My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Sunday, April 04, 2010


Normally back at the home front after the initial relief of making it pass the hump day (Wednesday) there is the final respite for the arrival of Friday. As I remember around campus while I was in college it was not unusual to be saluted with TGIF (Thank God/Goodness it is Friday) from other toiling students. But here at Sarah College TGIF does not hold true because it is only the second Saturday of every month that we have off, such as the next coming Saturday. Normally we have half Saturdays, classes until noon, and after lunch we have a mass campus clean up until 2pm.

Before when I was in the Tsamjor course (Bridge Course) there was more of a sense of spaciousness that accompanied the course especially that as an international student our teachers did not hold us to the same restrictions that applied to the Tibetan students. This is because most but not all of the Tibetan students in Tsamjor are studying in that course in order to pass the exam that is required to enter the B.A. course (Rignay) in Tibetan Literary culture. Most of the international students are interested in improving their language skills and the Tsamjor teachers realize this. So being in Tsamjor was just perfect for the level of Tibetan that I had at the time when I started two years ago and I was at liberty to choose what and how many classes I wanted to take.

But being in the Buddhist philosophy course is different, for when I was in Tsamjor we were considered casual students, in this course I am a full fledge Sarah student, and I must abided to all the restrictions. Which I think is great. As I have said before, this course is very time intensive; not including one’s own self-study, the course itself takes about 8 hours out of one’s day. The days go by über quick and at night you just pass the hell out. So when Friday comes there is not the respite of like, “oh, I can sleep in tomorrow”, but not to fret because it is about to be in “da house” the following day. And so, TGIS gets in effect, a nice chillness settles down around campus, many students go on visits to McLeod Ganj or nearby Tibetan settlements to visit friends, and things slow down, though normally Sarah is very slow compared to US standards.

One thing that is interesting at this point is that even though our course has just started three weeks ago with the intensity and depth of our subject matter increasing day by day, all of the other classes are winding down. Some of our international students have left already. On the third week of April all of the classes will have their end of year exam, in which anything which has been taught since July 1st could be covered. For every one who doesn’t know about Tibetan style teaching, the teachers tend to give you tons of information everyday per class, any whisper or comment said in passing by the Professor could be on the exam. I remember so many times when the teacher will ask the students about something that was briefly mentioned two months earlier and when the students could not answer effectively, he will go on to scold the students for not pay attention in class. So with this attitude from the teachers, when testing time comes around, regardless that the week prior to the exam there is a week of mandatory self-study, the teachers will suggest to the students to have study period during class time. So now, many folks are studying their little Tibetan asses off. For all exams taken one’s grammar and calligraphy are also marked meaning that one has also to be aware of that also.

In our course, we have just finished the chapter on colors, in which we should now be some what familiar with the world of form according to the Sautrantika Buddhist tenet system. Established Bases (gzhi grub, vastu siddha) is chapter two. And now what has just happened is that whole entire view of existents according to the above mentioned tenet system, which is considered a lower view than the view that Tibetan Buddhist hold as “the” view called Prasangika Madhyamika, is being introduced to us. We will not study Madhyamika for years to come for it is quite terse and difficult to understand.

So with the established base chapter our view has been immensely widened. Where with the chapter on colors we were only concerned with the world of form which can be perceived with all of five senses, the next chapter is concerned with all existents and by implication non-existents as well. The chapter on colors is included within form, and form is included within other heading called functioning thing: “That which is able to perform a function” being its tsan nyid. All functioning things are mutually inclusive or have the same meaning with impermanence with its tsan nyid being “momentary” meaning that it is a phenomenon that disintegrates moment by moment.

On a brief note, Gen la mentioned last week that though normal humans can not directly experience impermanence that scientists through the use of instruments can get really close to that experience. For example, the knowledge about atoms and how fast they move, the amount of space a single atom contains and so forth. Though it is not Gen la’s field of study it is cool that he put these kinds of things out there for us, showing that our studies can have correlations with other fields of study, particularly modern ones. In particular, he mentioned the huge particle collider device on the Franco-Swiss border for their success in smashing some particles together, it being cited as “A New Era in Physics”.

Moving back to my previous thought, functioning things are composed of three divisions: form (which we just studied), consciousness, and non-associated compositional factors (which are functioning things but are not any of the two, form or consciousness). In contradistinction to these which are all impermanent there are “permanent phenomenon” and these two impermanent and permanent in turn are the two main division for established bases i.e., existents.

It seems to be that from now on that this chapter will be the foundation for all further study. It multiplies the amount of information to be memorized and the comparison combinations that can or can not be done between the various phenomenons. Some of the students are finding it quite difficult, as instead so am I, and as one young monk told me two days ago, “My motivation is broken”, I reminded him that it has only been three weeks and that if sticks with it he will get better. There are many young monks in our class around the age of sixteen/ seventeen. And I have the feeling that this might the first time in their lives that they are required to bust ass at something. This course requires all of thinking and taking the time to do so. With the little time that I have spend at monasteries, thing can be quite relaxed there, especially at monasteries that don’t teach philosophy where the young monks have lived since their childhood. As child monks their education includes memorization of prayers, learning ritual instruments, sand mandala construction, butter sculptures and the making torma offerings (offering cakes made out of roasted barley flour called Tsampa), all of which require mainly learning the motions but little intellectual content. It is only after learning these that monks may learn some philosophy. Seeing that this could be the case, I can understand why this young monk said what he said. So far with my experiences with memorization, especially doing it the Tibetan way, it is a rather brainless activity in way. One just repeats a phrase over and over until it can be said without looking at the book and then you add another one to that phrase until you have down and can just spit it out. It also puts you in a zone or trance so to say. The monks have several various tunes that they used for memorization, but I am trying to come up with my own based on the long clave rhythm, but so far no luck, hehehe. But in this course memorization is not enough, it is just a basis to work from, for if you don’t have some understanding, then all that will become able apparent in debate.

Having all these young monks around is kind of like having a much of lil brothers around. They are always playing with ya, smacking on ya, wrestling with ya and so forth, which is kinda cute, I guess. There are older students also so you can have the goof off time with the kiddies and more cool intelligent conversation with the older kats. Anyways I am getting tired so I will stop here, I initially wanted to write just a few lines but I guess some extra stuff ain’t too bad it is?


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