by Olivia Jean Marshburn-Ersek
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.
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).
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.
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.