My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Monday, September 29, 2008

At times…..

At times since I have been living at Sarah, regardless of all the difficulties that I have experienced, difficulties of not fitting in, difficulties in language learning, racial differences, understanding and trying to be understood, personal interrelations and so forth, I have always been driven with a tremendous sense of gratitude and appreciation to be here. I am a progressing slowly through the motions that will lead me to my goal. It is the art of manifestation that I have heard so much about at play. For those who know anything about my previous life then you will have a better idea of what I am getting at.

Sarah is like living in an extremely acute bubble for sure, especially if you are an international student. The further away one is from the surrounding ethic group the more acute is seems to be. Me for example, I am as far as Tibetan as anyone since here. Yep, I was born in US so I have that going on, and I am black which means I will always be the “Token” black man. To many of my black friends at home that will be problematic. Why!! Well, here this community is definitely more accustomed to the European caucasians type since they have had more interactions with them and that is who is paying the bucks and doing the most of the supporting.

Sarah and I can assume every Tibetan NGO in Dharamsala probably has a white face behind it. I remember when I was working as the secretary at Tibetan Charity in McLeod Ganj in ‘05, I had to write letters to the sponsors for support or do outreach for new support and they were all white. Now, I am not saying that this is bad or condemning it. What I am getting at is that is firstly only white folks on the whole have the kind of resources to support these NGO’s and at the rate that they do, since they are in a superior position of privilege in the world as compared to other global minorities. Secondly, most black folks are in bad situations, many because of the economic situations of living in the projects, zero to no education, etc are even going to know any about Tibet. Third, that means that the interactions that this community has the people of the western world do not look or act like me.

That is also fine, but a friend recently told me, I am like a triangle trying to fit into a square, I think it I am more like a rhombus but I hope you get what I am getting at. At times here I feel the sense of invisibility that Ralph Ellison wrote about in the Invisible Man but more acute. That sense of invisibility does not mean that folks don’t see you they know that you are there, but they don’t really see you. But now I do not want to be misunderstood here, I have never sensed hatred towards me because I am black since I have lived in India. What it is, I think, encountering a type or race that they have never encounter before.

Thanks to MTV, AND 1 Basketball, and hip hop, everyone have seen black people on TV, but that picture of what actually flesh and blood black is about is glorified sense of reality, just the part that the media corporations feel is worthy enough since is creates fantastic profit margins. I don’t play B-ball, I can’t rap, or anything else that is portrayed as Black or more specifically African-American.

I think that there is a lot that I can work with though. One thing that I can hope to instill, which is something that I would hope to instill is a sense of inquiry about whatever subject that drives you best. For example, so many students here love Bob Marley, and hip hop, but could not tell what it is about. Yea not doubt, it is uber trendy at point, their English is not so good and no one is going care. But I think that people cut themselves short when they don’t do so. For me, lets take Bob Marley, the man’s life was an inspiration to millions, his message was universal, but if you don’t understand the root of where at came from, the political situation of Black Jamaicans at his time in history, the birth of Rastafarianism as a religion etc, the message is cut that transmission to change one’s paradigm is lost. Like I had some one tell me that the song “No Woman, No Cry” meant that because a man does not have a woman, they are not crying from the difficulties that a woman could brings to a man, which is not what that song it about. It seems with hip-hop that if one does not understand the initial situation of the Blacks in US history, that a healthy appreciation for the music and culture will not be born.

I made one hundred percent sure that when I started my studies on Tibetan culture that I will use every resource at my disposal to learn as much as I could about the culture as I could. All aspects of the culture I delved in as seal dives into the sea. I talked with my Tibetans friends from Berea College; I resourced the positive and the negative, whatever I could find, Chinese propaganda, TGIE propaganda, history books etc, etc. Since I have been here amongst the community that work has gotten me such a long way and that is what I would like to instill, ok, not to my extent, but a little since of it. How many times I have seen it since I have been here, when I hear Tibetans saying how much they dislike when foreigners think they know everything about their culture after two weeks in McLeod Ganj when they don’t. They hate it and so do Black people and every other minority race.

I was really happy to hear that there was a Tibetan translation of Alex Haley’s Roots, though I cracked myself up on how the translators dealt with the South-Eastern Dialect. Like “Yo name Tooby, Boi!!!” wouldn’t have the right feel in Lhasa Tibetan, hehe. Anyhow some folks have asked me about slavery and I was so happy to explain, but that has been few and far in between. I remember when I was doing the Tibet Charity conversation classes, that one middle aged Tibetan lady from Kham told that all black people in the US got there with visas, I immediately said without thinking, if you call being stolen from you land and crammed like a sardine unto to a boat for a 2-3 month journey across the Atlantic Ocean a visa then you are correct. Of course she had not clue of what I was talking about but I did my best to elucidate.

