Sunday, July 31, 2005

Dharamsala (Day 22)

We woke up early, and went to meet with Mr. Naga. He was a new hire of AIIS, and is working for the library of the Tibetan government (not the gov't itself). His niece was the desk attendant at our hotel (Hotel Tibet), coincidentally enough, so he met us there. We then walked to a coffee shop in the rain to have chai and chat. Mr. Naga, as we would soon learn, spoke English, Hindi, and Tibetan fluently. He was also a historian of sorts. Basically, he was the ultimate tour guide. He told us about the four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism: Nyingma, Kargyue, Sakya, and Gelugpa. While the original master's were just teachers in the main line, their followers picked up these titles over time. After tea, we headed to the Dalai Lama's temple!

The Dalai Lama arrived in India in 1959, and the Tibetan government settled in McLeod Ganj in the 60s. With Nehru as Prime Minister at the time, the area was ceded to the government in exile because it's cold, hilly terrain was similar to that of Tibet. Travellers from all over the world will come to stay for days, months, or years. If they stay long enough and can convince their home country, they can actually even get the little green book required for Tibetan citizenry.

The Dalai Lama had just left, so we did not see him at any time. We did, however, meet many monks, and visited the rooms of the Lama and the oracle (Tibetan society believes in state and national oracles that can be possessed and used as a conduit when need be). Mr. Naga explained that our presence there, according to a Buddhist, was made to hopic by a karmic connection, and that nothing happens without some Buddhist cause. He also said that Buddhists believe that if you are very intelligent, you rise above all religions, and become a true philosophers.

The first temple looks like what we see on tv. It was red, with lots of ornate decoration, and big bald gold statues (Buddhas) all over. There were big metal wheels that you spun with your hand when you walked by, called "mani," or prayer wheels. Truning them earns the merit equal to recitations of the mantras printed on the wheel. There were a lot of these in and around the complex. Inside, a large gold Buddha sat in a chair at the head of the complex. On a sign next to him, a sign read "Never commit any evil deeds, accumulate a wealth of merits, completely tame one's own mind...this is the teaching of the Buddha." Everywhere in the complex were small butter lamps, which are burned in offering to the Buddha. Some of these lamps have the ligght fan lamps above them, that spin with the rising of the heat. Also in the room were offering trays. People would offer money sometimes, but also packaged food, and other things that seemed odd to me. When I asked Mr. Naga about this, he explained that what one is giving is not of importance. It is the gesture and the personal significance of giving that appeases the Buddha. He told the story of a young boy who once came to make an offering, and dropped a pile of sand at the alter. Although this gift had no practical use, it was all the boy had to give, and he had given it generously and willingly, and thus the Buddha was joyful. The thou8ght mprocess behind that intrigued me.

After checking out the temple, we headed out and started hiking down a small shale path around the side of the hill. As we walked, Lee and I began to sing. "We'll be yelling rade rade when we come. We'll be yelling Bom Bolay when we come. We'll be yelling Namaste, we'll be yelling hari krishna, we'll be yelling Kaje Rade when she comes!" It was hilarious. At one point, someone made the comment that water doesn't flow uphill, to which I responded, "unless you turn the hill over." At the time it was really funny also, but I think it loses something in transcription.

In due time, we arrived at the Tibetan Library where Mr. Naga works. (On the way over, we passed a basketball court!). We went upstairs and took our seats, and soon after a Tibetan Buddhist monk and translator arrived. We were sitting in on a one-hour philosophy lecture. I quickly made count: the ratio was 38 white people to 8 asians, which I found sort of disconcerting. Nonetheless, the lecture was very good. Upon the Monk's entrance, everyone stood up and bowed, then sang a ten minute chant/song. We were attending the third lecture in a series on the third stage of the Bodhisattva, which discussed the "perfection of giving." The monk, in his low, gravelly voice, told us that the Bodhisattva awakens into a Buddha-field, and attempts to awaken other minds so that they all may escape cyclical existence. They approach this noble goal through the perfection of ten stages. The art of giving means to give selflessly of oneself, as there are no such things as personal possessions. The Buddha-to-be is even willing to give of his flesh if it betters the lives of those around him. The lecture was very educational, even though one guy decided to try to argue with the 80-year old monk on basic principles of Buddhism and essentially wasted the last 20 minutes of the period. After that, everyone sang/chanted again, bowed to keep their head below the level of the monk's (I figured this out by the second time around...oops!), and awaited his exit.

We went back downstairs to rejoin Mr. Naga, and he took us back upstairs to a small museum. We saw a miniature version of the Lhasa Tsuglag Khang (the name of the Dalai Lama's temple, both here and in Tibet). We saw many artifacts, and sand art. Our teacher was there as well, along with some other monks. We greeted them, and them us. They took special interest in Lee's belt buckle, which had a large turquoise amulet on it. We would think of it as very country, but the monks have a special affinity for turquoise, I guess. After this, we headed downstairs and into a room for library employees only. Here, we were shown the original writings of the Tibetan Buddhists, along with many writings that had been written since. This is not something most people get to see, and we felt especially honored when they took out one of the original bindings, opened it's cloth cover, and let us touch the paper. There were two types: one that is thick like a card stock, and another that is strong but thin, and doesn't get wrinkles when folded. The symbols on them were illegible to me, but I still felt like I was viewing something of great importance. It was, in short, hecka cool. Mr. Naga informed us that these were holy scriptures, and that there were 108 volumes with block prints on paper (minus the ones from Tibetan, which were hand-scripted). They were wrapped in different colors of cloth, which roughly categorized them to the lineages of Buddhism (but not exactly). Yellow was Gelugpa, red was Nyingma and kkargyue, orange were the sort of scattered, and blue were part of the "bonbo texts." Bonbo refers to the Tibetan (as opposed to Buddhist - these aren't strictly religious texts) writings. The library was thus very colorful, and the scripts were very old and important. I was amazed when they gave Maria the OK to take pictures.

