My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Done Son!

That is it, Se Acabo! Our first year of Dialectics School is officially done, Phewwwwu! This pass week, I dwelt in an intense state of revision, discussion and memorization. Gen la gave us our final lecture on Monday. Though from Tuesday until Friday we had morning debates and mandatory group study sessions from 10:30am to 12:30pm, the rest of the afternoon we had free to study and prepare our debates for our first exam. I was very fortunate to have the help of a German nun for the preparation of my debate and she also connected me with a monk from I.B.D to help me, who was at Sarah at the time relaxing and teaching Tibetan to the study abroad students and to the international student’s class. I jumped in head first towards my task. Already from class I was used to normally spending long hours in study, but this was a bit different from my normal routine. I was very daunted at the idea of revisiting everything that we have studied since day one, which in fact proved to be utterly impossible though as far as reacquainting myself with the defining characteristics and the divisions from “The Presentation of Collected Topics” that came easier for although I had forgotten most of them as soon as I started reading them again they came quickly back to my mind.

For the exam, when one sits as a defender, one doesn’t know what queries the challenger might posit. Gen la said that we could prepare a debate on anything that we had studied this year. As the days turned into nights and back into days again, I had to prepare myself mentally. I was pretty nervous about this whole exam business. During my first years at Sarah, the second and the third being in the Tsamjor course, the international students were encouraged the take the exams but no one ever did. But this is different and there was no way around it, we are all O.G. legit students, not gank-assed sidelined spectators. As the time eventually slipped by as it is currently perceived in nature, I felt in some ways like a bowling ball propelled by a unseen but tactile hand down the alley of the week. Every morning the closer it got to the exam date, the clearer comes the sight of your target. At the beginning of a throw, though one as made a straight roll the doubt of it being a strike does not appear to the mind until a split second before when one is assured in triumph of ones marksmanship. If you are the ball though then the perspective changes, once in the gutter you know what’s up, but if you are in on alley, that very slick and slippery wooden alley there is no way of avoiding the collision. That was the feeling that I was harboring and as the days passed, sliding closer, seeing the size of those pins getting bigger and bigger; the sense of nervousness and excitement grew within my form. That sense was bloody strong too. I practiced placing my intention in the right place. I acted everything out as I worked on my debate, how it could go on exam day in my mind. Bamm! Immediately the butterflies came flooding in dowsing my bloodstream with it noxious intoxicant. My voice began to waver and stutter. This was a lot of help.

Finally I woke on the morning of Saturday, 26th February. It was a cold and gloomy Saturday once again. Rumors were floating around about snow in McLeod Ganj. I thought about the previous months and more particularly about the previous week of study in my icebox of a room freezing late into the night. The big day was finally at hand and I remember that the day before as I was descending the stairs heading to the dining for dinner one of the monks stopped me and was singing a Hindi song to me. I asked him what it meant he said that it was a song from the Hindu epic the Mahabharata singing the song to battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas, encouraging them to prepare for the upcoming struggle just like our upcoming exam tomorrow is like a battle. I was like, “well at least we won’t be using no real bows and arrows”. “But we will be wielding word bows and firing word arrows” he said. To which I laughed. I had not prior to that little interlude ever thought of our exam as a battle, though battle terminology works great, but it some ways this monk was right.

We were to meet in the temple at 9am, I wore some nicer clothes; I don’t have an iron so they were crinkly as hell, and I entered the temple where most of my classmates and other schoolmates had gathered. We didn’t have to wait to long before Gen la entered with our two judges; two Geshes, one from Drepung Loseling monastery, and the other from Sera Je monastery, two very prestigious institutions. We all stood up as they walked in and we sat down after they took their seats. Our class was split, about half on the left and half on the right. The Geshes sat in the front left on double stacked mattress’ and Gen la sat across from them with the defender’s mattress laid on the floor slightly in front, in between them. Gen la explained the rules of the proceedings. In a plastic container were little pieces of paper with our names on it. As he said this, he lifted it up and shook it and everyone ohhhed and awwwed in nervous anticipation. The first named to be pulled will sit as defender and the second name to be pulled will be the challenger. After ten minutes Gen la will clap his hands and then the first person will be the last challenger and the second person will immediately sit as defender and another name will be drawn from the container to fill the spot of challenger and so and so forth. Those were some tense moments; I don’t think no one wanted their name to be pulled out first. I know that the only thing I wanted was to go in the morning and have it over with. The Geshes graded us each on a 50 point scale, 25 point for our debate, and 25 points for answering as defenders then both of their points are added together making it out of a total 100 points. The first name was drawn, pheewwu! As Shaggy said, “It wasn’t me!” and the battle, as the monk told me yesterday was on. Once thing was very obvious from the start, everyone was nervous; with this being our first such exam it makes sense. Watching as the exams went along, those tens minutes seem very long. My classmates had chosen debates from all the presentations; what a milieu of analysis we had going on.

After the fourth or fifth challenger had passed, I heard my name. Oh dip! Again my stomach started to tremble such as I had experienced the pass few nights. I remembered what my marching band instructor used to say before we had to perform for half-time at football games in high school, “Get yo’ game faces on, Get yo’ game faces on!” So I slipped on my sandals and my game face and got to business. The defender was a Tibetan monk from Kham who had broken his legs awhile back; now has trouble walking and had studied previously in one of the monastic institutions in South India, a good debater for sure. He had to sit in a chair. He gave me such a hard time for the opening part of the debate which was from “The Presentation of Signs and Reasonings”, I had three debates initially prepared and I was not happy that he was holding me up on a very common query and after a few minutes into it he finally accepted it and I got the contradiction out of him, Tshaaa! I then moved into the first phrase, comparing two phenomena that seem so similar but in actuality they were not so thus it was a debate that was totally dependent on how he answered the first question. There were only two ways he could answer. If he had given the correct answer then I would have moved quickly to the second phrase. But that was not necessary, just as the German nun said; the correct response is hard to posit, even though it sounds so easy. Once I heard his answer I knew what to do and he was stuck like chuck. He had no room to move but unfortunately I heard Gen la clapping from my lower right meaning that my debate was over; those ten minutes went über quick, dawg. I was hoping to get his main assertion.

