January 29, 2001
Our passage through India
Gary Hauk is University secretary
We make an odd little band riding the night train from Jammu, India, to Delhi. But here we are, sharing a sleeping compartmenta Jewish woman who teaches Hinduism; a Jewish man who teaches Islam; a Tibetan Buddhist monk with an Emory Ph.D. in Western philosophy of mind; and me, a Christian ethicist.
Some 12 hours ago, after an early breakfast, we left Dhara-msala, in
the foothills of the Himalayas, and drove for five hours on a road that
varied from (occasionally) two smooth lanes to (more generally) one-and-a-half
lanes of continuous potholes, ditches and rumble strips. On the drive,
we passed, in white-knuckle abandon, buses, trucks, motorcycles, horse-carts,
a camel, rickshaws, bicycles, donkeys, cattle and an endless flow of pedestrians
moving in every direction, whether in city, town or countryside.
Arriving at last at the Jammu airport, we found that our flight to Delhi
had been canceled because of fog in the capital city. So, bundling back
into our cars, we made our way to the train station, there to be assaulted
by a chaos of colors, smells, noises and people of every description.
(Not to mention animals: as we stood on the train platform, I felt something
brush my shoulder and turned to see a cow plodding through the crowd,
in the general direction of a tea stall).
Now, some three hours into our 13-hour train ride to Delhi, we have eaten
a small meal of lentils, rice and dal and are settling in for the evening.
We are Laurie Patton, chair of religion, who occupies the
bunk under mine; Shalom Goldman, associate professor of Middle Eastern
studies, who occupies the bunk across a narrow space from Lauries;
Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Loseling Institute in Atlanta
and lecturer in Tibetan Buddhist studies at Emory, in the bunk above Shaloms;
Looking across to Lobsang as our sleeping car sways and rattles down
to the Indian plains, I see he has assumed the familiar cross-legged position
for meditating and is sitting perfectly still, eyes closed. I wonder where
his meditation is taking him. Just as I wondered, on New Years Daythe
first morning of a new millenniumwhat the monks were chanting at
the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics.
That was just two days ago. My colleagues and I had gone to mark the
beginning of a study-abroad program and to sign an official agreement
between Emory and this distinguished institution of Tibetan Buddhist learning.
When we arrived, the temple was already filled with 200 students and faculty
members, all seated cross-legged on cushions on the floor. They watched
with interest as we were ushered out of the rain-soaked morning to the
front of the assembly and places of honor. The ceremony began with students
and teachers alike chanting tones that stirred my own spirit by their
musicality, though I had no idea what the words said. As the chants filled
the air, and the rain fell outside the temples open doors, I found
myself humming along with the tunes. And then, out of my own tradition,
using the monks melodies, I began blending my own prayers in chant
with those around me:
Our Father, who art in heaven. . .
In a land where religion is as diverse and omnipresent as in India, these two experiencessharing that interfaith berth and blending my Christian prayers with Buddhistsrepresented for me the glory and the challenge of India. Predominan-tly Hindu (some 82 percent of its 1 billion people), it also has a population of some 100 million Muslims, making it the largest Muslim nation in the world.
The nations other religionsChristianity, Buddhism, Jainism,
Sikhism and otherstogether claim some 80 million adherents. With
all of this diversity on such a grand scale, and with the legacy of Mahatma
Gandhi to guide it, the Indian subcontinent would seem, on the surface,
to offer a model of religious tolerance.
But such is not the case. Gandhi himself was assassinated by a Hindu
nationalist disgruntled at Gandhis willingness to accommodate Muslims
in a Hindu state. Since long before that tragedy, India has been rent
by religious antagonism and outright strife.
One of the more egregious instances of this hostility in recent years
was the destruction of the great, triple-domed mosque in the city of Ayodhya.
Dating from the early 16th century, the mosque had been built by a Moghul
emperor on a site holy to Hindus as the birthplace of the god Rama. It
stood as a kind of Indian counterpart to the Temple Mounta place
in Jerusalem holy to Jews, Muslims and Christiansand resonant with
tensions of ownership, priority and sacred jealousy.
In December 1992, incited by representatives of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which now controls Indias parliament, Hindus took crowbars, pickaxes and bare hands to the Ayodhya mosque, leveling it and its three domes to rubble. By the time rioting in Ayodhya, Bombay and other cities and towns had ceased, more than a thousand people had died. The road to reconciliation between Muslims and Hindus in this ancient land will be long and difficult, especially with the BJP officially looking with (misguided and delusional) hope toward the day when India will be home to Hindus only.
In contrast to the platform of the BJP, the position of the Dalai Lama
toward China would appear to be chimerical. Indias most famous permanent
visitor, His Holiness has made his residence in Dharamsala since fleeing
Tibet in front of invading Chinese armies in 1959. In the intervening
42 years, thousands of monasteries and convents in Tibet have been destroyed,
scores of thousands of Tibetans have been killed and more than 100,000
Tibetans have become refugees.
Despite the hardships that his fellow Tibetansand he personallyhave
endured, the Dalai Lama apparently does not harbor a wish for vengeance.
More than anything else, he seems to seek understanding. In a half-hour
audience with him on the penultimate day of the old year, Laurie, Shalom,
Lobsang and I found a man, now in his 60s, whose mind is remarkably active,
curious, probing and hungry for awareness and the peace that comes with
truth. In his writings and his teachings, His Holiness speaks frequently
of his attitude toward China.
Characteristically, it is one of striving for understanding. For him,
his enemies are spiritual teachers: it is through them that he has opportunity
to grow in the exercise of wisdom and compassion.
The story is told of Dr. Tenzin Choedrak, for many years the personal physician to the Dalai Lama.
Choedrak spent 17 years as a political prisoner in Tibet before being
released to exile in India, where he is now an old and revered man. When
asked what the most difficult part of his imprisonment had been, he replied
that it was his fear that he would learn to hate his captors.
This comment reminds me of an ancient Tibetan prayer:
To my Western earstrained to listen for the rightthis
prayer sounds more like capitulation than reconciliation. I wonder, though,
whether something like it is the necessary ground for reconciliation.
It echoes the words of my own tradition, spoken by JesusTurn the
other cheek ... Pray for those who revile you ... Love your enemies.
But also (I want to add), Dont fear to hold them accountable. Even
a loving Jesus grew angry at the abusers of the poor and helpless. Even
the Dalai Lama continues to strive to create justice for his people. Even
those of us who have been betrayed by lovers, abandoned by friends, insulted
by colleagues, wounded in the countless ways people have of wounding each
other, even we must find ways to say enough! to the abuse
without destroying the fabric of our oppressors spiritand
thereby our own. For we are intractably woven into each others lives,
oppressor and oppressed, victim and violator.
This is a difficult lesson that I have yet to learn how to live out.
As the train from Jammu to Delhi clatters and rumbles along, I ponder
my own Chinasthe people in my life who in various ways seem to undermine
my happiness. I consider my own Ayodhya templesthe sacred places
in my life that have been desecrated by insensitivity, callousness, or
outright enmity. And I cling to the image of myself sheltering here with
my three companions, sharing a berth on our long journey through the night
toward a common destiny.
Maybe that common destiny is the one greatest teacherthe darkness
that will claim us all