My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Friday, December 26, 2008

New Year’s Entry, E ma ho!!!

Hello everyone, it has been quite awhile since I have been able to write an entry for the blog. As you know of my isolation at Sarah College and level of busyness that I have accrued is exacerbated by virtually zero access to internet which makes it difficult to update. But I have taken time off of school for the holidays which is providing me the time to do this long neglected business. What makes it also so difficult is to figure out where to begin since so much time has lapsed. I am feeling that it will be better for me if I start with the most recent events that have been prominent in my mind and to digress from there.

Being in the Tsamjor class has been such a great experience regardless of the challenges and recently I have been moved to realize the greatness of motivation that is instilled in some of my classmates. Most of the classes at Sarah have mandatory cleaning duties which happen at the end of each week. Different areas of the campus are divided amongst the classes in a rotation period normally lasting one month per site. When it came our turn to burn the trash, one of the students was moved by the ghastly amount of trash and malodorous smoke that it created. Everything is just burned at one go, glass, plastic, paper, etc. Due to this, some of the students from my class decided to make an awesome presentation on the environment, pollution and the effects it has on our campus and the world at large.

They did such a wonderful job; I mean they really put it together well, along with the initiative to help our campus to be “greener”. As for my own involvement with environmental activism back at home, I was moved to feel so proud of my classmates, for it was not something that was pushed upon them, which I believe to be the case when environmental issues are presented to a rural Indian population or even in Dhasa, but from their own visual experience of the horrid situation of how trash is handled at Sarah. They are putting themselves into action and I hope that it will come to fruition. Because of being in their shoes many times while being at Berea College I know what obstacles face them including the acceptance of the idea by fellow students, and the willingness of the administration to believe that this is a worthwhile avenue to take. My pride in those students knows no bounds.

This previous winter solstice, there was a celebration for the birthday of the founder of the Gelukpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Je Tsongkhapa at Sarah and in McLeod Ganj. At Sarah they had a very nice ceremony including long, slow and thoughtful chants coming from the Lama Chopa liturgy, offerings, etc, followed by the lighting of candles placed all throughout the campus and since it was night that gave Sarah a subtle atmosphere, and concluded by an innumerable series of circumambulation a.k.a. Kora til you drop. The chanting of the liturgy was so nice and soothing since it was slowly led by the Umze (chantmaster), for normally most chanting is done at breakneck speeds, which makes it difficult for the beginning students to follow. Chants where exclamated with sounds of ‘ah la la, la la lo, and emaho’, which are exclamations used in Tibetan Buddhist literature as a vocal expression of the intensity of bliss that the great masters have experienced in their meditative realizations. Since no words are ever seemingly suitable for such an experience. Towards the end our Umze, concluded the chant with the infamous deep throat singing, which gave me goose bumps. Totally enthralled was I to hear the amazing ness of such vocal skill and the way the sound concentrically expanded at a single given moment as if the sound is produced everywhere but not from a single given source. Vibrations felt at the core of ones body made this very wonderful for me. These are definitely the times when my appreciation of being lucky enough to live in such a place arises.

For a more gruesome shift, the week before that in one of my classes we watched some of the most disturbing video footage that I have ever seen in my life. I have called this day “Decapitation Wednesday”. And why you might ask? Well one of our students in class had some videos to which I assume that he felt it was pertinent for our class to watch, for which purpose I guessed was to instill the insight of what samsara (cyclic existence) is really all about. It first started with a video produced by the T.V.A (Tibetan Volunteers for Animals) which uses the same tactics that the P.E.T.A videos use of getting and/or scaring people into considering a vegetarian diet. I have seen many of the P.E.T.A videos before so I was not to horribly disturbed by the graphic depictions of livestock being slaughtered and I felt the videos had a clear goal and focus “Don't eat meat”. But the next set of videos is still now beyond my comprehension since I was totally unprepared for what I saw. Pretty much they were a series of videos made by Muslim extremists consisting of a hostage kneeling on the floor blindfolded in front four or five masked fellows holding AK-47’s. Next to the kneeling hostage was a man orating something in Arabic with the voice of passion, similar to the vibe of a bible thumping, jumping up and down preacher in a black Baptist church.

As this scene started to unfold my stomach just knotted really hard for my brain was like
“I hope this is not what I think it is”. The man orated with passion and air striking fingers for about ten minutes, and then with the chanting of “Allah Akbar” one of the men behind the hostage proceeded to extract a huge knife and decapitated the hostage, in which afterwards the hostages’ head is placed on top of his limp body. It was fully graphic with zoom and everything. I was utterly shocked, with no mental preparations or nothing. I did not wake up that morning thinking that I will be watching such a scene. The horridness of the scene is just too gruesome to describe. In one video, the hostage, who I presume was a South Korean volunteer kidnapped in Iraq, was pleading for his life, the only English in the entire series of videos. One my classmates who was sitting next to me is Korean and she was crying.

