My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Diamond Cutting in the Clouds…

I have just returned from the McLeod Ganj, which right now from sunny Sarah’s vantage point is immersed in a thick dense cloud. Since I have been back I have not had the opportunity to visit “Da Ganj” as much as I used to mainly due to financial and time restraints. But this weekend I had some incentives for visiting the foggy “spiritual Disneyland” as it has been described by various journalists. This weekend HHDL was giving a two day teaching on the Diamond Cutter Sutra (rdo rje gcod pa, Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā) at the request of the Korean sangha (Buddhist community). Most if not all of the teachings are sponsored and or requested by a sangha from a small group of Asian countries. Usually they are Korea, Taiwan, Russia (Kalmykia, Tuva, Buryatia)/ Mongolia and Singapore. These are always interesting times for one sees how the various Buddhist traditions, the monastic ones in particular, interact with one another. As I have mentioned before, in my class we have students from Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore, and most of these students are also well learned in their respective traditions. At the beginnings of these teachings the monastics from whichever particular country will lead the initiatory chants in their traditional style. Like this morning, the slow steady and mindful beat of a woodblock was heard reverberating around the main temple as the Koreans chanted. I remember once when I went to a teaching sponsored by the Russian sangha three years ago, how the Mongolian monks with their intricate throat singing overtonal manipulations chanted the chant for the mandala offering. I was heavily struck by that experience.

It has been some time since I have been to any HHDL teachings, mostly because I normally like to take that time to catch-up on some studies. But Gen la gave us the time off to go, and Sarah made a surprise holiday so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Also there are some old dear friends visiting which I might not have otherwise gotten the chance to kick it with them. I was very elated to see them. It is always a treat to see the HHDL, though during the teachings the topics tend to be way over my head in English and definitely in Tibetan. Going to teachings is a good community event. Almost everyone is there and when sitting amongst Tibetans one is never left out. You are guaranteed to be taken care of. At the teachings you have your ole’ skool dharma bums and neophytes in attendance with their own particular style and flavor, all trying to digest the information coming to them by way of a translator. For the Westerns, there are always translations broadcasted by radio in English, and these days even Spanish of which I am particularly fond of listening to. Also the direct Tibetan teachings are broadcasted all throughout Dharamshala so that those who don’t have the chance to attend can listen in. Waiting for the bus at Sarah one student had his radio tuned in already.

The general process for getting up to “Da Ganj” the cheap way is to take a bus from Sarah, when there is one, for about 10 INR to lower Dharamshala and then from there, if there is a huge crowd waiting, fight and shove, American football style, to get into a shared jeep to McLeod. The shared jeep rides are rather uncomfortable. One is crammed in like sardines in a can, for the driver gets paid per how many heads are in. That is another ten rupees. The total time this takes from Sarah to McLeod Ganj is one hour to an hour and a half. It is quite an exhausting ordeal especially during monsoon.

There are more teachings coming up in the next couple of months, though I don’t know as of yet if I will attend all them, I will probably like this teaching attend it partially which seems to work for me for in this way I can still get some studying in.

As far as this pass week goes, there was not too much going on. I had quite a long sleeping spell on Tuesday because I was so exhausted. I get 7 hours of sleep everyday, but it don’t seem like it is cutting it. At the beginning of the course I was getting barely 6. But I think that seven hours is good, if I could do eight I would but so far no go.

We are now on the last chapter in the introductory path of reasoning “rigs lam chung ngu” Substantial and Isolated Phenomenon (rdzas chos ldog chos). Our previous chapter was on Generalities and Instances or Universals and Particulars (spyi bye drag), of which I just came to discover has had a long line of discussion going to antiquity in the western philosophical traditions. Even though each proceeding chapter gets increasing difficult and complex, it tends to be related to the previous topic studied which I find so helpful. Substantial and Isolated Phenomenon so far seems to organizes all of the phenomenon that we have studied so far into eight groups. One such group, Substantial Phenomenon, must have phenomenon that meet a specific criteria, like pot (bum pa) is a substantial phenomenon because it has a common locus such that (1) it is an established base i.e. it exists, (2) it is itself, (3) non-it is not it and (4) its isolate i.e. reversed from not being itself is not mutually exclusive with substantial phenomenon (khyod gzhi grub, khyod khyod rang yin, khyod ma yin pa khyod ma yin, khyod kyi ldog pa rdzas chos dang mi ‘gal yang yin pa’i gzhi mthun pa), recall that “it” (khyod) acts like “x” in mathematics where one has to find “x”. In this chapter there are seven other phenomenons that have similar requirements like the above and it gets quite confusing keeping track of them in debate since they are all so similar sounding. Anyhow, we are getting to the point where Gen la will point out distinctions between the four philosophical schools that we will be studying in the future which gives us a sneak peak in what is to come.

