I am not being good about writing this blog at all this time. I like so many of the guests here and my days have been so full that I have just gone with it, so there has been little solitude and little time to write.
Since, this being India, wireless and internet access in any form has yet again for no reason disappeared, I cannot access the last time I wrote, and am using Word. Probably two days ago. But the fabric of time is different here, and I have until today had to rely on the phone to tell day and date. At home, date I sometimes don’t know, but day almost always. Now that things are beginning to be attached to the days on which they take place, I am catching up with this.
Thursday was the last day of the teachings. His Holiness was very tired for the first two days, but he seems to drw energy from doing the teachings and especially from giving initiations and empowerments which is what happened on the last day. By then we all had our seats staked out, were good at listening to the radios and there was a sort of closeness among all of us from all over the world. I learned so much and took so much in, and there was just a sharing of the experience and a joy to it. I don;t really have words for it. Our little group from Kashmir Cottage had lunch together and later dinner together, which was a bit too much for me.
Friday, the day after the teachings ended, I had a meeting with the workers at Kunphen, the drug addiction NGO. After that I walked around McLeod Ganj by myself for the first time since I arrived and met the stall keepers I have gotten to know, had lots of butter tea and took a taxi back. Everyone else was elsewhere, so I had dinner by myself at last.
Yesterday – Saturday – I spent a full and fascinating day interviewing the drug addicts of Dharamsala. I managed to see five men, aged between 20 and 30. His Holiness is right when he says we are all the same human being (at the same time that he is so wonderfully curious about each of us individually). All these young men had these things in common: whether born in Tibet, Nepal or India, they were family and school trouble-makers from an early age. This led to their being sent to boarding school, in most cases Tibetan Children’s Village where they continued to make trouble in addition to missing their families terribly. Academically all reported being excellent students, but they were trouble. Some managed to graduate, some were expelled, one left the monastery where he had been sent by his parents to become a monk. One managed to get into the army, one fought with the rebels during a period of unrest between India and Nepal, but no one was able either to keep or, most often, to even find a job. They all stole from their families (one even broke his uncle’s arm during a robbery) and all of the families knew of their addiction but hid it from the community as long as they could out of shame, rather than getting them help. Use either started very young – with tobacco and cough syrup at age 8, or upon their being unable to find or losing a job where the onset was later. All reported that drug use made them better able to talk with others and made them feel special and superior. Most of them have been in Indian rehabs an average of three times and all, whether they completed treatment or not, immediately relapsed upon getting out. All of them hated the structured environment (although some recognized it as being helpful in terms of learning how to manage life better) and preferred jail, where one can roam free in the prison area and pretty much do anything except leave. Fortunately addiction is considered a health problem, not a legal one. In fact, one man told me that his father had tried to get the police to imprison him and was turned away because using is not against the law. (Dealing, which all had done, is a crime.) But because of shame and ostracism in the community, most do not seek help until they have become homeless. None of the men I spoke to had more than a year of abstinence, but all of them reported their current abstinence as being the longest they have had since using. I have some reason to doubt this is true for all of them, not because they were lying, but likely because they simply don’t remember. All but one spoke very willingly and this led to my spending too much time with each of them. At least one of them has a coexisting mental health issue.
Enter Mr. Dawa, the director of Kunphen. He goes out on the streets where the addicts congregate and tries to get them to come to Kunphen. Most do not want to go, but other addicts who have been there are helpful in convincing them. Mr. Dawa provides them with a room, a job in a bead-making factory and support groups when he has time. When they leave and relapse, he comes to take bring them back. They come back when/if they decide to do so. The ones who are doing the best consider him to be their father. I cannot imagine bearing the burden he has. But he does other things in the community as well (he is a member of parliament, for example) and he is spread way too thin. He has one assistant. He got partial funding for a rehab, which is almost built, but he has no idea about how to work the clinical side of things. And that is the situation with drug treatment in Dharamsala.
Last night at dinner I was discussing the situation and my concern that I could be of no help at all, when a very kind palliative care doctor pointed out to me that by simply reporting my findings to Dawa I could be of use. So I have used this blog as the start of that. I have only one reader – Kira – and I hope she will understand.
Today I went to visit the nurse with whom I did the training the last time I was here. She has a 16-day-old baby, and that was a lot of fun for me. She works for the Department of Health, which is supposed to be doing something about drug misuse, but as everyone is newly appointed and none have any public health or drug treatment expertise, it is falling by the wayside.
Well, obviously the internet has returned to life and this is the longest blog I have written.
