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Tibetan Studies 2014

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Tibetan Studies with Kari Kalve

Some Surprises with Language in India

December 3, 2014 in uncategorized by Benedikt

by Kendra Worley

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Language has been an adventure here in India. I took 2 years of Spanish in Middle School but I don’t remember much at all. Then in high school and college I took Latin, an unspoken language. I have been good at languages regarding the written parts, but I have a hard time with hearing and speaking the languages. So, knowing that I would be learning a new spoken language on this program was nerve wracking, but exciting.

My friend and I had a rough time traveling to India. Thankfully our accidental 30 hour layover was in America, but we ended up with another 6 hour layover in Switzerland which was our first experience being surrounded by so many different languages. Sure just being in the international terminal in Chicago was interesting hearing many conversations in other languages. Once the announcements were not always in English, I definitely felt the effect of not understanding another language. We traveled through the airport in Zurich, Switzerland and had to ask different people if they knew English to help us find our correct terminal which took us about an hour to get there. But I guess this was good as a way to slowly get used to the language barriers we were about to experience for the next 4 months.

'Om Mani Padme Hum' is the mantra of compassion. The word shows the multi-layered nature of Tibetan a lot which encompasses sub & super scripts, vowels as well as pre and suffixes

A Tibetan mantra carved on a stone

First showing up in India was overwhelming. Jensen and I got through customs after some complications with our passports and visas, which was hard to understand what was going on since they either were speaking in Hindi or the Indian dialect of English. Finding out that English is one of the national languages of India made me confused. Not because of the history within India and that English is a language that can unite this country with many local languges, but I was very surprised about which people here knew English. I understood that the richer people with higher education knew English (like Punjabi’s at the Cricket match) but some police officers did not understand any English which confused me.

 

Witnessing the second international cricket game (India Vs West Indies) ever played at the picturesque stadium in Dharamsala

Witnessing the second international cricket game (India Vs West Indies) ever played at the picturesque stadium in Dharamsala

Our first main place where we stayed was Sarah College and before arriving I didn’t think much about how much people would or would not know English at Sarah College. I was pleasantly surprised with how good some of the students English was, but was also surprised by some things that I thought were very simple but many students misused. It was sometimes hard to have conversations with my roommate and other people’s roommates, but there was still a lot of communication that could happen.

Going into conversation class for the first time was quite overwhelming! We had barely even learned the alphabet and we were told to try to read words. Many of us just wanted to cry from how difficult it was. There were many letters for each syllable that were not always pronounced and sometimes multiple syllables for each word and then to add to this difficulty the written language separates syllables, rather than words, so it’s hard to tell when a new word starts and ends. I felt like my head was going to explode. Thankfully for the most part our language partners were good at explaining, but sometimes our partners did not know much English which made us that much more confused. Eventually as the days continued, we learned more in class, and with the continuation of the conversation class we all got a lot better at speaking Tibetan. We were even told that we were the best at conversing in Tibetan than any other group who didn’t have the conversation classes.

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Students and their roommates at the last Sarah dinner before moving in with their host families in Mc Leod Ganj

The week before we moved in with our host families we went out to dinner with them and Greg Mahler. Before the dinner we (the students) were sitting in a room at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics waiting for our family members to come. But the nerves didn’t hit hard until my Ama La (mom) came in. She was quite wonderful and giggled a lot, but we were very unable to keep up a conversation together. While I was struggling with my Ama La, I was listening to all the other groups and was jealous of how easy it was for them to communicate. We went to our host family’s houses and when I got there they were trying to tell me that my little host sister was sick so they couldn’t go out to dinner. Eventually I talked with my friend’s host mom and she helped translate for me.

But once I actually moved into my host family’s house I realized that the amount of English that I thought my family knew was actually more. I think that we were all too nervous the first day to try harder with communicating with each other. I was nervous in the beginning because the amount of people who actually lived in the house was incorrect and I was unable to figure it out without someone translating for us. Eventually it was a good thing that there were an extra two people in the house for communication purposes.

