My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Monday, October 25, 2010

Glimpses of a Snowy Mountain

Close to the time of the cusp of Libra and Scorpio right before the moon fully waxed to its fullest, the first decent storm since monsoon descended onto Dharamshala and its environs. With a kaleidoscope of dark and grey clouds whirling into each other, the earth-shaking subwoofer-like boom of thunder and the sharp and distinct flashes of lightening, the cold rain fell. The electricity at times came and went almost to the frequency of a strobe light set on low. Thursday night during debate I thought that if one could not hear the sounds of clapping and stomping but where looking into the temple that one would have thought that we getting our groove on instead piercing into heavy discussions on cause and effect. Along with this storm also came a chill that has not been felt in months. This is the chill that announced that we are now entering the transition from autumn into winter. Although on Thursday it was too cloudy to see the mountain range, I knew that being on that range must have felt like a blizzard. I wondered how the Russian cave dweller that I had met a few weeks back was fairing through this weather. Here at Sarah it was very windy, especially up here on the fifth floor. I had to close my window because they were randomly swingy back and forth and since the wind was so erratic I feared that a good strong gust would have shattered them to bits. I also had water coming in from the balcony door since it does not shut tight so I placed a blanket underneath it.

Towards that end of that afternoon, as a sat on the balcony facing the range before dinner I saw my first glimpse of the snow mountain which previously had had all of its snow from last winter washed away by the monsoon. What one saw four days ago as only rock is now pearly white. With last night being the full moon with clear skies, luckily before I retired I witnessed the extra shine that only the full moon light can provide reflected off of that grand shimmering whiteness.

During class one day an issue erupted. Since Takbum had written all that literature about the uncouthness of some monks and apparently some of the monks have not been so nice to him and it seems also to his roommate and some altercation happened. Though it does not seem to have involved any blows, it was apparent that it was close to escalating to that level. Enough so that Gen la knew about it and lectured to us that if one of us come to blows then that person is to be immediately expelled from the program and the school. Due to the nature of this course a lot of insults gets tossed about during debate, especially in damja, which is natural, but we must be careful not to dig so much that it seems completely insensitive and that it hurts the other. He said that amongst Tibetans not much attention or awareness exists about a person’s mental state or health and that it is generally ignored. With that general assumption then one might feel that people are like trees, you can say whatever the hell you want to it and it won’t react but that is not the case with people. Though they might not react at first, eventually they will. As a diversion, when Gen la said this it reminded me of my great-uncle who was a drill sergeant in the Marines who told me once that for drill sergeant training one had to stand in front of a tree and insult the shit out of it, lol. Since we are students of Buddhist philosophy, we are learning a lot about the mind and with that study comes the awareness that the mind must to taken into account in our every day lives and when interacting with others; the things that we study are not to be only read and not applied.

Anyways, another more subtle issue with our class is that with most of the students being Himalayans, some of the Tibetan students might feel a bit unwelcomed. Outside of class the Himalayans students tend speak in Hindi which they, particularly Takbum and his roommate, do not understand. But probably due to Takbum’s writings some of the students were insulting them by calling them Chinese spies, which really did hurt them. That is quite the insult that would strum the nerve cord for sure, especially for some one who left their homeland not knowing if they will ever see it again. Gen la stated that both sides were in the wrong for not being sensitive to each others feelings. And although on that day Takbum had took the day off to cool down, many of the issues and complaints were voiced in class in front of every one which I think helped. I was hoping two months ago when he posted his writings that the issues would not escalate but it did and now that it is out in the open I hope that it can be resolved, that the both parties are ripe enough to grow from this experience. Ironically enough, Takbum had won 1st place in a writing competition organized by the RTYC. His topic was “the fate of Tibetans” and there amongst our classmates he won their praises for being a student from the Buddhist philosophy class who place it on the map amongst the other gifted writers from the other classes at Sarah. One thing he wrote brought him censure; another thing he wrote brought him praises.

