My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hold your horses

If any one is still reading this blog which ,I doubt, I have been contemplating what I shall so with it since I am not in Dharamsala at this time. So, through the suggestion of a good friend of mine I will place posts describing some of the characters that I have encountered while I was there. So soon, not sure when, I will dedicate each new post to one person and write about them, and I think that this will hold this blog until I get back to Dharamsala for Tibetan Language study next year. There afterwards this blog will focus on that phase of my life and my process towards the proficiency of the Tibetan language both in it's Classical literary and Lhasa colloquial forms. I hope that folks continue to read this blog if they are still doing so.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The True MCees

I would not have guessed how this puja that I have attended at the Tsechen Tenpai Gatsal Shedup Chokhorling Monastery a.k.a Sakya Centre for the pass eleven days would have culminated the way that it did. To correct myself from my last blog post, the name of the puja is called Dorje Phurpa in Tibetan and Vajrakilaya (see picture) in Sanskrit, both meaning literally something like "Invincible Thunderbolt Dagger". There was not too much that I was able to find regarding Vajrakilaya on the net, but there was a scholar who attended the puja who is currently doing extensive research on it. This man's name is Stephen K. Hayes and he turned out to be a quite interesting guy with some hardcore martial arts experience. From what I have gathering from him, he helped with the security for HHDL when he traveled around the middle United States in the 1990's. He was extremely impressed with HHDL during the time that he had spent around him and it seems like that is how he got involved in this whole business. It also turned out that he has been to Berea when HHDL visited in 1994 and remembers Berea distinctly. He was quite surprised to know that Dagmo Kusho la had also attended Berea College. Stephen is also making a documentary film about the pilgrimage of some monks from Pokhara, Nepal from a monastery called Pematsal (not sure on the correct spelling). These monks received an audience from H.H. Sakya Trizin and participated in the Vajrakilaya puja.

The first day of the puja was the 3rd of September or the 10th day of the 7th month of the Tibetan lunar calendar. It went on until the 13th of September or the 21st day of the 7th month of the Tibetan lunar calendar. The first day it started at 2 o'clock in the morning with H.H. Sakya Trizin and His Eminence Ratna Vajra Rinpoche his eldest sons and future Sakya throne holder and H.E. Gyana Vajra Rinpoche his youngest son. H.H. Sakya Trizin is seated toward the back of the temple on a high throne with a huge shiny statue of Shakyamuni Buddha behind him. On his left seated on a lower throne was H.E. Gyana Vajra Rinpoche and on his right was H.E. Ratna Vajra Rinpoche. This puja is special from this lineage which is said to have been performed unbrokenly for hundreds of years. The Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism unlike the other sects (Geluk, Kagyu, and Nyingma) use a hereditary lineage system passed on from father to eldest son for the head of their sect. The others use a reincarnation lineage system. Thus with that in mind this family trio's blood goes back for hundreds of years.

So in front of them seated perpendicular from the thrones are about 144 monks, who have memorized or are suppose to have memorized the entire ritual. It is truly quite amazing to watch some of them reciting these long texts with out a book in sight. At this particular puja, the monks of the various class levels are tested on their knowledge of the puja. Class VI are tested on the memorization of the entire Vajrakilaya text and class VII are tested as the chant master which is taken in turns and class VIII are tested on ritual music, torma making, and the making of sand mandalas. Some of them did better than others.

It was not my intention to attend the puja regularly, but it drew on me. I actually enjoyed it, while I know that most folks will have been bored out of their minds by the first 30 minutes. Some of the chant masters were very confident and totally rocked out, while others were a bit shy to say the least. Then not only did they memorized the Vajrakilaya text, but they had to do the Mahakala puja, which is the protector deity of the Sakya sect and this puja must be done everyday at all Sakya monasteries. Also all the various hand gestures called mudras in Sanskrit accompanied all this. There was music, big huge bassy horns (Dungchen) that are feet long, a oboe type instrument called the Gyaling that is high pitched and in which the player use circular breathing to sustain playing for long periods of time, short horns, conch shells, tons of drum that are played with a curved stick and is what the chant master leads the chants with. And to my surprise they have very specific drum rhythms for the all the various chants. There were two huge bass drums, and tons of cymbals with specific techniques in how to play them. H.E. Gyana Vajra Rinpoche was the main ritual master or to use the modern term M.C., Master of Ceremonies, leading with his damaru, small hand held double-headed drum. He was the man running the show.

This is such an elaborate puja with subtleties that I am not aware of and don't have the room or time to describe in this post. For me it was such a pleasure to witness it. Every single thing done had a complex meaning behind it. I was continually amazed at the detail that has to be taken and it took 11 days to finish with one hard core schedule. The first day was from 2am to 7am and then from 9am to 12pm. The rest of the days, it started at 6am to 11:45am and then from 1:45pm to 5pm and on special days an extra 2 hours were added on, making it 5pm to 7pm. As for me, I was aching by sitting or more like trying to attempt to sit cross-legged for that long. For the Rinpoches and the monks it was not a problem since they have been doing it since they were very young. After awhile I started to think of the Shakira song, "Hips don't lie", for my hips were not lying, they were in pain along with my thighs, knees, and ankles. Every morning I was woken up by the sound of conch shells blown by monks on the roof of the monastery to announce the start of the puja.

After a while the chants started to stick to me, though I couldn't understand what they were saying and some of the drum rhythms were easy enough for me to catch on to. Even now these chants and rhythms run through my head. Sakya monks are not the ones who chant using the deep overtone throat singing technique that most people associate with Tibetan religious chanting, but with the chanting that they did overtones were produced and are quite prominent. I often found myself listening to the rhythms of the overtones against the fundamental tones; those overtones resonated throughout the temple with a seemingly aerial source of origination.

On a side note, my Tibetan Tutor Pema from McLeod Ganj son lives in the Dekyiling Tibetan Settlement near by, and I ran into him at the monastery and he invited me over to his place for dinner a few nights ago. There at his apartment he had a guest who was in a Chinese prison in Tibet for three years accused of "Hitting a Chinese policeman with an iron bar and orchestrating splittist against the Motherland in Lhasa, Tibet" by the Chinese government. This man is a monk from Ganden Monastery named the Venerable Bagdro. He wrote a book called A Hell on Earth in which he describes in detail some of the torture that he went through and I tell you that it was some pretty gruesome and gory stuff. Anyway, right before our meal, Ven. Bagdro blessed the food with that deep Tibetan overtone chanting. It was so strong that the filling in my tooth and my eyeballs vibrated from its resonance. It is interesting that I met him here in Dehra Dun for I have seen him tons of times cruising the streets of McLeod Ganj.

So back to the puja, another thing that surprised me was that considering that there are three high lamas, and about 144 monks chanting away with the chant master using a microphone, and some 40 odd drums, 40 cymbals, 2 huge horns, 2 huge drums, 4 conch shells and various other instruments and sometimes all playing at the same time. There was never a point that it was too loud. With all the noise that was being produced it was never unbearable. Shoot!! I have been in nightclubs where after a night of "gettin' yo freak on"; one can't hear nothing for days afterwards. I told Stephen that not even the Rolling Stones or Metallica got anything on these monks, chanting sometimes 10 or more hours a day with drums and cymbals!!

H.H. Sakya Trizin was only there for certain days, especially for the first and last day, and sometimes with H.E. Ratna Vajra Rinpoche. The entire puja was led like I said by H.E. Gyana Vajra Rinpoche.

A sand mandala was created before the first day and in it were placed several daggers (Phurba in Tibetan) making it three dimensional. Also ritual sculptures (Torma) made from barley flour (Tsampa) and colored with colored butter was created. At the end, the torma was destroyed and so was the sand mandala and then the phurbas are used to bless people with them.

The folks from the Palace of H.H. Sakya Trizin (Dolma Phodrang or Tara's Palace) and the monks were telling me that thousands of Tibetans come from all over to receive this blessing from the daggers. For as far as I have understood, Vajrakilaya is suppose to destroy ones preconceived notions of reality. What the temple used to do was to have persons get the blessing one by one with the head lama placing the numerous phurbas on the heads of the faithful. But due to the amount of phurbas, which are also many and quite heavy and with one huge mama phurba that is placed in the middle of the mandala, what the Sakya monastery have devised was a tall table in which all the phurbas are placed on top of it and the people can pass underneath it to receive its blessing.

Previous to this, there was the destruction of the torma sculptures on the roof of the monastery and then the destruction of the sand mandala. At this moment when the mandala is being destroyed, the energy level inside the temple and outside became extremely electric. As the phurbas were taken off of the mandala and before they were placed on the tall table the monks who were to place them on the table, first went to all the monks and quickly placed the phurbas on everyone's forehead including mine. It is hard for me to describe this kind of energy; it was a bit on the frantic side for also the music that was playing now at this point was climatic. A finally afterwards, that huge mama phurba had been placed on all our heads and then placed on the table and the people waiting outside were allowed to walk underneath it. What happened next was pretty intense. Below the temple steps they had built a wooden gate to keep crowd control and there was also security personnel stationed there, but with the thousands of people there in front of them and with one way up and one way down, well at least initially, it was difficult from them to have ultimate control. Eventually, the crowds were starting to push and shove at each other. Some of the monks were telling me that in the pass more people used to come. From where I was sitting close to the phurba table with some monks, I could see how all the people squeezed together were all moving in sync and oscillating form one side to the other like a wave. I even heard several screams of pain from being mashed.

