My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What is the Meaning of the Third Precious Jewel?

Even when one loves what they are doing with their life, a plethora of insecurities still manages to arise and reigns havoc in ones mental stream. In my case, due to the rapidity of going through the lessons and the feeling of not being able to keep up, I have pushed the blame onto myself as an inadequacy within my own being, the incapacity to learn at the appropriate rate. I have already mentioned that what we study for the first year is traditionally done in three years. Now that we have been studying “The Presentation of Signs and Reasonings” for the pass two months or so and the fact that our yearly exam looms, I have been feeling that I am unable to so because I get the feeling that I do not have what it takes. I see my classmates moving and advancing in their studies and in their comprehension of the subject matter and I am not anywhere near their level. I know that a major part of it is that the Tibetan language is not my first tongue and so my Himalayan classmates who at the beginning class were struggling with the most basic reasoning sequences which we studied, those reasoning sequences that I had found simple, have now surpassed my level of understanding.

I started to feel really bad about myself and when I do that I tend to sleep a lot as a coping mechanism. But for this course it is not a very good one since it caused me to miss some class time, which for sure is not smart. As I slept to avoid my insecurities, my classmates had concerns for me. I did not give any reason to my lack of appearance and they started to come to my room to ask me what the hell was wrong. I felt that my classmates wouldn’t understand my predicament but after my third day of such nocuous behavior, our class captain visited me bringing me some Kinnauri apples from his home village since I had not eaten much throughout this time, I knew that I was acting like a total bitch. The next day I went to talk to Gen la and it was a great thing to do. It was the first time that I had had a one on one with him. He fed me and he told me that there is nothing more important to do with my life than being in this course. Though I am a weak student, I am not the worse. I do study hard and it might take me several years to get fluent with this process. I think that Gen la has some understanding of what western students go through in the study of Buddhist philosophy through the dialectical method. It is not easy for Tibetans and I can not expect to be on par with them at the beginning. He told me that my expectation level is too high and now that I have not met up with my expectation I started beating myself over it and there is actuality no point in it. Genuine wisdom takes time to manifest, but in order for it to do so the work must be done, which I am in the process of doing. As long as I continue then it will come. I told him that I was feeling like I have not improved that all, but he said that that is of course not true even though I feel that way. I listened carefully to what he said. It is funny because I know all those things that he mentioned but hearing it from him helped me snap out of it.

Later on that day, some classmates, a nun of Singapore and a Korean layperson who were concerned about me asked me where I was for the pass few days and when I told them what my deal was, they were so encouraging and they told that they too go through the same motions, these students I admire so much for they really took to the process and are excelling wonderfully and they have these feelings though they have better coping mechanisms. We tend to look at the other and compare ourselves with each other, which is really damning. We must learn to overcome such tendencies. Oh, how I have struggled with this theme! When I think about it, it is really that childish aspect in all of us to do so. It might be the case that we have been accustomed of doing so since kindergarten and it some respects we are indoctrinated to do so by our teachers. Since then we are taught that if we want to succeed in life we must strive to be the best. And of course, in one sense this is natural. Just look at all the things we give recognition to, the person with the highest G.P.A, making the honor roll, graduating college summa cum laude, the highest this and best that and it goes on and on. I have never in my life been the best in anything and through out my life so far I have just accepted it. But when I reflect on it, this has had some detrimental consequences in my life. Maybe if my high school teachers pretended that they cared more or interfered more I might not have skipped a lot of class to smoke pot with my friends and maybe I would not have even had those friends to get high with if their teachers pretended to care for them. Maybe if my pre-algebra teacher did not make me stand in front of the classroom several times my sophomore year, promising to give extra-credit to those students who could resist the longest from the temptation to laugh at me since I was so damn funny looking, I might have done my pre-algebra homework or even taken interest in studying it. Of course, it took only a second of looking at me before the whole class erupted in laughter; no one got the extra-credit, what a jip! I was the only black kid in that class and a rather feeble looking one at that, my teacher was black and was also the coach of the J.V. Basketball team. Maybe he thought that such humiliation would boast my confidence level, you know put some hair on my chest as they say, but that failed horribly.