Last Tuesday, to the amazement or confusion of most of us, during damja we witnessed how some of the advance students of dialectics do their thing. One of Sarah’s professors of Buddhist philosophy for the B.A. classes, Gen Kelsang la, graced us with his presence that night. On the outward appearance he seems like a very meek monk. I first encountered him the summer after my first year at Sarah, where I attended a class designed to help Tibetans who attend Indian colleges with literary Tibetan. That year he taught the text “the 38 practices of a Bodhisatva” and though I sat in the front of the classroom it was hard to hear what he was saying. He spoke with such a low voice. Last year in Tsamjor (Bridge course) he taught “Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend” and again since no one could hear him a microphone system was brought into the class so that he could be heard. Even his general day to day appearance exudes humility; observing him walk from one place to another his posture is not that dissimilar from the Jedi Yoda, always slightly hunched over with both his hands folded behinds his back usually holding some texts and thumbing a rosary.

But on Tuesday night, this appearance disappeared with the quickness; he came over to our group and tore into the two defenders who sat there. His eyes seems almost fixed in a sense of exactitude, his posture was straight and upright as he performed the typical gestures of a challenger. His clap and stomp carried such weight to it that it made us all stop in our tracks. His kind unassuming face turned to one of dense seriousness. This time his voice could heard loud and clear. When the defenders were unable to answer, his quickly shook his prayers beads that were wrapped around his left arm up near the shoulder with his right hand which was positioned next to the right side of his face, calling on them to answer. Knowing before hand that the defenders had messed up his drew out their contradictions one consequence at a time and just before they were to answer the question on which the correct answer would mean that they had contradicted their main thesis. Gen Kelsang la’s right hand was already cocked behind his head in the position of when a challenger loudly pronounces the contradiction of a thesis (tshar, which means “finished”, pronounced tsha) in which the right hand is rapidly brought down to meet the left hand’s palm with its palm facing up. And so, with their answer he delivered the final verdict, “Ohh, Tsha! It was interesting seeing this side of Gen Kalsang la, who by the way is also a Geshe, since my previous experiences with him had been almost the opposite.

Since the Advanced Hindi Teachers’ Training course had started at Sarah a few of the monks from that course have been coming to our debates generally hammering us in pretty good. But it was not until that night that two met in disagreement in which a debate erupted amongst them, though most if not all of the monks in that course are from South India, they are not necessarily from the same monastery whose main texts of study might carry a different position on certain points, but they do have years of debate experience under their belts. After the bell had rung on 9pm I noticed that instead of everyone leaving that they were gravitating to one side of the temple from where I heard the cracking sounds of clapping. I can not resist, I had to go investigate. Once I had gotten there, these two monks were deep into it. Questions and answers were exchanged rapidly and quickly the topic advanced to one that we have some years until we study them. Regardless of that, it was interesting to observe the immediacy and the level of exactness that existed between these two in debate as compared to our classmates. After it was done, one of students stated, “Now that is how it is suppose to be done, let see if we can get there in the next upcoming years”, me, being the doubting Thomas said that in ten years I’ll be the same as I have been when we started studying the first topic on colors in March, hehe.

Despite the new chillness of Friday night, I was sweating from sitting on the hot seat as defender in damja. I sat defender with one of our class’ younger student who is a monk of about 15 years old. As I have mentioned, for damja the class is divided into three groups and each group has to send two students to sit as defenders at another group. Once positioned at the other group, any one and/or most of time, many of them stand and throw questions at you. The pressure can sure be poured on and one feels it for sure. My younger companion has the habit of answering abruptly without thinking, but also the challengers always try to be clever by quickly changing words and meanings on you. I caught a few of them but many I did not catch until four or five students were yelling at the top of there lungs “ohh tsha, ohh tsha, ohh tsha!”, clapping inches in front of our faces.

Sitting damja is a whole different dynamic than the regular one on one debate session. For me, I always fear that I would end up in the position like the one I was in during the second time that I sat damja with a Korean nun where both of us simply did not know the answer. Jeremy says that one just gets to it, but a first it gets a bit nerve-wracking. With this previous damja, though young monk and I did not do exceptionally great, we also did not do horribly awful either and for that I was relieved. I think this might be a good sign, for one: that my reasoning skills have improved some what and two: that my confidence in debate has improved some what. But only time, the greatest judge of all can tell. In the end I was just happy that I could sit on my balcony, look at the full moon and have my eye consciousness apprehend a white snow mountain.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hurdles and Obstacles

