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March 28, 2005
A journey most auspicious
Nancy seideman, assistant vice president for public affairs, was a member of the feb. 5-17 emory college delegation to dharamsala, india. following are excerpts from her web log account of the trip.
This morning, as we started out via van for the 14-hour drive to Dharamsala, I was able to add another category that shares Delhi roads: an elephant carrying a bundle of long green grass (to feed the cows, I suspect). Cows don’t have to fend too much for themselves; once they finish their milking days, they are set free and roam Delhi at will.
One of my colleagues was nudged aside by a cow as he waited on a train platform. Today I don’t blink twice at the sight of a cow standing on a two-foot wide median, staring into the distance, with six lanes of traffic flying past her in both directions (officially it’s three lanes, but it’s kind of create-your-own).
I remarked to my van companion, Geshe Kalsang, that I had never seen poverty before Delhi. Geshe Kalsang said quietly, “Nancy, you have not yet seen poverty.” As we drove a few more blocks, he said, “Look, here are the slums.” We were driving past what appeared to be tiny shacks molded out of trash. The stench and filth were overwhelming. Although not a person was in sight, people did live in these “homes.” This was poverty.
Our visit officially began early in the morning at the temple as we joined the monks and members of the community in a ceremony to celebrate the Tibetan New Year (losar). The monks already had begun the ceremony as we arrived and took our places on mats in an open-air pavillion.
In a double row facing each other, the monks, clad in their distinctive saffron and maroon robes, were chanting to invoke Palden Lhamo, one of two major state protectors of the dharma (Tibetan Buddhist teachings). Through these chants, deep gratitude is expressed for the deity’s qualities, because in order to invite her to this place (mentally)—and especially to ask for her blessings—appreciation must be expressed through chants and offerings. The chants are accompanied at times by the monks playing cymbals, drums and wind instruments.
The entire ceremony is active and quite colorful, as witnessed by the many cameras and videos recording the event. But the ceremony is not limited to the monks; sweet rice cakes and butter tea (just what it sounds like) are offered to all present, and prayers are offered for the entire world, for all life forms.
• I had been shy about engaging monks in conversation until I met my friends here. I mean, what did I have to offer monks intellectually? What’s there to talk about? Aren’t they always thinking profound thoughts? They’re not.
• To prepare for this trip I took meds to prevent typhoid, am currently on a three-week course of malaria pills, and I received immunizations for polio and hepatitis A. I had been warned about rabies, “Delhi belly,” Japenese encephalitis, and another disease I can’t recall, but it is really bad. So what happens? I come down with a common cold.
• I was told it was cold in Dharamsala and to dress in
layers. “No problem,” I said.
“I grew up in the north; I know cold weather.” I don’t. There is no indoor central heating in Dharamsala; floor heaters provide the only warmth. When I am in the hotel room or in the corridor, I can see my breath. I wear three layers to bed.
The third day of losar
We took an early morning walk along a mountain ridge to participate in a ceremony to make offerings of incense and food to the gods of positive sight. In the valley below we could see clouds of smoke from another ceremony. Laughing children, in colorful traditional Tibetan dress, ran past us to the shrine, whirling barrel-size prayer wheels. All along the route were piles of rocks (painted white on the sides) with varied offerings placed on top. These cairns represent the universe. As we neared the center, there was a proliferation of prayer flags (white, red, blue and yellow, symbolizing the earth, sky, wind and water).
The mood was festive—the jubilant crowd chanted along with the monks, and people walked by with trays of barley. I took a pinch, but noticed that others scooped up cupfuls and laughed when they noticed how little I had taken. The barley was tossed in the air and rained heavily down on us. Everyone greeted each other and shook hands, sort of the Tibetan version of Times Square. I later found out that the more barley you throw, the more auspicious your new year. I’m in trouble.
We began an “ambulation” along a ridge and around a hill on top of which is the Dalai Lama’s residence. The ambulation was in honor of His Holiness and of the spirits in nature—all living beings.
His Holiness The Dalai Lama
On Monday, Feb. 14, at 12:30 p.m., we met with the Dalai Lama in a private audience at his residence. This was the major reason for the trip—to receive His Holiness’ blessing for establishing a formal agreement between Emory and the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics.
We were seated in a large reception room to await his arrival. We sat in absolute silence for about five minutes. I was glad that we’d spent almost a week in Dharamsala before meeting the Dalai Lama, because now I had a greater understanding of and appreciation for what he was about.
From the moment he arrived, the room was filled with his energy, humor and warmth. Dean Bobby Paul thanked His Holiness for receiving us and talked about the progress of the Emory-Tibet Partnership, and said that we had taken his advice to “start small,” to our mutual benefit. His Holiness expressed his approval of the deepening of our relationship.
Bobby presented the Dalai Lama with Emory gifts, and also gave him a copy of our Emory-Tibet Partnership brochure. His Holiness examined the brochure carefully. In response to a question from an Emory student about the greatest problems we will face in the next 50 years, the Dalai Lama said they are: the environment, including the impact of world population; the gap between rich and poor; and the need for countries to rise above individual interests to find common interests in order to develop a sustainable global community.
The experience of being in His Holiness’ presence is difficult for me to describe. It’s something I feel internally, and I’m sure it will take a while to sort out.
One of the most meaningful aspects of the trip for me was to be present when Bobby and the Lobsang and Tibetan scholars discussed how the Emory-Tibet partnership has contributed to our individual missions and—on a grander scale—how together we might benefit society.
As Bobby says, simply put, we’re exploring and blending the best of Eastern and Western traditions to create a new culture, new knowledge, that contributes to positive transformation in the world.
What really intrigues me is the personal story. A cultural anthropologist, Bobby has spent much of his academic career focused on comparative religion and myth and ritual. His dissertation was on the Buddhist symbolic world, but he hadn’t visited this region since he did research in Nepal about 30 years ago.
He conceived the partnership more than a decade ago. I can’t imagine how Bobby felt, watching His Holiness sign the agreement, though he did say it was like “climbing to the mountain top.” It was so moving to be present when my friend and colleague’s dream was realized.
This entire experience symbolized what was inherent in so many of the Tibetan rituals, traditions and even casual conversation: the deep bonds among teacher, mentor and student.
To view the web log in its entirety (including photos), visit http://langqtss.library.emory.edu/tibet/.