Back to WhereThereBeDragons.com
Photo by Catherine Von Holt, Nepal Semester.

Cycles

The first night we arrived in Jomsom, Mustang I was thrown into introspection. When nightfall came and we walked outside, we saw the clearest stars of ours lives. I knew this was my first chance to take a time lapse of the stars and I had to take it. I set up my camera around 11 pointing towards the distant flickers, and the milk tea I had at dinner kept me staring at the stars all night. It is impossible to post a video on the Yak Board, but I want you to imagine the stars moving across the night sky with Mount Nilgiri as the foreground. When anyone sees a star time lapse it is easy assume that the stars are moving, when in actuality it is the Earth’s rotation, the cycle of our planet.

It is easy for one to get stuck in an Earth-centric mindset – that the sun, moon, stars, and the universe revolve around us. Even though we know this is false, without constant evidence being presented to us it is much simpler to think that we are at the center of the universe. I love stargazing because it reminds me of the insignificance of our planet – star time lapses compound this feeling. When I see the clear evidence of the Earth’s daily cycle in a time lapse, I am reminded of all the others. Not only does our little rock spin around once a day, it is also in orbit around the sun which is exponentially blazing faster around the black hole at the center of our galaxy. All in one ineffably ginormous cycle.

Cycles dominate our universe on a physical level, but they also rule us on a metaphysical level. Eastern philosophy states that all sentient beings are stuck in Samsara – the cycle of birth and death. This cycle extends beyond lifetimes and the goal of both Buddhism and Hinduism is the break this cycle of suffering and attain enlightenment. How Samara fits into our everyday lives is it represents our quest for happiness in fleeting experiences. We scroll on our phones, watch tv, play sports, go outside, and make money, but at the end of the day we are never quite satisfied. We set goals for ourselves because we think accomplishing them will make us happy, but if we succeed we are still never content. We are constantly looking outside of ourselves to feel fulfilled, but this gets us more entangled in the cycle of birth and death. The East encourages us to look inward so we can free ourselves from Samsara.

Eastern philosophy states that this cycle continues throughout multiple lifetimes, throughout reincarnations. Actions of our past lifetimes build up karma which affect us in either positive or negative ways. We are born into this world, chase fleeting happiness with passion, attachment and ignorance, build karma, and pass onto our next lifetime repeating the cycle. Without the possibility of enlightenment we would be lost, but this goal is no easy undertaking. For Hinduism and sects of Buddhism it is believed that enlightenment requires lifetimes of positive karmic inheritance to reach Samadhi and Nirvana, respectively.

If one were to consider the journey of each member of Himalaya Group C, we have each been gifted with incredible karmic inheritance. We have the intelligence to be able to recognize our cyclical existence, the resources to be able to be able to come to the birth place of these religions, the chance to learn from yogis and khempos, and the opportunity to visit the same temples and stupas that have brought spiritual seekers liberation for thousands of years. We are incredibly lucky to be that much closer to breaking the cycle.

Alas, we can not break the physical cycles that I prefaced this Yak with, but we are in an incredible position the break those that hold us from a higher state of consciousness. So as I sit under the stars of Nepal with the cycle of all moving imperceptibly before me, I feel like the luckiest man alive in as many ways as stars I can see.