Vipassana Journey on the Land of Smiles-4. Chantaburi (PART D)

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Starry Nights

Being able to sit Adhiṭṭhāna one year after the Lumbini experience boosted my confidence to no trivial extent. It was relieving, and reassuring at the same time, to learn that determination can be incubated even in a person as lazy and careless as me. The role of good food, awesome sunsets, inspiring discourses and attentive instructions should all be duly acknowledged. However, the biggest external support would be credited to a new friend: starry nights.

Ardent catcher of sunrises and sunsets as I have been for ages, these ten days in Chantaburi turned me into a serious star gazer as well. I did have fond memories of previous stargazing, in Ladakh and Sajwad of India, Sarangkot of Nepal, and perhaps too many more to be inventoried one by one. But here, at the Vipassana Center, Guruji’s (and hence Buddha’s) teaching have added an extra tender glow to the already beautiful stars that loyally escorted me to the Dhamma hall every day at four thirty a.m. Having in mind the discourse over how unstoppably things change, (for example, kalāpas, or subatomic particles, rise and fall at the speed of 1022 meters per second), it suddenly strike me how anicca is applicable to the starry nights as well.

Starry night in Shanti Stupa, Ladakh Starry night in Shanti Stupa, Ladakh (source: internet)

starry night in Sarangkot, Nepal (source: internet) starry night in Sarangkot, Nepal (source: internet)

The line-up of the stars, whether noticeable or not, differs on each single passing day.

It further occurred to me that the stars you see in the sky are, in fact, perfect reflection of the people in your life. If the identities of those people- family, friends, lovers, acquaintances, strangers- are like the relatively constant sun, the individuals who wear those identities have to be the stars. Whether a particular star twinkles on a certain day, and how marvellously it would spark, is not entirely predictable. Just as you would rarely count individual stars in the sky, so probably you would not bother to check the inventory of the people around you. As life becomes more stressful and your sky increasingly plagued by haze, mist or light pollution, you might not even notice if a star is winking at you.

What is essential, as I was again reminded of Le Petit Prince, might indeed be invisible to the eyes.

That is what makes it all the more shocking, and sometimes heartbreaking, when such a question pops out of the blue: When is the last time that you see someone?

Indeed, it only takes a turn to the opposite direction for you to disappear from each other’s sights. Whatever feelings you have, relieved, grateful, indifferent, reluctant, lost, hollow, nostalgic… you hardly know if this goodbye would be the last one. It is shocking when I went through in my mind the email correspondence with my father during all these years abroad. Deaths of relatives and remote acquaintances filled up the news every once in a while. Most of them I remembered to have met quite frequently throughout my childhood. Visiting them with my paternal grandparents- whom I lived with for the first two decades of my life- or having them come over used to be a routine activity for weekends and holidays. Yet just as childhood gradually faded into a distant memory, so it was already a decade before I last saw the brother-in-law of God Granny, the niece-in-law of God Granny, the youngest brother of my Grandpa, the oldest niece of God Granny…

The longer this list (inevitably) grows, the heavier the weight of Fate is felt. Alas! Haven’t I felted it already when I wrote these lines a few weeks back:

“Sometimes God is busy arranging the circle of life for others and leaves us the way we are. Sometimes he/she comes back to push us onto an accelerated track. We ride it or we fight it. But God only laughs.”

By “heartbreaking”, my mind was fixated on the image of my God Granny sleeping on the bed of the ward. The same God Granny that I was familiar with, except for the blue-and-white striped shirt provided by the hospital, a steady albeit weak breath, and a slightly frowning eyebrow. I hardly cried during the ten days. So was my sorrow remarkably less devastating when thinking of God Granny, sincerely hoping that she would be happy to follow my footprints whenever I embrace the world with the same curiosity, confidence, courage and constancy. But when I remembered this picture as her last scene on my sky when she was alive, I just could not stop these heartbreaking tears. I used all my strength to halt the train of my memory just to enter this picture for one more time. I wished I could touch and ease her frowns. I wished and imagined in the Heaven that she had left for, there would be my Grandpa and others more caring and responsible than I had been. Until I come up to join her and make up for all the things I could have done.

Until the train of memory had to carry on, leaving behind the fact that all these previous stars were no longer in the sky. Whereas the sun rises and sets more or less regularly for as long as life sustains you to see it, no individual star would sparkle for you all the time forever.

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