back in delhi

there’s something in the air here in delhi that makes me completely lethargic. i dont know what it is, but i just have no motivation to do pretty much anything. i really dont know what it could be. it’s not that delhi isn’t an exciting city, cause it’s very exciting. it’s not that it doesnt have much to offer, cause it does. it’s not that there isn’t anything to do, cause there’s tons to do. yet for some reason, i just cant do anything except for wake up late, eat lots of food, and… well that’s pretty much it. last time we were in delhi, i think we were here for about 4 days and during those days we saw absolutely nothing. this time, now we’ve been here for 3 days, and we spent the first 2 days doing absolutly nothing again! we didnt go sightseeing till midafternoon today. but we finally saw some stuff!!

Pahar Ganj

the area we are staying in is called Pahar Ganj. it’s a dirty grungy area of town that most people from delhi don’t really like. everything is crazy congested, there’s hardly any room to walk because of the constant barrage of rickshaws, cows, and foot-traffic. garbage is everywhere. there’s constant noise. the other day we saw a leashed german sheppard pounce on a child who couldn’t have been more than 5 years old, and the child dodged it and kept walking like it was an everyday occurance. hustlers are everywhere trying to sell you anything from bus tickets, to cab rides, to drugs. but, at the same time, it’s the main area for all the backpackers that come to delhi… and the rooms are cheap. unfortunately, the fact that so many backpackers converge on this place makes it feel too… i dunno.. cheezy? i dunno, i think theres just something that bugs me about places that are so much of a backpacker mecca.

india gate

after doing virtually nothing for two days, i decided to take a walk last night. i just chose a direction and started walking. most indian cities are compact and there’s tons too see in every direction. delhi isn’t quite like that. it’s huge and spread out. during my *3* hours walking, i hardly saw anything other than dark desolate streets. at one point, i actually did manage to stumble up to something cool: India Gate. it’s a huge archway that is a memorial to indian soldiers who died in WWI. the area surrounding the gate had nicely manicured lawns w/ happy indian families walking around or sitting in the grass. men walked around selling cotton candy, balloons, and glowsticks etc. the atmosphere was so different than anything i’ve experienced in india so far. there’s wasn’t a trace of anything hectic or rushed, no trash anywhere, and not a single beggar.

the addiction

i have a shameful addiction. i know it’s bad for me. and i try to do it as seldom as possible. yet somehow, at least once a month, i usually have to feed the addiction. especially when i’m abroad, i try even harder to resist. but it’s not always possible. the addiction is to…. mcdonalds. yes, i just cant keep away. i know all the arguments on how disgustingly bad for you the food is. and it honestly pisses me off to no end that they have multiplied so much, that even in foreign countries, you often see several in one city. i often promiss myself to never go to one again. but then my will breaks down. oh well. no one’s perfect.

since we left on this trip, i’ve gone three times: morrocco, croatia, and israel. yesterday, i decided i had to visit again. i stopped a cab and asked them to take me there. surprisingly, ths man had never heard of mcdonalds. honestly, i got a little satisfaction in that fact! as we drove towards the main restaurant area, i wanted to ask people where it was, but i felt weird. i didnt want to be that tourist, who comes to india and dosnt touch curry, instead taking every meal at mcdonalds. but finally we found it. inside, i walked up to the front, and to my horror, realized that caryn had been right…. no meat. no burgers. only chicken stuff. that’s because cows are sacred in india. i was hopng they might bend the rules (israel’s mcdonalds serves non-kosher burgers!), but they dont. they did have some weird stuff on the menu like the “mc tikki alloo” and the “mc maharaja chicken mac”. i got the latter. it tasted weird as hell. not bad.. but definitly not great. the power went off *twice* during my visit… the customers werent even phased.. they just cheered, and kept eating as if nothing had happened.

food

other than mcdonalds, we’ve actually been dining very well here. delhi has some amazing restaurants to offer. huge varity, and the quality is great. we’ve had some incredible chinese food and delicious indian food. the other night i walked into an indian restaurant, one that was considered a bit more upscale than a lot of them… and yet, there was a tv blaring in the corner and everyone in the room was staring at it while they ate. turnd out, it was the finale of “indian idol” (same as American Idol), and everyone absolutely had to know the winner. when the winner was announced, the whole room went crazy w/ applause! looks like soon reality tv will come here too!

sightseeing

finally today we did a little sightseeing. we check out the place where gandhi was cremated, Raj Ghat. a quiet peaceful place w/ huge lawns.

next, we went to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in india. it looked realy incredible from the outside, but unfortunately, we didnt get to go inside since we happened to come right at the time of the afternoon prayers, and no tourists were allowed in.

afterwards, we went to the red fort. it’s a humongous fort, and inside there are all sorts of impressive marble buildings. lots of benches for just relaxing and quiet lawns.

photos

back when we were in gujarat, so many people wanted to have their pictures taken with us. it all felt so bizarre, who would want a photo of *us*? since then, there has been much less of that, but today at the red fort, 3 or 4 different groups of people came up to us and asked to have their photo taken w/ us. one of them was a large family, and everyone crowded around caryn as i snapped the shot. one time a man walked up to us, introduced himself and said “this is my son! i would very much like to have a photo of you with him!” he was so excited to have his son be in a photo w/ us. it was very touching. although, i still gotta say, that each time it happens, i really keep thinking “who the hell am i to be posing in other’s photos!! sheeez, i hope other people passing by dont think i’m pompous!!”

mosquitos

mosquitos love me. i’ve always known that. lots of times i’ve hung out w/ people and i’ve ended up with tons of mosquito bites, while the other people come away w/ no bites, or maybe just one. i dont know what it is about me. i’ve always known this, but it was insane today to see it in action. all of a sudden caryn points above my head… there’s a *swarm* of like 20/30 mosquitos hovering over me. i move, they follow. i run, they follow. they just wont leave me alone. i swat at them, but they dont leave. i look at caryn, just 3 feet from me… she doesnt have a single mosquito above her. not one. unbelievable.

just bizarre

traveling around the world, you see people selling all sorts of weird things. strange foods, funny knick-knacks, junk, etc etc. we’ve been in india for 2 months now, and i thought i’d seen it all. but no. as i was walking away from the red fort, a guy came up to me… trying to sell me a beard. yes, a beard. a fake beard and moustache set. i was completely stunned. who the hell sells beards?? and… who the hell *buys* beards. at this point, i realized… i must buy a beard. yes, i must have one at all costs, cause it’s the most random thing ever, and i have to get a photo of me wearing this ridiculous thing.