Then it was my turn for the receiving end, not knowing what the hell the challenger is going to ask, I sat down crossed-legged nervously on the defender’s mattress, “the hot seat”, in front of the temple between the Geshes and Gen la. A monk from Mön, Arunachel Pradesh, India was my challenger. I knew that I was in for it, for the pass couple of months I have noticed that his knowledge has been getting better and sharper. In one way luckily he asked something that I was familiar with from the same presentation that I had previous debated and I knew that I was stuck from the beginning. I had two ways to initially answer each leading to various logical absurdities and contradictions. I weigh out my options, made my assertion and he tore into me good. I noticed from corner of my eye that the Geshes were smiling. I think that this was their first experience too in many respects. Before I knew it, I heard Gen la’s clap to my left and I knew that that was that. I was done. Once I had taken my seat on the sidelines a sense of relief flooded me, Wow! I was now that bowling ball which was tossed down a slick wooden alley and had struck its mark. Now, all we had to do was to wait for the results of the bowl to appear on the screen above the alley. The guys on the side were so encouraging. I could just relax now, knowing that I was done and watched the rest of the debates. We had an hour and a half break at 12:30pm, as I was leaving to go the lunch, the Geshes were in front of the temple and one of them said that I my debate was good, I was more that elated to hear that.

After lunch, we met back up in the temple at 2 to finish the exam which ensued until 4:15pm. Everyone did so well, but of course some of the guys love asserting and holding ridiculous views and doing so during the daily debates is one thing but during an exam is not such a hot idea. Our judges were pretty cool, not all of them are, like I remember seeing when I attended the exams from the above class that was at Sarah. Only when the defender would say stupid-ass shit and the challenger couldn’t catch them in the contradiction would the Geshes step in and set shit straight. I was happy for every one, I could tell that everyone had studied hard and that is what counts. After the very first defender finished his debate as challenger, on the side: it was interesting that the last three debates was by our three youngest classmates, one of the Geshes commented on us staying that though we don’t study the topics as long as they are studied it in South India that we overall did pretty good. I knew that no one bombed the exam. Gen la then announced that we are to convene after dinner at 6:30pm in the temple to receive our grades. We normally called our Gen la “Gen Lodöe” but that is not his monastic name. The monk who was helping with my debate last week asked me if I knew why he is called “Gen Lodöe”. Lodöe (blo gros) means wisdom and he was given this name “Lodöe” by the founder of I.B.D. Ven. Lobsang Gyatso a.k.a Gen Dampa, because he supposedly never studied the texts too much but was known as an amazing McNasty debater. Now with having Gen la as my dialectics professor I can totally see that, it makes so much sense.

And so comes 6:30pm gathered in the temple again, the Geshes had split and Gen la was carrying the three mark sheets in his hand. After he had sat down he said, “Because we belong to a school we have to administer exam but these exams are not the goal of your studies. Your goal is to grow in wisdom, compassion and understanding. Your goal is to gain experience in practice. If it is only to pass exams then there is no point in studying this at all, that being said here are your grades!” He read each of our grades, first the two halves, one for debate and one for answering from each Geshe and then the total score. The range of the scores was not bad at all I don’t think, the lowest was a 60 or a 64 and the highest was an 81 going to our Singaporean nun putting her at 1st place or anki dangpo. Two others and I came in second at 77 and surprising Gen la said that I had a good debate. Three others came in third with 76. I was surprised for sure and was very happy. Normally the Rignae classes would give awards to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place students of the exams but Gen la said that our class doesn’t do that. He then passed the score paper around for us to see and talked about our upcoming vacation and the upcoming year.

Initially he was going to have us meet for mandatory study session on Monday and Tuesday morning since the official last day of class at Sarah for Losar is on Tuesday but last night he said that it will be fine if we eliminate that and that we could just chill quietly in our rooms. Losar, the Tibetan New Year is coming up next Saturday, after that HHDL teachings, and Geluk Monlam after that which the monks have to attend; thus making our first day of class for the New Year around 20th or the 21th of March. Sweet! Though I have no clue what I am going to do with myself for all this time, I can’t afford to go anywhere unfortunately but that is ok. It is nice though just to chill and read a book or something, for this time of the year; Losar is generally nice at Sarah, though normally the study aboard students would be here and we’ll be kickin’ with some dancing or something, but they all headed to McLeod Ganj on Saturday so none of that this year. I called the German nun and told her how the exam went and gave her so many thanks, which does no justice to the amount of help and time she provided from her busy schedule for helping me, my marks are due to her. But that’s all folks for the week. I am hoping that the spring we will be descending soon. I am hoping that Libyan people will be able to find a solution to their situation, there are rumors of things trying to be sparked in the P.R.C. though the government has tried hard to control and censor any info concerning the Arab Facebook revolution, let see what happens. Sarva Mangalam!


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Drunken Monkey

Due to the thus past Valentine’s Day this week, I will like to send a shout out to all those out there who have been able to find or have founded that special someone in your life. That special someone of either opposite, same or multiple sexes that you felt worthy enough of calling them your valentine and them to you. But I will also like to send an even more exceptional shout out to all those scrubs, zeros, scalawags, lonely hearts, neutered adults out there, those who have spend all their lives in the “friend zone”, who just through either sheer circumstance or other repeated situations have never been found worthy to be someone’s valentine and have spend every valentine’s day feeling like shit. If you are feeling me, to you my friend, I holla to ya. No day in the western calendar make us feel more sad than this one. This day being, according my sociology professor in college, the first holiday ever created in a corporate boardroom by a bunch of suits who chose to target one group of people for profit while making us acutely aware that on that day, no one is going to be sending us roses, chocolates, cards or none of that jazz. No secret admirers. No kisses, no spooning or other felicitous activity to look forward to that night for us. But we have been bamboozled by it because we have sent more than our share of these items to someone we wished to be our valentine only to have it thrown back in our faces. I know folks, if you are like me, you might be jaded to the fucking idea by now, the damage is done.

