My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Holidays Entry

I would like to wish everyone out there, whether religious or not a Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Yuletide Greetings, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanza, Happy Winter Solstice, whatever holiday of choice you might prefer. Even for the non-religious you must at least be enjoying the days off, the food, the parties and alcohol. Though I do miss the holiday season back a home with friends and family, I 100% do not miss the commercialism and the consumerism that arrives with the various processions of holidays, meaning from Halloween to about Easter. Being in India surrounded by Hindus and Buddhist one has no feeling that today is Christmas, no Christmas carols, no holiday’s sales, and no creepy old pedophile in a Santa Claus costume to have your picture taken with. I find it quite nice. This natural lack of holiday commercialism that tends to relentlessly attack you at every step that you might take, even when to only thing you might want to buy is a loaf of bread or a bag a sugar is so nice. Even during huge Indian holidays, like Diwali, the commercialism is not nowhere like it is at back stateside though around Diwali time I received quite a few spam SMS’ to my cell phone advertising for pictures of ‘Pataka (firework) babes’ to download on my phone for a nominal fee. Being here feels like a weight that I did not know existed was lifted off of me. Anyways, I hope that everyone enjoys spending time with their loves one and friends though. That is to be the most important thing of all, folks getting together sharing food and sharing themselves with each other. There is no greater gift than that. Fuck that you might not have gotten the new I-Pad or whatever new doodad for Christmas, boo hoo! Enjoy friends and family instead, you just might learn something.

Recently, something that has left me in a state of wonder was the previous lunar eclipse than happen on the winter solstice. It is said that such an event has not happened in 500 years or so. Now really think about that please. That a winter solstice, which is the longest night of the year for us northern hemisphere dwellers, our Gaia’s “dark night of the soul” was accompanied by a full smiling face of the moon and on top of that that it will fall into or be devoured by Gaia’s starving shadow as the Sun shone and brought a new day to the other side of her circular body, and that we are alive at such a time to witness it in the raw. If this is correct, then the last time such an event happened most of the quote unquote Americas were ruled by its rightful and original inhabitants. Those folks dwelling where they did at that time, gazing in wonder at the eclipsing full moon on the winter solstice, probably performing some ritual, could not have fully known that their way of life was soon to be ended forever by the hands of a few pale bearded metal-clad men from faraway bearing swords and firearms.

The same could be said for us in our “modern junction” of time, though any kind of all-out invasion seems highly unlikely (for now!), we don’t know what changes lay in front of us as a modern society in the near future, especially if what those experts predict might happen if and when we have or passed the climax of global peak oil production, which does not sound to good; unless they are full of shit of course. Regardless, we are all some lucky son-of-bitches if we haven’t realized that already. I know that it hard to think like that. But it is more that just mere positive thinking. I work and continue very hard at it and it has not come inherently and I always fall back to my habitual self-hatred/ self-absorbed mode but the duration of the times and the frequency of occurrences becomes less the more I get accustomed to it. Plus, some might think, who could give a rat’s ass about a bunch celestial bodies floating space? They don’t affect my daily toiling life at all right? That question should have been asked to the dinosaurs.

We, on this side of Gaia were not able to witness the lunar eclipse because as the sun was shining on this side on the 22nd , it was at the same time creating the same shadow that ate the moon and regurgitated her back out blood red for all of you on the other side to see on the 21st. I hope that you who were able and willing to brave the cold and a slice of your busy lives to see it in its entire splendor and that you enjoyed it for me, too. Remember, though you probably won’t be alive to witness the next winter solstice full moon eclipse, that 500 years is ultimately not even an electrons worth of water the in universal bucket that we call home.

It’s seems like we have lost one of our classmates and seeing all the problems that had arisen from his literary activities it was only an eventuality that he was going to leave. Takbum has “dipped to the bird” so to say, leaving us for another institution. I know that part of it he told me was that Buddhist dialectics is too damn hard and the studies are too demanding and he felt like he was not getting anywhere, though I begged to differ and tried to convince him to stick through with it. Part of it might have been that there was still some animosity amongst some of monks about his criticism about monks. I remember just last week when a discussion between him and some of our classmates erupted on the right side veranda of the temple during study period. Obviously bygones were not left to be bygones. It is quite unfortunate; but I hope that Takbum has a better time at the other institute. I will miss him for sure!

As we progress in our studies of “The Presentation of Signs and Reasonings”, we are presented with various syllogisms that come from other ancient Indian schools of thought mostly Hindu, though so far one is a Jain assertion and learning the basic ways in which these syllogisms to do not hold-up to basic Buddhist reasoning standards. I am sure in a vice-versa scenario the syllogisms that we are learning to be valid or correct might not fit the logical requirements of those other traditions, the traditions of which the authors of our texts have considered their assertion to be invalid. But I guess that it just how it goes. One very famous personage from not a so distant pass in Tibet, Gendun Chöpel, was well known from a young age as a neophyte monk when he starting studying this very topic to uphold the Jain position sitting as a defender, which from amongst master dialecticians is considered extremely difficult to do, especially as a novice monk. The syllogism used is: the subject trees, it has sentience because of folding its leaves at night and sleeping (ljon shing chos can, sems ldan yin te mtshan mo lo ma ‘khums te nyal ba’i phyir). This syllogism is used to show the Jain assertion that they supposedly used to prove that trees are sentient beings. Gen la says that all Buddhist do not agree with this statement but I have my doubts.

The reason it does not work is because within the syllogism the property of the subject (phyogs chos, paksadharma) or in other words the reason ‘folding its leaves at night and sleeping’, does not only exist (yod pa kho na) in the subject ‘trees’. In order for this syllogism to work, according to our root logic text, the reason ‘folding its leaves at night and sleeping’ would have to only exist amongst the subject ‘trees’, meaning that all trees fold its leaves at night and sleep. But we know that pine trees for examples do not fold its leaves at night. So even though that is the reasoning behind disproving the reason of this syllogism, it does not disprove that trees are not sentient but that the Jain reasoning does not work for proving the status of trees as being amongst sentient beings. But the enigmatic prodigy Gendun Chöpel had managed to hold his assertion for the sentience of trees in the early 20th century in a monastery’s debate courtyard eastern Tibet and that brought to him as a young man the beginnings of an unknown notoriety that eventually surpassed his life.

Enjoy the next couple of months of increasing daylight and warmth.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Where there is smoke there is fire

The cold is really starting the bear down around these parts, well at least around Sarah. Since campus is located at a lower elevation than McLeod Ganj, the cold that is felt here is not the same as is felt up there and at the over environs. The cold here is a strange kind of cold. It never frosts in the morning, insects are still flying, the forest is still green and I have even seen flowers in bloom but you freeze your ass off, well at least I know that I have been. Though is it cold I am still wearing flip flops causing some of my schoolmates to ask me if I am not cold? I would say (imagine a Mr. T accent) “Damn straight I am cold; I am wearing four layers of clothes, fool!” I have always hated wearing shoes because then my feet can’t breathe and they get itchy. But in either case it is still cold. Being from NYC, one might feature that I could walk around in this weather in boxers, some folks here don’t layer up that is for sure but they are made of Tibetan high mountain stock; this cold ain’t got shit on a proper NYC winter, with blizzards, northeasterners and a wind that feels like subtle razor blades are slashing at whatever bits of flesh one might have exposed.

My stock is Caribbean, my family is Panamanian. Cold was not bred into our genes. I am genetically disposed to hot weather. Panama has two seasons hot and dry and wet and dry. That’s da bomb. I remember when I lived there as a little jit that one never knew cold, besides from eating raspáo (shredded ice packed and stacked in a paper cone drenched in sweeten condensed milk and a multicolored array of artificial juices of ones choice, yum!) or from drinking a cold soda. Seeing that I don’t like the cold makes it all the funnier that I would end up studying a philosophy that came from one of the coldest, highest places on earth with folks who come from the coldest mountain areas in the world. It is weird how shit can work out, an oxymoron like Jamaican bobsledding.

What has been my savior are these rubber whoopee cushion looking things that I can pour hot water into. I have two them. One was given to me by a cool Romanian lady, a polyglot, a classmate from my first year and the other one I bought in Mcleod Ganj. What I do is after I fill them up with hot water I wrap them in a shawl which holds in the heat and take it with me wherever I go. When I sleep, I hug on it like a little kid hugging a teddy bear sucking on the thumb, I am out nice and roasty toasty under my covers in no time. Everyone is now so used to seeing me with this bundle that they it called my baby, since it look like I am holding one. During study time in the temple, I have my favorite spot by a pillar where I can rest my back on it and stretch out my legs with the table at my chest so that I can read and write and I will place the bundle at the end of the mattress so that I can place my feet on them. It is mighty cold in the temple with its stone floors. Even now as I am typing I have it placed on my lap and when my hands get too cold I just stop and stick ’em inside and go, “aaaahhhh” for a bit having a mini hand heating orgasm before I continue typing. Even though it is a funny kind of cold I will relish in it for now because in a little over two years we will move up those thousands meters or so up the hill to McLeod Ganj where winter time is less likely to be joking. Luckily up there at Dialectic School, January and February are the vacation months.