so, to everyone’s great amusement, i bought a beard. hillarious. everyone around was staring at the ridiculous white guy getting his photo taken w/ a fake beard next to the fake beard salesman. after lots of laughing and photos, i realized… hey, so now what? what do i do w/ the beard?? i tried to give it back, but the guy wouldnt take it. after walking for a while, i saw a random rickshaw driver and walked up to him handing him the beard. and he took it!! as i walked away, i looked over my shoulder to see the rickshaw man standing there by his rickshaw wearing the fake beard i had given him. ahhhh india… land of the bizarre.


the beard salesman

*v

Tong-Len

in buddhism, there is a form of meditation called tong-len which literally means “giving and receiving”. in this meditation you visualize yourself taking on all the sufferings of others and giving back to them all of your good karma and anything else that may help them. it’s an incredibly altruistic thing as you are basically doing everything you can for others by taking from yourself. Jamyang, the monk who we’ve been helping, chose Tong-len as the name for his organization.

the organization has taken 10 kids from the beggar’s camps near mcleod ganj and has given them a chance at a future. tong-len’s main aim is to give these kids an education so that when they grow up, they can make something of themselves. but, how can you convince a child to go to school when they dont even have a home to live in or decent clothing to wear? so, tong-len has rented a house to be used as a hostel so the kids can live there. the organization has set up beds there, bought the kids school uniforms, has someone cook them food, pays for their schooling, and pays for all sorts of other stuff to make this possible. thanks to tong-len, these kids, who have had no schooling at all, have been making great progress. in the next month, they plan to add 10 more kids to the program as well.

unfortunately, despite its great motivations, tong-len doesnt really have too much money to acheive its goals. the small amount of money that they have is acquired from a small handful of sponsors and barely covers the basic necesseties for the kids. for instance, although the kids now have new school uniforms (a requirement by the school), back at the hostel, they still wear the same grubby old clothing that they’ve always owned. a few days back, i told Jamyang that Caryn and i would like to donate some money to his organization, and that my parents would like to donate some money as well. Jamyang thought that a great way to put this money to use would be to buy some new clothes for the kids. the kids would be so excited to finally have some *new* clothes to call their own!

so, yesterday, we set out on a shopping trip. before we got to the clothes though, jamyang asked us if we could buy a new water storage tank for the hostel. the water in town often gets shut off, so it’s important to have a tank to store water. in fact, the water at the hostel had been broken for the last 3 or 4 days and they’ve had no water!! next, we went to several different fabric stores and chose the color and type of material that would be used to make pants and shirts for the kids. we tried to pick colors that were not too dark (so the kids wouldnt get too hot), but not too light (so it wouldnt look too dirty) but at the same time we tried to choose colors that wouldnt be too drabn and boring. also, since it’s obvious how important fun is when you’re a kid, we had some of our donation money used to buy some games for the kids. once we bought all the materials, we went back to the hostel and a tailor came by to measure all the kids. the kids filed in, one at a time, and a tailor took down their measurements to make the clothes

all in all, it was a really cool day. it really felt good to be doing something to help all these kids. it turned out that to make 10 sets of pants and ten sets of shirts, the cost of the materials and putting them together only was $100!! the water tank also cost almost a hundred bucks, and we just gave tong-len the rest of our donation money in cash. we know that they’ll use it well. Jamyang says that when the clothes are finished, he’s even going to email us photos of the kids in their new clothes.

i really hope that tong-len continues getting the funding they need so they can keep doing what they do. and even besides getting funding, the battle that jamyang has to fight each day is so rough. fighting against kid’s parents, schoolboards, landlords, etc. he really is doing such a good thing. i’m looking forward to seeing how everything turns out…

*v

refugees, weather, and good timing

refugees

it’s weird, sometimes i really forget about why there are so many tibetans around here. since there are so many of them here and i see them everyday, it just seems natural that all of these people are here. but the thing is, it’s not. not a single one of these people belongs here. the tibetans didnt just up and decide that mcleod ganj is a pretty place and might be a nice place to live.

all of these people are refugees. they’re all here because about 50 years ago, china invaded their country. the chinese came in and killed, tortured, and imprisoned thousands of tibetans. it desecrated sacred sites, tore down monasteries, and completely destroyed the tibetans’ way of life. tibet, when it was still its own country, only had a population of 5 million people, and virtually no army since it believed in being peaceful… an easy target for china. the more i learn about the history of tibet and what the chinese government did to it, the more absolutely disgusted i get.

so, beacause of all this, the tibetans did the only thing they could do… they fled. first the dalai lama fled with a small entourage, and then over the next several decades, many others followed. it’s really crazy for me to think that every single person i see as i walk down the street is someone who had to flee their country. every single person i see has lead a life much harder than anything i can imagine. everyone is here because they are doing what they can to rebuild their lives. it’s a long way here from tibet, and the journey is extremely difficult over high mountain passes w/ no real roads. a lot of them came here with absolutely nothing.

yet, thanks to the tibetan community that came before them, and thanks to help from the indian government and other people from all over the world, they’ve managed to build a town here that lets them preserve their customs and their way of life. they can eat tibetan food, wear tibetan clothing, worship in the tibetan fashion, etc. it’s a really amazing place, this McLeod Ganj. of course, despite everything, life here isn’t perfect. for instance, when we were talking to Jamyang a few weeks ago, he told me that many of the people here are actually more sad than usual when new years comes around. this is because new years is a holiday traditionally spent w/ their families, yet for most people here, a big part of their family still remains in “china”. not everyone can come here, and many people still have to live under chinese oppression. *sigh*.

weather

for the few weeks we were here, the weather in town had gotten worse and worse. it went from raining, to heavy storming, and eventually to snow. as the time of the dalai lama’s teachings came closer, many people started to worry about what would happen to the teachings if it continued to storm (most of the seating area has no roof). someone told me a story that a few days before the teachings started, he asked a monk about what would happen if the weather didnt get better, to which the monk replied “weather? do not worry about the weather. the dalai lama will make sure that everything is fine with the weather”.

