My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

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.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

No Power in the Ganj

On this past Monday, May 15th; TC MEC was able to hold a workshop designed for English as Second Language (ESL) students taught by an actor from NYC. He was only here for three days and on Monday he provided our students and teachers with a lot of fun learning ideas. He came to three of our English classes and held a workshop. In these he provided us with various games that involve acting to strengthen English skills. The students were such awesome troopers, and at times I had to serve as translator for the Beginners class. He was able to get even our most shy students to participate. Everyone was very happy and I was glad that I was able to organize this event for TC MEC. I owe my appreciation to Mr Jeffrey Solomon for coming to McLeod Ganj and sharing his skill.

The days have been getting hotter here but also some of the most intense thunderstorms have been releasing their wrath on McLeod Ganj. On day about two weeks ago it hailed so much that it was piling up all around town, at first it looked like snow. Some piles were so big that I could place my hand in it and not feel the ground. It has hailed many times since then. Yesterday around 3pm it looked like it was 8pm for the clouds were evil dark and two Mondays ago we had a great lightening show. I saw one of the mountain peaks being struck by several bolts of lightening. It was quite a site. This I am assuming that this is the precursor to the coming monsoon season.

On a sad note a Westerner woman, sorry I can not remember where she was from, had died while trying to hike to Triund (top ridge from McLeod Ganj) by herself. She was caught in a hailstorm on her way up and fell of a cliff. There were signs all over McLeod Ganj asking for her whereabouts. These storms come in fast. It will look like it will be a sunny day and then the next minute marble size hail is hitting you on the head.

Sometimes when I am working at the TC MEC office Jigme the director will be chatting with his family back in Amdo, Tibet. At these times Jigme will call be over to his computer so that his family can see me. Jigme has a webcam on his computer. One day Jigme's father was home in Amdo and at the computer. Jigme's father is a Nagpa, a Tibetan yogin who spends most of his time in retreat practicing serious meditation. I knew that he was a Nagpa because they grow their hair long in matted locks and then when it gets long enough wrap it around their heads like a sweatband. Also I have seen some Nagpa's here in McLeod Ganj and at the Kalachakra. When they saw me they all started laughing. I don't think there are too many of my kind in Amdo, if at all. It was interesting to be connected to Tibet via a webcam and to see a bit of Jigme's life in Tibet.

Yesterday HHDL came back in town and once again I was able to see him smiling and waving as he was driven up the hill. Today there was a ceremony at the main temple. I think it was for HHDL. Since for most of the day there was no power, which is normal and unpredictable, I went to the temple to see what was up. At the same time as the ceremony the students from the Institute of Buddhist Dialects (IBD) where debating. Tibetan Buddhist debate is a rather loud event and is quite aggressive, thus while the ceremony was going on all one could hear was the claps that the monks do when they ask a question. I am intrigued by this way of debating, so I went to see what the fuss was all about. There is usually one person who sits on the ground. This person is being asked questions by another person, sometimes two, who is standing up. The person asking the question in one fluid motion will swing up onto his left foot while his right hand is swung over head thus he is balanced on the left foot. Then as he is about to conclude his question, he simultaneously stomp his right foot that was in the air and bring his right hand to meet his left hand on a loud clap. Then the person on the floor must answer the question.

The person on the floor is bombarded by the questioner, especially if he is good. All of the questions are from Buddphilosophy and logic. This is the way that one gains his Geshe degree (Tibetan Buddhist Doctorate degree) which usually takes about 21 years to obtain. Usually, for the Geshe degree this is done in the main temple of one's monastery. What was also interesting was that there were a few laypeople, men and women who were debating. There were few nuns also. Since laypeople are allowed to take this philosophy course at IBD they too must debate. At first, I taught that monastic debate was only for monastics, thus I was happy to see that laypeople are in it too. Especially as I contemplate on going to IBD Sarah. I saw one white monk there. I was admiring his Tibetan as he debated. He was having such a good time that I stood close to listen to their session. I spoke to him for a little bit, he is from Israel and he has been with IBD for five years. I told him that I might go to IBD Sarah. He serves as an inspiration as my own Tibetan language skills slowly improve. The first time that I had seen debating in McLeod Ganj was while I was passing by a nunnery. The nuns where so loud that it took me a while for it to register in my mind what was going on. Also at the Kalachakra there were more formal debates happening after the ceremonies were over. That is all for now folks.

Well for those of you Berea College students who are graduating in a few days, I decide this blog entry to you. Keep on rocking out in everything that you do. Reach for the sky. I am proud of all of you.

With much love from McLeod Ganj.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

More than half way through.