As with any thing else in life, the study of Buddhist philosophy involves a certain ability in jump various sized hurdles. In so far as I have noticed with the progress of our studies, some of the topics that we have studied present the purpose of sharpening ones reasoning facilities, like the topic called “Substantial and Isolate Phenomena” (rdzas ldog) where part of the object is to apprehend how various existent phenomena fit into certain categories. Within the topic of Substantial and Isolate Phenomena there are eight different types of phenomena that each have their own defining characteristics of four requirements that needs to be fulfilled in order for a certain phenomena to be it. For a phenomena to be a substantial phenomena it must be “that which is a common locus such that: 1) it is an established base (meaning that it exists), 2) it is itself, 3) non-it is not it, 4) its isolate is not mutually exclusive with substantial phenomena- translated by Daniel Perdue, (khyod gzhi grub, khyod khyod rang yin, khyod ma yin khyod ma yin, khyod kyi ldog pa rdzas chos dang mi ‘gal yang yin pa’i gzhi mthun pa) .

WTF! If you brain is not spinning like mine was when I first read this then treat yourself for a rocky road ice cream cone right now! There are seven more of these to digest on, each having four requirements as the above but with the words shifting slightly to change the meaning. In short “it” (khyod) acts as an unknown variable that must be figured out. The classic example of a substantial phenomena is “pot” (bum pa) because it fulfills all four of the requirements: 1) pot is an established base (it exists), 2) pot is it itself (pot is not something other than pot), 3) non-pot is not a pot (like this laptop is non-pot so it is not a pot), 4) the isolate of pot (meaning: the reverse of being non-pot, [bum pa ma yin pa las ldog pa]) is not mutually exclusive (meaning that it shares a common locus) with substantial phenomena. This last requirement is quite strange because it is a part of the defining characteristic of substantial phenomena; this makes the logic circular and causes it to fold with in itself. This fourth requirement is also the hardest to prove on the debate courtyard.

So far in my brief experience with debate and the study of our first introduction into Buddhist reasoning, Collected Topics (bsdus grwa), most of our study contain many turgid statements as the one above and once one figures out the logic of that topic then the rest is manageable. But other topics are at a whole different level, like our current topic on the “Advance Presentation of Cause and Effect (rgyu ‘bras che ba) ”; this topic has been a royal pain in the butt for most of us and in debate it is like we are just shooting in the dark blindly. As compared to the monasteries in South India where Collected Topics is studied for three years or more, IBD does it in one. This is quite fast, some topics we just breeze through without really getting a good handle on them. With this topic which forms one of the main foundations for Buddhist practice and philosophy; if this is not understood, Buddhism as it is presented by long gone Indian Buddhist through Tibetan interpretations will not be understood.

Luckily, since it is such a crucial topic it resurfaces over and over again throughout ones dialectical studies. But at this point as a beginner it is like straight hitting ones head against a wall. This week I have spent hours just reading over and over the same four or five lines to not get a damn thing out of them. It is quiet frustrating, but we were all forewarned by Gen la that this would happen. He said that with the process of dialectical study, one always runs into things that make no sense at first, but that something is happening in the mind nonetheless. He compared it to drawing an elaborate painting, at first one draws the sketches of a figure which is not so detailed yet, but the general shape of the drawn object is known. Then as one wrestles with it, it is like the artist adding more strokes and colors of varying intensities giving depth and clarity to the painting. And so too do our studies progress and now we are all at such a point where a whispering glimpse of the figure it just starting to appear, but if you stare too hard one gets nothing. I do know that after this topic there are many such topics ahead, one that thing that is important is not to push oneself over the limit. Jeremy gave me this advice and I have been trying to stick with it, but sometimes I keep on going anyways. We all want to understand but we can not kill ourselves in the process, ‘nuff said.

We have lost some students within the last couple of months, some might return and others it seems won’t be which is really surprising. Our Taiwanese guy who knew no Tibetan has been gone for more than a month now. I thought that at first that he was going to take a few days off because he was under a lot of stress, since he only had two months of Tibetan before entering the course, he was not understanding a lot of things. As the lessons got progressively harder so did his stress. I wonder if he is still planning on coming back. Our Korean ex-genetic engineer monk just recently took a month and a half leave of absence because his elderly father got very ill. A Chinese/ Australian nun is rumored not to be returning which is the saddest of them all. For most of the last year she received private lessons on Collected Topics from the top student of the class above ours, she studied so hard and when we got into the course from the beginning she was rocking out and ahead of the game. Her mother became ill and she had to leave to tend to her but I won’t have figured that she would not be coming back.

