My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Friday, February 12, 2010

To Bring in the New…

I know that I do this every time that I make a new blog entry. First of all, since it has been several months since I have posted one, it makes me wonder if I will have any visitors. The main thing about having a blog is having a constant readership which means one should update regularly. But in my circumstance, due to technology, time and part laziness I don’t have that privilege. So many things have happened and I contemplate what I should view as important enough to or not to mention. For starters, as many of you know I am applying for the Buddhist Dialectics course that is offered every 2 to 3 three years here at Sarah College through the mother school the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics. About three months ago, I wrote my request for an interview, and now I am less than a week away from this very important day. On Feb, 18 I will try to see what the shape of my future will be. I just received the interviewing schedule and I am first on the list. There are 14 interviewees applying for the seats allotted to international students out of whom only 7 will be accepted, 3 nuns and 4 lay or monastic men, or least that is what I have been told. I am the only non-Asian applicant, there are bunch of Vietnamese and Koreans applying, one Indian, and one Chinese, I think. So there is a 50/50 chance of getting in, which I honestly don’t think is too bad. But since I do have doubts, I am still scared shit less. This interview will look out for our Tibetan speaking and listening skill, and our fluency. Each interview will be between 10 to 15 minutes. There are Tibetans applying also but they have a separate application process. So that is a lot, I am full of hope and scared at the same time. For all of you out there I could use all the prayers, luck and wishes that you can muster. It will be so appreciated.

To me this exam will be like a show or proof (in away) of all the hard work that I have placed into learning this language. Tibetan is not an easy language to learn, and Tibetans themselves very rarely show any sense of appreciation to those who attempt to learn their language. At least that has been my experience. From day one, it has been the exact opposite, and because of that I have gotten severely bummed out at times, because I know that I am trying hard, I know that I am not perfect but I am trying. It saddens me to see what the beginning students have to go through. It amazes me at how we have beginning students who have been at Sarah since July who can not even say hello in Tibetan. Now to be fair, a part of it is the students own fault, they do not tend to hanging much if at all with the Tibetan student body, or like don’t do their language drills. But the other half is that the xenophobia at Sarah is so high that an international student does not feel totally free and comfortable to attempt to speak in Tibetan. Especially if they are from the west for naturally when Tibetans see a westerner their first instinct is to speak in English, regardless if that person can speak it or not. For those students this is where the extra challenge for learning Tibetan at Sarah comes. I was lucky in that before a came to Sarah I had a years experience with this phenomenon in McLeod Ganj thatI placed myself in a environment where I could speak the most Tibetan that I could and that was when I lived for six months with a Tibetan family. That was not easy either because when I first moved in they where not accustomed to speaking to me in Tibetan for the first few weeks, even though I always spoke and replied in Tibetan. Finally after being discouraged by that I decided (after getting some advice) I will tell them to speak Tibetan or I wouldn’t pay my rent. Boy, that did it, and since then it has not been a problem. I was amazed though, that I had to go to that extent, that I had to beg for it. Many students are not willing to beg or even acknowledge that they have to. I had this thought wondering if French language students living in France has to beg folks to speak French to them, hmmm?

My first Tibetan teacher from the Cornell Tibetan summer intensive program, Tenzin Thinley la, had warned me about this before I first came to India. He told me that Tibetans in Dharamsala must get used to speaking Tibetan with foreigners, and that I should speak Tibetan regardless if they use English. He said that it will be good for them to learn such things. When I heard this I was quite surprised, because I figured that that should not be a problem for people whose language they are trying preserve. I figure that they will be appreciative of other people, who seriously try to learn, but now I understand what Thinley la meant, and it has saddened me in a way, because I think it might the case why many people give up learning Tibetan after the first year, and Thinley la must have known this from his many years experience of teaching Tibetan in the states.

It is more due to the environment that a language student must deal with rather than the difficulty of the language (which is immense). This is an exile situation, at Sarah for example once you step off campus, you are faced with a totally different language and either you use Hindi if you took the time to learn it, or English. So it is not like living in the country in which the language is spoken. This is India and out side of Sarah and the Tibetan settlements Indian Languages are used. So that makes another challenge which Tibetans don’t see, and then one hears criticism about how bad many international students speak Tibetan.

A few days ago, there was talk on Korean acupuncture done by a Korean acupuncturist who has been at Sarah for a few weeks giving free sessions. He had a Korean nun, from the dialectics course translating for him, and no doubt that she was having a hard time translating and it was difficult to understand. The students around me where saying how bad her Tibetan was, that she should speak better etc. She was around 40 years old when she started learning Tibetan, after she finished the beginners’ language course; she was accepted into the dialectics course. That is no small accomplishment, that course is very difficult and intense, debating difficult philosophical points in a foreign language. We all know that as one gets older it is increasing difficult to learn a new language and this Korean nun totally rocked it out. But was there any appreciation for that, well from what I have seen, no. That fact that her translation was difficult to understand and her Tibetan fluency was lacking is more a reflection of the community that she has been learning from than it is on her, because they are the native speakers, if they actually were easy to engage with. I can recount some many times when trying to start a conversation, and then getting the sense from that person that they don’t want to be seen talking with me because I am foreigner, that awkward silence between quick reply to my questions. Instead of just walking right by you without making eye contact, if there was a sense of comfort that she was speaking the crap out to the language, from day one, being forced to speak by the community, her fluency will be just fine. It is a classic case for finger pointing. We always forget that for that one finger that we are pointing out, those leftover ones are pointing to crux of the matter. I have reflected on this for such a long time, from speaking with beginning students, seeing that this situation is happening to so many who try hard, who have given up their lifestyles, careers, luxuries etc to study this rare and difficult language.

