On Monday, we awoke early to go see the Dalai Lama’s oracle in a trance. I have never been to such an energizing experience. My classmates and I watched in wonder as this small man was strapped underneath hundreds of pounds of ornate costume—a beautiful gold jacket with multi-colored emblems and a large hat that strapped under the chin. The proceeding began with loud drum playing and horns blaring. The oracle sat on the edge of his seat humming in his meditative trance and preparing to take on the new spirit. Before long he was thrashing as this violent spirit took ahold of his body. Whereas he needed help to navigate underneath the clothing before the trance, now he hopped up from his seat, sword in one hand and silk scarves in the other. He performed a sort of dance around the room, flinging his sword, and making the nearby monks dash out of the way to avoid getting stabbed. The spirit was being summoned to answer some questions about the Dalai Lama’s temple and how to continue with construction, but I did not hear his Tibetan words for the monks surrounded him as he spoke. Then they placed him back in his throne and he began to hiss through his mouth. His leg was bobbing up and down and his body occasionally shook back and forth. He grabbed a bag of orangeish-magenta-colored barley seeds, which he blessed. Then, those in the room lined up to receive his blessings. We each offered him a white silk scarf which represents “welcome and warmth” in Tibetan culture. He quickly wrapped it around our necks and then placed a handful of the grains in our hands. They are to be saved and brought back out during times of healing. Everyone piled out of the temple, but shortly after, all the Emory students were summoned back in and we watched as the oracle left his trance and collapsed. Each time the oracle leaves his trance he passes out from the spirit leaving him and his body must be carried out of the temple until he recovers.
After that amazing presentation, we went further into the Nechung Monastery to receive breakfast from the monks. Although I was thrilled by the performance, I felt ill and lacked an appetite. I didn't want to miss out on the Tibetan Parliament, the field trip for the afternoon, but I also felt as if I should be examined because the pain was worsening. I returned with my classmates in the middle of the parliament presentation and I lacked my usual energy. The doctor’s visit returned no unusual results, but I wasn’t feeling my usual self. I was tired and drained. I had no desire to move. Whereas I am usually an engaged learner excited to hear about new philosophies, and specifically the Tibetan culture here, I could barely keep my eyes open during the parliament presentation. The day passed in a blur and I fell asleep early, worried about the increasing severity of the pain.
The next morning, walking was extremely uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure what was wrong, but I tried to dispel negativity because we had our audience with the Dalai Lama. I took a Tylenol, however when we arrived at the Dalai Lama’s temple, I had to lie down. I felt dizzy, nauseated, and in extreme discomfort when I moved. I tried to meditate and take deep breaths, but my worry grew deeper. I tried to summon my strength as we stood to enter the room for our meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL).
As we went through security, the woman had to run her hands over our bodies to make sure we weren’t carrying any weapons. I was doing my best to stay standing and breathe. Unfortunately she wacked her hand into my stomach right where the pain was radiating from and I buckled over. I couldn’t contain myself and broke into tears. The pain was excruciating. I have never felt anything like it. I tried to hold back my tears as Geshe-la, my teacher and main trip coordinator, helped me into the room. I was in so much pain I couldn’t actually sit down. I used my tricep strength to hold myself up on the chair and set down half of my weight. I drank water and kept breathing, focusing on the impermanence of this pain. I waited in the room for over an hour before HHDL arrived. It was a true test of my mental fortitude. And I was certainly pushed to my limit.
But once HHDL arrived, my pain was eased. It wasn’t eliminated, but his strong presence and awareness in the room was a great distracter. I was drawn by his happiness and calm charisma—he had the energy of an innocent child— hands gently folded, bobbing in his seat, excited and loving everything at the same time. We have a blog for this study abroad and so to save space on this post, I will provide the link to the blog. My classmate Lucy and I were assigned with writing the blog post for our audience with HHDL so it provides a succinct overview of everything we discussed. Of course our entire time with him was engaging and insightful. Even through the pain, I really maintained my presence in the space and tried to absorb as much as he was saying. I am so happy I got to shake his hand afterward and have that moment of eye contact, pure love, a timeless exchange between us. (Here is the link for my post on what we discussed during the audience: https://emorytibetmindbody.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/our-audience-with-his-holiness-the-dalai-lama/).
It is finally the weekend and I am healing. Through this experience I have really grown. Coming out of this I am calm, relaxed, and ever grateful toward everyone who helped me through my suffering. I feel that everyone who helped me took on a piece of my suffering. Without their attending to me and empathy, I could not have been so strong. This experience really helped give me a greater appreciation for my life too. I am so lucky to have this body that comes back to healing itself and working hard. I am so thankful to be on a trip like this where I have people who care for me so well and are there every step of the way. This experience this week helped me grow an immeasurable amount of compassion for everyone on the trip and see this experience as something I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.
Moving forward, I am now well enough to start my group project. We are focusing on love—how to love others in all types of relationships, especially in the monkhood. I cannot believe week two is already coming to a close. We are heading to south India to Mundgod where will be staying in the heart of a monastery with hundreds of monks. I am so excited to engage with them. We get the opportunity to debate with them twice a week about Buddhist philosophy. It’s going to be such an eye-opening experience.
I think the largest thing I took away from this week was love and forgiveness throughout the healing process. Even though Buddhism doesn’t really consider the idea of self-love (because in Buddhism there isn't a self or ego in true reality), I think that there is something to be said about loving and respecting ourselves and this vessel that carries and sustains us throughout our entire lives. It’s hard to truly love and have compassion for others when we don’t love ourselves first because then we are trying to find what we lack in the other person. We will never find pure love in others when we are basing our relationships off of attachment and afflicting emotions such as jealousy and hatred. We must love and forgive ourselves and then, once we have this, try our best to put others before ourselves. This doesn’t mean that we become doormats where others walk over us, but when people hurt us, we forgive the person, not the action. I truly believe that we are all inherently good, we are just misguided sometimes by karmic energy, environmental influence, … . And it’s not intentional. We should try to step out of judgment and ego of “They’re hurting me on purpose…they should know better” and just love for who they are. It’s a hard lesson and one we have discussed in depth this week during lectures. But, HHDL said to start by thinking of everyone we encounter as our mother, or father, or someone we are very very close to. Try to have that space of pure, unconditional love with everyone, even our enemies and then it’s easier to have loving kindness. It’s easier to be in a space of loving awareness and presence, in this moment, right now.
Even though I have already learned many of these Buddhist philosophies, I am so thankful to be on this program where I am dissecting the beliefs at a deeper level and applying them to my own life. I can’t wait to recount the tales of this week as we head into the south and integrate into true monastic life. Until then!