Once some people made it up on to the stairs they started hauling children over the side railing of the stairs. Little babies and children were just being picked up and thus bypassing the security guards. I felt sorry for the security guards for all they could do was just watch since they had thousands of peoples in front of them shoving to get in.

At the phurba table, one girl had gotten sick and totally passed out right on the floor. Even a few hours later she was still in pretty bad shape. She might have been dehydrated or suffered from a heat stroke. Some of the monks told me that is was "Jib ki Na Tsha" which means something like when tons of ones previous karma is burned up in an instant due to a powerful cleansing force and the person is not ready for such power, in this case being the power of the phurbas. Now I see why the monks called this day "wang" power.

As the people walked under the phurba table, they all placed silk offering scarves (katak) on the table. Some placed money and many touched their heads on to the table or on the phurbas themselves if they could reach it. Others placed theirs prayer beads on the phurbas. Initially there were tons of people coming through. This phurba table was placed right outside the door to the main temple as inside the end of the puja was happening. The three Sakya Rinpoches were on their thrones while orange marigolds were dispersed throughout the temple.

I had even ran into my previous host brother, Tenzin Tashi from my home stay in McLeod Ganj, who is attending nursing school in Dehra Dun. It was great to see him.

All in all, this moment was just as intense though in a different way as was the full moon night at the Amaravati stupa at the Kalachakra empowerment in Andhra Pradesh, South India.

Throughout all the time that I have spent here at the monastery I have befriended many of the monks. There are some very adorable younger monks. I saw some of them today walking to His Holiness' palace and I asked them how old they were. The youngest one of this group was six years old. The youngest that I have seen by far was about four years old. A lot of the monks come from Nepal; some of them are from Tibetan ancestry or are Tibetan, Nepali or Indian. I even think that the "Buddha Boy" Ram Bahadur was a monk at this monastery. There was a Mongolian monk here and there is a guy from Taiwan or Singapore who is about to become a monk.

I have spoken with many of them. They are very curious over me, especially with my curly hair and the uni-dread that I now don. There were many times when I would be sitting on a bench at the monastery waiting for the afternoon puja to start after lunch to find myself totally surrounded by a bunch of monks of different sizes. They have given my various nicknames like, "hip hop", "Bob Marley", and my favorite "inji nakpo sempa karpo" which means something like "Black Westerner with a white heart". For all the monks who have dark skinned either, Nepali or Indian, they called them, "Gyagar mi nakpo" or "Nepali mi nakpo", Indian black man and Nepali Black man respectfully.

Many of them like hip hop so they always requested me to rap or sing a song. They even got me to sing a Tibetan song, well only the chorus (since was all that I knew). At this they laughed so hard. This particular song, I do not really like for it is a bit on the cheesy side to say to least, but it is rather popular. I have heard it so many times in McLeod Ganj that the chorus was easy to catch. The chorus in Tibetan goes, "Nyamdu Tro, Nyamdu Tro, Nyamdu Tro, Nga dang Nyamdu tro" which translates something like, "We go together, We go together, We go together, me and you go together". It can drive a brother nuts. My friend Wangyal, who was living in McLeod Ganj, totally does not like this artist's was of singing for he puts some kind of effects on his voice. I knew another song from this artist, Phurbu T. Namgyal, called I think "Jampa Dolma la" and Wangyal told me that I shouldn't learn such crappy Tibetan songs. This artist lives in the US and the monks were joking with me saying that in India he is known as a singer, but in the states he is probably scrubbing toilets!!

I have been having a lot of fun with these monks; they just crack me up in so many different aspects. They tried to get me to play soccer with them one day. I can't play soccer. I met up with some of them and we walked over to the Dekyiling Tibetan Settlement's soccer field. When we arrived, there were some Tibetan guys chatting away. They suddenly stopped and starring looking at me. The monks had told them that I was going to be their new goalie!!! since we were also conversing in Tibetan that caused them to give me some bewildering looks. After the game, which I did not play, on the way back to the monastery, I explained some things that they have asked me questions about the US. Terrorism, 9-11, trash in the country side, how black people ended up in the US, and the like. Many of these monks are extremely bright and mature, but in their education system they do not receive the world knowledge as other Tibetan who attends TCV, or other schools do. For example, a Tibetan who attended TCV at the age of 6, by the time that they are 20 years old will speak near fluent English, but more than likely their Tibetan will be rather poor in the literary field. On the other hand, a monk who is placed into a monastery at the same age as the TCV kid, by the time they reach 20 years old might not know English at all or very brokenly, but they will have full command over the Tibetan language. This I have also noticed with many of the monks that I have met in McLeod Ganj.

The monastery does have English teachers, but according to Dagmo Kusho la and some of the monks, they not that good, and the classes are mainly for the younger monks only. Dagmo Kusho la had spoken to H.E. Gyana Vajra Rinpoche about me teaching an English class during my stay but it seems that he was not in favor of this due to the fact that they already have English teachers. So Dagmo Kusho la asked me if I could help Ngawang, one of the servants of the Dolma Phodrang, with his English instead. I have been helping him for the pass few days now.

I was able to get an audience with H.H. Sakya Trizin which was a highlight for me and I was able to ask him some question pertinent on my mind.

Now, my time in India is almost up. September 9th made it one full year that I have been in India, September 11th of course you know. I fly out of New Delhi on the 24th of September. This will be the last blog entry that I will write in India. I have received confirmation from Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies for their next year Tibetan language course, so the raising of funds for this course will be the next goal for me. I have to say thanks to all those who have supported me financially and morally for my trip to India to live with Tibetan refugees. Because of this trip I have found something that I truly enjoy and want to study for the rest of my life. My life is owned to you: my Berea College Asian Studies Advisor Dr. Jeffrey L. Richey, Berea College President Larry Shinn, Dr. David Porter, Alina and Jim Strand, Berea Friends Meeting, Pastor Kent Gilbert and the congregation of Union Church, My loving parents Anthony and Otilia Naidoo, all my friends and classmates from Berea College, with especial gratefulness to all the Tibetans students that I have befriended since being admitted to Berea and for sparking my interest in many different aspects of Tibetan Culture. To Kalden aka Dagmo Kusho la my first Tibetan friend of many years and who have put me in Dehra Dun with great hospitality from the Dolma Phodrang. To Tsering Ten who first taught me the Tibetan alphabet and sparked my love for the Tibetan language. To Tenzin Palkyi, for the long walks around the soccer field dealing with my horrible Tibetan language skills, Thupten Dhondup for helping me with Tibetan conversation when he remembered to show up. To Tenzin Nangkyi and her family who hooked my up in McLeod Ganj and lastly to the Tibet Charity Multi-Education Centre for allowing me the great volunteering experience.

To all of you I send as much love as I am capable, this would not have been possible with out any of you.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Chillin' in Dehra Dun

I have just arrived in Dehra Dun about two days ago. The bus ride was not so bad (besides the big pile of holy cow manure that I accidentally placed one of my big bags on top of), but I do have a lot stuff to travel with which make it a bit of pain. I won’t do that one again!! Luckily after this I will get to Delhi by train (at least that is the plan) and then fly to the US of A. Interestingly enough, the day that I left McLeod Ganj, HHDL had arrived from Mongolia and the day that I arrived in Dehra Dun His Holiness Sakya Trizin had arrived. Unfortunately I was not able to welcome him, because I was locked inside the guest house. But I got to watch the monks and nuns get ready for his arrival through the front window of the guest house.

Since I have been here, I have met with Dagmo Kusho la just once very briefly. It seems that I might have an opportunity to have an audience with H.H Sakya Trizin, in which I am very excited about, since it was with H.H. Sakya Trizin that I received my first empowerment, and since then I have had a great desire to study the Sakya sect’s dialectical philosophies. I am hoping that during this stay I will be able to figure out if this is a possibility. These kind of studies take years and are usually only for monastics. But now a days, there are some monasteries who are taking foreign and Tibetan lay practitioners who can demonstrate dedication and mastery of the Tibetan Language, which I hope to have gained with two more years of language study. Dagmo Kusho la has also requested that I teach an English class to some of the younger monks here, in which I happily obliged, but I have not heard from her to know what the schedule will be. I think that it will be fun.

Also today started an 11 day puja, in which a 3-D sand mandala will be built in the Tsuglakhang. I spoke with some monks yesterday who told me about it, some of them trip out over my Tibetan. They were building some tormas (ritual dough sculptures) which came out very beautiful. The puja started early this morning at about 2am, with H.H. Sakya Trizin and his two sons present. Also there are two guys who are making a documentary about some Sakya monks from Nepal who came to Dehra Dun on pilgrimage to receive an audience from H.H. Sakya Trizin and to participate in this puja and build the sand mandala. If I am correct, the puja is in connection with a deity named Dorje Phagpa. This practice is also found in other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, but for some reason that I do not know it is special in the Sakya Sect. I think that it is because it has had an interrupted transmission since about the 700’s or something like that. I hope to talk more with the guys who are making the film and find out more about it.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Getting up out of this MC Gees piece!!!!

Well, I am down to one last full day in Mo la Ganji, and also at the same time there is a festival that is supposedly to happen today. On the main market road of Jogiwara, tons of Indians vendors have set up their roadside tiendas clogging the street to sell (as far as I have seen thus far) cheap plastic things to the public. This festival (mela) is to celebrate the coming end of the monsoon. Just as when I first arrived here about a year ago, this very same mela was in full swing. Thus, it is in this way that I know that I have made a full year circle in McLeod Ganj.

