Wednesday, April 16, 2014

India Adventure: Mcleod Ganj (again)

Tia in Mcleod Ganj.
It’s a good thing I took it easy at Deer Park Institute in Tibetan Bir Colony for the first 3 days of April, after Geshe la’s course ended on March 31. Things were about to get crazy busy.

On Friday morning, April 4 I left Tibetan Bir Colony in a taxi with my friend Tia, bound for Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo’s April 4 afternoon teaching at Tushita Meditation Center in Mcleod Ganj. We stopped along the way at a well known Hindu temple and at a Palampur restaurant for a delicious South Indian lunch of masala dosas. I checked  (back) into Shree Guest House in Mcleod Ganj, and headed up the hill to Tushita Meditation Center, which has become one of my homes away from home.

Even though Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo’s teaching wasn’t scheduled to begin for another hour, the gompa was already almost full to capacity with a mostly Western audience. I ran into my friend Sharnon who is in the FPMT Translator course, and we squeezed into a spot on the floor in the gompa. My friend Greg, who I had met during Lama Zopa’s teachings in Bodhgaya saw us, and came over to say hi.

Sharnon and I happened to be sitting in front of Deb, the San Franciscan who founded Dharamsala Animal Rescue (DAR), who had taken Luckypuppy in 6 days ago. I was so excited to get to meet Deb in person. Deb told me Luckypuppy had had his leg amputated by one of DAR’s vets on Wednesday, April 2. The surgery had gone well, but Luckypuppy was in pain. We talked about when I could visit Luckypuppy, catch up with Deb, and learn more about DAR.

It was also wonderful to see Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo (Jetsuma) again. She talked about the importance of watering the flowers (the good things about yourself) just as you work on pulling out the weeds. She reminded us that our intellectual knowledge doesn’t go with us into our next rebirth, so we must keep doing our practice, including meditations, generating everlasting love and compassion for sentient beings. She introduced Shamatha meditation, and encouraged us to attend the following day’s Shamatha Meditation short course taught by Glen Svensson, which would also be held at Tushita Meditation Center. Photos from the teaching are on Tushita’s Facebook page – see if you can find me, sitting on the floor in the gompa. I am wearing a red long sleeve top and blue pants.

Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo teaching. Photo taken from the Tushita Facebook page.
After the teaching ended Tia, who is one of Jetsuma’s students, my friend Jeff from Gen Gyatso’s January course at the Root Institute, and I hung out outside of the gompa, to see if we could see Jetsuma leave. Jetsuma was in a meeting with students from Emory University. While we were waiting, we saw the western nuns who stay at Thosamling Institute for International Buddhist Women, who had also come to Tushita for the teaching. It was wonderful to unexpectedly see them again.

Tia, Jeff and I left Tushita when it looked like Jetsuma wasn’t going to be leaving anytime soon, and walked to the nearby village of Dharamkot for dinner. It was the first time I’d visited Dharamkot, a quaint little village set on the hillside, in the woods above Mcleod Ganj. There seem to be few roads in Dharamkot. The restaurants and guest houses are mostly accessible by winding foot paths. The food was delicious, and it was fun to sit and talk with Tia about her creative writing, and Jeff’s experience teaching English in Japan.
The next morning I walked back up the hill from Shree Guest House to Tushita, to attend Glenn Svensson’s course on Shamatha Meditation and the Four Immeasurables. The gompa was full, but not uncomfortably so. I ran into my friend Yaron, who like Sharon is in the FPMT Translator program.

Glen teaching in the Tushita gompa. I took this during a 10 minute break between meditation sessions. Glen is sitting at the table in the front talking with a student.
Glen taught us that the goal of Shamatha Meditation is to make your mind stable and clear. If you suppress thoughts while meditating then you are just feeding those thoughts. Just observe your thoughts so they don’t overwhelm you. He reminded us not to see difficult situations as problems, but as opportunities that we can use to further develop as people, by working with and through those difficulties. Glen taught us about cognitive fusion, the separation of a person from the act that the person has done. He also reminded us to apply this to ourselves. You are not a “bad person” just because you did a bad thing. (Likewise you are not “good person” because you did a good thing.)

Glen recorded the day’s teaching. The audio can be found on Tushita Meditation Center’s website. Glen has other resources on his website. He recommended the book Attention Revolution by B. Alan Wallace, and the website www.sbinstitute.com for information about Shamatha Meditation Retreats.

