Tibet

A Day at the Temple

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Sunday morning I was woken up by the sound of chanting monks – and honestly, what could be more wonderful? At first, it was still dark but a few birds had begun singing and I could feel that stirring of a waking day. Then gradually it became lighter and more sounds mixed with the chanting and there was no way I could stay in bed.

I was actually sick and had spent most of Saturday being pretty pathetic – and as I got dressed, I realized that okay, perhaps I’m still sick. But how often are you in mini-Tibet, being woken up by the most beautiful chanting, chanted by the most beautiful Tibetan monks? Right. So off I went to the temple.

I recognized the chant as being the same as at Losar and I now know that it is the Tibetan Chant for World Peace. I’m still not sure if that is the name for the whole prayer or just part of it, the text takes up an entire book and there might be several chants. Before I leave here, I will find out.

The temple was full – well actually the temple itself is pretty small and only holds what seems to be the oldest and most important lamas, the ones leading the chant, a few of them wearing yellow half-moon shaped hats – the rest of the monks and nuns are sitting outside in sections covering three sides of the temple.

After another half an hour or so everybody breaks for about 15 minutes and then assemble downstairs. The downstairs area also has a temple, a very small one, and two monks are now sitting in the doorway of it, facing out (and actually facing across the courtyard and directly into HH. the Dalai Lama’s residence – I imagine him peeking out the window to see what’s going on :)). All the monks sitting as audience on one side and all the nuns on the other, first one monk, the two, then four, is standing in front of the two sitting monks, asking them questions and clapping loudly in their hands while doing so. The tone of their voices is sometimes provocative and mocking and the whole thing seems like some kind of theater.

At this point I’m very much aware that my body is challenged, my head feels very warm and prickly and a couple of times my sight goes black with little stars and I have to sit down and lean up against a pillar. I probably should have been in bed but how often are you in… Right.

Several times the standing monks are being replaced, the two sitting remains the same and it seems they are being tested. I’m doing the best I can to decode this strange phenomena but tone of voice and gestures etc doesn’t always mean the same in different languages so what I see as mean mocking, might be completely harmless.
One of the standing monks, one who have been particularly menacing, is finishing his round and leaves the area for a short while before returning and finding a seat among the monk audience. He looks exhilarated and very satisfied with himself, and in a very innocent and likeable way, like a proud and happy kid, with a bounce in his step and a bubbly grin. The reality of this performance is definitely something other than just mocking.

After a while I’m deciding that maybe I should go get some rest, it would be horribly embarrassing to lose conscience right in front of all the holiness, not to mention right outside the lama’s windows. So I leave and on the way I ask one of the security guards what is going on. He explains that it is in fact a test, he calls it mind wash. The monks are practicing and debating and every clap marks a question. His English was not the best and my sharpness not the sharpest so I will find out more – but I have read about the debates, I just didn’t know they looked like this.

On the way back I stop at my favorite cafe, OneTwo Cafe, for some breakfast and then back to bed for a few hours. The cafe is almost exactly between my room and the temple, it’s the nicest Tibetan girls who run it, the food is great and it’s overlooking the square right in front of the temple so there’s always life to watch. The yellow building in the back is the temple. Around noon there is chanting again and I feel better and so I head back to the temple.

I have never considered myself a chanting kind of person. I mean, I can see the purpose of it and I can even enjoy it once in a while but it has never been my choice of devotional expression. But this chant for world peace.. It goes straight into the deepest of my heart and it makes every cell in my body vibrate in the most beautiful way. Well, I guess I can’t really explain it but the effect is overwhelmingly powerful and makes me feel that if I could just sit and listen (at least until I learn the words myself), I would be happy – nothing more in life would be necessary. And that’s a pretty powerful feeling. I wonder what it would take to convince the monks to come back to Denmark with me…

Well, okay so anyway – for the next hours I’m sitting there outside the temple, surrounded by monks and nuns and chanting, being happy, contemplating life. There is little breaks here and there, tea and bread is being passed around, there is chatting and laughing, and just like at Losar, the chanting never stops, the intent remains strong. The energy being accumulated on a day like this must be profound and I can only imagine how far it reaches or how astonishing it must look through the eyes of a clairvoyant.

So Sunday was wonderful and I went to bed feeling grateful and peaceful and connected with myself, my heart and the whole universe – just how it is supposed to be.