Once these initial realizations occurred I found a lot of ways to bond with my family in English and Tibetan. As my vocabulary enlarged and my self-confidence increased I played some games with my younger host sister. We pulled out a book of animal pictures with their Tibetan and English names. Then we tried to read out each other’s language version of the same animal. It was fun to learn more from my little sister and to teach her at the same time. We both have a lot of work to do to be better at speaking each other’s language so this was a great bonding experience.

Kendra and her sister

Kendra and her sister

 

Then, another day my big sister’s boyfriend was over and we played a game called Sho. It is a dice game which helped me with counting in Tibetan and we all had many laughs with enjoying each other’s company and we joked about messing up phrases in each other’s languages. It was a fun night of learning Tibetan language, culture, and a bit more about my host family.

Jensen and I decided not to go very far for independent travel which was last week. Sure it could have been a great opportunity to explore more of India, but we have gone on many outings as a group and we both felt very exhausted from the traveling. So, we went to Benny’s house. He is the TA of this program, just graduated from Earlham last year and grew up here in town. While the town of Dharamsala seems like a small town, it actually encompasses many little villages, one of which Benny lives in. We had to walk about 20 minutes from any road to get to his house, but once we were there man was it a great time. While we were there we learned that his 6 dogs know more languages than we do. Being raised by a German and Austrian (his parents) and his siblings (who knew German, Tibetan, English and Hindi) and by the neighbors who spoke a local language of the village made the dogs know many different commands in an assortment of languages.

A view of Mc Leod Ganj, the part of Dharamsala in which students lived for the second half of the program

A view of Mc Leod Ganj, the part of Dharamsala in which students lived for the second half of the program

A lady down the hill, Shtashna is like the nanny/second mom of the house and prepared us food and made fires for us when it was cold; which was wonderful but a bit challenging at times when trying to communicate. We learned some words in Hindi, like how to say okay, food, house, types of food, my…etc. which didn’t help too much with communication but showed that we took an interest and effort in her language.

Of all the languages I have encountered, the one I have been most surprised with my interaction in India has been English. Not only are there a decent amount of people who live and work here who speak English, but McLeod Ganj in particular has many foreign tourists who either have English as their first language or speak it fluently. Also just like before, I am still quite surprised that maybe half of the police officers I have encountered don’t know much English. But most of all I have felt that I have been losing my English. Sure I spend every day speaking English with students from Earlham, but I am also speaking it with others who don’t speak it well. So, I have picked up on the ways they speak it incorrectly and I am starting to butcher different sayings in English that I haven’t heard very often in the past few months. Generally I shorten sentences and when someone asks me if I have the jar of Nutella, instead of saying “I have it”, I just say “I have”. And in general we just have not been completing sentences and leaving out the direct object.

Men-Tsee-Khang Conference & Pilgrimage Week

November 7, 2014 in uncategorized by Benedikt

by Brianne Cody

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Bri POI’ing at Triund

What an eventful past week we had! It began with attending the second annual Mind, Body, Life conference, which provided many different perspectives on mental afflictions and healing. The variety of perspectives included modern psychology, buddhist psychology, ayurveda, unani, siddha, and chinese medicine. Despite there being so many different perspectives, it was nice that there didn’t seem to be any competition amongst them, but rather openness and curiosity. The views meshed together nicely. I have been predominantly exposed to the modern psychology perspective, so it was very interesting to learn about more holistic methods of healing. Unani’s perspective is that they heal the patient, not the disease. Many of the systems encompass this idea by proposing lifestyle changes rather than prescribing one medicine for one symptom/disease and ignoring the whole picture.

Student playing games with the Junior monks of Sherab Ling, at Bir

We left the conference a couple hours early on Friday so that we could embark on a 5 day pilgrimage, starting with Bir. The first day in Bir was my favorite day on the trip. We went to a monastery in the morning and happened to get there when there was a purification ceremony happening that occurs at the end of each monsoon season. We were lucky enough to be able to sit in on this ceremony and soak in all the energy from the monks in their traditional yellow hats, deep drums, loud horns, and incredibly ornate decorations. It felt so surreal- it’s nice to see that these ancient ceremonies haven’t been lost in the past.

