The travelogue from our busy week: October 1-7

by Olivia Jean Marshburn-Ersek

This was taken when we visited the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. Everyone (men and women) covered their heads.

This was taken when we visited the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. Everyone (men and women) covered their heads.

October 1-7 was the Body, Mind, and Life conference held at a nearby Tibetan hospital. We

listened to speakers from different medical/psychological traditions: Tibetan Buddhist, Indian Ayurveda, the version of Ayurveda from south India (Sidda), a traditional Muslim system (Unani), Chinese (Buddhists from Taiwan), and modern western psychology. Most of the information was new to me, though I had heard of the idea that what’s going on in the mind affects the body, especially when a person is under stress.

On a walk back to Bir from a monastery, Max crosses paths with an Indian man carrying grass which will become hay to feed his cows.

On a walk back to Bir from a monastery, Max crosses paths with an Indian man carrying grass which will become hay to feed his cows.

Directly after the conference, we began our four day pilgrimage trip. We stayed within a five hour drive of Sarah College, within Himachal Pradesh, the Indian state we’re living in. The scenery was beautiful, all in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is where rice fields meet boulder-strewn rivers and pine forests. Our first stop was Bir, a Tibetan refugee settlement sponsored by the Indian government. We visited monasteries in the area, including one where the teenage and young adult monks were performing a chanting ritual with instruments that sounded similar to gongs and horns. I love the sound that they created—it was dramatic, a little scary sounding, and made us feel like we’d been transported to another world. Inside the settlement, we saw people’s houses, a small noodle factory, and a shop where prayer and Tibetan flags were being made. We ate delicious Tibetan food, at times, throughout this trip, including momos (dumplings stuffed with meat or veggies) and thenthuk (soup with chewy flat noodles and broth).

Women sew prayer flags inside a shop at the Bir settlement

Women sew prayer flags inside a shop at the Bir settlement

The second destination was Tso Pema, which means Lake Pema, in the town of Rewalsar. Guru Rinpoche, who brought the form of Buddhism Tibet has followed for many centuries (tantric/Vajrayana) to Tibet, is believed to have lived in a cave above the lake for some time. We visited this cave and meditated there for a short time. We also visited two temples to see the intricate, colorful artwork inside. One type of art you see inside these temples is sculptures made of pure colored butter. They are made of butter because it does not last long, expressing the important Buddhist idea of impermanence.

A view of the lake, Tso Pema. Above is an enormous new statue of Guru Rinpoche, above a temple.

A view of the lake, Tso Pema. Above is an enormous new statue of Guru Rinpoche, above a temple.

I was excited to return to Sarah College to relax and spend with my roommate. As I grow older, my motivation to see new places has diminished quite a bit. I would rather become a part of the place I am, deeply. This is beginning to happen in Dharamsala. We will be at Sarah until October 18, when we move to McLeod Ganj for the remainder of the program. We will stay with host families there for the first three weeks of this time.

A butter lamp, one of the most beautiful I have seen. I believe the image is a female deity, someone Buddhists are supposed to look up to when they seek to be compassionate.

A butter lamp, one of the most beautiful I have seen. I believe the image is a female deity, someone Buddhists are supposed to look up to when they seek to be compassionate.

Olivia’s Reflections

by Olivia Jean Marshburn-Ersek

Olivia by a waterfall in the Himalayan foothills above Dharamsala

Olivia by a waterfall in the Himalayan foothills above Dharamsala

While Silas (also an Earlham student) and I traveled on the airplane to Delhi in late August, I was more sad than I thought I would be. Over the past two years, I have been living uncommitted, traveling from place to place. I’ve spent time at home, living at farms in Maine, with family in California, an EcoVillage in Arizona (Avalon Organic Gardens), at Earlham, at a Zen Buddhist Center in Detroit, and now in India. You could also say I have trouble accepting the idea that home is not so much a place but a state of mind, an idea that fits in with Buddhist philosophy. Now that I have been here 7 weeks, I feel relatively comfortable. I have gotten to know the other Earlham students quite well and learned a lot from my interactions with Tibetan students at Sarah College.

