Saturday, June 20, 2015

Farewell, India

Two weeks ago today I was at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India celebrating the conclusion of my three months of Tibetan language studies. That morning I was unexpectedly awarded a certificate from the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (Centre for Tibetan Studies) certifying my successful completion of the 2015 first trimester of the LTWA’s Basic Tibetan Speaking course. My certificate is registered under the Societies Registration Act XXI (1972) and is recognized by Himachal Pradesh University, H.P. (1991).
Me holding my certificate during the LTWA celebration.
The certificate was awarded to me during the celebration thrown by the LTWA’s Centre for Tibetan Studies for its Tibetan language students. About forty other LTWA Tibetan language students and I gathered together in a newly renovated room on the top floor of the main LTWA building, just across the hall from our Basic Tibetan Speaking course classroom for the celebration.

It was fun to recognize most of the faces of the room from my two courses, and to get to celebrate our three months of hard work together with our teachers. We were joined by our Basic Tibetan language course teachers Dekyi la and Ani la, LTWA Director Geshe Lhakdor and LTWA photographer Sonam Tsering who kindly documented the celebration for us.

The celebration kicked off with remarks from Tibetan monk Geshe Lhakdor. I was excited to get to hear him speak for the first time. Geshe Lhakdor was the English language translator for His Holiness the Dalai Lama from 1989 to 2005. He has co-translated and co-produced several books by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He received a Master of Prajnapramita degree from the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in 1982, as well as a Master of Madhyamika degree in 1989. He holds a Master of Philosophy degree from the University of Delhi. He is known for his fantastic teachings.

Geshe Lhakdor spoke candidly about the endangered status of the Tibetan language inside of Chinese occupied Tibet. He commended us for our efforts to learn Tibetan, remarking upon the value of our efforts to the preservation of the language. At this point I was sliding down in my seat in the back of the room, embarrassed because my Tibetan is so poor. But I will remember the emotion behind Geshe Lhakdor’s remarks and I WILL learn Tibetan.

Our teachers then called us to the front of the room one by one to receive a khata and certificate from Geshe Lhakdor. He asked each student where they were from as he presented us with our certificates. It was fun to even exchange just those few words with him. Each student then posed with Geshe Lhakdor as Sonam Tsering photographed us.

Having my photo taken with Geshe Lhakdor. Photo by Ingrid.

Me with Geshe Lhakdor and my certificate. Photo by Sonam Tsering.
We posed for a group photo after all certificates had been awarded.

LTWA celebration. Ani la is in the front row on the far left.  Dekyi la is just behind Geshe Lhakdor, in the red and grey dress. Geshe Lhakdor is in the center of the front row. I am in the far back row on the left still wearing my white khata from Geshe Lhakdor around my neck. Photo by Sonam Tsering.
Dekyi la and Ani la then celebrated our achievements with us over a feast of cookies, chocolates, and bananas. Everything about these past three months in Dharamsala has been so special, not the least of which is my Tibetan language teachers.

LTWA celebration.
It was also great to get to see and get to say goodbye to my friends from class Yukiko, Ingrid, and Tsering, as well as my first Tibetan conversation partner, Mark who dropped in to congratulate us.

Yukiko from Japan, me, Tsering from Switzerlalnd, and Ingrid from Switzerland.
I learned our friend Cindy left India several days earlier but I think she and I will cross paths again. When I thanked Dekyi la before the ceremony for everything she had done for me over the course of the trimester she humbly brushed off my thanks and kindly said we would continue working on my Tibetan next trimester. I then realized I had never told her that unlike many of my fellow students, I was only staying for one trimester. It was hard to tell her I was leaving India in three days. I am sure I will see Dekyi la again, too.

Hopefully my independent Tibetan language studies will have yielded results by the time I see these women again. I now have this certificate from Dekyi la to remind me of my commitment to learning and preserving the Tibetan language.

I capped off a memorable morning with one last hearty bowl of vegetable thukpa (with tofu) on the patio of my favorite local restaurant, Namgyal Café surrounded by good friends Aidan, Aniko, Kate, Omar and Randolf. We had last been together as a group at the Root Institute in Bodhgaya. It was great to get to see them all one more time before leaving India. I look forward to seeing them all again sometime, somewhere.

Kate from Russia, Aniko from the US, me, Aidan from England, Randolf from Singapore, and Omar from England at Namgyal Cafe.
Omar and Randolf then came with me to Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche’s 2PM class. It would be my last Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy class in India this trip. I was so happy to hear Omar tell Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche’s translator, Ben that he would join the class again the following week.

