My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Sunday, April 18, 2010

My last India blog entry for the next two months ;-(

Well yall’s this looks to be my last blog entry written in Northern India, for on Saturday the 24th of April @ 1:15pm from the 108 degree city of New Delhi I will depart for London and then from there to NYC, that is, if the volcano near the Eyjafjallajoekul glacier in Southern Iceland stops spewing its microscopically vitric dust particle filled ejaculate 7 miles up into the atmosphere. I know that it has blocked a lot of trans-Atlantic air traffic this week and no one knows when it will stop. I hope to see many of my friends and family during my two month stay in Amerilandia and I have a wish list that I would like to see fulfilled while I am there. I seriously doubt that I will post anything during my stay so you might have to wait until I return in late June; but check periodically though.

This has been a week filled with differing and at times conflicting emotions, but I guess that is just life right? As far as class goes, getting to know my classmates has been really intriguing, I think that we are slowly getting used to each to some extent, though some are still marveled by my matted hair, but as I have said before, many of them are in there late teens and come from very desolate areas in the Indian Himalayas. So the maturity level can be quite low. Today as we were doing our weekly clean-up of the debating courtyard and our classroom, the monks were having a kick out of dousing each other with cold water and pulling each others shorts down to the ground. Some tried to get my shorts but luckily they were tied nice and tight for if they were not they would have gotten the surprise of their lives since I always prefer to go freestyle if you catch my drift. This was done amongst laughs and giggles galore. Like I’ve said, it is like having a bunch of lil brothers around.

Seeing that we spend at least 8 hours a day with each other and almost all of the students from the course live on the same floor having roommates also from the same course, naturally a group consciousness develops, which is really interesting in a way, for when it comes to debating each other it might seem like we hate each others guts. For instance, we had a damja yesterday and from amongst our group, Ani Nga la, a really tiny Vietnamese nun and a monk were selected to sit as defenders (dam ‘ca ba) at another group. It seemed like that group had thrown to them an impossible quandary. At points throughout the debating session one could hear lil Ani Nga la’s voice trying to hold her own but the group that she went to had some monks who are really good at asking brain and tongue twistingly hard questions.

At the end of the damja I went and asked her how did it go and she replied, “man, they were so mean, they gave us an impossible question to answer and when we couldn’t answer they asked us if we were stones or if we were dumb”. In the debate format that will kind of look like this; regarding the subject “you”, it follows that you are a stone because you can not speak, (khyerang chos can, rdo yin par thal, bshad ma thub pa’i phyir). And remember, there were probably 4 or 5 monks screaming this at the top of their lungs in front of the defenders exclamating their statement with a huge clap and a stomp. I told her that she probably held her own well which shows that she is progressing and that is what is important; everything else is just a part of the experience of taking this type of course. When one is debating one on one it is not that much of a thing, unless someone is listening in and wants to challenge you which happen rather regularly. We have a new staff member at Sarah, who was a monk and studied up to the Madhyamaka class (which means about 12 years of study) at IBD when he disrobed. He comes to our debates regularly and I think that he gets a kick out of whooping our asses in the park more than likely thinking, ‘boy! These kids have a lot to learn’. It is good that he comes because I think that it raises or could potentially raise the standard of our debates as a class.

As the week carried on, I came to know (though I can say that I knew already) that some of our classmates had studied Buddhist philosophy before. I have noticed a few students who are not studying, lazing around but kicking ass in debate while the rest of us are cramming like bad and sucking ass. One monk, Namgyal, has studied down in South India for some time, and there is a lay student from Spiti who was a monk also in South India. I knew this had to have been the case but at the beginning of the course they nonchalantly said the contrary when Gen la asked if they had studied Buddhist philosophy before. Anyways, a few nights ago I was debating with Namgyal, I was the defender for the start of the debate and man! He threw some tough questions at me and eventually I was like, “Ugh! are you pulling this stuff out of your ass for I know from the questions that you are asking and for the fact that I never see you studying that you must have studied some where else for these topics are in the chapters that are to be studied next year!”, and it was then that he told me that he was a monk from one of the three big monasteries in South India.

I was a bit frustrated and but I chilled out quickly. It must be so boring for him, but then I wonder, why is he here? The quality of the debating in those monasteries, from what I have heard is 100 times superior to that of IBD, there are more scholars teaching there (with most of them at the acme of their profession) and there are more people to debate with which means one gets to encounter a multiplicity of ideas. Those monasteries are like the Harvard, Yale and Princeton of Tibetan Buddhist scholasticism, why would one want to come here, which is like, lets say going to my alma matter Berea college (which is a great school no doubt), and where one has to start from square one, when one has the opportunity to learn from the best in the field. I think that first of all, they were more than likely sent here by their Lamas and secondly, compared to South India were in the debating courtyard is filled with hundreds of monks from various classes one would be some rather small fish in such an environment, where here one can rocking it out and don’t (at least at this point) have to work nearly as hard as the beginners, and thirdly, compared to South India, Dharamshala’s weather is more agreeable.

