Saturday, February 28, 2009

Losar la tashi delek

Happy Tibetan New Year! This year celebrations were minimal as to commemorate those who have suffered in Tibet in the last 50 years and especially in the last year. They had a hunger strike and protests in Dharmasala and only the spiritual rituals were carried out.... I heard that the New York Times had an article about Losar this week... go check it out if you can. Again, I look forward to talking to you about this when i return...

OK. SO... stories...

After i wrote my last post I was sitting in philosophy class which was being held at the monastery and I was half asleep... dozing off as i tried to wrap my head around tantric teachings... and then this guy who works at the monastery popped his head into the class and said "sorry, monkey go into window room 304". I grabbed my key and RAN upstairs and opened my door to find a monkey sitting in my bathroom... Sitting down this monkey was about 3.5 feet tall... we eyed each other down and then i stomped my foot and he jumped out of the window... it was the funniest and scariest 5 second eye to eye I have ever had with a monkey ;)

A lot of my friends traveled this week but I stayed around and I am happy that i did because i really did get to spend a lot of time with the kids here and so a lot of my 'we only say hi to each other acquaintances' turned into good friends... so nice but also a bit annoying because we leave this campus in one week from tomorrow. :( When we arrived 6 weeks ago the students put on a talent show for us and now we are surprising them with a little show and party... My friends and i are doing a Tibetan dance to the song "Come on Eilleen"- yeahh... hopefully that will work out.

All i did this week was relax... I spent hours on the roof listening to music, reading, dozing in and out of sleep and just talking to friends... I was able to talk to Raia and Elan for the first time since i left and that was amazing... (Oritt, if you're reading this, i will call you soon miss sorority girl). I played a LOT of basketball with new friends... new monk friends... ;) and visited peoples' rooms- this week we were allowed to go into the boys dorm!! HUGE DEAL!! Remember how I keep talking about this 6th grade level of boy/girl interactions?? Well, i invited two of my guy friends to my room and i told my roommate and she freaked out!! She got so flustered and was running around back and forth trying to make everything perfectly clean and she fixed her hair and it was just the sweetest thing... We had a Dance Party which was the first time in the past month that i felt like i could really relieve all of the energy I have pent up in me... I love relaxing 24-7 but sometimes I just miss the fast paced BAM of life back at home... We had a bonfire two nights ago which was also a lot of fun... it was interesting though because i stopped and looked around at one point and noticed that the boy who was maintaining the fire was my one friend who was raised as a cowboy in east Tibet... so I was sitting there thinking "wow, cool, a fire! how nice... what a fun thing to do with friends...I am going to throw leaves in the fire and see what happens to them" and he was probably not thinking about the fire because he grew up making fires all the time so that he could stay warm at night as he herded his sheep. I love having those random moments of "holy shit, we are so different" because i have these random spurts of "oh my god"nesses as I am sitting and just hanging out with these people... we enjoy the same music, have the same sense of humor (when we understand each other) and get along really well... we are all just people.

Another example of an ohmigod moment... I went to go get tea from the canteen during a tea break and I was walking with my mug in one hand and my laptop in the other and the women standing in front and behind me in line were holding a mug in one hand and had a basket of laundry resting on their heads... these moments are priceless because again, we are all just people... and the funniest part of all is that i look a LOT like these women... I'm just the one wearing black and they are decked out in the most beautiful and luscious colors... welcome to my life.

I visited Daramkot for the first time. It is a village about 20 minutes up and around the mountain from Mcleod Ganj.. this village might as well be called Mini-Israel... they have a Chabad house and Israeli flags and signs in Hebrew everywhere- I felt like i was in the Twilight Zone.

I am moving into a home stay next week... this is my first time doing this and so I'm definitely anxious to see how it goes... it will be interesting because some of the kids are moving into houses with families and they get their own room and then some will be moving into one bedroom homes with families and so will be living in a kitchen with the family... we wont know where we are living until we get there... OH the possibilities!! I am just laughing on the inside because I know that if i don't laugh then i will be nervous... so yes, ill keep you updated.

Oh... a few of my friends expressed a few concerns about me losing too much weight and becoming a nun... first of all about the weight loss... DO NOT WORRY- well worry, but not about the weight loss, you should probably worry about the weight gain... i feel like a bag of rice/i am a bag of rice. And as for becoming a nun... it's not going to happen for the simple reason that i cannot sit with my legs crossed for more than 20 minutes... ha ha ha right? not so much... i almost dread going to audiences because mid way through i have the awkward "i cannot feel my left leg and its starting to burn" face on and then i always have that one second eye to eye with whoever is giving the teaching and my fake smile just screams "I am suffering!! I now understand the 1st Noble Truth" (sorry, my Dharma jokes are getting out of hand.. i swear, if you dont get it, they are kind of funny)...