Many, if not all of the Buddhist study centers in Mcleod Ganj are closed on Sundays, so I spent the day following the teaching, Sunday, April 6 hiking around the hillside above Tushita and Dharmkot with my friend Greg. After a delicious falafel and hummus lunch in Dharamkot (there are many Israeli tourists in India, and businesses that cater to them in Mcleod Ganj and Dharamkot) Greg and I visited the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) whose mission is “to ensure that all Tibetan children under its care receive a sound education, a firm cultural identity and become self-reliant and contributing members of the Tibetan community and the world at large”. I also got to see the guest house hidden in the woods that Greg has been returning to for years, to do personal retreats. It was really interesting to hear about Greg’s discovery of Buddhism, his involvement in FPMT centers around the world, and about Lama Yeshe, who passed away in 1984.

Luckypuppy in the garden at DAR. I took this photo from DAR's Facebook  page.
That night I learned that Luckypuppy had passed away the previous night. He went into shock the day prior, while I was in the Shamatha course, and although he started to recover, he later passed away. One of DAR’s employees was there when Luckypuppy died, so he did not die alone. Also, one of Jetsuma’s students works at DAR. Jetsuma visited DAR on Saturday, and did a Medicine Buddha puja at DAR. She was there when Luckypuppy was brought into the operating room, in shock, and blessed Luckypuppy. I think he was also buried with a blessing cord, blessed by Jetsuma, tied around his neck. Jetsuma said that because of all of the love he received, that he will have a higher rebirth.  There are photos of Luckypuppy on DAR’s Facebook page and a blog post about him on DAR’s website. If you are able then please make a donation to DAR on a certain day in May (I think it's either May 7 or May 9 but am sure DAR will promote it on their website and Facebook page as the date gets closer), when donations made to DAR on globalgiving.org will be matched 30%.

I went to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple the next afternoon to make a donation to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Trust and give Luckypuppy’s name for His Holiness to include in his prayers, and make offerings to the Buddha for a good rebirth for Luckypuppy.

The entrance to His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple is in the far background, marked by the light colored stone arch. It's also the entrance to the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics where I took classes with Geshe ma, and is the entrance to the Tibet Museum. No cameras or cell phones are permitted inside of the temple.
That Monday was a particularly busy day. I started the day with two back to back teachings at the Library for Tibetan Works & Archives. The teachings I attended were part of two ongoing Buddhist philosophy courses offered for free by the library. The courses are taught by Tibetan monks in Tibetan, but each teacher has a translator, who translates the teachings into English. Geshe Gyaltsen Tsering teaches the first course, from 9-10am. Geshe Lobsang Tsondu teaches the second course, about the first chapter of Udansavargva, from 11 – 12noon. Geshe Lobsang Tsondu’s translator, Julia Wilson is an American who went to university in San Francisco. It was fun to talk with her after class ended.

Just another morning at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, outside of the entrance to the Buddhist Philosophy classroom.
I then had lunch at the canteen, which is located in the center of a campus that includes the library, teaching halls, and Tibetan Government in Exile office buildings. Most of the people who eat at the canteen seem to be students visiting the library. It has a good vibe. I met an older Latvian nun at the canteen whose lay name was Margaret. She is a retired university professor, and has been a nun for 3 years. She told me the Karmapa had returned to his home in exile, Gyuto Monastery, in nearby Sidhpur. That was very exciting, because I have been looking forward to seeing him during one of the public appearances he gives on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Gyuto Monastery temple, when he is home.

That afternoon I went to the Institute for Buddhist Dialectics (IBD) for the first time, for the start of a 3 month advanced Buddhist Philosophy course taught by the only female Geshe in the world, a German nun named Geshe Kelsang Wangmo (Geshe ma). Geshe ma is a student of both Gen Gyatso, who I took the Mind Training course with at the Root Institute in January, and Geshe Dorji Damdul, who I took a course with at Deer Park Institute. Venerable Sarah Thresher, who I took the Experience Buddhism at the Root Institute course with in March, told me that I would like studying with Geshe ma. I was so happy that I happened to be in Mcleod during the first week of Geshe ma’s course, especially after learning that she primarily teaches at IBD in Mcleod and doesn't travel much.

Geshe ma teaching at Institute of Buddhist Dialectics.
Geshe ma is a wonderful teacher. She is so kind, and really engages her students in discussion during class. It was fun to see two of Tushita’s resident western female nuns and two of Tushita’s female volunteers at Geshe ma’s teaching. One of the nuns used to live in San Francisco, as did one of the lay students in the course.

