Take time out to think about life

Nowadays, a tide of 'minimalism' is emerging. People are beginning to disengage themselves from the consumer culture.
Wang Ning

Three pilgrims walk on Mount Nyiser in Shigatse. 

JUST a few days after I came back from Tibet recently, I came across “Paths of the Soul,” a movie about the famous pilgrimage to Mount Kang Rinpoche in Tibet playing in cinemas.

Kang Rinpoche is one of the four holy mountains in the Tibetan Buddhism and is also revered by Hindus and Jains.

The film directed by Zhang Yang tracks a group of 12 Tibetans undertaking the 2,000 kilometer pilgrimage, which takes them first to Lhasa and then on to the mountain, whose name means “precious jewel of snows” in Tibetan.

The cast are just ordinary people, some are herdsmen, from Tibet’s Mangkang county.

Zhang followed them on the gruelling trip and documented what happened on their spiritual and physical journey.

Much more than simply a long walk down National Highway 318, this act of devotion requires pilgrims to prostrate themselves every few yards while trucks and cars zoom past.

With a plank bound to each hand, they clap their hands three times — high, then middle, then low — before they lie on the ground.

The group, young and old, men and women, embarks on this near-impossible journey for very personal reasons.

They include a man and his elderly uncle who wants to fulfill his dream before dying; a youth with a crippled hand; a pregnant woman who wants to bring luck to her unborn baby; a little girl whose family’s truck killed two people; and a butcher who wants to cleanse his sins.

They witness birth and death, love and suffering.

Some details in this docudrama are really touching, reflecting varying attitudes towards life and love.

It reminded me of my trip to Mount Nyiser in Shigatse, Tibet’s second-largest city. As a non-religious person, I have learned some of Buddhist classics.

When I was in Shigatse a few months ago, I had the chance to perform Zhuanshan, or mountain wandering, on Nyiser, where the Tashilhunpo Monastery is located.

Local people, young and old, carrying their handheld prayer wheels and murmuring Buddhist scriptures and mantras, passed me by and went higher.

Some did their pilgrimage the same way as the people in the documentary did — clap hands and prostrate.

The brilliant light from the rising sun painted the mountain gold, a divine color for Tibetans.

It was a magnificent panorama of the flow of pilgrims, sacred temples and golden mountains.

Standing on a rocky platform we found halfway, I bathed in the sunshine and enjoyed the breathtaking view of the whole city.

At that moment, it felt like I was not only one among the pilgrims, but I was at the center of the world, surrounded by Mother Nature and and her beauty.

Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Wen Tingyun described the existence of the world that will not disappear even when our body dies.

“You grind musk into powders but the scent lasts, you break lotus root into pieces but the fiber remains,” he wrote.

Every pilgrimage is a lonely journey, but we are not alone — just like life itself.

We are alone when we come into the world and when we leave the world, but there will be many different people with us on our journey through every period of our life.

Although each pilgrim is separate, they are all linked by love.

Rich in spiritual life

Although some Tibetans may lead a poorer life than city dwellers, they are rich in spirituality, if not in possessions.

The pilgrimage story I like most is “Journey to the West,” one of China’s Four Great Classical Novels and written by Wu Cheng’en during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

It is the story of Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk in the Tang dynasty, who traveled to the “Western Regions” — India and Central Asia — to gather Buddhist texts and returned after many years of trials and hardship.

Xuanzang has three protectors to help him as an atonement for their sins — a monkey, a pig and a river demon — who used to be immortals but were kicked out of heaven for their transgressions.

He also has a dragon prince to act as his steed, a white horse.

Some scholars argue the five main characters are actually one person — Xuanzang himself — and I agree with them. I feel each of them is one aspect of the human — monk shows mercy, monkey shows bravery, pig shows lust, river demon shows steadiness and horse shows willpower.

On the way, the group made concerted efforts to fight against the demons who hindered their quest — which are said to stand for the pilgrim’s desires.

So the journey is actually about a person’s growth — the way he fights against his inner evils and perfects himself by letting go of desire.

In the current world, the rapid developments in the economy, science and technology bring us more opportunities as well as temptations.

Learning to give

We try to catch more things with our hands — wealth, power, sexuality.

But sometimes, knowing how to give up things is more important than knowing how to get things.

In Buddhism, suffering often comes from what we have. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to be simple, though.

Nowadays, a tide of “minimalism” is emerging. People are beginning to disengage themselves from the consumer culture. They are de-cluttering their homes, dumping inessential things and living a healthier, more modest life.

Last year, I came across a book called “Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life.”

It talks about eliminating “stuff” to make room for the most important things in life, both physical and psychological.

Authors and good friends Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus gave up good jobs with high salaries and changed their lives, focusing on what is important.

Now, more and more people prefer living in the countryside and enjoying a simple life, growing vegetables, raising poultry and seeking inner peace. For those who can’t make this change, a brief trip outside the chaos and stress of the cities is another option.

The urban noise will sometimes mess with our mind so we cannot listen to our heart.

What is it we truly what and what is it we don’t need?

Spending time in nature, with its life, beauty, smells, sounds and feels, can help us clear our mind to consider these and other deeper questions.

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