We then headed out, cutting through and around buildings in the complex on our way to the temple donated to the Dalai Lama when he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. As we arrived, we saw the bus taking off, and we had to jump onto the MOVING BUS! We all made it fine, though, and were on our way. Bus rides costs RS5, or roughly 10¢, and the bus travels all the way to a distant town of Manila. AT on stop, I made eye contact with a gorgeous girl sitting in a room on the side of the room. We had that kind of connection that is hard to break, and both looked away only to look back. I notice it because I will never forget her eyes. Sadly, I will never see them again...

Anyway, we shortly arrived at the Gyoto Ramoche temple. The first thing we did was headed to a restaurant where some monks were eating (meat, no less - though it is not looked well upon, Buddhism is not ascetic and strict - but more of a guiding principle). Mr. Naga explained to us that the monks take turns running the tempple, the restaurant, and other enterprises. We sat down to order, and Mr. Naga explained the difference between chow mein (noodles) and tugba (noodles sans soup). I ordered Chow Mein, and also some momos (meat-filled dumplings) for the table as appetizers. While we were waiting, Mr. Naga explained that the original Buddha had a wife and children before becoming a religious leader - but that other monks do not marry. He said anyone can become a monk, as long as they have a sense of pronunciation of earthly rights and ownings, and are willing to dedicate themselves to the teachings of the Buddha. Still, it is awkward for older or already-married men to start training, and thus it is very rare that these things happen.

When our food arrived, all hell broke loose. Yovindar (who had been bitches about how hot it was, and how he didn't want to walk any more, and just generally crying all day) had been served a meat dish. Not that it matters, but he did order it of his own accord. Still, he felt the need to produce a picture from his wallet of a Hindu image, and decry to all "THIS MY GOD!" Mr. Naga quickly defused the situation by saying that he would eat Yovindar's meal, and that Yovindar could order another. When that plate of food arrived, Yovindar declared that it also had meat in it, and it took the cook and Mr. Naga quick some time to convince him that it was, indeed, a vegetarian meal. Whatever. My chow mein was -awesome.-

After lunch, we headed up into the temple area. Along the path, there were small apartment complexes on each side. They didn't have doors. There were monks sitting and conversing outside. We headed up to the temple, and after removing our shoes, headed in. There were many, many images of Buddhas here, along with offerings and a gigantic image. Mr. Naga and I had bought white scarves, which we wrapped around a pole in front of the image as an offering. Next to the Buddha, there were mean-looking images. Buddha believes in wrathful deities, and includes them to highlight the calm and peacful nature of the Buddha. We viewed them all, and I was again surprised when we got the go-ahead to take pictures. After spending about 15 minutes just taking it all in, we headed out.

We jumped on a return bus, and this time I was sitting behind a cute little boy and his parents. He kept turning around to look at Tony and I, so I said "Op kanam kia hey?," which means what is your name? He answered, and his mom turned around with a huge smile. I made small talk with the young boy until we got off on our stop, and the mother was absolutely riveted. I don't think the dad took well to it, though... It was on this same bus ride that I made a humorous comment to Tony (which he subsequently stole and used as the headline of one of his posts (the bastard!)): An AmerIndian, a Hawaiian, 2 white guys, an Indian and a Tibetan walk into a Buddhist monastery..."

The next stop was at the Norbulingka Institute, where the Tibetan environment has been simulated. There were streams, rock paths, prayer flags, bridges, small pools of water, and tibetan-looking buildings. Inside them was a museum and a small store. It was a very interesting area. Deeper inside, we found large, open prayer area with large image, and a library with scripts similar to those we had been shown before. We were also taken to a back room where monks study and train. The large shelf of books were written in Tibetan (which is, by the way, phonetic), but a smaller shelf had books in English. Here are some of the titles I scribbled down in a hurry:

Putting People First - Governor Bill Clinton and Senator Al Gore
Java 2
Windows 95
Pagemaker 6.5
Schindler's List
Professional Journalism

We left this complex, and started walking back in the direction of the bus. Along the way, Yovindar started whining AGAIN. The next taxi that drove past us, he nabbed. While I was surprised to find a taxi out on this little country road, I wasn't all that opposed to just getting a ride back and not dealing with walking and buses. After all, we had walked a lot that day!

When we got home, I took a short nap. When I awoke, Maria, Lee, Tony and I headed out on the town. We did a little shopping, ran into Mr. Naga at a cafe, and then stepped into the "friends cafe" when it started raining. We ended up having about a 2-hour political discussion while drinking banana lassis, lichi juice, and waiting out the rain. When it finally died down, Lee and I did a bit more shopping, then went back to our place. My laundry was still pretty much soaking, so I adjusted it, wrung it, and did everything I could to aid it in drying (to no avail). I wanted to take a hot shower, but the water heater would not turn on. I got a stafer to come help me, and he revealed that the water heaters were set up on a fuse, and where the control box was. After saying "thorry" numerous times, he went back to working. With a hot shower in my sights, I went about cleaning my room and packing. 20 minutes later, I took a hot shower, then hit the lights and went to bed.

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