a day before the teachings, the weather mysteriously got fixed. the snow had all melted, the rain had stopped, and the clouds parted. everything was all sunshine. right on time!since then, the weather has been a little rainy at times, but somehow it has *never* rained during the teachings. on one day, it was sunny during the morning teachings, but then started raining during the 2 hour break between the morning and afternoon teachings. but, by the time the afternoon teachings started, the rain completely stopped. the rain had only continued for the duration of the lunch break. coincidence?

good timing

sometimes, i think it’s really incredible that we’ve had such good timing w/ where we are during this trip. just watching the news yesterday, it was sad to see that everything in the middle east has become all crazy again. lebanese prime minister assassinated. suicide bombing in tel aviv. israel and the US threatening syria. everything’s a total mess. and we were there just 2 months ago! how lucky are we that we were there then instead of now? and the same thing goes for the tsunami. right now we’re in india and about to venture into South East Asia. what if we had timed our SE Asia visit for just 2 months ago? we would have been there right when the tsunami hit. seems like our timing has been incredibly lucky!

*v

a few notes on McLeod Ganj

here’s some random stuff about McLeod Ganj. some of the stuff i may have already mentioned in previous posts, i cant remember…

the town itself is tiny. ridiculously small. it’s pretty much just two parallel (semi dirt, semi paved and crumbling) streets with two other even smaller streets splitting off from them. pretty much everything in town is on those two main streets. directly in the middle of town, between the two streets is the chorten, or a temple, which has the red prayer wheels that i’ve posted pictures of. other than the temple, pretty much everything on these roads are small shops which come in 6 varieties: hotel, restaurant, internet cafe, grocery shop, craft store, and book store.

the restaurants are all fairly small, and will almost always serve indian, tibetan, and chinese cuisine. usually they’ll specialize in one of these, for instance, the indian food will be delicious, but the chinese food will suck, but almost always, all 3 will be on the menu. the indian food in this town is really good at some places and the same goes for chinese at other places. as for the tibetan… well… unfortunately, i cant say that i like it all that much. most of it is bland, and kind of boring. the one good thing they have are momos which are dumplings similar to potstickers. they have a variety of noodle soups, vegetable gravies, etc… but i havent been impressed by any of these. they also have this weird grain stuff called tsampa which they either roll into little balls, or make porridge out of. the most horrible thing though, is this stuff called butter tea. this “tea” doesnt have any tea leaves in it or anything… instead it’s like 75% water, 25% milk, and a ton of meleted butter. it’s totally disgusting!!


caryn eating tsampa porridge

the internet cafes here are usually really slow, and get even slower when there are a lot of people on line. the craft stores usually sell t-shirts, prayer flags, incense, bags, and the little handheld prayer wheels that the tibetans always walk around with. the book stores will sell pretty much books on buddhism, the dalai lama, spirituality, and stuff like that. other than the main types of places i’ve already mentioned, there are some yoga places, volunteer organizations, massage places, travel agents, and a few “movie theaters”. the theaters are just small buildings with a huge tv that they’ll play dvd’s on. since we havent seen hardly any movies in the last few months, we were really excited about these and saw the Aviator yesterday.

in front of all these shops, the tibetans have all sorts of little stalls set up. the most common stall you’ll see are ones where people sell momos that they fry up on the street, or sometimes these weird sausage-like things. there’s also an outdoor vegetable market, postcard stalls, etc. during the day, these streets will be full of toursists, monks, tibetans, cows, and stray dogs. a lot of the tibetans here wear their traditional clothing. the women wear these dresses that have small stripy aprons on the front. at night it gets pretty dark as there is not much lighting around, and often the power goes out (almost daily) which makes it even darker! also, as you walk down the roads, you constantly have to watch out for taxi vans that drive surprisingly fast given the fact that they are on one lane “roads” that are packed with people. luckily, they have their horn blaring 24/7, so as soon as you hear the horn you know you need to run off the side of the road or get hit.

if you keep walking down one of these two main roads, you’ll get to the Namgyal monastery which is the complex where the dalai lama lives. it’s a really cool place, and as i mentioned before, the trail around it is a wonderful walk…


temple on the path around namgyal


prayer stones

looking in any directoion from town, you’ll see snowy mountains and beautiful valleys. little colorful houses are perched among the hillsides and that’s where most of the tibetans live. down the “highway”, if you can call it that, is the Nechung monastery. this is the monastery i mentioned in my post about the oracle. it’s a small little place, and since i didnt bring my camera on the day of the oracle, caryn and i wandered down there yesterday.


statue of nechung oracle behind a curtain

there’s more to the town, but not really too much more. really small, really chill, scenic, spiritual, and with incredibly nice people.

oh, i just remembered one thing that happened a few days ago. while walking past a grocery store, i saw a big box of fruit loops, so i decided to buy it. as i walked down the road, a little beggar girl ran up to me asking for mony. i shook my head “no”, and then she started pointing at my box of cereal. how could i say no to that? so i started opening the packaging as she held out her little bowl. as i was fiddling w/ the box, she turned her head and yelled something, which apparently meant “COME AND GET IT!!! FOOD’S ON!!”, cause when i looked up again, there was now a large group of people in front of me, all asking for cereal. people had their hands out, and were also holding out the bottoms of their shirts to make bowls out of them. i was totally swarmed by them, and was pouring fruit loops like mad to everyone. by the time i was able to get away, there was less than half of the cereal box left!! it was nice to finally be able to give something to people after saying no so many times!!

