During the Wednesday afternoon class, my teacher as well as two other monks with the highest geshe degree came to our class to debate in English. Debate is a big aspect of the monk life. The monks debate in the morning and at night for around 2-3 hours each time. Sometimes it will go until 2 or 3 am! In the debates, one monk (the responder) sits on the ground, while the questioner stands up. Each time the questioner poses a question, he claps his hands together and slides the top hand out toward the monk sitting down. The debates can get really intense and sometimes the monks will start screaming at each other. It’s all in good nature, though and part of application process of what they are learning in class. We also watched a big debate in which two groups are paired up against one another in a prayer hall full of hundreds of other monks watching. During this type of debate, it gets more physical and the monks often push each other to get to the front of the group so that they can argue their point. I love watching these debates, but it always bothers me that I can’t hear what philosophical points they are debating. So on Wednesday, my teacher and two other monks debated for us in English so we could fully experience this part of monastic life! It was so much fun, especially being able to hear them talk about various Buddhist topics. It really made me realize how nuanced these philosophies are.
On Thursday we got to see mandalas being made. Mandalas are a part of Tantric Buddhism. They are made my finely dispensing sand onto a table into ornate 3-d shapes that represent the universe and various deities. They are super colorful. When I am back in the states I will post a picture of their work. We got a chance to try making a mandala as well and it was really eye-opening to see how much effort and patience it takes to carefully construct the mandalas. Thursday night was discussion night with the monks again, except this time they asked us scientific questions. We got questions ranging from, “How did life start on earth to what is your view on science and technology?” The only question I was able to answer confidently was “Do you think we can cultivate compassion without religion?” It wasn’t too scientific and I was able to use the idea of secular ethics that the Dalai Lama has so widely discussed. As part of this study abroad we also have to write a research paper that focuses in on an aspect of our group projects. My group project is on love and compassion. So my research paper will explore “What is the Tibetan Buddhist definition of love and compassion? Is there a difference? How can we integrate compassion into our day-to-day relationships and why is it important?” For the last part I will be using evidence from my interviews and Buddhist texts, but also using scientific studies that show the importance of compassion on our health. I will definitely post the paper on here once it is complete!
On Friday we had the unbelievable opportunity to meet with Samdhong Rinpoche. He is considered a great scholar in the Tibetan community and regarded as second to the Dalai Lama in standing. Similarly to the Dalai Lama he had a wry sense of humor about him. My teacher introduced him with a very lengthy speech and his response once it was finished was, “Well that was very boring and unnecessarily long.” The entire room erupted into laughter. On a more serious note, he answered our questions concisely. He is considered the 5th reincarnation of this rinpoche so when we asked him about the use of technology among the monks and in general he said, “I do not agree with technology use among the monks (iphones, laptops, etc.), but you have to understand that I am coming from the viewpoint of a 7th century monk.” I found that to be a very interesting comment. My favorite question was, “What are some of the greatest challenges you faced and how did you use Buddhist principles to overcome them?” Again he stated that as a 7th century monk none of the challenges he faced in this life, such as escaping Tibet, seemed severe. He said that he got through much of life considering that challenges are great times of growth and even though they seem negative, the negative aspect is impermanent and something positive will develop. For example, he said that if Tibet had never been forced into exile he believes that much of the Buddhist philosophies and even the work that HHDL has done would not have been spread. I had a friend who retorted, “Well if everything is impermanent doesn’t it just make the good times depressing because we know that they aren’t lasting?” He responded no and said that it makes us appreciate when things are going well and that we should use that time for personal growth and meditation because it is much harder to be mindful when we are going through mental or physical distress. We also get a recorded video of the meeting so I am really excited to look back on it and hear his exact wording for some of his points.
Yesterday was our first day of teaching English to the monks!! It was such a thrilling experience. My friend Nate and I are teaching students from age 16-22. Some of their English is quite good, but others were shy and didn't say much. We spent the first class going through introductions and playing some fun word games, but I am looking forward to doing more grammar and sentence construction next week. After the class, I got the opportunity to play tag with the little monks out in the courtyard. They were so giggly and playful. It really lightened up my mood. After all, when will I get the chance to play tag with little monks in red robes again?
On Saturday afternoon we visited Gaden monastery, a nearby monastery with a beautiful prayer hall and more mandalas. These mandalas were constructed out of wood and very colorful as well.
I can’t believe Week 4 is coming to an end and I only have one week left. This week we will be taught class by Dr. Pema Dorje each morning. He is a Tibetan Buddhist doctor who was the healer for the Dalai Lama before he retired. We will each be getting private consultations by him and suggestions for improving our health. I am so excited to learn about Tibetan medicine. It seems to overlap quite a bit with Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. They believe in herbal remedies, lots of dietary recommendations, and different elements that make up our body. In addition, they categorize diseases as either “hot” or “cold”, similarly to Chinese medicine. They also use some acupuncture. On Friday and Saturday we will present our final group projects and then we are headed back to Delhi for the flight home. I am looking forward to eating some peanut butter, kale, and Greek yogurt, but I certainly will miss the dal and okra here. I will miss the special energy and ambience of being in the middle of a monastery. But this trip only makes me want to come back to India to explore more of the Hindu ideals and go to Mysore for some real yoga. Maybe next year, but for now, I am going to fully integrate and maintain presence in this last week. I will post all the pictures when I get back and write about the last week when I can. Happy living and being wherever you are right now!