C'est tout!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sorry for the delay... I have wanted to write but just have not found the time or internet to do it... so here goes... my last two or so weeks in India. I might not be writing everything down in order so pardon me if it is confusing. Also, it is going to be long.. and i do not expect anyone to read this except for my parents...

_________. Sorry, I have been sitting in front of this computer for 13 minutes and I don't know what to say... I have been having some really fucking intense experiences here and my thoughts have been going a mile a minute for the past few weeks and I am not sure if i can verbalize what's going on... but ill try.

Ok, so right now i am sitting in a monastery in Sherabling. Losar, the Tibetan new year, is this week and so everyone is preparing physically, mentally, spiritually... the Tibetan community has decided not to celebrate the new year as they usually do (with grand festivities and such) because of the troubles that Tibet has been struggling with in the past year. In preparation for the new year they have special pujas/prayer ceremonies and yesterday I sat in on one for an hour and let me just say that it was incredible- the monastery i am visiting is of the Kague (spelling?) tradition and so closely tied to Tantric practices and so the colors and sounds and offering are just so vivid that it actually took my breath away. I did not have a total spiritual connection and I am not converting tomorrow but the energy in the room was just incredible. When one walks into a temple it is proper to do three prostrations and as i was doing mine two monks were banging on these two huge drums right in front of my face and to my left were the men blowing the horns and the entire room was just filled with monks and it was breathtaking...
I am here with the group and we were given the chance to speak to the Rimpoche of this monastery and it was interesting. Many people walked out of the room offended by what the guy was saying (he spoke nonsense about Islam and global warming...) and i just walked out with a huge smile on my face. I am constantly surrounded by concepts, discussions, readings et cetera about Buddhism and about finding THE truth and about the paths that can lead me to this truth and I can see myself getting really defensive and scared. Defensive because I look at Buddhism like a beautiful philosophy that we all have things to learn from, but then again i look at it like a religion that, like all religions, has the potential to do great things in the world and has the potential to be used for bad things... so, inside I have this wall up and I am constantly asking questions and drilling people on some of the theories (according to Sakyamuni Buddha being so skeptical is important...finally, my cynicism is appreciated ;). I am scared because while i can recognize many faults within myself and within the society in which i live, i can confidently say that i am happy with the life that i have at home and i am scared that one day i will wake up and either fully realize the lack of inherent existence or see a glimpse of THE truth and want to just shave my head and retreat in a cave for a decade...
Ok... i am realizing that i am blabbing on and on... i will try to say it concisely. I have always found many truths in Buddhism, but a lot of Buddhism is founded on the belief that life as we know it is driven by ignorance and that "I" as I know myself, does not inherently exist... both of these concepts are frightening to me... beautiful and honest in ways... but really fucking frightening. So, the reason why i walked out of the audience with the rimpoche with a HUGE smile on my face is that i was relieved to know that such an honored and wise Buddhist figure could be so ignorant... it was a reminder that AT THE END OF THE DAY WE ARE ALL JUST PEOPLE.

Sorry about that mind blob... so, onto the stories.

