The night before, my stomach nudged me with gentle touches of the butterflies. With the clothes that I had selected to wear for the oral examination folded neatly on my chair, under candle light, I sat. Three years of study for this coming moment. “What if I didn’t get in”, I thought, “What if I do get in”. Back and forth it went through all the variations in between. The smell of incense reviving me at every second telling me not to worry for whatever may come, let it come. And so, slightly earlier than usual I went to join the slumbering ones, for tomorrow brings new unknown tidings.
At 6:00am to the sound of All India Radio’s Hindi news blaring from my radio I open my eyes like the quick snap of vertical blinds being suddenly opened. My mind takes a minute second or two to focus and to send the signals to my body. Out of bed I go, with no remembrances of dreams I commence my morning toileting ritual. 6:30am the bell is sounded for morning prayers, most mornings since I have been at Sarah I have attended them, and it feels so normal to me now, but this morning there was something different. It had to have been coming from me; I was heavily weighted but also light. It was dawn; the sun still had another 45 minutes until it crested over the lower easterly side of the mountain range. A few of us sit in the temple reciting a milieu of prayers, refuge to the three jewel, the four immeasurables, which wishes that all sentient beings to be free from suffering, offering of the mandala of the universe, the 21 praises to the Female Buddha Tara, supplications to the Bodhisattva of Wisdom Manjushree, we flow from one prayer to the next in a neat rhythm, half hour later, it is over. We all get in to line for breakfast, the habitual round of Tibetan bread and a cup of tea. Now our day begins.
With my new room on the back side of the top fifth floor, I can sit on my balcony and watch the sunrise. Before the sun pops over the mountain its presence is anticipated by its rays that hit different parts of the snow-clad mountains. The birds are chirping their song; hawks spread their wings proudly searching for the warmth of the terrestrial emitting heat thermals that allows them to soar to greater heights with out much physical expenditure. House swifts, darts in and out of our dormitory, showing off their mastery of aeronautical flight, I take this all in as I think of the exam to come and what it means to me and to life. I water my wild orchid who is still struggling but I have been giving her lots of love so I hope that she will eventually warm up and perk up for me.
On a small white broad, I wrote out the short version of a prayer called “Bar Che Lam Sel” for clearing obstacles from the path. With it written out in front of me, I studied the grammar and the construction used in the composition of the prayer as a way to possibly activate whatever intentions are instilled within it by the author. I recited it slowly, paying attention to the words that made up its meaning. I did this for a good half an hour. Then I got dressed. The day before I went to Gaggal to get shaved, so my face was silky smooth and I, though still very nervous, was ready to get to show on the road. I arrived at the office and several of the other prospective students were waiting outside, a conglomerate of various Asian faces waited me, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan, China, and India, were all represented. 15 of us total, all vying for this opportunity to join the Dialectic School. We were all cordial and friendly; a Brazilian friend of mine gave me a lot of encouragement and gave me a blessing cord that she had received from my root teacher, H.H. Sakya Trizin when she had gone to Dehra Dun to receive his audience during the Losar vacation. Some pictures were taken, as we stood on the veranda in front of the office on this brisk morning, Tibetans students on their way to class were wishing all of us good luck. In fact, throughout the whole morning students had been wishing all of us luck with the exam.
Eventually my name was called, here at Sarah I use my Tibetan name Ngawang Lodoe, so I heard the Secretary say, “Ngawang Lodoe la nang la phe sho”, I was like, alright it’s business time. As I walked in I saw three tables set in a line towards the back of the room, and behind them sat, Gen Lhakpa la, my professor from my first year at Sarah, Gen Gelek la, one of the professors from I.B.D. and Gen Ngawang Dorje la, my orthography/ calligraphy professor for the pass two years. In front of them lay one lonely chair, in a certain way the arrangement made me think that I was going to be court marshaled instead of being interviewed. I sat down, and then it began.
Gen Lhakpa la started by asking me to give a brief introduction of myself. Then he asked me since English is my first language, I corrected him because Spanish is my first language, anyways he said, what did I think the differences between Tibetan and English and/or Spanish. I was like, shoot the differences are huge, and it would have taken me a lot longer than the allotted 15 minutes we are given for the interview to explicate all of it in full, so I gave an extremely brief answer. I felt that due to my nervousness that my Tibetan was choppier than normal, I held the crap of the blessing cord as the examination progressed. I focused all my nervous energy on the cord, which by then was swimming in my palm sweat.
The next question came from Gen Gelek la, he said, “You know that you should not expect to learn all that there is to know about Buddhism in a couple of years, like 2 or 3. It takes many years just to finish the Sutra side of Buddhism, and that is not to mention the study of Tantra, which takes many more years to study, how will you be able to sustain yourself financially through all that study?” I told him, that I am dedicated, that my whole purpose of being at Sarah College since 2007, learning Tibetan and all, was for this course. I have had the syllabus for this course before I even I started Sarah, so I knew that many years are involved. I knew that if I wanted to have an in-depth look into Buddhist philosophy, the long and tedious training that they provide will prepare me for that and place me in a good position for proper translation work. As for how I will sustain myself, I told him that I had a sponsor. Then he asked “Who’s your sponsor?”, and I was able to say with pride that Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s Foundation is sponsoring me. “How did you make that connection?” I said my good friend from my first year class at Sarah help me with that.
