18 February 2007

for your consideration: Tibet

I’ll take a break from my India travelog and give you a little heads up about Tibet.

I’ve always had a BA – Buddhist Attitude – but it hasn’t been until the last few years when someone asks “what are you?” that I do not hesitate to say “Buddhist”. My dharma name is Sama (meaning “harmony”, and the hard part is living up to that ideal), that I received when I participated in my Five Precepts Ceremony -- or as my husband called it, my Buddhist confirmation. Back in the day I read many books on the Eastern wisdom traditions, but it was not until I dove deeper into Tibetan Buddhism and wrapped the teachings around me like a cozy shawl that I felt comfortable. For some reason Tibetan Buddhism resonated with me more than any other form, such as Zen for example, and I don’t try to analyze why, because what’s the point? It just is. After all these years I finally found my spiritual teacher in Gehlek Rimpoche. I would give up all my future yoga trainings to study with him, no second thoughts, no hesitation. I also have fourth row seats when HH the Dalai Lama comes to Madison, Wisconsin to give his teachings and empowerment -- sweet! By the way, the Dalai Lama is not allowed into Kenya or Cambodia, just so ya know...

Gehlek Rimpoche grew up in one of the most upper-crust families in Tibet, being the grand-nephew of the 13th Dalai Lama. At the age of four he was recognized as the reincarnation of an important lama, so he was taken from his comfortable life to the harsh life of training as an incarnate lama. The Communist Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950 and finally overran Lhasa in 1959. During those years hundreds of thousands of Tibetans were killed, imprisoned, and tortured, and monasteries were destroyed. Rimpoche lost his family, his teachers, his society, his country. His stories about his escape from Tibet are powerful lessons on impermanence and suffering, on how our lives can change in the blink of an eye or at the end of a gun.

At his last workshop he spoke about standing chest deep in a freezing swamp all night long, holding hands with the other Tibetans who escaped with him. He pointed to a man sitting in the back row and said that when they escaped, that man was a baby on his mother’s back on that dark night in the swamp, hiding from the Chinese invaders. His group eventually crossed the Himalayas into India, escaping the bullets of the Chinese planes that were strafing them. Rimpoche painted a potent image with his words.

The Chinese are still in Tibet, and many more have come since 1959. The US has never sent troops into Tibet to save anyone as we "saved" the Iraqis from Saddam. Rimpoche told us how when he took a group with him to visit Tibet last year, they could only visit the monastaries – the few that the Chinese left standing – in the morning because the afternoons are dedicated to the “re-education” of the monks – in other words, listening to Chinese propaganda. He told us how the monks accept what is, because no matter how much propaganda they listen to, the Chinese can’t really change what is in a monk’s mind or heart. What is the Chinese word for “blah blah blah”? If you look over at the global meter at how many visitors from different countries have viewed this blog, you will see that China is number 3. Maybe one of those visitors can tell us....

As my Buddhism deepened, I began to really notice how much of what we buy here says “made in China.” Almost everything. I am one of those weirdos who reads every label on everything I buy, and it just doesn’t feel right to me to buy Chinese, but it’s very difficult to find something that doesn’t have a Chinese label. It’s my own little one person boycott, but change starts with one person. Yeah, I’m just an old hippie who still believes that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, so go ahead, call me stupid, I don’t care...but maybe you might want to start noticing, too.

I know more than a few people who have visited China. When they hear I’ve been to India, they tell me that they’ve been to China or that they are planning a trip to China. I know that one can’t blame the people of a country for what their government does – I heard plenty of Bush-bashing in India and felt compelled to tell people “but I didn’t vote for him, twice! You can’t blame me!!” – but something in me just wants to tell them please don’t go, can I tell you about Tibet?

You don't have to believe can read this story, The End of Tibet, from Rolling Stone magazine. The opening sentences describe a young woman who is a former Buddhist nun, as she vomits blood in a concrete room that smells of urine. She's recovering from an operation on her stomach, an operation to repair the injuries inflicted on her by her Chinese guards.

Rimpoche told us about a monk he knows who was imprisoned and tortured, but is now free. He said he asked him if he was ever afraid. Yes, the monk told him, he was afraid. But not afraid of his captors or the tortures they put him through, after all, the body is impermanent...he was afraid that he would develop hatred for them.