*v

dalai lama

for the last several days, we’ve gone to the dalai lama’s teachings. it has been so cool! there are two sessions per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. for each session, he walks in through the crowd, does the teaching up in front, and then walks back through the crowd. when he is actually doing the teaching, we’re pretty far back, so it’s a bit hard to see him, but when he passes through the crowd, he’s fairly close. it’s so exciting to actually see him!

over the last few weeks, i’ve read a lot about him and he’s one of the most amazing people ever. such an incredibly warm, happy, courageous person. despite the fact that his country has been virtually demolished by the chinese and millions of his people have been killed, he still doesnt believe in violence and wants to settle the situation in a peaceful manner. he gives hope to so many tibetan and many many more people throughout the world. he’s won the nobel peace prize. he’s written so many books to help others achieve happiness, have compassion, and have peaceful minds. each time he walks through the crowd, he just radiates happiness and warmth. i, and everyone else around, literally can’t help but smile when he’s there. you really do feel like you’re in the presence of a buddha. yesterday, we managed to get ourselves right next to the path where he walks through the crowd, and so we were only a yard or two away as he passed by. so great!

although seeing the dalai lama has been wonderful, the teachings themselves have not been so great for us. there’s a variety of reasons for that. first off, as i said, there’s the crazy battle for seats on a daily basis. we’ve had a bunch of difficulties w/ some russians. if you want the full story, here’s caryn’s account of it. anyways, the troubles didnt stop there, and we had to battle w/ them for the following two day until finally we realized we just had to give up. the whole thing was incredibly frustrating.. there were times when i would be saying “hello!!! hello!!!” to the guy who would just stare down at his paper, and ignore me completely and pretend i wasnt there. it was tough trying to keep the situation from pissing us off. second, the reception for the radios we had (to listen to the translation) was often terrible. constant hissing and screeching, and it was tough to hear anything in our headphones above the loudspeakers. two of our radios broke (that’s what happens when you pay $3.50 for a radio!), but then, finally, our third radio actually worked pretty well. lastly, a lot of this stuff was just a bit too much for us. we barely even know the basics of buddhism! although it’s very fascinating, i think taking the one week course was plenty information for us (for now), and listenting to two more weeks of lecture for 5 hours per day, is a bit over the top.

so, i think we’ll probably be leaving McLeod Ganj in a few days. it’s been an incredible 18 or so days. even without the dalai lama, the time we spent here has been a lot of fun, but seeing the dalai lama was definitely one of the highlights!

*v

the oracle

the Tibetans believe in oracles, helpful spirits that can be summoned to give information and blessings. there are many of them, but one of the most important ones is Dorjee Drakden, the dalai lama’s personal protector spirit. this spirit has been contacted many times by the dalai lama when he needed advice on making important decisions. it is Dorjee Drakden that is summoned when a dalai lama dies in order to find out where the next dalai lama will be born (reincarnated). and also, it was Dorjee Drakden that told the dalai lama when he must flee Tibet and even gave explicit instructions on what route the dalai lama must take for his escape.

the oracle is talked to through a human medium. there is a long intricate ceremony where the abbot of the Nechung monastery, while wearing a huge ornamental headdress goes into a trance. as he gets deeper and deeper into his trance, the spirit enters him, which causes his face to transform and he starts hissing!! at this point, Dorjee Drakden, by using the abbot’s body, can give blessings or tell the future. if you’re interested, you can read an interesting article about the Nechung oracle here.

i’ve always had this huge fascination with the supernatural, and although i’m too grounded in physics to believe pretty much any of it, i’ve always had this hope that someday i’d be able to witness at least something that can’t be explained by science. all of a sudden, it seemed that i might finally get my chance when a friend told me that in a few days they would be summoning the oracle down at Nechung monastery. i couldn’t believe it… how exciting! the only thing left to find out was when it would happen. this is something that can be incredibly tricky in India. hardly anyone ever knows the exact date or time of anything. any info you get on pretty much any event is usually second hand, and often, even if you directly ask people who are organizing an event, even they wont be able to tell you when. scheduling things isn’t India’s strongpoint. a few days later i finally got the word… the oracle would be summoned the following morning at 6:30AM. and i was told to get there *early* cause the monastery is small and it fills up quickly.

should i go? the problem was that this day would be my one and only day off to sleep in. the one free day i had between the Buddhism class and the dalai lama teachings. i was also planning on volunteering for Jamyang that day too, but i wouldn’t have to get up at 5am for that!! i so badly wanted to sleep in! plus, what if i had gotten wrong information and this was not the actual date/time and i got up for nothing? or, what if i got there and they don’t allow non-monks inside? but i just had to see this oracle. definitely something not to be missed, so i decided to go for it.

the next morning at 5am, i got up in the freezing cold and pitch black. it was going to be a long walk in the dark to the monastery, and i was all alone since caryn wasn’t going to go. i set out down the crumbling dark road w/ a tiny almost useless flashlight. at this point, my main goal was to not fall off the cliff and also not to get run over by the few taxi vans that would barrel by me every once in a while. as i was walking, suddenly someone hissed at me. i swung my flashlight towards the person but they just stood there and didn’t say anything. oh crap. what did this person want? why were they standing alone in the dark on this road waiting for me? well, as i got a little closer, it turned out that the “person” was actually a tree, and the hiss had come from a broken water pipe. oops! as i continued walking eventually i would run into small groups of Tibetans walking down the road. they all were elaborately dressed up and muttering prayers as usual. nice! this was a good sign that there was actually something going on at the monastery today! after a bit i saw a large boulder in the middle of the road. why was there a boulder in the road? i kept walking towards it, keeping my flashlight on it the whole time… when i finally realized… it was actually a Tibetan woman squatting to pee. doh!! and i had been shining my flashlight on her for a while now!! smooth.

eventually i finally got to the monastery. it was still completely dark and there didn’t seem to be too many people around. pretty much all of them monks. was it ok for me to be here? finally i asked someone about the oracle and was told that the oracle was actually the following day!!! there was supposed to be a “long life ceremony” there this day and that’s why people were coming. DAMN IT!! i had gotten so little sleep for nothing!!! for a minute i thought about staying for the other ceremony, but the idea of sitting down here in the dark for 2 hours waiting was really unappealing, so i went back to the hotel room.

after getting a tiny bit of sleep, i went to go help Jamyang some more w/ his finance spreadsheets. all day i kept thinking about how bummed i was that the oracle thing wasn’t that morning. should i really get up the following day a second time at 5am to see this oracle?? i decided i had to do it.

the following morning, waking up was even more difficult. ouch. fortunately though, since i had already made the trip once, now i knew that the taxis actually run at 5am, so this time i was able to catch a cab down the hill. when i got to the monastery, there was already a long line of people waiting to get inside. the line wrapped around a huge courtyard and then continued up some stairs and away from the monastery. there is a Buddhist tradition where you are supposed to give a Kata (a long white piece of silky fabric) as an offering and people in line were buying them, so i got one too.

everyone there seemed to be incredibly excited to witness the oracle and the atmosphere was quite electric. there were monks dressed up in special headdress who would every once in a while blow these 7 foot long horns. one of the horns was high pitched and the other made a very low and ominous sound. the monastery itself was very beautifully painted. it was all just so eerie to be standing there in the murky dark, listening to the ominous horns, and waiting for this spirit to descend. unfortunately, i had left my camera at home, and didn’t get any photos of all of this.

