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"Panoramic view of Budapest 2014" by Katonams - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Panoramic_view_of_Budapest_2014.jpg#/media/File:Panoramic_view_of_Budapest_2014.jpg

BudaPest, Hungary

Budapest is one of my new favorite cities! It’s rare to see a historic city with lots of modern touches and a culture that is very friendly and accommodating to match. Hungary has seen a lot of tragedy and the memorials there were fantastic; there is an obvious Jewish heritage and luckily I was able to stay in Mavericks Hostel which is in the Jewish quarter. I will admit that I saw more traditional Hasidic Jews in Boston, but I definitely saw the tall point black hats and sideburn curls on several occasions.

Budapest is the largest city in Hungary and its capital, one of the largest in the EU. The metropolitan area houses 3.3 million people while the city proper has a population near 1.74 million and covers 525 square kilometers, though the older and most beautiful part of the city could be covered by bikes in a day (which we did!). In 1873 Budapest became a single city when Pest and Buda joined from opposite sides of the Danube river.

It was originally a Celtic settlement that became Roman, then Hungarians arrived in the 9th century and it was pillaged by the damn Mongols in 1241 (those jerks really kicked ass). It was re-established in the Renaissance (15th century) and was heavily affected by both WWI and WWII, because of its importance to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which fell after WWI. After WWII, the country struggled with communism until the fall of Soviet Russia in 1989. To put it simply, the city has a ton of history.

It is also home to the largest thermal underground cave system in the world, the second largest synagogue in the world, both of which I was able to visit and can say that they were both incredible experiences.

I also spent a couple of nights out which were just as fun as touring during the day. I met people from all over, including an Australian guy who had traveled through all of South America in the same way that I traveled through Southeast Asia; it was a blast to share the experiences because both were rough and extremely rewarding!

The architecture of the city is breathtaking; spires line the skies and buildings hundreds and hundreds of years old are completely commonplace. Statues line the streets and sit atop rooftops, though the river is definitely the central point of the city. All of the bridges were destroyed by Germany during WWII, so none of them are nearly as old as the Charles Bridge, which I mentioned in my article about Prague.

The weather was spectacular, but very cold during certain parts of the night so I could have used a warm jacket. During the last day we visited one of the 80 thermal springs in the city that was in a cathedral-like building, and enjoyed 100 degree+ water. One of the nights where we ate at a nice restaurant across from the Opera, we were able to catch a classical band performing. It was an amazing city full of experiences I will remember for a long time; I would love to visit Budapest again.

Today I am in the city of Zadar and have a lot to talk about from Croatia, next stop is tomorrow in Split. Yesterday we spent the day in SplitVice, in possible the most beautiful national park I have ever seen. Feeling so grateful and lucky to be where I am, above all with my family to share it all together.

Check back soon for more updates on the trip

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Prague, Charles Bridge

Paradoxical Prague

Prague is definitely one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. By all standards, it has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the architecture is incredible, the streets are cobbled and it’s just like you are stepping into a fairy tale when you arrive.

Except for one thing; the amount of tourists that are constantly flowing through the city.

I am no stranger to crowds; god knows India, Bangladesh, China, Thailand, and Vietnam have plenty of them; I lived in Boston for a couple of years which is pretty crowded as well. But there is something about the pure tourist that just drives me kind of insane. Maybe it was the average age of the people in the city, or the way that they crowded together, but it is absolutely something I could do without seeing again.

With that said, the architecture in Prague was absolutely fantastic. It’s like being in Disney world with all of the castles and churches and especially the tourists. The city is the capital of the Czech Republic and the largest city in Czech. The image above is an image of the Charles Bridge which was completed over 600 years ago. Let’s just say the city is fairly historically significant.

There’s about 2 million people in the suburban area of Prague and 1.2 million in the city, though you might not even notice it if you wake up early in the morning. It receives double its population in tourists each year, which will only be increasing each year. It is the 15th largest city in the European Union and the weather is great; just warm enough to wear a light jacket and jeans and not get cold, though at night it’s advisable to wear something a bit heavier.

Historically, Prague or Praha was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire making it a major player the protestant reformation. It’s gothic architecture is epic in proportion and Prague has some of the most beautiful churches, statues, and religious architecture that I have ever seen. It’s amazing how gigantic churches can be and after reading the history of Prague, it’s easy to understand the massive power of the church at the times where the city flourished.

Incredibly, it seems that most of the architecture in the city was preserved during the first two world wars, probably due to its location outside of Germany. There are still over 500 spires in the city and many more beautiful buildings. Definitely worth a few days visiting, though I don’t think I could have stayed for more than a week.

The night life was decent, I was able to partake in a pub crawl that was extremely busy, a few hundred people and ended at a 5 story club featuring 90s hip-hop. It was pretty lame, even though I do like 90s hip-hop, there is far better music for the dance floor and the DJ was pretty much just using his iPod and letting it play.

So if you get a chance, give Prague a visit, just keep in mind the large number of tourists that you will find in every nook and cranny of the city; even in the off-season they far outnumbered the locals, so expect the locals to be a bit less friendly than usual as well.

 

 

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Buddha_mountain

The Buddha

buddha_w_tree

 Siddhartha Gautama

Siddhartha Gautama, or the buddha, is the sage whose teachings were interpreted to form Buddhism. ‘Buddha’ means awakened one, or enlightened one and is titular for the first awakened being of an age. Siddhartha is the supreme buddha (Sanskrit सिद्धार्थ गौतम  |  samyaksaṃbuddha) and taught a middle way between the opposing philosophies of indulgence and asceticism in the eastern regions of India in about BCE. Most of the traditions of Buddhism were passed down by oral tradition through monasteries and about 400 years later were committed to writing.  The majority of scholars today believe that he did indeed live during the Mahajanapada|महाजनपद era in India thus making him a younger contemporary of Mahavira, the Jain teacher.

