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.