After the classroom had cleared out, Ben took me to Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche’s nearby apartment so I could make an offering to Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche and present a khata. This is where I had first met Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche a year earlier, when my friend Yaron had brought me to a teaching.

Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche at Deer Park Institute last year.
After putting the white scarf over my head and blessing me, I was invited to take a seat on the wall to wall carpeting at Lobsang Choegyal Ripoche’s feet, next to Ben. I hesitatingly began asking Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche a lingering question about the nature of samsara. He kindly answered me, with Ben translating between us.

The deep kindness they showed me led to many other questions and a memorable conversation. There was a moment in which my mind stepped away from the conversation and I wondered at the beauty and uniqueness of what was taking place. But I learned on tour seven years ago not to linger on these questions, and to just sink into the moment. So that’s exactly what I did.

I l said goodbye to Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche and Ben an hour later, after promising to be in touch as more questions arise.

The following day, Saturday June 6 was another day to remember. I got to see and speak with His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa two days after he returned home to Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College following an extensive US teaching tour, and two days before I left India for the US. I had been waiting to see him for at least a year.

His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa in 2014. Photo from his Facebook page, which I highly recommend for its great quotes.
His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa was born in Tibet in 1980. He escaped to India when he was fourteen years old, arriving to the great surprise and joy of Tibetans and his foreign devotees in Dharamsala on January 5, 2000. He had to come to India to receive all of the empowerments and transmissions of his Tibetan Buddhism Kagyu lineage from masters living in exile in India.

Thanks to Dee for showing me the below video. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is on the far left, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa in the middle, and His Excellence the 7th Kyabje Yongzin Ling Rinpoche is on the far right.

When he is home, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa gives Public Audiences at 2PM on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I learned from a friend of a friend who lives at Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College that His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa would be giving his first Public Audience in 2+ months on Saturday, June 6. I could not believe my good luck.

I arrived at the Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College entrance gate for His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa’s 2PM Public Audience on June 6 after a protracted shared jeep ride through single lane weekend tourist traffic, followed by a government bus ride whose progress was impeded by a remarkable number of bus stops. This gave me plenty of time to reflect on the merits of patience and demerits of attachment. I amazingly arrived at Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College in a relatively peaceful state of mind.

Entrance to Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College in Sidhpur, north India.
I then passed through the multi layered security process (including temporarily surrendering my passport to the Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College office) that is an established part of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa’s Public Appearances. I was soon kneeling on the floor of Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College’s spacious gompa, where I had sat before His Holiness the Dalai Lama on May 13, awaiting the arrival of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa.

Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College gompa.
I was so happy when I finally caught sight of him a second or two after he walked into the room. I broke out into a huge smile and quickly folded my hands together at my chest. He may have seen my warm welcome; he was looking out at my section of the audience when I first caught sight of him.

His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa then stood in the center of the front of the gompa, and began receiving his visitors one at a time. He held a large bunch of red blessed strings in one hand. As each visitor approached him he would pull one string off of the pile with his other, free hand. When the visitor reached him, the visitor would bow down at the waist facing His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, and then His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa would drape the single string over the head of the visitor. The visitor would then carefully rise up to ensure the draped string did not fall to the ground, and follow the line of people who had just received strings from His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa to the nearest exit door.

Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College gompa. I took this photo after His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa had left, and I was able to bring my camera into the gompa again. I took this photo from my approximate seat on the floor during His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa's Public Audience.
It seemed His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa only spoke when spoken to. Most of the visitors were Tibetan. A few older Tibetans seemed to ask him questions when they approached him. He blew on the heads of some babies and young children, and touched the sides of the heads of other visitors, mostly Tibetans. It seemed this was in response to requests for blessings. His body must have been tired from two months of travel throughout the US, large events, and teachings at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, University of the Redlands, University of Wisconsin - Madison, and Yale amongst other places in the US. It was so kind of him to hold a Public Audience so soon after returning home.

His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa's portrait on display inside of the Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College gompa.
Even though I was in one of the last groups of visitors ushered towards His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa and had therefore gotten to watch many people go before me, I was still nervous and unsure of myself. I followed the line of visitors in front of me, stopping first at a Tibetan monk who pulled my offered white khata over my head and onto my shoulders. The next Tibetan monk accepted my proffered envelope containing a monetary offering for His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa. Then I was shakily walking towards him.

