R. Thanks to my parents we traveled a lot in the mountains and forests, but it was limited to the neighboring “friendly” socialist countries. Getting more independent from our parents and using the cheap socialist train tickets, with my friends I often hopped over toPragueorBerlinfor a weekend to walk, visit museums and exhibitions, eat and drink.
Q. Nowadays you are spending more time in South East Asia. Are you now used to being far away from your home country for longer periods?
R. To be far from home is not new to me as I finished my secondary school education in Moscow. I studied there for three years in the mid 80s. It was a cold and hard life compared toHungary. However I learnt a lot about life and about the different mentalities and why many people presented worried masks instead of happy faces. There was however, one great thing: I could exploit the advantages of one country with many cultures (TheSoviet union); and also buy cheap tickets.
In this way I could get toBaku, Azerbaijan, where I saw a special type of socialist Islam which showed in the quiet and peaceful countenance on the faces of the people, sitting in the tea shops. It is what I mainly think about Islam. Of course it seems a contradiction that within a couple of months began the war for Karabah mountain.
We have to separate politics and religion and we can do this if we find out what the ordinary people are in reality thinking. (Not just what is in the news which is influenced by national and international politics, money, and other powerful interests etc.) FromMoscowI went with my friend to the Baltic countries where I went there at the right time, because after the Chernobyl accident the area was not suitable for visiting.
I experienced the difficulties of one country having many cultures too. It was strange to ask for bread in Russian and find that no-one wanted to understand. However, as soon as they realized I was a foreigner immediately everyone became much friendlier. These tensions are not unknown in fractured Eastern Europe either (where many countries have significant ethnic minorities who have not had equal human rights for decades), because of the decision after the first world war made in Versailles, France. (There are still 4 million Hungarians living in the neighboring countries!)
Q. When were you able to travel freely to Western Europe?
R. At the end of the 80s the wind of political change reachedHungarytoo, so we could apply for the legendary blue passport; which allowed us to look through the wall, the iron curtain. My friend’s father was a truck driver so he would drop out us off inWest Germanywhere we first saw the other realm that had just been a fairy tale for us in the past.
The empty cans on the top of our cupboards had been collected by East Europeans and were a symbol of the unreachable free life. They reminded us that freedom existed and that we had never tasted it. For westerners and for the younger generation these memories are not understood, but for us it was hard reality. It was a fact too that officially we could only take 50$ when we traveled abroad.
Q. Where is the furthest you have traveled?
R. In 1988, the last chance to travel cheaply through Soviet union, I went toJapanwith my mother where I first met the true Asian attitude. I had a kind of vertigo because of the modern and fast life, but the people were really helpful. This has influenced my future desire to travel and find out more aboutAsia. But to tell the truth I couldn’t bring any original ’stones’ home, because everything was artificial inJapan.
Q. When did you first travel in the west as an independent low budget; backpacker?
R. In 1989 one of my friends, who had already been twice by bicycle toGreece, said that was a great country. I said „OK, lets go”, so we went to Balaton Lake to change on the black market some more German marks because the official limit of 50$ is nothing. We hitch hiked aroundGreece, getting on boats to theIslandsand visiting archaeological sites. We had a fantastic time in that wonderful country and it helped my English communication too. After this I realised the importance of the English so I attend a course.
Q. When and where was your first independent Asian travel?
R. I was able to go toChinathanks to the collapse of theSoviet Unionand the strength of Hungarian currency. With the help of one Chechen warrior (and corruption) we got toChinafor 7$, by airplane toLakeBaikalthen three days by Trans-Siberian train. (Some of us without a ticket because it was impossible to get one, and there were only two trains a week between the two countries!)
We have spent one month in China meeting and overcoming the difficulties of communication and the bureaucracy. Even to leave the country was adventurous but finally we got toKazakhstan. We spent a week there because inMoscowthey just started a war against Gorbachev, shooting at buildings from tanks on the streets and all flights were cancelled.
