My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Sunday, March 16, 2008

bod rgyal lo!!!!

Right before the beginning of the 2008 New Year the International class was requested to prepare a performance for the incoming students of the Emory University Tibetan Studies Study Abroad Program due to be coming on the 18th of January. Since it was seen by certain students that I possessed the talents and know-how deemed certain necessary to arrange a performance, I slightly reluctantly accepted the task. My first idea was to do a way chessy dance routine to a popular hip hop song since our performance was to be aimed at young US students. Some of the other students objected to this idea saying that we should do a Tibetan song instead, and so Kay and I sat down one day and Kay our German homeboy came up with a great idea.

It consisted of using a popular Tibetan exile pop song called “Ngantsho Bod Kyi Pu mo” aka “Our Tibetan Women”. The chorus goes: Our Tibetan women, Short, Fat and Beautiful. Because of this lyric, Kay thought that it will be utterly hilariously if he dressed up as a girl kneeling on the ground wearing sandals on his knees and a chupa (Tibetan dress). I was to be Kay’s suitor, the tall black man who falls heads over heels with Kay’s short, fat, beautiful Tibetan woman self. Once we had worked through some more ideas, we came up with a game plan. We wanted four back-up dancers, who all ended up being from Korea. Kay and I will have our own moves which corresponded to the song and the back up dancers. My responsibility was to choreograph and teach the dance. Kay’s job was to get his costume details all worked out.

So one day in my room I played the song over and over again until I had a rough draft of the moves. This had been the first time that I had ever choreographed a dance, although it is not something that I can hardly place on a résumé, I felt that it was quite an accomplishment. I have had experience in being in choreograph pieces in college in different styles of dancing, salsa, contra-dancing, lindy hop etc. so I guess from those I was able to come up with some mad chessy steps.

And thus Hotfoot’s shea thrap (dance your ass off) boot camp began. We trained for about two weeks and even though not everyone in the class performed others where able to contribute to it in other ways. One student translated the lyrics into English and we had another student who was not willing to dance but willing to be our flash card girl. Thus while the song played she change the cards so that the students could at least get the gist of what is going on. For I thought that although it still would have been funny to see the performance with out translation, knowing at least what the chorus meant will help provide the insight that the Tibetan audience was to understand. Also as a suggestion from one of the Korean back-up dancers a speech was prepared in Tibetan by another student and I was to read this before the start of the performance. It pretty much entailed our appreciation to all the students, faculty and staff for all the help and kindness that they have shown to us, especially in the realm of helping us out in our Tibetan, making us feel at home and to welcome the study abroad students, faculty and staffs. By the time we were ready to perform, we were absolutely sick of that song, but we had our moves down.

During the actual performance everyone about died. This, as far has I know, as been the first time that the International students have done a proper performance and when they saw our lovely little Kay in a Tibetan chupa at 4 foot 2 inches, fat, with long black hair and makeup, the audience totally busted it wide open. No one was expecting that because we had set up a covert operation to keep Kay’s short, fat, beautiful Tibetan woman identity covered up until it was time from him to come out on stage. The Korean backup dancers acted as a partition between the audience and Kay in order that he could get ready without them seeing him. Me, as Kay’s suitor and choreographer remember watching the Sarah’s principal, whose a geshe, gusting a gut and the students were just hysterically laughing. Our mission was complete and it was tons of fun.

Before the dance I was quite nervous, but not over the dancing, but over the Tibetan speech. I cannot speak Tibetan when I am nervous so I practiced that speech to death, more than any other speech that I have given. Obvious since Tibetan is not my first language is worried that no one will understand me or that my US accent will be bad etc, but my fears were not the reflection that I have had of the situation. My teachers said that I spoke clearly and everything was understood and also that they were proud, and that made me soo happy. Anyways that opened up the welcoming celebrations for the study abroad student to Sarah.

Having the students here was great, though at first I was a bit apprehensive because I thought maybe the students would not like me for numerous reasons that I had built up in my whacked out little head of mine. Though I am older than them and all, they all are totally awesome. There main director who I got to chat to a bit is a way intense lady but who was cool and speaks excellent Hindi. She is an Indian Buddhist scholar with tons of knowledge in Indian Buddhist epistemology and knows the who’s who in Dharamsala and she created the Emory Tibetan Studies Study Abroad program. Emory for the pass couple of years has an especial connection with IBD and HHDL. This connection led to HHDL accepted an Honorary Professorship (?) at Emory after he had been awarded the US Congressional Medal of Honor, which is something the he has not accepted from any other institution in the world.

