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.