Monday, September 20, 2010

A Summer in Tibetan India

It has now been a bit more than three months since I last left an obvious sign of life on this blog. Since mid-June I have been studying Tibetan down here in the Karnataka state of India, at the great Nyingma monastery of Namdroling. Of course I have to call the place I am in India, but this is a Tibetan settlement area, dominated by Tibetans and monasteries. Besides Namdroling you can also find the even bigger monastery of Sera around the corner as well as a few other monasteries. All four schools of Tibetan Buddhism have established institutions here. Any foreigner who's interested in spending time here requires a special permit, otherwise a five year long, rather unpleasant stay in a little prison cell in an Indian town can end the journey!

Here we are, a few Western students aiming at getting to know this, for us, so different a language. And I can definitely say I have learned during the past months and weeks. As the structure and nature of the Tibetan language has basically nothing in common with the languages I know, my brain has got a lot of work to do to figure things out. But just like anything you start with, the beginning is usually difficult, and it's all a matter of time until there is more of a flow. So I just have to get out on the streets and find the next Tibetan and open my mouth. And the more I have been learning the easier it has gotten to do that. I have become less discouraged to engage with Tibetans as my brain's synapses have become more used to building these strange sentences. And I think a major indication for having become accustomed to a language is the ability to understand and make jokes, and I am making more and more use of this aspect!

Lord of Fruits

My day usually still starts with some practice of the Ngöndro, followed by a breakfast of tea and yummy porridge enriched by fruit, to give me the strength I need for the upcoming marathon of studying and speaking. These days, for basically three months now, I have been translating a young monk scholar for one hour around noon. After having gone through some parts of the Khenjuk, the Gateway to Knowledge, Mipham Rinpoche's important treatise on Buddhist Philosophy and Metaphysics, we made use of a short description given by the late Kyabjé Penor Rinpoche, founder of Namdroling, on the life of the Buddha, the Buddha's twelve deeds. At the end of last week we embarked upon the Kunzang Lama'i Shyalung, the Words of my Perfect Teacher, Patrul Rinpoche's essential overview of the Longchen Nyingtik Ngöndro. Every morning I prepare my translation for that class, and as our teacher has realized that I am now getting most of what he says, he has speeded up. But without my preparation and a little Dharma background, I would quickly be lost. And in any case, listening to a language one is not yet very fluent in, taking notes of the main words and ideas while keeping in mind the context at the same time, requires the brain to utilize its full capacity. Three months ago I was on quite a different level. So it makes me happy to see my progress in such a difficult undertaking. In the afternoon I see my conversation partner, another monk, for one hour. And in the early evening we have a class in which a teacher from Namdroling goes through the Khenjuk with us and is translated by a fellow student.

The days are filled with routine, but that can make you accomplish quite a bit as it prevents distractions from sabotaging your endeavours, if you can maintain the discipline. Another good means that ensures this, is to be put on the spot like I am every day when translating.

Balcony View

But when looking at the monks and nuns we are surrounded by, who study hard for many years and usually possess a very thorough knowledge of the Dharma, I often find myself envying them not only for their understanding but especially for their level of relaxation. This balance of focused and regular study combined with a down-to-earth attitude, joy and spaciousness is crucial, but for us Westerners it seems to be difficult to achieve.

Monks leaving a Lhakhang

The weather here, now, is very conducive to our training. It's warm but not hot. Here and there it rains but generally not a lot. (Did you get the rhyme?!) It's very peaceful, people are warm-hearted and relaxed. There's not much to do. Many Tibetans in the different settlements spend their days sitting on their verandas, reciting mantras, drinking tea and doing a bit of chit-chat. Little worries. There's not much going on.

Mani Girls

At the end of August/beginning of September an event took place in the area that was the biggest 'piece of entertainment' this year: For four days His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to the region of Bylakuppe (that's the name of this area). He mainly visited the monasteries of Sera and Namdroling and participated in the conclusion of the first National General Meeting of Tibetans which had begun a few days before his arrival. With a bit of effort I was able to obtain a press card for these days which allowed me to get very close to the Dalai Lama and take photos. Not only could I take a number of beautiful photos of His Holiness, but I also used the opportunity to document the beauty and diversity of Tibetan life in exile. Besides many thousands of monks and nuns there were also thousands of lay Tibetans around, including many who had travelled down here to see their beloved leader. For me it was a strenuous but very special time, as being so close to this amazing being was such a wonderful experience which probably won't happen again too soon! In a few days time you should be able to read a fuller report about His Holiness' visit here.

The Dalai Lama grants the Long Life empowerment of White Tara at Sera

A little Prayer

Human Compassion

Please visit my flickr-album for more photos of this wonderful happening.

Riksha Sweeties in Mysore

Now we have only three weeks left before this first translator training will conclude. I am happy to return to my culture and dear ones, it often has not been easy for me to be away from all of them so long, especially after my bus accident and after having already spent four months in Nepal earlier this year. But I am also very much aware of the unique chance I have been given to do what I am doing here. Some wondrous powers out there have been guiding me along this path and opening up more and more possibilities to learn and develop myself. After some days in Delhi (looking forward to that!), I will head down to the south-western coast of France to dive into the atlantic waters, having been away from them for more than four years. Then I will pay a visit to Lerab Ling at the end of October and after two weeks in Hamburg I will travel to the land of Obama.


mimi said...

Thanks Jurek for that great piece. I get a real fee for the place now-- lucky you!! when and where are you intending to hit the surf?? love always, mimi

Lena said...

thanks for these impressions! See you in few days time!