Valentine’s Day always brings this is out of me, even in India where it is not really celebrated. Sometimes it makes me wish that I had a gender neutrality button built into my body so that when I begin to feel that awesomely dreadful but at the same time lovely wishful sensation of smittenness towards the opposite sex I could press that button and thus eliminate the otherwise days and weeks of mental and emotional turmoil that I would have otherwise placed myself through. My initial idea of being initiated into eunuch-hood really caused me to doubt my sanity and so thus I stay as a libidinous 3O something male who appreciation for the sisteren remains unwavered. Luckily like any other emotion they too are impermanent, so they do pass and with studying Buddhist philosophy one sees gradually that nothing is filled with more false promises than the desire for intimate companionship but that idea alone is not powerful enough to prevent it from arising in ones mind, it must be accompanied by the work also. Ok, I will stop with this nonsense.

I know that I am not a fortune teller, but as I said after Tethong Tenzin Namgyal la spoke at Sarah College, I was banking or wondering if the other candidate for Kalon Tripa will speak on campus. And fo’ sho that he did, though I missed the first couple of minutes of his spiel. On Monday, Dr. Lobsang Sangay la wheeled a magic wand of charm and pizzazz. His sheer potency of character wooed our student body who were not used to seeing this kind of magnetism coming out of a Tibetan before. As compared to Tethong la, Lobsang Sangay la’s demeanor reminded me of a puffed up cock who has whooped all the lesser cocks into submission. These two candidates could not have been more polar opposites just based on what I saw at their respective talks. Though I felt that his rap was severely lacking in substance or concreteness, his efforts for traveling all through out India campaigning at the various Tibetan settlements seems to have done him very good. Thus far it seems very likely that this young man will possibly be the next Kalon Tripa if the results from the previous elections seem to be of any indicating factor. Supposedly he won close to 50% of the votes while all the other candidates had to share the other 50%. Shit, I guess with knowing that if I was him I might be feeling like hot shit too. But luckily as an outsider with not an iota of political science skill under my belt my opinion doesn’t count for doo-doo butter as far as the Tibetan community is concerned.

I have to say that on first impression I was quite taken with the guy. He dress was impeccable, the dude looks good in a suit and his ability to capture the crowd’s attentions is quite something. He seemed charming, witty, intelligent and funny which is always a plus. I have not thus far seen another Tibetan who has done so, that being said I had some issues with his lack of anything that seems like a strategy for the Tibet issue or any issue for that fact; he’s probably keeping them secret. In his Tibetan talk, he used the old ‘I come from the same background as you, a poor boy from a Tibetan settlement milking cows’ spiel or like in a more familiar context ‘I was an ignant farmer boy just like you’ line. He pushed the fact that he is a Harvard scholar so many times; it is like his whole campaign is based on the fact that he went to Harvard Law School which I found to be a bit disappointing. But it makes sense, the weight of merely saying ‘Harvard’ seems to mesmerize folks here. His English talk was definitely less impressive, and when a student placed a bit a pressure on him about a question that he tried to dodge he definitely got snappy.

I think that the study abroad students who were there know as much as about this guy before the talk as they did after. He did not answer any of their questions, besides saying read my booklet or my website. I have read the booklet and there are no insights there at all but I don’t know about the website. After it was all said and none, we all briefly gathered outside the meeting hall and he came around shaking everyone hand and shit. I ended up standing with some girls, old classmates of mine and they were so shy, like sheep. When he came by us they all tried to crowd into a corner behind me so as not to be seen by him. I was talking to them briefly and he said to me, ‘Wow, you speak Tibetan well!’ shook my hand and went on his way. I just smirked. I definitely found the whole scenario odd. To me it seemed very out of place. Definitely what it is putting out there is that he is the change for the Tibetan community, hmmm, “Change” from where does that sound familiar? His campaign style is definitely American or heavily American inspired and I guess seeing it superimposed in this environment made it even the more striking. The other candidate is the exact opposite and that seems to be what will cost him the election.

Though most folks here seem excited about this new change that might be coming to the Kalon Tripa office, definitely not every one is so impressed. A Tibetan friend of mine from the U.S. is not convinced by the sheer force of his charisma or by his erudition. I think that she feels a bit distraught that the wrong guy might be the new Kalon Tripa. She is familiar with this guy just by the mere fact that the Tibetan community in the states is not that big. From her perspective, this guy is playing on the general ignorance of the community, on their lack of access to information. With this being in some sense the very first big election for the Tibetan exile-community as a new budding democracy, many of the things that might not happen back at home due to broad internet access and citizens participating in online election forums can easily slide by unnoticed here. No sort of venue for critically weighing the pros and cons of each candidate is available for the majority who do not have web access. A paper was posted around campus providing a critique of Dr. Sangay la and it was torn down within a few days. Favoritism based on peer-pressure appears to be running very high, it seems. I know that it has to be frustrating for her and I know that she is working hard to provide a more open platform of critique but it seems like she is swimming against the current. Remember, our experience of the Tibetan exile community is based solely on what happens in and around Dharamshala which is of though major influence is still very small considering that most Tibetans in India live in an assortment of settlements that sprinkle the entire Indian Subcontinent. Regardless, Dr. Sangay la’s possibilities of becoming the next Kalon Tripa seems to be almost in the bag, but we won’t know until the 20th of March. If the people make a mistake, then they must live with the consequences which I think is part of democracy. When that power is given to the people then they must learn the responsibility that they have with that power. This responsibility is not always realized quickly and a new democracy just might have to fuck up a couple to times before they realize more critically the importance of their collective responsibility. That is the beauty and the curse of the democratic process.

We are now exactly one week a way from our first exam and the closer the date comes: Saturday February 26, 2011, the more my knees knock. Gen la continued leading us through “The Presentation of Mind and Awareness”. One day Gen la was talking how the mind is a like a monkey. In general it is also said that this mental monkey, is blind, drunk and is stung by a scorpion. As in a badly dubbed 70’s Kung fu movie, “Your tiger style is of no comparison to my drunken monkey style, take this!!!!! Keyyyyayyy!!!!!!!”. But, it is definitely true, our minds seem to be all over place just like a monkey, it is never still not even for a nanosecond. During my first two years at Sarah one only saw monkeys occasionally, but now they are everywhere and so we all have amble experience with these nasty ass intelligent critters. I think that the human urge to do parkour or any other extreme sports comes from our primal nature. For a monkey every time it moves is parkour, its climbing and jumping ability are, no pun intended, off the wall. Every time I see a monkey with a broken arm I assume that that was not the smart monkey for it must have missed its mark. I like just staring at them sometimes, for after all we are related and if you catch one by surprise it always reminded me of catching a young toddler who is doing some wrong and they know that they are doing some wrong but they look at you with that look like they are not doing anything wrong though you have caught them red handed. There is a lot of monkey business going on around here. Any ‘ole how, I like how the examples that we use in our philosophy class are things that we can witness everyday.