Experiencing Tibetan Medicine

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The past couple of days I’ve been hanging out at the Tibetan library, expanding my horizon. The library is in the same little area as the government in exile and the medical & astrological institute so in a way you have the essence of Tibet represented in one place. To me, that place is pretty much perfect; the view of the mountains, full exposure to the culture and ancient knowledge readily available – what’s not to love?!

Outside the library, a number of very content dogs are hanging out. The dogs here are much healthier, happier and relaxed than other places in India – here they have their own place in society and are not just outlawed and homeless animals.

A few days back a friend gave me a tour of the area, including the astrological museum. I had been wanting to get an astrological consultation, which is a little different from our western classical astrology – among other factors, past and future lives as well as the influences of the elements are included. It turned out that because of the huge demand of horoscopes, the department have been forced to put all consultations on hold and focus on catching up on analyzing. They still had two kinds of consultations available; partner compatibility and death prediction – one I don’t need and one I don’t want :D

So instead we visited the astrological museum and that was actually very interesting – astrology and health are very much related as opposed to the western world where astrology is mostly considered on the more alternative side.

Then a couple of days later, I meet someone who is suggesting that I should get a physical by a Tibetan doctor. He says that might be interesting and describes it a little bit. There’s more to the story regarding that meet but that’s down a completely different path – let’s just say that I was ready to follow whatever suggestion he might have had. So the next day, yesterday, bringing a small plastic container with urine, seriously, I walk down to the Drungtso Healing and Astrological Centre. I think this was the most excited I’ve ever been about going to get examined by the doctor, it was definitely the adventure of the day.

The clinic is very simple and the people working there are very nice – the whole thing has got what I’ve come to understand as the ‘Tibetan atmosphere’, happy and relaxed in perfect balance :) I go meet the doctor and sit down and she starts by measuring my pulse – with three fingers. index, middle, and ring finger, each finger doing its own thing*. Very accurately she goes through the process of diagnosis, once in a while asking me questions. Afterwards she takes the container with urine and shakes it. She does that a couple of times, making little remarks about the size of the bubbles and such. I’m just sitting there fascinated and if she had let me, we could have stayed there all day, me asking a million questions. She concludes the consultations by prescribing me four different kinds of medicine, one for the cold that is creeping up on me and three other kinds for making my whole system get into perfect balance. She also makes a few suggestions as to what I should and shouldn’t eat.

Out in the clinic again I first go to the cashier with my prescriptions and then afterwards I go to the dispensary where they take almost 15 minutes counting the exact number of pills needed, carefully putting them in small plastic bags with little notes of guidance.

After the doctor, I headed straight to the library and spend the next few hours reading about Tibetan medicine, which is just amazingly fascinating – and not just because I’m easily fascinated. Its approach to health is holistic in the most holistic way possible and I can’t wait to learn more about it!

Okay, so the pills look like little goat poop, you know, the little round things that could assemble licorice.. They’re different variations of brown and smell very nature’ish. I’m supposed to crush them and then mix with hot water – three at the time, spread out across the day.

This morning I then started my treatment towards perfect balance. I don’t have a pill crusher here but the doctor said it would be fine just crushing them between my teeth and then drink hot water to flush them down.

My first thought was that the pills were actually harder than expected. My second thought was pure panic. The taste was awful! I wanted to rip out the whole interior of my mouth to make it stop. Horrible!

So this afternoon I tried to crush the pills, using two forks, and then mixing them with water. Two forks are not sufficient for crushing Tibetan goat poop but the experience was definitely less traumatizing and I feel confident that this too will lead somewhere satisfying :D

* If you should feel like learning just a little more about Tibetan medicine, the website of the Drungtso Centre is very informative;

http://www.tibetanmedical-astro.com/about_tibetan_medicine.php

Momo Making

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Okay so it’s not really a secret that I have fallen completely in love with the Tibetan people – and their food!

I’ve made some new friends and yesterday I was invited home to one of them to hang out with him and his friends and learn how to make momos – a kind of dumplings, little packages of dough filled with whatever you like and then either steamed or fried.

We started with going shopping for different vegetables since I’m so difficult to not eat meat. When we got to his place, his friends were already working on preparing everything.

The whole thing was a very different cooking experience – with not much space and not all the fancy tools we have, everything took place on a small coffee table and a big scarf laid out on the floor.

First you mix flour and water into a dough – simple.

All the ingredients are rinsed and cut – equally simple.

Then the dough is first rolled into a long sausage shape and then divided into small pieces. Each piece is shaped round as a ball and then flattened to small pancakes. 