I guess what I am trying to say is that, just by looking at me and other people of a certain demographic, financial status, I was automatically not expected to achieve anything. My guidance counselor could not find his way around campus nonetheless try to provide proper guidance to a troubled youth as myself. To be fair I had two incredible teachers who did care, but by the time that I had met them it was too late. I was pushed to take the least demanding classes whose population was filled with others who were not expected to accomplish a damn thing in life, the rouge crew of gangbangers and freaks. I found an odd comfort being a loser. If I skipped school to get high or came to school high as a kite, they did not care or intervened. I and us others were a hopeless cause not worth the bother. And now, all those years later after being homeless, after finishing college, I am here in India and luckily I have found something that I love but that old mentality created during those high school years which partially happened without my total awareness is popping up. In high school I only had two main academic interests, music and the environment, and I probably could have succeeded in those fields but I lacked any encouragement from my seniors. With what I am studying now, my interest level is higher than it has ever been and I felt that that would have been enough to make rapid progress. But I now see that that is not the case and I automatically turn that lack into a serious and inherent insufficiency within myself.

That night which was a Wednesday, a Vietnamese nun who has been my classmate since 2007 when we both started the Tibetan language foundation course called me. The first thing she said was that she looks up to me; I was taken aback. She said that she admired how hard I have worked and all the progress I have made with the Tibetan language. We are all very lucky to be where we are at and by the strength of each of our internal shadows, it cause us to easily overlook that fact. Most importantly she told me that though we are taught in the Buddhadharma to have compassion for others, we must have compassion for ourselves, first and foremost. So we all must first be happy. She brought tears to my eyes, I was so happy that she felt it worth it enough to call me and give me encouragement, it was through talking to her and my other classmates that I started to think about the third precious jewel (dkon mchog gsum, triratna). As a neophyte first encountering Buddhism, one learns about them and that a practitioner must take refugee in them and more importantly constantly reflect on them. They are the Buddha jewel (sangs rgyas dkon mchog), the Dharma jewel (chos dkon mchog) and the Sangha jewel (dge ‘dun dkon mchog). The very act of becoming a Buddhist is by taking refugee in these jewels but what do they mean.

The context of the third precious jewel, it has been traditionally viewed as taking refuge in the monastic community of Buddhist practitioners mainly through their support by the laity financially or otherwise. The word used in Tibetan gendun (dge ‘dun) is also an honorific title which monks are addressed as. Gendun could be translated as “the ones who are intent on virtue” while the Sanskrit Sangha shows the meaning of community or a group. In Hindi that is the connotation that it carries. Back at home, it appears that word Sangha seem to refer to only the people that are closely involved in ones particular Dharma group or center. Quite often, when I meet other Westerner Buddhists the question of which Sangha I belong to always pops up and I cannot answer that question. My interactions with Dharma centers have been mostly negative and I have felt a lot of racist overtones which has turned me off to the whole thing. But still, beginning with my dilemma and following it through with the care, consideration, encouragement that I have received from my teacher and my classmates, I focused more on what it means now as I study Buddhism more in depth. Our course is not only about the text we study or the philosophical position we adopt as we advance, it is also about all the other aspects of our lives as well. So far I have arrived to that, yes! It is a community but not just a community in the sense that we live together because we share similar demographic or socio-economic status. It seems to have the potential of being an emotional, stabilizing, encouraging powerhouse. A powerhouse that seems to include rather than exclude, one that seems to not let one slide so easily into unnecessary self-destructive behavior, one that focuses on a person’s strengths and their potential to increase it, one that is constantly putting one into check and forcing them to look deeper into ones actions, intentions, and ones mind carefully.

There is definitely a lot more that I could say, but I hope that one can get the gist of what I am trying to convey. The fact is that the Sangha was what encouraged me to peruse my highest potential from day one not the ones that did not care or who did not bother because it was my lot to be a zero. The Sangha does not have the capacity to see us as zeros but it has the immense capacity of seeing our inherent potential and holds us up to it. The Sangha sees the ultimate, elusive, ephemeral zero of all phenomenon, that motivating powerhouse of potential. This might be why the Tibetan word kunchok (dkon mchog) precious literally means something like supreme rarity. These jewels though existent are not found in abundance, our very societal paradigm of ‘me first’ tends to smother it.