I remember when I at Berea reading about this very program and I had wanted to apply but it was too late since if I would have gone it would been during my last semester of college and Berea does not allow students to study abroad in their last semester. Plus at that point I was a bit disappointed with the study abroad office because the previous semester was not allowed to apply to the SIT Tibetan Studies program because my GPA was fractions lower than the minimal requirement. So here I am not in the Emory program, but in a weird way being here at Sarah and interacting with the students and the staffs is like I can experience it vicariously. The students get to meet the who’s who in McLeod plus have a private audience with HHDL, can’t beat that, right!!

I have made good friends with the staffers, one who I had met at the beginning of my first stay in MC Ganj two years ago who is as cool and awesome as it gets. She is a TA for a Tibetan Culture course. And the other TA for Tibetan Buddhism who I had not met, but I friend of mine who was in the program last year had told me that this woman was totally kicks ass, which is does. And not forget the coolest nun ever, who teaches the Buddhism course. She is way famous in the Dharamsala dharma circle for being a great teacher, and for being an erudite debater in Tibetan Buddhist dialectics. Since they have arrived, I have spent most of my free time with them and it has been a blast. They have acted as a sort of temporary emotional support base for me, since with being in Sarah I have not had someone to properly talk to about the stuff that is going in my head for while sometime. My Sarah friends are great and I love them, but due to cultural differences certain topics that were bothering me did not translate and I was not able to get the support and understanding that I would have desired and these girls came at the right time I guess. The two TA’s, I have felt, where able and willing to hear me blab about my shit, even though at times I might have been a burden on them. They did have a lot work. I owe all to them and if they ever read this I hope that they know that I love them to death and that they have helped me tremendously and I hope that I in someway have been able to help them.

We all celebrated the Tibetan New Year (Losar) together bringing in the Earth-Mouse Year (rab byung ri zla’i sa byi lo) 2135. I enjoyed the celebrations here. It is only on Losar that alcohol is allowed to be drunk on campus by students and I got to see some of my teachers in full drunken regalia. The school provided dance parties around a bonfire in front of the Girl’s Hostel. A combination of Tibetan (traditional and Modern) music and dance, Western music, and we cannot forget the Punjabi Bhangra, which is hella fun. We went in and out of the staffers rooms who has made Losar altars out of khapsay, which is a kind of a fried doughy things of different shapes used to be stacked on the altar or small pretzel versions to be eaten immediately which many of the students had help make in an assemble line fashion a few day before Losar. If front of all the altars there are various small or big bowls filled with various offering stuffs. The most important one as far as guest are concerns in the one containing tsampa ? flour, in which every guest as they enter whosever’s room or house take a little pinch and flick it up over there heads three times as a offering while facing their altar. You do this to every room you go into on losar. The host will then proceed to offer various drinks, snacks, etc, including big Ole hunks of meat and pig fat marinated in some yellow looking seasoning.

Also another rule that is totally loosened on Losar is that the hostels are totally open to either sex up to 7pm. Normally for a girl to enter the guys hostels or vice versa is a big no no. I heard that in pass Losars there was not a curfew, but last year something went down in the boy hostels that the administration decided on placing a curfew. I am not sure what went down, but I heard in had to do with alcohol, dancing, US girls and Tibetan boys, great combo ain’t it. I did not go to MC Ganj the whole time, because it was cold and I heard that it had been snowing and Sarah was cold enough as it was.

Class went on just fine when we had it; by this point many of our students had already left a month before to attend HHDL teachings at the beginning of January in the big Tibetan settlements of South India or just wanted a vacation, so up until this point we have not had our full class attendance. A few days after Losar HHDL give his Monlam Chenmo (Great Prayers) teachings. Usually back in the pre-1959 Tibet after Losar, Tibetans in Lhasa will celebrate Monlam Chenmo, but it exile HHDL does teachings. This year the teachings were based on the Udanavarga (ched du brjod pa’i tshoms) or the Mula-Sarvastivadin version of the Dhammapada, and the Jataka Tales (skyes rabs). Most of the teachings were in the form of lung transmission in which HHDL just reads the texts and that led up to a empowerment on the 16 drops of Kadampa. I know that many folks don’t know what the hell I am talking about but hopefully this might get your inquisitive mind going to search out what this stuff this for I don’t fell like explaining it. These teachings were totally crowded; there were people from all over the world, hung out with some cool Spaniards which was nice since I haven’t spoken Spanish in quite sometime and a Tibetan Doctor from Amdo who had come just for the Teachings. I also saw Dr. Barry Clark, an Englishman who learnt Tibetan medicine from Dr. Yeshi Dhonden many years ago in Dharamsala. Dr. Clark had come to Berea a few years ago to give a small workshop on Tibetan Medicine before the thought of even studying the Tibetan language had entered my mind. He was a great influence in my desire to study Tibetan.

