My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

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!!


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