30.05.2009 - 15.06.2009 25 °C
Well, after I got back from the trek I went on a meditation course at the Buddhist Tushita center. That was quite an experience. Buddhism is justly described as a “science of the mind”. During this course I learned to use aspects of my mind that I wasn't even aware of before. I will give an example: Usually we identify ourselves with our thoughts, emotions, feelings, etc. I think, I feel, I dream. This means that when we experience an emotion we identify with it and are swept away by it. The best example for this is anger. When we are angry we lose control and say and do things that we regret later. In Buddhism the mind is often compared to a wild, drunk elephant or horse that stomps around randomly, spurned on by the crazy monkey who represents the distractions coming from our six senses (the sixth are the thoughts). If we identify with what's going on in our mind, we ride this wild elephant and are taken up and down, left and right by it. Today something good happens, we are happy. Tomorrow we are sad. We go up and down all the time without control. Now the Buddhists teach how to step down from the elephant and to watch it move from a distance. This means you are aware of your emotions and thoughts, but you don't identify with them, you identify with the part of you that is aware of what's going on in your mind. This is the real you. One way to learn how to look at your mind is with a meditation technique called single-pointed meditation. Basically you focus all your concentration on one thing (usually your breath) and keep the mind from wandering. This is amazingly difficult. I couldn't believe the amount of chatter and daydreams that is going on in my mind. My mind's a real chatterbox and a movie theater at the same time. I tried for about seven hours a day during the retreat to keep my mind focused, but the longest time I could keep my mind empty of thoughts was about a minute! On the other hand I was quite successful at watching my emotions from a distance. That was amazing! I could feel anger (at all the people making noises around me), impatience (How much longer until lunch/dinner?), boredom (Oh my God, what on Earth am I doing here!?). All of them came up, I watched them come and go like a wave. This course showed me a part of my mind I didn't know existed. Fascinating!
One of the goals of being aware of what's going on in your mind is that you are aware of what you experience, what's being fed to you by your senses at the moment. Most of the time we are completely lost in daydreams and thoughts about yesterday and tomorrow and thus we spend most of our lives missing the present moment.
Another goal is that you enjoy the good times without having to suffer too much from the bad times. By being detached from your emotions you can handle grief, anger, sadness, etc. without having to go through all the suffering.
A short comment about Buddhism: I like it. There is no all-powerful God with whom one can explain whatever miracles and inconsistencies one wants. Thus everything is very structured and logically assembled. For example, like all other religions Buddhism teaches to love other people and be kind to them. But instead of this being a command from God, there is a complete set of reasons (that I won't go into) based on the ideology why you should be good. Well, so far you like the idea of cyclic rebirth or you don't (personally I am still perfectly comfortable with being an agnostic), but what gives Buddhism a distinct edge over the other religions in my opinion, is that you actually practice being kind to others. It is not just another thing that is written in your Holy Book, you're getting trained to be compassionate and forgiving. Exercises in loving kindness, you can't argue with that in this world...
One other advantage that, in my opinion, Buddhism has over the monotheistic religions (I mostly compare with Islam and Christianity because those are the only two religions I know relatively well. And I just throw Judaism in the same monotheistic basket. Can't be that different...) is that is seems much more thought through to me. You can always find loopholes in the Bible and the Quran for justifying violence. Not so in Buddhism, there are much more safeguards against misuse. Not that violence doesn't exist in the Buddhist world, some monks can be very territorial and violent (In rural areas people send difficult children to the monastery to get rid of the problem, much like we used to do with the military academy. Thus not all the monks are very bright). But as far as I know, so far there has never been a Buddhist scholar that condoned violence of any kind for whatever reason.
I started to feel at home here in Dharmsala. I have good friends, there's a Significant Other, I know most of the who's who, and I am friends with the Guest house staff where I stay most of the time. I had planned to stay here until the end of June. Unfortunately my money-belt was stolen from my room. This is quite a catastrophe since it contained my passport, my credit-cards, and my emergency money. Note to self: Putting all your valuables in the same money-belt is only a good idea if you actually wear the damn thing! I had gotten really lazy with security issues and there we go. Never let your guard down. Anyway, here I was with 200 Rupees in my pocket as my only valuable possession. Bomi, who was here when I discovered that my money-belt had been stolen, was of tremendous support and immediately lent me enough money to last a month! Thank you so much Bomi!
Now I have to go down to Delhi next week to make arrangements to get a new passport and visa. This will take time and cost a lot of money.
Here are some pictures from McLeod and around:
A very majestic-looking goat at the river close to Naddi, where I went for an afternoon with Renata and Rami
The sky in Naddi after some heavy hail. It looked much blacker in reality than on the picture.
At the Dharamkhot waterfall with Bomi. We went swimming in that water that came straight from the glacier :-)
The Miss Tibet election. That was hilarious! I attended the talk and talent evening. There were four candidates! The hall was packed full with Tibetans. The 4 girls were given a subject on which they had to make a speech. Each was loudly cheered when she came onstage, but afterwards nobody gave a damn anymore and everybody started to talk to their neighbours. It was so loud in the hall, it was impossible to understand what the contestants were saying. But when they were finished they all got a lot of applause. Still, I managed to understand one of the highlights of the evening. Let me quote one girl who had to talk about climate change: "Before 1959 the climate in Tibet was clean and pure. But after the invasion the Chinese started to deplete the natural ressources and the glaciers started receeding and temperature got warmer." The Chinese are so much the embodiment of evil for the Tibetans that they are even responsible for climate change in their eyes...
By the time of the talent show I was rolling on the floor, laughing. Fortunately it was so loud in the hall that it wasn't a problem to laugh:
The Panchen Lama is the number two in the Tibetan hierarchy after the Dalai Lama. Unfortunately he was abducted immediately after his recognition at age 3 along with his relatives by the Chinese. Since then noone has heard from him or his family. The Chinese government has selected another person to be the Panchen Lama. This one is not so popular with the Tibetans, though...
On the birthday (and enlightment day and death day) of the Buddha I went to a Puja at Tushita. Basically it is just as boring as a christian mass, with the exception that there are offerings that are distributed to the attendants. Thus I walked away with a bag full of chocolate, sweets and cookies. Yay!
A Tibetan rock concert at the Longling School with an artist doing an impressive show to accompany the music.
The Tibetan soccer tournament at the Tibetan Children's Village, semi-final. The local team lost 3-1.
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