Now the tricky part; you put the pancake in your hand and place a spoonful of the filling in it and then you use your thumb to keep the filling in place while the other hand works its way closing the momo, making a rippled line.

I tried every step of the process and we all agreed that I’m a fast learner :D But the momo technique might take a little more practice to be perfected.

Once all the momos are made, they are put in a big steamer and steamed for 20 minutes. First thing I’m going to do when I get back to Denmark; buy steamer.

Final result is a huge portion of the most delicious food ever. You eat the momos with a hot chili sauce mix, dipping each bite of yumminess – I’m a fan :)

And the thing is, you can continue eating forever! We were talking and learning chinese and I was asking loads of questions about their escape from Tibet and different customs and so on all the while eating and then eating some more..

It ended up taking all afternoon and one of the things that I’m so fascinated by in the Tibetans that I’ve met, is the natural ease they display in everything they do. No hidden agendas, no ego play – just very pure and simple being.

Tibetan Losar

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Today, Friday, is the third and final day of Losar, the Tibetan New Year. For the past three days, there have been mass prayers and ceremonies around town and at the temples. On a more selfish note, for the past three days all the Tibetan restaurants has been closed, leaving only limited selection for dinner – really can’t wait for tomorrow.

This year, there has been no celebrations like usual. Instead, to commemorate  the self immolations, the Tibetan people have been wearing their traditional clothes as a statement. There have been hunger strikes outside the temple and the Tibetan Youth Congress has held several events to create attention and support for their cause.

This morning I went to a mass prayer – it wasn’t something I’d planned, I just wanted to walk down to a smaller temple just south of the big Tsuglagkhang Complex, which houses both the Namgyal Monastery and Temple as well as the residence of HH Dalai Lama. It’s a very beautiful walk through pine forest and all along the path there has been put stones engraved and painted with the Buddhist mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”.

 

When I got to the temple, there were so many people and after making sure that my presence was accepted, I sat down and joined the prayers. Well, I didn’t know the words but I listened and focused my intentions, in awe to participate in such a moving experience. In the middle all the monks and nuns were sitting and were leading the chanting and spread out on both sides were everybody else. Sometimes only the monks and nuns were chanting, then it was like everybody else answered and they chanted back and forth, sometimes quiet, sometimes louder and more energetic. Children were running around playing, cookies and chai were being passed around, a few tourist walked by and there were some press photographers and a camera crew – such a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere and never without losing the chanting.

It went on for another 30’ish minutes (by then my butt was really cold from sitting on the ground) and then everybody stood up and received a small handful of flour, me included. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it but was told that it was for throwing. We were now all standing, facing the temple and a new prayer was said while holding out the hand with the flour. Twice we lowered the hand and raised it again while the prayers continued and on the third time we threw the flour up in the air and everybody wished each other happy new year, laughing and covered in white :)

That concluded the ceremony and everybody started walking back towards the main temple, most also making a round in and through the temple. The whole thing was such a beautiful experience and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.

Later in the afternoon I went to the Namgyal Temple again (I live right next to it) and another mass prayer was going on. It was actually the same chant as in the morning – I still didn’t understand the words but recognized it just the same.

Around town as well as inside the Tsuglagkhang Complex, big posters have been put up with pictures and stories of the recent self immolations and also posters showing the latest killings of peaceful Tibetan protesters. Tibet has been pretty much sealed off and it’s practically impossible to enter or leave. Many people here in Dharamsala have family and friends still in Tibet, some of them escaping themselves by foot across the Himalayas.

It’s heartbreaking that after som many years, the situation has not improved and it’s almost incomprehensible that the Tibetan people are still so full of smiles.

And they have beautiful smiles.

Wise Lama

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So now I’m in Mcleodganj, home to both the Tibetan Government in exile as well as Dalai Lama.

I haven’t had a chance to hang out with the lama yet but everywhere I see his influence. Further more, the place is naturally full of Tibetan monks and nuns.

Much more Tibet than India – and I kind of like that.

***

Never Give Up

No matter what is going on

Never give up

Develop the heart

Too much energy in your country

is spent developing the mind

instead of the heart

Develop the heart

Be compassionate

not just to your friends

but to everyone

Be compassionate

Work for peace

in your heart and in the world

work for peace

and I say again

Never give up

No matter what is happening

No matter what is going on around you

Never give up

***

~His Holiness The XIVth Dalai Lama