This week I have learning to adjust without my tooth. Eating is definitely interesting, at times I have forgotten that I had the tooth removed (phantom tooth) and go in for a chomp to find emptiness (not in the Buddhist sense unfortunately) of the tooth. The food just hits my sensitive unhealed gum and stays intact mocking me in my attempts to destroy it. So I have chew on one side of my month which is quite awkward. Also since my studies require a lot of talking, with all the downloading, chanting and debating, my tongue has been making that spot around the absconded tooth very sore.

A few days ago while I was downloading some texts on the roof of the administrative building, I looked down at the village below and saw a man gathering some brush to get ready to light a fire. At that time I was working on downloading the syllogism: Regarding the subject, on a mountain pass, there is fire because there is smoke (du ldan la la chos can, me yod de, du ba yod pa’i phyir). According to the format that we use, the reason has to pervade or entail the predicate. Here the reason is because there is smoke, and the predicate is that there is fire. Which leads to this statement, it follows that if there is smoke there is necessarily fire (du ba yod na me yod pas khyab par thal), reasonable enough right. Even in English we say, “Where there is smoke there is fire”. But this common phrase taken as a proposition to be analyzed would not make sense if it was pushed a bit. It made me think that how in Buddhist philosophy and maybe in western philosophy too; we are forced to look deeper at commonly assumed notions that are taken for granted (like the white horse being white debate that I briefly explained in an earlier entry) and end up finding a lot of subtle and contradictory issues within them.

When the above statement, “Where there is smoke, there is fire” is pushed a person might say, ‘Well only a moron will assume that everywhere that there is smoke there is fire’, but I wonder if that is necessarily the implication or the assumption taken when the phrase is heard. I figure that most folks don’t even think about it and just nod their heads in agreement but they probably would not go beyond that. That was the case with my classmates when Gen la stated the original syllogism: Regarding the subject, on a mountain pass, there is fire because there is smoke, to us in class this week. Obviously we accepted. Then came the next question, it follows that if there is smoke there is necessarily fire. We also accepted this, most particularly because the acceptance of the first question implies the acceptance of the second question but it is stated in this format of pervasion or entailment for both testing and clarification purposes. It is there is where our assertion falls a part. Then Gen la throws at us: the subject, in the mouth of the uncle who is smoking a cigarette, it follows that there is fire because there is smoke, you asserted the pervasion (tha mag ‘then bzhin pa’i aa khu du ldan gyi kha’i nang du chos can, me yod par thal, du ba yod pa’i phyir, khyab pa khas). This leaves us in a position similar to having your king being placed in check in chess. The moves that Gen La used were simple and a common procedure learnt from day one. Since we accepted the pervasion the only thing we can say is that the reason is not established, which will mean that we will be accepting that there is no smoke in the mouth of the uncle who is smoking a cigarette. That just ain’t going to work, right! We were caught in our own contradiction made apparent by Gen la’s questioning. So the statement does not work, well at least so far.

I am sure I have mentioned this in the past, though we started with a syllogism, Gen la used the consequence (thal ‘gyur, prasaoga) form to debate us. That is rendered in English as “it follows” (thal, prasajyate). The consequence as the sense of taking the other’s assertion, checking it and seeing how far it can go until it breaks down into nonsense. I have seen in some places where the Latin reductio ad absurdum was used to describe the consequence. In the consequential debate style the challenger asks questions in direct dependence on the assertion of the defender and draws out the fallacies of the assertion. When sitting as defender, when we hear that “it follows” (thal) statement we know that our own assertions are being flung back at us and it does not necessarily imply the view of the challenger.

In Tibetan thal is a non-volitional verb normally meaning “to overdo”, “to get carried a way with”. This is what Gen la has done with us; we accepted that if there is smoke there is fire, and he has carried it to it follows that there is fire in the mouth of the uncle smoking a cigarette because there is smoke. The Tibetan syllogism would not have the term, “it follows” stated in it. Both the syllogism and the consequence each have their own very technical requirements that needs be met order for them to be considered correct. In the “Presentation of Signs and Reasonings” we are learning in detail about the technical requirements needed in syllogisms by analyzing what it needed to make a valid reason, though we debate using consequences. It is also said that the syllogisms used here are based on the style of debate used in Ancient India translated from the Sanskrit were the dependence on the consequence is more of a Tibetan innovation made by the scholar and abbot of Sangphu monastery Cha ba Chökyi Senge (phya pa chos kyi seng ge) in twelfth century. It won’t be until some years down the road when we will get heavily into the technical requirements of the consequence which I assume lays at the heart of, what Tibetan Buddhist hold to be the most refined philosophical view, that of the Middle Way Consequence School (dbu ma thal ‘gyur pa, prasaogika madhyamika), where talks are all about emptiness (shunyata).

As I was watching this villager building his fire, watching the smoke rise into the sky, I wondered what his assumptions were, what his villager’s mental paradigm were with his intimate knowledge of fire building. I have worked with fire a lot back in my hobbled days on the streets learning how to balance the air flow keeping the fire burning for maximum heat but not smoky. I was taught the phrase, “less smoke, more fire” as the key to proper fire building and maintenance. Fire goes back to that primordial cave-manish, or cave-womanish if you prefer, side of us, that basic urge of survival against cold and hunger. In referring to seeing smoke that one can correctly ascertain or infer that there is fire, HHDL states in “The Universe in a Single Atom”:

The formal introduction to inference as a principle of logic for young trainee monks (and these days, adult laity and nuns) involves the illustration of how one may infer the presence of fire from a distance by seeing a column of smoke over a mountain pass, and from fire it would be normal in Tibet to infer human habitation. One can easily imagine a traveler, thirsty after a long day’s walking, who feels the need for a cup of tea. He sees the smoke and thus infers fire and a dwelling where he can get shelter for the night. On the basis of this inference, the traveler is able to fulfill his desire to drink tea (and to warm up because Tibet is very cold). From an observed phenomenon, directly evident to the senses, one can infer what remains hidden.

It amazes me that something so primal like fire, probably the first and importantly grandest of all human achievements would have such philosophical depth and dialectical confusion within it though at the same time it does not surprise me. This syllogism has been so difficult to debate, so much so that I have started calling it one punk of a syllogism; so far none of us have found a way to not get caught in a contradiction. During last’s night all-night debate (meaning we got Saturday off, wooo hooo!), the last group that sat as defenders which had some really bright students in it were caught in so many contradictions that it was ridiculous. I have found out that in the higher classes this same syllogism comes up again and again and causes even more confusion. There is more to this cave-man T.V. that what meets the eye.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

One Tooth Less

I left my room this Saturday morning with 31 teeth and returned this afternoon with 30 of them. Too bad my age doesn’t reduce as I get teeth extracted. Yesterday was the anniversary of HHDL receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on the same date in 1989. It was horrendous that this year’s recipient Lin Xiaobo and his family were unable attend. But his detention and the severe restrictions placed on his family just might serve to heighten the global awareness about P.R.C’s putrid human rights record. Remember that the last nation not to release an imprisoned recipient of the prestigious award, Carl Von Ossietzy, was Nazi Germany in 1935. I am not saying that the P.R.C. is like the National Socialist Germany but both could possibly possess the same shoe size. I am glad that the people who decide on these things picked Lin Xiaobo for this year’s prize. I am sure that there must have been at least a few recipients in the past who were not so deserving of the award but there is no doubt in my mind about this year’s choice. Props for those Nobel committee decision makers for sticking their neck’s out! I for one did not know too much about him until he was announced to be receiving the award. Tibetans are now definitely aware of him in a public sense if they were not before. I am now looking forward to reading his writings and I would encourage you to do the same.

For the pass two weeks I have been suffering from some of the worst toothaches that I have ever had thus far popping Advil like candy, my bottle is now almost empty . My gums were infected since I could feel with the tip of my tongue the puss ball floating above my upper left gum line at the exact spot where I had a filling placed this spring. I had all already visited another dentist recommended to me by a friend this fall but I did not trust her diagnosis which seemed expensive and extreme, especially after my misjudgment of the other dentist. Because of the Nobel Peace Prize anniversary for the HHDL, Friday was a day off and I needed to go a see a dentist stat. Some folks recommended that I go to Delek Hospital, the Tibetan hospital not far down the hill from McLeod Ganj, and others suggested that I head to the Rajendra Prasad government hospital in Tanda not too far from Kangra. I thought I should give Delek hospital a try first for sometimes they might have a western dentist there volunteering though I knew that its chances of being open were slim. Also I needed to withdraw some bucks from my already seriously depleted financial resources from the ATM in Lower Dharamshala. The bus stop by Sarah was full with staff and students headed up to McLeod Ganj to attend the ceremonies for the HHDL’s Nobel Peace Prize anniversary at the main temple.

Leaving Sarah’s campus is always an adventure, my out of this country features always attracts local gazers. If they happen to be cute local girls I always throw a wink out there with a good stare back which always catches them off guard quickly returning them back to their assumed poise of shyness. When the bus arrived already full we crammed right on in. Up we went on the twisty pot-holed road and after 45 minutes of being shaken and stirred we arrived in Lower D. From there one either takes a taxi or walks up to Delek Hospital by a steep side road. I hoofed it. Another 15 minutes later I was at Delek to find that my fears where well founded and I then felt like a total dumb-ass for I could have used that time to go the Indian Government Hospital instead. All the exile Tibetan institutions tend to follow the same holiday scheduling. Because of the HHDL’s Nobel Peace Prize anniversary and since the next day was the second Saturday of the month just as Sarah had those days off so did Delek Hospital.

