Tag Archives: thanka

Adventure Time!!!

Standard

IMG_1358

I feel somewhat dishonest using ‘Adventure Time’ as the title for this post since I don’t really know if what I’m posting about qualifies as an adventure. However, considering that I spend 95% of my time circling between the same 3 small towns scattered across the mountains, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that going anyplace else is a pretty substantial adventure these days. It’s also another one of those posts where I don’t actually really have anything to say, but took a handful of pretty cool pictures so I thought a bit of text would be nice to balance it out.

IMG_1540

Yesterday I went to Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery, which is about 2 hours outside of Dharamsala. It was beautifully sunny on the drive out, which consisted almost entirely of cruising through the countryside. After having spent so much time up in the mountains constantly shrouded in the clouds, getting out into Kangra Valley was wonderful. So much green, and everything smelled like earth, growth, and sunshine. Hands down 3 of the greatest smells ever.

IMG_1546

When we got to the nunnery it was a complete ghost town. There were a handful of Indian laborers around doing some construction work since the whole facility is relatively new, but I didn’t see a single nun. All of the buildings, including the gompa (meditation hall) were locked, which was a bummer considering that we’d come so far to take a peek inside. I’d heard that Tenzin Palmo was supposed to be in residence at the moment, but apparently she’s currently in Taiwan. Before coming to Dharamsala this summer I had never heard of Tenzin Palmo, but she has a pretty remarkable story, which is told in the biography of her life Cave in the Snow (which I’m planning on picking up soon.) She was one of the first Western women to become ordained as a member of the Tibetan Buddhist monastic order and made a strong commitment to achieving enlightenment in the female form regardless of how long/how many lifetimes that might take. She spent 12 years living in a cave pursuing freedom from cyclical existence, practicing incredibly arduous forms of self-discipline, growing her own food and sitting in a meditative pose while she slept (for only 3 hours a night!) After she came off retreat she took up the cause of securing equal rights for nuns and, in 2000, took substantial steps towards achieving this goal by founding the Dongu Gatsal Ling Nunnery. I’d heard some pretty incredible things about it so making the trip felt necessary, especially considering how comfortable I’ve become with my routine here. The idea of breaking up my ordinary schedule was pretty enticing.

IMG_1550

It was a bit concerning that nobody was around, but we ventured into the ‘no entry’ area where all the nuns live so we could beg someone to open the gompa for us. I was incredibly thankful to have made the trip with a woman since it was pretty clear that none of the nuns were interested in talking to me. We were lucky enough to make it inside the gompa and….wow. It was relatively small and only one room, but it was certainly one of the most remarkable temples I’ve ever seen.

IMG_1551

The gompa had only been finished in 2012 so all of the paintings were in as perfect condition as possible. Although the art was very clearly in the style of every other Tibetan Buddhist temple, there was somewhat of a different flair to it, especially in the way the backgrounds were done. There are fairly strict guidelines for how bodhisattvas and arhats (the equivalent of saints) should be depicted iconographically, so artists don’t have much leeway in that regard. However, the backgrounds are where the artists can really let their creativity shine and it was definitely clear that the painters of this gompa were remarkably talented.

IMG_1554

However, the most remarkable thing about the gompa was that nearly every figure painted on the walls was a female. There were images of Shakyamuni (“the Buddha”), Padmasambhava (the great teacher/mystic that brought Buddhism to Tibet), Milarepa (a legendary figure that achieved enlightenment in a single lifetime), and Marpa (Milarepa’s guru and a great master in his own right), but aside from those 4 figures, every single other image was female. Dozens of female arhats, bodhisattvas, yoginis, and protector deities lined the walls. There were also two astoundingly beautiful stained glass windows, which I’d never seen in a Buddhist temple or monastery before.

IMG_1555

I was explicitly told not to take photos, and I usually abide by that protocol since I think it’s disrespectful to take photos inside of a space that’s considered to be sacred. Additionally, there’s definitely something to be said for needing to capture an experience as fully as possible in a single moment without photos as a future aid to recollection. However, desire got the better of me and I had to get a few quick snaps. I undoubtedly picked up some bad karma by directly going against a nun’s wishes (even if she didn’t see me) and taking photos inside the gompa, but maybe someone will see one of these photos and be sparked to enlightenment, which theoretically balances the whole thing out.

Sunshine Doe!!!!

Standard

IMG_1467

The past couple days have been terribly exciting, whatever that means relative to how I usually spend my time these days. It was completely clear for almost 24 straight hours, meaning I got wonderfully blue and sunny skies during the day, as well as the waning moon, endless stars, and the Milky Way at night. After so much rain the good weather definitely invigorated me to get out and do something.

