On the highest spire (?) of Pre Rup – the sun is descending behind the clouds – no one is watching. I am not watching either but watching the no one watching and judging them. I am calculating the percentages and saying that 50% – 75% aren’t watching but I have not counted and I have no way of knowing and am probably incorrect in my grandiose assumptions about what percentage are watching. Nonetheless it seem like a high percentage (that are not watching). Instead they are taking pictures and talking to each other about the day or how hot it is/was or how many people there are on the highest spire of Pre Rup (not) watching the sunset. I imagine many, when not chattering mindlessly, are thinking – it crossed my mind – “How nice this picture will look on facebook! How my friends back home will be so impressed with my trip to Cambodia and the fact that I stood atop the highest spire of Pre Rup (not) watching the sunset over the Cambodian plains!”
It is stunning how much garbage cycles through the brain – the digital shutter’s klik, klik, klik – at this moment of beauty that so many travelled so far to see. Instead of actually watching the sunset, the sunset becomes a moment missed, a moment viewed through the filter of the tiny digital viewfinder when all it takes is to raise one’s head and actually watch. Instead of experiencing and enjoying the ephemeral sunset, the sunset is sacrificed to the future and is quickly relegated to the past. Without ever having seen it, the moment of the sunset becomes only a future moment told to a friend or acquaintance in the interest of making oneself feel different, special, or otherwise privileged: “Oh my God, then we (didn’t) watched the sunset from Pre Rup and it was a marvelous end to an amazing day!” (Subtext: You are a loser cause you haven’t/didn’t do the same.)
And it is no different for me; I who stand in judgment of these clickers and chatters, as I too set myself apart in the moment of sunset, by attempting to rest in mindfulness during the moment only to come now to rehash and rewrite and provide comment. My picture too will wind up on facebook – the story will be retold – I write this now. But the sunset is long over, there have been other sunsets since that I have missed or not cared to watch. Yet I will use this past moment; I will enter it into the calculated glory of my feed to magnify my difference, my otherness: I am an individual who watched the sunset over Pre Rup and I did it better than you.
[There was a moment however, towards the end, in the sunset’s last remaining seconds, that I cannot quite comprehend. I am not sure if it damns or saves the assembled throng (of every cultural background: Japanese, Chinese, French, American). Just as the sun dipped under the horizon, sending off stunning waves of myriad hues of the purple/red variety, a squadron of ducks/geese/herons/ibis(es)/something flew directly across the dipping sun in the V-formation such animals are wont to fly. As the birds approached the crowd hushed and as they passed it cheered. Nature, in its majesty and synchronicity, had enhanced their facebook feeds to an uncommon degree. It was not only “Sunset at Pre Rup” but “Sunset with birds at Pre Rup,” but not for me, who in a need for separation – a magnification of otherness – had put my camera back into my bag. They will forever have proof of the divine visitation, while for me, the birds remain only in a dead memory to be soon forgotten.]
Later I read this in Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:
Do you want to fly halfway around the world so that later you can say you were with the Buddha? Many people want to do just that. They arrive at a place of pilgrimage, unable to be in the here and the now. After a few minutes of seeing the place, they rush to the next place. They take pictures to prove they were there, and they are eager to return home to show their friends. “I was there. I have proof. That is me standing beside the Buddha.” That would be the desire of many of the people who would go there. They are not able to walk with the Buddha. They are not able to be in the here and the now. They only want to say, “I was there, and this is me standing beside the Buddha.” But it is not true. They were not there. And that is not the Buddha. “Being there” is a concept, and the Buddha that you see is a mere appearance. You cannot photograph the real Buddha, even if you have a very expensive camera.
I think he says it nicer.