I am sure that as my Tibetan starts to iron out a bit that I will get more opportunities to elucidate and hopefully to inspire an altruistic thirst for knowledge, for it is a step in true global solidarity and that is what I think will help bring this world in a better position for the karma that it must reap.

The pass month at Sarah I have experience many things in more subtle ways to say the least. Like I said my sense of gratitude for being here far outweighs my troubles. My classmates have been so supportive of Korean woman and me, offering to help us whenever, since our classes are difficult for us. I was so incredibly touched by that, it means that the barriers are starting to fall. Of all my professors, two are monks and two are ex-monks. The ex-monks have spent 2-3 years in a Chinese prison in Tibet for pro-Tibet demonstrations. One in particular is our best teacher, he teaching style is more interactive. One day he told us about his situation, how he ended up in prison. And wow, to hear what people have gone through in life and still keep a healthy perspective is very inspiring to me. We all sat there, ours ears were drawn in as a bee is drawn to pollen. A few days ago, a NGO from McLeod Ganj, came to talk about the TGIE’s Middle Way policy for Genuine Tibetan Autonomy with in the PRC. Yesterday one of the ex-monk teachers who did not concur with this policy totally presented his point of view to us.

We also have a new student, just arrived from Tibet to India last year, spent 7 years in prison and knew one of our teachers because they were in the same prison at the same time. One day when one of our teachers cancelled class, a group of us surrounded him and he narrated his experiences to us, Tibet now, prison life, torture, Chinese government, etc. I think it was so beneficial to listen and hear his words especially for the students who have never seen Tibet.

When the HHDL’s was in the hospital in Mumbai, a few us fasted for 12 hours recited prayers at the Main Temple in MC Ganj and there I was chatting to some students from TCV and some old timers, and it was so nice to have had that kind of exchange with them. The HHDL’s eldest brother Takster Rinpoche passed on recently. He was the first rinpoche that I had ever met; I still have a pin of the “namchu wangdan” a symbol for the Kalachakra Tantra that has 10 Tibetan letters stylistically superimposed on each other that he gave a group us of who had joined a peace march for Tibet from Bloomington, Indiana to Indianapolis. That was my sophomore year in college, and he was very sick then. I also saw him during my last return to the US, during a Tibetan thanksgiving party at the Tibetan Cultural Center in Bloomington. He seemed better then, but I am sad to hear that he had passed; tons of prayers were recited at Sarah and throughout MC Ganj.

Like in the last blog, the Buddhist Philosophy course a.k.a the “Smack Masters” had another entertainingly exciting debate with the monks of IBD; this time the IBD class was 9 years ahead of the Sarah monks and had been studying Madhyamika for awhile. I am slowly but surely continuing by studies in preliminary debate and driving myself so that I enter the next batch of the Buddhist Philosophy course in the next year of so.

A guy came to Sarah and gave a talk about earthquakes, there are four spots here around Dharamsala that stupas (ritual reliquaries) where erected after a ritual the HHDL performed as earthquake prevention. Sarah College has one of them, it is black, and I think that there is one at the Norbulingkha Institute, at TIPA and at the HHDL’s residence. But the guy, who I assume was trained somewhat in seismology, told us that we are in a high risk earthquake zone, sweet right? What is even better is since that most houses are made of concrete, that if a big one hit, it will just crush everything. I think at Sarah it wouldn’t be as bad, but Mcleod Ganj is a nightmare. It is so cram packed with concrete building after concrete building on a ridge on a hill. Remember when I wrote the blog entry in ’05 about the earthquake that killed 100,000 in Pakistan and Kashmir I felt in Mcleod Ganj and then I knew, seeing where I was living in the middle of concrete buildings on TIPA road that I would have been done. Luckily it was only a tremor in McLeod Ganj, right? The speaker gave us good tips about what to do in case of an earthquake. Do not worry out there; I will be fine, I think.

The next speaker was Gelong Tenzin Choerab la, American Doctor who has lived in Dharamsala for about 20 or so years and has been monk about 5 or so years. He gave a talk about TB, hepatitis, and AIDS, and how they are transmitted and so far, and it was really good. We were so proud of him; he spoke in Tibetan at beginning, mixed in English for the more trickier stuff. He is in his early 60’s I think and I proud that he is attempting to learn a new language. For me learning a new language since you late 20’s it is hard as hell, and he just plugged on through. Anyways, he talked about how they are communicated and so on a forth, Sex, intravenous drugs, bad blood transfusions and the like. The students asked many questions, but since it was a sensitive topic dealing with sex most students wrote their questions on pieces of paper and pass it up to Choerab la. I was a slightly relinquishing in the oxymoron that laid in front me, an American celibate monk talking to younger Tibetans students both lay and monastics about sex.