Yesterday I met an Israeli monk on the street that I was curious about when I first came to “Da Ganj” in ’05. I use to go to every teachings I could then, and I remember seeing in a ocean of maroon this one monk who was obviously not Tibetan, but just kickin’ there listening directly to the teachings. I had no idea who he was or where he was from, until one day I was circumambulating in the main temple while a debate session was going on in the courtyard. And so after my oblations and went down to investigate and saw this monk cutting into another in debate. By the time I got to where it was happening there was a small crowd of old Tibetans listening in watching this strange white monk doing his thing. After the debate was over I asked the monk in Tibetan where was he from and to my surprise he said Israel. He was in the program for the full time, a true Geshe in training, and now I assume that at time that he was in the Perfection of Wisdom class. I was surprised for up until that time I have met few Israelis deeply interesting in Buddhism nevertheless one that had taken on the maroon robes. Then, McLeod Ganj was and is still known to be full of Israelis backpackers, many just released from mandatory military service, to chill, relax and have a good time. I told him that I was attending Sarah within the year and that I was interested in the course that he is going through. He wished me luck and that was that. Since then I have seen him a few times (including once at Sarah where he sat as defender when the previous class had an all-night debate) and we will usually chat briefly. But this time it was in a mode of congratulations towards me for getting in the course and for me it was like completing a circle. It is weird to think also that in a couple of years this same monk might be clapping in front of my face.

Another Western monk, this one American, congratulated me last week. This one is quite a translator trained in the FPMT (Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo) translator program a few years back. I sat next to him by chance at a teaching in the fall of ’07 and we started talking for I noticed that he had great insight into the Dharma and he spoke Tibetan really good. We talked a bit about what led us to where we were now and I told him what I was up to and what my plans were with my Tibetan language study. He was just so friendly and laid back. After the lunch break he presented me with a small donation for my studies, in which I was flabbergasted, I couldn’t take it from a monk. It is supposed to be the other way around. But he insisted, not taking no for an answer, stating that there are not many folks out there with enough motivation, interested in taking the time to do the work monk, lay or otherwise. I wasn’t sure if I was the right person for this but I give in and I held on to the donation for three years until I was accepted into the philosophy program in which it was included in my first three months tuition for the course. It was last weekend up the hill that I received the opportunity to thank him for that, for being farseeing three years back. For though then I wanted to take the course, I had no idea if I would have gotten in or not. Through those intermediary years I wondered, “what if I do not get in?” But that did not happen, in both cases with the Israeli and the American monk I felt a circle close and another open. I am glad that there are cool Western monastics around that I have befriended, for I have met many who are not so cool and I’ve often wondered why did they become monks or nuns. But that might be another entry for the future.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pataan Nahi!

Gen la started class this pass Monday by jokingly stating, “Y’alls don’t keep information in your minds, instead you have it all stored on these recorders”, as he causally stared at the array of digital recorders that lay on a table in front him. “Back in my day we were scruple-less when came to taking notes, we had no recording devices” he said. Gen la is interesting when it comes to giving us advice. About our previous all-night debate he said that we lacked a lot discipline. About debating in general, he was reminding us not to get discouraged; this process is about learning how to think in a totally new and different way, there are many ups and downs along the way, some have the capacity to pick it up quickly, while the majority might take one to two years get the hang of it. When he said this I was thinking that that will probably be me.

Many times he will bring up something that might relate to Physics (like antimatter, sub-atomic particles, Stephen Hawkins, theory of relativity, etc) though he is by no means an expert in the subject, just to show us that there are applications for our study outside of the realm of clapping our hands and stomping our feet in the debate courtyard. But similarly as the laboratory is for the scientist so is the courtyard for us as neophyte dialecticians and onwards. In Tibetan the name of our class is nang don rig pa, which could mean “the way or the science of the internal meaning”, and as we debate we are called to look for the deeper meaning, to dig deeper. About presenting debates he made an interesting comparison as to how in modern courts the defendant and the prosecution presents there cases in front of the judge and jury setting up each argument and posing the pros and cons for each case. Our task in some ways is not that dissimilar he stated since it requires clear reasoning, sequencing, order and proof. Though I wonder what my friends from college who have finished law school and are newbie lawyers would say to that. How dissimilar is dialectic school from law school I have wondered? I have to say that I appreciate what Gen la says, though his general stature is seemingly stoic, it shows that speaks from thorough experience and that he cares about our progress.

During our daily debates, he just walks around slowly with his hands behind his back, roaming to and fro from different groups listening. Sometimes he might say something, but most of the time he just stands there and he stands in such a way that one can’t really tell if he is listening to you or to the challenger and defender debating a few feet away from you. This illusion is enhanced by the fact that he has an eye condition where he wears sunglasses all the time. Jeremy, an American student from the previous class referred to him as Morpheus, except this one dons monks robes. As I have said before, he leads us down the rabbit of hole of Buddhist reasoning.

That stack of books that you see in the picture above represents most of the books we will be using for the next six years. Not including this year, after finishing the study of logic and reasoning we will move on to the heavy stuff. The Perfection of Wisdom (phar phyin, prajnaparamita) course is the longest course and with in lays the study of the Abhisamayaalamkaara ‘The Ornament of Manifest Realizations” (mngon rtogs rgyan) and Pramaanavaartikakaarika ‘The Full Commentary to the Compendium of Valid Cognition’ (tshad ma rnam ‘grel). For this course so far we have received 32 texts as you see stacked like mountain and we are to receive another 7 to 8 more texts as soon as they arrive from Varanasi and South India. I will like to thank a very cool and intelligent Singaporean nun and classmate Ani Aneja of sponsoring the texts for me. The Korean ex-genetic engineer monk Tenzin Kunzig and Korean layperson Tenzin Rabjam sponsored all of the books for the Tibetan and Himalayan students, which was über awesome. In total the cost of all the books per student will come to about 100 bones US. We received the majority of the books on Tuesday. There are 38 some odd students, so as you can imagine, that meant tons of books. The books were first sent from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India to Pathankot (4 hours from here) at the Punjab-Himachel Pradesh province border, and brought to Sarah by a few students from class. The afternoon that we came to get the books, they were all stacked in the temple towards the front; an impressive heap of texts if I had ever seen any. As it says in a visualization exercise, “imagine to your rear, a stack of scriptures stacked like a mountain”, I thought of this when I saw this pile. Gen la had a list with everyone’s name on it and per text he called us up one by one to retrieve them.