Q. Were all of your visits followed by catastrophe?
R. No, but it was the time of great upheaval, and as with an earthquake the shock waves changed many things. InWestern EuropeI was often faced with the difficulties of the local attitude: if you don’t have money you are nobody. (Yes I am nobody but not because of lack of money but compared with the giant, colorful and perfect nature.) Travelling on a low budget needs enthusiasm and a thirst for culture to get over the initial feeling of unimportance and insecurity. Mainly I hitch hiked inEuropeand I perfected the technique on how to survive on next to nothing; (3-5$/day). Everyone can do it – just the first step is difficult, as it is for a baby. (And you should do it while you are young). InWestern EuropeI never sleep in hotels because I have always a big room in the hotel of a thousand stars or I have friends or nice people around me.
Q. What are your favorite places in Europe?
R. For natural beautyNorwayshould get the first prize with his fjords, mountains, glaciers, cleanliness, eternal peace and quite.
ThePyreneesare similar in climate and with its dignified peaks, and secret places far away from the public. I like theAlpstoo. I know so many places that are memorable. In the South I look for the womb of our civilization, the architecture, the people and traditions. I can fly back for centuries in the little villages – living books of the past, in which I can turn the pages as I go by..
InTransylvaniaI met the poorest but the warmest people in the mountains, so to return there always evokes a deep and eternal memory.StromboliIsland(nearSicily) is a spiritually strong place where a permanently erupting volcano shows us the power of nature.
Here everyone can come to terms with how insignificant they are just as they can on the top of the mountains, in the middle of a desert or in the middle of the ocean in the dark of night imagining they are totally isolated. When we are alone in such places we can begin to understand our true place in nature.
Q. Will you visit another continent?
R. The world too huge the life is too short to discover everything. In MoroccoI have been twice for one month each time, once willing to move to Mauritaniabut in West Saharahad to stop. It was occupied by Moroccoand still concentration camps so they don’t want foreigners as witnesses. And through the desert was zero traffic and on other hand we got info that only twice a week are convoys that cross the border, but the police stop the convoy on the mine fields asking for money to show the way out.
Q. You studied religion and philosophy. What do you think of hitch hiking as a way of travelling?
R. Of course hitchhiking is more than just travelling cheaply from one place to another. According to Buddhist teaching everything depends on others. For example when a monk is begging for the food he will easily understand the connections. If selfishness is around him he will stay hungry. Similarly, the hitchhiker may stay on the road for many hours.
I can determine how the world (the human environment) is around me by immediately testing it in this way. This way of life teaches the monk a lot as well the traveler. We can learn to be humble which helps to put our ego in the right place and understand who we are. (Being rich makes it easy for people to forget what it means to be a human being, what is our role on this planet.)
So, in the same way hitchhiking is a kind of begging where we can feel this dependence, a litmus paper for the society. Another side when we hitch we practically choose the best man from the possible ones who can (and want) to face to new world-possibilities that you bring, and it will influence his life too. For him this is an opportunity to test his real inner reality by providing help or more mystically by doing good and accumulating good karma. But we shouldn’t use religious terminology to justify this – simply to do good for someone is a fantastic feeling. And helping hitchhikers is doubly good because the drivers do not expect any reward, just help and express their inner reality.
On the other hand the driver will not be bored and fall asleep, and if he is lucky he will have an enjoyable discussion and at the end a firm friendship may have been formed. I have many friends aroundEuropewho are more than the usual pub friendships, because these drivers have the kind of human nature which forges a firmer and lasting friendship.
And what’s more, by hitchhiking we can get to places that are known neither in touring guides nor among locals. I rank this kind of knowledge about hitchhiking too and I have really experienced pleasant surprises, situations. I have seen places, been invited to the villages, to join in events just like an acquaintance (as a friend).I learnt cultural anthropology as well and I know the difference between the status of somebody coming from far away and somebody who is invited and accepted. So if I use my freedom, anything can happen. Thousands of unexpected interesting things have happened to me and I can say thank you for that to hitchhiking (and of course to my open nature).
Q. Have you ever had an unpleasant adventure when hitchhiking?
R. Sure I have. I had been in difficult situations but as we are getting older and more experienced we learn to handle and resolve problems that we meet whilst travelling just as we do in another fields of life. However it is getting harder and harder to hitchhike inEurope. People are getting wealthier and when they do they begin to build the walls of anxiety and fear around them. This is evident by the bigger fences and the closed doors with strong security we now see everywhere.
