My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

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.


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