Speaking of this, toward the beginning of our stay at Sarah College, I had a conversation with Silas and a Tibetan student named Tenzin. We all agreed that in religion, it is good to learn from both east and west in order to maintain a balance. Tenzin has observed in his life that while Easterners may not think highly enough of themselves, Westerners disguise their problems with material things. We had some trouble communicating because of language difference, but overall I enjoyed it. Another meaningful interaction was with my roommate, a nun from the Himalayan region of India. I learned how she grew up raising animals and farming, how this work was very difficult, and how the lifestyle prevented her from getting a modern education. This put a new spin on my interest in organic farming and gardening. I had not considered how my own cultural attitudes might factor into my love of farming.

Sarah's farewell candlelight dinner with all the students and their roommates

Sarah’s farewell candlelight dinner with all the students and their roommates

I will share a poem about my experience attending His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s public teaching during the end of September.

 “Medicine”

A Tibetan woman offers a
Triangle of space in this
Ocean of people, next to
Four European spectators with
Legs outstretched to
Claim impermanent land. All
Rise, hope the Dalai Lama’s
Smiling eyes reach theirs,
On his march to the temple.

My body weak, stomach
Fiery, ears hook to his call for
Self-confidence,
Courage to love me, love
Brothers and sisters.
No-self is to not scold
Yesterday’s brain for eating
Tough cabbage that
Spoiled my stomach, or put
Smoke in my eyes,
Plugs in my ears when my
Friends speak.

For hours, he analyzes
Emptiness, stacking
Bricks of logic into a
Comfortable house, the
Shelter Zen
Stomps on in one
Clap!
Of the stick.

My mind empties in the
Vegetable garden or on a
Forest path, picking
Blackberries: My Zen
“Working meditation,”
Prayer to God.

The brightest teaching of
His Holiness, for me: There are
Many medicines for the
Ailment of human suffering.

In the second stanza, “no-self” refers to the Buddhism concept of no-self. In the third stanza “the stickrefers to the stick in Korean Zen that is hit on the hand, floor, or a meditator’s shoulder (not done in the United States), making a loud clapping noise. It is so startling that it is not possible to think during that instant. It was used at the Zen Center in Detroit where I stayed. I wrote in italics in the last stanza because it is my paraphrase of something the Dalai Lama said.

Students meeting their Tibetan host families for the first time, at the IBD institute in Mc Leod Ganj

Students meeting their Tibetan host families for the first time, at the IBD institute in Mc Leod Ganj

What Exists Here?

by Jensen Pennock

Jensen's having one-one conversation sessions with one of the roommates, at Sarah College

Jensen having one-one conversation sessions with one of the roommates, at Sarah College

Ceiling covered in flickering pin pricks of light
Walls made of stone and dirt
Surrounded by clouds
Floating above the world

Majestic mountains tower overhead
Eyes trained in front of me
Stopping to bask in the sunlight
Then marching ahead to the beat of my heart

This world is so vast
Difficult to comprehend its complexities
Yet standing within its beauty
I feel so connected

So much mystery
In these mossy rocks
And cloud covered valleys
Magic must exist here

I wrote this poem after a weekend trip of hiking around the foothills of the Himalayas. Poetry isn’t something that I have written very much of, but it seemed like the best way to capture the feelings and ideas that arose from this trip. We hiked around three hours (I think) uphill to get to a beautiful site called Triund. Some of us continued to go higher after a while and some of us decided to head back down. I was in the group that headed down, and this poem was inspired a lot by the mystical feeling of walking down the steep, rocky trail surrounded by clouds. The entire experience was very mystical and allowed a lot of us to have an amazing shared experience (and the rest of the group that hiked farther up had a bonding experience when there was an intense storm on their way down). All of the experiences that we are having here in India are inspiring and life changing, but this was special. Like the end of the poem says, it truly felt magical.