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Passang giving us a tour around the premises of Padmasambhava’s meditation cave, at Rewalsar

I have been pondering this whole semester about how much of the west is severely lacking in any sort of meaningful or devotional rituals. I don’t even necessarily mean devotion to a deity, but rather taking time to acknowledge a greater force or even the great mystery of our existence. So, it’s nice to see these sort of ancient spiritual rituals taking place. The next few days consisted of many temple and monastery visits, all of which provided new perspectives on Buddhist Philosophy and Tibetan culture and history. Thus far our adventures have struck such a nice balance of being exciting as well as informational and educational. I am so excited for all that lies ahead.

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Blog Blog Blog

October 28, 2014 in uncategorized by Benedikt

by Jack Ventura-Cruess

Jack entertaining a beggar women with his music, at Mc Leod Ganj

Jack entertaining a beggar women with his music, at Mc Leod Ganj

Here I am now, reflecting on the moments of the past to give a glimpse into my time spent in India. An accurate representation of my experiences is not within my ability to convey nor will I capture the cultural depth and spiritual diversity that this territory has to offer. To be here now, in India, is to posses great fortune and is truly an opportunity of a lifetime that I deeply appreciate, lessons that I will carry forward wherever I may roam next. Nonetheless, I reflect.

I was met by Passang-la on the night of my arrival at the airport. We grabbed a tuk-tuk and swerved through traffic, narrowly missing oncoming trucks. The adrenaline was pumping but Passang’s cool presence relaxed me as I slumped into the green and yellow three-wheeled taxi. Passang-la spoke loud, competing with the banter of honks and engines, and told me that when the roads are crowded people are cautious but when the roads are clear people are careless. Does too much freedom lead to recklessness? Do open opportunities yield fence-sitting indecisiveness and a lack of genuine conviction? How does congestion help with responsibility? When the roads are crowded in the streets of Delhi, filled with a variety of vehicles and animals, each moving entity travels with an intention and certain direction. The cautious individuals, who tend to be the majority when traffic is heavy, remain mindful of the intentions and varying speeds of the other drivers. But when the roads are clear, the blessing of a clear road is quickly transformed, perhaps in the name of efficiency or pleasure, into the freedom to drive as fast and recklessly as possible. This carelessness, stemming from the ill-perceived blessing of a clear road, is the result of complying with the personal desires of the ego. That the congestion of traffic is therefore the opportunity to step outside the shell of the self to realize the collective interdependence on the roads, to manipulate a vehicle with responsibility arising from the compassion towards the other.

If we take this example further, expanding the vehicle to represent our body, the driver to our mind, and the roads to the world around us, we find that this model can be useful when applied whole-heartedly. Our bodies are in relation to our minds and that both are inherently interdependent on the world around us. When the mind and body have too much space to maneuver, it can easily get lost and distracted capable of slipping into selfish desires. But when the body and mind, combined into consciousness, are forced into specific situations where we are tested or stretched into uncomfortable zones, the opportunity for growth is greater. That within freedom there are risks and within limitation there are opportunities. I continue to question and formulate ideas, perhaps looking too deep or perhaps not deep enough. Despite my swirling thoughts, we made it safely to our Hostel to sleep and my first experience in India was complete.

Passang Lak at the Golden Temple, in Amritsar

Passang Lak at the Golden Temple, in Amritsar

The following days in Delhi were a conglomeration of rancid smells and delicious meals, witnessing no-eyed beggars and devout spiritual sanctuaries, where the monks would wear a cloth over their nose and mouth in order to not swallow and kill a fly. This is accordance to a full devotion to the principle of ‘no harm’. Meanwhile, dogs, cows, and monkeys roamed the streets dodging cars, tuk-tuks, and motorcycles. The crowds of people swirl around charismatic vendors shouting and selling reversible belts and tobacco-rolled biddies. The city breathed, the atmosphere thick with motivation and superstition, caution and carelessness, humor and passion, desperation and contentment, as I wandered aimlessly nearly missing the taxi to the train for Amritsar.