The Buddha had teachers, many that are very notable: Alara Kalama, Udaka Ramaputta who appear to have taught him meditative techniques. He was also influenced by many contemporary thinkers like Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala, Ajita Kesakambali, Pakudha Kaccayana, Sanjaya Belatthaputta, and the Vedic Brahmins. There are many traditional biographies that historians disagree with, but that are very interesting for understanding the religion as a whole.

The Buddhacarita is an epic Sanskrit poem by Asvaghosa, who wrote in classical Sanskrit. The Lalitavistara Sutra, Mahavastu, and the Nidanakatha are other accounts of the Buddha’s life, leading to different traditions and accounts.

He was born a Sakya, either in Uttar Pradesh India, Nepal, or Piprahwa, but tradition states him as being born in Lumbini, Nepal. The Buddha denied being man or god, but the stories of the scholars bring light to the man after whom the religion is based.

His story was elaborated upon time and again in tradition after tradition, but the ending is always the same: Siddhartha sits under the Bodhi tree for 49 days and becomes enlightened. The buddha awakes. He realized the cause of suffering and how to eradicate it with use of the four noble truths striving to attain Nirvana|निर्वाण or the ultimate stillness. Hindus refer to this as an extreme egolessness, or quietness of the mind and unison with Brahman. The buddha described it as perfect peace.

The buddha lived and taught for a long time, and his death seemed to be somewhat voluntary, though his last meal might have been pork. Tradition even dictates that he may have been somewhat sexist, refusing women into his following at first. At first, the buddha didn’t even want to teach! He doubted that human could grasp the subtlety of his message, or the intricate complexity of its meanings.

The authenticity of much of the buddhist religion’s traditions are in question, but they seem to be at least based on the original Gautama. The core principle of buddhism, dhyana, or object-based meditation is maintain across all traditions, as is the concept of liberating insight. However, scholars believe that the buddha’s teachings were likely personal and that the eightfold path and four truths may have been expounded upon after the buddha’s passing. Many find evidence only for a middle path or middle way. Some Hindus regard the buddha as the ninth incarnation of Vishnu.

The stories you have heard and likely largely exaggerations of the buddha’s birth and upbringing. There really was a buddha, very long ago, though his teaching was likely very different from its depiction today and was likely very personalized to each individual, though he never claimed to be a god. This remains one of the core tenets of Buddhism, that there is no god and that the universe is somewhat tailored to each of us individually, though we are part of a larger whole. Humans are subject to the wild laws of karma and continue in samsara until we achieve moksha, or liberation. For more on the religion, please see my article on buddhism.

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The Origin of Yoga

DALL·E 2023-12-17 08.47.39 - Create an image of an old man with a long white beard, wearing a loincloth, performing a handstand in a dark cave. The man should appear as a wise sag

Yoga is old. Really old. The word itself is a marvel to etymology, because of its origins in Vedic Sanskrit, the mother language of Sanskrit. In this context, yoga means union, joining, or adding, more particularly in the use yoking oxen and horses. In epic Sanskrit, the word evolves into a combination, connection, application, or conjunction. Both yujir yoga (to yoke) and yuj samādhau (to concentrate) are the sources for the word yoga according to Pāṇini, a 6th-century BCE Sanskrit grammarian. In the modern world, most would agree that yoga is the attempt to realize and unite with the divine and communion with all living beings. Yoga could be anywhere from 2500 years old to 3500 years old, but the real answer is that we don’t quite know.

So how and where did it start? Many scholars/historians agree that it started in Western India with speculation that the Indus Valley Civilization was the origin, which lies in India, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan.Of the three early civilizations of the ancient world (ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt being the other two), the Harrappans or believed inhabitants of the Indus Valley were the most widespread believed to have nearly 5 million inhabitants. So the question we should ask is, “did the Harrappans practice yoga?”. The possible answer of yes comes from this seal, found in an excavation site:

Seal of Pashupati (possibly Shiva)
Seal of Pashupati

The analysts are unable to make a conclusion because of the lack of knowledge surrounding the Indus Valley language. But, it is possibly that this is an early version of Shiva. The relationship of the figure to the animals is unknown, but widely speculated upon. One thing we can definitely agree on is the seated position of the figure, so some type of postural study, possibly religious, was occurring at the time.

Whether the Indus Valley civilization practiced yoga, we start to see the Vedas spread between 1500BC and 500BC, which is where yoga and mantras start to become popular. The Rigveda is considered by many to be the oldest, but was surely a huge step for the spread of yoga. So it is at least 2500 years old, surely older, but no one really knows how much older, or how widespread it was.

The beauty of yoga’s history is its connection to other religious traditions and human history. Between 200 BCE–500 CE philosophical schools of HinduismBuddhism and Jainism were taking form and a coherent philosophical system of yoga began to emerge. Even before that yoga was practiced and appreciation, if not worship, of animals in connection to the spiritual has been the foundational findings of anthropology and study of the ancient world. Sanskrit words for poses were created later, but poses were given names of animals far before Darwin and modern science arrived leading to the possibility that ancient yogis, or Rishis (truth speakers) knew about concepts of evolution.

Because yoga is ancient, its origin is often obscured, but we are sure that civilization gave birth to the practices and beliefs. What has evolved into asana, relaxation, breathing exercises, and detached meditation we know as yoga started with the most ancient of philosophies and religious practices thousands of years ago.

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