They also extend their egos also to their cars and there is unfortunately often no place for “the others” in their lives. Strangers have no place in their closed world. (there is less new come to their life.) That is why I really respect those people who take the risk and can overcome their fears and let the others – the different – into their life and into their car. I would say „when they opened their doors they, in fact, opened their hearts”. Those who are able to do this can expect many great experiences. This kind of openness is the real life. So is travelling. Many good things can happen to someone who is open and that is because he is willing to let it happen. The one who feels his own road, choice secure, known and planned world, and it will leave only a little room for surprise, recognition, enlightenment and enjoyment.
The teaching of Buddhist emptiness is symbolically about this. When something is empty then anything can get in to it and anything can happen to them. (Of course good and bad too). But this way of looking at things agrees with the teaching of Jesus. The teachings or the real religiousness is not foreign to life. And what’s more we can get to know much more through it. As Jesus said: I come to fulfil the Law. But of course I could write a lot about this as through my traveling I personally experience day by day different forms and levels of religiousness. This is what you cannot gain through books. With the word of Lao Ce: real knowledge is not encyclopedic.
Q. After all this, I think that Buddhism and travelling can be reduced to the same roots. What do you think about the travelling?
R. Being on the road reflects openness. Meeting new places, people and events and then all these things will belong to the past. One learns how to lose properties, places, acquaintances, moments. Everything is impermanent just as the most important Buddhist teaching says. Being on the road is equal to practising and experiencing it. When we don’t feel attached in this way to things and to people then we can be really free. And the traveling teaches us this. Being a backpacker is a kind of recognition about how little we need to live a happy life. Going on a little bit: very little is needed for happy life. This is known by the monk who owns nothing except his present moment.
To begin to travel with a backpack and little money is as much a big step as it is for car driver to pick up the first hitchhiker. To overstep the future uncertainty and fears and getting to the unknown situation is challenging and can leave you open to new experiences.
But that kind of good feeling which follows on this is great and irreplaceable. Just like when the little kid learns how to walk. How foolish it is to stand up on two legs from the stable position and take a step. And how insecure it is to take the first step to experience the unstable state. After the kid has taken the first step he actually oversteps himself and meet a new situation for a new state of his own. Last he learns how to handle and enjoy its advantages. So is travelling and enlightenment. Travelling is being on the road, being in quest (looking for/after something). The meaning of traveling is not to arrive but being on the road. It is not completed life. „Who is after something will find something”. Who knocks on a door will be received. And in the end we all arrive or with the Buddhist terminology we all accomplish, we will understand why we are on this planet and what our duties are here.
But going back to Buddhist practice especially to Zen, great emphasis is put on unexpected situations, conversations (koan) because then we can get in to the special state of consciousness which can move us from our previous models (patterns) and we can reach another experience, level or state. All our foregoing ideologies or conceptions will be taken away in this way, the ground will be cut from under our feet and than the moment comes and we can’t hold to our dogmas anymore. Received answer in the koan in a given situation which we cannot explain with the help of our old interpretation system we can only get understanding (in the moment). In this way we give ourselves, we can relay ourselves, we can „meet” ourselves just like in the sharp situations during travelling.
Travelling with backpack, hitchhiking, offers the same discovering (freedom) because there is not any written program or dogma, only the present moments. Either we live (use)this freedom, this possibility (or not). We can either understand (or not). These are options. But one travelling in this way, so that he can never know where he will spend the following night, doesn’t know if he will ever arrive or get to his destination.
On the other hand travelling offers such life situations and borders where we have to take off these models and masks of ours and we have to show ourselves. This is a very important moment even in everyday life but these types of border crossings are rare. And as we react to a situation like this – which the backpacker or wanderer (vandorboy) – faces many many times: is about us; the way we react to them is about us.
This life is a sort of mirror image or reflection and if we focus on it we can learn a lot about ourselves. So it is a self recognition. I have been on retreat many times during travelling and during meditations where actually „nothing” ever happens to us, we practice the same self recognition situations but – let”s say – on more gentle level. There are strict rules during meditation (and in our life), and how we see or act or how we deal with the life situations, is the same way of recognition offered by travelling.
Similarly to everyday life – at our work place and in our family – we can also experience this but there is less inner silence and it is harder to listen to it. Quoting again my favorite Taoist wise teacher Lao Ce: wise man doesn’t leave his village although he gets to know everything. Everybody chooses his own way but the point is the same, if we do it lets us do it consciously.