after a while, the doors to the monastery were opened and then a few special people from this office were allowed to enter. this is when the insanity started. as soon as the waiting mob saw that a few people had entered, others started to run towards the temple to get inside. all of a sudden, chaos ensued. everyone started running for the monastery doors. the line all but vanished. and then people on the stairs started shrieking as they were crushed forward and pushed down the stairs by the eager people behind them.

it wasn’t yet time for people to go inside, and so the few monks around frantically tried to stop the crazed crowd. but it was hopeless. every time a monk would catch someone, 20 others would run by him. little old ladies were scrambling around dodging monks and running as fast as they could for the monastery doors. people were yelling, trying to get control of the situation, but the mob wouldn’t listen. i stood there trying to decide what to do. should i join the people who were abandoning the line and screwing everyone over by running to the front? or should i try to be good and wait it out? i decided that cutting in front of others who were waiting in line would be pretty much the same as stealing, and that stealing at a monastery just wasn’t quite right. then the monks managed to shut the doors to the temple and blocked off the stairs w/ benches so no more people could come through.

i waited to see what would happen, and hoped that all those people that had rushed in from the back of the line would be kicked out, but they weren’t and when i heard the ominous horns sound again inside the building, i knew that the ceremony had started. i was pissed. really pissed. i had gotten up at the crack of dawn *twice*, and now i would have to miss the ceremony because a ton of people ran in front. i couldn’t even imagine how the people at the front of the line must have felt!! they might have been here for hours now waiting, and now they couldn’t go inside. grrrr! luckily, it turned out that all was not lost. the people inside would get to witness the ceremony, but after the ceremony, the oracle would come outside and hand out seeds that were blessed (since the oracle had touched them).

so, it sucked about the ceremony, but at least i would see something! as time passed, people outside started getting impatient. people here and there would run and cut into the line. others would just start shoving ahead. the monks struggled to control the crowd. there were parts where there would be a “wall” of monks 5 or 6 deep bracing themselves and trying to hold back people who shoved forwards. it was completely ridiculous. and still, every once in a while, there would be screams from the stairs when huge groups of people would be pushed down the steps. at this point i started worrying that people would get hurt. there was a railing around the place where the line was, but there was also a courtyard which had no barrier between it and the 2 story drop into the cement moat below. often monks would stand near the edge and when the crowd would surge forwards, i was sure they’d get pushed off. luckily, as far as i saw, no one fell in.

a while later, the doors to the monastery swung open. it was time for the oracle to come out. and so, all hell broke loose. the crowd went absolutely nuts. everyone surged in all directions and the desperate monks were completely overrun. there wasn’t even a trace of a line anymore, just a crazed mob pushing up the stairs towards the oracle. you couldn’t move in any directions other than the direction where the hundreds of people behind you were pushing you. it was hard to breath. your ribs were being crushed and you were constantly in danger of losing your step as you moved this way and that. i’ve been in lots of crowded situations… packed concerts, mosh pits, but i’ve never experienced anything like this. where you literally didn’t have an inch of space to move and had absolutely no control over where you stepped.

people everywhere were screaming as they were pushed either up the steps where they tried not to trip on each upward step, or pushed down the steps as the people up top pushed back and people would almost fall down having to grasp the people in front of them. there were people actually climbing the stairs *on the outside of the railing*, pulling themselves along with their arms and trying to climb over as monks frantically tried to push them back. utter chaos. i slowly worked my way up the steps as the crowd pushed me forwards. it was really freaky, and lots of times i lost my footing, but luckily didn’t fall.

finally, i got to the top where people were forced into a single file line by the monks, and pushed towards the oracle. in order to keep the crowd moving so as to prevent an accident, the monks hastily grabbed the Katas from people’s hands and tossed the quickly into a huge sack. and then i saw him. an elaborately costumed Tibetan, sitting on a throne. his face was all twisted and angry looking and he was hissing at people in an animalistic fashion. it was pretty crazy… but i only got to witness it for like 2 seconds before i was pushed ahead, he dumped a small handful of sacred seeds into my palm, and then i was whisked ahead.

i then stood around for a while, trying to peer over people’s heads to try and get another glimpse of the oracle. it was tough to see since he was sitting down, but every once in a while he would stand up, hiss, and throw handfuls of seeds out into the crowd. lots of people were dropping to their knees and crawling on the ground trying to gather each little seed they could find. after the last person passed, the oracle jumped up, and went back in the monastery. the mob surged forward, but the monks were able to slam the doors before anyone got in.

and that was that. as the crowd dispersed, certain monks walked around and would hand out sacred ribbons to people, but as soon as anyone saw these given out, that monk would be swarmed w/ people not leaving him alone. people were actually reaching up under the monks’ robes trying to snatch a ribbon. the monks literally had to *run* from the crowd. appalling.

i left the experience feeling really sad. Katas, which were supposed to be ceremoniously handed over, had instead been hastily thrown into bags. instead of slowly walking by the oracle and honoring him, people in the end had to just run by him quickly to make more room for those behind. this was supposed to be a beautiful ceremony. something really special, and spiritual. instead it was turned into a hysterical mob scene.. as if it was a rock concert or a celebrity autograph session. these people’s religious devotion that had seemed so pure and beautiful the day before, had shown a darker more manic side. how could these people not respect each other, the monks around them, and even the oracle itself? was it that crucial to be the first to get a handful of seeds? and *luckily*, no one was hurt. on the news just last month, almost 300 people died in a stampede at a Hindu temple. in India these things are common place. *sigh*

but anyways, despite being really disappointed w/ the crowd, and being disappointed at missing the ceremony, i was really excited that i at least witnessed something. seeing the oracle was really cool. and the blowing of the horns and costumes and everything before the ceremony had been quite a sight. i don’t really believe in oracles. the few seconds that i got to see this one, didn’t really give me much of a chance to change my opinion. it could easily be an act, right? but still…. there definitely was something really exciting about it all. the atmosphere surrounding the ceremony (sans mob), was so eerie and unnatural, that in many ways i felt as if i had seen something out of this world. often, it’s the people’s perceptions of a thing that give it its power.. not the thing itself. if people see the oracle as a magical spirit.. in a way he is magical. if they see the seeds as sacred, they are sacred. and now… i’ve got a small handful of sacred seeds. my luck is on the upswing.

