My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Round Three….. Fight!!!

Once again it has been quite a while since I have updated the good ole blog, but here I be. My summer vacation has finished and my third year at Sarah College has commenced. I had a very nice summer, despite my emotional funks that I placed myself concerning the realm of intimacy. But I feel that at least for now that I am on my way to overcoming (hopefully) many of these nuances. I had some help. I friend of mine introduced me to a crystal worker from Australia who surprisingly truly helped me. I have always been suspicious to such things but I was also open to see for self what it is about. I figured that to do this would not be harmful and to my amazement it help. I think that more than anything that it helped to realize how I let myself be carried by destructive thoughts and emotions and it made it an agenda that I need to work on in my life in order to actualize my full potential and to love myself more. I have never been great in the whole self-confidence arena. Thus I am grateful for that.

My summer which I had spent in McLeod Ganj started with visiting the Sikh Mecca the “Golden Temple” in Amritsar, Punjab in which I got to learn about the Sikh religion. What really interested my about Sikhism is it sense of social welfare. Everything at the Golden Temple is run by volunteers (many who have showed up that day) and everything is free. Their kitchen a.k.a rice and dal kitchen is quite an operation. Supposedly they feed thousands of people there everyday, which I do not doubt. One goes in at anytime and can be fed. The kitchen has two storeys and when you show up you are given clean metal plates, bowls and utensils and herded into one of the two dining halls. In the dining hall there are strips of burlap cloths set on the floor where everyone as they enter sits cross-legged. The food is quite delicious though simple, rice and dal, curd, chapattis are the menu items. This kitchen is open 24/7. As one sit and eat you see beggars, rich and poor, backpackers, and Sikhs all sitting together on the same floor eat and sharing together. When one finishes, you’ll see as soon as you leave the dining hall volunteers cutting vegetables, volunteers taking your dirty plates and many washing them in a huge cacophony of metal plates clanging together. It is quite an activated environment.

I and my friends met a devout Sikh named Manu who was more than willing to explain to us the intricacies of Sikhism. The Adi Granth is the name of the main Sikh scripture written in the Punjabi language. Recitation of this text by appointed clergy in very prominent at the Golden Temple. There are many places including the main temple itself where the text is recited. The sounds of these are projected on loudspeakers which one can hear throughout the Temple. Martyrdom is also very big, Manu took us to a place where one of the Great Sikh guru Babadeep Singh in battle was decapitated and continued fight with no head. At this spot where the event happen there is a drawing of him on a horse holding his own head. Sikhism started as a very peaceful faith (and still is) by the first Sikh guru Guru Nanak, with a strong element of Bhakti or intense devotion towards God. But Sikhs were prosecuted, earlier by the various Muslims invaders and then by the British. So the Sikhs took to the sword and the succeeding Sikh gurus were warriors in the defense of their faith and thus as they died in battle their martyrdom became sacred in the eyes of Sikh followers. If you want more info about Sikhism I suggest do some good online searching. The Golden Temple is actually built like a fort; it sits in a huge moat with a walkway that leads over the moat to the heart of the temple where the clergy higher-ups recite the Adi Granth to the tune of tabla drums and harmonium. The outside of the Temple is plated in gold thus its name. The text is in some ways treated like a person; the clergy wake it up and place it to sleep. There are specific conditions in which the texts have to be treated. No dust can fall on it so they have a big cloth draped from the ceiling over it when it is being read. One person is assigned the job of keeping flies off of the text with a fly whisker. When it is put to bed if it is hot they place it in an air conditioned room and if it is too cold they place it in a heated room.

There five things that a Sikh must do or have. Special bracelets, sword or knifes, special undies, not to cuts one hair and thus the turban (which can be quite stylish) and one other thing which I can’t remember know. They are called the five k’s I think because in Punjabi these things all start with the “K” syllabary. And thus you will see many Sikhs at the Golden Temple carrying so very huge and sharp swords and quite impressing turbans and long beards. Like I said earlier their commitment to social service is very impressive.