I definitely got to say that I am sad that I must depart, especially know that I have made concrete progress in the Tibetan Language. I am definitely going to miss the luxury of speaking and hearing Tibetan day in and day out, but more than this I will miss all the friends that I have made and the great family that I was lucky enough to live with. They all hold a very dear place in my heart. On top of that, my two rocking kick ass Tibetan tutors Thupwang la and Pema la, will definitely be missed, for correcting my all too common mistakes and for the lovely humor that they have supplied me with during our sessions.

In this pass week I have packed most of my belongings with is quite incredible considering the fact that with being here for a year that I have acquired a lot of things. I have recently given away a lot of things away. Today I donated most of my clothes to the Tibetan Refugee office in which where all the new refugees come when they first arrive in McLeod Ganj. My Tibetan tutor Thupwang was making fun of me. He said that I am so tall that done of my clothes will be able to fit any of the Tibetans, in which I told him that at least for the pants that they can cut them, or just wear them long and baggy. Their friends will think of them to be in the hip-hop fashion that many young Tibetans are now donning.

There are so many things to think and reflect upon about my stay in this of most interesting places. I know that I will need time to digest my experience. My advisor from BC has asked me to give a presentation about my year here about two weeks after I arrive in Berea. I think that that will give me enough time to reflect on this experience and where I want to go with. Thus far meaning for my hopeful return to India sometime next June to attend Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies.

Tomorrow I will head to Dehra Dun where I visited this pass winter to spend about three weeks there, engaged monks in Tibetan conversation practice and other matters. I had such a great time the last time that I was there, and I also hope to get an audience with His Holiness Sakya Trizin, in which I will be extremely happy if this happened. And of course to share some of my time with my old friend Dagmo Kusho La who lives there. I hope to while I am there to update my blog. After that I will head to Delhi and to hopefully meet three friends that I have just met who are living in Delhi. I met them through Jason who was just here not too long ago. These folks were coming to McLeod Ganj for the weekend and Jason suggested to them that they should contact me and hang out, which they did. We had a lot of fun this pass weekend. I hope that I served them as a good host.

This pass Sunday I had set up an appointment for dinner with a Russian woman named Julia who is a friend with Dagmo Kusho la and who she had asked Julia to carry some parcels for me. Julia speaks awesome Tibetan and knows some Amdo dialect too. So we went to eat a new restaurant called Carpe Diem that had a Jam session in which I had also brought my didgeridoo. The thing with Julia is that she knows English all right, but she struggles with my ghetto slang English (even when I severely simplify it), and so we have been conversing in Tibetan. When we had arrived at the restaurant it was not full. We were sitting in a table for four by ourselves, but as the place started filling up naturally people asked to share to table with us in which we kindly obliged.

The first couple that did this, left immediately, for we continued our conversation without paying them too much attention. The next couple, which like the first couple whom where from Israel sat down with us. We kept on talking and after awhile one of them asked us what language we were speaking. In which before I could say anything, Julia had told them that we were speaking in Russian. I, of course almost died laughing, and so after that had subsided I told them the truth and I explained why we were speaking in Tibetan.

Eventually, this couple left and another fellow had sat down next to me. It turned out that he was from Spain and I immediately started a Spanish conversation with him. He too asked us what language we were speaking in which again Julia replied Russian. He had thought that we were speaking an African language or something. Then two more Israelites joined us. One who was born in Latvia but moved to Israel when she was quite young. So she and Julia start speaking Russian together. I thought that it was all very amusing because with all of us combined at this one table we had five very different languages covered. One all of us minus two spoke three languages.

Later at the Jam session, after some monotonous hippy fried music, I was invited with my didgeridoo to play with an amazing tabla player. It was by far one of the most accomplished sessions that I had ever had. The table player and I lock into several complex rhythms that I was able to counter point on the didgeridoo perfectly. I know that us together had grabbed the attention of the stoned out audience. The rhythms that this man busted out with so many variations matched so well with what I was doing on the didgeridoo. We played for at least for six to seven minutes. It was definitely the biggest musical highlight for me in India. What was even greater was that because of that performance that the owners of the restaurant gave Julia’s meal and mine on the house to us. Sweet heh!!

Then again last night I again ate dinner with Julia at Nick’s Italian restaurant. As we ate our meal a Tibetan waiter kept on staring at us in an odd fashion. I could understand these looks. It is one thing for a foreigner to converse in Tibetan with a Tibetan, but it is quite an entirely odd thing to see a tall blond Russian women and a taller black man conversing in Tibetan. I think that we must have messed with these people brains a bit on that one. She thought me how to say some things in the Amdo dialect (which I have already forgotten), which is very different from the Lhasa based dialect that I am learning. To me it sounds goods. She has spent some time in Tibet including the town of Sakya and the Tibetan province of Amdo. She showed me some excellent pictures of Tibet. I still hope to go some day.

I have wrapped things up at TC MEC, my position as volunteer coordinator and office assistant will be taken over by paid Tibetan staff person, named Namgyal. I trained him in the procedures and now he is well equipped. I am sure that he will do a wonderful job.
I will miss my time here at the school, even though, over the time of my year here I have been an office assistant more than an English teacher but I feel that I have been able to help countless number of newly arrived Tibetan refugees with desire for a better education by mostly staying in touch with future volunteers and writing letters from TC MEC to sponsors who keep this place funded. One volunteer told me that he was extremely appreciative of me, for helping him with all his questions and concerns. And now I hear from the students on how great of a teacher he his. This has proved to me that what I have done here makes a difference in the students’ lives.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Last full week in McLeod Ganj.

I am approaching my last week in McLeod Ganj which now in retrospect has gone really quickly. My plans thus far are to leave McLeod Ganj and head to Dehra Dun to stay next to the Sakya Gompa for three weeks. Hopefully there I will be able to find a conversation partner to help me with my Tibetan. For I know that I will have a hard time trying to keep the little of bit of choppy Tibetan that I know from deteriorating in the States. So far my plan to return to Berea is mainly based on the fact that there are Tibetan students at Berea College in whom I can engaged in Tibetan conversation, but my hopes for that have been severely shattered, because one of those BC Tibetan students who is here in McLeod Ganj and is well aware of my desire for Tibetan language studies still talks to me in English every time that I have seen him, which really upsets me. I have had a hard enough time to literally force Tibetans in Exile to converse in Tibetan with me (unless I paid), so I foresee the same problem at Berea with the Tibetan students there. At the same time I hope that they prove me wrong for I am counting on them to help me with Tibetan conversation so there is still hope. But I will continue to study Tibetan regardless of my obstacles until I can come back to India next year for the one year Tibetan Language course at the Sarah College of Higher Tibetan Studies in Gaggal.

Throughout this pass week I have been happy to have had my old roommate from my first year at Berea College here visiting me. Jason Fults came up from where he is currently staying at in Delhi (Poor Thing!!) to visit me and attend in the teachings of HHDL. As many of you know, Jason is one of two BC seniors who won the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship this year. He stayed in my room with my host family and got to meet the other two westerners who are staying there. While he was here we went to the Naddi Village, TCV, The Norbulingkha Institute and the Gyuto Ramoche Tantric Gompa. All of these events Jason had enjoyed very much. After we had went to the Naddi Village we took a path to Dharamkot in which we walked right through a Nyingmapa Gompa and next to it there was several small mud brick huts which shale paneled roofs in which some hermits were living. A little bit down the road we found several chortens with one dedicated to HHDL’s junior tutor Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. It was a nice walk and I had been searching for hermits and this chorten for some time so I was glad that I found both and with friends at that. We continued our walk to Dharamkot with the presence of a rainbow across the valley with the jammed cluster of McLeod Ganj way below it.

Jason was stunned at the cosmopolitan aspects of McLeod Ganj. This small hill station is extremely popular with people coming from every corner of the globe. That being said this is still monsoon season thus many westerners were to attend the teachings but not as much as is to come after the monsoon ends. For the rest of the week we attended the teachings of HHDL which started on the 14th of August.

At the teachings I meet an Australian man who is on his honeymoon with his wife. He sat in front of me one day and I noticed that he was writing his notes in the Khyug Yig, fast flowing Tibetan script. Seeing this of course arouse my curiosity because many westerns that learn Tibetan do not normally learn this script which is quite difficult to learn and since he wrote it so beautifully that I was compelled to ask him where he had learned. At the break we started talking and he told me that he had attended upper TCV for six years when he was younger because his mother was studying dharma in McLeod Ganj. He then engaged me in a conversation in Tibetan, and I, of course was amazed at this for though he was Australian; his Tibetan was as perfect as it could get. I told him that I hope to be able to speak Tibetan fluently some day, though I will never sound like a native. He was very encouraging and told me that I must practice Tibetan in the States at all costs, to find conversation partners and the like. Since I fear of losing everything I know I must be vigilant when I get home. He told me that I spoke pretty good Tibetan for a year in McLeod Ganj. I have heard this a lot, and I know that I have improved, but the fact is that my Tibetan is still rather awful. The compliments I feel help me in staying motivated on my goal.