Returning back the way I came, just as I was about to arrive at the bus station I ran into one of my classmates and I told him what I was up to. He helped me get on the right track making me realize that I had no clue where the government hospital was. He asked some nearby taxi drivers for me and gave me bus instructions. Off I went hopping on the first bus I could find heading to Kangra, the seat of the district. I had brought my textbook and my mp3 player with Gen La’s lectures on them to keep me busy while walking, waiting or sitting on the bus. Once I arrived at Kangra I realized that my classmate had also mentioned about a shorter way to get the hospital but since he could not remember the name of the town where you get off (in the Indian bus there is a conductor who comes to you asking where you are going and the bus fare is given accordingly) thus taking a rickshaw from Kangra was the easiest option. The rickshaws in Kangra are big; I think they are called tempos. They can hold a lot of folks, which I experienced many times these pass two days, but this time I had to take one for myself. It took sometime to get there but I was very amazed at what I saw. The hospital was also a Medical College; I was expecting one tall building not a whole campus. There were a lot of people there and when they saw me you could see the confusion shining out of there eyes.

After waiting for awhile for the driver to search for some change, because rickshaw drivers never seem to have change, thus causing him to turn back to the campus entrance where there were more possibilities of finding some, I walked up the entrance road to the hospital as I scoped the campus. In front of the main hospital building there were people everywhere, many squatting and sitting in different groups on the grass. Once inside the hospital I headed to the inquiry desk to ask where the dentist was. After an entry slip was printed and handed to me the desk guy told me, “Room 9 second floor”. Now for us from the U.S. the second floor means going up one flight of stairs. That is exactly what I did; I went up one flight of stairs and accidental walked into the maternity ward. I was like, “man, this hospital’s lay out is very confusing. I am on the second floor but no room 9 is to be seen anywhere”. I kept on walking around, I saw rooms 15 and 16 but no nine. So I headed back to the stairs and walked through some doors and I saw other rooms but still no nine. I did not see anyone around who looked like they worked there so I continued my wandering, reaching the doors that I had previous entered I saw a piece of paper with the numbers 8, 9, 10, taped to the wall with an arrow pointing to another set of stairs spiraling up. Aaa laaee! This must be where I am to go I thought. Obviously other folks must have also had difficulty finding these floors hence the need for the sign. While climbing up those stairs I realized that when it comes to counting floors that India uses the British, and probably the European convention of calling, what we call the first floor in the US, the ground floor and the next floor up is the 1st floor. Again, you can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy.

I finally found the dentist room and was able to see the dentist immediately. I told her what had happened with the dentist that I had gone to this spring and about the diagnosis from the dentist that I had receive from the one that I had gone to this fall. She told me that my filling was badly done but that I would first need to get an X-ray before it could be properly diagnosed. She told me that I would have to return the next morning since the X-ray I needed is only done then. This dentist was not gentle. She sat me down in that chair and started whacking and scraping my teeth without any, “Ok, this is not going to hurt”, talk like we hear back at home. For one thing, I was right about not trusting the dentist that I had gone to in the fall since she wanted to give me an unnecessary root canal. This dentist told me that it did not look like I needed a root canal but if an X-ray was not taken then there was no way of knowing if one was truly needed. I was glad for her frankness but not her frankness when she was poking my mouth with sharp, pointy devices. So I had to return the next day.

Besides the hospital’s layout being a bit difficult to navigate, it was not nearly as clean as hospitals back home where you can feel any bit of bacteria that you might have carried on your skin with you die as you walk in. Here things just look dungy, that is general for most of India, except for the Delhi metro and some new malls. There were parts where it looked like folks were camping out in the hospital right on the floor with sleeping articles laid out and clothes hanging on some of the railings of the hallways like they were not going any where any time soon. Some of the sick were rolled around in wheelchairs, others where carried. Kids and adults with casts on various body parts seem to walk around aimlessly, well at least the ones who could walk.

It was depressing and enlightening at the same time. Many of us live our lives never encountering or avoiding the suffering of the masses. But we never know when that kind of suffering will come to us. In this hospital one easily encounters most if not all of the 4 signs (birth, old age, sickness and death); the ones that the Prince Siddhartha Guatama saw for the first time in his life when finally being allowed to exit his palace and to see the outside world with his own eyes. It was after seeing these signs that the Prince decided to renounce his luxurious life for that of a poor seeker of truth. All hospitals of course have these elements but here it is more in yo’ face. It is not hidden. I at times feel like most folks back home are more like the Prince before he first left his palace but are dulled by constant media and instant this and instant that. The difference being that the suffering is purposefully hidden to the extent that it seems not to exist here but in some far off god-forsaken place; this happens from the top down and from the bottom of up.

When I was on the streets as a young adult I definitely witnessed the unhidden suffering that happens out there for I was then in the midst of it, raw and unadulterated. But again it is not something that every one in the US sees. This on a larger scale also reflects India, where it is not a thing to build a mansion next to squalid slums. Could you image if Little Watts and Compton were right next to Beverly Hills? That shit don’t fly in the U.S. that is for sure, probably not in Europe either. I wonder if it were possible to hide suffering in India like it has been done in the West if Indians would go it. It is just human nature once one has risen to a certain status financial or otherwise to desire to be protected from the ghastliness that life can present itself or it is there also a cultural element to think about?

On my way back I walked to the nearest bus stop after some taxi drivers having finally understood my choppy Hindi directed me in the right direction. Tempos jammed full of people blew pass me. The sun was shining bright. Locals working the fields would sometime stop to observe the spectacle of me walking down their road. I passed by one very macked out garden that had some bad-ass looking heads of cabbage, with other luscious green growing in vigor behind a wall. I delighted walking through the village like this.

Once I arrived at the main road I took mental notes of landmarks and the characteristics of the area so that I could find it on my way back tomorrow. Again I crammed into a bus; I needed to take two buses at 5 rupees at pop, one from this spot to Mataur and from there to Gaggal. From Gaggal I walked to Sarah through a back path that requires two stone hopping river crossings. When I first entered the path leading there I saw some ladies sitting on the ground cooking and chillin’, they were not local ladies from the looks of it for they were darker, their dress was different and they had an attitude not found in the women of these parts. They started hollering at me; “heeeh, babuuuuu!” and then a wave of laughter undulated amongst them as they pointed their fingers at me as I passed them by.

As I was approaching the river I detected the distinguishable stench of human feces, river banks tend to serve as latrines. So as I walked to the river I had to be extra careful of where I stepped. Seeing the minefield in front of me it seemed like folks must just defecate in groups while gossiping just like that, in the open. It reminded me of being on the train on the way to the Kalachakra Initiation in South India the winter of ’06 when I woke up one morning and the train was passing next to a river as the sun destroyed the dawning mist in the middle of bumblefuck India and as I looked out the window I saw groups of people answering the call of nature out in the plain open by the river. Many of them waved at the passing train as they did their business, I too waved back.

After my two river crossings, up ahead on the a small hill I could see Sarah College, the newly finished water tower could be seen and also the top administrative building with the golden wheel of Dharma surrounded by two deer were I was downloading our main text two weeks or so ago. Since this path was not by a road it was nice and quiet. Off in the distance thermal seeking hawks circled the sky; I saw a fully naked tree with one of the largest wasp’s nest that I have seen. It seems so big that I wondered how the branch was able to support it. The next largest one I ever saw is a floor down and three rooms to the right of my room in the back corner of the boy’s hostel. I approached a village elementary school and saw the children were playing in the yard a game very familiar to me as a kid, duck duck goose. I stood and watched them for a bit, those kids for sure were having a good time.

Back at Sarah again, I stopped in for some grub at the school canteen after chatting with a small Vietnamese nun that I had met walking solo on the way up to campus and relaxed in my room for the rest of the day, finishing Shelby Foote’s second 1,000 page book from his trilogy on the Civil War, which I have been enjoining reading for the pass two years. Jeremy has been loaning me some of his history books for the pass two years. I am excited to start the final book in the trilogy but I will have to wait. Jeremy went to study at Dzongsar Shedra since all or most of monks in his class went to the winter debate session in South India on Dharmakirti’s Commentary on Valid Cognition. This is an old tradition from Tibet where all of the three main Gelukpa monasteries that surround Lhasa gather their monks for two months to debate this text in one spot, one session was held in the summer called Sang phu yar chö (gsang phu dbyar chos) the Sang phu summer debating session, because is was held at the site of an old Kadampa monastery in Tibet called Sang phu, and the other winter session was held at a place called Jang thus it was known as Jang gun chö (ljang dgun chos) the Jang winter debating session. In exile these inter-monasterial debates still happen but at one of the big monasteries relocated in South India and they have kept the use of the same names as were used in Tibet. Only monks can go to Jang gun chö so Jeremy went to Dzongsar Shedra, a Sakya/ Rime monastery four hours from here in Bir, where they allow lay males to debate. It seems like he is digging it, though their method of debate differs from the Geluk’s style as is learn at Dialectic School, there are also many doctrinal differences that I am sure will make debate the more interesting. I am hopping someday to follow in his footsteps in the future as my studies progress. And so until he returns I will have to wait. But luckily a friend let me borrow the HHDL’s “The Universe in a Single Atom”, which I have been wanting to read, like forever. It is like a “Buddhism meets Quantum Physics” type of book, for dumbies.