The 2 hour teaching ended at 6pm. I then met up with Yaron at the Japanese restaurant in Mcleod Ganj (known simply as “the Japanese restaurant”) for a delicious dinner including the best cup of green tea I’ve had in months.

I walked up to Tushita the following morning, Tuesday April 8 for the Drop In Meditation session led by my meditation teacher from Holland, Richard, who lives and works at Tushita. The meditation was so crowded. Richard reminded us that the thoughts that come into our mind are just pictures, and that we should just recognize them as such, and let those pictures go. I ran into Deb, the founder of Dharamsala Animal Rescue, and one of her employees Monya and her dog, on the street in Mcleod that night. They invited me to a nearby restaurant, where I got to learn more about them, Luckypuppy’s last week, and DAR. I am so glad I got to spend that time with them, because I didn’t wind up having a chance to visit DAR again, as I had hoped to be able to do before I left Mcleod Ganj.

I did get to visit the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TBiE), though. A Tibetan friend who works for the government gave me a tour of the TPiE main building on Wednesday, April 9, including the room where the Parliament members meet. This was equivalent to visiting the US House of Representatives floor, and the US Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. It was amazing. He also answered more of my never ending questions about the structure and activities of the TPiE. We met up later for dinner, and for lunch at the canteen when I was back at the library on Friday for more teachings.

Tibetan Parliament in Exile. View of the Parliament's floor from the visitor's seating area.
That same day, I took another Buddhist Philosophy teaching at the library with Geshe Lobsang Tsondu (and his translator, Julia), sat in on an Intermediate Tibetan Language course class, visited the Tibetan medicine institute, Men-Tsee-Khang’s museum, and attended the second day of Geshe ma’s course at the Institute for Buddhist Dialectics (IBD).

I was outside of IBD after class ended, and had the very good fortune to see Gen Gyatso walk by with Geshe ma. I was delighted to run into Gen Gyatso. It was so wonderful to see him, and to get to thank him for traveling all way to the Root Institute to teach the Mind Training course I took with him, back in January. He is really a wonderful person and teacher. He is one of the senior teachers at IBD, where he himself was once a student. I hope to get to see and study with him again one day.

The following day, Thursday, April 10 I traveled by shared taxi from Mcleod Ganj down to Dharamsala to the Foreigners Registration Office. I had to apply for another Protected Area Permit (PAP) so that I could return to Deer Park Institute, located in the protected area of Tibetan Bir Colony. Fortunately my application was processed relatively quickly, and I was able to visit the Tibet Museum before it closed for the day. The museum is located in the same compound as His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple and the Institute for Buddhist Dialectics. I learned more about the Tibetan situation and shed some tears.

An account of one Tibetan's escape from Tibet to India.
More about Migmar Tsering, who told the above story.
I was back at the library the next day, but this time sat in on the Tibetan Basic Language class. The course began on March 19. It is amazing how much the students learned in the first 3 weeks of the course. I happened to sit in on a day when the teacher, a nun, was going around the room and having each student speak out loud, one at a time, to ensure her students were learning the material. She included me in the exercises. The teacher was laid back and kind, so it was actually a fun, rather than intimidating experience. Just don’t ask me to speak in Tibetan next time you see me.

I attended a third teaching with Geshe Lobsang Tsondu and translator Julia again, following the language class. I really enjoyed his classes. I visited His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple for the last time during this trip to India, later that afternoon, before attending my last class with Geshe ma at IBD. She kindly agreed to take a photo with me after class. I am so fortunate that I got to study with, and meet her while in India.

Geshe ma.
Then I just had 2 days left in Mcleod Ganj, before returning to Deer Park Institute, and then back to Delhi and the airport. I spent this past Saturday in Sidhpur, south of Mcleod Ganj and Dharamsala visiting Norbulingka Institute and the Karmapa’s Gyuto Monastery. Sidhpur is a beautiful, more rural part of India, and is a nice change from busy, noisy Mcleod Ganj. I had fun taking the government buses, and walking along the dirt roads, over bridges and through small communities.