As the our individual piles steadily got bigger I was thinking, “imagine if in college during ones first year if you received all your books that you will need for all the four or five years of college if it will match or surpass the amount of books I am getting now?”, probably yes, but going to the college bookstore and this are two different things. As I knew that we were to be getting a bunch of books I had brought my army duffle bag with me. The other students either had to use some of the boxes that the books had original been packed in or haul it by hand. With most of us living on the 4th floor besides me and two others on the 5th floor, walking from the temple to the boy’s hostel, we looked like line of lemmings (these being golden and maroon ones) carrying these stacks in a line all the way up them stairs. Some of the stacks were as tall as the lemmings themselves. Ani Nga la, a very tiny and petite Vietnamese nun stood at about the same height as her stack. After receiving these texts, unpacking them in my room and looking at them I wonder if I will be able to digest the material stored within them. Here in front of me lay some very tough stuff, boy! I struggle with the three texts on reasoning that we are using now. All in due time I suppose. On the other hand I am excited for my future study.

Normally at Sarah, nothing exciting ever really happens. Everyone goes about their day, studying (most of us) hard. They haven’t started the interclass debates yet; these are more like round table debates as in college back home. The tragedies in Ladakh and Amdo of course are the minds of the students. But at Sarah not much is happening, the new to be water tower and badminton/volleyball court is something I suppose, well also when the students arrive from Emory and Miami Universities for their study abroad programs at Sarah the college goes all out to welcome them with a concert that the students have prepared. They use to show movies on the basketball court after Wednesday night prayers, I hope that they start that up again soon. The last movie that I remember seeing on the b-ball court was 2012 last year which was a bad movie, though the student body got a hell of a kick out the section that was made to seem like it was Tibet with lamas and monks and all, since that was probably the only section in the movie that the majority could actually understand, roars of laughter were undeniable due to the odd way that the actors spoke Tibetan. This week has been raining like no somebody’s biz-snatch and one rainy morning just after I had gotten my piece of Tibetan bread for breakfast from the school kitchen an electrical wire attached to a fuse box in front of the girl’s hostel just started shooting sparks madly like it was the 4th of July. Girls were screaming madly, though it was quite a dangerous situation, no one was anywhere near the fireworks. Most of us in the vicinity just stared in amazement at the spectacle. I thought of how many times every day that folks walk underneath at wire and luckily while no one was underneath it erupted in sparks; I then thought to myself, “Only in India, Only at Sarah!”

I would like to conclude with a joke that was told to me this week by a classmate. In Hindi, “pataan nahi” means I don’t know, and there are many stories that run about poking fun at new arrival’s naïveté when they first arrive in India. Here it goes. A nomad fresh from Tibet is traveling around India and he is just amazed at the development that he sees. One day at a train station, he is very curious as to who built it. He sees a guy standing near him and he asks, “Who built this station?” to which the guy not understanding Tibetan replied, “pataan nahi” with a smooth Indian head wobble and a shrug. The nomad thought to himself, “Hmmm, this Pataan Nahi fellow is quite an architect”. So another day, he is at the airport and he is just amazed, he has never seen anything like it and he asks a woman, “Who built this airport?” and she also replied, “pataan nahi”. Now the nomad is like, “Wow, Pataan Nahi must be a genius, just look at all the things he can build, I want to find Pataan Nahi and gave him some money for all of his achievements!” And so he begins his quest and goes around New Delhi and one day he sees on the street a poor dirty laborer doubled over carrying a heavy sack of rocks on this back. The nomad then asks someone, “Who is that man?”, “pataan nahi” he replied. The nomad was surprised that this poor toiling man was the great Pataan Nahi who had built all the incredible structures that he has been seeing and so he goes over to the laborer and gives him some money to the surprise of the laborer.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Old habits are hard to break, New ones are even harder to create…

The concert that was to have been held yesterday for the college’s “Founder’s day” and not college day like I was told was cancelled. So Takbum Tsering and I did not perform our piece. We did, however, practiced a few times at the beginning of the week. Due to the recent cloudburst that devastated Ladakh’s capital Leh and the mudslide in Amdo, Tibet our principal held that it will be rather uncouth if we had a concert with singing, dancing and merry-making while the people of Ladakh and Amdo went through this difficult ordeal. Though I understand the principal’s reason, it sucks that it was canceled on the other hand because many of the students have dedicated a lot of their time into preparing pieces for the show. I know that the students look forward to such shows because it is one of the few times that the seemingly shy ones get out there to strut their stuff. Since we have Ladakhi students in our class and on campus, with the Himalaya teacher’s training course arranged especially for them, they have been having fundraisers and prayer vigils with butter lamps for the victims this past week. There was also a prayer vigil led by HHDL at the Main Temple in McLeod Ganj today.

