My trip to India brought a few surprises. It’s been some twenty years since I was last there, and things are changing fast. The cities are still the same bustling mess of teeming madness, much like anywhere else I suppose, but it’s in the outlying rural areas that I was most shocked. In my many visits to India I’ve always headed straight for a small village called Vrindavan, the most sacred place for Hindus, where Krishna appeared some 5,000 years ago.
Last time there, I remember taking pleasant rickshaw rides down a sandy road, being greeted by welcoming cries from friendly locals as they drove their oxcarts or pedaled their pre-war bicycles with their entire families somehow perched aboard. Cows and bulls lay peacefully in the center of the road, and barefoot women strolled by with two or three large pots of milk or yogurt balanced perfectly on their heads. On all sides temple bells rang out along with the prayers and chants of hundreds of holy men.
I had naively imagined that this timeless scene would never change. After all, India has withstood many invasions over the centuries, shrugging them off to maintain a lifestyle unchanged for millennia. But now it seems it faces its greatest challenge. The road I remember is now a wide paved affair, with horn-blaring four-wheelers constantly jostling the rickshaws. Radios blast out rock music, and mobile phone shops and electronic-goods sellers are replacing the tea stands and cloth shops. The holy men have retreated back some distance, and all in all my attempts to soak in the spiritual mood and meditate on Krishna’s ancient activities proved rather tricky.
Some might see it as a good thing that countries like India are coming on-line with the latest scientific advances, but I am not so sure. Going there to get away from all that for a while, I have always been uplifted and inspired by the tranquil atmosphere, the peaceful people, the simple lifestyle, and above all the profound spirituality in evidence everywhere. It doesn’t appear to me that any of this is being at all enhanced by the rapid embrace of technology. No one seems happier, prices have shot skywards, and life has become generally more difficult for all.
We have our own experience, of course. Everything is available to us in abundance, but does it really improve our happiness? John Ruskin said, “Every increased possession loads us with new weariness.” Among the happiest people I saw on my pilgrimage were the simple monks who lived by the Ganges’ banks, possessing nothing but the clothes they wore and a pot for collecting water. Their days are spent in prayer and meditation, seeking union with God by constantly chanting His names.
I don’t think I’m quite ready for that, but I did manage to immerse myself in something like it for a couple of weeks, and it certainly made a pleasant change from the high tech life back home.