I have mentioned these things to the administration but nothing has come of it. One student tried to set up a space for conversation partners to do a language exchange but that did not seem to have gone anywhere, one of the problems being that most of the beginner’s students being from Korea and Vietnam don’t know English and if they do not very well, which is what got the Tibetan students interested in the first place. For me, with this being my third year at Sarah and my fourth year studying Tibetan, I am comfortable enough in most situations using Tibetan, my reading skills has improved immensely, my reasoning has been improving due a dialectics class I have been taking this academic year in the B.A. program and a Swiss nun, Tenzin Wangmo, who has been so kind to take time from her business schedule of being in the dialectics course to help a few of us in debate.

On the badass, the current college captains, Sarah has a captain for both girls and boys, have been working really hard to create a one-school feeling, by buying sports equipment so that more people can play, and trying to break everyone’s habits of sitting with only those that they know from class or village-mates in the dinning hall. For generally, the Ladakhis, Amdowas, Khampas, and international students tend to eat in their own group without much interaction, and I was so happy to see that the college campus captains ( I am sure due to some insightful nudges from a far-seeing faculty member) took the challenge and the initiative, that as students entering into the dining hall they stood at the entrance telling folks to sit next to someone that they have never sat with before. They arranged the tables and chairs in rolls to break up the clusters of groups that it was. I really hope that it works, since then I have interacted to people that I have seen for three years but never even said hello to. I appreciate the far-seeing hard work that these individuals have taken. Wow, I just felt that I have unloaded a lot. I hope that this unloading doesn’t impede in the reading of this entry.

The current philosophy course which has been at Sarah since I have gotten here had their final exam last week. And now they are completely finished at Sarah and their next class will commenced at the I.B.D mother campus in March up the hill in McLeod Ganj. Thus being the reason why a new class is starting now. I just changed rooms, from the one that I have been for the pass few years on the third floor. Jeremy, an American student in the dialectics course let me take his old room, which is so cool, his room has a fan, nice porch, linoleum on the floor (which I can mop!!!), and a very sad looking wild orchid that a Korean nun from his course had dug out from the surrounding forest and planted in a huge loofah sponge looking thing that one can hang. This new change is so nice, the Tibetan New Year is around the corner, which this year lands on Valentine’s Day (Love, Love, Love), and my future will be decided four days after that, so it is quite a light delightful feeling. Moving helps to breaks old habits, and to starts new (and hopefully) better ones. Environment is everything and this change of environment is great with hope for the future. I have such a badass view of the mountain range and the neighboring village since I am on the top fifth floor.

I would like to mention one more thing; on Friday, Jan 15th I got to witness the annular solar eclipse, which was so cool. It was partial in this part of India but it was great to see it. The last one I saw was a total solar eclipse that happened my second year of high school in Coral Springs, Florida some 15 years ago. I went to show Jeremy who had never seen a solar eclipse before, when he then recounted a debate he was having with a monk who only knows and holds the Buddhist cosmological view of our world which entails the multilayered Mt. Meru which is surrounded by four continents of the four directions of which our world is the southern Jambudvipa, which in turns is orbited by our sun. So after viewing the eclipse, Jeremy calls the monk with whom he was debating this with and had him check out the eclipse. He did not know what is was at first, but I think he then understood what was going on once it was explained to him. I thought that that was so cool, monks in pass have not gotten a modern education, so when it comes to these things many are completely ignorant. This monk did not freak out that his view of the world was incorrect. He saw the proof, accepted it and moved on. Now for most, one might say, “So what, what the big deal?”; this reminded of an experience I had when I was attending Berea College in my sustainability class, the professor was talking about the age of rocks and how scientist can check it with carbon dating, and one of the girls sitting next to me in my class turns to me and says, “Oh I don’t believe in such non-sense”, and I asked what is there not to believe, she replied, “Our universe is not more than 3,000 years old, that is what it said in the Bible and the bible’s word is the word of God, so this stuff about million year rocks is non-sense!”. My mouth just fell agape in amazement upon hearing this, a college-going intelligent young woman saying such things and on the other hand seeing this traditional educated Tibetan monk who once he saw the proof that his world view was incorrect accepted it with no more of a shrug and smile, both them very dedicated to their faith. That just blew my mind. There is nothing like planetary activity to put things into perspective.

I will end with that note; a new beginning is coming for me and for all I hope. A beginning that brings us all closer to loving each other, loving ourselves, our lives, our preciously short time on this tiny blue spinning ball, our dreams for a better future with understanding and wisdom. A beginning that allows us to think big, way way beyond ourselves. To all out there in the world and beyond: Much Love, ¡Un abrazo muy fuerte!



skipperZ said...

Thanks so much for posting! I always come back and check this blog, and am glad I did. Hoping the best for you and always grateful for those who share their experiences!

Hoping the best for you and all those in exile and in Tibet.

-- skip

bluevajra said...

Hey there, I am in Mcleod gang at the moment and am interested in how Sara is going and have some questions if you would be willing to talk about it. I was planning on coming out there sometime this week to check it out, it you could recommend a time that would be great.