Two other student’s mothers have gotten sick and we have been reciting prayers for them almost every evening before debate. One student just contracted malaria, probably when he went to visit another part of India recently; I have never heard of malaria being contracted up here in the mountains but that will change as the climate warms up. He had missed some class but luckily though he looks weak and has lost some weight, overall he seems to be doing OK and he is resuming his studies. He has help around here and we all hope that he will do fine. He is a sharp and friendly person; I hope that he gets well soon.

In this realm and in life in general there are always obstacles to ones goals, some controllable others not, some external others internal. But when one arises of either form how is one suppose to handle it especially if it’s an obstacle that it blocking ones path for something that one has placed a lot of time, effort, money, and sweat into? I thought about this a lot when I thought that I was not going to receive my student visa to return back to India. I was rather distraught. I had felt like all the years I had spent studying Tibetan and being in India had all gone to waste. It was quite frightening. I had to look at all of my options and luckily after finally heading to the Indian consulate in Washington, D.C. I was able to procure the visa, but man, that was sure close! I still think, what if? As we traverse through the mental hurdles of dialectical study and whatever obstacles that may come our way, I think that ones mental attitude is the most important to maintain (which is one of the hardest thing for me to do) and on top of that, to be surrounded by the influences of peers who have a steady mental attitude to provide support. In both situations I have been fortunate to have had the influences more of the latter (I hope that all of know who you are). I noticed that because I kept checking on my thoughts, like a pesty knight always putting his opponent’s king into check, throughout my visa ordeal I was a lot calmer than I would have been otherwise. If I won’t have done so I would have been very panicky. Did checking my thoughts and being more mentally calm help me in getting the visa, probably not but who knows? But I do hope that all of you who have high hopes and aspirations in life accomplish all that you seek and more even more and that it aids in progress. I do wish for this aspiration to become a possible really for this world.


P.S. The above picture has written in Sanskrit, Tibetan and English the four conditions (rkyen bzhi) which are apart of the “Advance Presentation of Cause and Effect” which “represents the conditions needed for the production of a (dualistic) consciousness. Such a consciousness is then the basis of all compounded (impermanent) phenomenon of cyclic existence” – as explained by Tony Duff and has been a pain to figure out!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Picnic Time

This has been the first week of downtime that I have had since returning back to Sarah in July. A majority of my classmates last Sunday headed up to McLeod Ganj to attend the teachings that HHDL had for the Taiwanese Sangha that lasted for four days. I decided not to go and just hang out here at Sarah. I probably should have gone but I really wasn’t feeling like heading up to McLeod Ganj, my cash flow is very tight and I also needed to go to the dentist. Before I was accepted into the philosophy class I had went to a dentist who messed up my teeth and I lost some money because of it. He placed a filling in a tooth that probably didn’t need one and it fell out within a month and the tooth that I thought had a cavity did not have one, which is still baffling to me. Anyways, a friend recommended to me another dentist in Sidhbari on the way to the Gyuto Monastery where the H.H. Karmapa resides. The dentist seemed really nice, my gums are in a bad state and I need a root canal on the tooth that the other dentist messed up or so she states. It will cost about 100 bones to the get all the treatments done, cheap no doubt, but I am a bit apprehensive about her diagnosis, especially since it took her only a couple of minutes after poking in my month to figuring it out. I have heard too many horror stories of root canals that have gone wrong. Also, right now I don’t have the flow to cover the expenses for it. There is another dentist who is supposed to be very good but he is never in town so I am a bit torn and still my toothache continues mildly thus far. But I least I have a better picture of what is going on and when I do get the chance to see the other dentist I will see if his diagnosis matches that of the dentist in Sidhbari.

So the first few days of the week I spent hanging out, reading and reviewing previous topics. I was truly enjoying the downtime, sleeping in and the lot. Then on Thursday commenced the Sarah picnic which next to Losar is a rare occasion at Sarah where many folks are outside having a good time. The picnic went on for three days, a Tibetan tent was erected in the debating courtyard with a throne set up and an altar with a picture of HHDL placed on it. Most of the teachers had their meals there. Special grub was also made for the picnic. In front of the tent was another canvas roof set up where a ping pong and two carrom board tables were set up underneath it. Around this area one would see people playing cards and sho (a Tibetan dice game). Tibetan and Hindi pop music along with random Brian Adams or Michael Jackson was blasting from a sound system that echoed throughout campus and beyond. My head is still stuck with cheesy Tibetan pop songs.