IMG_1446

Yesterday I went to Norbulinka, the Tibetan center for the arts in lower Dharamsala. It was started in order to preserve Tibetan arts in exile. I don’t have all that much to say about it but really just wanted an opportunity to put up some of the pictures I took there. It was awesome to get to see the thanka painters at all different phases in their work. After spending so much time reading about how intense thanka painting was in feudal Tibet it was amusing to see a bunch of Tibetans in their early 20’s listening to their ipods and wearing backwards hats while painting these incredible pieces of religious art. I also found a way to get on the roof of the gompa just as it got clear so I had a perfect view of the snow on the mountains. Then I hopped around to a bunch of places between Bhagsu and Dharamkot for the rest of the night and ended up on my roof looking at the stars while a jam session was going on next door with solos from all sorts of Indian instruments.

IMG_1459

Today I went to get registered to go see the Dalai Lama speak on Monday and Tuesday. It was kinda a pain because I couldn’t find the place for the longest time and it turned out I needed some things I didn’t have. It was so nice out today that I was happy to walk up and down the hill a bunch of times. In the end it only cost 20 cents to go see the Dalai Lama so my trouble was probably worth it.

IMG_1471

This afternoon I finally succeeded in finding the best Malai Kofta in the area. I had to have tried it at a least a dozen other places but today I finally had one that was by far the best food I’ve had since I’ve been here. I posted up there for awhile reading Heart of Darkness and the Wizard of Oz.

IMG_1498

I started going to a yoga class too, which I plan on doing on a daily basis until I leave here. It’s in the late afternoon so it’s a nice way to segway from reading for most of the day into my evenings (since I’ve really been raging a lot here,) and it’s only $2 for 2 hours so it’s hard for me to justify not going.

IMG_1509

Having so much time to read has been killer. Over the past 4 days I’ve read 1984, Brave New World, Farenheit 451, Heart of Darkness, and 2 of the Oz books. Going over past visions of a dystopian future has been really interesting. One of the most standout commonalities across all 3 visions is the necessity of eliminating anything that encapsulates the ethos of the past. In 1984 this is taken the furthest by falsifying data on a daily basis in order to keep the past perfectly in line with what the government dictates is happening in the present. But even in Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 the government takes the destruction of books as seriously of possible. Knowledge found in books makes people feel inferior in relation to their more well-read peers, confuses them with their foreign concepts and ideologies, and, worst of all, prevents the gradual shrinking of language in order to limit the capacity for critical thinking. As Orwell puts it, “he who controls the past controls the present. He who controls the present controls the future.”

IMG_1491

I find Huxley’s view the most convincing, though I generally hold a high opinion of Huxley so I’m biased. The society he envisions is guided by two fundamental concepts drawn from Henry Ford and Sigmund Freud: mass-production and the equalizing of the pleasure principle and the reality principle. Through mastering mass production of people by cloning and accelerating their growth process and conditioning them through hyponopedia (teaching people while they sleep) the government creates a remarkably efficient and stable caste system. Carnal desires are no longer stigmatized and monogamy breaks down, eliminating any possible discontent from repressed sexuality. And if a basic sensory need isn’t being meet, one can simply take some soma to go on a reality-disassociating psychedelic trip. If all basic sensory pleasures are no longer restricted in any way by society, and if people are naturally conditioned towards certain psychological dispositions, it’s very hard for anyone to ever become unhappy.

IMG_1516

This stands in opposition to Orwell’s vision of a society built by restricting any and every form of pleasure. 1984 is a society built almost exclusively on control by punishment and the fear of punishment. Furthermore, society is permanently at war, functioning both as a way of dumping all of society’s labor into an endeavor that doesn’t improve standard of living, as well as a method of justifying authoritarian behavior since permanent crisis can be said to justify permanent control of everybody and everything by the government. I can understand how Orwell might have conjured up this vision for the future based on the behavior of Hitler and Stalin’s governments, though Huxley’s portrayal strikes me as more in line with our present day situation. I actually was reminded a lot of my experience in China while reading Brave New World. At the end of the day, even if the government is infringing on what I (as an American) would consider ‘basic liberties’, if standard of living is high enough and sensory demands are being sufficiently met, it’s very hard to imagine people rebelling. Obviously this is a vast oversimplification of the situation and far more could be written on the topic, but, frankly, I’m enjoying a Kingfisher right now and don’t feel like writing any more right now.

IMG_1527