The next day being this morning, I reversed my tracks back to the Tanda Hospital. On the way I was, as can be expected, constantly being crammed in vehicles there and back, but being crammed in is the cheap way to go. I am used to it and I quite enjoy it in a weird way. You should see the looks I get, especially from the young and the elderly when I cram with them in the tempos. On the way back one little girl refused to enter the tempo when she saw me, her eyes bulging at me in terror, finally her mother sat next to me and slowly got the girl to sit on her lap. The girl’s little hands looked like it had alligator skin on them. Life on the wild side of an oversized rickshaw! At Tanda I went immediately to get my X-ray. Here they only X-ray the portion of the mouth that is giving problems instead of all of the teeth. I had to go twice since the first one looked like the tooth had a fractured root, the dentist asked me if I was ever hit in the mouth on that side and was I like no, though I did think of the near incidents of monks clapping pretty near by face in debate.

After the second X-ray they found no fracture. But I had another problem being that the filling that the dentist had given me in the spring was unnecessary and that tooth had infected my gums and that it had suffered some bone lost. First after sitting me in the chair she started to drill out the old filling and it hurt like a motherfucker, I screamed loud and clear, I know, I‘m a big wuss. She wouldn’t use any anesthesia saying that it should never be used for fillings because it could cause bad fillings like the one she was drilling out of my mouth. I never knew that but that drill was for sure causing me a lot of pain. She did spray some surface anesthesia but it didn’t help for nothing. So I accepted it I best as I could and let her do her thing. I cringe when I think about it.

Finally after she had gotten all of it out she then discovered the bone lost and that my tooth was barely hanging in there. It was quite loose. She looked at the X-ray again, always talking with her colleagues throughout the whole time. So told me that the chances of saving the tooth were slim and that a cyst surrounded the root of it was still in there. If it was not extracted the infection will spread to the other teeth. She also said that it must have been a chronic problem like since four or five years back. After she told me this and after she spoke with her colleagues I told her that if her medical opinion was the best option then pull ‘er out. And so, after quickly eating three bananas since the hospital canteen, which took me awhile to locate, had no proper warm food, she took the tooth out. She did use anesthesia this time though, whew. I was getting nervous, but I still felt some pain.

So now I need a bridge to keep my remaining teeth from slowing trying to fill the new vacant spot on my near upper back right hand side of my month. After she gave me a prescription and details on how to use them, her and her colleagues asked me where I was from, if I was tourists and what not, but the right side of my mouth was totally numb and I had to squeeze down on a huge piece of cotton in the vacant spot to stop the bleeding. I told them in slurred speech that I wasn’t a tourist but a student and studying Dialectics at Sarah College, but they had no idea about any of it. So I just showed them my text book, “Ah, you are studying Tibetan!” one of them said in seemingly disapproving tone. I gave a bone fade Indian wobble for confirmation. The bridge that I need to be done is in some other place; near Kangra called Dehra they don’t do it at the government hospital. They did not have a number or an address of this dentist so I need to ask the college secretary where this place is and how to get there. So I have another opportunity to have someone take jabs in my month. I will have to wait until the spot heals though and it will be quite expensive so I have to think about that too.

Outside the hospital after I had purchased my meds from the chemist I saw a large group of women in utter despair. They sat on the ground wailing in grief. Obviously someone dear to them had died. The sound of their wailing was so haunting that I still hear it in my head and it gives me eerie goose bumps.

At Mataur when I changed busses I saw a middle-aged Tibetan gentleman that I have seen around McLeod Ganj and had I also seen enter Sarah’s campus on the back of a motorbike waving Tibetan flags during the Lhakpa Tsering la’s welcoming a few weeks backs. I sat next to him and he started chatting me up. He said that he was coming from Kangra visiting an acquaintance in the hospital. It seemed like he also visited a Hindu temple since he had smudge of red powder on his forehead. I have never spoken to him before, at least I don’t think so, but he said that he recognized me from the VOA (Voice of America Tibetan News), for the impromptu interview during the freedom of language march and he remembered seeing me at Sarah for Lhakpa Tsering la’s welcoming. I told him what was up with me, showing him the cotton in my month. I am sure that he could tell by the slurred way that I was speaking that something was up with my month.

Anyways before I got off the bus, he thanked me for learning Tibetan, which was totally unexpected. I returned a ‘your welcome’ back to him and before I knew it I was off the bus in Gaggal walking back to Sarah. As I walked I thought about what he said. Studying Tibetan has been a real challenge and what he said really made me happy. There have only been a few times that Tibetans have thanked me for my efforts. I don’t think that it is necessary or that I even deserve them but do I think that such minor statements given by the people who speak whatever target language one is trying to learn helps and encourages those students. Especially with a hard language such as Tibetan, where as a beginner I received more discouragement than encouragement from native speakers and that really put be down many a times. What this Tibetan gentleman told me showed me that my efforts counted and what more was that it counted to him as a native Tibetan speaker. As I walked to Sarah I was like, “Right on”.

Because the Friday before the second Saturday was a holiday, our all-night debate looks like it will be postponed until next Friday but I am not sure if Gen la will give us that next Saturday off since we will have go to bed after midnight to be up by 6am the next day. We will see. It seems like Gen la is quite the writer/ scholar. I had a photocopied version of a slim book that he had written on a mnemonic grammar text called “The Good Explanations of the Divine Tree” (legs bshad ljon dbang) which all Tibetan third graders memorize. I had memorized it during my first year at Sarah and my Tibetan grammar teacher at the time allowed me to photocopy his hardcopy and I studied grammar from it. In our study of “The Presentation of Collected Topics” we used Gen la’s commentary. Also as we study “The Presentation of Signs and Reasonings” we are also using a commentary that Gen la had written. On Thursday in class he announced a new commentary that he had written on a text called “The Essence of Good Explanations”, (legs bshad snying po). It is also called “Privisional and definite”, (drang nges) written by the founder of the Geluk tradition Je Tsongkapa. This text is known for being extremely difficult but luckily we won’t be studying it for another two years.

Gen la needed us to help put the pages together. Sarah has a printing press and many books including the school magazine, in which I have been recently enjoying reading the current issue with articles, poem and stories written by some talented writers. So Thursday afternoon, Gen la had most of my classmates retrieve the papers for the books and had all them brought to the temple. Most of the small tables were lined up on the furthest left-hand side of the temple. After all the papers were brought in, the Indian printers came and organized the stacks in order from right to left on top of the small tables. Once that was done, it was our job to make the books by gathering the bundles in their numerical order. Starting with the first bundles of papers, which had in tiny purple letters the word ‘front’ written on the upper left-hand side of the pages indicating which way the bundles of papers should lay. By forming a line we each in turn grabbed bundles over consecutive bundles of pages until we reached the last table and handed them to the three Indian printers who sitting on a mattress in front of some empty tables where they were tapping the pages evenly on them in a rhythmic fashion. This went on for hours. Some of the guys were really fast so a ‘kind of race’ happened, seeing who could finish a book the fastest. Some errors concurred because of that though. I was slow rolling it. One guy told me that in the West they use machines to do such work but that Sarah they use us.

Gen la sat on a mattress watching and directing. At times he would gently laugh at us, like when he laughed at me as I goofily walked over to help my classmates with the project. The printers stacked the finished ones perpendicular on top of each other so that they didn’t get mixed up. As the finished stacks grew larger I wondered how Gen la felt about seeing his thought’s manifest on paper many times over. I don’t know how many were there when we finished but I would guess that more than 4 hundred future books were there. I thought about my own writing endeavors, I have only written for college making only the copies needed to fulfill an assignment and for this blog which has only the one blog that can be read by all who wish to. But books are a different gig, though I don’t know why. It just seems to have a different feeling; it is at a whole different level. I would like to write a book some day but I fear that I lack what it takes to do so. Anyhow, soon we will be in possession of Gen la’s new book and in a way I guess we will be the guinea pigs who will be analyzing his ideas in laboratory of the debate courtyard. Hopefully by that time I would not have had any more teeth yanked out of my mouth; I have already have two pulled since being at Sarah.


Sunday, December 05, 2010

A quickie

This week began with some unexpected free time. Since HHDL was to conduct some teachings by the request of the Russian Sangha, my classmates requested the time to attend. Those days were this previous Tuesday through Thursday. I was rather happy to hear this news, though I know that it means that our lectures will get rushed in the end, because I really needed to dog some serious downloading of our root text. I was about to fall behind. So I used that time as best as I could by re-listening to some lectures and general reviewing of the material.