In front of the courtyard there was ample opportunity to lose money. Each day one class was in charge of the events for that day. So all the games that were set up were ran by a particular class for that day. They had card games, darts, ring tosses, can knock downs, pin the tail on the donkey (though here was draw the tail on the elephant), and on another day a class had kick a soccer ball into a tire game which was a lot of fun. The game jockeys would call out to folks to come and lose money at their particular establishments. It was so nice, the atmosphere was so relaxed and there was no curfew. I knew that there were folks who stayed up all night playing cards. Many of the students took advantage of the no curfew thing. Besides Losar this is the only time where guys and girls can hang out into the morning hours without getting into trouble. Throughout the day, folks were playing games everywhere, me, I was chilling at the new court playing badminton til I drop. I was very bad at it when I first got to Sarah but I have gotten a lot better at it, though Sarah’s badminton rules are not the official rules, they are a bit more ad lib.

The Miami kids had brought some water guns so a huge water gun fight broke out by the new court and not many were immune from attack. I even saw a little Tibetan nun breaking out sneak attacks on folks, total sniper style. It was quite hilarious. It went on for an hour or two and it escalated to the point where buckets of water were just being downed on folks. I have been thinking forever about having water guns here and now I see that it works great and everyone has a good ole’ time. Now the next thing I wish to see here is a legit DDR arcade station for 2 rupees a game, I know that that will be a hit here but that is a lot harder to manifest. The first night’s entertainment was Tabula (bingo) and it is quite the event here. I did not go the first night for I have never been much of a bingo fan, but the students love it, they be hooting and hollering during it, I find it quite interesting. They’ll play for hours; it is the same thing with cards, they can sit and play game after game, hours on end and be shit talking the whole time. Though I like playing cards and I’ll lose interest after the first two hours, plus they have some many games that they play that I get all the rules mixed up after a while.

On Friday the second day of the picnic, as I was playing badminton the school secretary approached me and asked if I could translate for Denma Locho Rinpoche (see above pic) because the Miami students had small audience with him. I was quite shocked that they asked me and I think that I must have been their last option, for there are other more qualified people who could have done it. I couldn’t say no, even though I wanted to. I have never interpreted before and so I was quite nervous and to add that it was Denma Locho Rinpoche: he is quite elderly; he is a reincarnate lama and is one of the last scholars of a generation of Tibetan monks who were completely trained in one of three major Gelukpa monasteries in Tibet pre-Chinese invasion. So though it was only 15 minutes long, I was very nervous. I had few minutes to get ready, so I ran up to my room, found some clothes, took a quick shower and ran back down again. The secretary had told me that the students wanted to ask some questions about giving offerings and that no difficult questions on Buddhism would be asked. Once I got there some Sarah students where receiving blessings from the Rinpoche. All of the Miami students then lined up with kataks (white Tibetan silk offering scarfs) in hand. Rinpoche was sitting on the throne in the tent; obviously he was the main guest of the picnic. After offering kataks and prostrations they had me sitting right next to him on a Tibetan rug and the students sat immediately in front him on the ground. The Sarah principal sat directly in front of me, making me even more nervous. Rinpoche talked about giving offering to the three jewels and about having concentration on them when giving offerings and not letting the mind wander. He also talked a bit about doing simple divinations using a mantra of a major protectoress deity of the Tibetan nation Palden Lhamo. I was glad that the principal was there in the end because he helped me out when I would get stuck. One student asked about what was the correct thing for her to do with her future after college, Rinpoche didn’t answer her question but just told her that by following the instructions for the Palden Lhamo divination that he had just given that she’ll get her answer through that. I also got the feeling that he did not want to give a divination. Another student asked a more philosophical question about the fruition of karma within past, present and future lives, and Rinpoche said that he was not going to go through with that topic since it is very complicated, so he gave a very simple explanation. When I first heard the question I got nervous, but luckily it is the current topic that we are studying in philosophy class so I was familiar with the terminology. I think that for a neophyte interpreter that I didn’t do too badly, but there is a lot more room for improvement that is for sure. The Sarah principal told me that it is good practice for me.

