The Religion of Noise

In my late teens, having become interested in Zen Buddhism, I was drawn to the image of stony-faced monks sitting in purposeful silence on cushions in temple halls; of Chinese hermits with wispy beards, recluses in hermitages in the quiet of limestone mountains. Later, I imagined Tibetan monks in their tiny retreat huts, isolated for years away from the noise of society; or ascetic sadhus in the stillness of Himalayan caves.

When I finally traveled to Asia – first stop Bangkok – I encountered traffic that half drowned even my thoughts. When I stayed for a few months in South Korea, I climbed Gumo-san (if it sounds grand it is not – there is a hiking trail to its modest summit), and befriended a man who said he had come to escape the city and the stresses of family life – all the while we climbed he had a blaring pocket radio strapped to his belt. During a year spent teaching English in a suburb of Beijing, days were punctuated by blistering firecrackers or loud sidewalk publicity stunts. Here in India honking horns blend into a single almost unbroken ring, and at night my sleep is interrupted by quarrelsome dogs barking at each other, or neighbouring families who decide to play music all night.

It would seem that the Asia that once preached the wisdom of silence now practices the religion of noise…

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