The next morning at 4 am, my roommate and I hustled to gather our luggage and squish into a cab. I assumed that the airport would be empty at 4:30 am. On the contrary, it was bombarded with large families, women rushing in their colorful saris, and carts of luggage squeezing between groups and toppling over. There are 18 students studying on this program and security in India is not the most efficient. So we just barely made it onto the airplane. The one time a flight wasn’t delayed in India! We landed in Goa and I immediately felt at peace. Goa is a city in Southern India that is right on the ocean. Since monsoon season is beginning, it is more humid and temperate. The surrounding area is flatter and greener than the previous northern region.
Our destination from Goa? Drepung Loseling Monastery in Mundgod, India. Drepung Loseling monastery was built in 1980 and modeled after the monastery of the same name in Tibet. My teacher told us that during the “Cultural Revolution” in China, the Drepung monastery in Tibet was destroyed along with many of the texts in the surrounding libraries. There was later a “Cultural Reconstruction” so the monastery was rebuilt, but it would never possess the original energy. Also, there are fewer monks in Tibet now because of the tight regulations imposed by the Chinese. So that image of thousands of monks flocking about or heading to puja (chanting) is one of the past.
As we pulled up to the Mundgod colonization, I felt as if I were entering a different time period, or a miniature Tibet. The colony is full of Tibetan villagers, but also has many monasteries in addition to the large and imposing Drepung monastery. The road was teeming with maroon robes—monks hustling about between classes or meditation. I said “Tashi Delek”, hello in Tibetan, through my car window to some of the younger monks and waved. They hid their faces underneath their robes and concealed their shy smiles. We pulled up to our newly constructed dorm hall. The monks are more than gracious and overly helpful. It seems as if they can never do enough. They are always trying to do more for us, not out of ego, but pure compassion. It is so dismantling to be treated so kindly from the heart for no greater purpose, other than to just care for others.
So there is a certain presence here and patience that is being cultivated much different from the ambience in Dharamsala. Dharamsala was peaceful, but it’s easier to grasp compassion and awareness when you see it in action constantly throughout the day. One can’t help but notice the mindfulness with which the monks walk as they whisper “Om Mani Padme Hum” underneath their breaths. We are learning much in the classroom from Tantric Buddhism to “bottom-up morality”. But, the experiences that are even more meaningful to me have been our meals with the monks. Each day at lunch I sit with a different monk and talk to them about Buddhist philosophy. I have become close with one in particular named Tenzin. He tells me gently: “Stefnee, you need to cool it. Let it go. Meditate, breathe, and cultivate compassion. I cannot tell you what to do, you have to find those answers within yourself, but do the practices and the presence will become easier. Wake up each morning and say to yourself consciously, ‘I will put others before myself today. I won’t get angry. I will love. I will listen. I will have compassion. I won’t let my emotions take over. I won’t stay suck in illusion. I will speak truth’. This is what I do each morning. You need to understand that when others hurt you, yes this is your ego being hurt, but it’s also not them, it’s not ‘the person’. It’s just their actions. People are always good at the core no matter what they do. And you can always put yourself in their shoes and find a way to love them and connect to them, you just don't want to do it.” We have probably accumulated a couple hours of discussion already and there is much more of his commentary that I could add, but I want to get to the most riveting part of the Mundgod experience thus far. Also, in the next week I will write down more of his wise words so I can record them here!
Yesterday I walked through the darkness and scaled the flights of stairs to the meditation room. Fourteen monks adorned in their robes sat at the front of the room. I wanted to feel their energy, their awareness. So I set up my pillow right in the front and center, only a couple feet away from the lead monk. As the deep, reverberating sounds emerged from their bellies, I felt a sense of relief wash over me. All this tension that was built up emerged and it felt as if it were being released. I almost had a moment of bursting into tears, not out of sadness, but just all these emotions being brought out and emptied into the space. My meditation was deep afterwards. When I first started, all those emotions were still stuck around my solar plexus. I felt immense agitation. I wanted to move. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I felt so antsy and uncomfortable. My teacher kept interrupting my practice to add more comments. But then I breathed through that space inside me that was so tight and I imagined releasing it and breathing pure white light into its center. All of sudden, my teacher’s words resonated with my being. I could breath. I could let my thoughts go just like the ripples of waves on the top of the ocean. As the practice ended I felt an intense calmness wash over me. I felt love. And stillness.
I am looking forward to the morning meditations for the rest of this trip with the monks. It is so easier to go deeper into one’s practice with their presence. They just calm the room without even trying. Time is strange here. I feel as if so much has happened in the past few weeks and that it has gone so fast, but the days here in Mundgod seem to pass by slower. It’s a good slow. A different pace of life that makes me step back and say, “Wow. I can actually walk just to walk and not rush. I can talk to monks. I can read. I can sleep. I can meditate. And it’s all good. It’s all okay. The long stretches without wifi are great because they give me a time to step away from this technology and my attachments and just be here now, engrossed in the experience. There are so many amazing practitioners here who I have the opportunity to speak to and great friends I have met on the program. I want to immerse myself in this monastic way of life as much as I can for the next two weeks before I head home. I’ll have the rest of the summer and the rest of my life really to be caught up with the news and what people are doing back at home. There’s a lot to be said for just being. It’s so hard for us to do today because we always have a gadget or person to entertain us. By my title, I mean silence in space in a couple of ways. Silence and space from the outer world to spend the time here really feeling the experience and presence. But also silence and space for myself, to step back from my perceptions and desires and just listen to everything that’s going on. The bird chirping. The monk speaking. Get out of my head and my thoughts and just be as present as possible to this unique experience. So that’s what I’ll be continuing to work on this week. Meditating always, not just when I sit down and designate it.
Hope all is well in the other world :), until next week!
P.S. Since the wifi is so finicky here, I will be posting all my pictures with the blog posts once I return to the US.