*v

filling up

Mcleod Ganj is no longer a quiet little mountain town. since the dalai lama will be doing his teachings soon, people have slowly been arriving in town. the teachings he will be giving are mostly aimed at tibetans, and they account for most of the new arrivals, but there are lots of westerners as well. and if i thought there were a lot of monks here before, there are many many times more of them now. when we first got here 2 weeks ago, there were hardly any people around, but now all the streets are packed w/ people. from what i hear, pretty much all the hotels are full by now. the town is tiny… really tiny, and can barely handle the amount of people that are here now.

yesterday, we finally signed up for the teachings, and after getting a little badge w/ our info and a photo, we headed to the main temple here to claim a spot to sit. we had already been informed about how crazy finding a place would be. basically, the teachings are general admission, and they expect to get an insanely huge crowd of people… anywhere form one thousand to five thousand. of course, everyone wants to be as close as possible to the dalai lama. so what people do is they come to the temple a couple days early and put down cushions, blankets, signs, or whatever to claim a “seat” on the pavement in front of the temple.

when we got there, there was stuff sprawled everywhere, with tiny handwritten notes as to who was claiming which spot. some people used cardboard taped down w/ duct tape. others tried to tie down blankets. it was absolute chaos! pretty much everything by then was full, but we ended up finding this *tiny* little strip of empty space (a couple yards long, but only about a foot wide!!) that we saved for 5 people by taping down some paper plates with our names on them. but the chaos doesn’t stop there. we’ve heard that a lot of these saved spaces end up getting shuffled around by people who try to squeeze in one of their own spots. apparently arguments ensue, people yell at each other. utter madness. people who are *buddhist monks*, who are supposed to hold peace and compassion above all else, fight each other tooth and nail on the day of the teachings. people are willing to do just about anything to get close to the dalai lama.

oddly enough, after we saved our places, we found out that the dalai lama does the teachings from the second floor *inside* the temple. you dont even see him (except when he walks in and walks out)! there literally is no advantage to being close to the front or not! so people are fighting over these spots just to be near where he is, even though they wont see anything anyway. crazy.

the temple itself is an incredible place. inside and outside there are many many prayer wheels, some big some small, some red some golden, and even a few that are absolutely enormous (7 feet tall). there’s a long path around the temple that goes through the woods where people circumambulate the temple. along the path are tons of stones with what i assume are tibetan prayers on them. the prayers are written in many different colors, and the walk around the temple is so beautiful and serene. incredible mountains and forest on one side, the majestic temple on another, and the path is filled with tons of tibetans walking slowly while holding prayer beads and muttering prayers.

watching the tibetans around here is quite a sight in itself. their devotion to their religion and to the dalai lama in particular is so overwhelming. watching them say prayers, fidget w/ their beads, and do prostrations on the ground in front of the temple is so incredible. everyone is decked out in fancy costumes. they get up from before 5:30am to go do their prayers at times. such a devout group of people. but i guess it makes sense that they love the dalai lama so much. he’s incredibly charasmatic, he’s a political leader, he’s a spiritual leader, he’s an incredibly wise author, he almost singlehandedly brough the “free tibet” cause to the world stage, and many people’s eyes, he literally is a god.. a reincarnation of a buddha.

i can’t wait till the teachings start…

*v

winter wonderland

just 2 days ago i wrote an email to gerlandon saying that i was really wishing tha i could enjoy some snow. it’s been lightly snowing on and off in between hail and rain up here, but the snow has always melted as soon as it hit the ground. i kept looking at the distant mountains, covered completely by snow, and wishing that the snow would fall here too. well, it finally did. last night it started snowing pretty hard. we walked back to our hotel room and i was a bit bummed that probably by the time we got up, the snow will have melted and we wouldnt be able to enjoy it…

i was totally wrong. i woke up, looked out the window, and the world was white. snow everywhere!! the trees were covered, the roads were covered, buildings were covered.. everything. it was all incredibly beautiful. as we walked throuigh town, it was amazing how different everything looked. red robed monks plowed through the white powder, trying to shield their faces from the snow w/ umbrellas or with just their cloaks. snow sprinkled cows wandered about. amazing!! at one point i felt a few snowballs hit my back. when i looked up, it turned out that a bunch of monks standing on top of the monastary were throwing snowballs down on the people below while yelling cheerful “good morning!!!” too funny. actually a lot of people in town seemed to be 5really excited by the snow and lots of people were running around, playing, and having a blast.


cow, braving the snow


monk


caryn

the walk up to the meditation center was a tough one. the road is steep as hell, and is tough to walk up on a normal day, but being covered with snow, it was extra difficult. we walked up the road taking in the spectacular scenerey, and shivering the whole time. even the monkeys were cold today, and instead of digging in the dumpster as usual, they were all huddled together under a buildings overhang. one of them was stealthily trying to break into the hotel! it was pawing through an open window, trying to squeeze into it, and after giving up, started trying to steal the curtain hanging inside! this was definitely one of the many times where i had to wonder.. is this really my life?? walking through snowy passes in the himalayas while watching monks plow through snow and monkeys huddle around… that’s stuff that belongs in a movie.. not my life.


monkeys


monkeys


me, trying to stay dry!

we spent the day in the meditation center, where we all struggled desperately to keep warm while we meditated or listened to the teacher. the snow kept falling and falling all day, and judging from the amount of snow on the rooftops, i’d say we got about a foot and a half of snow!! we started our treck back to town. b this time, the snow had stopped, and a lot of it was tuening to ice. it was nearly impossible to get a good grip on the road, and people were sliding and slipping the whole wa down the steep road. in town, it was moe of the same. the roads were so slippery!! every step you took had to be very slow and clculated to keep you from falling over. we had so many close calls, but luckily never actually fell to the ground.


the stupa at Tushita meditation center w/ prayer flags

all in all, it was such a cool day. i’m so glad that i got to see a least a little bit of snow this winter!


monks in the town square


temple in town (pre-snow)


this statue in our meditation center is over 10 feet high!

