My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Sunday, January 29, 2006

From Sakya Gompa

Well everyone, it has been a very interesting month in South India. It will be hard to express all of those experiences, but will express my feelings as best as I can. Right now at this current moment I am in Dehra Dun. I am a guess of Dagmo Kusho la, an ex-Berea alum who married His Eminence Ratna Vajra Rinpoche son of the spiritual lineage holder of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism His Holiness Sakya Trizin. This has been a great experience and I own it all to Dagmo Kusho la and her family for letting me stay here and for being so hospitable to me. I have been able to observe aspects of Tibetan religion that I would otherwise have not had the opportunity to witness. While I have been here I went to the Drikung Kagyu library to enquire about a translator's course. Most of my time in South India was spent in the town of Amaravati, where HHDL gave a three day preliminary teachings on Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Madhyamikya followed by the Kalachakra Empowerment. As I might of said earlier Amaravati is the site where the Buddha released the Kalachakra tantra. Due to the auspiciousness of this event many Tibetans from inside and outside Tibet were in attendance. It was very easy to pick out those who had just come from Tibet compared to those who are in exile. For one thing, many where from Amdo and Kham regions thus through their dialect I could deduce that they came from Tibet. Another figure was that they will wear those thick woolen chupas (Traditional Tibetan Dress) in the hot Indian Tropical sun. One could not help to smile when one saw the many who donned the attire. Also due to the attendance of many from Tibet HHDL took the opportunity to address them about certain issues such as his stance on Tibetan Autonomy and the smuggling of endangered animal hides into Tibet. This was made evident by the various campaigns carried out by various Tibetan NGO's toward vegetarianism and environmental awareness. I noticed that at first many westerners were frustrated that HHDL talked of such issues at a religious ceremony, but when thinks about it, this was a opportunity for him to address these folks since they are there in one place for the first time in a long time. Also, I have never seen so many monks and nuns as I have seen there. Underneath the teaching tent one would see a sea a maroon red from the robes. At this Kalachakra there was many families who were reuniting after decades of separation. Headed by the Tibetan Youth Congress, they set up loud speakers all throughout Amaravati searching for people, or announcing that a certain family member had fallen ill. All of this combined was what also made this event so memorable. Right across from the teaching site was a huge Dhyana (meditation) Buddha under construction which could be seen from many different parts of Amaravati. The original stupa (reliquary) was there in another part of the town, though it is now a small mound compared to what it use to be. I went there at night several times, and that was a powerful experience for me. Tons of people were circumambulating around the stupa. Some where doing full body prostration around it. Monks and Lamas were doing recitations at different locations throughout the site. Wherever there was a ruin of the original stupa Tibetans would rub their bodies and their malas (prayer beads) on them to gain merit. Plus the smell of incense burning, butter lamps and candles being lit and prayer flags abound made this a experience for all the senses. In Dharamsala one would experience this on a much smaller scale and have a sense of the churning sensation. But there it was magnified a hundred fold. Going to the stupa at night at Amaravati will be imprinted in me for a long time. I have never been to Tibet, but my sense was that in Tibet during one of their great religious festivals such as the Monlam Chenmo, being at the stupa was a small impression of what such events in Tibet would be like. I also thought that this stupa has probably not had so much use since Buddhism was in India. Of course, the highest highlight of attending the Kalachakra was being able to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama daily and to have an audience with him. He gave an audience for all the Westerners one day. We were all squeezed into a small tent and that was the closest that I have ever been to him. That power of humility that he has is truly intoxicating. He spoke to us for about fifteen minutes and that was it. Afterwards I and many others I spoke to were uplifted. That moment holds the highest for me. There were a few things that were disappointing about the Kalachakra. Like the spraying of toxic mosquito poison every evening. One guy would walk through the camps with a machine blowing this smoke everywhere and on top of that since the Tibetans did not know what it was, many little kids would run behind the fumigator guy just inches from the exhaust tube. They were jumping and laughing and having a good old time. Come to find out that the poison can cause chromosome damage, SWEET!! One time I was at a restaurant and a little girl who had chased down the fumigator dude came back crying because the poison had gotten into her eyes since her face was just inches from the exhaust tube. My other beef was the Coca-Cola signs "Inviting you to seek your Spiritual Empowerment". I told my friends while looking at that sign, "Man, that hurts, that really hurts." I stewed over this for some time and came to the conclusion that eventhough the motivation of this event is Bodhicitta (the altruistic intention to become enlightened) it is still apart of samsara (cyclic existence) and it must be used as a way out. Other observations, the first day in Amaravati I noticed that I recognized many of the beggars from Dharamsala. I said, "Hey, I know that beggar, that beggar and that one." I even remembered where they usually begged at in McLeod Ganj. My British friend Dean gave one the Dharamsala lepers a big fat hug. I have never seen so many beggars and lepers as I have seen here. Many of the deformities are hard to describe. Among the beggars a trend transpired in which for a couple days little boys will spray themselves with silver spray paint and pretend to be Mahatma Gandhi statues carrying a book. The first one a saw I taught, "Wow this guy can hold it for a good bit" and folks were giving him money. Obviously other little boys must of thought, "Hey that looks easy, I can do that and get some money". And so, for a few days afterwards we saw several silver Gandhis around Amaravati and at one point there was a silver Gandhi duel with two of them standing right next to each other. I could not contain my laughter. Amaravati itself is a nice place. The locals there are so nice. At the night the woman would make intricate chalk designs in front of their houses, called rangoli. Andhra Pradesh, the Indian state that we where in, is a Telegu speaking area, unlike Dharamsala where Hindi is the main language. North Indians for the most part will talk to westerners to sell you something, usually some illegal substance. "Sir, Sir you from? Want to buy some charas (hashish) was something I heard commonly in Delhi anyways. But here they were very curious at what was going on. Many of them had never seen a black man or Tibetan for that fact. So they would ask questions about the whole thing, I guess no one told the villagers what was going on? I went on a couple of walks thoughout the village. The folks were always so nice, and they always wanted to have their pictures taken. I was sad when it was all said and done. Every morning of waking up to the sounds of the haunting polyphonic chanting, or evenings of the Pali chant "Buddham Sharanam Gachchanami" playing through the loudspeakers will be missed. After Kalachakra I went to Puttaparthi to have Darshan of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. I spent three days in his ashram Prashanti Nilayam and received his Darshan twice. Puttaparthi is a very interesting place.Afterwards, I took a long ass train ride to get me here to Dehra Dun and in about seven or eight days I will be back in Dharamsala. If you would like to learn more about the Kalachakra and Sri Sathya Sai Baba follow these blog links:,,,,, and you can do your own searches on Kalachakra and Sri Sathya Sai Baba on any blog search engine. This is Hotfoot signing out from the Sakya Gompa Cyber Cafe.