A sikh guarding the Golden Temple

A sikh guarding the Golden Temple

Words are not sufficient to explain my experiences in India because words are empty. They only make sense through their relationship to the concepts we have assigned them and even then our individualized designation to a words concept might vary vastly from person to person. Despite this one of the few concepts that I revisit often while here in India, is His Holiness’s idea of secular ethics, or the foundation for an ethical education based on compassion and selflessness. It is the pursuit of an inherent ‘good’ within all human beings regardless of nationality, sexual orientation, religion etc. to serve as a link between all beings rooted with the goodness inherent within altruistic love. The realization that the ‘self’ is intrinsically dependent and the emptiness of any singular entity, leads to the understanding that all subjects and objects in this world as we know it, are interdependent. If this is the case, then what better way to act than with graciousness and compassion toward all sentient beings.  This is under what I consider to be a fairly safe assumption that all beings strive for happiness not suffering. Still, the TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) Schools motto of ‘others before self’ rings frequently in my ears.

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“a hot chai tea, a habitual practice to take a moment for a laugh or to relax”

I was reminded of our interdependence during the hike of Triund. On the way I up I followed two dogs, running hard to keep up with the pack as they showed me the shortcuts. I had made it to Camp one and lay down soaking in the astonishing view of the massive ridge of Himalayas like the spine of prehistoric creature. Camp two, Snow Line, was not far off and a few people decided to push on. We stopped for a hot chai tea, a habitual practice to take a moment for a laugh or to relax. We took pictures and we began to note the ominous clouds moving in. We started to down the mountain trail as the grey fog rolled in. I wrote this free-form to describe the way back down;

Something stopped me at the start of the way back down
mid-trail shivers went up my toes to my head
My eyes spun around looking at where I was, trying to soak it all in
The slop of green and grey as the thick white mist glides effortlessly upward the cliffs face
Too much, its just too much, as thoughts of loved ones here and passed across my mind
Bliss
Beauty at its brim, liquid salt ran down my face with gratitude
If any is pure joy it was that moment.

Then mothers tears came to cleanse us all like frozen continuous streaks of silver
Shivering yet talkative we barreled down the river trail, rocks slick
Hail soon followed as calves and ankles cramped and strained

Dead sprint in this condition is a sprint to death
Slow Down! Stay together! One slip is all it takes
Running on Pure reserve energy now

Back to the guest house as adrenaline pumped on
The warm water fell on scrunched body under facet
Cackled like a fresh born, no difference between crying and laughter
Something loves us, something loves us

Upon later reflection I began to recognize the importance of the interdependence, that without each other as physical and mental support, it is hard to tell whether all of us would have made it safely down the mountain. Still, it remains as one of the highlights of my trip thus far.

Jack the Shepherd, at Triund

Jack the Shepherd, at Triund

I have also left out many unique individuals who have made my stay here much more adventurous and comfortable. Dharamsala is a hodgepodge of ancient traditions and advanced technologies, a worldwide community, from ratty dreadlocks to shaved monks, from hip youngsters to devote elderly, mingling and meandering at a rather slow and relaxed pace. Places like these makes one ponder about the arbitrary nature of borders and boundaries, how people are people regardless of where they are from or who they think they are. This place is like a dreamland.

Students playing the local wrestling game called Kabaddi with some locals, at Tata Pani (Hot Springs)

Students playing the local wrestling game called Kabaddi with some locals, at Tata Pani (Hot Springs)

My apologies for such scattered thoughts and descriptions but these experiences come in blissful blurs extracted from the bustling life in India. Most of all, my time and experiences in India gives me a space for a deeper reflection towards my copious blessings. It is sometimes uncomfortable but in a manner that expands my horizon and increases my flexibility towards people and their lives.

 

The travelogue from our busy week: October 1-7

October 20, 2014 in uncategorized by Benedikt

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

October 20, 2014 in uncategorized by Benedikt

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

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