I also met a set of twins from Louisiana. One had long dreadlocks and spoke great Tibetan and Nepali. He has been living in Boudhanath for a few years. He started studying Tibetan in the States. His brother had short hair and speaks Mandarin. They are traveling together first heading to Nepal and then to Tibet and China. That is such and great combination since they got all the main languages of the countries they will be visiting covered. The dreadlock twin knew my first Tibetan language teacher, so that was cool. I noticed throughout the teachings that there are a handful of westerners how are quite accomplished in Tibetan and who have learned at different stages in their lives. Some start learning very young and others in their middle ages and all where determinedly able have achieved a great level of mastery. This gives my hope.

Many of them have gone through the same problems I have had, like trying exchanging English lessons for Tibetan lessons and ended up teaching English with no Tibetan. The wife of the Australian dude was surprise to hear this, for she thought just like I had that they will be happy that I wanted to learn their language. She also rightly said that folks should not just take and take (which seems anti-Buddhist) especially if one is helping with folks learn English then they should be more than enthusiastic in helping foreigners with their Tibetan. But that has not been my and others experience in McLeod Ganj, for all of them said that it is so better in the other Tibetans settlements that are not tourist centered. One English guy in his middle ages who might go to Sarah College to learn Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy told me that many Tibetans think that most foreigners will not succeed in learning Tibetan (which of course does happens) and thus they do not take one seriously at first. I was glad to learn that I was not the only one who has gotten angry with them especially when they knew that one is seriously studying their language. Their struggle with Tibetan gives me hope.

This pass Wednesday on the 16 of August I got to watch the documentary film on Kyi Ani. It told her story and how she got into caring of the street dogs. What I liked was more superficial, for since I was her neighbor when I first arrived in McLeod Ganj, most of the scenes are shot in places that I walked through everyday. I think that she should be in a better position because of this documentary. She is quite old and has many dogs. I wish her the best.

My host brother Tashi has started nursing school in Dehra Dun. This is first time that he has left the family. Ama Chukyi recounted to us that Tashi has never had to clean for himself or cook in his life. Chukyi’s nickname for him is “Golden” because when she was pregnant with him a lama had predicted that he might be a high lama. Although he was never recognized as such Tashi parents continued to shower him with special attention and love. But now as a first year student, he has to go through this “Ragging” ritual that freshers must endure when they start college and Tashi was forced to cut his hair. Pa Dorje told me that he was crying since it was his first time truly away from home. Tashi is a great student and I know that he will make his parents proud.

Some might of remembered the post that I have placed about Tibetans all over the world claiming to have seen HHDL on the moon. Well my host father stated to me that he has seen it. It was one clear night two weeks ago and many Tibetans were on roof tops that night praying for the vision. Also my tutor daughter also claimed to have seen it too. My tutor said she was not so lucky, since this was quite an unusual scene of Tibetans staring at the moon that had arouse the curiosity of local Indians who were asking her very few minutes if she saw anything yet thus disturbing her devotions. This is definitely a bit strange but at the same time such things are common throughout the world and throughout history.

Throughout HHDL’s teachings I continued on attend my Tibetan classes with both my tutors Thupwang and Pema. I am going to miss them when I return to the States. With having Jason here, I was able to catch up on old friend’s happenings back at home and he was able to see where I have been living for the past year. I shared with him my tiny knowledge of the Tibetan political situation, Buddhism and the particular eclectic and eccentric mix of people that makes up McLeod Ganj. We are going to plan to meet back in India next year when he will be in Delhi and come back for HHDL’s summer teachings before his B-day and before the course at Sarah starts. He left yesterday back to Delhi on a typically misty and rainy McLeod Ganj monsoon day. The funny thing was that right before the teachings it had rained like utter madness. When Jason got here the weather was awesome. The day he left the rain came back after the last day of the teachings. I wish him the best on his Watson research.

Yesterday at the Tushita Meditation Center in Dharmakot, the English Ani (nun) Tenzin Palmo was having a question and answer session. I had heard about this nun when I was studying Tibetan at Cornell University a few summers ago. It was after a talk on Madhyamika (I think) that I had attended that a lady there had documentary on her life called Cave in the Snow which is also the title of a book about her life. She had spent 12 years in mountain retreat and is an advocate for the right of nuns to gain an education just like the monks do. Because of this she has become quite famous, and she has a nunnery in Bir about a 4 hour local bus ride from McLeod Ganj at another Tibetan Settlement. First they showed a movie of one of her teachings and then she was there in person. I liked what she had to say. Unlike other teachers in the Tibetan tradition who emphasize scholasticism, Tenzin Palmo was more pragmatic in her approach and very down to earth making this related to our everyday lives. She also emphasized other aspects of Dharma practice besides meditation, which is what most western Buddhist practice. This I found to rear since Tibetan Buddhism is so complex and must people find themselves getting very confused, like many were during HHDL’s recent teachings. It was definitely a treat and I (among others) consider myself lucky to hear the wisdom from this English Ani.


Monday, August 07, 2006

HHDL on the Moon?

I have just come from my house just a few minutes ago after experiencing an hour of Hindi soaps while I studied Tibetan in the living room. Even though I was not watching the shows, I could still feel the melodrama involved due to the intensity of it all. Of course my family members are all deeply in gross in their favorite show Kasauti Zindagi Kyi.

My host brother Tashi is very happy, nursing school is about to start for him in Dehra Dun and the family have just brought him a motorbike, a total crotch rocket. Blue with the word movie star written on it in big white letters. The owner sold it to him for 20,000 INR with is dirt cheap for a bike. He told me that the guy is with a rich white lady who sends him money, in which he keeps on buying newer, better bikes with.

I met with two BC Tibetans, Thupten and Nangkyi today hanging out in Kokonor Italian restaurant. I always cherish hanging out with these folks, and to see them in their hometown. On my way home I ran into one of my neighbor who lives slightly uphill from my house. He has been having pujas at his home for the pass couple of days. Every morning for the pass few days I have woken up to the sound of drums, cymbals and the deep guttural chanting of monks. It was interesting talking to him. He is from Phari, Tibet and father moved to Bhutan (right across the border from Phari) after Chinese occupation. They have lived in Bhutan for some time, but they left because the King of Bhutan wanted to force the exile Tibetans to take Bhutan citizenship and Bhutanese identity by wearing Bhutanese clothes and hairstyles. He told me that it wasn’t the citizenship that has bothered him, but that the Tibetans will have to take on Bhutanese dress. For this reason he family moved to Dharamsala.

He told me that folks have been calling from other Tibetans settlements in India, and places in Tibet, claiming to have seen the face of HHDL on the moon. Even Nangkyi told me that someone had told her to look at the moon, but as everyone in McLeod Ganj knows the clouds have just cleared out this afternoon after a solid week of rain. The sky is clearing up today, but I am not sure if I will be blessed enough to catch it, but I will get to see him at the next teachings coming up in a few weeks.

The rain here is something else. Yesterday, I had to go to TIPA and on my way up it was just raining not so hard, I saw an old Tibetan man with a long wooden pole in the mud trying to get the water to go down the hill. At that same spot last year that house developed a huge crack and in front of it on the road a huge hole developed, big enough to swallow a motor-rickshaw. But on my way down the rivers were coming every which way down the mountain in gullies that are getting bigger and deeper. Already there are sections where the road has sunk. Rich brown water just flowed over the road. The few drainage holes that are there are pouring way more than what they were designed to hold. I was thinking that at this rate with the looming threat of an earthquake that McLeod Ganj will end on top of Lower Dharamsala. When I think about this place, it seem to be built like a huge strip mall, with buildings sprouting everywhere faster than one can count.
The picture that I have place with this entry is from the TIPA quad while I was sheltering myself from the rain in the company of some dogs who looked like drown rats.

My room has turned into a kind of animal sanctuary. I have a group of sparrows that now live inside my room. On my ceiling there is a hole with wires sticking out below it, that had at one time held a light bulb. But now is has become a birds nest. The Papa sparrow sits on the wires all night, while the mother with her little birdies live inside. At first I did not notice the birds until one day I looked up towards the ceiling to see this Papa bird just chillin’. He was not bothered with me at all so, that is cool. Some times other birds come in and they fight. I have to keep a dirty cloth in the middle of the floor so that the bird’s droppings fall on it. I also have spiders, mice and slugs greeting me at times too. And yesterday during the downpour there was a donkey outside my door braying like crazy. My little zoo.

My time is going away; I have about three weeks left here. My friend Jason Fults is coming in a few days for HHDL’s teachings, so I will be happy to see him here. I have been studying Tibetan extra hard trying to see if I could make any incredible progress in the language before I leave. I have two tutors now. Pema is back from Spain, and I am meeting with her three times a week, along with Thupwang six times a week.

One thing that I noticed is that Pema has framed her picture of her with Richard Gere. On that note, supposedly Hillary Swank and Maria Shriver wife for the California Governator Schwarzenegger have graced McLeod Ganj recently. But these things I wouldn’t have known, until a friend told me. Pema also told me of her experience with briefly speaking with Heinrich Harrer author of Seven Years in Tibet. Pema told me that there was a picnic going on Thardoeling (a tiny hill area in McLeod Ganj) before it was all build up. She sees this old white guy passing by where she was sitting. So she ask him where he was from in which he responded in perfect honorific Tibetan that he was from Austria. She was totally shocked to hear this old white dude speaking the Tibetan of old Lhasa aristocrats. Pema’s friend next to her then whispered in her ear who he was. He told Pema that he was just visiting and that has was about to have lunch with the HHDL. It is interesting to me that people that I have gotten to know have met some interesting people.