I approached His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa from approximately this direction, walking towards him. He had his back to the large Buddha statue seen in the middle of this photo and was standing in front of his throne, seen here in the front, below His Holiness the Dalai Lama's throne which has a cardboard cut out of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on it.
I think His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa looked my way three steps before I reached him. I then stood directly in front of him and bowed low from my waist, with hands folded at my chest and my gaze directed at my socked feet. He gave me a blessed red string. I heard myself thanking him in Tibetan while still staring at my feet. I then lifted my head to stand before him. I met his eyes just as he said “Thank You” to me in English.

Instead of walking out of the nearby exit door I followed the lead of some Tibetans and nuns who had already been received by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa and were now kneeling in front of him again, in the audience. I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to spend precious time with him. I also remembered what Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul had said about the importance of seeing your teacher arrive and leave. I joined the audience that was kneeling in front of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa.

My instinct was a good one. After he finished receiving all of the visitors he stepped forward to the head of the audience and blessed us en masse. I couldn’t hear the prayers but could see his lips moving and saw him toss what could have been grains of rice into the air over the heads of the front section of the audience.

Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College gompa's Buddha statue.
His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa then crossed the room and left by the same door he had used to enter the gompa maybe an hour earlier. I walked out into the sunny afternoon, onto the monastery’s grounds within view of snow covered mountains with a smile on my face.

Me wearing my white khata outside of the Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College gompa after the Public Audience.
I then met a Tibetan refugee who had been a tour guide in Tibet, and saw Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche’s Spanish student, Samara. Two friends who stay at Thosamling Nunnery and Institute for International Buddhist Women had also been at the Public Audience; it was great to see them.

I made an offering in memoriam of a loved one at the offering office, receiving a red blessed string along with a receipt, and then did korwas around the gompa finishing just as my last fellow visitors were leaving the monastery.

When I was back in the US last year after leaving India, I thought most often of the times I spent at Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College and Sera Monastery. I soaked in every minute of my time back at Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College on June 6.

I swung by nearby Norbulingka Institute on my way home from Gyuto Monastery and Tantric College that evening to see Norbulingka Institute’s thangka painting instructor, Yonten Dorjee. He and I had talked about the Wheel of Life when I visited on May 13. I wanted to drop off the copy of the Wheel of Life I had collected from Tibet House Delhi for Yonten Dorjee before I left India.

I dropped in on the thangka painting studios to see what the young Tibetan artists were working on, and found a crowd gathered around one of the thangkas in progress. I learned the Yamantaka thangka I had seen in progress last time I visited has been finished and shipped to the person who commissioned it. Amazing.

Visitors gathered around a Norbulingka Institute thangka painter (left, in blue striped shirt) and his painting.
It was fun to get to visit with the artists and express appreciation for their work. 

One of the two Norbulingka Institute thankga painting studios.

Another view  of the same Norbulingka Institute thankga painting studio.
I made a point of stopping by the room where I had seen a large thangka being painted for His Holiness the Dalai Lama when I visited on May 13. That thangka is almost done, and is so beautiful. I got to talk with the artist who showed me what work still needs to be done, and his favorite part of the painting. I also saw two other thangkas which will also be offered to His Holiness the Dalai Lama as part of a much larger group of thangka offerings, and met two of the artists. I hope the artists will get to be there when the thangkas are gifted to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Norbulingka Institute campus.
Close up of the above. Norbulingka Institute. 
Close up of the above. Norbulingka Institute.
Close up of the above. Norbulinga Institute.
I woke up in my Gamru Village apartment for the last time on Sunday, June 7 and headed up the hill to meet my friend Mary for one last korwa of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s house and temple. We ran into friends from Thosamling Nunnery and Institute for International Buddhist Women where Mary also stays as we were about to start our korwa.

Friends at the start of the korwa path.
The four of us circumambulated the hill together.

Korwa path prayer wheels. Spin them and they release the mantras (prayers) printed on paper and carefully stuffed inside of the prayer wheels. I took this and the below photos on an earlier day but it looked the same when we did a korwa on June 7.

Korwa path. Another set of prayer wheels.
Off to the side of the korwa path. Thousands of prayer flags blowing in the wind. Each prayer flag is printed with prayers that are released when the wind blows through them.
Beautiful stupa along the korwa path.

Me in front of the stupa.

A close up view of the stupa.

Stones printed with mantras (prayers) lining the korwa path.
The four of us then sat down to tea at nearby Moonpeaks Café for an enjoyable conversation. It was great to see them one last time.