Wednesday night was the b-day of Je Tsongkapa, the founder of the Gelukpa sect. Every year on that day there is a ritual performed at night in all Gelukpa related institutions, in which at a specific time in the ritual, offerings are distributed amongst the participants. At Sarah this is done by the students. This it seemed like there was an excess of offerings this year because the amount of stuff that was given out was quite a lot. The offering stuffs are all eatable though some more palatable than others. A lot of junk food tends to be passed out at these things. I felt that this was the closest thing to Christmas around here, receiving all these goodies. Normally the responsibility for organizing and conducting the ritual called Lama Chöpa falls on the monks of the philosophy course but this year other monks, from IBD probably, conducted the ritual while the B.A. students did the grunt work. I assumed none of the monks from my class knew the ritual well enough and that since they went to the teachings that also they did not have the time to get everything set up. The main characteristic of this ritual is the placing of candles all around campus and a candle light procession circumambulating the temple with a chant in the praise of Je Tsongkapa. This makes everything rather nice glowy for the otherwise indistinguishable campus.

This was quite an uneventful week and in truth probably all weeks at Sarah is like that, but usually I can write about something. Unfortunately, that is not the case for this week but I wanted to give it a try to see what came out of my fingers and the above is about it. But I hope that this little bit finds you in good health, spirits and that you are staying nice and roasty toasty in whatever part of the globe that you inhabit.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Right Questions

Steadily we are approaching the darkest time of the year for those of us who live on Gaia’s northern hemisphere. In under a month her longest stretch of shadow-dwelling will be amongst us. Observing the different positions that the Sun rises and sets on the horizon and the time changes of these actions allows one to reflect that it is the thing that one lives on that is doing the moving more so than that spherical mass of hot hydrogen gas floating 93 million miles away from us, which without we could not be. Since it rises these days at around five after seven I can sit on my balcony munching on some Tibetan bread and watch it rise. First seeing its rays hit the peaks of the mountains gradually moving down unveiling its shadows until from the far right side of my balcony the warm blinding light starts to slowly peak like a curious child seeing the circus for the first time. The chirping of house-swifts and other birds serenade the newly waken Solar lord. Bees and dragonflies fly to and fro already hard at work in their menial tasks. Sounds of a freshly awaken Indian village and the college adds to this morning symphony.

As compared to my old room, this room gave me the opportunity to appreciate more of the surrounding environment than I have been able to do in my previous years here. Also by learning to apply what I have been learning in class to the realm of regular, daily experience which is opening me up to things that I have always known to have been there but with a developing vocabulary for describing them.

Witnessing my first full moon rising over the mountains last weekend was such a gift. As soon as I saw that the peaks was starting to glow I stopped what I was doing, ran to my balcony and stood there until it floated above to mountains as if by invisible strings. For me, in both the risings of the Sun and the Moon, though I am seeing it happening in real time, the very movement of those masses or more accurately the Earth has not been perceptible to me. It is moving, it is rising but it is not until after the ritual is done that I can cognize that it has done so but not during it. I wonder if others have had similar experiences.

Recently for morning debates we have moved back to our assigned debating courtyard in front of the main administrative building from the court in front of the girl’s dorm, on the grass and under the trees. Sitting as defender I always take to time to notice the waning moon floating behind the challenger in the morning sky as I ponder the presented query. The morning weather is briskly chilly; the monks are all sporting their maroon felt cloaks (zla gam). Once a monk let me wore his as I sat defender and man them suckers are warm as hell and now I want one. I have been wondering if they can make them for lay folks but it different colors, since only monastics can wear the maroon ones. I was first thinking white which is what lay practitioners can wear as far as robes are concerns but that will not stay white for long so maybe I can get one in black. I am out to investigate the matter.

This pass week has been exam week for the Tsamjor and the Rignae (B.A. degree) courses. The week before was for study and this pass week was the actual exam. Our exam is not until February sometime and it is in the debate format. There are only two major exams at Sarah a year for the B.A. degree seeking students, a half year exam and the final exam. The amount of information that needs to be known for these exams seems to be astronomical. How the students do it is incredible. After studying in Tsamjor and in one of the first year Rignae classes and attending their study sessions for two years, I was always in admiration towards my fellow students. I always opted out of taken the exams for I feared that I would have failed miserably and drive myself postal trying to study just for one of these exams let alone five of them. I think that most of the students are accustomed to this learning style while I was not. I was never told anything for being M.I.A. during these exams. For sure, I don’t have that luxury in the dialectics course.

The first year in the Tibetan foundation course I did take the exams and then as in now I found the whole test taking process rather interesting. Tests are taken in the morning and in the afternoon and if I remember correctly there are about 3 to 3 ½ hours long. Depending on the schedule, students from different classes would take any of their various exams at the same time. In the pass, students would make crafty and creative ‘Good Luck’ posters in English and Tibetan for the examiners. The exams are taken in the temple, sitting on mattresses facing the Buddha and surrounded by thangkas of Bodhisattvas and bygone Buddhist masters. Low one-person tables are placed in front of them where the students sit hunched over crossed-legged throughout the duration of the exam in thought of the subject matter before them. Thin yellow covered answer books containing several pages of regular composition paper, in which the covers have to filled out in a specific way stating name, date, class, subject, and teacher, are passed out to all of the students plus the exam sheet.

The monitors tend to be the teachers of the respective class for which one is taken the examination on. If I recall correctly you can not go the restroom throughout the duration of the exam. I remember that sitting crossed-legged for all that time was so difficult for me and the temple environment for a test taking experience was so surreal to me. One of the students told me after his exam how much his hand hurt from writing a lot. He told me how the questions that were presented on his exam required a lot of detail with one question having as many as 4 to 5 questions embedded with in. In was later when I was in Tsamjor that I got a better idea of what he was talking about. Those students sure do studying hard and I have give mad props for their efforts and I hope that all of them pass these exams with flying colors.

Because of these exams our morning debates were reduced to one hour since the courtyard is in front of the temple, the clapping and yelling would be an obvious distraction to the test takers. Also mandatory study time was in the classroom which sits on the top of the administrative building. On top of the classroom lays a golden wheel of dharma (chos kyi ‘khor lo, dharmacakra) of eight spokes which symbolizes the noble eight-fold path presented by the Shakyamuni Buddha. This wheel is surrounded to the right and to the left by a crouching male and female deer in veneration and respect to the wheel and they also represent the first teachings of the Shakyamuni on the four noble truths at a deer park in Sarnath, near Varanasi, India. All Tibetan temples have these symbols on their roofs.

To the front of the classroom on the valley side at the next level lower where the college library is located flies the International Buddhist flag, though for a time the Tibetan flag also flew. From where I sit in the classroom right beside the middle door I can see it waving in breeze as Gen la lectures. Our classroom has four huge windows, two facing the mountain and the other two facing the valley. On a clear day McLeod Ganj and the surrounding areas can be easily seen from these vantages. We have our lectures on the floor with small tables in front of us placed in rows. Our Korean nun brought back some cloth mats from Korea that we now sit on. In the front there is a pillowed wooden armchair and table with a microphone on it where we place our recorders. The classroom is rather long, so a P.A. system has been set up so that we can hear him clearly with two speakers placed in the back where I sit. Gen la never sits in the chair upright but reclined as if driving an ole skool 1969 chevy Impala hoopty low rider through the hood. Above the chair on the left is a framed picture of the HHDL with a Katak draped on it and on the right a framed picture of Shakyamuni Buddha and retinue. The classroom as has A.C.! Every Sarah classroom has a picture of HHDL in it. Originally this room was the apartment of the HHDL, when he visited Sarah to inaugurate the college in 1998 back in which I think he only stayed in it once. Since then it has not be used until it was renovated into a classroom for us this year. Before then all the lectures of the previous batches were held below in the temple.

Normally during study time Gen la would come and just walk around. Partly, I think is to see that everyone is present and studying but also to be available for questions. Since starting the Presentation of Signs and Reasonings many questions have boiled up and a general look of confusion floats over our faces as Gen la provides his explanations. So one day in front of the large balcony on the valley side in front of the classroom I saw Gen la explaining something to a group of classmates and I went to check it out. I stood a bit off the side listening to what he was saying trying to digest and he then looks at me and said an a hearty laugh, “Hah hah, do you get it?” I was not, “Nah uh!” and he said, “Slowly, slowly, see how hard it is for native Tibetan speakers to get it but you will get it in time slowly”. Gen la has one hell of a laugh, he really has a ‘ha ha ha’ type of rollicking laugh. On campus one knows that he is around because his laugh bounces off the buildings. Takbum told me once that Gen la must be really happy and I asked him why he thought so. He said by the way his laughs “ha ha ha” all time in conversation no matter who is talking with, that shows that he must be happy.

Yesterday again in front of the classroom, Gen la asked me if my hair was fake and then I explained the process of making them and how black folk’s hair is just so kinky that it mats up easily. I told him that if I didn’t mat it that it will grow out like a big black ball surrounding my head, my way of describing an “afro” being that there is not a Tibetan equivalent. He said in fun that then my head could be used for a football. I told him that I had decided to mat my hair partially because Indian barbers would not have the slightest clue as to what to do with my hair if I needed a trim. Since they do not any experience dealing with black folk’s hair, I told Gen la that if I went into a Indian barbershop that the barber would look at my hair in surprise and say “kya hai?”, “what’s this?” at which Gen la and the surrounding classmates burst out in loud laughter. I told him that it is not really that different from the locks of a sadhu baba and a topden meditator besides the types of hair used to construct them. He touched some of them and said that it felt like a blanket could be made out of them; I was like how about a cloak (zla gam)? I have not had many interactions with Gen la like this; mostly because he terrifies me since he carries such a heavy air when he is around us.