During our first practice Takbum had me try on an Amdo-style for the first time. Boy! That sucker was so hot that I was sweating profusely as soon as it was arranged on me. Takbum thinks that I look good in one, though I beg to differ, I felt like I was wearing a clown suit. The practice sessions were very cool; Takbum’s dramnyen is really a mandolin with a different tuning than what is used in Appalachia. As he sung I could easily imagine myself roaming the vast grasslands of Amdo with a herd of yaks. His strumming style made certain parts of the song hard to follow. The rhythm of the song follows its melody and not a steady rhythm of a drummer trained both in traditional Afro-Latin polyrhythms and marching drumming such as me. Regardless of that, I felt that the djembe does suit Takbum’s music, also I would have loved to learn the lyrics of song to help with the drumming but since Takbum sings in Amdo dialect it would have been quite a challenge to learn the lyrics and I opted just to stick to drumming. This practice time also provided us with the opportunity to chat which was really nice. Despite Takbum’s eccentricities he is a rather intelligent man, trained in both Tibetan literature and medicine for four years at a university in his native homeland. Though he only knows Tibetan, he is generally knowledgeable in various topics. He is one of the few Tibetans that I know that has read the Bible in Tibetan twice, he took many issues with the particular text, mainly that to him it seem to lack valid and cohesive reasoning unlike the Buddhadharma. With my lack of in-depth biblical studies I could not affirm nor deny his conclusion. We had quite a pleasant time, for sure.

You can recant that in a previous post I wrote about the interesting T-shirts that one sees various people donning throughout the sub-continent. This, of course, boils over to the Tibetan exile community. Like for example, a pious elderly Tibetan man doing his oblations at the Main Temple in McLeod Ganj sporting a 50 cent T-shirt which clearly states to “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” for which I doubt if he actually knows the meaning of what is written on his shirt. About two weeks ago, while cutting the grass of the debating courtyard one hot and humid Saturday afternoon a monk from my class (and as you know monks are by definition celibate) was sporting a T-shirt that had on its front the images of two footprints pointing upward, slightly separated and in between them were two other footprints pointing downwards. Around the footprint images were little concentric half circles to indicate motion. On top of the image it stated, “I am busy!” and on the back it said, “Do not disturb!” Hmmm, I wonder what that‘s supposed to mean? Does the image of two people “knockin’ boots”, to use a 90’s Ebonics euphemism, come to mind? Again obviously this monk was unawares of the meaning printed on his T-shirt.

Just an hour ago, I was talking to two female German friends of mine who expressed their shock when they saw a Tibetan guy who sported a T-shirt that stated, “Let’s play Post Office, you lick, I deliver”. Now that’s just not right!

This week, one particular T-shirt that a shy looking Tibetan girl was wearing caused me to think, WTF!! The gender divide at Sarah and probably in Tibetan Exile in India is quite huge. Tibetan boys and girls at Sarah rarely interact in the open sphere, acts of flirtation between genders are hardly noticeable, not that is does not happen, but it is a quite tough and immature ordeal as compared to an average college back at home, it is at about a 6 graders level back at home. A Tibetan guy that I know who has attended college state-side is rather perplexed at the whole phenomenon.

The topic of sex is an obvious taboo that is very hard to break, with most of the students having had if any formal or informal sex education. This is problematic for obvious reasons. Many misconceptions float about as to how VD’s are transmitted and how pregnancy occurs. It is rumored that VD’s are some quite prevalent amongst the youngsters. So, when I realized that this girl was nonchalantly sporting a T-shirt that used the Master-Card logo, but instead of saying that, it said “Master-Bate” within its orange and yellow circles, an obvious play on words of an euphemism for a certain solo activity, I almost choked on my rice and dal dinner. As far as I know, there is not even a word in Tibetan for that.

I remember asking a female international student a few years back, who is close with the Tibetan ladies, if she thought if they…. Well do you? She about died laughing and after she had gathered enough of her composure she said that she highly doubted it. Of course, one never knows right? So, maybe with this one can understand my shock. I am not even sure if a girl back home would wear such a T-shirt. If this girl really does not know what her T-shirt implies then she should be made aware of its meaning. I can’t do it, as a guy and especially as an international male student that would be crossing a line or really more like crossing the Grand Canyon plus I wouldn’t even know how to explain it in Tibetan due to it never being a part of my common banter.

The Indian-subcontinent unlike its East Asian counterpart minus Singapore has enough English speakers to understand such a meaning. I doubt that it would be much on an issue if the T-shirt was worn in Laos or Cambodia. If the general population doesn’t know then one just passes by unnoticed. It is different but similar in some respects like going to a tattoo parlour back in the states to get “hope” tattooed in Chinese on ones shoulder but it really says “I like eating dog doo-doo”. Since in the states, unless one is walking around in Chinatown, no one is going to know what the hell it says and that person will continue to have confidence that their “hope” tattoo is badass. But if that person happened to travel in China, and then that confidence will be erased rather quickly. So what to do? Maybe she knows what it means and thinks that the T-shirt is just cool and/ or is making a statement, sweet more power to her, but if she doesn’t should she just float around in her blissful ignorance? Remember, many folks who wear Ernesto “Ché” Guevara T-shirts in these parts think that it is Bob Marley.

Moving right a long, I have learned so much since the beginnings of the philosophy course even though I am slow at catching on; I am making progress which is awesome. Things that I use to let slide due to non-awareness, I can now catch them like second nature. As I have thought about it, what I am lacking the most right now it an effective study method, since this course is unconventional for me I am quite unsure how to go about it. So far I have been doing it basically Tibetan style, meaning by memorization and the problem with that for me is that for one, if takes me longer to memorize something than my Tibetan/Himalayan counterparts because firstly it is rather new to me, secondly I am older. My classmates are use to memorizing having been doing it since their childhood, thus they just repeat/murmur something really quickly a few times and it is in there. Not so with me, I have to say something thousands of times and then it might stick. Memorization is key to such a heuristic course; I have been experimenting in various ways but so far nothing as of yet. Because not many westerns have studied in such a course there is no information on the internet to serve as a guide.