I went to Amritsar last weekend and I just felt like Jasmine from Alladin the entire time. Amritsar is a Punjabi city near the border of Pakistan and is famous for The Golden Temple and for the many horrendous massacres that have taken place in the city in the past century (Jallianwala Bagh anyone?). My friends and I stayed in a pilgrimage home (the Golden Temple is the mecca for Sikhs and so, thousands of people make pilgrimages to Amritsar every day)... so you might be thinking what is a pilgrimage home?? Well, it is a place that gives free shelter to anyone who is making a pilgrimage to the temple... so when my friends and i arrived they just looked at us and walked us to this room with people sleeping in it and my friends and i just looked at each other with a face of "we are not THAT intense" and we asked them for a private room... you might be thinking "oh what a snob...." Don't. In order to get to our room we had to walk over people sleeping and the room had three beds with stains all over the wall and moist spots on the sheets (i know...) and one light bulb hanging in the middle of the room that wouldn't turn off... why did we have to walk over people? because everyone just sleeps on the floor in the courtyard and we arrived at 3am... so 3am we went directly to the temple and we saw the "awakening of the book" ceremony... The book is the Sikh book of prayers and from 3 in the morning (sometimes at 2) till 10 pm there is someone reading out of the book and so, at three they woke the book up and it was an incredible ceremony... i promise when i get a good internet connection i will put up 100s of pictures because my words cannot give justice to the colors and sounds and shapes of the things i am seeing every day... so, we saw this ceremony and then watched the sunrise and then ate breakfast and passed out for 2 hours before we went exploring.. Amritsar is amazing. It is a busy, cluttered Indian city FILLED with Sikhs... Sikhs are supposed to wear the 5 K's.... I don't know what they are in Punjabi and I only know some of them but... they have to wear a turban, a knife, this silver bracelet with prayers on it (wow, i sound ignorant) and underpants... i am interested to know what the last K is... anyways... can you picture that? I was in the movie Alladin... there were 100s of men walking around in turbans with knives (not gang knives... knives that curve) hanging off of their belts and some men were walking around with spears... when was the last time you saw a spear?? it was incredible- also, I can confidently say that we were the only Western tourists in the city and so people were just FREAKING OUT when they saw my blond friend Josh and my friends Becky and Stacey... People don't freak out when they see me, they just look at me in state of confusion and i know that inside they are thinking "where is that girl's corta?" "why is that Indian wearing jeans?" it's funny- so yes, i spent the day watching my friends get swarmed by Indians... I, on the other hand, was just asked if i was married and I forgot to say yes once and when i said no this man just looked at me and pointed to his friends and said "choose". Not going to lie, I not only felt so flattered and also so empowered.. could you imagine if i came home with a spear holding Sikh? That same day my friends and i were walking down the street and this man sees my friend Josh (tall, blond New Yorker Jew) and grabs him and invites us to come to his school... he dragged us into the courtyard of the all girls school that he runs and served us tea and we just took pictures with the girls and tried to speak with them (it is comical that i am in INDIA studying Tibetan... literally when i walk off campus and out of Dharmasala I cant talk to anyone) but then the girls started asking us for our autographs which was a bit awkward.. i was just looking at them thinking "I am no one trust me, this will just be something else you will have to wash off of your hands..." anyways... they continued jumping on my friends and again, i had time to just stand back at watch them... it was really nice and loving actually- this is how we spent our valentines day. My friends and I just had such an incredible time in Amritsar... the people were SO nice- it really was a treat.... we were invited to tea every corner we turned and the people were just interested in sharing stories and laughing... it really was wonderful. We ate the communal lunch at the temple (they serve 1,000s of people EVERY DAY and they do it in such an efficient way.. again, i will share pictures soon... words just cannot explain).

Now to the fun stuff, GETTING TO AMRITSAR:
I live 7 real hours away from Amritsar, bu that means 12 Indian hours away from Amritsar... and so, the journey was half of the fun. I will try to summarize shortly-
The Bus: I got on the 3 hour bus and didn't have a place to sit at the beginning and so stood- not a big deal... but the entire bus is filled with men and me and my friends are the only girls on it and so when the bus is bumping around and my butt is hitting a poor man in the face it's uncomfortable... so, i finally got a seat and put my head down to fall asleep/hold myself back from throwing up and i feel this warm pad on my face... how nice... i look up and it's a man's butt in MY face... gotta love karma ;)
The train... ohhhhh Indian trains- i heard about them... i was warned about them... and to be honest, i was really really excited to have my first train experience BUT once the train arrived, 4 hours after it was supposed to, the only thing i cared about was sleeping... so.. i got onto the train and sat down. UH OH. I sat in something wet... that's gross... but there is nothing to do... i might as well fall asleep... the window wouldn't close and so water was dripping down my neck and it was cold blah blah blah (this made me forget about the one wet spot on my bum) whatever time passes and we had our beautiful weekend and then i got back to school and was ready to do my laundry and guess what's on the backside of my jeans?? Semen... lovely. If you are thinking "Elinor, how didn't you realize that?" Remember that my bum is always covered and know that i was wearing the same pair of jeans for the entire weekend.... All i can say is that my jeans are in my bucket being washed in the strongest soap i could find... gross. I would also just like to say that when things like this happen the only thing going through my head is "Sarah Shore is in Paris wearing heals and skinny jeans eating baguettes and cheese"... and then i smile and survive ;).