My memorization tasks are still going full force and I am almost ¾ through downloading the “Presentation of Signs and Reasonings” and after that probably through our short vacation after the exam I will start working on the root text for the “Presentation of Mind and Awareness” which is about half as short as the prior root text. So far I have been debating the topic without having downloading the root text and I felt a bit like shooting in the dark in debate though I have done ok so far. Last Tuesday evening I had to sit defender to with another classmate for group debate and I felt that we held each other well. There ain’t nothing like having a bunch of wiry Tibetan monks yelling at you, clapping millimeters in front of your face, trying to crack your assertions. I think that all of us are going through the same thing. In the courtyard, many of us are still debating the previous topic because it is it hard as hell, we have to study for this exam and some how continue with our current daily lessons. I feel that I have more interest in this topic and though it was the same when I started the prior one. At the beginning, no really knows what the hell is going on and then after more experience with it the heat is then piled on and the debates gets trickier. But this topic has been hot from the get-go, many tough issues going on from the start. I guess it was not the same with “The Presentation of Signs and Reasonings’ because it is so stinking tough. The current topic of course is also very difficult but it is not the same.

We had a very especial visitor come to our Monday morning debate, a German nun, the philosophy professor for the study abroad students, who is an extremely accomplished student of dialectics and though so far without the title, is a Geshema, came and scoped out our class. She went around to different groups of debaters posing questions here and there. I was involved in my debate and the monk sitting next to me asked me if I knew who this foreign nun was and if she was any good. I told him that she is the bomb and that she done finished Dialectics School. Towards the end of the debating session a bunch of us gathered around her as she was with debating our class captain who is a pretty bright dude, but he was of course not able to hold up his defenses against such a skilled practitioner. Her movements in debate are extremely smooth, fluid and she knows how to place weight on her proclamations with a solid clap and stomp deep into the ground. I quickly looked at the nuns from my class and they seemed impressed. This might have been the first that my classmates have ever seen a western nun debate and one that did so, so incredibly well. When the Hindi Teacher’s training course was here we were getting use to those monks constantly kicking our asses, but it was nice for a change to have a nun give it to us good. That moment will have a lasting impression on me.

Tuesday evening right before debate I was on the roof after a bad ass storm and a most beautiful scenery came to life as the sun was setting. Because of the rain, the normal haze that floats around in the air was minimized. The northwestern side of the snow mountain was shining like a pure crystal, utterly pristine with fresh snow fall. The eastern side was totally obscured by dark grey clouds. Above, several smooth circle-like cloud features reflected a deep orange pastel-like color that faded from a deeper pinkish-like pastel. These colors were bouncing off of the round protrusions and between the crevices of these protrusions the deep indigo-blue of the evening sky was making itself apparent providing an uncanny contrast. Facing towards the further northwestern side huge majestic pearly cumulous clouds were commanding respect as far as the eye could see over the valley. Following the same direction of sight one encountered the setting sun doing its awesome job, closing the day for us while opening it somewhere else simultaneously. I wish I had the capacity to capture such moments but nothing can, a fancy ass camera won’t do and definitely not my words, though I wished I possessed just that kind of compositional skill. Thus, you get stuck with my poorly written description of a scene that cannot be fully written about with any sense of justice.

As we were cleaning the temple today, one of guys figured out how to hook up his MP3 player to the temple’s PA system and was blasting Pink Floyd as we did our cleaning duties. Again, a combination of two things that seem at odds with each other in my dome was manifested. I used to love Pink Floyd when I was in high school especially while visiting the merry ole’ Land of Oz. Hearing these songs, Breathe, Another brick in the wall etc, blasting in the temple surrounded by Buddhas and bodhisattvas took me back to those days, my youthful innocent and severely immature days of wanton carefree-ness. Of course my classmates have no association with it and I am sure that they would have preferred some “Bolle, Bolle” or some Hindi film songs. But now at this point in my life, as I live this very different life that want I have live, having all these new experiences, made me hope for the more beautiful and touching experiences that are to come. I think that I might reflect a bit too much, even though being at Sarah after 3 years has become so familiar now, those past experiences never go away from the make-up of a person. I don’t know what I am exactly trying to say, but experiencing these two worlds collide like that moved something inside me. Regardless, I hope that all of you out is the world are treasuring and are feeling treasured.


P.S. A monk came up to me with a piece of paper one day during study period with some words written on it in English. After translating the meaning of most of the words, he then point to one word with his index finger and looks up at me saying in the most innocent face, “ ‘boobies’ ga re la go re?” “What does ‘boobies’ mean?” And thus I was stumped. Probably more stumped than I have been so far on the debate courtyard.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


It sure was looking good, I was almost about to retire my habitual layers of clothing than I have been wearing all winter but my hopes were built as usual on a grand fallacy. That winter was over. Those two or three days of near T-shirt weather last week, though it might have been a precursor to a warmer spring, it was definitely a precursor to a more immediate and ferocious entity. Starting Sunday night and lasting all through Monday, such a wind blew through the environs. It has been a while since I have seen such a wind. While waiting for Gen la to arrive before class on Monday, we were all congregated on the huge veranda in front of the classroom, one of my classmates said, “look, the wind is so strong that if you jump straight up in the air you won’t land in the same spot”, I was like, “nah nuh!” and then I tried it and ‘sho ‘nuff, I could feel while I was in the air for that split second as if someone was gently but firmly pushing on my back causing me to move forward and I landed not where I started my jump. For a couple of minutes me and this monk tried this several times getting a kick out of it. Later, someone had given us all almonds and I started chucking them in the air and catching them in my month but this proved to be quite difficult due to the then airstream velocity. Some of the other guys joined in pelting these almonds as high as they could and then trying to catch them in their mouths. I got to say that after a few mishaps’ I got my technique down despite the squall. If one would have looked from the roof of either dorm one might of thought that we were stupid drunk solely based on the way of our movements.