*v

buddhism

over the last four days, i’ve been going to the Intro to Buddhism class that i signed up for. class each day is from 8am to about 5pm. getting up each morning is so tough!! the class is taught by a buddhist nun named Rita. she’s originally from switzerland, but has been a nun for the last 14 years and she is a really really good teacher. we’ve learned an incredible amount of stuff in such a short amount of time. it’s really a lot to take in. class starts off with 45 minutes of meditation, followed by 2.5 hours of teaching, then an hour for lunch followed by 1 hour of group discussion, then 2 more hours of teaching and then 45 minutes of meditation.

buddhism is both a religion and a philosophy. part of it is about acheiving peace of mind and calmness in your daily life and also about showing compassion to others. that’s the part i’ve always been interested in and have always wondered if i could somehow incorporate into my own life. as far as the religion part, although i’m not shopping around for a new religion, i always find it inetresting to learn about the religion of other people. i think it definitely gives great insight into their culture etc. one of the main things that separates buddhism from most of the religions we have in the west, is that in buddhism, there is no “god”. no creator or anything like that. buddha was just a normal person like you and me who acheived enlightenment. something that apparently, others can do for themselves too and become a buddha themselves!

following is a ridiculously brief overview of what i’ve learned and some thougts about it:

Suffering and Attachments

one of the main thoughts in buddhism is that life is suffering. no matter what. you may think that your life is good, you’re happy most of the time, you have lots of friends, job security, blah, blah… but really your life is suffering. that may seem a bit bizarre when you first hear it, but here’s the line of reasoning: all the things that you value in life are impermanent, in other words they dont last. they may bring you temporary pleasure, but none of them will last and when they disappear, that gives you pain beacause of your attachment to them. pleasure is not the same as happiness. for instance, you may get all excited about your new car. you love it and treasure it. a week later, someone does a hit and run totaling your car. because of your attachment, you are now miserable for a long time. same thing goes for friends. you have a good friend. one day your friend decides that they hate you and never want to speak to you again. once again, you’re left feeling like crap.

basically, you just go through life picking up possessions and friends left and right, but it only brings you temporary pleasures. not real happiness. often times, these material things will end up not even giving you temporary pleasure even. so, what to do? well, you’re supposed to work on making yourself really happy, from the inside, by following the buddhist path instead of getting happiness form your attachments. you are supposed to eliminate desire from your life and that way, you will not feel depressed when these things disappear.

in some ways, i really agree with this. although i dont really think that life is suffering per se, i do think that a lot of sorrow in people’s lives come from unhealthy attachments. especially in the fast paced money-centric bay area, so many people are obssessed with getting that huge house, the shiny new car (or 2 or 3), the biggest stereo, the hottest new cellphone, etc etc. they’re constantly striving to get bigger and better and newer toys. and where does that leave them? usually misearble. they get sick of their toys so fast, and just end up wanting something else even newer. they begin to find their life empty. or, they lose their job and can no longer buy the toys they want and now they’re miserable. or they’re jealous of the fact that others have more than they do.

so much importance is put on material possessions. it’s absurd. and when i look around, it’s usually the people who have the least who are the happiest. in my own life, i must admit that i do love my toys. i was psyched to buy that new 40 gig mp3 player. and a new digital camera. but, at the same time, i’m not that *attached* to them. if i ended up not having these things, honestly i wouldnt care all that much. heh, maybe i’m good at this “not having attachments” thing. currently… i’m on the road and i own virtually nothing. all i have is a backpack, and it pretty much only has clothes. i have virtually nothing… and i want virtually nothing.

but, attachment is not necessarily only about things. in buddhism, it applies to people too. you can like people, and even love them, but your goal should be to keep from being “attached” so that way, if they leave you or die, you will not become unhappy. and that, i really disagree with. i think it’s important to miss people. in a way, missing people is a really beautiful thing because it just shows you how much they mean to you. in a previous post, i wrote that “i think people are lucky that we care enough about each other to feel such intense and strong emotions when someone passes away. people love each other and slowly form strong unbreakable bonds together and when those bonds are severed, severed by death, the only thing that can break the unbreakable, it is only right that our whole world should come crashing down on us. i think life would be horrible and ugly if we could just shrug off the death of a loved one and not care. it’s only when someone’s absence can really hurt you, that they mean the most.” and i really do still think that. sure, these attachments to people do cause suffering, but i dont necessarily think that’s a bad thing.

and last, the thing that most people are most attached to… is their own body. and thus, when it is time for them to die, and to lose that body, most people can hardly face it. but, that’s another topic altogether which i’ll mention below.

Meditation

so, let’s say you want to shrug off all of these attachments. you want to end the suffering and become happy. how do you do it? well, buddhists believe that everyone is born with a pure mind, or what is called a “buddha mind”. unfortunately, since that mind is stuck in a body, it’s perfection is clouded by all sorts of delusions (like attachments, anger, pride, etc) which keep you in the state of suffering. you need to slowly work on getting rid of these delusions to finally clear your mind, and maybe some day even attain enlightenment. this clearing of the mind is done by meditation.

over the last few days we’ve been meditating twice everyday and it is so hard!! you are supposed to sit still, crosslegged, with your back straight, and fixate on clearing your mind of all thought. first off, it’s uncomforatble. my back ends up hurting and since it’s *freezing* in the meditation hall, you’re often distracted by the cold. secondly, it’s virtually impossible to think about nothing. well, at least for more than two seconds. i’ll start off, clear my mind, and then two seconds later i start thinking something, which goes off on another tangent, and then another, and pretty soon all of a sudden i realize i’ve been thinking about stuff for like 5 minutes. crap!

so, i try to clear my mind again. i try to stop all thought. this lasts maybe another few seconds before i start thinking again. arggh! it’s *so* frustrating. practically impossible. one technique that is supposed to help is to concentrate on your breathing. you concentrate on yourself breathing in and out in and out in and out. this kind of helps because it keeps my mind still for a bit… but then my mind driftes again. i start to think what i’m going to write in my blog about meditation!! doh!!

all of this meditation slowly teaches you to control your mind and relax it. instead of havinga billion thoughts jumbling around as most people do, eventually your mind has complete discipline and it thinks about what *you* want it to think about instead of it deciding for itself. once you can control your thoughts, you can control whether you have attachments to material things. you can also control your anger. when something bad happens, instead of getting all angry, you can keep your mind in check and realize that anger is useless.

this really does seem like a great thing to do, and i would love to keep practicing this. maybe someday i’ll actually have a clear mind, free from worries, doubt, and other negative crap. but… here i find something that i have issues with too. the object of this controlled mind is to have a “calm peaceful mind”. this mind does not experience the wide crazy uncontrolled highs and lows. it is always in check and in a state of serenity. well, although i would love to have a mind that is free from all bad things, i dont think that i would want to have a mind that is kept from experiencing the highs of life. you are not supposed to experience passion in buddhism!! i dunno, but for me, i’d rather be able to get really really excited about things… even if this means that the ups will sometimes have equivalent downs.

