I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t my dream to travel the world. Unlike my childhood dreams of living in a tree house or making all of my own clothes, this is a dream that I have made a reality. Of course, the more of the world I see, the more of the world I want to see.
We just got back from a week-long trip to Japan. Having been raised in a country the size of the US it is hard to fathom that in the same time it takes to fly from Chicago to New York City, once can fly from Seoul to Tokyo.
It was a fantastic trip, full of adventure and learning. Whether it be the confusion of attempting to purchase a round-trip ticket on the airport railway (wait, I need a base fare ticket AND a reserved seat ticket?) or the game of charades required to order food without any animal products, I am constantly reminded of why I love to travel: stepping outside of my comfort zone is an exercise in humility, patience, compassion, and empathy. Also, it can be hilarious.
Much like asana, travel requires constant readjustment, both of the physical body and the mental perspective. It also requires lots of deep breaths. It can be confusing and sometimes infuriating to navigate through a city and culture that is not familiar. Breathing deeply, proceeding mindfully, and allowing things to unfold rather than forcing things to happen – these are all great practices for yoga, for travel, and for life.
And now, some highlights:
In Kyoto we visited Sanjusangen-do, a temple containing 1, 001 statues of Kannon, the Goddess of Compassion. (There are no photos allowed inside. ) There are also 28 guardian statues, and on Avalokitesvara (Kannon in male form) was inscribed this mantra: Om Vajra-Dharma Hrih. It is the heart mantra which is said to be one of the most important taught to sentient beings, and recited in all worlds. The compassion of Kannon/Avalokitesvara is all-seeing and all-embracing, aided as they are by their 1,000 arms.
This is a photo of the largest bronze Buddha in the world, which resides in the largest wooden building in the world, in the Great Buddha Hall of the Todai-ji Temple complex. Words cannot describe it, and the picture does not do it justice.
And here is Tokyo. Tokyo is mind-boggling enormous. It is the world’s largest metropolitan area with an estimated 35 million people. Yes, you read that right. 35 million people. Seoul’s metropolitan area population is 25 million, so only 10 million fewer people than Tokyo. One of the things that is most striking about Tokyo, especially given its huge population, is that it is incredibly clean and orderly. There was very little litter on the streets and none of the mayhem of other large cities, such as Bombay, that I’ve visited. I think there is something to be said about how the way a people care for their environment directly reflects how they value their citizens, and vice versa.
The thing that was perhaps most fascinating to me about Japan, and this is true of Korea as well, is that is remains deeply rooted and firmly grounded in the past while marching ahead into the future. If there is a great deal of inner turmoil about this, it was not obvious to me as an outsider.
It was a fantastic trip. And next week, we’re off to Hong Kong! I’ll be attending the Asia Yoga Conference and am taking a few classes with Sri Dharma Mittra.
Stay tuned ….