I have been scared that learning Tibetan will ruin my French and so I have been stalking the only French girl on campus, and I bought the book Siddhartha in French so that i can practice... I actually also started teaching this 13 year old boy, Ugyen, French. He is one of the most academically driven kids i have ever met and is just so thirsty for learning new things. He is always walking around with a book and asking questions and observing... very very inspiring.

I had a check up with a Tibetan doctor and all I can say is that I didn't believe it at all... I want to believe it and so, I am probably going to go and have a longer meeting with a doctor... The cool thing about Tibetan doctors is that they tell you what's going on by feeling your pulse.. the guy told me a few things that were obscure and he told me that my winds were off... he perscribed me medicine and then said that I probably wouldn't take them... (ha, he got that right!) but... just to give the guy credit- he called out my friend for drinking beer that week which i thought was pretty cool... Anyways, I ended up getting the medicine because i secretly think it could be cool to be on some herbal wind-fixing medicine and it got me sick... I didn't know what wind disease was until i took the medicine and i spent about 12 hours in bed with the worst cramps and i felt like there were actual winds inside of me blowing in the wrong directions... then my roommate gave me medicine blessed by His Holliness and i got better.... hah... this might all be something or it might all be bullshit... either way, it's kind of funny.

I met Palden Gyatso and Ama Adhe and again, words cannot even begin to express what an experience it was. I mentioned in a previous blog entry that i saw Palden Gyatso in Mcleod Ganj and i mentioned that he was a political prisoner for 33 years and was brutally tortured the entire time... I honestly don't even know what to say.... you can read his story in his book but all i want to say is that i have never met someone so loving. He does not have one bone of hatred in his body- no regret, no anger, nothing but love. Those who tortured him took his teeth, his health, and a lot of his physical strength , but they did not ruin his soul and i can only wish that i would be that strong if (knock on wood) i was ever put in a situation like that. Ama Adhe was the same- i also recommend that you read her book.

I went to Kangra Fort which is about 30 minutes away from school and it was beautiful... i went with Carrie and a few girls from my program... it was a relaxing day- we read... we took pictures.. we walked... we almost fought a monkey. I know. My friend left her bag on a bench as she took pictures and hey... a little cute monkey started walking over... so my friend ran away and i just took a step back and then i realized the monkey was going for my friend's bag... so i yelled "hey!" and i thought that I, being a big, strong, intimidating human being would scare this monkey... NO. The monkey glared at me and made this hissing noise and so i ran away too... then i realized that i looked like a fool so i ran back to go save the bag (which by the way had her phone, passport and journal in it) and this time i went back with my water bottle which i thought i could use as a weapon or a distractor or something and i stared at the monkey who, at this time was taking everything out of her bag... and the monkey made that scary face and noise and i ran away... the little bastard too everything out of the bag and threw it and then grabbed a banana which was hiding at the bottom and just walked away.. it was the funniest scariest moment of this trip thus far.

I noticed that when i walk around and feel overwhelmed by the presence of men i put on my game face... it is only funny because i noticed that my game face is just my face looking utterly and disgustingly nauseous... i will catch myself doing it and then just laugh but... it totally works.

All in all I really am enjoying myself. I spend most of the day thinking about the most profound concepts and listening to the craziest stories but I have been able to do all of this without losing myself... I have been having a lot of special experiences with strangers, friends, and with myself and I really wouldn't change any of this... so, when you hear my frustration arising in this blogs, especially when it comes to my thoughts on Buddhism and the philosophies and such it is because there are times when i feel like i just can't win... I will have brilliant questions forming in my head and then 30 seconds later i will be able to answer them... or I will ask intense questions and not be satisfied with the answers i get back or i will just want to share my opinion on a concept but then am brought down by the fact that Buddhism is not always about the smaller picture and there is no "self" in the first place to hold these opinions blah blah blah ;)
But, I am definitely filling these thought driven days with joking around with friends and making new friends and hanging out with my roommate and going for walks and I end the days smiling... so yeah, don't worry if I sound like i am going crazy or if I sound like i will be seeking refuge in the Dharma.... because i still secretly listen to Celine Dion and Hair on my ipod... shhhh ;)

**I have been having the most incredible experiences and meeting some of the most impressive and influential people but to protect them and their stories and... for safety reasons... i am not going to write about them on my blog but i do look forward to speaking to you about it all when i get back...**

Monday, February 2, 2009

Group.... not so much.