I am amazed at how it was done in Tibet back in day. In our class we have notebooks to write notes in, dictionaries, and digital recorders to record our classes, etc. But in Tibet with paper being a rare commodity I assume that the idea of even taking notes probably did not exist. So if one could not remember what was said in class then it must have been quite difficult. One always hears how incredible the scholars from old skool Tibet were as compared to now. Though I think that a lot of it is due to nostalgia for the way things are remembered by folks who miss their homeland, when I see how we are dependent on the things with we use now, pens, notebooks etc, and that we could not imagine doing this course with them, I have to give mad props to those of the old skool who excelled extremely with out them. But still my search for an appropriate study method continues.

I participated in my first all-night debate (mtshan ma’i dam ‘ca) on Thursday (having missed the first actual one because I was on a bus to New Delhi so I could go state-side). The class was divided into three groups of about 12 students, and each group got during the debate an hour and half as challengers and the same amount of time as defenders. Each group had to arrange questions for the debate, and since we could draw from any of the topics that we had studied thus far, it seems that many chose to make some complicated ones. During my first years at Sarah I had attended the all-night debates of the previous class, but being in one is a whole different matter. For one, unlike before, since I have been studying the topics in-depth I can follow what is going on.

Our group decided to split in half so that all of us could sit as defenders at 45 minutes stretches instead of having only 6 folks sitting there for the whole time. I am trying to figure out the purpose of these all-night debates, because there were times when things got a bit chaotic. We are all mostly beginners so that is part of the reason for the bedlam. My group started the night as the first set of defenders, six of us in all, sitting on a cushion crossed legged in the temple in front of the HHDL’s throne, which behind that is a large and beautiful appliqué of Shakyamuni Buddha. In front of us are seated the rest of our classmates including Gen la. One person starts the debate, but anyone in the class can get up to ask questions and normally a large group forms asking questions very loudly in unison.

Three out of the group are pretty good in debate with the rest of us not saying too much but listening intensely and helping the others. Since there were so many of us, its was hard to agree on an answer and many times some one would just blurt out the wrong answer and after being drilled in by an effective challenger at the inconsistencies of the response, they would try to fudge the previously stated wrong answer so that it works. That is eventually bound for failure. I think that with the pressure one just acts on instincts instead of calm and collected reasoning like we are training to do. Maybe as we get better this quality will manifest itself more. As Gen la sat there in silence listening to us I can sure hear him thinking, Boy! These kids have a lot to learn. Of course, when things get stuck he knows to the exact things to say to get the challengers rolling again and to stump the defenders. It was quite an interesting night. There were so many out right blatant mistakes, even from the ones who are already quite proficient. A lot of it stemmed for the very questions that some of the groups asked, many being very long winded and complex. There are enough seemingly simple questions that are hard as hell, such as positing the comparison between, “it and permanent” and “permanent and it” where “it” (khyod) acts like an unknown “X” as in mathematics where “X” is to be found. Unlike this question, what is the comparison between, “an object suitable to an awareness of which being it is possible and three possibilities (trilemma) exist and different from one with permanent phenomena and a contradiction exist”, which is hard to spit out of the tongue very fast and it leaves both the challengers and the defenders confused. When our group was acting as challengers, there were times when two or three people are asking questions at the same time, and it wasn’t the same question that they were asking either. In spite of showing that we having a long way to go before maturing into proper smack masters, it provided us with different ways to look at the topics at hand and how it is handled by the others. The best part of the whole night was during our break when we ate tasty veggie momos and an apple cream desert while chatting with classmates!!!

I am not sure if in previous entries if I had explained what the four main responses of a defender are and how they work in general. I know that I must have mentioned that a defender is generally limited to four responses in debate depending on how a challenger poses a query. I would just like to explain briefly to give you a basic idea. The four responses of a defender are, I accept (‘dod), there is no pervasion (khyab pa ma byung), why (ci’i phyir), and the reason is not establish (rtags ma grub). This is the Gelukpa way of responsing, the Sakyapas and the others use the same words but they have different meanings. A Tibetan query has three parts, a subject (chos can), a predicate (gsal ba) and a reason (rtags). For a correct and valid query the subject must meet the reason and the reason must pervade or entail its predicate. For example, the subject sound, it follows that it is impermanent, because it is a product (sgra chos can/ mi rtag pa yin par thal/ byas yin pa’i phyir). Here the subject meets the reason because sound is a product and the reason entails the predicate because impermanent and product are mutually inclusive or have the same meaning. And so to such a question a defender should accept (‘dod) it.

If the query was, the subject sound, it follows that it is impermanent, because it is an existent, (sgra chos can/ mi rtag pa yin par thal/ yod pa yin pa’i phyir) then the defender must answer that there is no pervasion (khyab pa ma byung). Here the reason does not entail its predicate because whatever is an existent is not necessarily impermanent. Permanent phenomenon are also existents put not impermanent. Also, by stating that there is not pervasion one is implying that the reason is established.