It was interesting to see how the wildlife dealt with this weather. The monkeys looked pitiful, while I was in my room before heading to class a monkey was walking on the hand railing of my balcony and it sadly looked at me through the window with eyes that said, “How can you be so cruel? You sitting there comfortably in you room with the door locked and not offering me shelter and so I get blown around hanging on this building for dear life”. What I can do! I did feel bad for the poor critter having to deal with the elements like that. The house swifts though looked liked they were having a hell of a good time. Their chaotic aeronautical abilities even without a shit of wind is astonishing and now adding the wind factor that lil fuckers at times looked as if they were floating still in the air, just to all of a sudden dart quickly a far distance with awesome velocity. It reminded of Star Trek how in every scene where the USS Enterprise is about to bust into warp speed, it seems all so still and then whooosh! In a nanosecond a humongous power propels it to another world. The hawks on the other hand did not seem to be having such a great time due to their bulk and large wingspan which acted more like sails causing them to be blown all over the place much like the wind carrying a plastic bag.

That evening before debate I found myself on the roof of the boy’s dorm easily mesmerized by the thick blanket of gray low laying clouds floating over my head, I felt like I could almost have touched them. Towards Kangra I watched the scintillation of lightning rapidly crashing into the ground and between clouds. Towards the mountain the blanket stretched out totally covering the snow mountain’s very existence from view. I could see huge puffs of grayish clouds traveling as if a clan of gargantuan mythic seductive siren-nymphs were trying to woo the attention of their sailor prey between the range that Naddi sits on and the main partially obscured lower face of the Dhauladhars. Once again I looked straight up to the clouds in amazement at the kind of textures that it seems to make. Some looked like the inside of a walnut shell with sharp protrusions, while others were more smooth like when one swims in the ocean totally submerged and looks up seeing the surface of the water undulate fluidly though here they are not moving. Though I know that a cloud is not solid it can sure give that impression can’t it? It can appear to be so stable, steady and substantial but as anyone who has flown through a cloud in an airplane and has lived in McLeod Ganj during the monsoon season knows they are far from solid, you can’t even get a hold of it no matter how hard you try. This could be a good simple metaphor for describing the lack of inherent existence (rang bzhin med, asvabhAvatA) wouldn’t it? Ok, enough of that!!

The initial movement of the system started by pouring nice warm wind on us but that changed as night began to fall. I, in a way felt a bit jipped, I am had been punk’d! The three days before that the clime was telling me like, “dude, you will be sleeping in shorts, and not freezin’ yo ass off in your room, etc etc” and Monday it told like me, “Pscyhe! You gullible motherfucker, you still gotz to freezzze biaaacth!” Hey! No fair, I’ve been lied to! Hahaha, JK. In all seriousness, other more reliable signs of the coming spring have already started to manifest, like some of the trees are growing fresh new leaves, though around here only a few trees lose their leaves in the winter. And so this climatic ruse might have fooled me for the moment, I feel that in no time I will be turning on my ceiling fan wearing shorts and sweatin’ my balls off waiting for autumn.

The landscape of the “Presentation of Mind and Awareness” is so far as I can tell is a very strange one indeed. Though on the debate courtyard we are still debating topics from the “Presentation of Signs and Reasonings”, Gen la has been moving rather too quickly through this present realm of study. Though it definitely seems that all of the different presentations our related they are not exactly the same. Even the method of debating them is different. This presentation like the “Presentation of Collected Topics” has a lot of formulations for comparing phenomenon, if you remember the tetralemma and trilemma that are used to compare two phenomena, which I have explained in a previous entry. So for debate, if one is not prepared before hand but has memorized the defining characteristics and the divisions then one can just ask questions working through a tetralemma, trilemma, etc. The “Presentation of Signs and Reasonings” is a whole other monster and tetralemmas and trilemmas are very rarely used in debate.

Anyways, the “Presentation of Mind and Awareness” has some tripped out shit in it for sure and it is very confusing. This study requires the student to look at their daily and normal experiences of the mind and this requires mindfulness. Just to try to provide you with a feeling of what kinds of things we are looking at here, I hope that this is comprehensible for my understanding is low; one day Gen la was talking about a certain consciousness in which he used as an example the snow mountain that appears to an eye consciousness as blue (gangs ri sngon po snang bas mig shes). Luckily we have a huge snow mountain to stare that that puts this statement into a more personal perspective. Anyways, he said that consciousness (shes pa, a) in general, whose defining characteristic is “clear and knowing (gsal zhing rig pa)”, acts a lot like a mirror. Whatever appears in front of it, it simply takes and reflects without any thought or discrimination. But one difference is that although all that appears to the consciousness it receives and takes in without judgment, it does not necessarily apprehend everything or all the aspects. An example will be the computer screen in front of me, it as an object appears in all its aspects but I can not ascertain all of them, like the atoms that make it up though they are appearing. Supposedly, with correct and disciplined meditation one can gain the ability to ascertain many things of such a nature like the subtle impermanence of things.

Obviously the subject and the object are very important and in the “Presentation of Collected Topics” a whole section of reasoning sequences are dedicated solely to subject and object (yul dang yul can) and also obviously more important is cause and effect. And so as Gen la mentioned in the above example, eye consciousness acts without discrimination because it is a consciousness, but could it be through the fault of the eye consciousness that the snow mountain appears to it as blue? He then posited this “Does the white snow mountain appear to the eye consciousness?” We all said yes! If it does so he said, “then it will follow that it does not appear as blue because the white snow mountain appears?” There is a sudden silence as we all sit there scratching our heads. He then asked, “Does that eye consciousness see the snow mountain as blue?” yes we said. “If it sees it as blue then in follows that it necessarily appears as blue because seeing and appearing are synonyms”. If this whole thing does not sound strange or confusing then this possibly might, the word in Tibetan seeing (mthong ba) and appearing (snang ba) are, according to this system mutual inclusive or synonymous. This is not the case in the colloquial language and it might not be viewed so by the other three schools of Tibetan Buddhism. That being said, even within this system which we are studying the meanings of these terms fluctuate between the two depending on the context. A clever challenger might switch between the two meanings of the words in debate and thus render an unknowing defender potentially very confused which is what Gen la did to us to as a pedagogical tool.