Well that is it for now, my goal for the next few weeks are to get ready for returning to the United States of America.


Monday, July 31, 2006

Kyi Ani

I was not planning to update but I saw this article about a documentary made about a 70 year nun who lived underneath my old apartment on TIPA Rd with tons of dogs in a plastic shack. I have fond memories of her and her dogs, and how she was amazed that I could speak some Tibetan.

My first memory of her was when I first moved into my apartment. I was walking through the maze to get to my room and carefully navigating around the many piles of dog poop to be found. She was is the pathway picking up the poop. I asked her what she was doing and she said one word "Kyakpa" shit in Tibetan, meaning that she cleaning after her many dogs. And of course I remember the dog fights that broke out almost very morning, and the late night barking.

I do know that some Tibetans disliked "Kyi Ani" Dog's Nun in Tibetan, which made me sad, for last these dogs were loved. My Tibetan tutor, Pema, who helps with getting her and other elderly Tibetans sponsorship has related the stories of her experiences of deal with her to me. Every now and then when I see her on the street she will stop a bit just to say high. Last winter her doggy shack burned to the ground and afterwards when I came back from South India, I heard that many people pulled resources together to build her a new and better house. Some people at first suspected that someone might of burned down her house for spite. I hope not. I my self have not seen the documentary but I hope to before I leave.


Release of another Tibetan Documentary Film
Phayul[Monday, July 31, 2006 10:53]
By Phurbu ThinleyPhayul CorrespondentDharamsala, July 30 -

With big budget feature films still a far-off distant dream for many Tibetans who have taken up film making as their professions; it is, however, not unusual to see young Tibetan movie making enthusiasts from surprising us with their small improvised budget documentary films from time to time.

Lining up in the list is Mr. Kelsang Tsering Khangsar, who today launched the Press Premiere of his first debut documentary film, titled, "THE JOY OF LIVING", at 4:00 PM local time at the Tibetan Community Centre McLeod Gunj, Dharamsala, India.

The story of the film revolves around a true life account of an elderly Tibetan Buddhist Nun, Anni Sonam Tsering and her unconditional love of street dogs that ultimately transforms her life to devote her time completely taking care of these hapless dogs for the last more than 30 years.

Anni Sonam is among the first groups of Tibetans who settled in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala after invading Chinese Communist forces finally occupied Tibet in 1959. Since then, her life has been a constant struggle for survival. In spite of all the difficulties in her personal lives, her natural sense of sympathy and consideration towards other creatures has not faded from her life.

For Tibetans in Dharamsala, this unique story of Anni Sonam is not new. She is popularly known to the local Tibetan people as 'Khi Anni' meaning, 'The Dog's Nun' a symbolic gesture that her unyielding service that she renders for the well being and needs of those helpless street dogs are acknowledge by many.

Despite simple production, Mr. Kelsang has made his full attempt to capture the various facets of the nun's life and her usual day to day playful routine with her pack of dogs.

Although the idea to bring this unique story on screen was conceived by Kelsang way back in 2003, it took him more than three years to actually make the film. The main reason being lack of financial and other concrete supports.

But, all these short comings has, however, not deterred Kelsang from his idea of showing the story while Anni Sonam, who is now over 70, is still very much a living example.

In this 52 minutes film, Mr. Kelsang portrays Anni Sonam's uncompromising sense of responsibility and the extend of sacrifices she made either in saving the street dogs from human brutalities or from day to day hunger. It explores the founding of a relationship between Anni and the street dogs that simply forced her in accommodating these poor creatures in her own dingy shaft home even if it means adding extra burden in doing regular clean ups from their messes .

Unlike in her youthful past, where she had been able to feed dogs with her own meagre savings of the day, today, Anni moves from door to door collecting food for her dogs. And this has become her daily routine.

Life has now become unimaginable to this tireless Anni without the company of these faithful dogs, who never fail to wag their tails whenever they see their loving guardian coming along. She means more than a mother to these street dogs and she has accepted these creatures her own family members. It is visible from the film that the indefinable bond of love that has developed between them has given so many reasons to Anni to believe that her living has, in fact, become much more joyful than ever.

In showing this unique story of Anni Sonam on screen, Mr. Kelsang seeks to add a little spiritual dose to the viewers by awakening our inner beings and reminds us - "when a relationship is bound by love, there is no end to sacrifice".

An alumnus of Tibetan Children's Village School, Mr. Kelsang Tsering finished his graduation in Political Science from Punjab University, Chandigarh, India and also a diploma degree in Correspondence Studies in Mass Communication from the same university.

Kelsang has to his credits the experience of working in 5 major Tibetan film projects including the much known recent Tibetan feature film, 'DREAMING LHASA' by Ritu Serin and Tenzin Sonam. He also worked in two International feature films- VALLEY OF FLOWERS and LOOKING FOR COMMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD.

It is his experience of working in these projects that helped him in making his first self-financed present documentary film. As of now, Kelsang is looking forward to the release of another documentary film titled, "DHARAMSALA", directed by Sahil Segal, which is due to be released very shortly in October this year. The film is now at its post production stage and Kelsang has worked as an Associate Director for it.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Time is a passing……

Finally we, here the temporary and non-temporary residents of McLeod Ganj, have been able to see a break in the clouds that has covered us for the pass 7 or so days. So far, as far I am aware there is no tap water at home or anywhere else in McLeod Ganj for that matter. Water, Water, everywhere but not a drink!!! Well not exactly, since we had several days of continuous rain. Up the hill for McLeod Ganj in the Israeli “settlement” of Dharamkot, a mud slide has damaged the pipe or series of pipes that is responsible for providing our aquatic needs. But the Tibetans don’t worry, they just use rain water, which I was thinking, be better to drink than the tap water. I have seen Tibetans watching their clothes, and their bodies in the torrential pour. Buckets have graced the roofs and the roofs edges as water collecting agents. So life is not hampered for the locals, but for some foreigners it might be a bit of an inconvenience.

Once one sees the plumbing infrastructure that mazes itself in and around McLeod Ganj, then it is easy to understand why water could be a problem. All throughout the town the pipes are not bigger than a ½ inch to an inch in diameter and there are many of them bunch together and then jotting off to their corresponding destination. All these pipes leak, some more badly than others, and they all lay above ground. This was one of the first things that I actually noticed about McLeod Ganj when I got here. I thought that if I wanted to be a really evil person, I could go out late at night with a bolt cutter and cut people off their water. From reading of older accounts of McLeod Ganj it seems that this system has just been installed within the last 20 years. I know that it will be any American plumber’s nightmare to see this chaotic labyrinth of piles. When I was chatting with Jeremy Russell, a scholar from the Norbulingkha Institute, he told me that the plumbing system is bad because is keeps the Indian plumbers employed for they are the only ones who understand the mess. I have seen many times where people are trying to fix their water problems and make it worse. If the “powers that be” fix the system and make it smarter then the plumbers fear of losing their jobs. What are we to do? Just leave it as it is.

The road that I walk on to go to TC MEC is now missing a chunk. I noticed how that a few days before there is a pile of sand about four feet high that is piled next to an edge of a stone support wall that is about 20 feet high. When I was waking pass this pile in the rain I noticed that the pile was gone, so I was thinking that it was used up in the construction of the new edifice that is being built below it. When I got to the pile I then noticed that the pile was still there but just sunken into the ground. As I turned the corner I saw two cracks in the stone wall that made a big V leading from the lower ground. The next day when I went to volunteer it had fallen and the construction crew that was working on the building was now working in repairing the mini landslide that happened.

McLeod Ganj has pine trees all through the mountains, which come to find out was planted by the British. Pine trees are not known to make really deep roots so when it rains like it does here; they fall really easily and at times create landslides. There are deciduous trees here but they are all shrunken from the Gaddi people who cut off their leaves for fodder.

At TC MEC we are now in a pinch for volunteers because of the weather and we have lost one volunteer because she did not like the director. Another volunteer went to speak to her to see what the problem was, especially since we had made our entire summer teaching schedule around her, since she was going to stay for three months. It turns out that the lady might be a little bit crazy, at least that is what I have heard for the volunteer who spoke to this woman. So because of that we have a gap of a few days without a teacher in which I will more than likely take over. After August begins there will be some new blood to fill in the shoes of the volunteers that have left. With me being volunteer coordinator I am trying my best, but it has been difficult since our system had a virus that messed things up. But it is not detrimental.

Last Monday we had a staff meeting to say goodbye to some of the volunteers. Two older guys who stuck it out with us all spring. These guys are 50 years and above and they have braved the tough terrain of Lahaul/ Spiti. One of them wrote the science curriculum for a school in Spiti and the other will return next year to volunteer at the Tabo Gompa, the same gompa the HHDL says that he will like to retire in. I would like to go there some time; the people for these areas are ethnically Tibetan and speak a Tibetan dialect. Due to it isolation it is said to be just like Tibet was before Chinese occupation at least in some areas. The Moravian missionary, Reverend HA Jaschke who spent a considerable amount of time in Lahaul, Spiti and Ladakh and constructed a Tibetan English Dictionary and in his book he saw these areas as no different from Tibet itself that is being because he lived in this area in 1851. I hope that all we go well for the fellow who will spend time in this area.

