My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

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...


Francisco said...

Great entry! Thanks for the explanations - I had forgotten, and the reminder was great.

I look forward to learning about how your course continues


Francisco said...

Great entry and picture!

Thanks for the explanations - I had forgotten the definitions of the two causes, and you helped me remember them.

I look forward with great interest to reading about your course as it goes on