Chilling at Triund

Chilling at Triund

Samsara and Impermanence

by Ali eddy

Ali and Emma on the back of a cycle rickshaw, on the way to MT (Tibetan Colony in Delhi)

Ali and Emma on the back of a cycle rickshaw, on the way to MT (Tibetan Colony in Delhi)

The cycle of samsara we have been learning about in class, which is the Buddhist idea of sentient beings’ circle of life and death, suffering and yearning for happiness and how nothing is permanent, continually reminds me of the movement of time, and impermanence. The idea of impermanence can often be taken negatively. Thoughts can often be that of: if it is going to change, end, go away (etc.) why should I even care, why should anyone. Samsara I think makes this negative outlook, a positive, beautiful thing. First, samsara pushes me to appreciate each experience and opportunity I encounter. If it’s a positive experience, the concept of samsara teaches me to appreciate that experience even more, because I know it will, like all things in samsara, eventually end. This way, instead of going about each day allowing things to pass without any thought, there is a chance to see the beauty of an event, or feeling. If you know you will always have, or feel something you may allow your self to take it for granted. However, by realizing a feeling, or experience is only passing through, you can cherish the time that it is there more. Secondly, in the same way the idea of samsara helps me appreciate all the positive things that occur, it also helps me to understand and accept anything negative. If everything is impermanent, than a bad feeling, experience, or event will too eventually leave and move on its way somewhere else; changing and evolving.

The suffering I may experience from a negative event or feeling can be something I either decide to take in and throw back as more negativity, or absorb that suffering and from that produce a positive reaction. It is very hard for me some of the time to do that, but if I do, the negative experience is something I can appreciate more, as apart of the molding of me, and something I can take to move forward with and use as a lesson.

Chilling at Snow Line, the last camp before walking back down the hill

Ali Chilling at Snow Line, the last camp before walking back down the hill

Since arriving in India, I have been faced with experiences that are all apart of my changing consciousness that as the earth always turns around the sun, never ceases to move. The most recent example of a very tangible form of impermanence and samsara was last weekend. We went to climb a mountain right out side of McLeod Ganj. We left early in the morning, with the day sunny and the skies clear. It was a beautiful hike up out of the valley, to see the higher mountains above and have a chance to spend some time with nature. As is typical in the mountains, as the day goes on, clouds tend to build and rain can be unpredictable. None of us however brought our handy dandy rain jackets. After lunch, the clouds had come in, but we continued to trust that it would not rain. Some of us decided to hike a little further to another teashop in the mountain. It was a beautiful extra hour or so of walking and a beautiful place to stop at. As we stopped for tea, we noticed a few light raindrops. This was a little concerning, due to our lack of rain gear. Hoping to avoid the rain, we started back towards the lower peak and camping area. By the time we got back, it had already started to rain very hard. Many people in this spot were deciding to stay at the top and camp there for the night as to avoid the weather. We however, decided to brave the way back. With the rain came much colder temperatures, thunder, wind, and to all of our dismay, and (honestly amusement), hail.

I don’t think I have ever run so fast down a mountain in my life. Wearing only a t-shirt and nothing to keep warm, I was extremely cold, and my thoughts were that the faster I move, the warmer I keep my body, and the faster I would get back to the guest house we were staying in. Every time we stopped for a quick break though, my body could tell how cold it really was. I wanted to keep running. We stopped at a teashop called Magic View, which was about half way back to the guesthouse. Stopping was difficult at first because my hands were numb and I wanted to keep going. However, we got tea, and I had a chance to thaw my hands by a stove, put on a relatively dry jean jacket, and make the best purchase I have ever made: a gigantic blue poncho made from thin, cheep plastic. After the break we started again, and this time I had my poncho. It wasn’t much, and I was still soaking wet for the most part, but it kept my body-heat trapped inside and kept my skin from being directly exposed to the elements.

We made it the rest of the way down, the path that was turning into a river. This cold wet quest made arriving back at the guesthouse where we started so much more rewarding. I felt like I had conquered a dragon. Waiting for us there, were our friends with blankest to keep us warm, and warm water showers, which were two very cozy rewards.