At 6 a.m. five of squeezed into the Kashmir Cottage swanky car to go to the Dalai Lama’s Group Residence for our group audience, where His Holiness blessed the nuns who re the first ones ever to receive what is in effect PhD. We as sponsors and donors got to go along. It was dreadfully disorganized and overly bureaucratic in the way only Indians can manage things, with passports and visas and pictures of both of them flying about, people being assigned numbers to get in line – a nightmare. It was supposed to begin at 6:30, but did not until 8, and three interpretors spread out to interpret what he was saying to the nuns.
The only person not at all bothered was His Holiness, who was enthusiasit and full of energy, saying to the nuns basically what he has said in the teaching the day before about secular ethics. He spoke right up until the time when the teaching in the Temple was supposed to start.
Then the group pictures, irst with the nuns and then with us. I was right next to him holding his hand. Unfortunately I could not get the book or Isabella’s picture in with me, but a friend of mine who had a much smaller audience will at least bring the picture. My friend, His Holiness’s photographer, gave me a hug and a kiss after the pictures, and that was nice. I am assuming we will be given copies, but this has been so disorganized that I really don’t know.
His Holiness arrived at the teaching minutes before I found my seat, which a friend was holding from yesterday. This of course was shorter since it began half an hour late, but it was really about Buddhism and not secular ethics. It was very clear and I had no trouble with the English simultaneous translation until the batteries died about 10 minutes before he finished. I will watch the Livestream if I ever get a chance.
Next we took the path down to Delek Hospital for another anniversary (this one of 30 years of Delek Hospital) and ate great Indian food. I got to see the book I proofread, almost in final form now and met a really interesting psychiatrist from South Africa who came back to the Cottage with us. Another gret discussion.
But I need more down time.
I heard from the place where I will be volunteering; they had wanted me to visit today, but I didn’t get the email until it was too late to go. But it seems very promising.
More tomorrow – VERY tired.
This is the first day I have been able to write.
To summarize the first 4 days: 1) arrival in Delhi; 2) arrival in Dharamsala completely jet-lagged and unable to sleep; 3) dinner for donors and sponsors of the Tibetan Nuns Project, still jet-lagged and not vert taken with my fellow members; 4) celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Tibetan Nuns’ Project – endless.
At 6 a.m. this morning I got a taxi to the Temple for the first day of the teachings and managed to get a fairly good seat to see His Holiness, or at last parts of him, as there was a pillar to be seen around. Prior teachings have begun at 8; this one was scheduled for 8:30 and began a bit late. I met another guest from the cottage, with whom I really connected – a psychologist who is a Buddhist teacher in California, her husband and the other members of her small community. She came and sat with me (since I had gotten a better seat) and we talked for the two hours until it began. The first part was the usual about secular ethics and in the last hour, the beginning of the teaching. His Holiness was clearly tired and things were a bit hectic during the break. We ended early. As my new friend and I were walking down the stairs to meet the rest of her group, we had the good fortune to see His Holiness getting into his car (although we nearly go pushed down the stairs in the process by those who couldn’t see and knew what was going on). Then all of us had lunch in Dharamsala and walked back to the cottage on my path, which has had some minor monsoon damage. I was glad for the opportunity, because I am not going to do it alone.
Anyway, it is so terrific to be in the company of highly educated Buddhists who think exactly like I do (for the mos part) about politics, life, death, etc. I had the best time. Fascinating and stimulating, thought-provoking conversation.
Before we connected, I had to be almost constantly around other people (when I really like having solitude here) with whom I didn’t really feel comfortable.And I was concerned that this would not be a really good trip.
But meeting these people, who now will occupy a lot of my time, I am convinced that it will be a gift. Tonight we are having dinner with Dr. Tsetan, for whom I did the proofreading. I am looking forward to seeing him again.
Toend – it turns out I was on the livestream of the teaching today!
What an intense period this has been for me personally: my 72nd birthday, Mother’s Day, the 59th anniversary of my mother’s death. Not to mention the monsoon-like event, which gave me a whole new understanding of human fragility.
I didn’t write yesterday, and am finding it difficult to do now what will probably be the last piece of this Dharamsala blog. It was an eventful day, the actual anniversary of my mother’s death. First thing after breakfast, I climbed up the path to circumnabulate.
When I returned, Rinchen Khando was sitting with Norman and they invited me to join them. We talked about the woman, Dolma, who used to be manager here, for whom Rinchen cared deeply – as do it. I tried to see Dolma in Delhi where she is with a boyfriend now. They are going to Tibet where Dolma’s father is, and we all shared concerns for her. Dolma is telling me I must come visit her there, but I think not in this lifetime. I am afraid she will be jailed by the Chinese because of her past employment.
