Aid and (Personal) Development
India: the new Spiritual buzz-word. Mention a recent trip there, that your anklet was hand-crafted in Mumbai (then traded for 5 cents and a turnip and shipped to Tree of Life who abused your consumer impulses and sold it at fifty times the original price), you’ve been experimenting with cumin in your cooking, you once dated a guy who was one-twelfth Indian (but don’t worry, he never made me pay for dinner) and in the eyes of hipsters everywhere you’ll be instantly transformed into an ethereal being, vibrating on a heightened level of awareness of self and the world.
India’s growing reputation as a cultural and spiritual treasure trove is largely attributable to the philosophy of Vipassana, realized in a silent meditation retreat in the Indian village of Igatpuri. Getting there requires of the average Westerner thousands of miles of travel, a year’s hard-earned wages, and a vicious loathing of the left side of your brain critical to surviving the mandatory ten days of meditative silence. And before you even ask, no, you cannot achieve the same results with a much more economical trip to your uninhabited living room, how appallingly rational of you.
You might remember Vipassana from such films as Eat, Pray, Love, that distinguished cultural artifact which inspired white women everywhere to give up on their careers and abandon their families to develop their inner selves through the mass consumption of spaghetti. I’m not saying I wasn’t impressed by Julia’s dual possession of breathtakingly large mouth and microscopic waistline, especially given her setting in the carb capitol of the world. But I have a little difficulty esteeming a woman who travels through the desperate streets of India, peers out from her air conditioned bubble at the starving children clambering after her cab, and then goes and spends her days in an isolated room contemplating how to improve her own position in life.
I get that, as an Indian tradition, silent meditation is a means of embracing the wisdom that lies beyond the precariously self-sufficient West. Indeed, our civilization of obsessive-compulsive communicators would no doubt reap more benefits from staring at a blank wall for ten days than following Charlie Sheen’s latest tweets. But taking the prosperity we’ve received simply from geographical fortune at birth and sewing it into our own personal happiness on the home turf of a nation suffering a 40% extreme poverty rate smacks of Western narcissism. If we’re set on the third world as an indispensable factor in the magical equation of spiritual enlightenment, we might just find that we learn more through getting our hands dirty in an Igatpurian village than gazing into the shallow chasm of one’s navel on a removed hilltop. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones whose got an innie, there’s only so much to be found in there.