Norbulingka Institute was founded in 1988 to preserve and promote Tibetan culture and values by cultivating Tibetan literature and the arts. Norbulingka’s campus is gorgeous, containing workshops for thangka painting, woodworking, sculpture, and appliqué thankgka artistans, as well as a gompa, gift shop, hotels, and café. The appliqué thangkas hanging in the gompa and Norbulingka gift shop are the most beautiful thangkas I’ve ever seen. The Norbulingka Doll Museum is also absolutely amazing. Just like my visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra, I found myself thinking that it was worth a trip to India just to see the Doll Museum.

I then walked over to Gyuto Monastery in order to register with the security office to attend the Karmapa’s 2:30 public appearance and short teaching. After arriving at the monastery I learned that His Holiness the Karmapa would not be giving a public appearance that day because a teaching was taking place in the Gyuto Monastery temple. It was still a great day, though. The monastery is beautiful, and I stayed to attend the teaching in the temple, “The Main Text and Auto-Commentary on The Great Seal in the Precious Virtuous Word – Tradition by Panchen Losang Choegyan (1570 – 1662) taught by Venerable Professor Samdhong Rinpoche. Venerable Professor Samdhong Rinpoche is the previous Prime Minister of the Central Tibetan Administration (the Tibetan government in exile).

Venerable Professor Samdhong Rinpoche had already been teaching at the monastery for several days. A western student saw me lingering outside of the crowded temple, watching through a window, and invited me to sit inside with her, near the translator who was translating into English. So I got to sit in the large temple crowded with mostly monks, near the teacher, and listen to the teachings in English. Amazing. Venerable Professor Samdhong Rinpoche passed by me on his way out of the temple at the conclusion of the teaching, as I was bowing to him, made eye contact with me, and smiled.

I then ran into my friend Kavita and some of her friends, who were headed to Norbulinkga Institute for a dance performance. The event took place on the large stoop outside of the front of the Norbulingka temple. We sat on the ground in front of the temple with a mostly young Tibetan audience to watch young Tibetans perform traditional Tibetan songs and dances, attired in traditional Tibetan dress. It was so much fun.

The next day, my last full day in Mcleod Ganj, I went on an 8 hour round trip hike up through the woods above Mcleod Ganj and Dharamkot to Triund, and then back to my favorite restaurant in Mcleod Ganj, the Tibetan run Peace Cafe. Triund is in the Dauladhar Range of the Himalayas, at an elevation of 9,800 feet. I met a group of young Indian guys at the summit, who like me were staring out at the beautiful snow covered mountain peaks that seemed to be relatively close to us. I commented to one of the guys “beautiful, isn’t it?” and he replied so sincerely, “It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.” I think that sums up the hike quite well. I am so glad that I got up there before I left Mcleod.

You can see based on my attire that it was sunny and warm until we got to this snowy patch.

At Triund.

The view was spectacular - I couldn't stop smiling.
I met Tazzy for breakfast the next day, Monday, April 14, and heard about what I missed (and did not miss) when I didn’t make it to the Vipassana Meditation course that I was supposed to take with her. It was great to see her one more time before leaving Mcleod. I then walked up to Tushita to say goodbye to, and thank the Tushita staff in person. I am so glad that I got to talk with and thank Venerable Khunpen one last time. She has been at Tushita for 11 years, and is super amazing.

I ran into Greg and two of his friends on my way back down the hill. I joined them for a quick lunch of momo soup in Mcleod before running some last minute errands in town, collecting my luggage at Shree Guest House, and heading to the bus station to start my travels to Deer Park Institute.

It only took about about 5 hours, 1 shared taxi, 2 government buses, and 1 private taxi to reach Deer Park Institute from Mcleod Ganj. Not too bad, and a lot of fun along the way. Once again, people are so nice. I had plenty of help figuring out which buses to take, and when to get off each bus. Fortunately I donated some of my unneeded things to Lha, a Tibetan social work organization located in Mcleod Ganj, where my friend Jeff used to teach English to lay Tibetans and monks. That made lugging my stuff around on shared taxis and the buses quite manageable.

And so now I’m back at Deer Park Institute until April 22, when I will take an overnight bus back to Delhi. I will spend a few days in Delhi before leaving India from the Delhi airport on the morning of April 26. Only 9 full days left in India.

1 comment:

  1. I entered a long message, but it was deleted when I clicked on Post. I won't elaborate again, but am pleAsed that you enjoyed your stay. You can read more about my xperince on www.combatcritic.com sorry for the typos, but this form won't let me edit. All the best!

    ReplyDelete