Afterwards the Lobchila, the principal of Sarah, went to say the AIDS and Hepatitis B is the proof of why sex is evil and that accumulates bad merit. Now I can understand, the principal himself is a monk, and in the Buddhist scriptures there tons stuff about desire, attachment and so forth, but when dealing with adolescent students who have not had any type of sex ed. whatsoever say a thing like that is unhealthy, I believe. The principal is also my Buddhism teacher for the tsamjor class and it happened that that week the topics were on sexual desire and so on and again he said the same thing. I have been told the same thing for the Christians conservatives back in the US, and have seen how that had totally backfired and caused teenagers to be even more sexually active with a unhealthy view toward sex.

I guess I wish that the issue could be addressed in a more open manner, instead of just scaring them into not having sex, no doubt there is a “no dating” rule at Sarah, but it does get broken and that is understandable. The little that I have talked to as far as the guys go in the sexual arena is that they harbor a highly unhealthy outlook on sex and I think that that will manifest in their lives in very negative and detrimental ways. I was glad to heard that small Sarah shop is now selling condoms, but also it is a good way to know who is getting their “freak on”, too. I just wish that instead of outright condemnation that some way to teaching the youngsters about their bodies and attraction to the opposite or same sex can be responsible and healthy and not source of sin.

Now that I have been in Tsamjor there have been some things that I have had to get used too. One is teaching styles, the teachers have no syllabus so the lessons day to day don’t follow a schedule. Most teachers just lecture to you, and at times assign an ass ton of homework, which if it is do big for me, I just don’t worry about it. Most of the students have to work on campus, not like at BC but similar, like very Saturday after lunch each class minus the international class are assigned a certain area of the campus the rotates very month that they are responsible to clean. This month we clean the basketball court. We clean our classrooms together, like one time we were cleaning the classroom and rubbing candle wax into the concrete floor to make it shiny, so we used shawls to give the floor a shiny finish. Some guys got the smart idea that if one person sat cross-legged on the end of the shawl and if two guys pulled the other end that it will make the floor shiner. It was tons of fun; the girls were in on it, too. The next things you know there are folks sliding all over the floor shawl racing into each other and into the wall. I tried a few times almost banging my head against a wall, praise jeeves for dreadlocks!!

This week they had us hauling rock and dirt from a small square roofless area in the center of the main classroom building. At first there was just concrete but that was smashed into chunks and we hauled them away in bags. I did it solo hoisting the bag of rocks on my shoulder, many did it in pairs and it was gratifying to me. I have done work like this tons of times in the US, so in some ways I was able to fulfill that part of me that enjoys physical labor, and also the solidarity that it brings when you are willing to suffer and endure with others.

That is one of the things that Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara got right even though I believe that he went way to far at the end, but that when you are willing to work, to put your body on the line to help and benefit those who are seemingly lower and less privileged than you, that at that moment is when true solidarity between peoples is born. Many people back at home talked about solidarity this and solidarity that and when I saw that many of these movement always had more talk and action, I realized that solidarity is born from placing yourself in a different position and experiencing it from that angle. When you see it from that angle then you understand. You will never be able to understand like a person born into the position but it is enough to open your mind to a new world of understanding about yourself and others.

All activist movements need it for without it there will be no activism, from the Free Tibet to the Free Hawaii movement. I have notice that also in my recent relations with the students now because last year rumors had it that the international students at Sarah never worked, and that they were lazy. My four years of homelessness taught me to never shy away from work and that is the least that I can do. No doubt that at Sarah that students have no choice, they must work since there tuition is half of what I am paying, I don’t have to work but I do choose do and as they say in the blue collar workforce “there is no I in team” and I am in their team now. I think that I have gotten pretty long winded here and I hope that I have not bored you to death.

I have some good news, it seems that I will be getting some financial help for my near goal of studying Buddhist Dialects through the method of formal Tibetan Debate, now I need to get into the course and get a long term visa, but it does not cover everything, so if you think what I am doing it worthwhile please hit me up with either suggestions, scholarship etc to help me fulfill a dream.

I would like to dedicate this blog to folks who have proofed to me what friendship is all about, Pawo, Kay, Ani, and to the most stunning of all women Clear Light, may you life be filled with gratitude.