During one of our study periods, during which time I was practicing memorization, which I do following the Tibetan way: pacing around the temple saying the phrases over and over until I can say them without looking at the book, some of my classmates approached me casually and a conversation developed out of our congregation. I talked a bit about my life, being homeless and all, and that now I have found something that I enjoy. I was asked if I had a wife back home and I said no. One monk said putting his hands by his front thigh,” when you become a translator those girls in America who wear really short shorts will grab your arm (here the monk grabbed my right arm to show me his example) saying how much they want you”, I just started laughed saying that I am not interesting in those kinds of women, plus after you are done you’ll probably have to pay I said jokingly, probably not a smart move.

Standing in our congregation was an Amdowa from Lake Kokonor (mtsho sngon) named Tak Bum (stag ‘bum), meaning one hundred thousand tigers, which I think is such a cool name, many Amdowas have such awesome names, at Sarah there is a girl from the first year B.A. course named Min Nang Dzë (smin snang ‘dzes) meaning something like Beautifully Ripening Illumination, and another girl from the second year B.A. course named Sung Dü Kyï (gzungs ‘dus skyid) which means something like the Joyous collection of Mantras and Tantras, in a previous blog entry dedicated to the Tibetan women’s uprising day I have posted an essay that she wrote.

Anyways, Tak Bum asked me how much does a prostitute cost in the U.S. I told him that I did not know, but maybe a high class one is like $200 for a night. Then he goes on to recount that in Tibet they go for 500 yuan for a night (I have not clue how much that is), he was telling us how him and his friends were once in Lhasa and after coming from doing prostrations and praying at the Jokhang temple on the Barkor (a circumambulatory path) his then went walking by an area with brothels where the ladies standing at the entrance would try to pull one by the arm to get you to enter the brothel. These ladies he said, many of them Chinese but also Tibetan will tease you to get you into their lair saying things like, “Where you going, Big boy?”, “I can take care of you if you wish”. He said that they are really good and also that in India, the ladies here are also really excellent, hmm? I know that the going price in Delhi was 100 rupees or like 2 bucks, not a good idea.

I was feeling a little bit uneasy at the downward turn of our conversation. Besides Tak Bum and I, everyone else around us were teenage monks and I could tell that they were really interested in what he was saying. They started to ask me repeatedly if I had ever been to a brothel, I was like, hell nah! I explained the dangers of such activities to them. It was not the type of conversation I was expecting at that time. But knowing Tak Bum, it doesn’t surprise me to hear such things coming from his mouth. It just seems natural to his personally. He has this thing of smacking the shit out of my upper back thigh when I least expect it and then tells me that I have no ass. I am like, well hell; you sure don’t need to be rocket scientist to deduce that one do you?

Yesterday in class Gen la, covered the three divisions of established bases (gzhi grub) or existents into virtue, non-virtue, and those that are not indicated in the scriptures, established bases can also be divided as permanent and impermanent. Tak Bum then bombarded Gen la with tons of questions. Is homosexuality non-virtuous? Gen la, yes since same sex couples can not reproduce and are together only for sexual enjoyment in Buddhism it is considered sexual misconduct, but in the political realm like in a democratic country, then they have there own rules because not everyone in a given country are religious so they have the political freedom to do as they please, at least in some countries. What about abortion? Gen la, “Oral contraception is fine, but once a new born fetus has develop quite bit then it is considered a person and one of the ten vows that a Buddhist takes is the vow of non-killing thus it being non-virtuous according to Buddhism. Can two monks get married? At this Gen la and all of us about died laughing, “Of course not, monks have taken a vow of celibacy and if they are in sexual relations with each other then they are no longer monks!”

But I also I know that there have been hidden homosexual activity in the monasteries, one monastery near here had a quite bad hepatitis B outbreak, but I have never been able to get any one to talk to me about it. Generally, at least in the Tibetan exile community sexually is far from being open, though there are many awesome people that I know who are trying hard make it a issue that is worthy talking about because VD’s are getting passed around the community really quickly. Anyways, one again, Tak Bum had a roll, he proceeded to quote the great Tibetan poet from Amdo, Gendun Choephel, who translated, the Kama Sutra from Sanskrit to Tibetan in the 1920’s or 30’s who stated that sex in general and particularly with prostitutes was a perfectly virtuous activity. Gen la, who has been a monk all of his life did not agree to that at all, though he chuckled at the mention of the great scholar’s name. I am totally fascinated by Gendun Choephel, I think he must have been and still is the most radical and progressive product of Tibetan society.