Karma and Reincarnation

most people are familiar w/ the term karma, but i dont think most people have a full understanding about it. the basic principal here, is that every action has a reaction. it’s like physics… but instead of applying to physical objects, it applies to positive and negative deeds. basically, if you do something bad, it gives you bad karma, and eventually something bad will happen to you. if you do something good, the same principal works. now, this is something that’s a bit more difficult for me to believe. i guess i’ve learned too much science in my life and things that aren’t explained by physics are often hard for me to believe. how can i really know that if something good happens to me, that it happened because of something i did before?

but it gets even more tricky. buddhists believe in reincarnation. when your body dies, your mind lives on and gets reborn in another body… and your karma comes with it!! so if you do something really really bad, even if the bad thing doesnt return to you right away, it can come back and get you in another life! so, this kind of explains the “why do bad things happen to good people?” question. even if they have been really good in *this* life, they may still suffer the effects of bad karma from the previous one. thus, we are always responsible for our own suffering and for our own good fortunes, even though it may have been due to something we did in a previous life.

so we go through life building up karma, and when karma hits us back (in a negative or positive way) tha bit of karma dissipates. believe it or not, this is a great source of happiness for monks and other buddhists. if their life is horrible, for instance, if they are a tibetan stuck in prison and being tortured, they see that as a result of bad karma that they have acquired, and now since the bad karma is affecting them and dissipating, they now have less bad karma! so, their pain is a good thing!! they are actually on their way of getting rid of tons of bad karma. interesting way of looking at things, eh?

so, what are these deeds that give you good or bad karma? well, there’s a ton of different ones. bad karma is acquired by killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct, slander, etc etc. good karma is acquired when you give offerings to buddha, follow the buddhist practices, and also mainly when you do deeds of compassion. compassion plays a huge role in buddhism and it’s incredibly important to help others. i definitely think that’s one of the really good points of the religion. in fact, one of the main reasons for wanting enlightenment (which i’ll mention next), is not only for yourself, but because when you’re enlightened, you can help others more and help them acheive enlightenment!

Enlightenment and the Buddha

the main goal as you continue to practice buddhism, as you continue getting better and better karma and you keep strengthening your mind is that eventually you’ll acheive enlightenment, a state of awakening where you have pure bliss. you finally see the world as it really is, and your mind is no longer clouded with delusions. the state of nirvana. once you are enlightened, you become a buddha. this came as quite a shock to me. i though there was one and only one buddha, but it turns out that the buddha we always hear about (who started buddhism in 500 BC) was just one of many many buddhas. buddha just means “the awakened one”. apparently, any one of us can fulfill our “buddha potential” and become a buddha one day.

Death

there is a lot that the buddhist faith has to say abouty death. in buddhism, death is not altogether a bad thing. if you die, you just become reborn, so there really is no reason to be afraid of it. but, people dont want to die because of their attachments. they dont want to leave their possessions, they dont want to leave their friends and family, and they most definitely dont want to leave their most prized possession… their body. so, through meditation, you are supposed to try and decrease your attachments so when the time comes to die, it is not a sad thing.

the other cause for our fear of death is because we feel we are permanent. of course, we theoretically know we’ll die, but most people dont *really* accept it and always think of death as some far away thing that wont happen for ages. so beacuse of this denial, when death does occur, especially if it happens much earlier than we thought, we are terrified. so in buddhism, we’re supposed to concentrate on our own impermanence. that we may *not* live to be old. we dont know when we will die, and it may be soon. even tomorrow.. or even tonight. grim thought, huh?

our exercise for today was to spend our lunchtime thinking that this was our last hour of life. our last meal. how would this affect our emotions? would we enjoy our food more because we want to enjoy our last moments? or would we not want to bother to eat since, well, what’s the point? it was a rough exercise. everyone spent the hour of lunch moping around. for me personally, at first i tried to enjoy my food as much as i could. normally i may have thought it crap.. but hey, it’s my last meal!! all of a sudden it didnt taste so bad. but then i got really frustrated. this is my last hour!! why am i wasting it eating subpar food in this damn cafeteria. shouldnt i be out enjoying my last time on earth by having fun??

anyways, one of the points of the exercise was obviously, that anything you want to do.. do it now!! dont hold off. dont wait to do it cause you have plenty of time to live and do things later. maybe you dont. the buddhists would say to meditate and acquire good karma while you can. my own view.. would be to enjoy life all you can. have fun. live life to its fullest. dont settle for a crap job, or dont waste your time being bored. get out there. enjoy things. seize the day and all that cliched stuff. really.

the Silent Treatment

one of the rules of this class is that we’re supposed to not talk on our breaks or at lunch. at all. we have to remain silent. this is so we can think about the things we learned without chitchatting to others about them, or about other nonsense. lemme tell ya… it sucks!! i hate being silent. eating food and just sitting there. ugh. especially when you’re surrounded by all these people. i constantly want to ask people what they think of the course, or how they’re doing, or whatever… but i cant.. instead we all just sit there in silence. and it’s an uncomfortable silence. a room full of people just staring at each other w/ nothing to do but think. ugh!

so, i guess that’s it for now. that’s a rough synopsis of what i’ve learned. of course, i’ve really really simplified a lot of the concepts and left tons and tons out. but it’s some basics. it’s definitely some interesting stuff, and i’ve really been enjoying the classes. i’m eager also to see how much of this i can actually apply to my life.

in the mean time, the weather has become even worse. it’s been snowing and hailing on and off for the last few days. but it hasnt been cold enough so far, so the hail would just melt when it hit the ground. but tonght it’s below freezing. all the roads are covered w/ slushy ice. you walk around and stumble into muddy puddles hidden by the ice. the rain/hail comes down like crazy. and we’re soaked all the time. but i guess like buddha said, “life is suffering”!!

*v