Tales from Hampi: More than just monks

How a monks attitude taught me more than his words ever could

Firmly nested in the middle of nowhere is the old, abandoned city of Hampi. Prized for its rich history, the area is an absolute deluge of ancient architecture and monumental sculptiture. If you wanted an easy comparison, I'd call it the Vatican city of India: older but equally impressive. The site was captivating but, what enthralled me most about this place wasn't the grandeur of the temples but the humbleness of the monks residing within them.

First of all, I'd like to dispel the image you've manifested in your mind the second you read "monk". Hampi is based in southern India; outside of their calm demeanor, these monks appear as humbly dressed as everyone else around. They have heads full of hair and will treat you to lunch if you don't dissuade them. Despite the pedestrian mien, though, they exude an attitude of compassion and selflessness that is difficult to miss.

What was remarkable about our meeting was the realization I had in retrospect. I can honestly say that, up until this point, I had never met a man who wanted nothing. I had met people wanted for nothing, being in NYC puts you in close proximity to their Burkin bag toting asses all the time, but never someone who didn't want anything. I could feel it on him as he approached me asking whether I wanted a tour of the temple, sense it from him as he offered to explain its history to me, and was awash in it as we had dinner with one another. He was only interesting in enriching my life, never his own.

After explaining to me the engrossing history of the monumental, inexplicable, plinths I so ardently stared at, which took many wonderful hours, he started to describe his own life to me. He was born into a rich, educated family. His siblings included a mechanical engineer in Canada, a flutist in Australia, and a business merchant all over Europe. He spoke to me 6 languages and described his degree in bioengineering. Whom I thought to be "just a monk" turned out to be so much more. Another poignant lesson on not judging others based on their appearance.

I asked him the question I'm sure even you are wondering about; why? He told me that if I didn't understand, he wouldn't be able to explain it to me. Perhaps a part of me does understand the Hinduist practice of disassociation but a larger part is too steeped in the western tradition to ever do anything about it. We parted on good terms, Sandeep and I. He went back to putting all his effort into doing nothing while I continued my endeavor to do everything. I've wondered more than once since then which of us is more likely to be disappointed and which of us is more likely to succeed. I guess we'll both end up in the same place in the end so there isn't much actual difference. Something to think about.


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