But it also brings up an issue; there is an agreement that ‘the snow mountain that appears to an eye consciousness as blue’ is a wrong consciousness (log shes, mithyA-jñAna). But where is it wrong? Is it wrong at the subject’s level, meaning at the eye consciousness or at the object’s level, meaning the snow mountain? Saying that the snow mountain is wrong seems obviously ridiculous but a reasoning sequence similar to the one Gen la used on us could be used to see and check how strong and stable that assertion is within the defender. Consciousness has two divisions: sense consciousness (dbang shes, indriya-jñAna), which eye consciousness falls under and mental consciousness (yid shes, mano-jñAna). Mental consciousness is the realm of thoughts and concepts whereas sense consciousness works in dependence on the world of the senses. Gen la asks, “In order to have a wrong consciousness does there also need to be a mental consciousness?” to which he then posited another classic example of: an eye consciousness that apprehends the horns of a rabbit (ri bong gi rva ‘dzin pa’i mig shes). In this example it is clear that like the snow mountain example that the object would not be at fault. This example implies a person who apprehends the ears of a rabbit and mistakes them to be horns. But is there a difference between this and the above example?

One reason could be that the person apprehending the first example could be wearing blue sunglasses or has a severe eye condition. But with the second example, the aspect of the mental consciousness comes into play. “When the horns of a rabbit are apprehended by an eye consciousness doesn’t it also appear to the mental consciousness?” asked Gen la. In this case wouldn’t the mind be faulty at that time. The apprehension of the horns of a rabbit will not be clear as it is with the eyes. Images that appear to the mind are said to be not clear but fuzzy like looking a something through fog. This also could imply that the image appears to the mind directly before the eye consciousness apprehends it. I know at I have had that similar horns of a rabbit apprehending-like experience, like when I saw someone that looked like a friend of mine and I thought that I saw my friend but it actually was a total stranger. When I think about it, the consciousness that saw my friend must of have been the mind just because I simply thought, ‘oh hey, that is so and so’ and that image of my friend appeared to it and apprehended it, but only to realize that in actuality that I was mistaken. How many of you have had similar experiences? Gen la never gives us the answers, but as he says “leads us through the map of topics to point out the difficulties in traversing certain areas of the terrain”.

One day a student asked Gen la, if we will get any study-time before the exam in two weeks. He said, “Isn’t the two hours of mandatory study-time everyday enough?” We all got nervously still of a second, he then said that he will give us three days before the exam for study-time. I got the say that I was not too happy about that. The class before us always got a full week to prepare before their exams, but I also know that we are behind schedule. Everything that we studied since the first day of the course could be on the exam depending on what ones challenger has prepared for debate while one sit as defender. We all have to prepare a debate as challenger for the exam but as defender one will be clueless, you won’t know who the challenger will be until seconds before ones debate time. I am really happy that I have someone helping me prepare a debate for I probably will be so scarred without it. But still, all those points, defining characteristics, and divisions that I have forgotten for tons of topics from the pass, I will have only three days to review them which seem asinine.

Gen la said that when took his exams back the day, that the HHDL would be there in attendance on the throne looking down on them and they had to debate in front of him. If that would have been me I would have totally “shit a brick!” Back in those days HHDL was younger and his popularity and the demands on his personal time were not like they are now. So he was able to attend these things. I could just imagine Gen la as young monk tearing into a defender. Though he might have sucked in those days, which I seriously doubt, there is no one in our class that can challenge him and some of my classmates have tried only to have failed miserably. I wonder if he was similar the monks in my class who are always shit-talking, joke-cracking, pranking on each other.

After about 6 months, the monks and nuns from the Advanced Hindi Teachers Training course left us this Friday. They will finish the remainder of their course at the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath near Varanasi. They have also been studying some Sanskrit here and they will continue further Sanskrit study at the Sarnath campus. It was very sad to see them go, they were some cool folks. There is no official affiliation between Sarah and Sarnath. The Sarnath School has more to offer as compared to Sarah. They have classes in Hindi, English, Sanskrit and Pali. They have classes in Buddhist philosophy but no debating; they have Tibetan culture classes just like Sarah and they also teach Tibetan medicine. I have some friends who attend there and in fact, one of my classmates was a student there before enrolling in our course. The degree you receive from Sarnath is called an Acharya (slon dpon) equivalent to a Master’s degree which takes 6 to 7 years to complete. They also have a multiple majors were at Sarah they really only have the Bachelor’s in Tibetan culture degree (rig gnas rab jams pa).

The monk from their class, the one who always came to our debates, came to the last few still giving it to us good. He tore into me really well on Thursday night, but I held up better than I did at the beginning and I learn so much from listening to him even if I am not on the receiving end. Yesterday before he split, we held a small function in the temple to give our appreciations and thanks to this monk and he gave some great advice. He has been helping us out a lot. He studies at Sera Je monastery in South India. Although he is not a Geshe he has been studying for 17 years. He told us that when he started as a young neophyte studying the “Presentation of Collected Topics” that there were 300 hundred monks in his class and that now maybe only 60 or 70 monks are left. Though it took them three years to study what we do in one, he said that that might be a better way to go for many did not understand much even after three years in his class, he also said that we are doing pretty good giving some praises to one of our exceptional students. He said that many of them when they started were not very serious and he took several leaves of absences saying that he held the record in his class for take the longest. This monk is from Ladakh and a village mate of his who is studying at IBD asked him if he could help our philosophy class on the path of reasoning and so that is how he came to be involved with us. We had tea and snacks together and our class made an offering to him for all the help that he has provided us. The advice that he gave us was really inspiring and it forced us to think about the reasons and our intentions for undertaking this study. Many do it so that they can be called a great scholar, but really what does being a great scholar really mean.