Outside of Moonpeaks after tea. I bought my shirt from the Students for a Free Tibet - India store front in McLeod Ganj. I was inspired by my friend Tenzin who has the same one. You can see I am wearing a long red blessed string around my neck given to me by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa the previous day. I have not taken it off since I put it on that day, Saturday June 6.
I then met up with my friend Jamyang for lunch. He took me to a Tibetan rooftop restaurant next door to Namgyal Café that I never even noticed. The plate of vegetable momos I ordered was delicious – best I have had this year. I enjoyed hearing about Jamyang’s family in Tibet and the inspiring things he has done since arriving in India thirteen years ago.

I then finally got to Tibetan Children’s Village – Upper campus (TCV – Upper) to watch a Tibetan soccer game. I had last been to TCV – Upper from April 27 – 29 for teachings given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This was an entirely different event. 

The 21st annual Gyalyum Chenmo Memorial Gold Cup Football Tournament, organized by the Tibetan National Sports Association (TNSA) pits teams of soccer teams representing different Tibetan settlements against each other to determine the best team of the year. 

TNSA uses the tournament to identify Tibetan soccer players for the Tibetan national soccer team. The Tibetan national soccer team played its first ever match against Greenland. The team has represented Tibet in various soccer matches played in India and abroad. One of the team's missions is to spread awareness about Tibet through soccer.

In its first year the Gyalyum Chenmo Memorial Gold Cup Football Tournament was held in loving memory of the Great late Mother of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. This year's tournament was dedicated to His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a token of gratitude from the Tibetan public on his 80th Birth anniversary. (His Holiness the Dalai Lama turns 80 on July 6.)

21st playing of the Gyalyum Chenmo Memorial Gold Cup Football Tournament at TCV - Upper.

This soccer tournament usually draws teams of Tibetan male players representing Tibetan refugee settlements in Nepal and India. This year New York, Canada and Europe also sent teams to participate in the tournament. I had really wanted to see the New York team play but that did not happen. Instead I watched Pokhara, Nepal play Delhi, India alongside a large Sunday crowd composed almost entirely of Tibetan fans.

Tibetan football (soccer) fans sitting near Jamyang and I on the hillside.
Jamyang and I watched from a spot perched on the hillside. It was fun, even after the weather changed and the rain came pouring down. The skies cleared after at least thirty minutes of heavy rainfall. Tibetans did their best to drain the compact dirt field as the players returned to the field, and the stands filled up again with fans.

Jamyang and a very muddy soccer field.

Me at the soccer game. You can see it really did pour rain.
I couldn’t stay until the end of the Pokhara vs. Delhi game – I had to go home to pick up my luggage and board the overnight bus to Delhi to catch my flight the following day, June 8.

No, this was not my bus. But it is a beautiful large Indian vehicle that was being used to haul bricks when I was it in Bir.
This is my bus - the government run AC Volvo bus that runs between Dharamsala and Delhi.
I later heard from my friend Tenzin that Pokhara, Nepal had beat Delhi at the game I had attended on Sunday, June 7. The tournament is now over. Pokhara, Nepal finished as the second best team in the league. The Mundgod, south India team won the entire tournament.

The Gyalyum Chenmo Memorial Gold Cup. It was designed and made by the late master sculptor Pema Dorjee from Tibet who used to work at Norbulingka Institute. I mentioned him in my last post in the context of my first visit to Norbulingka this year. The cup is coded with pure gold. The handles are made from silver and gold. The materials, including a few grams of pure gold, were given by the Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Sadly I couldn’t find Tenzin at that Sunday soccer game to say goodbye to him, but it was good to get to say goodbye to my wonderful neighbors/friends and landlords that afternoon before I left for Delhi. Geshe la and Julia followed my progress from Gamru Village to the check in counter at the Delhi airport, ensuring I made it there safely with all of my luggage. Geshe la and Julia are exceedingly kind. I am so lucky to have met such wonderful people.

I flew through Abu Dhabi in the Middle East, but unlike the Doha airport did not get to leave the airport and experience the local weather. I’ll have to fly through Doha again another time.

Abu Dhabi departing flights in English.
Second screen of the same list of departing flights in Arabic. What happened to the Hindi and Tibetan letters I have gotten so used to seeing everywhere?
Two weeks later and it’s still surreal, but I made it to New York.

(I couldn't resist. I listened to Taylor Swift's newest album 1989 on repeat while writing my previous  post while sitting on my apartment floor in Gamru Village.)

I reached JFK with some filthy, smelly, heavily worn running shoes still semi-damp from the rainstorm that had interrupted the Tibetan soccer game 48+ hours earlier.

JFK baggage claim Tuesday morning June 9.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I have at least one more post to write about my second trip to India, so the adventure continues.

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