Before having that conservation I was on the roof above the classroom where the wheel of dharma sits. The surrounding walls are high enough that I can place my book on it with out slouching to read it. The panoramic view of the mountain range with McLeod Ganj resting below it was as usual impressive to me. The sky was crystal blue and above me flew a few thermal seeking high soaring hawks; I watched for a bit how long they can go without a single flap of their wings, this kind of ambience is so striking yet subtle and un-obstructive. My surrounding classmates murmured their texts or were engrossed in debate. Some were in the classroom, some in the balcony in front and other on the roof. With the exam over we will be back to studying in the temple this week.

Yesterday, Sarah’s new sports court was inaugurated in the afternoon, with a small ceremony to thank the donors for hooking Sarah up with such a nice ass court. A bit more on the unusual side for Sarah, last Sunday its campus became a film set for a Tibetan movie, about what? I have no clue! But many students from the Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts (TIPA) crowded on to Sarah’s b-ball court side-steps to a part of the scene acting as an enthusiastic crowd in an excited b-ball game. The main actors where playing. Some scenes were also shot on the debate courtyard and others on the road. I was quite shocked that morning with the all the extra folks. At first I did not know what was going on as I was in the kitchen of the school restaurant trying to get some breakfast but the cooks were overwhelmed with this swarm of demanding hungry mouths. Many of the TIPA females were quite pretty so I had to keep my eyes in check since they don’t carry themselves like the humble-seeming Sarah girls. A TIPA student that I had met a year or two back was there and he explained what was going on a bit. I was like, the U.S got Hollywood, Mumbai got Bollywood, and now Dhasa got Dollywood or could you say Tollywood? Anyways, while watching one of the shoots I told one of my classmates that I think that the actors might be deserving of a Tibetan Oscar Award.

I was asked once what the purpose of debate is and since then I have been thinking about it more. The practice is definitely known to develop ones wisdom (shes rap, prajña). For soteriological purposes wisdom and compassion are needed in unison as a combined force. Wisdom is said to be active and feminine while compassion is passive and masculine. But what exactly is meant by wisdom, or as the ancients Greeks called it sophia? If one looks at the root of the word philosophy, philo- is for love and -sophia is for wisdom which I think they too also viewed it as a feminine principle thus you get the love of wisdom- philosophia. For many, wisdom might mean possessing knowledge of everything, but as a Western scholar of Tibetan Buddhism finely put it, “Often, we think that knowledge means to come up with the right answers, but prajña (wisdom) is more like asking all the right questions”. It was after reading this, in the context as a neophyte dialectician of Buddhism that I have received some insight.

It is exactly this that Gen la (and the other awesome teachers that I have had in my life) have and is trying to teach us how to do, more so than mere scholarship of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. It is in that training of learning how to ask the right questions, through the use of logic and reasoning in exercise, that the initial purpose of debate it about. This has made things a lot clearer, providing a grander picture and hopefully a steadier basis to build up on. And thus daily that is our task as students in this course and/or similar courses in philosophy either in dialectics, in a university, a dharma center, or privately with a qualified teacher; I think also in any field of study. Learning to ask the right questions, a mature developed mode of inquiry is a jewel that would guide ones life without fail through thick and thin. And so I hope all those out there in your respective fields of work or study that you might consider this as a tool for your life. To test it out and see what happens, Good luck. I would like to send my thanks especially to the teachers, professors, mentors, the ones who impart knowledge to us students, the ones that pushes us and guides us in the direction towards asking the right questions; you are so valuable and a commodity that the world can not live without.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Entering New Territory

When Gen la started teaching the Presentation of Signs and Reasonings this Wednesday he stated, “This presentation now is a whole new terrain (lung pa gsar pa) to which I will lead you through”. Since after finishing the Presentation of Collected Topics we have taken our first steps into this strange land. Though we have developed and gathered some tools from travelling in the region of Collected Topics, entering this new territory has left many of us in wonder as we try to stare at the panorama before it comes into focus. For starters the main text, “The Presentation of Signs and Reasonings: The Mirror that Illuminates All Phenomenon” (rtags rigs kyi rnam gzhag chos kun gsal ba’i me long) must be memorized. I have been spending a good amount of time in this endeavor. I starting during vacation this summer but I only got 2 out of 20 pages in and so when I started again the first two that I had previously memorized went in rather easily but the new sections are rather difficult. In Collected Topics the defining characteristics were short thus easier to memorized and easier to spit out when needed. On the other hand the defining characteristics in this text are long as hell making it hard to spit. The query stills follows the same format of subject, predicate, reason but the names have changes and when starting the query a more restricted, complex type of style is used, which remind me of those wooden Russian dolls in which one pulls out smaller and smaller dolls from the original.

The basic query of the text is, “the subject sound is impermanent because it is created/ a product, (Tib. sgra chos can mi rtag ste byas pa’i phyir/ Skt. anityah zabdah kRtakatvAt)”. So far in memorization and in debate we have been saying this phrase like it is going out of style. This study seems to be a deeper preparation for the study of Dharmakirti’s Commentary on Dignaga’s Compendium of Valid Cognition (tshad mad rnam ‘grel/ pramANavarttikakArikA). So far we have been taught that all phenomena can be known correctly through two kinds hmm…. I guess you can think of them as consciousness called valid or prime cognition (tshad ma, pramANna): 1) Direct prime/ valid cognition (mngon sum tshad ma/pratyakSa-pramANa) which is a consciousness that perceives its object directly without the medium of concepts, also it is not mistaken and it is new or fresh. It is said that for us normal beings only the first moment (It is believed that they are 64 moments in a blink of eye) of perceiving an object (like a table) is direct but for folks like a Buddha all their perceptions are direct without the medium of concepts 24/7 for all phenomena. 2) Inferential prime/ valid cognition (rjes dpag tshad ma/anumAna-pramANa) which is a consciousness like the one above which is not mistaken and it is fresh but with respect to its object of perception; that object is hidden and it is known in dependence on a correct or valid reason. It is here in the realm of the Presentation of Signs and Reasonings where one first really encounters valid and invalid reason and how to ascertain them and thus to ultimately understand inferential prime cognition.

The classic example is: when one sees smoke on a high mountain pass while approaching it, one correctly ascertains that there is fire. The same holds true with the above query “the subject sound is impermanent because it is created/ a product”. The rub here is that this query is not valid for all people. It is valid to the person who knows what sound is but who doesn’t know that it is impermanent and when the reason is presented to this person they then have an eureka moment leading to them to the understanding that sound is impermanent because it is created. This query wouldn’t be valid for a Buddha because they are said to perceive all phenomenon directly thus of being to no use to such a person. This query is one that also sits at the heart of Buddhism, one of the main assertions of all Buddhist is that “all compounded or created phenomenon is impermanent (‘dus byas thams cad mi tag pa/ sarvaM saMskRtam anityam)” and since sound is a compounded phenomenon it too is impermanent. It is said that since the Vedas are held as being permanent revelatory sound that it is because of this that some Hindu schools assert that sound is permanent.

Back in the day, many of the followers from all the different religions and philosophies that claim India as its place of origin involved themselves in a plethora of debates over their different views. Some these debates took place in the written arena, mainly in the Sanskrit language. One scholar, lets say, from the Jain tradition might read a text by a Hindu scholar and when this person finds points that do not concur with their own they would in turn attempt to refute those points in defense of their own by writing. Of course the scholars from the other traditions will read it thus making their objections or assertions and the process advances. This kind of dialogue happened in ancient India between Hindus, Buddhist and Jains, and also within each respected tradition.

Some of these debates happened face to face in formal dialectical style similar to how we are taught (it said that the loser had to convert to the winner’s religion though, boo hoo), but their query structure was different and both parties sat down thus without the clapping and stomping. Some say that in ole’ skool Indian style debate the challenger snaps his fingers instead of clapping; when Gen la debates us in class he snaps his fingers. We have gotten into the habit of it especially when small informal debates sprout up between us during study period. Tibetans in their mountainous snowy homeland looked to this Indian tradition and adopted it very well but here the language and the style are different. There are a multitude of texts and commentaries written on philosophy doing the same thing as in the Indian tradition. The student tends to be overwhelmed as to the amount of texts there are and to the vociferous writing spirit that these folks had and have.

With the starting of this new study we have switched the view of “our own position (rang lugs)”, where before our own position followed that of Sera Je Monastic College when we studied Collected Topics. Now our own position follows and will follow that for Drepung Loseling Monastic College and thus we distantly taking part in this ancient tradition. These positions might or might be agree with each other. Some folks are quite at odds about studying texts from other monasteries and/or other sects, but for myself I quite enjoy it because it helps me to see what other issues are and how other authors deal with similar issues.