My other recognition happened inLaoswhen we stopped in the mountain after 5 hours of zigzagging. At the end of the road, at a spring the wind suddenly began to sweep Gregorian tunes from the mountains towards us. The moment is indescribable, unexpected and powerful; nothing happened but it was a very determining feeling.
Sometimes the moment becomes the sense of the longer journey. As I looked back from the mountains to my extremely long way of that day journey, which was all at once embraced by my glance, my past was lying in front of me at that moment. Space shrank (collapsed) into time and the time widened (expanded) into space. I must have traversed one and half centimeter on the map, but 5 hours in time and all this culminated just in one single moment. Space in time and time in space manifested. A piece of my life remains there and a piece of “there” remains in my life – this is what I can hand over, this is what I can give to you.
Q. Which was your favorite place in the world where you are attaining great recognition?
R. The Buddhist college of course and those conversations with my friends. But more seriouslyIndia(soon Bharat) takes undeniably the first place, where I spent 9 months in 1999. Its judgement is extreme. Banality, but the reality is this: some people immediately return from the airport as they get there and others could stay there forever.
I belong to the last group because this country is really a country where even the soil is imbued with religiousness and love of god. This is what you can feel in every corner of the country. Series of understanding moments follow one another, wherever we go on the street and the wisdom of a thousand years unite in me. They keep their traditions, beliefs, humanity, but it also true that modern life has already stepped in there.
But generally I tend to find my favorite places in totally different cultures. It is exciting to experience that: behind differences there is always some common human value, which ties in branches of experiences as habits, traditions, faith and strengths, the local colours. The favorite place is always the place where you can meet people, where you are welcome, you, and not your valet. And these places are to be found further and further from civilization and in lucky cases – just like inIndia- you can find them everywhere, where this type of attitude is much more spread out. (Where the country is much more imbued with this attitude.).
I know that you organize and do slide shows. Where did the photography come from?
Obviously when things happened to a person they can be formed in pictures, the photography becomes natural. Then concentrate the moments into a moment, which recalls forgotten tiny details later on. Showing slides is a more social form, because of the quality and size it can be shared with more people. And this way also gives common experience, beside aesthetic and cultural joys.
If there is only one picture which adds provisions of the journey someone is kept in ones memory, it is enough for me. Then it was not in vain to get up at dawn and climb up to the mountain peak, feel cold, sweat and get lost in the jungle. Or make the pilgrimage to a holy place, going by boat 3 days or for 24 hours bumping on untravelled roads to be able to meet a tribe. If I successfully to sow the seeds of that kind of tolerance to those who are averse to foreign cultures, I say every moment has been worth it.
I do these journey not only for own my own and inner motivation but also because travelling is a kind of compensation, as not everybody can travel for a long time, not everybody can be a ‘monk’. And there is a need for background such as infrastructures, roads and for everyday working people (on the farms, in the restaurant, on the bus, etc.) for me to be able to do this. But luckily we are not the same and the majority of society doesn’t have the intention for this life quality (because it is a life quality) and they don’t want the difficulties and unpleasantness of this life style. And they don’t need the monks life either.
Well I’m compensating. The monk teaches and I’m trying to satisfy – over the basic needs – people’s cultural needs, when I make the radio program, write and share my experiences through the net, take photos or have slide shows. I do nothing else than offer virtual journey and give people a piece of my experiences. Let him who has ears hear.
Q. Your present trip is leading you to Asia again. Why have you chosen the East again?
R. My current journey is inThailand–Laos–Vietnam-Cambodia–Malaysia–SingaporeandIndonesia. InAsiapeople live with such joy which European people do not really know anymore (we tend to forget). Being among them enjoying their food specialties and kindness is really recharging.
I think there in Asia is the most important cultural birthplace of the world, where we can meet our life roots we shouldn’t forget about that. In spite of the huge deforestation and economic crisis some extraordinary natural sites have been saved there. Another not subordinate viewpoint is thatAsiais still the cheapest corner of the world where you can lead a comfortable life for 5 dollars a day. And I think probably it is better known inAsia, that happiness is not question of money. As I could read in an Ashram inIndia: Who is the poorest? – The one who has the most wishes / desires. I have only one: travelling and travelling. Moreover, I feel I can only get richer through it.
posted by vandorboy 15:25