Why I Travel

Tuesday, September, 27, 2005

A person needs at intervals to separate from family and companions and go to new places. One must go without familiars in order to be open to influences, to change.*

As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own.**

Travel is a chance to change my thinking. I am ashamed to say it, but my view of the world is still parochial, even after years of travel and study. For all intents and purposes I live in a bubble called India. For sure I am not un-traveled. I have been to India many times. I have been to Britain, France, Italy and Mexico and I have traveled throughout much of Canada and the United States. I even have a Ph.D. which has allowed me to travel the intellectual highways of the world. Unfortunately, all of my travel and study has been focused on just one interest, religion. Everything about my life has been related to religion, and so I have come to realize that my life is unbalanced. Nowadays, when I study, I learn science, physics and astronomy. My thinking should include more than simply the religious world. I am interested in religion, it is my heart and soul, but now I am broadening my interests, and travel has become my way of correcting the imbalance. I have incredible travel notes of my trips to India. I still love to read my descriptions of the villages, the rail stations, the people, the colors, the sounds and the smells. I travel as a “gentleman observer,” the French idea of the flaneur. I talk to people. I take photos. I make diaries, and I study the history of where I am and what I do. Travel is a great meditation, and most of all, I love to travel alone because in solitude I enter my private world of self-reflection. When I travel I become an observer not only the place where I am, but of myself. Travel is about self realization.

As I write this I am on my way to Europe, only this time I am doing it with a different attitude than I did on my previous trip. One friend, who is a diehard religionist as I was years ago, cannot comprehend why I would want to go to Europe. A trip to India, she could understand, but a trip to Europe is a trip into a barbaric world. I am traveling to the land of the meat eaters! Of course, I could easily travel to India, but I am specifically not going to India. I live in that world. Instead, I have decided to travel to the land of my cultural forefathers, not the carnivores. I travel in search of my foundations.

One thing I have learned while living years ago in India: I am Western to the core. For years I tried to deny my Western roots. I wanted desperately to be Indian and Hindu. I suffered under the misconception that India was spiritual and the West was material, but as I matured and became more conscious of myself and Indian Hindu culture I realized how foolish this idea was. There is nothing inherently spiritual about India and there is nothing inherently materialistic about the West. Both worlds have their spiritual and material sides. But even more importantly, I have learned just how Western I am and I have happily accepted this fact. Spend a few months completely immersed in the culture of India; cut yourself off from the West and you may quickly find yourself screaming out for the sounds and tastes and sights of the the West. India has made me appreciate who I am, a man of the West.

Canada and America are still young countries. What exists there, as primal Western culture, is limited. Toronto, New York, and Washington indeed have inspiring architectural monuments to Western culture, but I crave to see the classical monuments of the West, so here I am on my way to Paris and Rome.

On this trip I hope to gain the tastes, smells, sights and experiences of a world beyond myself. I hope to enrich my writing and speaking. The more traveled, the more expanded my experiences are, the more depth I can add to my writing. I hope to refresh and enthuse myself. This trip is my spiritual quest to touch my foundations and to discover how my bothers on this side of the Atlantic have interpreted their spirituality. I hope that I can learn some things and bring new understandings into my writing and speaking. This is why I travel.

* Katharine Butler Hathaway
** Margaret Mead

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