I am enjoying observing how this process is unfolding though it is challenging. I was chatting with our nuns this morning during study period and this new topic had been so far a real brain buster. In debate no matter which way you answer there are problems which lead to contradictions. We are bound to the text that we study so we have to figure out how and why certain assertions are made. Not an easy task by any means. These assertions seem reasonable at first until one starts debating on them and then finds one self very confused, like all of sudden realizing that you have lost your sense of direction. Though in the Presentation of Collected Topics we were also bound to a text it was not so tightly restrictive. And just to think about how we are feeling now recently entering this land, we are really to suffer from severe culture shock when we start traversing through the treacherous terrain of the Perfection of Wisdom (phar phyin, prajJA-pAramitA) course and the Middle Way (dbu ma, mAdhyamaka) course within the next couple of years.

Towards to the end of this week another cold front blew in bringing rain and fogging up our view of the mountain until last night. Again like the previous time the moon had arisen, it was nearly full and the sky was partially cloudy. The range was clearly in full view, just shining like a milky pearl, so after damja I braved the cold breeze to venture to roof of the boy’s dorm and just to let my mind settle like sediment in a river after it has been agitated. The view was spectacular and I just stood there staring at the range solo as long as I could. Though Gen la is now guiding us through the alien realm of the Presentation of Signs and Reasonings last night my thoughts calmed in the realm of the Himalayas.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Old Dog versus New Kids on the Block

With in the six months of class time, we have gone through a series of studies that traditionally took two years or so complete. The study of the course called Collected Topics (bsdus grwa) includes within it the Presentation of Collected Topics (bsdus grwa’i rnam gzhag) text itself which is divided into introductory, intermediate and advance presentations, The Presentation of Knowledge and Awareness (blo rig gi rnam gzhag), and the Presentation of Signs and Reasonings (rtags rigs kyi rnam gzhag). In the three gigantic Gelukpa monasteries of Tibet: Sera, Drepung, and Ganden, it took a total of 3 to 4 years to complete the study of the Collected Topics curriculum. Here at Sarah/IBD it is concluded within one year. Due to the shortened period that we have for studying, many of the lessons are just blown right on by us and a feeling of a definite grasp of the material is not achieved. I know that many of us are overwhelmed by speed in which we go through the lessons. Especially of those like me who do not process a natural inborn ability for logic and reasoning.

Regardless, the difference between our class and those who have studied at the great monasteries relocated in South India after finishing the Presentation of Collected Topics is noticeable. Since the starting of the Advanced Hindi Teacher’s Training Course here at Sarah, a few of the monks from that class, who have studied in South India, have been coming to our regularly to our evening debates. I know that I have mentioned this before. From these interactions, I have come to believe that their first three years of training and drilling the debates found within the Collected Topic curriculum gave them a solid foundation, whereas that cannot be said for many of us within these six months. We are still missing many essential points that are supposed to be learnt during this introductory course in debate. But still despite this, Gen la tells us not to worry that eventually we will all get it, some faster than others.

The during the pass two weeks Gen la has rushed through three very important topics, last of which being the Presentation of Subject and Object (yul yul can), which is an introductory topic to the Presentation of Knowledge and Awareness. As Gen la taught this topic the heavy ambience of non-comprehension mushroomed throughout the classroom. This is due to the fact that in order to understand this topic the previous 2 topics must be understood with a fair sense of certainty. But that has not been achieved by many us because only a few days were allowed to study them. I do know from talking to some of the students from the higher-up class that these topics are so important that they will come up again and again throughout ones study. All we can do is our best, though it makes me feel incompetent because I do not process a natural talent for dialectics and most of the times I feel like I am barely floating by.

To add more spice to the curry, since this Friday was the Friday before second Saturday (we get the 2nd Saturday of each month off), meant that on Friday night we will be having an all-night debate (tshad med dam bca’). On Monday, Gen la said that since we are finishing the Presentation of Collected Topics this week and will be starting the Presentation of Signs and Reasonings on this coming Monday, in which we need to memorize 20 pages of texts, that he had invited the monks from the Advanced Hindi Teacher’s Training course to sit as defenders (dam bca’ ba) while each of our three groups are to make two debates each and stand as challengers (rigs lam pa).We are to use all the topics that we have learnt from the beginning up until now and we are to create a query that encompasses them all. As soon as he said this all of us started to feel a bit shaky and uncomfortable. We know that those monks and nuns are very experienced in debate and that Geshes are included within their class. After I taught about it a bit, it seems that we are like the neophyte chess student who from study knows how to move the pieces and knows some points of tactics and strategy is to be pitted up against a Grandmaster. Those prospects were not sounding too good to us. We tried to protest a bit but too no avail. The match has already been set up Gen la said. He had already asked them and they have agreed to it, so it was on.

We had a couple of days to prepare, each of our groups got together and started discussions as to what hell are we as the newbies are going to debate with these ole’ skoolers. The general talk was that no matter what we ask they will give us the exact answer that would be difficult to counter. They have years of debate experience, duh! I was thinking along the lines of the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!” and, “that you can never con a con man”, they guys know every trick in the book supposedly. Also in Tibetan there is the saying “Don’t debate with a Geshe, Don’t bang your head against a pillar” (dge bshes lags dang rtsod pa ma rgyag/ ka ba lags dang brdung ka ma rgyag//), but Gen la had already set us up just for that, to have us banging our heads against a pillar trying to con a con man.

Nonetheless, our group had quite the difficult time coming up with something; we have three strong students but no leader types. Our strongest student is also the most disinterested of them, he has studied at Ganden monastery down South and it was quite unfortunate that he pretty much left us hanging when we could have used his experience in developing a solid debate with us and how to go about the debating format as it is done down there. So though by the end of week we had met twice for two hours we only had a vague idea on what we were to debate with these monks, pretty much we knew the main query but none of the finer internal points to pay attention for. To top it off, our group was to debate first. Process of coming up with a debate is still a phantom to me and I have been thinking and searching for an appropriate method. I have gotten many ideas from my international classmates which I feel is leading me in the right direction.

In any case, Friday night arrived with a bright waxing moon in the sky and it was time for the main event. As I walked through the temple entrance, dead center on the far side sat two monks on a double stack of mattresses wearing thick monastic cloaks (zla gam). One of them has been the one who has been tearing into us for the pass couple weeks. I thought, well at least this is a time where we can ask him some questions. Perpendicular to them on the left was a row of monks from their class sitting in order of rank. The first monk, if I remember correctly is a Geshe Lharampa from Spiti and below him I assumed that the rest were Geshes of varying degrees on down to regular ole’ monks. On the right side sat some nuns from their class. I have chatted with one of the nuns; I know that she was good in debate. Behind both of these rows on both sides of the temple sat our classmates and other Sarah students. The right corner sat Gen la. With debates like all-night debates one person from the group starts off and the rest of the group is suppose to join in. Also anyone present who knows what is going on can join in.

At the beginning our main questioning monk was having some trouble getting the words out of his mouth, which was quite unusual since his is the fastest speaker in our class who can twist consequences inside out and upside down with daunting quickness, for obviously the cat caught his tongue pretty bad: stage fright gets the best of all of us. After several attempts, he almost tried to runaway a few times, he got it out. The moment was very tense. As we got started we were able to draw some contradictions out of them just through either their shear forgetfulness and/or non-familiarity with a certain passage of text that was presented. Other students from the other groups also joined. I had figured that a row full of Geshes and advance debaters would not be able to keep their tongues resting for too long and that was definitely the case. The Spitian Geshe Lharampa spoke up from his seat and drew out consequences from the defenders like a bully stealing candy from a baby. Then different monks from the row followed suit. At one point our group was standing in the middle of temple observing all this going on without saying word. Someone in our group during this period tried to build up our courage to intervene between this barrage of side queries and to bring the focus back to us.

These kinds of debates take a certain aggressive spirit, it is normal in the tradition to cut another person off, even physically. When some is taking the stage and not giving you a chance to get your point across you have to just take it. Which sounds weird, I know! I have not seen this spirit so much in my class so far, but I remember from going to all-night debates during my first years here, watching two monks pretty much wrestling each other to get the chance to hurl consequences at the defenders. At first I found it rather unbecoming of monks to be acting in such a fashion. But I realized that it quite accepted and that normally no hard feelings are held. The monks from down South definitely have this spirit. In some ways too, it was embarrassing for to be standing there with no good way to bring things back, but we know that we are the new kids on the dialectical block and that we still have some ways to go; I was regardless of that scenario glad that see how the ole’ skool did their thang. Eventually our group’s time was exhausted, whew!

Pretty much the same type of situation happened with all of our groups. This was quite a challenging event for all of us, even for our talented students. When the third group came up to bat, the other class had swapped defenders, but they only got one volunteer and so one of our guys had to sit in but he did not say much though he usually has tons to say. The monk that they chose was quite a riot for his mannerism and his way of answering was goofy yet steady. His answers carried serious weight but at the same time made you want to laugh your ass off. Eventually the monk who had just sat defender got up and tore into the swapped defenders. One of the nuns also got a couple of good side licks in for good measure. We were trying to get her to sit as defender but she was apparently shy. None of our nuns got up with their group when it was their turn which was surprising for they are very good. I was wondering if it was because there was some high monks within our presence for our nuns are definitely not shy.