Throughout the whole, I was thinking “Why the fuck are we watching this?” The progressing scenes got worse and for the rest of my day my mental space was just utterly bombarded by these images flashing like a strobe light. I was asking myself who is selling these CD’s and where the profit going and so on and so forth is. Is the purpose to create a wide hatred for those who practice the faith of Islam? Especially since the last few weeks before that there were the attacks in Mumbai. Is it just a weird fetish that folks get off at watching such things? Some students were saying such things as “all Muslims are evil” and whatever, but I made sure to enforce that that is not the truth. In many religions there are extremists and Tibetan Buddhism is not exempt from this, i.e those who adhere to the worship of the deity Dodgyal. I explained this to one of my teachers and to some of my classmates. No doubt those people who do these types of actions are messed up, but without having at least a partial knowledge of what is driving them to do such a thing then the perception gained from seeing these activities creates a generalization such as “all Muslim are evil”. Enough said about this, moving right along.

One weekend we had a Tsamjor class field trip to Trilokpur which is about one hour and half from Sarah by local bus, where the meditation caves of Tilopa and his disciple Naropa are located. A nice amount of students attended so it was quite a nice trip. The students organized the cooking of food and chai. We first visited a Karma Kagyu nunnery under construction in the area. The main temple possessed the log implement that Tilopa is said to have used to grind Sesames seeds. We gave the customary prostrations, khatak offerings and chanted.

We had to stop at another nunnery on the way to Tilopa’s cave. After the nunnery we went to Naropa’s cave which now has a Shaivite Temple built on top of it. Then we had a little adventure getting into Tilopa’s cave, first we had a cross a river of icy cold water twice. The cave sits about maybe ten to twenty feet above river on the opposing shore. So went rented a latter from the previously visited nunnery. We all had to stripped down a bit in order to go into the cave because it required entering that ice cold water up to waist height for me or if your Tibetan chest height. Me and Dolma, my Korean classmate had to wait a bit in the water, brrrrrrr. Two guys had already scaled up to the cave using a slimy rope that was already there, that was quite funny to see. In the cave our class captain proceeded to do a puja in another section of the cave. It was quite wet inside, but since Tilopa lived many centuries ago I hoped that is was not moist in those days. Some parts of the inside had craved doorways and Tibetan mantras scratched into the walls. I was unable to go to other parts of the cave since there was not enough space and the puja was going on. “An actual yogi cave wow”, I said to myself since for ages I have wanted to be in one and there I was. Afterwards on the way back to Sarah, some of the students sung lovely Tibetans songs all the way back to the awe/ suspicion of the other Indian passengers.

A week or so before that, due to some severe mental trauma that I was causing myself because I was smitten over someone at Sarah; I took the exam time at Sarah to go to Rajpur to visit H.H. Sakya Trizin and my good friend for college. Some friends took me to Mussorie where one can see the snow-clad mountains of the Indo-Tibetan frontier, which was a sight to see. I went with some monks from the monastery on motorbikes which caused us to be a sight to be stared upon. Mussorie sits on a high ridge above Dehra Dun, and was where HHDL lived when he first came to India, where he established the Tibetan Homes Foundation School which we visited. I could not but help to feel bad for the students who live there for from there the mountains that guard their homeland is clearly visible and they can’t go back, what a constant reminder of the state of stateless! The guys that I went with had to bring to some articles for some of their relatives who are attending school there so I tagged along. It was quite a cold motorcycle ride up the hill and I was quite underdressed.

But I had a great time there; the guys took me around the town. We went to a garden, an aquarium, and an arcade. We also just walked around the mall area there. It was quite a pleasant time and I was so glad that they took me up there since I have always wanted to go. In Rajpur I stayed in the servant’s quarters directly behind the Dolma Phodrang, since their guest house was full because Lama Zopa and several monks and lamas were there to receive empowerments from H.H. Sakya Trizin. At the beginning of my stay I helped entertain my friend’s daughter known as Jetsunma. She is going to be two years old soon and is so cute. She remembers me from the last time I came to visit because I juggled for her. So when she sees me she says “juggle, juggle” while making the hand motions imitating my juggling. That was quite a joy. At first she was scared of me but she slowly got used to me, I don’t think that she liked my matted locks though. Anyways, for most of my time there I just relaxed, received H.H. Sakya Trizin’s blessing, studied and chatted which the folks who work at the Dolma Phodrang. I stayed a total of about two weeks, and came back to Sarah with my battery recharged and my head cleared from the nonsense that I had place myself.

And now it is the Holidays and though it does not feel like it I am amongst some good company, chillin’ in McLeod Ganj until after New Years and then back to grindstone. I was like to dedicate this blog entry to my parents in Florida who believe in the work that I am doing regardless of how crazy it sounds, heh it could be worse, I could be studying Klingon, Elven or Esperanto. Just Kidding, I love you very very much. To everybody else out there, I miss yo ass, come visit beeeeaaaaach.


1 comment:

Violette said...

i found your blog looking about dharamsala on the web. i wonder if you could help me - i am looking to come to india to study hindi hopefully in february, but i will probably have to head north at some point in the spring because of the heat... and i love dharamsala. so... do you know any good place to learn hindi there or around? i already sarted learning the language when i was in india nov 07- to nov 08 but i am looking for something kind of structured and intensive if it is possible... because i feel stuck with my practical level now; i feel i can't go much more on my own if you know what i mean... anyway enough blabla, hoping to hear from you... you can contact me through my website... thank you. love & light, vio x