Our Trip to India: Dharamsala Day 10

by Siegfried Othmer | October 30th, 2014

by Siegfried Othmer, PhD

Sue and I have just returned from a sojourn to India, where we taught our training course at the Tibetan Medical Institute, Men-Tsee-Khang.
Day 10

September 25 (Thursday)

It was day two of the Dalai Lama’s teaching, and on this occasion I already felt that I came to the event with an altered sense of time. Some of my customary time urgency had dissipated. I assume that this must be one of the fringe benefits of meditation discipline, a contentment with whatever the present moment offers. I did not mind standing in line. I did not mind sitting there for more than five hours. It did not even occur to me to think about all the useful things I could be doing if I had a computer keyboard in front of me. Meditation keeps one rooted in the present; it dissipates striving; nothing is left wanting. Likely meditation is restorative in a way that complements sleep, and integrates the body-mind in a way that is conducive to health maintenance. Perhaps the three or four hours of meditation every morning helps to explain why the Dalai Lama still looks so young, and can teach for four hours without notes, at the age of 79.

The session was preceded by a highly melodic chant by a monk who was part of our Vietnamese group, Ting Lee. Even his speaking voice was highly distinctive, although he rarely spoke. On this day, the Dalai Lama made it through a major portion of Chapter 9. It became clear to me that he was personally committed to the understandings of one of the principal schools of the Tibetan Buddhist community, and he made a case for them. This is not in conflict with his essential ecumenism. The particularity of his belief system relates to prevailing understandings of our reality, our earthly existence, which is ongoingly subject to further “analysis, disputation, and investigation.” These understandings are not necessarily fixed. Buddhism is non-theistic, so there is no God to be offended by doctrinal errors. There are teachings, and there is belief, but there is no rigid doctrinal prescription. The ecumenism, on the other hand, relates to our ethical burden with respect to our fellow man and the natural environment of which we are a part. In this domain there is more commonality than distinction between the various faith communities.

After a quick lunch back at the hotel, we gathered to visit the Tibetan Children’s Village, which had been started and led by the Dalai Lama’s older sister. Many Tibetans manage to get their children across the border and to this school in order to obtain an education that they could not get at home. Orphans are taken in as well. The program serves some 1700 children with just over 300 staff members. Some of the spare concrete structures remind one of the utilitarian architecture of post-war East Germany. But this belies the spirit that prevails here among the staff and children. Everywhere we went, including here, we found recognition of major charitable support from organizations in Germany and in Italy.

After our survey of the school’s facilities, and a meeting with the Director, we hastened back to the Medical Institute for the second practicum. That is to say, the driver hastened. We had also become acquainted with the family of an autistic child who at age 4 still did not speak a word. They had traveled from long distance in the hope that our neurofeedback training might help. Today we were scheduled for the first session with the child. The girl was being brought by her father and uncle. They were both touchingly considerate of such a willful child. She would either be busy doing what ever struck her fancy or scream at her biological limit if she was in any way redirected or restrained. The parents had not really grasped the full scope of what was involved here. It turns out that autism is extremely rare in the Tibetan community, in contrast to the situation among Indians. So the word autism had not been used in connection with this case. Was this an error now to be corrected? Does one now lower the boom with the finality of a diagnosis that seems like a life sentence? Or does one simply move forward with the training that might even constitute a remedy?

Sue proceeded as usual, but the circumstances were hardly favorable. We were in a room full of people, and when the word doctor was casually uttered, the girl went into full-bore hysterical screaming mode. Doctors meant needles, and needles meant pain. Electrodes went on despite everything; the uncle held her in an iron grip; the girl resisted mightily; and the training proceeded, as did the screaming. At some level, the information does get processed by the brain, although an observer would be justified in his skepticism. Eight minutes of questionable training were managed before the effort was terminated.

That evening, one of the Vietnamese guests offered to cook the evening meal for the whole group. He took over the hotel kitchen for the purpose. After all, everyone staying at the hotel was a member of our group. To fully enjoy Vietnamese cooking, one has to come to terms with a vegetable known as bitter gourd. It can be prepared in a variety of ways, none of them immediately inviting to Western palates. But one readily gets accustomed to the taste.

Our Trip to India Continues

Dharamsala Day 11

Siegfried Othmer, PhD

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