There we were also having a conversation about the crazy people that we have met in Dharamsala. I know for a fact that I have met a bunch and more seem to be cropping up all the time. There is a new Tibetan dude who thinks he knows Kung fu making a total fool out of himself. Anyways, I was telling them of my experience with the mango squirter that I had mentioned from HHDL’s birthday party. It turned out that this very dude at the temple had severely beaten up five Tibetan men. The guy is German and his mother had brought him here to McLeod Ganj to see if Tibetan Medicine could cure her son from the psychosis that he suffered from. The day of HHDL’s B-day the mother left her son at the main temple to his own devices to go sight-seeing, thus leaving her mentally ill son to mingling amongst Tibetans. That was a bad move on her part. The wife of one of the volunteers, who herself was volunteering at Delek Hospital, was treating some of these Tibetans men who had been beaten up and she said that he did a number on them. We evidently heard that the police had issued a warning to the guy and mother telling them that they are not allowed to enter the state of Himachel Pradesh again. After hearing this story, I was glad that all me and my friends got was some mango gook on our clothes.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Where in the world is the HHDL

There are several rumors floating around McLeod Ganj amongst Tibetans that the HHDL is now in Amdo, Tibet. A friend of my host family said that his father had called him from Tibet to tell him that HHDL is in Tibet. But the Tibetan-Exile-Government officials have clearly stated that he is not in Tibet but here in Dharamsala. Some folks are saying that they are lying because folks are hearing the opposite from their relatives in Tibet. It is really interesting to see how this kind of the stuff gets to spread. If it is true then they don’t want anyone to know about. But I too have suspicion that someone inside Tibet could just be playing with the emotions of the people just to see their reaction. But of course I do not know anything.

At TC MEC all of the computers we rampaged by a virus so they were re-imaged, so we lost tons of information and I have been trying to recover as much as I can. So all week I have going through all the old back ups, updated and going through all the sent email files so that I try to retrieve some the lost stuff. TC MEC is full of volunteers right now, which is great and TC MEC they have buying all kinds of stuff. They have made a staff room for all the volunteers to chill in with nice furniture and a computer with broadband. And there will be more computers coming for the computers classes that they have. They will be hiring a full-time Tibetan English teacher and have hired a Tibetan computer teacher full-time. So this place I think in the future will be more like a real school and it won’t be dependent on volunteers so much. I think that this is good, especially that this will give the school a better sense of continuity than it has had in the past beside just having the Director of Tibet Charity, India and TC MEC.

With my new tutor, I am learning many new things. He lived in the US a few years ago, and he watch Star Wars: Return of the Jedi with the George Lucas at his pad and told me some interest Star Wars facts that are Tibetan related. One that I knew already was that the Ewoks speak hyper fast Tibetan, Mongolian and a bunch of other languages all mixed up.

The named Skywalker comes from the Tibetan word mkha ‘gro pronounce Khandoe. mkha means “sky” or “space” and ‘gro means to “go” or to “move”. Thus, one who goes or moves through the sky, easier English “Skywalker”. And he said the Yoda’s character is designed from a famous rinpoche; through I have forgotten the lama’s name.

My tutor lived in Texas for a bit, and he had Dharma center there. While he was there he got to go to a Navajo festival where he was given peyote and did a sweat lodge. The people didn’t tell him exactly what peyote was (besides that it was medicine) so he got very sick and vomited a lot. He told me that he was sick for a few days. During these times too he was a monk. I couldn’t image how that must have been for him. He knows a lot about the etymology of Tibetan words so I learn a deeper meaning to the words that hear every day. So, I am happy with him, I feel that I have lucked out, though I still miss my old tutor.


Friday, July 14, 2006

It is not McLeod Ganj; it is in the Clouds Ganj.

The rain here comes in gusts of water that carve through the mountains. After the clouds eventually clears aways rivers that have just been recently created on the nearby mountainside can be seen. There are days when everything in ones sight of vision has utterly disappears behind the mist. We can see in the distance the encroaching clouds as it swallows this densely pack hill station. During HHDL’s teachings there was a cloud that was engulfing the temple right before it unleashed it’s moist laden burden. An Italian woman who was sitting behind me asked me if that was smoke. I said “Nah, woman, that ain’t no smoke, that’s a straight up cloud coming up in here”. Shocked was she.

So living in the beginning of the monsoon is like living in the cloud. Some of the storms that have descended on here are extremely wrathful. Thunder and lightening like that I have never seen before. I had to walk to my tutor's pad in the rain one day. Where I lived one has to walk down a whole bunch of steps in get there and as I was walking up for home, as rivers of water were flowing down. All of the trash that had been chillin’ at the top of the stairs must have had a nice fun wet ride towards the bottom. All the sewer drains were working in overdrive as rivers of water rushed through it in great crashing noise. And what really pissed me off, after all this water, was that that night I turn on the faucet in my bathroom to brush my teeth, and guess what? NO WATER. I am like, “Shit, we done had tons of water pour out the sky just hours ago, and now there ain’t one drop to brush my teeth with, go figure”.

Now I am in a battle with the mildew that is invading my room. Many things that I own is being overran by mildew. Even my Amala don’t have no suggestions for me, and there is not really too much I can do. There ain’t no sun, how can stuff get dry without it. I will try to use some watered down bleach on the mildew to see if that helps since some of my clothes, like my coat I want to keep. Regardless, I am glad to be here experiencing is monsoon. In way I thought that it is not a true Indian experience with out experiencing monsoon. I do have some good rain gear, so that is good. I got really soaked one time and I said not again.

TC MEC is opening for business again, this time I am not teaching this time, which is fine with me; there are plenty of qualified teachers who are doing a great job. I am working in the office with the director, organizing incoming volunteers and writing letters to sponsors and editing stuff. I like this quite a lot as much as teaching.

I am not sure if whether everyone is aware of the bomb blast in Mumbai on the trains but it is quite a big deal in India plus it is always good to know what is happening one the other side of the globe, since we are sharing it anyways. One thing that I have thought about in retrospect was that India deals better with this stuff than the United States does. Think India is used to have terrorist attacks as compared to the US, where if our invisible defense bubble pops we become vulnerable because our bubble is not as strong as we were lead on the believe.

Today I had just finished having lunch with Nangkyi and her mother, we had such a wonderful time, well, at least I did. They are leaving soon, so this was our only chance to meet.
It was good to talk to Nangkyi since I have not seen her since I left Berea. We might be able to meet after was returns from her jaunt.

Well, I guess I will keep it short, not much going on, besides rain I guess. Much Love to all those out there, especially my friends and acquaintances in Berea, Kentucky who have been actively reading this blog, see you at the end of September. Hey, I need a place to crash when I get there. Holla at me if you know of somewhere cheap or free and a job too since I will need money to return here to Dharamsala next July 2007.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Thrungkar and Rap speak

On the way home a few days ago, I ran into a Taiwanese lady. We get to chatting a bit and after a while she tells me, “Wooow, You talk like rap!!” I was a bit taken aback by this comment since I do not possess the lyrical improvisational talent that rappers possess. I told her that, “We’ll I grew up in New York” thinking that this will quell her curiosity, and then I get, “Do all people in New York talk like rap?” My immediate answer was, “No”. That pretty much ended our conversation, but it has had me thinking that since I have been here, that for many folks, I am the first black person that some folks have ever met including foreigners from East Asia, Tibetans and Indians. Most folks think at that I am either from Africa or the West Indies due to Cricket. As I think about this I find it that at least I paint a positive representation for black folks in these Asian parts. Which can not be said for other nationalities, I am thinking about the Israelis in particular, who do not possess such a good rap in India.

Since I have been here, I have heard stories of a black monk from New York, who studied at Sera Mey Gompa in South India and at the Sakya Gompa in Dehra Dun. People told me that his Tibetan was fantastic as was his debating skills and his ability to produced the “yang” (Multi-phonic overtones) that use for the recitation of prayers in tantric ceremonies. My new Tibetan tutor told that they he has not heard a westerner spoke Tibetan so well. He also said that he was the one westerner who truly internalized the Tibetan character. This fellow to be is like a ghost since I have heard so much about him and his talents and I am glad that he painted a positive picture from black people who interact and learn from Tibetans. In way I was grateful to him for it helps me as I traverse the rough terrain of learning the Tibetan Language. My praise goes out to this black monk for New York that I have never met.

There is a soap opera that plays on XZTV (sorry the link is in Chinese), the Tibetan station from Lhasa, Tibet. The story of this soap is about a Chinese girl who marries an African man from West Africa and moves there. It is quite interesting for the fact that first, this doctor was in China and had to convince the girl’s family to approve of their marriage. After her family approves she goes to West Africa where now the Doctor has to convince his family to approve of his marriage to a Chinese girl. Because of this show a few Tibetans have expressed that I look like the African doctor, and one monk even calls me Malika which is the name of the doctor. The interesting thing about the Tibetan station is that most of their shows are originally in Chinese and dubbed in Tibetan. They even have shows about Tibetans shot in Chinese and dubbed in Tibetan.