If the query was, the subject sound, it follows that it is a person (sgra chos can/ mi yin par thal) then the defender should answer why (ci’i phyir). Since sound and person are mutually exclusive or contradictory one will never find something that is both a sound and a person. For the last type of response, if a query was, the subject sound, it follows that it is a product, because of being a color (sgra chos can/ byas pa yin par thal/ kha dog yin pa’i phyir) then the defender should answer that the reason is not establish (rtags ma grub). For even though the pervasion is correct for whatever is a color is necessarily a product, sound and color are mutually exclusive, there is nothing that is both. Anyways, I just wanted to provided a little info about the actual debate process, I know that this stuff can be boring for many and I hope that it does not deter you from continuing to read this blog. Leave comments. Much Love!!


Sunday, August 08, 2010

Feeling the Experience….

Homage to the former scholars and adepts of the country of Superiors and Tibet,

The great beings Dignaga, Dharmakirti, and so forth

Who clarified with valid cognition the path of reasoning well spoken

By the Valid Teacher seeing the meaning of reality

(Translated from the Tibetan by Daniel Perdue)

When class first started in the middle of March, this expression of worship was the first stanza that we memorized. And from then up until now many of our debates have started with this stanza. The reason for this stanza being that at this point we, as students of Buddhist dialectics, are striving for the path of reasoning which was said to have been first implied by the Valid Teacher himself a.k.a Shakyamuni Buddha and later clarified by the two great masters of Indian Buddhist logic Dignaga and Dharmakirti. At this moment, the text that we are using is called Collected Topics (bsdus grwa) because there are various topics of dialectical study collected within it, ranging from the introductory to the more advance. There are many different Collected Topics texts with different monasteries of the Gelukpa sect using specific ones. These days the other sects are familiar with Collected Topics and supposedly the Sakya sect has a Collected Topics tradition that might have been lost to antiquity.

The title of the Collected Topics text that we are studying is called “The Presentation of Collected Topics Revealing the Meaning of the Texts on Valid Cognition, the Magical Key to the Path of Reasoning”, written by Phurbuchok Jampa Gyatso, the main tutor of Thupten Gyatso the 13th Dalai Lama, for teaching the young Dalai Lama dialectics. And so, this text’s intention is to act as a magical key to open the door to the path of reasoning. In this method reasoning is seen as a path to illumination. Tibetans generally talk about the path of reasoning (rigs lam) as something you can obtain because not everyone is born with it, like me for example. It reminds me of chess books that have games written in them in algebraic notation showing the progression of certain games or possible moves that can be done depending on how an opponent moves. In a similar fashion, the Collect topics text runs through different consequential reasonings that are based on how a possible opponent might answer and/or pose a question. An example of what our text can look is this, if a defender states that whatever is fruit is necessarily apple then the challenger might say it follows that the subject banana, is apple, because of being fruit. You (defender) asserted the pervasion or entailment; being that whatever is fruit is necessarily or must be apple. And from this, since the mistake is obvious a possible series of questions that a challenger might use to show a defender that not all fruits are apples will be presented. Each topic is more difficult than the prior. We started with topics on colors that ran through similar assertions as the one stated above. One of the principal lessons that is learned at initial stages is learning to differentiate quickly and instinctually between a predicate statement (A is B) and a statement of pervasion/ entailment (if it is A then it is necessarily B) The text also presents positions where the challenger’s assertions are incorrect and the possible answers that a defender can state to dispel them are presented.

The Buddhist meaning of valid cognition (Tib. tshad ma, Skt. pramaana) was principally elucidated by Dignaga and Dharmakirti in India in the 6th and 7th century respectfully, and by next year we will be studying Dharmakirti’s main text on valid cognition (tshad ma rnam ‘grel, pramaanavaarttika) directly for two months. All I can say about valid cognition right now is that it is how the mind or consciousness knows things to be true. The defining characteristic of valid cognition is a newly unmistaken consciousness and they are of two kinds, direct and inferential valid cognition.

In thankgas (Tibetan hanging scroll painting) of Dignaga and Dharmakirti, they are usually depicted standing with their hands assuming the position of a challenger in debate with his left arm outstretched in front of him and the right arm with palm facing up at about ear level, ready to pose a qualm to a defender. Their faces seem rather wrathful looking too. Last night during damja, I was looking from my group over to another watching one of monks standing as a challenger posing questions in such a way that one is just amaze to watch him. The defenders sitting in front him also had an expression of amazement. Namgyal has had debating experience prior to attending our course at one of the Drepung monasteries in South India where there are thousands of monks. So for him to debate with a bunch of newbies must be a walk in the park for him; our class is only 40 folks tops. Today I told him, “last night you really stirred it up, man”, and he told me, “you know those Thangkas of Dignaga and Dharmakirti always have very wrathful faces on them and since they are the ones that we look up too I modeled my style from their wrathful expression. It also brings on the pressure on the defender”. I smiled when he said that. I have always wondered why in the thangkas Dignaga and Dharmakirti’s faces were drawn that way and with the little experience that I have gained in debate I can see why.

I do not know how it is to be in a graduate school program but being in dialectic school is a lot of work. The studying, memorizing, debating, thinking and rethinking seem never ending. In debate, the folks who are good at it bring so many pretty different aspects from the various topics thus studied so far. There is always something new to think about and that one thing could leave one stumped for months. At the end of the day right before bed I say, “wooh” and crash to wake up the next day to hit it again. As I go through the motions of this course I am just amazed for it is different from US college life and even the regular Sarah college life. I still doubt if I will ever get proficient in this method, though I have just started, the level needed for proficiency is daunting from where I stand and I wonder what it will look like in two years?