Though traditionally the Sangha is seen as consisting of only Buddhist, I am willing to expand it further than that for myself, all those out there who have acted in such a way, that have helped or has been helped to seek the depths of their positive potential are apart of the Sangha. This has been a part of my minute life experience since so many folks have acted in such fashions and they have belonged to a cornucopia of faiths or some have claimed to not aspire to any religious creed but they all have made their positive uplifting impressions on me and have forced me to look deeper, they stepped outside the colloquial paradigm and looked for the potential not for the best. Although my vision of the Sangha might or might not coincide with the proper Buddhist view and so far I am not sure, I think that it a step in the right direction. We live on one planet and the Sangha is global, it is all of us and thus in turn, I will learn and will eventually habitualize myself so that I can be to others what so many have been to me and therefore enriching my taking refuge and my reflections. This is what I learnt this week.

Around 2:00am early Wednesday morning I was once again gyrated by the oscillating movements of the dorm. For about 4 or 5 seconds I heard that deep tenor-like cracking and rubbing of concrete and rebar in surround sound stereo. My ears were filled with this sound from everywhere and then it smoothly stopped. I expected to hear the bell being rung but only silence pursued. This tremor felt a lot stronger than the one that had struck in the fall and it seemed to have lasted longer but I guess everyone else was in a deep enough sleep that they did not feel the earth move under their bodies. Then the first thing I thought about was if an earthquake had struck in Pakistan or Afghanistan. A day later I read in the newspaper at a 7.4 earthquake struck in Pakistan at circa 1:39am hence taking the seismic wave about 20 minutes to travel and to rock Dharamshala. It was felt as far south as Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh.

Since we did not have an all-night debate before the previous second Saturday we had it this week. Huge lamb mutton Amdo momos were cooked for us; this was the first time that a carnivorous dish was served at an all-night debate. It was definitely one of the liveliest debates that we have had as a class so far. There were really some fireworks going on that night. Some students definitely showed some distinction that night and I am very proud of them. Since the momos took a long time to cook, we did not take a break until pass 11pm and my group was still left to sit as defenders so we did not finish until 12:45am-ish.

That Saturday morning at 8:30 am, our class had our first outing. We rented a bus and we all crammed in and headed up to the village of Naddi above TCV. Some of my classmates had never seen snow up close before and so we used this day off to do so. It was the first time that I have been around snow since 2007. Sarah is too low for snow but just an hour ride uphill there was plenty to go around. As we passed Dal Lake we all noticed that it lacked water. It looked that it was being renovated, before the water was very muddy. Once we arrived, we stored all of our lunching items in a chai stall and headed on a road towards an International High School ran by a Sahaja Yoga Foundation, Gen la said that many foreign students study there. I remember that had I met a young Romanian lady who studied there a few years back when I was showing some friends around Dharamshala. On our walk to the school it as not too long before the group that I was walking with started receiving enemy snowball fire. Some monks had climbed up a bit up hill beside the road and with devastating accuracy started launching snowballs at us. At the first I wasn’t sure where they were firing from but once I found out I was able to send retaliating shots of my own. I had a feeling that this skirmish was just a taste of what was to come. The view of the mountains that morning was spectacular from Naddi.

The school was closed for the winter and no one said anything to us. We set up shop underneath an oak tree next to the parking lot of the school. The school seemed to consist of a three-storey high brick building constructed to emulate the Gaddi-style houses seen throughout the mountains in Himachel Pradesh. We saw some people but not one said a word. If this was U.S. we would have been kindly or not so kindly been asked to leave the premises with the quickness for trespassing. We took over the parking lot; we had snacks, threw volleyball around a circle, kicked some hacky sack and played badminton. Some one had brought some mini-Uno cards and once my classmates had gotten the hang of the game they were so loving on it and even though we had long pass our debates on colors many of my classmates still could not tell the difference between blue and green. A few times the volleyball went bouncing down the hill besides the oak tree and we all laughed as we watched a classmate trying to climb down the precarious slope over and over again to retrieve it. Some of the guys were getting a kick out of placing huge chunks of snow down each others shirts. I walked over to the school building and I noticed some posters illustrating the each of the seven chakras of the astral body one by one and what they meant, but it was all written in Hindi. I asked one of the guys who is good in Hindi to translate but he told me that the commentary on these posters had a lot of difficult language that he did not know.