Yesterday on the 6th of July was the Birthday of HHDL which is known as Thungkar. It so happens that George W. Bush and HHDL share the same birthday, weird heh!! Anyway, there were festivities happening at the temple which including a lot of singing and dancing. Unfortunately I did not bring my camera because I thought that His Holiness was going to be there. But HHDL has been sick, and sick enough for him to cancel his tour to Europe. Usually if he were there cameras will not be allowed, and it would have sucked if I had to walk home because I had a camera. But James brought his camera and I will gank some pictures from him. I do have to say that I have fallen in love. With whom you say? Well not any one person in particular, No No No!!! TIPA (Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts) has a bagpipe and drum corps and all the women are quite accomplished snare drummers. It is with this lot that has received my crush. They were all rocking those drums with exquisite skill. I am a sucker for women who can rock at on some drums. Nuff said about that. All the other performances where great, including a group a children who were so adorable, with there little kiddies voices. Another one that was my favorite was a mask dance that is traditionally done by men. At the end of their dance the performers took off their masks so the audience found out that they were not men at all, but women. There was quite a ripple of shock and amazement that what the audience felt.

There at the temple I had finally ran into Tenzin Nangkyi fellow BC student while I was circumambulating the temple. I also ran into the sister and mother of another BC Tibetan. After all that, me and my friend Erika were having a chat by the offering stack, which consisted of a huge stack of “Kaptse” or Tibetan biscuits with candy and fruit on top of it. Erika was just chewed out by two older Tibetan men for getting to close to it, saying that it is holy. She was just checking to see how it was stacked. It looked similar to the way one stacks the sticks of wood for playing jenga. A few minutes later, I noticed a white dude with a short mohawk making funny faces. Tibetan folks are walking around him and staring at him saying that he is crazy. Erika who was sitting next to me told me that his was holding his breath until his turn blue. He then comes to the offering pile and starts eating away. I tell him that this pile is an offering and that it is not ready to be eaten until the ceremony is over. There had been ceremonies all week. Anyways, my friend James comes up and tells him the same thing, and then all of a sudden I have just realized that I had been squirted with mango stuff. I had it all it my hair, my pants and shirt. Also James and Erika who were sitting next to me got jizzed by this mango. It happened so fast, but as James was talking to mahawk dude, the dude took a mango from the pile and squeezed it causing it contents to be projected all over me and my friends. There were Tibetans looking on as this took place, but none did anything. Especially since a few moments earlier Erika was schooled just for looking at the offering pile too close. I told her that Tibetans might have a different attitude for the insane. Since Erika is sane, Tibetans will assume that she should know better, but for those who are crazy, their crazy and of course they don’t know any better. Well at least that is my assessment.

Two events have also been happening that affects Tibetans; one is the opening of the Nathula pass from Sikkim across the border to Tibet on the 6th of July. Another is the demolition of the Majnu Ka Tilla Tibetan settlement in Delhi which now I have just read that this will not be demolished, and of course the opening of the railway from Beijing to Lhasa. Tibetan Activists in Dharamsala has had several events including a hunger strike and a march in opposition to this railway.

My family was going to have a party on Thrungkar but Pala was very sick, thus no party. Pala is not sure when he was born so he, like many Tibetans will celebrate their birthday either on Losar or on Thrungkar. It would have been fun, since I will get to see Tibetans get stupid drunk. Oh well.

I have a new Tibetan tutor; he is an ex-monk from Namgyal Monastery. We have only met a few times, but he knows how to teach which is good. He is not like Pema, who I still miss very dearly, but this tutor, with his knowledge of Dharma will be good for me. He so far has told me that my Tibetan pronunciation is good, but I need to work on “downloading Tibetan to my tongue”. This is quite true and the hardest to do since that will take years to get used to.

TC MEC will start school again this Monday which is the start of a new term, my last one with them. I would like to leave with quote that I have heard from a German lady who live a long time in the US and has been living in India for 17 years. This is what she so wisely says, “In India, everybody says ‘No problem, No problem, Madam’, but in India everything is always a fucking problem” direct quote from Priya.


Sunday, July 02, 2006


HHDL’s teachings have ended. I am bit sad but I enjoyed them and I am looking forward to when I can get to the point with my Tibetan where I will not need the radio for the translation. Throughout the teachings it is fine to have but also quite cumbersome, especially when it came to bad reception or the translator not having enough time to finished his translation. I think that we lost a lot of information through it. But at the same time there no doubt that the translator was excellent and I have total respect and admiration for his profession.

The way it was set up was that there were two translations going simultaneously one in Chinese and one in English. The Chinese translations were provided over the loud speaker after HHDL finished speaking. The English ones could only be heard over radio. I am assuming that it must have been the Taiwanese Sangha that requested the teachings and that is why that Chinese translation was over the loudspeakers. The first and last prayers were chanted in Chinese. This caused a bit of a dilemma at times since some times the Chinese translator will finish before the English one. Since HHDL could only hear the Chinese one, the English translator will have to translate while His Holiness was teaching and keep up with the new information coming in. I remember from Amaravati, that the same translator had to translate with no breaks coming from HHDL. I also knew that at these teachings there were a Korean and a Russian translator translating to the people that sat immediately around them.

There, I was able to find a new Tibetan tutor of which I am excited about. I have been without one for two months now. I found out that my first tutor Pema, who I thought was in Manali, is actually in Spain. I felt a bit betrayed for she lied to me, but also I understand that she did not what others to find out. There are times that I hear my family talking about; who married to what westerner to go to the west or whose child got a scholarship to study in the US, or who got to go Europe, or who got political asylum, etc. I find it to be quite an obsession with trying to get to the West. I hear it so much. I understand, but I do get annoyed with it at times. Like I say, I wish everyone to gain what they desire. Anyways, I will meet with my tutor tomorrow and I will see how it goes.

Tomorrow, TC MEC will commence registration for the second term, and then class begins the next week. The 6th of July is HHDL’s Thrungkar (Birthday) which means some celebration of some sorts happening on that day. The weird thing that I find is that George W. Bush and His Holiness the Dalai Lama share a birthday. Two totally diametrical opposites, one brings war and the other peace.

Not to forget the World Cup final on Sunday the 9th. My own birthday just passed on the 30th of June. What can I say, another year gone by. My only birthday wish for myself is that I continue to strive to grow as a positive human entity as the years role by.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Monsoons Begins…

The weather just could not hold out any longer. The infamous rains have finally come. Supposedly, Dharamsala is the worst place to be in India for monsoon, and I can see why. I think that these next few months will be the hardest and most challenging time that I will have in McLeod Ganj. Three months of rain does not sound like my cup of tea, but I do have some serious rain gear. I am only missing one thing, and that is some rain boats. And with all these small bodied Indians and Tibetans around there are not much prospects of finding any in my size.

The first term at TC MEC is over. My class ended up with 4 students on the last day. With my class was consisting of beginners with no knowledge of English, I was happy for the students that stuck it out. I think a few found teachers better than myself, and one lady, in fact the only lady in my class, had some kind of foot injury preventing her from coming to class. Her name is Coenga, which means “fifteen”. With that name, I could not help but to affectionately make fun of her. I noticed with her that she will transcribe all the English words in Chinese. She is not the first Tibetan that I have seen doing that. With some new comers, they might not necessarily know literary Tibetan. And some do not know Spoken Tibetan every well, or they speak a dialect from a remote area in Tibet.

There is one woman of about 24 years old that I remember from my first class. She was not supposed to be in my class in the first place, but she will sneak in. So, I will call her out on it. She was a rather obstinate woman. I would of let her stay in the class, but she’d always over power the class. I think that even the male Tibetans were afraid of her. So, after a few little spats with her, she finally listened. I noticed with her that she will talk to Tibetans in Chinese, and they made fun of her for it. She was totally educated in Beijing and was very Chinese in character, despite that she was born in Tibet. She eventually went back to Tibet.

Class at TC MEC will resume on the 10th of July, at this moment HHDL is giving teachings on the Bodhisattvacharyavatara a.k.a A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva. This is a very important text because in outlines the Bodhisattva’s ideals (to stay out of nirvana until all sentient beings are liberated) which is the crux on which Mahayana Buddhism is founded on. In comparison to Theravada Buddhism where the Arhat (one who seeks liberation for ones own self) is the highest ideal. The teachings have now been going on for three days, and I am enjoying very bit of it. Every now and then I can understand a bit of HHDL’s Tibetan. With the teachings, McLeod Ganj is packed full of people, also with the coming rain after the teachings they will all flee for their dear lives.

At home we are all watching the World Cup and that too I am extremely enjoying. We had two girls for two different prep schools here on a study abroad program. One of the girls goes to Lawrenceville which is a school that a friend’s sister attended for her senior year. They were quite interesting girls since they come from pretty wealthy families. But regardless of that I did enjoy their company. I have never interacted with folks from a prep school before. Us po’ folk usually make fun of prep school students “preppies”. There is no doubt that these girls have rich families, and we had very different high school experiences, but for their short time here I truly had fun with them.

Pa la came home drunk one night and Ama la was not too happy about it. Pa la got schooled hard and it was the first time that I have seen them have anything that could resemble a fight by western relationship standards. They never share any affection towards each other. I get the sense that the only reason that they are together is because that is not to acceptable to divorce. It feels more like a business relationship. And I have a feeling that this is quite common among Tibetans, well at least older ones. A friend of mine was telling me a story. She was teaching English to some Tibetan carpet makers all of which were women. On Valentines Day she asked if they will make Valentines Day cards for their husbands. She told me that all the women starting laughing saying “Why would we do that for?” as if that was not an option. She then asked them if they loved husbands and they said, "Why would we love our husbands?" We then realized that in exile and probably in Tibet, marriage is done more for the sake of convenience over that of romance, not to mean that love does not happen but that it is not the main impetus for marriage.