A few days after the Monlam teachings, HHDL went immediately to give the Guhyasamaja Empowerment. While the empowerment was going on I had found out from a student who was attending the empowerment that my main Lama was also at the teachings, and that in fact it was him, HH Sakya Trizin and HH Karmapa, who had requested these teachings from HHDL. Guhyasamaja are tantric teachings which means that they are secretive and at a level of Tibetan Buddhist practice which requires a high level of dedication to your main Lama and to the practice. So for teachings and empowerments as such, it is requires that those who attend had received certain preliminaries empowerments and teachings, if one had not done so then one is not allowed to attend. Last year HHDL had given the first half of the teachings thus only those who had attended last year were allowed to attend. But since HH Sakya Trizin was in town I had to go see him, so last Saturday morning I went up to the teachings and got to see him with HH Karmapa and HHDL which I got to say is incredible for it is not everyday that one gets to see three really incredible teachers of their spiritual stature in one place. Then that afternoon at 4pm there was a public audience where I receive his blessing. I got to talk to his main attendant who I had known from my previous stays at the Sakya Monastery in Dehra Dun. That was really important for me and I am glad that it was to be. HH Sakya Trizin is giving the Lamdre empowerment, which is the main tantric teachings of the Sakya lineage, at the Dzongsar Monastery in Bir. It is the monastery of the famous film director Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. If you have seen the movie, “The Cup” then you know who I am talking about. I will be going to Bir this week for three days to attend some of the teachings and hopefully get a private audience with HH Sakya Trizin.

The 10th of March marks the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising in Lhasa. In Mcleod Ganj as usual there was huge gathering at the Main Temple, and then a march to lower Dharamsala, but that was not all. Five Tibetan NGO’s from the Ganj had organized a march back to Tibet (The Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement) with 100 core marchers (including the famous Tibetan poet-activist Tenzin Tsundue). I and several Sarah and Emory students marched to Sarah College on the first day with the march. The marchers were spending the night at Sarah. It was a great march, with great countryside and weird stares from the local and what have you. Also one of the organizers is a Berea Alum who had years before marched with together on a march from Bloomigton to Indianapolis, Indiana for the Tibetan struggle. I reminded her of that influential event for me at that time, for it was that march that had fully introduced me to Tibet, Tibetans and their struggle. Being here in Dharamsala with her and taking a small part of this march showed me how far all of us had come and made some sort of a cycle, especially for her as an organizer of this march. That night at Sarah, I was standing in front of the office/ temple building when a saw some police walk into the office hall. I know then that something was going down. Essentially, the police were there to inform the marchers that they were not allowed to march pass the boundary of the district of Kangra, if they did they will face the consequences of Indian law. So the following day the 11th all of Sarah’s campus community marched with the marchers up until about Kangra Fort. As the pass couple of days have unfolded those core marchers have been put into detention, protests have exploded in Tibet itself and Nepal. With the Olympics going to China soon the Tibetans are trying to act on it and get some attention to their plight so that some real change can happen in Tibet that benefits them and that grants them more freedom. Below I have place some links to news relating to these recent events as FYI. Many of you know that HHDL was awarded to the US Congressional Gold Medal of Honor recently, so here is your opportunity if you did not know before why this came to be and why was he the one awarded such a medal. Read up and spread the word, Beeeaatcches!!!!



ktg said...


congratulations on making your dreams real and living your right livelihood. we miss ya and pray for you often.

oh and we always remember to check your PO box.

don't worry.

Anonymous said...

missin you!
2008 might be year to return

Chicago Ratna Shri Sangha said...

Tashi Delek!

Nice blog by the way. I am also considering studying Tibetan abroad. As you undoubtedly know there are not too many opportunities in the States to immerse oneself in the language. The Dharamsala area seems like the best option.

Keep Postin'
Konchog Yeshe

Anonymous said...

Hey there...really enjoyed reading your blog. I'm coming to Dharamsala May 15 to volunteer for a month. Would love to ask you for some advice...please email me at if you have some time. Thanks

Chicago Ratna Shri Sangha said...

Done! Just e-mailed you mi compadre. ;-)