Later on today Takbum and I are to start practicing a song for the concert on Friday which I now know is for “college day”. I have no idea what college day is or why we are celebrating it because we have not celebrated it since I have been here, but I have noticed that every year Sarah celebrates a new unheard of holiday. Next Saturday is the second Saturday which we have off and normally the Friday before that we will have an all night debate (mtshan ma’i dam ‘ca) but because of the concert we will have it on Thursday night instead.

On Monday I had a pretty neat surprise. So far, I have not had any family visiting me here but on Saturday I received an email from Aunt Marlyn (my sister’s mother) that she was in New Delhi and that she and her husband Muganza will be there until Wednesday. She gave me the number of where she was staying that. On Monday afternoon I was able to talking to her briefly, I was so neat to chat with her being in India, but since they were only staying for a few days and Dharamshala being too far apart they could not visit, but I would have loved to show them a bit of my life here. It is hard to understand my life here since it is so different from anything back state side. They got an incredible deal too, like less than 300 bones here and back. That is unheard of. I was shocked that they got such cheap tickets to India and I see why they hopped on it. I do hope that some day my family will get to see my life here.

This caused me to think a little bit about my visit back to the states. As I visited various friends and family I struggled with the idea of the various realities that I witnessed as I stayed with different people. I was getting the feeling of being on a holo-deck like in Star trek; the city, the suburb, the north, the south, the deciduous woods of Appalachia, the redwoods of Northern California, popping in and out of different realities with those realities created by the folks who have been accustom to them and work with in it without thought because it is normal for them. Every place and every person that I stayed with had different vibes, different perceptions. In many instances I was revealed a glimpse of there lives, what stood to be important to them at that particular moment, what problems they had, who they associated with and how they came to be surrounded or in some cases not surrounded by certain people. The variation in everyone’s life is multitudinous and in a majority of cases I enjoyed every moment I spent with them. Some realities more shanti (peaceful) than others but I learned so much about the world, life, myself and them, we all shared and bounced ideas off of each other and that is why I miss them so much right now. I definitely felt a growth process happen within me and I hope that that was so for them also.


Sunday, August 01, 2010

Logic will break your heart…..

One of the things that have always struck me about India is the amount of T-shirts I see folks wearing with cheeky quotes printed on them. One that I have seen regularly has the famous title of Bob Marley’s song “No woman, No cry” on it, but the initial intended meaning is non-existent and a more literal meaning in Indian English reckoning is adopted being that by not having a woman there will be no drama or will not be crying; obviously this was not the meaning that Grandmaster Bob wanted to put across. Another one goes something like “No money, No gas, No rickshaw, No girlfriend, No problem”. Not all of these T-shirts have misogynistic quotes printed on them though I have noticed that many of those who wear these T-shirts, Indian men of course are in desire of a woman or girlfriend since they are in such low supply.

My old Tsamjor classmate and our current class captain Ngawang Yeshe, a monk from Kinnaur, H.P. was one wearing one of these cheeky T-shirts that stated, “Logic will break your heart” one day while playing badminton. Considering the context of our class’ subject matter maybe the T-shirt should say “Buddhist logic will break your heart”. If you take this into a Buddhist context then this statement could be deemed as true. For as we traverse the path of towards liberation, many of our preconceived notions and ideas that we have about how the world is, how our sense of self is and the world’s so called stableness is will be shattered. What is taken as to be the most reliable and most coveted possession, our self will be shattered and that will lead to heartbreak. It’s not that different from the lover who thinks that he will be together forever will his love and then his love unexpectedly breaks the relation. Both carry a huge disappointment. Since our study of logic and reasoning does have a soteriological purpose and with the existence of the idea that by using logic and reasoning as a tool to cancel itself out so to say, dualistic thought will ceased and a certain type of heartbreak or let down might be ascertained. So now, is this all true? Maybe, but the sight of this T-shirt, besides making me giggle caused my mental cogs to roll just a little bit.

This week has just flown by now that I am getting back into my old routine. There are still so things that I have to get back into the habit of doing again, but most of them have become normal again. Two months of vacation has caused a lull in habits that were just starting to develop when I started this course in mid-march. Our days are just so jammed packed and though it does not have the feeling as experienced in college with the sense of a huge workload, the mental training aspect is rather huge. This week we started a very important topic for Buddhist studies, “Cause and effect”. From the very first teachings on the Four Noble Truths taught by Lord Buddha down through all the philosophical outcroppings that have arisen in Buddhist India, Tibet and elsewhere, cause and effect stand as the crux on which it all is based. Many have said that, unlike Christianity, Islam and Judaism, which asserts that a Creator is the cause of many things in our lives and in our world, Buddhism on the other hand places many causes onto ourselves and not to a Creator. This is not to say that there are no deities in Buddhism, particularly Mahayana Buddhism which is chock-full of them, their existence is just as ephemeral as ours and they are not outside of the laws of cause and effect that governs everybody else.

Since “Cause and effect” is such a huge topic it is divided into the intro and advance sections. We as beginners are studying the intro section and we will study the advance section in a few months. For me, everything time we start a new topic I have a mini freak out, which of course have not true basis. Each and every topic that we have studied is very vast and it seems like when I have just about gotten into one topic then another one is commencing. As we work through these topics the complexity seems to magnify and I get discouraged. But I as I have witnessed also things slowly come to light with the work. I know that this is a very western aspect to myself, I wants things to materialize quickly. If I am working hard for something then I want the results ASAP. But as I have seen that is not how things work and I know that also from experience. I see how fast other classmates our picking up the topics. But the thing is one never knows what another person’s gig is, their internal gig that is. With me being the only westerner in our class, I have no idea what backgrounds and what circumstances have brought these folks out from the Indian-Tibeto Himalayas, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, to come to a place like Sarah College and study Tibetan Buddhist Dialectics. For example, since we have just met each other, none of my classmates know that I was homeless and hitchhiked all around the U.S. as a wee 17 year old. I keep such things in mind because we come from such different places that there is no comparison really.