Oh one more thing I have purchase my airplane ticket back to the US. I set to leave on the 24th of September, flying straight to Kentucky. My heart stops at the thought. Don’t get me wrong I love my home just not ready to leave just yet. I think that I will leave this post at that.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Thoughts of return to the US, Mama Mia!!!!!

Two nights ago I was tossing and turing in my bed, and my mind was rustling with thought of my inevitable return the US of A. I ain't goin’ front, I have no desire to return to US, but it is something that I must do. Thus I have been thinking of how to return ASAP. I have given up the hope of attended FPMT’s Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo Translator Course for several reasons. Firstly, I cannot afford it. Secondly, I have not heard any thing from them and Thirdly, I think I know the potential teacher and he is an utter asshole and I do not want to study under him. So where does that leave me. IBD Sarah seems to be my best option. Their class is for one year and that will cost $1,000 including room and broad. If I excell in this class then I will have the option to take another one year brigde course with is $ 750. The beginner’s one years course plus the brigde course is expecting that a person who finishes these will be ready to do university work in the Tibetan language, which is my goal. The prices are right in reach.

The problems are that I will not be in the US until the beginning of October 2006, and the first course commences July 1st 2007, leaving me 9 months to come up with the funds. There is a hard chance that can go to the States, just for nine months. If I rent, I will have to comment to one year, and then rent will prevent me from saving the required money. Right now, I do not have a place to stay when I get back, nothing. I will have to figure everything out when I get there. But I do have some hope. If you have any suggestions please let me know. But, first things first, I will buy my ticket to the States, I am intending on leaving on the 24th of September. And I have made a 5 year plan as far as where I want to be, scary heh?

At my home here thing are great, Tashi was accepted to a good nursing school in Dehra Dun, India. The family was quite stressed out about him not being able to get into a school, but this one worked out. Last Sunday at midnight, some of us went to walk the lingkhor (circumambulatory path around HHDL’s residence) because it marks the Saka Dawa Duchen celebrating Sakyamuni Buddha enlightenment and parinirvana. The path was full of people. Many of them were doing full body prostrations while chanting prayers. Other where just chanting. As we walked the sides of the path were clogged with sleeping beggars and mendicants. We also went to the main temple which was also clogged with people. My thoughts were with my friend Dean who was at Gang Rinpoche (Mt Kailash) in Tibet. He was doing the samething me and my family where doing but around a big mountain and about 16,000 feet above sea level. He carried with him a picture of the family to offer to the mountain. The next day I went again to do the same thing, except all those sleeping beggars and mendicants who were sleeping the night before were in full action. Many Tibetans were carring bags filled with Indian coins. I could hear the beggars say "Panch, Panch, Panch" Five, five, five. Trying to increase the amount of alms the Tibetans were offering.

As all the world knows, the World Cup is rocking out in Germany and have been watching it adamantly. The World Cup reminds me of the years that I went to school in Panama, living with my family. I remember how the whole country watched together. I remember how the quickness of the Spanish annoucer entralled me. And of course the long winded "Gooooooooooooooooooooooool" that the annoucer will scream at the top of his lungs when a goal was scored. It is not the same in India, but better than the States. Not much folks be watching it there. Here folks watch it alot, but it does not have the societal passion that I remember from my youth in Panama. Watching it in English is not the same either, and there are no Spanish stations in India. I am glad to get a break from Cricket, and Tashi's favorite WWE wrestling. I have seen to NBA finals games, and one Baseball game recently.

Next week is the last week of school of the first term at TC MEC, and then HHDL's teachings will commence. I am excited since I focus so much on studying Tibetan, it gives me a chance to study Dharma for a week. Well I will leave with that. This Internet cafe is running on a generator right now, and not sure when it will just cut off. We aint got no light in good ole Mo la Gan ji. I hope that it will be on to watch the game.


Monday, June 05, 2006

A slip of the tongue and a wrong turn on the road. Are often the basis of a thrashing (Tibetan Proverb)

I used the above as my title because I could not control my mouth from anger. Here is the Wylie Romanization. kha nor lam nor gnyis de. nyes rdung gzed p’ai gzhi ma yin.

We are currently on vacation at TC MEC, while all the Tibetan schools are also on summer break. Summer consists of ten days. It is quite nice to be around kids, meaning that Choeyang (featured in the picture above) is home a lot watching tons of TV. Choeyang and I have developed quite a love hate relationship. At times she is intimate with me like I am her brother and at other times she is totally hating my guts calling me names like “dukcha” which means bad and “lang go” which means ox. We fight like brother and sister and it has been quite fun. I make of her front teeth which are very black from rotting.

I have also been playing with some other children. My current place of stay is suited down the hill from the Yongling School which is dedicated to the HHDL’s senior Tutor known as Ling Rinpoche. I have befriended some children from that school. I met them while there was a Tibetan cultural show happening at the school. The kids were tripping out over my height, skin color, hair and my ability to speak choppy Tibetan. Their favorite game involved me lifting about 20 little kids of various ages over the top of my head one at a time. We also played an interesting variation of tag. Nothing shows how old ones butt is getting than playing with a bunch of little jits. The good thing is that they know me and they always holler at me when I am walking down that steps homes.

About two days ago I was kicking a hacky sack around on the roof of my family’s house when hear someone screaming at me. I looked up; it was some of the kids from Yongling School. They had spotted me. They said, “De shu da” come here. So I grabbed my things and hoofed it on up the hill to the school. We played around with the hacky sack for a good bit. One of the little boys named Thokmay wants me to get him hacky sack like the one I have. I told that he will have to wait until I return to the US. I took his address and when I get back to the US I will send him one. Thokmay is a cute little boy; he must be Indian or at least partly Indian. Though school is a majority Tibetan school there are Indian and some Western kids who attend. One day I was walking behind a small white boy and a slightly bigger Tibetan boy. I was smiling as I listened to their conversation in Tibetan.

At home it has been quite stressful for the family. Tenzin Tashi, the oldest son, has just received he exam results. He did good, but not as good as he wanted. He is trying to go to Medical School and Pala and him went to Shimla (Capital of the Himachel Pradesh) to see what is up. For some reason all of these Medical Schools require a donation which is another name for baksheesh. It is quite expensive and it does not include any other cost. It is an accepted bribe to receive permission to go to school. Also with Tashi being a Tibetan, it makes it quite difficult. The family can not afford such a bribe of which they have been offered to pay between 300,000 to 700, 000 Lacs or Indians rupees. That is about 6880 to 16,055 US dollars. The family is not doing too badly financially but they do not have that kind of money. Thus it is quite sad, for Tashi studies very hard and also the family is depending on him. So he is under a lot of pressure. The funny thing is that if they did not tell me, I wouldn’t know they were stressed. Still they go about their day like any other day without a sight of emotion. The only hint I get is that Pala is drinking. At times he gets quite drunk. If Pala drinks, he will get drunk. There is not in-between for him. It does bring entertainment, for he is quite funny when drunk. Of course Ama Chuki la always puts the smack down on Pala when he gets out of hand.

I am definitely very happy to be living with the family, they have kept there promise to converse with me in Tibetan, which was the biggest desire I had. Note: I got angry at a friend of mine (Lobsang) for always speaking English to me. I totally cursed him out. He is a nice guy. No doubt that his English and Tibetan are better than mine, but all I asked for was his assistance in helping me learn his native tongue. Very time a saw me he spoke English and finally I told him that he has known me for nine months and knew my reason for coming to India and he could not bring himself to help me out. Well to say the least I do not think we are friends any more. I felt relief after that moment, but I do felt that I did not approach him in the right way. I should have talked to him instead of cursing him out. Well next time I see him I well try to talk to him, apologize and maybe he will forgive me. I am such a mean person.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Ghost, Cricket and Serials

Last night at home while I was watching a cricket game with the family little Choeyang was doing her math homework. One of her classmates had come to the house with his three-year-old little brother. Pala "Dorje" introduces the little brother to me. So I say "hello, what is your name", and the little brother’s eyes get really big in terror. I then asked him "what is the matter, you scared?" and he ran out the house. The older brother goes after the boy. The little brother tells the older brother that I am a dongzi, Tibetan for ghost. At that moment every one in the house busts out laughing. Pala told me that many of these little ones have never seen a black man in real life before especially one that spoke some Tibetan. This was a funny little antidote.

I have been watching parts of some cricket games since I came to India. It is hard to miss. Cricket is the sport obsession of India. Pala, like many in India love cricket and he has explained to me the rules and since then I have watched some games with him. At this moment the Indian Cricket team is in the West Indies playing the West Indian Team. I always joke with people when they ask me if I like cricket. I usually tell them that the only cricket that I knew before I came to India lives in the bushes or I’ll say Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio. Of course, I have heard about it before coming to India, that information came from international friends that I had went to college with.

Another thing that I have been watching with my family are Soap Operas or as they are known in India (Serials). It is hard to describe these soaps because they are extremely melodramatic. But aren’t all soaps operas melodramatic? Well I had thought that too until I saw Indian Soaps. I have watched America soaps and Spanish telenovelas and the Indian ones got all of them beat when it comes to melodrama. There is one show in general that the family loves called "Kasauti Zindagi Kii". I cannot really tell what it is about since I can not understand too much Hindi and regardless of the fact that I have watched it regularly. Usually I am reading through my Tibetan Language book, practicing Tibetan calligraphy, also at very exciting moments I get the commentary from Pala.