Weekends in Dharmasala are the best. Friday we have class and then a field trip (last Friday we went to the Tibetan Government in Exile's base and walked around the library, visited its museum, and stopped in its temple, which is the temple of HHDL's Oracle... pretty cool). Friday night we can do whatever we want... Satur-day all of the Tibetan students have class but we don't so again, we can do whatever we want.. So, last Saturday I went up to Mcleod Ganj and hung out with Carrie! I got a phone call earlier that day from her saying "I'm back from Japan... I'm in Mcleod Ganj... I'm at Nirvana cafe on the roof... meet me here." She would.

So.. I went to Mcleod Ganj and i cannot say how brilliant it was seeing her. As i said before, I am here with a group of 14 American students and 3 American leaders/teachers/counselors? I dont know... anyways, all i can say is that i really don't like traveling in a group. I LOVE the idea of this program and i am enjoying all of the courses and i am so grateful for all of the things that i have learned and seen and the experiences i get to have with the group because I know that i would not have been able to figure out Delhi or the Tibetan language, or meet HHDL on my own... BUT that said, I feel like a mere speculator when i am walking around with my buffer of Americans around me... and I also never liked the idea of being in ONE group or HAVING to find friends in a certain ring (those who know me well know that). I also never liked hierarchy in groups... so while the three teachers are brilliant and exciting, well traveled women (one lives half of the time in Kathmandu, one had a Chinese spy following her while she was living in Tibet, and one is fluent in Mandarin... so yes, the stories go on) BUT i don't like that the dynamics of the group make it so that you are lucky if you get to talk to them and that its a bit like sucking up.. I feel like everyone has great thoughts and stories to share and I am excited to hear everyones but I just don't like having to work hard for it... sorry... does that sound rude? It shouldn't and if it does then i am sorry because i did not intend for it to be so... I am just trying to say that I never liked the idea of having to jump bridges to get to know people because everyone should want to meet mid way on the bridge because they too are interested in getting to know a new person... get it?

Ok, so the 14 students in this group are really great people and i enjoy hanging out with them but I have not found anyone that "gets me". That comment is nothing against them... I have always been a bit strange ;) BUT this kind of bothered me before I saw Carrie and then when i saw Carrie i was reminded how lucky i am to have SO MANY wonderful people scattered around the world who do "get me". So, thank you Carrie. When i say "get me" I'm talking about the small moments... for instance, we were doing yoga on the roof and i just stopped and whispered to a friend "Holy shit, we are at the top of the world" and he responded with "um, no we are not we are on one of the lowest hills near the lowest mountains of the Himalayas" yeahhhhhh ok.... thanks man for popping my bubble of sheer bliss.. I'm sorry but i had to laugh because in one way that could be me looking at the glass half full and he looking at it as half empty.. OR it could be me getting one thing out of the experience and him getting another... either way he is great and very interesting but this little moment made me think of all of my amazing friends who do get me in those small moments.

Something quick about Tibetan language... SO... in English we say "I have a pen" but in Tibetan they say "To me this pen exists" which shows the subjective reality of the existence... whereas in English we speak with the understood concept of "reality"... it presupposes the existence of the pen... Whereas in Buddhism the key to ending ignorance is understanding that everyone has their own reality so there is no independent reality... I just love it that that philosophy is entwined in their speech...

I have to go read about the four noble truths and make a list of my many questions so that my brilliant philosophy teacher can answer them tomorrow... BUT i would like to leave you with a funny picture..

So.. your dear Elinor did her laundry this weekend... responsible right? clean right? yeah... i scrubbed and scrubbed and put all of my clothes on the roof and left them out for the day.... JUST so that i could come back to find them ALL covered in bird shit... lovely.


I promise I will add photos or videos soon. The internet connection here is just SO slow and unreliable that I just cant be bothered.. but i will try to make a trip up to the city this week so that I can send you some visuals to go with the stories.

PS. I never finished writing about why the weekends here are so brilliant... so Saturday... fine we can do whatever we want... Sunday too we have the entire day off and this Sunday I spent it redoing my laundry, sitting on the roof tanning and reading... then i got tea with Carrie and we walked to the dried up river and sat on purple stones talking while goats walked around us... and we were just looking at the mountains and spent time "getting each other"... probably the best thing about time here is that I don't have a cell phone and I have limited internet use and i don't wear a watch... so I only know when i have to be somewhere when the bell rings and by the sunrise and sunset... so on the weekends... time just goes... and it is really really amazing.