’ but it seemed very appealing to Yanez and he suggested that we should break in, just for the fun of it. I explained that at this stage of my ‘enlightened’ life, I no longer possessed the desire to break into locked compounds, which was a bit disappointing to Yanez as he was obviously in need of some mischief.
This 3,300km ride will take cyclists from Kashmir to Kathmandu. Along the way they will pedal over passes as high as 5,000m, spin past remote forts…
Instead, we refocused on the fact that the large complex we were exploring was mostly empty of pilgrims or tourists. A discussion ensued about how this place needed some changes in order to make it more appealing to the masses. Yanez, being a chef, thought that some good street food from each of the Buddhist countries represented here would help. I suggested that a virtual reality centre in which wise old men would dispense wisdom was required.
Just then we ran into three more cyclists from our group – Gonzalo, Ruth and Juan. I was not sure if they were searching for enlightenment of their own but looking at their professional cameras, I am sure that they got much better photos than I did. Of course, all of this is a bit, as my father would say (and forgive me as this is in translation from Yiddish) “neither here nor there”. Therefore I will end with a wonderful quote from a rabbi, a very famous one who had when he was alive and now that he is dead even more so, many followers, Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav – “As the hand held before the eye conceals the greatest mountain, so the little earthly life hides from the glance the enormous lights and mysteries of which the world is full, and who can draw it away from before his eyes, as one draws away a hand, behold the great shining of the inner worlds”.
Tomorrow we begin the climb to Pokhara. From there we can see the great Annapurna mountain massif and I will endeavour to draw away the hand that conceals the great shinning of the inner world.