Next, Rinchen asked about what I have done this time when I was here, and I told them. Since I was describing the training on handling loss that I did in Derhadun, I mentioned that it was the 59th anniversary of my mother’s death and the three of us began discussing personal losses. Norman mentioned the Jewish custom of the Yahrzeit candle and Rinchen Khando said she was going to Dolma Ling Nunnery and would have the nuns light a butter lamp for my mother. She took my mother’s name so that this could be done properly.
Rinchen left, and Ngawang, my 27-year-old co-trainer came for lunch here, as I had invited her to do. We spent several hours together and she told me her life’s story, yet again convincing me that we all have great difficulties and losses and find ways to surmount them that are not terribly culturally different. (No need to share her story, other than that she tried to commit suicide twice, for which she had her reasons.)
This whole time here I would like to think that there is some small chance that I am beginning to develop a little greater compassion for self and others and, particularly in the past week I have been crying easily and a lot and am crying as I write this – not for any special reason. I am not suffering, (except for the second kind of suffering -the suffering of change) and I am even quite joyful, and very grateful for all the experiences of this trip, which has allowed me to be of some benefit to others. The training seems to have been successful and I have someone with whom I am working to establish a Rotary here. I have had to stretch myself to be around other people – the fascinating guests that show up here – and there were times when I could and times when I couldn’t. It got somehow easier toward the end.
My plan was to go up to McLeod to have lunch with Ngawang today, but I was not looking forward to it. His Holiness is returning from Japan today and I am sure it will be difficult to even walk there (in addition to the fact that it will be the hottest it has been yet, which is tough on the path). But as I was getting ready for my morning meditation, my phone rang. It was Rinchen Khando. She told me that the butter lamp had been lit, and then invited me to a dinner she is holding tonight in her house here. I was allowed to visit her there last time I was here, and it is amazingly beautiful. Her husband, His Holiness’ brother, who is really a fascinating man and who was with His Holiness in Japan, will probably be there tonight. So of course I canceled all other plans.
On the phone, we discussed the mother situation again. She very kindly offered to be my Tibetan mother (although I think she is around my age), and that was just fine with me. I am beyond honored.
The picture on top of this (I thought, of course, that it was going to be inserted into the text at the last paragraph) is she and I, in case you have not figured it out. We both look very happy.
So now I will force myself to do the packing and other things for getting ready to leave including the horrendous money counting and figuring out how much I need to leave for staff.
But… I put it off to sit in the sun and chat with a lovely Norwegian woman who is here to celebrate 20 years of a Norwegian Radio Free Tibet program that she runs. We talked for a few hours, comparing our countries and it was extremely informative. I told her the story of Ari and 9/11 and found myself crying yet again.
S0 – I am so happy to be here, and of course I will be happy to be home.
Monsoon season is approaching. Another thunderstorm last night and a blackout, but it was just a thunderstorm and was over quickly. Nothing like that other horror. There might be a storm tonight, but it doesn;t feel – so far – like anything much.
Today I went to the Shugseb Nunnery for a visit. It is every bit as lovely as the Dolma Ling Nunnery that I had visited previously. But somehow I got sucked into having lunch there and then the person who brought me had to do some help with their computers. Good thing I had my iPhone (of course really this should have been yet another opportunity to meditate, but it wasn’t) or I probably would have been bored and annoyed. As it was, I was completely patient and pleasant, but extremely glad to get back here and sorry I had had no opportunity to really walk today. I am hopeful I will have the opportunity to do it tomorrow before I have my Health Department counterpart here for lunch. Then there is only Sunday left.
Each time I circumnabulate, I think – will this be the last time for this trip … will this be the last time in my life? It isn’t a sad feeling really, but one with which I am becoming familiar. It makes things more memorable.
Anyway, it was really hot at the nunnery and coming back in the awful traffic in the un-airconditioned car. I have not felt the heat that way since I have been here. But I understand that it is really intolerable in Delhi. This I will not know since I will fly into the airport, remain there and then fly back home.
There are only three guests here now, so it is really quiet and the way I love it. I seem to mostly want to keep to myself and it takes tremendous effort to make myself go and say hello, but of course now that it is almost over I am getting better at it.
My reading has raised an interesting question, to which I do not understand my response and am still trying to figure it out. Would I exchange my body for a younger person’s with more energy, etc.? No I absolutely would not. Would I exchange my mind for that of an enlightened Buddha? Yes, for sure. How could this be? Am I more attached to my body than to my mind? I don’t think so … but there is no doubt about the answers I gave.