Click the links that I have provided for the Tibet news forum and the International Campaign for Tibet. And think about where your next T-shirt comes from.

om mani pedme hum

may all beings be free from suffering

12 February 2007

on to Kodaikanal

I moved on to Kodaikanal after Madurai. Perched atop the Palani range, about 120km from Madurai, Kodaikanal is what is called a “hill station” surrounded by temperate forests of pines and deciduous trees. Kodai's wooded - and not so wooded anymore - slopes contain waterfalls and rocky outcroppings. According to the Lonely Planet travel guide, it’s the only hill station in India that was established by American missionaries. I had read about the greenery, the different climate, the different geography, and I was looking forward to a change of scenery from the dry, dusty Tamil Nadu I had become accustomed to.

The bus ride itself was once again an adventure. I got on and the few seats left were in the back, along the long row. I have long legs and did not want to spend hours with my knees up around my chin sitting behind one of the back seats, so I parked myself right in the middle of the long seat, my legs out in the aisle. We picked up more people and two older men came toward me, I could tell they expected me to move over to the window. Not a chance. They shrugged and proceeded to squeeze past me. One sat next to the window, the other was trying to squeeze in next to me, on my left, next to his friend. He had a hard time doing so because the person next to me on my right wouldn’t budge. I got up a little, and as the man was squeezing in between me and his friend, I pushed him in next to me, like shoving someone through a door. “Thank you, madam!”, he said with a big smile.

Within 15 minutes they start talking to me, the first question always being “what country, madam?” and then “what job, madam?”. “America.” “Yoga teacher.” The man next to me translated that for his friend next to the window. Big smiles all around. “We also do yoga, every day,” and my friend told me that just that morning he had done headstand AND shoulderstand. These men appeared to be in their 60s, by the way.... They also made sure to tell me that they were Brahmins, the highest caste. I found it interesting, that people, always men I realized, would tell me that.

Then my friend told me that his friend (the one next to the window) has a brother living in the ashram of Swami Nirgunananda in Chandigarh, which is close to Delhi. Before I know it, an address book is pulled out, and I have the Swami’s cell phone number! Outstanding! Life is all about the connections we make...seems so especially in India. You can bet that I have that scrap of paper with the Swami’s phone number tucked away in a safe place. I googled his name, and to my relief, not much came up, which to me means he’s the real deal. That tells me he’s not a show biz guru or rock ‘n roll yogi. Another time, another trip, I have the rest of my life....

We settled in for the three hour bus ride to Kodai. I pulled out a book I had bought at the Ramakrishna Math in Chennai, Meditation According To Yoga Vedanta. After a while, my friend next to me saw the book and asked to look at it. He showed it to his friend. I never got to read another page because for the next two hours, I was grilled like a school girl before her school masters...

07 February 2007

what about me, what about you?

What about me?

Don't we go through our days with that mantra constantly playing in our head? We're stuck in a line...hey, what about me?!? The kid at Starbucks messes up our order...hey, what about me?!? I wanted a DOUBLE SHOT, you idiot! We've been sitting in the doctor's waiting area for 45 minutes and a mom runs in with a screaming two year old with a peanut stuck up his nose...hey, what about me?!? We're stuck in a traffic jam...hey, what about me?!?

"We are all on this planet together. We are all brothers and sisters with the same physical and mental faculties, the same problems, the same needs. We must all contribute to the fulfillment of the human potential and the improvement of the quality of life as much as we are able. Mankind is crying out for help. Ours is a desperate time. Those who have something to offer should come forward. Now is the time." HH Dalai Lama

What about us?

Mipham records albums, runs marathons and oh yeah....just happens to be a Tibetan Buddhist Lama. He is the dharma heir of his father, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who was instrumental in bringing Buddhism and Shambhala to the West.

The Shambhala tradition believes in the inherent wisdom, compassion, and courage of all beings. It holds that these qualities are ultimately more stable than aggression and greed, and shows us how to use this worldly life as a means to ripen our spiritual potential.

become a spiritual warrior....