He told this story: back in antiquity there was a famous South Indian Buddhist monk who was renowned throughout the land for being extremely learned. One day he runs into a simple villager by a beach that recognizes the scholar. The villager asked him, “So you are a great scholar (mkhas pa, paNDita)?” to which the monk replied, “Yes”. “Are you a scholar in swimming? I am! I can swim all the way to that island you see out there in the sea and back” said the villager. “No” replied the monk. “Hmmm….Well, are you a scholar of house building or agriculture? I am!” “No” replied the monk again. “Well how can you call yourself a great scholar? Even if you know one thing very well but are ignorant of most things you can’t call yourself a great scholar. Only and only when one has achieve liberation from cyclic existence can one truly call themselves a great scholar”, said the villager. To this the monk realized the truth and power to the words spoken by this simple villager. So through this story the monk told us, doing this only to be recognized as a scholar is pointless and should not the goal, in short “Keep yo’ eyes on the prize.” I am going to miss this monk and his other classmates and I know that I am not the only one; I hope all best for all of them at Sarnath and beyond and hope to cross paths again to the future.

Lastly, last night being of course the Friday before the second Saturday of the month, we had an all-night debate, though when I think about it, the name all-night debate is misleading as you may already know. In Tibetan it is too misleading. It is called a tshe me damja (tshad med dam bca’) which if translated directly comes out a measureless thesis or proposition; measureless here referring to time since these debates go on for hours instead of the usual hour and a half. But it is measured for we debate for up to 5 hours. But I saw something somewhere that there is a particular measure for the three immeasurable countless eons (bskal pa grangs med gsum, trikalpAsaMkhyeya)! How can that be? It is just one of those things that will probably never make sense to me.

So we had our all-night debate and for preparations, one of our classmates asked the Ladakhi monk for suggestions on making debates because none of us have a clue how to do so and he told us that what they do in his monastery is to take the group in to the middle of woods. Each member brings a doubt and everyone takes turns as defender while the rest challenge as a group until the debate becomes smooth. So we tried that, one group went to the classroom, one stayed in the temple and we went to the courtyard but it did not go according to plan though we had some excited and hilariously impromptu debates. Nevertheless, that night all the debates where really hot and intense, all the groups debated topics from the “Presentation of Sign and Reasonings” and the tension in the temple that night was thick but also with these things there are tons of tensions breakers too.

I noticed that as a group we are getting more accustomed to everyone debate style as defenders and as challengers. I have been very keen on this observation but I am still struggling on how to describe the various styles that I witness daily, the way a one person face crinkles when they are thinking, the look of the eyes when deep in thought or when they think that they have gotten you cornered and many other more subtle moments that occur. Especially so as a challenger, everyone has their style which is like a fingerprint, none are the same, and they too vary as the intensity of the debate goes along, with some becoming more and more dynamic in their movements. When the debates get über intense like they did last night I can not help but laugh my ass off for some reason. Still though, my favorite part about all-night debates is the food, the cooks hooked up some dank ass thenthuk for us that was just ‘ugh!’ We all sit together and enjoy each others company whereas before we took food together it looked like everyone was about to kill each other. This is an interesting thing about this course, though emotions get intense so far not one takes it to heart and I think that if this class was all Americans instead that fights would have broken out and egos damaged long ago.


P.S. If you are interested in looking further into the “Presentation of Mind and Awareness”, I recommend that you look at “Mind in Tibetan Buddhism” by Lati Rinbochay Translated by Elizabeth Napper. The text that we memorize is translated there with additional commentary.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Silly Rabbit Trix are for Kids!

This week seems to have been one of transitions all around the world. Thursday brought many Asian nations into the year of the Rabbit. Silly rabbit, trix are for kids! My classmates from these respective countries, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam showered us with treats galore, it felt like Christmas, well not really but close enough. I learnt and forgot how to say Happy New Year in three different Asian languages. I could tell that they must have missed being at home for these times. The Tibetan New Year is just around the corner, the Iron Hare year, but I am sure that it is not the same.

As the main Election Day for the Tibetan exile community comes looming on the horizon, one of the candidates running for the Kalon Tripa (Chief Executive Position) Tethong Tenzin Namgyal gave a speech on Monday in Tibetan for the general campus audience and in English for the study aboard students. It was my first time seeing anything of the sort, like a politician running for office laying down why he or she is doing so and why anyone should vote for them, campaigns for school president clearly don’t count. Back at home when folks run for these kinds of things one only sees them on the tube but rarely gets the chance to see how they are like in the flesh. I remember in college on two separate occasions when I attended impromptu discussions with Ralph Nader and Angela Davis but that was long after they had ran and lost for whatever offices they were running for.

This candidate was just as far as I could see an average middle-aged Tibetan guy, most particularly for the fact that he was very humble which is what I mean by average. Putting yourself out there can be seen as a bit uncouth around here, but still I guess that coming for the Amerilandia one expects a politician to be full of pompous snazz and bullshit rhetoric. This fellow seemed very honest and he seemed to me that he understands the Tibetan political situation very well. His experience is all across the board from day one which is undisputable and quite impressive but does that mean that he will make a good leader for the Tibetan people? I definitely do not possess the wisdom to know so. I have not been able to follow too closely with the election, beside what I heard from the rumor mill.

The other top candidate Dr.Lobsang Sengay seems to be really popular. I have read some of his articles, an intelligent, ambitious young man, no doubt. I wonder if he will come to Sarah and give his spiel now that Tethong la spoke here. If he comes I would be interested in hearing what he has to say now that I have heard the other guy. I know that he is popular because he’s got a Harvard law degree, at least that what many students that I know who support him have told me, I am sure that he must have other redeemable qualities suitable for the position besides that he went to Harvard Law School. Just because one graduated from an Ivy League school don’t mean dick about being a good and effective leader. George W. Bush graduated from Yale woopdy fucking doo and look how far that brought us. When there is trouble don’t call G.W!