I am beginning to pack – an easy project this time since I brought so much stuff to give away and now have lots of space, and I have figured out that I have enough rupees to pay. This is the part where I go on automatic pilot – no feelings about leaving, even if it is for the last time, or about going home. Just doing the necessary stuff and hoping it all goes smoothly.
I awoke to beautiful blue skies and no wind. I actually had a good night’s sleep and did not get up at 3:30 in the morning. No doubt I am going to have a struggle when I get home. Ah well…
Ani la is still sick, so I didn’t go to my class, but I did go to the Health Department (which is right near by) and again got lost. This time I was very careful to stay near lots of people and away from any barking dogs. Eventually I ran into a man who had guided me last time, and he took me there.
I managed to get back, as I always seem to do, without getting lost and then, since the sky was still clear, I decided to go up to the
Temple to circumnabulate (which means to do a circle called a kora clockwise around it) and then into McLeod Ganj for lunch. The walk up seems to get easier and easier. But today there were many monkeys on the path.
At one point, I was trying to take a picture of new growth of pine needles and looked up to see two monkeys sitting directly above me in the tree. I was afraid for a minute that they would drop down on me, but I took a picture (which didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped) and walked on without anything happening.
I had a wonderful calm peaceful time walking, and took some pictures that I like. On the way, I met some women from Canada who had never been here and helped to show them around. A very lovely and calm time. I need to find a way to produce this at home.
As I had lunch, the clouds were gathering, so I took a taxi back. There is some thunder now, but whatever it is may pass us by. I am really paying attention to the weather now, in a whole new way. And I do not like thunder at all.
Two new developments in my projects here. The young man with whom I had lunch yesterday has indicated his willingness to go ahead with starting a Rotary club here,which would be so wonderful, and the Health Department is reporting on our workshop in Dehradun. So I am feeling that other than the personal growth I derive from coming here, I may at least have done something in return – very important for me now.
I forgot to mention this yesterday – when I took a taxi to McCleod Ganj, the driver remembered me. He had driven me to my audience with His Holiness (which he didn’t know, only that he had driven me to the Temple gate very early). This was almost a year and a half ago. People don’t rely on names here. They remember physical appearance. It is so extraordinary to me. I am working on it, but it is hard to do, and I do want to remember names as well. Yet another way of seeing.
Before I went to bed, the storm had pretty much stopped, but I was still uneasy since according to the forecast more lay ahead. And more did. Another storm at 3:30 in the morning woke me up and knocked out the electricity. I was unable to go back to sleep.
As it began getting light out, the storm passed and the monkeys arrived. They ate all the flowers. (Good thing I got those pictures yesterday.) I kept chasing them away and they kept coming back until the staff got up and there were too many people for them. They did a tremendous amount of damage, but everything seems to grow back so quickly here.
It was sort of drizzling but nothing much and the lights were restored at around 9 o’clock. Fortunately for me, none of my electronics ran out, so I was able to keep myself somewhat busy.
But it is odd that I was so thrown by it. I was really terrified – really terrified – and after all it was just a windy thunderstorm with a period of hail. Easy to say now that the sun is shining and it is a comfortable 80 degrees. I think it was the noise and the ferocity of it – the hugeness, the grandeur. I can understand why the word thunderball is used. They seem to come rolling down the mountains. The rain was about as heavy as I have seen in the Dominican Republic, but the drops are so huge, as huge as hailstones, and there is just something massive about it. Mountain storms are very different than tropical storms, and they last so very much longer. Because the light was so dim (no light inside and very cloudy outside), I had to use my glasses constantly and I think that didn’t help either. Everything seemed dangerous…
The storms don’t really put a halt to things, however, even during the monsoon season. People certainly stay inside more, but they are not prisoners (which was sort of how I felt – like a very tiny prisoner in a very big storm). The umbrellas really work and you just get a little wet. Traffic is probably miserable, but then it often is. Life just goes on around the monsoon – a little differently and much more noisily (hail on tin roofs over a period of time is not a pleasant experience), but it does go on.
I met a young man for lunch today (I had met him here last year at a film festival), and he might be interested in starting a Rotary Club here. If that happens, I have really accomplished all I set out to do, which is a good thing since I have only five days to go.
It is now around 4 in the afternoon and I am really beginning to feel that this day should be over. Oh, it is so lovely that there is no storm and that we have power and the internet, and all is safe again.
Relieved and very grateful. It is hard right now to believe it even happened – but there is more in the forecast, as early as tonight.