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