Thursday, April 21, 2005

i want my MTV?

hey all.

am in darjeeling, a himalayan "hill station" (british term) located in northern west bengal . . . this narrow little piece of india is tucked between nepal, bhutan, sikkim (the once forbidden-to-visit indian state) and bangladesh (formerly east bengal). trip here was a doozy (25 hours total) and is noteworthy because of its polar intensities (the excrutiating boredom of the train followed by the sheer terror of the 4-hour taxi ride up the pot-hole-strewn, switchback-filled, at times vertical mountain road in a driving rain storm by a young nepali who spoke no english and just smiled at me when i told him to slow down).

it is amazing to me that this (darjeeling) is india also, it's so different from where i've been up to now. nepalese/tibetan in flavor, heavily buddhist (no more hindu/muslim), cool climate, and mountains, very big mountains. where in the south the local languages were hindi and urbu, here bengalese, nepalese and tibetan are spoken. but i think the largest difference here is the pervasive western influence (call it culture, dahling) . . . for example, when in agra and varanasi i could only find internet "cafes" that were little more than dirt-floored at times tiny stores with one or two computers, here i'm writing from a large cafe that sells pastries, espresso and has dire straits playing in the background. feels a little like a funky american college town, lots of trekkers and backpackers, mostly european.

so i'm cutting my time here short (it is spectacular geographically and architecturally, and there are some things to see, including the headquarters of the himalayan moutaineering instiutute, who i'm told have a unique everest-related musuem (tenzig norgay, hillary's sherpa/partner, was a lifelong darjeeling resident). i'll also visit an ancient buddhist temple in which the original manuscript of the tibetan book of the dead is housed, and at some point i'll go over the ridge to a tea farm. (darjeeling is world-famous for its tea.) so i'll be here for two days instead of the six planned.

on friday i'm going north into sikkim, heading for its capital town gangtok . . . sikkim is cited as being the model for shangri-la in james hilton's "lost horizon" . . . all i really know about sikkim is that it is still not very touristed, the mountains are intimidatingly huge, the valleys are green and abound with wildflowers and orchids, the rivers are fast and, being closer to tibet, all things culturally are tibetan buddhist. (sikkim is also the burr in the fur of the current china-india relationship, india is concerned that china is planning to "tibetize" sikkim and there are heated border "discussions" going on.

i'll be there for a few days before flying to delhi (flying = 2 hours, trains = millions of hours) to begin my travels in the mountains west of here (the rishikesh and dharamsala areas).

ever since i read andy's (dorfmann) comment to the last blogpost, about his observations during his asian travels, well, let me just grab them . . . he wrote (snipped) "There is something about that part of the world that is so compelling, even amongst the squallor there is a peacefulness and connection to the earth and to each other that has been seemingly lost in western society. People there seem to be closer to some sort of reality that I have found difficult to articulate."

well, i think andy's right. and he's hit on a BIG topic . . .

i hesitate to even step into this one, but what the heck, it's my blog . . . what i believe it all comes down to is "heart" . . . the religions of india (and many surrounding countries) are "inward" religions, i.e., philosophically, these are religions around which their cultures are based. religion is not an aspect of the culture, but the way it is here is that everday life stems directly from the spiritual. these folks don't "apply" their religion to what is going on in their lives, rather they see their lives as spiritual incarnations . . . and how this manifests is not through the head but through the heart, everyday "being" from the heart.

(india is as intense and diverse as a country can be. there's more than one billion people, speaking more than 200 languages, in oppressive economic hardship, living together. and they do it peacefully and cooperatively. (yes, i know there are fanatics, but i'm talking about everyday life here) . . . it is amazing how, in the craziest of road conditions (there are no real rules here), blazing heat, and unairconditioned cars, the roads are shared by cars, trucks, busses, motor scooters, auto-rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, bicycles, cows, pigs, goats, water buffaloes, donkey/mules, and yes, even elephants. and everyone cooperates, even as they're brutally cutting each other off . . . americans would be screaming and cursing, out of their (thermostatically cooled) cars toting guns for the most minor of things that i saw, in much more aggressive form, occur on indian roads every minute. i know this might seem like a narrow point on on which to base the behavior of an entire nation, but it points to the flavor of how life is cooperatively lived here, and the flavor is one of grace that, i believe, stems directly from india's spiritual traditions.

so (coincidentally speaking of grace), while drinking my tea this morning i picked up a copy of a newsletter titled the "tibetan bulletin" . . . this issue contained the (english translated) text of the new "basic education policy for tibetans in exile" as put forth by the tibetan govt. (central tibetan administration) in dharamsala . . . some quotes:

"Education is to be recognized as a human quality that enables understanding of external objects and stimulates awakening, maturing and completing potentials of the inner consciousness.

"Education is about a unique inner quality in which the discriminative wisdom and mind-pacifying technique are conjoined into close partnership.

"Education is not to be regarded merely as a means of livelihood. Instead it is to be recognized as a means of achieving the temporary and long-term welfare of the self and others. Particularly, it is to be regarded as a vehicle of social service and welfare.

"The general purpose of education is to awaken and develop human qualities of wisdom, love and compassion and their dependent virtues of right view, conduct and creativity.

"In summary, education is to be recognized as a state of equal partnership between the sciences of: (i) external matter and inner mind, (ii) common secular learning and higher spiritual learning, and (iii) nature of being and valid cognitive mind.

the remarkable document (to me remarkable in how it takes buddhist principles and apples them to educational philosophy and practice) goes on to discuss the how-to's, including the system of education, subjects of study, syllabi, examinations, teachers, administration, etc. kindly, i've been given permission to bring this home with me, and and will copy/share it with anyone who is interested in learning more.

(andy, i think this might be part of the answer to articulating what you noticed, this "grace" that runs through the culture, the living in balance with each other, and isn't it neat how the tibetans figuring out how to develop it institutionally as part of the their childrens' education? can't wait to have this discussion w/you in person.)

ok, climbing down off the soapbox now . . . there's sunshine and cool mountain air out there, i'm going for a walk in 'dem 'dare hills . . . love to you all. mark