In class, Gen la has been giving us these mental puzzles to figure out. It seems like he just makes them up off the top of his head. Remember from a previous entry, that in this style of debate there are only 4 ways in which any two phenomenons can be compared, tetralemma (four possibilities), trilemma (three possibilities), mutually exclusive (contradictory), or mutually inclusive (equivalent). Causes are generally divided into two, direct cause and indirect cause, and also into substantial cause and cooperative conditions. A substantial cause is a cause that shares a substantial continuum with its effect. For example, the clay of a clay pot is the clay pot’s substantial cause because the clay pot is made out of clay, its substance is the same. A cooperative condition is a cause that does not share a substantial continuum with its effect. For example, the potter is the clay pot’s cooperative condition for since he/she takes the clay and turns it into a pot, the potter does not share any of its substance with the substance of the clay pot. Effects are divided in the same way as causes thus, direct effect, indirect effect, substantial effect and cooperative effect.

In general, cause and effect are mutually inclusive, but when imputed on a phenomenon then they are mutually exclusive. The cause of a clay pot is not the same as the effect of a clay pot since they occur at different times. And so Gen la, with these divisions in mind will mix and match them in many different ways to get us thinking. There are many such things in our texts and that Gen la shows to us that they remind me of a complicated knot. Throughout history there have been many persons who have a knack of unraveling complex knots with Alexander the Great being one such supposed person. In a way the knot thing I can understand for there have been many a time in my life where I was confronted with a huge mess of tangled rope that needed to be unraveled in order to pitch a tent up to sleep for the night. Going through Gen la’s mind puzzles are similar except that it is done mentally. It is like mental gymnastics or mental yoga. Like when one sees an accomplished hatha yogi and is wondering, “how in the hell did he get his head down there?” in the same way these puzzles leave us well confused. Like yesterday he had us trying to figure out what is the difference between the indirect cause’s indirect effect of a functioning thing and an indirect effect’s indirect cause of a functioning thing, with a functioning thing being any impermanent phenomenon.

These puzzles which we also use in debate plus our texts and memorization of them can make the brain feel like it has been really working. Just like working out. I have never thought so much in my life, at least not is this way. In college there was a lot of thinking going but it was across a wide variety of topics with different folks from all walks of life. This way of thinking is way more analytical and specific; it causes one to who is fluent in the method to catch a contradiction in a blink of an eye. I am always amazed when Gen la debates with us in class at how immediate and sure his responses are; totally solid and on the mark. A few of the better students will ask pose questions to him and he just lays it down smoothly.

I am totally enjoying my experience in this course thus far, it is the most unique thing that I have ever done, it goes against my nature somewhat, since I have never been logical minded and never studied any formal logic previously. I have always seen myself as a more intuitive type. On the 13th of August there is a concert of sorts happen on campus, every night of this pass week the different classes have been practicing traditional and probably also non-traditional dance routines during out one hour break at 9pm. The sounds of Tibetan singing and dancing permeate the campus at this time. I am assuming the our class has also been asked to participate in the concert but since our class full of monks and nuns they are cannot do so thus leaving only a handful of the lay students of pull something together. Takbum Tsering has proposed that I and he do a duo, me on the drums (I brought my djembe with me from the states) and him singing with the dramnyen (the Tibetan lute). His also proposes that we both wear chupas (the traditional Tibetan garb). He says that he has two huge ones and that I can fit into one of them. I have not so far worn a chupa since I have been living with Tibetans here in India. Since Takbum is from Amdo the chupa is going to be huge with long ass sleeves. I am not sure how I will look in such a garb and I know that when I getting on stage in front of the Sarah student body there will be many cat calls coming to my direction. A Westerner in a chupa is strange enough for them and now a tall black man in one will be even stranger.

There is a lot construction going on around these parts. Behind the boy’s dorm a water tower is being constructed. The building method used here are very interesting, using bamboo as scaffolding. One never sees an Indian construction worker wearing any type of protection ( I doubt that they are insured) and they can just claim to tall heights with no qualms and great agility. Also in front of the girl’s hostel the old volleyball court is being literally torn up to make a slate floored volleyball/ badminton court. Now what these workers have done and are doing is quite amazing and extremely hard work. They have already torn down a wall and build another a few feet front of the previous wall all by hand with hand tools. There is no backhoe action here. And then where the court is suppose to be they are making a foundation from different sized stones and smashing all of them with a sledgehammer until they are level. This foundation takes up almost the entire area of the court. When I first saw this I was amazed. Since it is cheaper in human labor to do what would normally be done with a machine back home all construction at Sarah is done this way. I asked Kailash, an Indian classmate, how much each worker is being paid and he said 100 rupees day (approximately 2 greenbacks) and that the work done in this way provides more workers with work. All of these workers are not from Himachel Pradesh, I think they are either Bengali or from Rajasthani but I am not sure. Well I will finish here, thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope that all of you are doing well.


P. S. The above picture was taken my first year at Sarah the fall of '07 from the roof of the boy's dorm, since then I have not been bless with that sight again as of yet...