Beside the Golden Temple we went to the India-Pakistan border to see the closing of the gates. My friend Miryam was quite sick for the ride which took longer than it should have because our rickshawalla’s rickshaw was slow as dirt and we had a bit of a late starts. The rickshawalla was so excited though, I got the impression that he doesn’t receive many foreign customers and thus happy to have some firangis in his care. But the poor rickshaw was not cutting the mustard. Other rickshaws packed with ten some odd folks were flying by us. It is took several seconds just to overtake a bicycle. We did finally make it and it was packed, it was cool. Folks on both sides of the border scream at each. Jai Hindustan “Hail India” on the Indian side and Hail Pakistan on the other. Then you have the soldiers with their hats that have a red crinkled circle over it that reminds me of the red comb of a rooster. They marched with precision steps, turns and high kicks. It was quite a humorous situation. I was glad that I went for sure. At least I can say that I saw Pakistan, hehehe.

The Golden Temple has a hostel or “Gurudwara” where you can stay for free, the foreigners are given their own section in the hostel. I got sick the last day really bad; I think it from drinking a freshly made pineapple juice for a road side stall. After staying in India for a few years, one gets to think that they can do stuff like natives do, nope! Wrong answer! My old belly sounded like an earthquake and I dodged for the toilet. Since it is a communal bathroom in a hostel full of people and I had to wait to use the can. My bowels were in a quite precarious situation that I thought I was going to have an accident. So as I waited I started a little breathing meditation that brought me enough time until I was able to get to the sought after place of refuge. We were leaving that morning and taking a local train to Pathankot which means that it will be packed to the teeth and the chances of having a seat was slim. My friends brought me some Imodium which saved me. But since it was a four hour train ride to Pathankot the Imodium started to wear-off and that rumbling sensation started to arise. The train is packed and there no toilet on this train so I had to hold it. I went back to the meditation of that morning and finally as the train rolled into Pathankot I made a mad dash of the toilet but I was in a quite a spot. If I ran too fast I ran the risk of having an accident, so I found a paced that balanced my bowel meditation with my stride. I swear, I felt like something out of a horrible slap-stick movie, for that last time was such a close call, too close. Anyways, finally we go home to the cool weather of the mountains, the Punjab plains are murderously hot and that was not helping my bowels.

Back in McLeod for the most part a hung out a lot with various groups of folks from all over the world. I made good friend with some U.S. college students who where at Sarah at the beginning of the year and some had moved up to Dharamkot, up the hill for McLeod Ganj and we had a lot of fun together. They have now all departed and I miss them very much. I read a lot also, in what I call a reading binge, which was awesome, I finally got to read 1984, which I loved and Shantaram which a recommend to anyone who is interested in India or not for that matter. I did not just play; I also studied Buddhist Philosophy with an ex-monk who was teaching me how to debate.

Thanks to Palkyi I taught English in a summer camp at T.C.V Gopalpur for six days which went well. I first I was quite apprehensive about doing it, but once I got into it I had fun. Some of my classmates from Sarah College attended Gopalpur and it was great to see the institution. I was helping with an English camp that they set up for the student of the eight grade during a section of their ten day summer vacation. All of the students are orphans and so unlike the students born in India they have no where to go for vacation. So Palkyi signed me up for it and there I was. It was quite a trip. Besides the teaching part which I totally sucked at, I realized that the boys are obsessed with And-1 basketball. They go online and bite moves off of you-tube. Some of these boys even know some b-boying which shocked that crap out of me. There were three other teachers, and for the first two days we were fortunate to have the Tibetan activist poet Tenzin Tsundue with us. That was quite a treat to finally to have met him, he is quite infamous as an Tibet activist and I have seen him many times in McLeod Ganj, but this was a more intimate setting. I was definitely impressed by his “full-power” dedication that he possesses. I also made good friends with Sonam a British/Tibetan girl who was been teaching English at Gopalpur for two or so months.

