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Taking the North Country to Northern India
Education, Secular and Religious: October 18, 2004
Last week my days consisted mainly of massage class, "tutoring" a different nun everyday, and the occasional Hindi class. Massage class is interesting because our teacher is from Tibet and he told us about his life. He walked to India over the Himalayas and then walked back to Tibet to see his family. He told us that when he went back, he started talking to some people from the West, but was told to stop talking with them because a police officer was coming. I would love to go to Tibet someday but not while the Chinese are there.
I don't think it would be the real Tibet. Our instructor explained that in Tibet, the natives aren't allowed to talk with people from the West. Westerners get special guides who explain the "history" of Tibet, but only say what the Chinese government wants them to say. I don't know, it's really sad, because their entire way of life is slowly being wiped away on what was once their own land. Anyway, that's an entire conversation for later...see that documentary.
My nun tutoring is going well; it's just that I'm not really teaching any English. The first day I went, my nun forgot to show up. I talked to her roommate the whole time. The next time my nun was there, but she told me she just wanted to talk. I really enjoy it but i feel like i'm not really teaching her anything. The next day she had taken a special leave so I spent the time talking to her roommate next door. It's fun talking to the nuns because sometimes they'll say something I don't understand and then they'll cover their mouths and start giggling...it's wicked funny.
We went to the movie theater on Wednesday to see an educational movie about Tibet, but none were playing, so we watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. At least I tried to watch it, but I was too busy reading the subtitles. Even though the movie was in English, they played English subtitles, and it was hilarious because the dialogue in the movie totally didn't match up with what the subtitles said. :)
On Friday I went to an ashtanga yoga class with friends because everyone was talking about how insane the instructor was. The class was fun. but kind of hard. The best part was just watching the little man. He has got to be the skinnest guy I have ever seen. He's old, but in amazing shape, and nothing but bone and muscle. He could get into these crazy yoga positions and then he would say, " If that's too easy, do this," and then he would throw his legs up over his head and do some even crazier yoga position. It was great!
On Saturday we went down to Dharmsala to see the Karmapa, and it was quite the adventure. In order to get out of Mcleod Ganj, we all piled into two taxis and rode down the the mountain to a bus stop. It wasn't a normal taxi ride. The road was a pretty narrow dirt road, and there were workers on the sides moving rocks and stuff. To complete the picture, throw in high speed on-coming trucks and an insane taxi driver who went really fast down the mountain with its switchbacks and potholes, and you've got one hell of a ride. What made it even better was the funky Indian music playing on the radio. It was like a rollercoaster ride but without the safety features :). I would seriously pay money just to have a ride down the mountain, 'cause it was so much fun...but a little scary :)
Here is a brief account of what I know about the Buddhism hierarchy. The dalai lama is the main spiritual leader. Buddhists believe that he is the reincarnation of the buddha of compassion. Below the Dalai Lama is the Panchen Lama. In about 1992 the current Dalai Lama said he found the next Panchen Lama, a six-year-old boy from a little town. A few days later, the boy and his entire family went missing. He is being held somewhere in China, but the Chinese have refused to let anyone see him. I think now he's about 11 or so, and he is considered the youngest political prisoner in the world. A few years after he went missing, the Chinese government said they had found "the real" Panchen Lama and appointed this other little child the Panchen Lama. The problem with all of this, besides the fact that they kidnapped a child, is that when the Dalai lLama dies, the Panchen Lama is in charge and helps to appoint the next Dalai Lama. When the current Dalai Lama dies, there are going to be some serious problems.
Our group went to Dharmsala to see the Karmapa, the third highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism. I wish I could tell you about him, but I really don't know anything other than he is only about 20 years old. On Wednesday we might see a video about his life, so hopefully I can tell you more later. We went to this monastary, and after getting our passports checked, we went into a temple with a bunch of other people. When we sat down, a recording of his teachings was playing. I really didn't listen because i wasn't sure what it was, but I wish I had. Usually the Karmpa does his teaching with a translator, but today the translator wasn't there. It turned out his teaching was the recording with the English translation, so I missed it.
After the Karmpa appeared, everyone stood up and started bowing down and doing a Buddhist prayer ritual. Then we all sat while he chanted for a little while. Next we all got in line to receive a blessing. None of us really knew what we were doing, but it was pretty easy to catch on. Autumn, one of our trip leaders, had given each of us a silk scarf. We handed the scarf to a monk who would place it over our shoulders. Then we walked up to where the Karmapa was sitting and bowed down. He handed each person a little red string with a knot in the middle which represented part of his blessing. I didn't really know what was going on or what to expect. It seemed like it all happened really fast, but it was interesting all the same.
Oh, I have more to say about a monk from Afghanistan and my sister's religious Barbie, and I have little tidbits to say in response to all of your e-mails but I'll have to talk about it later...I gotta go meet people at this little restaurant called Gawki. It has the best Tibetan bread...so yeah, I'll definitely write more later.
2004 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475