Jack's handstand at Snow Line, the last camp before walking back down the hill

Jack’s handstand at Snow Line, the last camp before walking back down the hill

Hiking on a nice sunny day is always fun, but having this experience where I was unprepared for the elements, will make the memory of that day so much more memorable and fond in my heart. It also taught me a very tangible aspect of the fluidity of samsara. The mountain was beautiful and calm one moment, and the next it was cold and angry. The weather is always changing, just as the day always turns to night. Nothing is permanent. Because of that the good and the bad are all the more beautiful, and give new things to share and learn from.

Realizing Dependence Through Thought and Action

by Ian Bartimole

At the Golden Temple in Amritsar

At the Golden Temple in Amritsar

This summer living at home I grappled a lot with feeling like a leech, or some sort of parasite, totally dependent on my parents. Though I was working a painting job and making some money for the first time, that really only served to show me how little I had attempted any independence (at least financially) prior to this point. I struggled trying to reconcile this dependency with a certain view of myself. But one of the first few days at Sarah College I strolled into the library with a friend and we sat a while and read from some random books that had attracted us with enticing titles promising provocative new thoughts. Mine was entitled The Harmony Of Emptiness And Dependent-Arising. It is a commentary on a poem about the teachings of the Buddha, which focuses on dependent origination and emptiness as the greatest of his teachings. For me the most potent parts discussed how things appear to exist from their ‘own side,’ with inherent selves and concepts that can be intuited, when in fact each thing arises only due to outside causes and conditions. Thus everything is ‘empty’ of inherent existence, nothing can exist from its own side because it arises due to something else.

Passang La explaining what it takes to make momo to Earlham students and their roommates, at Sarah College

Passang La explaining what it takes to make momo to Earlham students and their roommates, at Sarah College

Dependent-Arising or dependent origination, as it turns out, is one of the central concepts of Buddhist philosophy. As it sounds, this concept suggests that everything is created and exists dependently on or conditioned by innumerable factors outside the control of the thing in question. An easy and simple example could be like this: My existence is totally dependent on my parents having met and conceived me, and their existences were totally dependent on similar circumstances between their parents, and on and on endlessly, through countless generations of humans and if you want to trace back further, you can imagine the countless generations of evolving animals whose ancestors roam the earth today. And then it starts again with another causal chain: my existence is also totally dependent upon and conditioned by my access to food and water, sustenance and nourishment without which I would be unable to live. With these and other instances of my own dependence in mind, and there are countless other instances, forming a seemingly infinite chain of causality that has spit me and everyone else out into this current Here and Now only as products of a very particular set of causes and conditions. For me this has been an enlightening concept, and freeing in a lot of ways.

As I have explained to several of my classmates here, one of my goals (which is maybe less of a static goal off in the distance somewhere and more of a process I hope to engage in) after reading up on dependent arising is to gain a fuller realization of it. More and more in my interactions with people here, Earlham students and Tibetans alike, I am seeing that the ways we understand and accordingly act and react to the world around us are what we perceive as real. Normally I think of realization as something along the lines of epiphany, but to realize in the sense I want to use it here is ‘to make real.’ I want not only the thought, but the experience of dependent arising, to experience everything as a necessary part of a whole, completed puzzle constructed out of an impermanent array of infinitely divisible pieces, each in relation to and dependent upon all the others. I can think this way fairly easily, but in my experience applying the principle to my practice is the difficult part, internalizing it until if becomes a fundamental part of what I see and how I act.

Learning about 300 year old manuscripts at the Tibetan library in Gankyi, Dharamsala

Learning about 300 year old manuscripts at the Tibetan library in Gankyi, Dharamsala

One of the pieces of this journey to Dharamshala that we have discussed much as a group is this practical element; namely, the cultivation of a practice that aligns with what we are learning. The intent behind this is to make our learning experience not only thought provoking, but also paradigmatic in terms of how we are learning to act. This includes but is not limited to our meditation and yoga practices, but for me will be flavored by this attempt at realizing further these Buddhist principles. And though unsure yet as to what shape that practice will take or how it will develop in me, I am thoroughly excited by the prospect of processing and practicing around such a great community of Tibetans and Earlhamites, all of whom I am truly depending on to help me fill in the particulars of this awesome adventure.

