Saturday, April 26, 2014

India Adventure: Farewell, India and Hello, Thailand

Pema, Venerable Nawang Celek, and all of my luggage in front of the Deer Park Institute main temple.
While that multi-leg public transportation trip I took from Mcleod Ganj to Deer Park Institute in Tibetan Bir Colony was technically doable, I didn’t wake up in time for the following morning’s 6:45am Pali chanting meditation session. However, I did make it to – and enjoy – the following 7 days’ early morning sessions. It was a wonderful way to start each day, especially since I had gone back up to Deer Park Institute for a second time on this trip to relax and meditate, in preparation for my departure from India.

The 6:45am sessions were led by Thai monks Damrongdham and Oat. They are in personal retreat at Deer Park, but have been offering meditation practice classes to the community, in addition to the morning Pali chanting meditation sessions. In addition to being able to spend a good amount of time talking with them, I also got to attend two classes they taught about how to meditate. We learned how to meditate while sitting, standing, walking, and lying on your side.

The other students who took those classes with me were at Deer Park as part of an organized Yoga tour group facilitated by a German yoga teacher, or like me were in personal retreats at Deer Park.

In addition to the classes, I joined high school students from Delhi, who were at Deer Park with their teachers for a school trip, to watch a documentary film about Tibetans in exile. One of the highlights of this stay at Deer Park was hearing one of Deer Park’s resident teachers, Tibetan monk Khenpo Nawang Woser tell the students about his personal experience fleeing Tibet for India. The first time I met Khenpo at Deer Park, I dropped a package of crackers on the steps. He said “See, we can’t even hold onto a package of crackers.” I was so excited to get to later attend one of the teachings he gave the high school students. It was great to talk with him about teaching styles and communications. It was so nice to get to know Khenpo.

With Khempo.
In addition to taking teachings from Khenpo, Damrongdham, and Oat, I got to sit in on the last 2 days of a 20 day Calm Abiding Meditation course taught by Logsang Choegyal Rinpoche at Deer Park. Rinpoche’s Tibetan was translated into English by a young Israeli named Ben, for the benefit of the 3 other students in the class. I first got to know Rinpoche in March, when my friend Yaron took me to one of his teachings in Mcleod Ganj. I first met Ben at His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Lam Rim teachings over the winter holidays. It was so wonderful to get to spend time with them again. They are a really good teacher and translator pair. Those last 2 days of the course felt even more special when Rinpoche offered each of his students – including me – khatas (scarves), blessed us, and then posed for photos with us. At his suggestion we even had a little cake and tea celebration at the conclusion of the course. It was sad to see him leave Deer Park, knowing that he really only teaches in Mcleod Ganj so I won’t have the opportunity to see him in the US.

Rinpoche and Ben.
Pema, the Deer Park resident Bhutanese monk who teaches Tibetan classes at Deer Park, let me know that the manager of the Tibetan Y Corner Café in Tibetan Bir Colony was interested in practicing the English he had been studying at his monastic university, Dzongsar University. Loga, a young Nepali monk and I sat together on the Y Corner Café patio, enjoying delicious Lemon Ginger Tea and talking, for part of my last 3 days at Deer Park. Loga showed me photos on his phone that he had taken last time he went home to visit his family. They live in a village in western Nepal, on the border with Tibet. Snow was falling on Loga, his family members, village children, community members’ yaks, and on the already white mountains, in all of the photos. Everyone was smiling – well, not the yaks. I admired their spirit, considering how cold it was and the probable lack of indoor heat.

The two monks who manage the Tibetan Y Corner Cafe. Loga is on the right.
I will miss my visits to the Y Corner Cafe. The other Dzongsar University student and the 2 young Indian men who run the cafe always warmly welcomed me, and prepared delicious food. It was a great spot, and one of the reasons I enjoyed my stays at Deer Park so much.

Loga came with me to visit the Tibetan family who had housed and fed Luckypuppy while I was looking after him, before bringing him to Dharamsala Animal Rescue. Loga kindly translated from English into Tibetan for me, so that I could let the family know what had happened to Luckypuppy. They were so kind and understanding. It gave me some closure over the situation with Luckypuppy – watching him suffer from the 3 leg fractures and 2 deep wounds in the same leg, and then learning of his death after surviving his amputation surgery at Dharamsala Animal Rescue.

I also got to personally thank Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo for blessing Luckypuppy on April 5, the day that he died. She makes herself available for private hour-long appointments at the nunnery she founded, DGL Nunnery, when she is there, and not traveling. I got to take a 40 minute bus ride from Deer Park to DGL on April 17, for an afternoon appointment. Having recently taken 2 teachings from her, I had a few outstanding questions to ask. It was remarkable that I got to spend that time with her in a private audience, and that I got to see DGL, nestled in a valley within view of the snow covered Himalayan Mountains. The interior of DGL’s temple is decorated with female deities, which from my limited experience is quite unusual. It was so great to get to meditate in there before my scheduled meeting with her.