Later on that day the 2nd year Bachelor’s degree class was holding a talent show at 7pm. I had already made plans with some friends to go for a walk around that time. It was after dinner and I was running to my room to drop some stuff off and head out. As I was heading up, Takbum asked me if could play drums for the talent show with him, I was like, if you would have told me earlier yea, but now I have done made other plans. Then he said that he had already done signed us up, I was like why did you do that for with out asking me, we haven’t practiced or nothing. I was a bit irritated but I told him that I already made other plans. He said that that was cool and that he could do it solo and so I went about my original business. I felt bad, but I was not ready to perform in front of people like that without any preparations, I just ain’t that pimp or pimp at all. After we had returned from our walk the show had started, there was some good talent and some of my classmates were selling chai for class fundraiser. One girl from Amdo is quite skilled in the Tibetan shrilling for which I was surprised for she is a small meek girl and that voice was so loud and penetrating that at first I couldn’t believe it was coming from this soft-spoken girl. Another guy did a namthar (Tibetan opera style of singing) which is usually translated as hagiography which tells the life story of a pious saintly figure; think this one about HHDL. Because of the style of how it was sung I did not understand much. The cool thing about it is that it has a call and response aspect to it with the audience. There were also poetry readings but most of them were read in Amdo dialect which most of the students here don’t understand.

Towards the end of the show Takbum and my name was called out to perform. I had a feeling that Takbum did not erase my name from the set list. I was sitting in the back of the basketball court, there was nothing I could have done then with no preparations and so Takbum did his thing and I think at my drumming would have been more of an obstruction. Later on folks asked me where I was for the performance and I just told them what went down, I think some of my classmates might not be too happy with me and I understand. They can’t perform because they are monks and would like to see their class represented in these kinds of events.

Yesterday Saturday, was the last day of the picnic, I played a shit ton of badminton and frisbee. I was also playing with a little 6 year old whose front teeth are rotting out. It was tons of fun. It was the last day for the Miami kids at Sarah; they left for McLeod Ganj and will be staying there for two months. At about 4pm there was a ritual prayer recitation with the principal of IBD playing the ritual master, juniper branches were being burned as offerings and at the end we all formed a big circle in the courtyard and handfuls of tsampa (roasted barley flour) was passed out. The guy who sung the namthar last night was asked to do another one to conclude the ritual so with three slowly drawn out yelps with call back responses, a kikikii and a huge Lha Gyalo!! (Victory to the gods), the tsampa was tossed up in the air. The last official picnic function was Tabula again but this time the venture was the new court in front of the girl’s dorm, I sat in for some of it, but after a while I went to chill with an American and a French student and we just shot the shit for a while and that was that, picnic time was over. I have been undisciplined throughout the picnic time so now I must get back on track. This time has been so nice and fulfilling, I wish Sarah had more of these kinds of events but now we will all have to wait until Losar.


Monday, October 04, 2010

Vande Mataram

Vande Mataram

10-02-2010 Gandhi Jayanti, The birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, Indian newspapers were filled with praises to the Father of their dear Nation of Bharat. I was wondering if it was a bad omen that my Gandhi pin, which I have had since college, accidentally fell into the toilet this morning for if it was any other day I wouldn’t even bat an eye, but now I am a bit suspicious, hmmm. Anyway, we normally would have had a day off but I think that with the approaching HHDL teachings and the Sarah College picnic next week that it won’t make sense to give us an extra day off. On the official calendar it stated today as a holiday but obviously it was cancelled since I was clapping and stomping in debate this morning. I guess sometimes it is no good to have ones hopes up. Every week I am surprised that the end of week has arrived so quickly. Anyone looking at Sarah from the exterior could not possibility imagine the level of busyness that is happening here since everything seems so relaxed; I know that I have not held a schedule this rigorous since working at Tokico; luckily this schedule is more conducive to practicing inner contentment and gaining knowledge than slave driving in a factory.

Last Sunday as I was having a late breakfast one of the Miami University guys invited me to Tatavani, a hot spring about an hour a way from campus. I had planned a day of review, but as thought it over, maybe sitting in a hot spring was not such a bad idea. The hot spring is situated in a small village Shiva temple. A bit off to the side is a small white tiled pavilion with a square hole on the ground for performing Agni (fire) pujas (ritual). In front of that is a small altar where a Shivalinga took the prominent position. To the far side of the pavilion it looked like some sort of graveyard filled with marijuana plants and several small pyramid-like tripled tiered structures with Shivalingas on them scattered in the area. The actually hot spring is next to the altar down a few steps where there is a room with a square pool big enough to fit about six people. To the back of the room about a foot and half above the pool is a stone carved lion’s head jutting out of the wall with hot water continuously pouring out of its mouth. I have been here a couple of times and I love the spot and since the acoustics are excellent it is also a good place for practicing throat singing, when no one is not around of course. I have some serious kinks in my upper back and shoulders so I like to let that hot lion water work on it for bit. If it was up to me I would stay in the hot spring all day long.