It appears that the raid on the HHK home at Gyüto Monastery in Sidhbari has taken the Tibetan exile community by shock. The Indian media, from what I hear from the students, has been throwing all kinds of allegations to HHK about being a Chinese spy with no evidence what so ever. It seems to me that an anthill was turned into a mountain, if it would have happened to some zero no media and no sensationalist bullshit would have transpired. The community seems to have taken it to heart though and candlelight vigils and protest marches were held in support of HHK. My classmates wanted to go on Tuesday but Gen la said that we have too much to cover in class especially with the exam coming soon, if it was any other time it wouldn’t have been a problem. Many of students from the other classes went though and Sarah was almost a ghost town that day. Us, foreign students have to be really careful about participating in these kinds of things. I have no qualms about going to a protest march demonstrating against the P.R.C. but this one having a more local feel to it and directed towards the Indian law enforcement made me feel uneasy, partly because my stay in India as a foreign student could be liquidated since such act could be seen as directed towards India. Also it is the Superintendent of Police that has to stamp my registration permit. Though I might just be paranoid, it is better to be safe than sorry.

I think that this issue has other deeper concerns too, like Tibetan stability within India. I seriously cannot think of any other country in the world that would do to another group people what the Government of India has done for the Tibetans. It is quite amazing, this actually could, I might risk saying, be the reason why Tibet and its heritage was not totally wiped off the map and the minds of the globally conscious around the world. They totally allowed them to set up shop, their own schools, businesses, government, religious institutions, etc. Most of this was probably due to Pandit Nehru though there are other issues on that front. Though they live in India, Tibetans have their own gig almost totally independent, in an insular fashion, from India as far as living is considered. I say almost because at times they do clash and it is not always pretty. I remember when I first came to Dharamshala in ’05 and I was talking with the director of the NGO that I was volunteering for and he told me, “You know, we have been here for more than 50 years now and though I am totally grateful for all that the Indian Government has done for us Tibetan people, I still wonder how much longer they will put up with us?” That gave me a lot of food for thought. Some students asked Tethong la how stable and protected are the Tibetans in India? Especially after HHDL finally passes to the other side what then? Thus obviously it is a thought that is out there. Also it seems that the negative media that the Tibetans are experiencing could be touching that extremely sensitive but worrisome spot.

On Thursday, Gen la finished the “Presentation of Signs and Reasonings” and Friday started the “Presentation of Mind and Awareness” (blo rig) an introduction into Buddhist psychology so to say. Again, Gen la jokingly said that we will be entering new territory but I am still lost in the land of signs and reasonings and I am screaming like a corn-fed Offie, “Heeeey yooooou, Guuuyyys wait up! But there is not too much that I can really do about it. Ergo since the exam is on the way, I have been focusing on finishing the memorization of the main “Presentation of Signs and Reasonings” text; I had about two/ thirds done at the beginning of the week and know I am almost to the middle. I have been using the mandatory study time from 2 to 4pm for downloading plus about an hour from 4 to 5pm. So since about Tuesday I have been doing 3 hours of downloading a day, which is über intense. But I have made some serious head way and at this rate I could be done with it before the exam.

The text that we are using for studying the “Presentation of Mind and Awareness” was written by the founder of I.B.D. and Sarah College, Lobsang Gyatso a.k.a Gen Dampa. The full title of his text is the “Compendium of the Important Points in the Presentation of Types of Awareness, [an Internal Division of ] the Greater Path of Reasoning” (rigs lam che ba blo rigs kyi rnam gzhag nye mkho kun btus), gotta love these long winded Tibetan titles. After the exam I should have more time to focus on this topic, but since we are behind schedule I have a feeling that Gen la will be going through the text rather rapidly.

I have had a small mystery on my hands or just a lucky accident. I had exhausted all but ten of my cell phone minutes last week and one day after lunch I find a text saying at my phone was recharged. No doubt I was extremely happy that my phone was recharged on minutes, but I could not for the life of me figure out who the hell would have done it. I asked all my friends and none of them did it and so it must have been an accident. Though the chances are highly unlikely that just might be the case, I could possibly be that anomaly where some stranger whose phone number is close to mine but who got it incorrect on their side and correct on my side thus causing my phone to be recharge. Shit, I definitely can’t complain though I hardly use my phone any old how besides as a calculator or for telling the time. Sometimes I go weeks without a receiving a single call or text, beside spam.

In the same vein, this week has been one of gifts at least for me; I have gotten more gifts this week than I have received in a very long time. It is a huge mystery to me, they have come from various different sources, and maybe it is in the stars or something. I know, it is such a lame excuse, right! For it is nothing of my own doing, for I always tend to think if I deserve it and my answer is more positively no! I have been a zero all my life and will probably leave this body as one, which is both comforting and very scary at the same time. Regardless, I am extremely touched almost to tears by all these seemingly random gift giving acts, my appreciation knows no bounds.

For the past couple of days the sounds of drums, trumpets and bhangra music have been filling the airs in and around Sarah. The weather has made a tremendous change, just last week I was in four layers of clothes plus a down coat and since about Wednesday I have been slowly peeling off the layers. Thursday morning was the first morning this year that I realized that the sun is started to shine in my room. My first waking sight that morning, interestingly after they had been in my dream that prior night, was streaks of rainbow light shining on the wall above my bed. I have hanging in front of my window two crystal balls that emit rainbows when the sun shines on them. It was a most happy and welcomed sight for sure. A good sign I hope.

A wedding seems to have been going on for the pass two or three days and it might have been more than one. Last night I saw two sets of lights, one more nearby and another, a ways across the ravine. The mixed sound of canned and live music mixed in my ear drums. As I was studying last night the unmistakable dirty, boom, cha boom cha of a reggaeton beat reached my ears. At first I thought that it must of have been a mistake, an audial hallucination, but I stepped out on the veranda and sho’ nuff, Daddy Yankee was blasting from the wedding up the road. I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard, “¡Dame mas gasolina!” blurted all around Sarah. Even though the dancing at Indian weddings are very lively, they tend to be gender segregated. So I knew that the possibility of any perrero happening at that party was nil, no “Dale duro, dame duro papi dame mas duro”, oh well, a bro can still dream right. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with a lil’ perrero very now and then right, playing off of R. Kelly. Anyhow, I think I have exhausted myself for this Saturday. I am happy for the heat, sunlight and rainbow.


P.S. Though I have not been able to get the full news, the revolution that seems to be happening all over the Arab world should have your attention if it doesn’t already. Why? I dunno. I find to the whole thing most interesting. Freedom ain’t goin’ come ‘til ya regulate it!