My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

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.


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