At around lunch time we returned back to the chai-stall and had our lunch. Since Friday we had Tibetan food, for the picnic we had Indian food. Our Indian classmate cooked up some really nice egg curry and vegetable curry. He himself was unable to attend but we sure did enjoy his food. By that time also there were tons of Indian kids and families all over the place coming to get a chance to enjoy the snow. After we had eaten, through the strong urging of my classmates, they wanted me to rap and so a spat out an old one for them using a khachori, a flaky Indian breadstick, as a mike. A short while into the spitting session many of those snow-gazing tourists joined as an audience. They busted out their camera-phones quicker than a New York minute. Who knows want they thought when they saw our group, an odd conglomeration of Tibetan monks with a sprinkle of Aphro-America, Taiwan, Singapore, Korea and Vietnam.

For the rest of the afternoon, we scouted another spot not far from chai-stall that was located below the construction site of guest-house which was terraced. Some of the guys immediately started to play some cricket. I played tons of Uno for a good long time while drinking pop and various assortments of junk-food that had been brought with us. Eventually all hell broke loose though, it started with what seemed to be an innocent mis-aimed propelling snowball and it turned into an all out battle. Gen la was cautiously warning us that we could sick, but that was not enough, even Gen la got hit once as collateral damage. The battlefield consisted of three terraces plus the empty skeleton of a guest-house on top of that. Most of all of us got involved. It was just so brutishly hilarious. I had not been involved in such a snowball fight since grade school. Since I was on the low ground and being so stinking tall, I made an easy target but was able dodge a shit ton of incoming fire. No one was safe. Snowballs were such flying to and fro in utter chaos for about one solid hour and all the dirty tricks in the book were busted out in full. Below us we could see Gen la sitting cross-legged on a mat laughing so hard at the ridiculously absurd carnage that ensued before his eyes. Later, two guys had built a midget snowman and we all gathered around it and took pictures. We were all still giddy from the previous battle.

Throughout that entire outing, Gen la was cracking jokes the whole time. Before we left, he was trying to get some of us of take some of the leftovers; he gave me a whole piece of Amdo bread which is significantly bigger than regular Tibetan bread. He grabbed another piece and said that it could be used to play discus with, he assumed the position of a discus thrower about to throw it with the bread. That imagine was just so uproarious, Gen la in his maroon robe with a red scully on, his habitual sunglasses looking like he was about to launch big round chunk of Amdo bread into the abyss that laid a few yards below us, classic.

On a totally unrated side note, I saw Lhasang Tsering wondering around were we were kickin’ it at. It did not look like he was there to check out the snow. I remember seeing him walking solo around aimlessly. It just seemed so random to me. Whatever!

At 4pm our rental bus arrived and we all crammed back on in. We had lost some classmates along the way. Some went to the hospital, some who had never seen TCV went to check it out and some went to Lower Dhasa. The ones who went to TCV we picked up on the way down and we got another one at the bazaar but before too long we back in good ole’ Sarah. The campus was getting ready for a concert. The students from the Emory Tibetan Studies Study Abroad program had arrived the day before it was their welcome to Sarah concert. I ran into an old friend of mine who was with the same program but two years ago who was recently visiting Dharamshala. He has been travelling around India with a friend and it was so great to him, I was very happy. Also the director of the program this year is a friend and I was glad to see her back in da’ house.

And so after a week of various undulating tectonic plates, events, thoughts and emotions, I close with hope and an arrivederci.


P.S. I did not have internet access for awhile so two entries are posted today.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing so honestly and with such insight. Through your words, I am able to reflect on my own insecurities, my own need for sangha. Can't wait to be closer to you! -Cassie

Tsa said...

I am soooo proud of you and what you are doing!! such a brave lad you are! be more indulgent with yourself as you are with the othera, and it will all go smoother! take it easy dude!!!!

and don't forget you can achieve whatever you want! Lots of love dear Wendell!