I have been here in McLeod Ganj for more than six months now. At this point I find the prospects of returning to the United States of America very frightening. My reasons for this surrounds that now that I have been making basic progress in learning to speak Tibetan, all that work that I have placed will be lost. Thus since I have been here I have been searching for ways to not make this happen. I am satisfied with my volunteering and that has been extremely worthwhile. I am appreciative of all those who have supported me to come here and I have felt that that aspect of my trip is truly successfully. I see the benefit that the students at TC MEC are receiving from my help and I am so happy for this. But the other aspect of my trip to learn Tibetan is and will be unfilled. Unless I can extend my time in India (unlikely) or come back in a year to start from square one.

I have got it in my brain that I have the capacity to be a translator, from Tibetan to English. Thus far from what I have read, this is a very complex type of work involving being fluent in reading Classical Tibetan and speaking Tibetan. These are two different skills since the two are rather separate from each other. It also involves an intimate knowledge of Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy. These are quite daunting prospects and I feel that if I have to opportunity to study these things that I could do it.

So I have searched for options, and what have I found? First, was the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition’s (FPMT) translator program here in Dharamsala. I have already explained this course in a previous blog entry. The second option that I have found is based forty minutes from McLeod Ganj. It is called the College of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarah, set up under the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in McLeod Ganj. Unfortunately they do not have a website at this moment so I went to the school. I was recommended to go here by a young Swiss man that I met on the train on the way to the Kalachakra this pass January. He was in the same position as me last year. He thought about the FPMT program, and found the Sarah option much better. Part of the attraction to Sarah is that it is cheap.

Their first year Tibetan class is $1000 dollars for ten months, where the FPMT course is $3200 for two years. FPMT does help one find a job, though one might not necessarily get paid. It depends if the Dharma center that FPMT finds for you can afford it. My Swiss friend’s Tibetan was very good when he started and thus he went to take their philosophy course that is taught only in Tibetan. The philosophy course is seven years long!! And the super plus at Sarah is that one is only allowed to speak in Tibetan!! No English!! I think that that is so awesome. This was what I was hoping for when I came to McLeod Ganj, but instead found many people spoiled and a bit arrogant of their knowledge of English.

I went to Sarah last week and they have placed my on a list of their first year Tibetan course. Thus I too might have the opportunity to take this philosophy course. Maybe!!! This will mean going to America, which I do not want to do. I feel that I will lose all my Tibetan in the US. If I was a stable level in my language learning I might feel different, but I want to nurse what I have learned thus far. Learning a new language is not easy and to learn it when one is not hearing it everyday, I feel is almost pointless for one easily losses their motivation towards language learning.

Learning a language when one is an adult is a great and humbling experience. For even if one is a great scholar, when you learn a new language you are put back to a level below that of a kindergartener. So I would ideally like to stay until I can read and speak Tibetan fluently. I do not feel that this will happen in the US. So I will try my hardest to figure a way to stay, if not I will return home with my tail between my legs and try to raise money for the Sarah college and hope that I can find Tibetans in America who are willing to talk to me in Tibetan.

Now, today I met with a girl who was in the Summer Tibetan Language course that I took at Cornell University in 2004. I had had a feeling that I would have run into her and I did at the Tibetan Film Festival organized by Lobzang Wangyal. She is PhD Anthropology student doing research for her dissertation on the Maitreya Project in which Lama Zopa, the head of FPMT, wants to build a huge Maitreya Buddha statue in Kushinagar, India. Therefore, she is here and we ran into each other. I was glad to see her; it seems that there are some issues with the project, especially dealing with the locals who might not be too fond of the future Buddha’s presence on their farmland.

My life with the family here goes on as usual. Many of the other home stays have come and gone. I did have a great bond with an American college girl who stayed with the family. She had a knack for attracting Tibetan Amdo men and Kashmiris. At one point, I a made fun of her for she had about seven men after her. She is a totally a pretty girl, but in the US she would not of received the same amount of attention that she ended up receiving. I am sure that some of these men are looking for a passport to the US through some western girl action. I think that it boosted her confidence a bit to have some of this extra attention. I have another American friend who told me that she is suffering from an over abundance of Tibetan and Kashmiri male attention. But it is all a kind of game with the men here, who gets to leave this god-awful wretched place for the Shangri-La we call the west. I hope that everyone finds what they need in life.

At first I was not going to update the blog for I felt that I had nothing to write about, but now that I have babbled and ranted I hope that you have enjoyed the stuff that I have written. I have a feeling that my readership has been declining. Oh well. The picture that you see is of me in front of a statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh at the Prashanti Nilayam Ashram, Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh home of Sri Satya Sai Baba.