A few days before that, Gen la revealed a little bit himself. He is not Geshe, but had studied pretty far. He was from the first batch of IBD students which started in 1973. It is great to know a little bit about him, since there is this air of mystery about him. He constantly wear sunglasses because he has a eye condition where bright lights bothers him and with him being a monk his is totally bald, I see why an American student from the previous class said that Gen La reminds him of Morpheus from the Matrix who leads one down the rabbit hole of Tibetan Buddhist dialectics.

On a really sad note, as anyone who has read my previous entry knows, there was a devastating earthquake that hit Jyegundo, in the Kham province of Tibet. From the pictures that I have seen, it looks like an extremely bad situation. Several schoolmates, including a classmate of mine are from that town. One lay student, Jampa was absent from class the day after the earthquake hit to go to McLeod Ganj to see if he could get in touch with his family. The next day I spoke with him and I asked him how does it looks like and he said that he couldn’t get through with landlines but was finally able to get through with cell phones. His uncle and his three family members in the household all perished in the earthquake but Jampa’s folks seemed to be ok he said.

Were you close to your uncle and your family I asked? Yes, of course! We always spoke through on the computer since I have been in India and in Tibet also of course. You must be totally devastated! I asked. He said no, what is the point? What the benefit of all that? I am here in India and I was totally incapable of helping them, what is the point of being all sad for? He told me. That took me a back for a second. How could he not be sad? Back at home if that was one of my close relatives I would be all thrown apart with mourning. I knew that this attitude towards death is quite pervasive amongst Tibetans, my colloquial Tibetan tutor who tutored me for a year between 2005 until 2006, did not show a bit of sadness when her father died. I told her that it is fine if we don’t have class for awhile, but she said, just because my father died doesn’t mean that I have to disrupt my entire life so let us continue as usual. One of my old classmates from last year’s Tsamjor course, Sonam, who is also from Jyegundo had some loses, I spoke with him today and he said that his parents are alive but they lost almost all of their friends. He too, had this stoic outlook but it I think that there is just a thing about showing certain emotions in the public sphere or to folks whom one is not close with.

Yesterday also, in front of the boy’s hostel many poems with declarations of mourning for the people of Jyegundo where taped to the wall stating solidarity with them, stating that we are brothers of the same Tibetan blood, read some of there along with the other students gathered in front of these poem. A friend just told me that all of Bir, a Tibetan settlement nearby is virtually shut down, with many prayer activities going on. Many of the original Tibetans who settled in Bir are from Kham, with most of them being, I think, from Chamdo and Derge, but I also think that some folks from Jyegundo and other parts of Kham there also. This shows to me that there some public display of emotions, though I have not been to Bir recently to see it myself. Folks are devastated regardless of whether they chose to show it or not.

I also think that though most Tibetans are not very knowledgeable about Buddhist philosophy, that there are certain aspects of the philosophy that has become apart of their lives culturally. You ask almost any average Tibet, Are you a Buddhist? Yes. Can you explain to me Dependent Arising? Blank stares. I think that it is the similar with western cultures, so many of the ideas that we know take for granted came ultimately from philosophy, in medieval Christianity, St. Thomas Aquinas strongly and freely used Aristotelian philosophy with theology which in turn has diluted itself and prominent traces of it can be found in Modern Christianity, our strong sense of individuality that we sure as a society, democracy, socialism etc, are also embedded from ancient to modern philosophy and secular thought. It is so much apart of us that we can’t see it or that is it very difficult to see it. Like a fish in water can’t not conceive of life without water or us without air, totally engrained. With regards to this disaster, it has amazed me, once again how some thing so far away can hit so close to one’s heart.

What a week it has been, mentally duking it out on the debate courtyard hours a day, knowing that some long hours travelling is in store for me as I traverse the globe and U.S. continent, and that I have to face Amerilandia: my mind is all over the place. It has been three years since I last left the US, the last time I went home I had a really hard time and that was after a year, now this time it is after three years. U.S. and India are two totally different worlds and I live in a smaller world within the world of India with exiled Tibetans and Indian Himalayan people. As I look out my window, with the Indian heat beating down on me like a cop beating a brother in the hood because he looks like Tyrone who robbed a convenient store, the mighty Dhauladhar range are spreading majestically before me, its foothills spew columns of smoke into the air because the woods are simmering, I think, man! Amerilandia is going to rock the shit out of me and I am not sure if I am ready for it.


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