Afterwards we had a meal of Tibetan vegetable noodle stew and a creamy fruit desert. The atmosphere relaxed tremendously throughout this period as we all ate together. This is always my favorite part of all-night debates just sitting, chatting, and enjoying everyone’s company. But we had to get back to it and this time Gen la changed the format since time was short, he had each group debate each other leaving the other class from having to sit as defenders. Since we were to first to start the debate we were the first to sit as defenders. Five of us sat and luckily we were not there for too long. The topic was one of the recent topics that was taught really briefly and none of us knew it well. After we had finished the previous challengers then sat as defenders. At this point many of the monks from the Hindi course had done split and many of us were relieved.

One of our nuns got up with her group to challenge. By the time it was all said and done, 12:30am to be exact. The final smack down came from Gen la. He told us that we had none quite a horrible job in preparing our debates as a group. We need to learn when doing damjas how to ask questions as a unit, as a group. That was very true, with all of our groups only the strong students asked questions while the rest of us just being there clapping and stomping. Gen la said that there is no point if only one or two people are asking the questions and while the rest of the group stands silent. I think we all knew that we stunk that night and Gen just enforced that we have long ways to go as aspiring dialecticians. It was done though, we all made it. We got roughed up pretty good, but we weren’t a total pushover. I don’t know if this encounter hurts Sarah reputation in the debating world or not, but the most important thing is that it expanded our debate experience beyond our small group and allowed us to see what else is out there, what the possibilities are and how others do their thing. This might be one of the reasons why Gen la had asked them to sit as defenders.


Sunday, November 07, 2010

A Diwali Post

On the eve of U.S. Prez Barack Obama and his wife Michelle’s arrival to India, after the dialectical fireworks of last night’s damja, a few of my classmates and I headed the roof of the boy’s dorm look at the fireworks that was happening all around us. Yesterday marked the Hindu festival of Diwali that celebrates the Goddess of light and wealth Lakshmi and the Hindu New Year. Every year during this festival fireworks are sold indiscriminately to the young and old. On the days that lead up Diwali, the sounds of fireworks become more and more intense reaching the grand crescendo on the night of the actual festival. Since campus is cropped up on a hill and the dorm is five stories high, see could all the glittering sparks of fireworks that were launched from different places within the valley in front of us. About 15 minutes by bus, southwest of campus at capital of our district, the city of Kangra was very active, though at the time in was under a black out, the skyrockets were still being continuously launched. Directly to the south of campus lays Gaggal with is about a 10 minutes walk for here. There too the fireworks were raging. Most of the surrounding areas are villages, which were by no means lacking in the pyromaniacal fun of the celebrations. From the vantage point of the roof we had an almost 360 degree view of all the action. We made commentary grading the various skyrockets exploding around us depended on how elaborate and beautifully they exploded in the sky. Their booms echoed at various points, from varying distances and if it wasn’t Diwali, I could easily imagine that some kind of skirmish was going. Even some guys came up later on to light some firecrackers but all of their attempts were rather ridiculously dismal.

Rewinding, on the 28th of October as I was going to the temple for our daily mandatory study period from 2 to 4pm, I noticed that in the courtyard in front the temple that a P.A. system was set up along with a row of tables and chair arranges as if a talk was about to happen and in front of that most of the student body were squatting on the grass. When I saw one of my classmates and asked him what was going on he told me that a group of seven Americans have been riding motorcycles around the world to bring awareness to the Tibet issue and that they are about to arrive here on campus and give a brief speech. When he said that I did not think too much about it because every now and then you might hear such a thing; like folks cycling around India to bring awareness to the Tibet issue so on and so forth. After a bit of indecision I went and joined the rest of the folks. The motorcyclist did not arrive until an hour or so afterward, so we sat in the courtyard just shooting the shit while we waited. There was apparently phone connection with the group for the staff knew how far they were from campus and gave us regular updates.

When it was close to the time that they were to arrive every one lined both sides of the campus road to welcome them. When they arrived I realized that my classmate was rather misinformed. It wasn’t seven Americans both one American and this American was also Tibetan. Behind this one motorcyclist were about 20 or more supporting local bikes riding with him, many of the riders donning traditional Tibetan attire waving Tibetan and TYC flags and shouting, “Böd Gya Lo”, “Victory to Tibet” as they rolled in. Members of the Tibetan Youth Congress seem of have made up a majority of the support bikers. It all clicked to me then. I had read about this guy on when I was in the states during summer vacation. A Tibetan from New York: Lhakpa Tsering la, he had decided to motorcycle around the world to bring awareness about Tibet’s political situation. Here is his website link. This ex-nomad’s iron steed was no rinky dink motorcycle, but a regal BMW motorcycle the first one that I have ever seen. Many of my classmates and the boys in general were awed at this specimen of a bike. It did not have the bulldog machismo of a Harley-Davidson or of a Royal-Enfield. This bike was a gentleman’s bike. After the rider got off of his steed many flocked around the bike to take pictures of it with their cell phones and generally just to check it out. Towards the back of the bike there were two steel boxes on each side were folks from all over the world had written something on it, along with flag stickers from various nations. Above the rear wheel was a New York license plate with TIBET1 written on it. Seeing a NY license plate at Sarah seemed surreal and very out of place to me but it also gave a big smile when I saw it.

After he was settled at the tables and chairs at had been arranged in the courtyard, all of the Sarah class captains were called up to offer Lhakpa Tsering la kataks. Someone from TYC gave a brief introduction and then he took the mike. After a brief speech in which he stated his thanks to Sarah for the wonderful welcome and the reasons for taking the journey, he got on his motorcycle with his posse and skedaddled up to McLeod Ganj, where I am sure he received an even grander welcome. Still after he had left, talk about his bike was floating about. I told one of my classmates jokingly that it seems that more attention was paid to the bike than to the person who rode it. At this he giggled and said, “True, true”.

That next Saturday we had unexpected day off because it was the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan Children’s Village in upper Dharamshala and since probably that a majority of Sarah’s student body including staff are TCV alumni we got the day off. HHDL was expected to be there, so that day Sarah was the most quiet that I have ever seen it. There was barely a soul to be seen. I swear that I saw tumbleweeds rolling around campus as if it was a western ghost town in the US desert.

This week one of our lay students from the “Land of Snow” is now in the process of returning to his snowy homeland. He departed few days ago and he told me that since he was travelling by road that it will take him two weeks or more to get there. What he is returning to would not be the same place that he had left since his hometown was recently devastated by an earthquake. But I knew that that was a stress for him being here while such a thing was going on at home and so after procuring all the necessary papers to enter this land he packed his belongings, he briefly spoke in class to wish us the best in our studies and how much he enjoyed our company. We will all miss him for sure; he is a funny cat always kidding around and we had a lot of fun together in and off of the debate courtyard. I hope that his journey back home goes unhindered and that the reconstruction of his hometown goes as well as it was promise by the higher ups.

This pass Thursday was another unexpected day off for Sarah students, the night before at a talk, Tendor and Lhadon Tethong were at Sarah talking about the demonstrations that are happening in Amdo, Eastern Tibet, by students who are demanding that Tibetan Language be taught in their schools. I remember seeing some essays written by Sarah students stating their support of these students in Amdo posted on a bulletin board. A march was being organized for students of Tibetan schools around the Dharamashala area to walk in solidarity with these students in Tibet who are protesting with the threat to their very lives and families to have the Tibetan language taught in school and not only Chinese. I have been hearing about these demonstrations off and on for some time but this was the first time that I have seen something happen on the public face that addressed the issue. Families in Tibet have sent their children, a majority of the times on foot over the Mighty Himalayas, to India so that they can attend a Tibetan school and keep the language going. With these demonstrations in Tibet which do not seem to be getting any outside attention beside from the Tibetan-Exile community, shows that the students themselves are willing to risk a lot to have their voices heard and to have their language taught.

Since Sarah is an institute for the preservation of the Tibetan language, classes were called off and it was strongly suggested that students participated in the march. These days it takes a lot to get me to go up the hill to McLeod Ganj but I decided to go. The march commenced at the Main Temple in McLeod Ganj and finished at the Kacheri gas pump in Lower Dharamshala. Marching with my schoolmates various calls in Hindi, Tibetan and English were chanted. It looked like all the marchers were students. TCV students led the march with Sarah, IBD and Norbulingkha Institute students taking the rear. We slowly winded down the road in between traffic and dodging cars into Lower Dharamshala on that eve of Diwali. Many of my classmates made excellent chant leaders, especially for the calls in Hindi. I find it so ridiculous that there are places on this planet where in order to learn ones native tongue in ones native land that they have to risk their lives to have their voice heard or escape to a foreign land to learn it. There is something seriously wrong with this scenario and I think that there is no ultimate reason for it to happen, but the fact that it has happened does not shine a good light on us as Earthlings, especially those in power. I hope that the demands for these students are met and that if they are not that they don’t give up, that Tibetan will be taught in its land of origin with government support or clandestinely. Learning ones native language should never be a crime.