Now in the present, vacation is over and it is back to school, we are commencing our third week and I think and hoping that this will be the most decisive year of my life. As many of you know I am waiting to take an exam to enter a long term course in Buddhist dialectics that this institution offers every two to three years at Sarah. The course is mainly for monastics but they have seats for four male international students lay and monastics and four for the female students monastics only. I know that on the male side there are at least five potential applicants, me included. Thus there is some tough competition to get in because all of us have been studying and waiting for three years or more for it. The females to do not have it have any easier; I think that they might have more applicants. Anyways I am friends with all the applicants so it makes it slightly awkward to think that I have to be in competition with them. Hopefully the examination will be this spring, if not then it will be next year and that increases the competition. Since I have gotten the approvable for the funding of my tuition for this course by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, I am a bit worried that if I do not get in, what to do? I am hoping for the best, pretty much that I get in. Some of you all out there who pray please send some of your prayers in my direction, for this will guide my life to the achievement of a dream that I truly believe that will enable me to truly be of assistance to many far beyond my fleshly life.

I am in a quite intensive study routine, I have four classes. Two Dharma classes, where I am studying “Nagarjuna’s Letter to a friend” in Tsamjor or Bridge course and “A guide to the Bodhisattva’s way of life”, “Bodhisatvaacaryavatara” by Shantideva and “Collected topics” in the first level Rigne course. Orthography and history in Tsamjor and grammar self-study working through “Translating Buddhism from Tibetan and the 11th Situ Rinpoche’s commentary on the Grammar treatise called the “Thirty Stanzas” composed by the establisher of the Tibetan classical language Thumi Sambhota. Also I study Hindi on the side. So this makes it for quite an intense studying schedule. All of my classes our taught by experts in their craft and they throw so much information at you that I am surprise at how well many Tibetans are able to assimilate the data. A lot of it I think comes from learning in this fashion since they have been young, but it requires one to memorize new information constantly. I am impressed by all of my professor’s capacity of holding data, since I am quite new at this way of learning I am hoping that I will get the hang of it plus it will be well used once I am in the dialectics course.

My favorite class so far is the collected topics course; “collected topics” are a name of a genre of logic texts that traditionally the young novice monks used to learn how to debate. In Tibetan they are called “dudra” or “rigs lam”. “Rigs” means reasoning and “lam” means path and thus you have the path of reasoning. Tibetan Buddhist, who inherited this logic tradition from the Indian Buddhist but with their own style, places a huge amount of their training on logic. Particularly in the Geluk School, debate and logic is the main pedagogy for learning Dharma. These days the HHDL has advocated that the T.C.V students should learn at least dudra to help develop the student’s analytical faculties. When I was at Gopalpur, to one class I told the students that I am just beginning my studies in debate, immediately they all at once started throwing syllogisms and consequences at me at rapid-fire speeds. In our Collected Topics course we debate twice a week. We have debated together once, and since most of us did not know what was going on, we just watched and listened to the ex-monks, and monks who have been doing it since they were young go to town. It is quite a loud event as I has described in earlier blog entries. Though there is a lot stuff that needs to be learn, I think that the debate studies that I did this past summer will help me in learning and hopefully putting me on my way to the path of reasoning. I am so happy to have the quality of professors that we have though their teaching style is very different from what we are used to in an academic situation in the U.S.

In my mind these days there are aspirations for hope and for the fulfillment of my life dream. I wish the same for all people. I hope that many will realized that their own potential and strive towards it. At their potential will assist many others across boundaries. Through I am no where near being able to help others at least point, now l make it a point to think and reflect upon the idea throughout my day . I hope the same and more for others. I would not have gotten where I am now if it was not for others, and everyone should think about that in their own lives. If we all worked in such a fashion how much better will our life be as a global community. Anyways, much love from the not so monsoony Himalayas.