DGL Nunnery's temple.
In addition to seeing DGL, I visited a nearby Tibetan Buddhist monastery on Easter Sunday for a puja performed by the resident monks, in honor of a female deity. It was unrelated to Easter, but it was fun to do something special on Easter Sunday. I also visited Chokling Monastery before I left Deer Park on April 22. Chokling Monastery is just next door to Chokling Guest House, where I slept when I first went to Deer Park for Jestuma Tenzin Palmo’s teaching. The row of beautiful, large stupas that sit on the temple’s front lawn share the same beautiful backdrop with the temple – the Himalayan Mountains. Between the brightly colored, intricately decorated Buddhist institutions in Bir, and the snow covered mountains, Bir is a really beautiful place.
Chokling Monastery and stupas.
The community is so nice, too. I got to know Doctor (Mrs.) Dechen Choedon (Menrampa) and Doctor (Mrs.) Tseyang, and the mostly female staff at the local Tibetan medicine Men-Tsee-Khang clinic pretty well, over the course of my 2 visits to Deer Park. They provided me with amazing, compassionate care and advice for not only myself, but advice and suggested treatment for 2 friends back in the US. I look forward to visiting them next time I am in Deer Park. If you'd like to learn more about Tibetan medicine then look for books by Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's former personal physician.

I left Bir this past Thursday, April 21 on a 14 hour overnight bus bound for India’s capital city, Delhi. I was the subject of so much kindness on the trip. A man standing on the roadside in Bir made sure I got on the proper bus when it stopped for passengers in Bir, the bus conductor made sure I traveled safely from Bir to Delhi, and two young women on the train escorted me from the bus stop in Delhi to the Delhi metro line that I needed to take, to get to the place I was staying in Delhi – the Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre (Tushita Delhi). People are so nice.

I was glad to arrive at, and get to see Tushita Delhi. It is a study center affiliated with Lama Zopa and Lama Yeshe’s organization, FPMT (Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition.) Tushita means "Pure Land". That probably explains why the word "Tushita" is a part of 2 different centers I studied at, on my trip - Tushita Meditation Center in Mcleod Ganj, and Tushita Delhi in Delhi.

A young Indian nun I first met at His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Lam Rim winter teachings lives at, and runs Tushita Delhi. She teaches meditation and Buddhism to mostly Indian students on week nights, held in the center’s gompa. She also manages a bedroom in the residential property occupied by Tushita Delhi, that serves as a dorm room for Buddhists visiting Delhi.

I got to stay in the Tushita Delhi dorm for the 2 nights I spent in Delhi – this past Wednesday and Thursday nights. I shared the room with a Mexican woman named Ceclia who had just finished a Buddhist retreat run by her Australian teacher who she met when he came to Mexico, to teach.

It was great to share the house with the resident nun (who happens to be a former Bollywood actress) and Ceclia. We had access to the tea, fruit, juice, and bread in the kitchen. It was such a nice, comfortable, warm place to stay in what is otherwise a big, modern city. It was the perfect way to end my travels in India.

In addition to spending time with the nun and Ceclia, I ran into Kavita, my roommate from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Lam Rim teachings, again, while in Delhi. She was visiting her brother and his family who live in Delhi. Kavita, Ceclia and I went to a nearby Jamaican restaurant for lunch on my first day back in Delhi. Rolling Stone’s India edition was laying about in the restaurant, which I quite enjoyed. I am almost back in the US, but not quite.

Cecelia and I also went to visit the Baha'i Temple in Delhi, also known was the Lotus Temple because of its architectural design, that makes the building look like a lotus flower. This temple is one of only 7 Baha'i temples in the world. It is renowned for its architecture, use of concrete, and beautiful outdoor lighting. I wanted to visit because I got to visit the Bahai Temple in Kampala, Uganda in 2011.

Baha'i (Lotus) Temple in Delhi.
I also stopped by the American Embassy School - Delhi, a nonprofit school campus for elementary, middle, and high school students, most of whom are expats. Two of the school's staff members and I graduated from the same university. It was fun to see what one of the world's best private schools for expats' children looks like, and to observe such a mixed group of students going about an average school day. Marcus Eriksen of 5 Gyres, a nonprofit that I know through my involvement with the Surfrider Foundation, was also in Delhi, invited by the AES middle school to educate the students about marine debris. Unfortunately Marcus and I didn't run into each other, but I enjoyed hearing that he was there.

In addition to attending one of the Tushita Delhi resident nun’s teachings and a meditation class in the gompa at Tushita Delhi, I got to visit Tibet House – Delhi for a private meeting with Geshe Dorji Damdul (Geshe la) on the day I arrived in Delhi. He runs Tibet House – Delhi, used to translate for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, maintains a rigorous teaching schedule at Tibet House – Delhi, and taught one of the courses I took at Deer Park Institute earlier this month. I was really looking forward to seeing him again, and discussing some of my outstanding questions. He is a deeply compassionate teacher and an amazing teacher.

I returned to Tibet House – Delhi last night (my final night in Delhi, and in India) to attend of Geshe la’s teachings. It was amazing to get to be there, last night – particularly because I was looking for a meaningful way to celebrate the 25th Birthday of the world’s youngest political prisoner, the Panchen Lama. Born in Tibet, he disappeared days after His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognized him as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama.

Geshe la teaching at Tibet House - Delhi last night
I said goodbye to Geshe la after his teaching ended last night, returned to Tushita Delhi to collect my luggage, and then took public transportation to the Delhi airport. It was the perfect way to conclude my time in India.

I then spent the night at the Delhi airport (perfectly safe and comfortable, in the company of many other travelers) before boarding my flight to Thailand at about 4:30am this morning. I arrived at my friend Julie’s apartment in Bangkok early this afternoon. I am happy to be here, and am looking forward to relaxing and exploring Thailand.

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