Before we had gotten there, normally there is a path that starts a bit up the hill. The hot spring is by a river and with the normal path one only had to the cross the river once but for some reason it seemed like that path was closed and the taxi driver took us to a spot where we needed to cross the river three times. I have to say that I was not too enthusiastic about our future venture, those rocks are slippery, I was carrying some books with me so if I fell in that would have blown chunks, and it was hard to tell how deep that water was, with it sometimes reaching my chest. But slowly we did it, and I mean slowly. Thanks to my trusty chacos I did fine, another guy at times was on his hands and knees from slipping on the rocks constantly. At some points I had to place my bags on my head to avoid them from getting wet. One of my books did get wet but not too bad. By the time we had finished the third river crossing we met the initial group of Miami students (accompanied by some Sarah students and staff) who had been at there since that morning. They were heading to another spot in the opposite direction from which we had just came from, a friend told me that they had decided to change locations since a group of local hard legs where gawking at the fair & lovely ladies from abroad. After we were done at the hot springs we returned to meet with the bigger group, first having a rock skipping contest and then we swam in the river for a bit and chatted with some of the local boys. I have not swam in a while so a little of bit swimming tired me plum out. Some parts of the river are not very wide but swimming across it about done me in, my ass is out of shape for sure.

On the way back to Sarah we stopped in Gaggal for some food and a lassi and it gave me a chance to chat up the Miami kids up for a bit. Though they have been here for several weeks now, I have barely had the opportunity to chat with any of them. They all seemed very nice and also to be enjoying their time at Sarah. Since being at Sarah I have met many of the study-abroad students that come through and it seems to me that each group is always different. When I chat with them I get to feel like I am back at home for bit. Anyways, after it was all said and done I was very happy to have had that last minute invitation to the hot spring.

Moving right along, after one of monks from the Advanced Hindi Teachers Training Course schooled all of our three group’s assertions on Friday night’s damja, he gave us an impromptu glance into the Tibetan views on the energy systems of the body. I was quite impressed that this monk had so much knowledge particularly about Tibetan and Ayurvedic medicines, a knowledge that he used to defeat our final assertion. In the Tibetan system it seems that all impermanent phenomenon are made out of eight types of minute particles or atoms (rdul rdzas brgyad): 1 form particle (gzugs rdul), 2 smell particle (dri rdul), 3 taste particle (ro rdul), 4 touch particle (reg bya’i rdul), 5 earth particle (sa rdul), 6 water particle (chu rdul), 7 fire particle (me rdul), and 8 air particle (rlung rdul). Certain impermanent phenomenon would have one or a combination of these particles in dominance depending on what it is. For example, though ice is said to be mainly dominated by the water particle its solidity is held together by the earth particle.

Our minds or souls are said to reside with our bodily winds that traverse throughout a kind of nervous system within our bodies and so it is composed primarily of the air particle. This thought is not unfamiliar to those who know Reiki or Kundalini yoga. Where groups of nerves meet or intersect along the spinal cord in large concentrations are called chakras (rtsa ‘khor), in which the monk pointed out on his body where they were located. He was telling us that accomplished yogis are capable of controlling their minds through various practices, like visualizations, meditation, etc. This idea is not only found in Buddhism but also in other faiths of the sub-continent, Hinduism, Jainism and maybe to some extent Sufism as well. This is generally mostly heard of on teachings on tantra (rgyud). All of our classes are sutra (mdo) classes for it is not until one has finished all of their sutric studies that then one is allowed to study the tantras. But this also depends on which sect of Tibetan Buddhism one is studying under and ones teacher, for they all defer in this respect. Because the prize teachings of the Tibetans are their tantric teachings many sects tend to guard it for lineage of transmission is very important, secrecy is very important and a solid understanding of the sutras are very important. Anyways, it was nice for this monk to share with us his knowledge in other fields of study, we all were very appreciative. I am a bit tired, catch ya later!