Indiapendent

by Max Newlin

Max getting a six-course shave, at MT (Tibetan Colony in Delhi)

Max getting a six-course shave, at MT (Tibetan Colony in Delhi)

I arrived in India roughly two weeks before our program officially began with the intention of exploring on my own. Ever since I received my acceptance letter into the Tibetan Studies Program, I’ve had this notion of traveling solo ingrained in my mind and planned to fulfill this desire either right before the commencement of the program or right after the completion of the program. Due to my high anticipation and excitement, I chose to travel before the program began and started to countdown the days until my dream of an independent adventure in India would become a reality. My plan was to stay in Delhi for two days, then go to Jaipur for five days, and then return to Delhi to meet up with the other people a part of the program who were also arriving early.

My first days in Delhi gave me an immediate feeling of emotional exhaustion. All the traveling took a toll on my body and it took me a while to adjust to the new day time and night time, especially without anyone else helping me fight through it. I also had very surreal moments after waking up in which I would forget that I was in India and eventually remember after a few seconds where I was, which was pretty overwhelming. This was something that I have never experienced before and it stressed me out quiet a bit. The times in which I wasn’t sleeping, I mostly explored the small part of the city that I was in (Connaught Place) by foot, which made me a target to taxi drivers. They would come up to me as I was walking and start to aggressively ask me about my intentions in Delhi in an effort to take me to a tourist center (which I have been told prior is a scam). Advice I have been given about taxi drivers is to act deaf, but it is easier said than done. It makes me uncomfortable to ignore another person’s presence especially when they are right next to you vying for your attention but in all, it was good advice. Aside from dealing with the taxi drivers, my walks around Delhi were very nice. I went to some parks and got to talk with some friendly, local people. Besides the walks, I didn’t do too much during my two day stay in Delhi but I expected to pick up the touristy pace once I got to Jaipur.

Bryan the Photographer, at Humayuns Tomb in Delhi

Bryan the Photographer, at Humayuns Tomb in Delhi

My experience in Jaipur gave me a very different perspective of India than Delhi did. I felt more comfortable exploring by myself, the taxi drivers weren’t as aggressive, and there was seemingly much more to do/see. I was able to get a driver (through the hotel I was staying in) to take me to different places around the city, which made everything a lot easier. I got to visit a couple forts that were beautifully structured, a few museums, a planetarium, the city palace, and the Jal Mahol, a beautiful palace located in the middle of a lake (I was only able to see it from afar though). I was also able to reconnect with my family through Skype for the first time. It was relieving to let them know that I was safe as well as inform them of my experiences, however; the positive news I shared with them was countered with some negative news that they had. During the end of my stay in Jaipur, I received news that my aunt passed away. This was really tough to hear and it brought me to a low point in my trip. I was feeling homesick and I wasn’t able to express my feelings the way I desired because I was on my own. My last day in Jaipur ended up being uneventful because I just wasn’t in the mood to go out.

When I returned to Delhi, I was overly excited to meet up with the other people on the program. I first got to met up with Stephen, Kari, Passangla, and Benedikt, which gave me a great sense of comfort. It was sweet to share my individual experiences with them as well as hear what they were up to. Then one by one, each of my fellow classmates arrived in Delhi, which made me feel even more comfortable. It was great to see their faces in awe as we explored Delhi- it gave me more energy.

The whole group finally made it to Delhi

The whole group finally together in Delhi

The things I mostly learned from my independent travel is that exploring a new place on your own can be very unrestricting and rewarding but the experience can be even greater with people to share it with. I believe that the independence helped improve my confidence and made me better at decision making but at some moments I felt like I had too much weight on my shoulder. Exploring with the others on the program makes it a lot easier on myself because I know I have some great people to help me get through the hard times as well as share the good times. I think everyone has gotten to know each other very well in the short period of time that we have been together and I can already tell that this group will experience some great things and do some great things while on this program. The semester has just begun and our shared journey has already gotten onto a great start. Here’s to a great semester!