The next section came from Gen Ngawang Dorje la, he was holding a book and he started by explaining that they wanted to see how our comprehension and reading skills are, so first he will read a random passage and then we are to explicate on that passage’s meaning. I was like, shit! I started getting more and more nervous. My mind to was saying, “I hope that he reads something easy”, over and over again. So he started reading, and I just stared at him, I was like “fuck! I am so done”, besides the first few words I had no idea what he had just read. Like a deer staring into the headlights of an incoming car, I just stared, and then Gen Lhakpa la suddenly said, “Should he read it again?” I was like, damn straight! And Gen Ngawang Dorje La, said “Ok, I will read something easier, I thought that I should start with something difficult and then move to something easier!” Then again he started reading after a few flicks of the pages, and I understood everything he said and on top of that it was a about a subject at that I have studied before in Tsamjor, Tibetan history. I was able to explicate further than what was stated in the passage, pheww! I thought what a relief. Then Gen Ngawang Dorje la, gave me the book to read out loud the exact same passage, I have to say that this was the easiest part, for since I started studying Tibetan in 2004 I have made it a point to always read aloud, so that was a hit.
Gen Lhakpa la, threw out the final question of the exam, “As a student of the Tibetan language here in exile, one encounters many different dialects and accents, what challenges does that bring to the student?” Well hell, I thought, I said that if one is interacting with that person, whose accent/ dialect is difficult to understand regularly then eventually one will get to a point when they will start to understand his/her speech pattern. Since coming to India, I have spoken to folks from all over Tibet, Kham, Amdo, U-tsang, etc and at first it is always difficult. Tibetans themselves struggle with different dialects, so for us international students is harder, but it is not a total blockage to understanding. In Tsamjor, my classmates are from all over Tibet and eventually you just get use to how this particular person speaks. And that was that, my oral examination was over, ten minutes total!
I walked out of that room, called the next person in and unto the veranda where the other applicants were waiting. They fired questions at me, “was it hard?”, “What kind of questions did they ask?” etc… Some got scared that there was a reading component for that was not announced as a something that we will be tested on, so many of them started to practice reading. I wished the others luck and went to my room. As I walked up the stairs, I kept receiving “Good Luck” and “How did it go?” I knew that because I was nervous that I spoke very brokenly and because I did not understand the first passage that Gen Ngawang Dorje la had read that I was worried that I did not do so well. I relaxed for the rest of the day, chatted with friends, and at around dinner time, which is 5:30pm at Sarah, I went to the office to see if the results were out. As soon as I walked in the door of the office, the school warden was the only person in the room. I asked him where the others were and he just points to the bulletin board where the results were posted. Instead of 3 nuns like I originally assumed, they took 4 nuns out of 9 with 1 on the waiting list, meaning that if one or more of them drops out then the nun on the waiting list can join. One Vietnamese nun, one Chinese/Australian nun, one Korean nun, and one Singaporean nun, who had just showed up at Sarah a few months ago, her and her sister were studying at a nunnery for international nuns called Thosamling since January of last year, and came to Sarah maybe around October-Novemberish. Though they joined the beginner’s foundation course both of them spoke decent Tibetan for the amount of time that they have been studying. So her getting in is pretty neat and also a very tiny and cute Vietnamese nun who has been in the foundation course since July, got on the waiting list, which in itself is a huge accomplishment, surpassing others who have been studying for two years. This nun picked up Tibetan rather quickly and though I thought that her chances of getting in were slim, the fact that she got to the waiting list is quite cool. Her name is Nga, and in Tibetan Nga is the word for “I”, so I am always joking with her. On the guys side, there is the topper with 77 out of a possible 90 points, the only Indian student, Kailash, then there is me (Ngawang Lodoe), the only westerner of African decent, at second place with 76.5, Ombak, the youngest one from Taiwan, who flew here just to take the exam and leaves soon to return, at third place with 72, last is the only monk, Tenzin Kunzik from Korean, with 63.5. There was one lay Korean, Tenzin Rabjam, with 71.5, but he is on the waiting list. I think that Tenzin Kunsik got in over the other one for several other reasons beside points. So there you have it, the new international students for the Buddhist Philosophy course. A side note, on that same day Feb 18th, 2010 on the other side of the globe HHDL met with U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama in the White House.
Through out the past few days, I have been receiving congrats from around the globe, and because of that I have been so happy that so many people believe in me and are happy for me. I thank all of you for sending me your love. I love all of you so very much, please remember this. From amongst the students it has been nice. One of my Tsamjor classmates told me a few days ago, “don’t ever forget that you are a Tsamjor student no matter what, ok?” I think that was his way of telling me to stay humble, to remember where I came from, not to think I am some hot shit now just because I am got into the philosophy course, I appreciated his concern and held it in my heart.
So now the future is ahead, the examination for the prospective Tibetan students is not until the 28th of Feb at the I.B.D. campus in Mcleod Ganj, and the class probably will not start until after the anniversary of Tibetan Uprising day which is on March 10th. So that means that we will start with just a month or so of class and then two months summer break for May and June. I will be returning back to the U.S. of A for that time so look for me or give me a holla! I am excited, but also nervous, this course will be very intense the whole way through and there is not easy part to it, memorization and reasoning are the keys to success in this style of course. I hope that the little of debate that I have studied in the pass year will prepare me for what is to come. I have a surface idea on what to expect, but I also know that it is best to have no expectations. I know that I want to do well, that I want to pass my exams. I might totally suck at it, I have not clue at this point. I know that many years of study are ahead of me, and at this point in time I feel that I am ready. We will see as the course commences how it goes.
Wow, I have accomplished an objective, Dialectic School is a wonderful opportunity, and I am soo happy that they deemed me worthy. Now many more objectives are to be accomplished, I hope. I hope to keep all of you up on this new but very ancient learning process, a process that was Tibetanized, but that drew its inspiration from the great debates of old in Ancient India between the various masters and yogis of the Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain traditions. From those and possibly earlier beginnings, I will now join in the learning of this process. My hope is that I can take you along for this ride (without boring you to death, hehehe). Once again, to all of you around the world, I love you all and a hundred and eight thank you.