Our Trip to India: Dharamsala Day 12

by Siegfried Othmer | November 3rd, 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 12

September 27 (Saturday)

This was our day off from the training, and was to be dedicated solely to sight-seeing. The caravan of cars took us all the way down the mountain into the main town of Dharamsala to visit Norbulingka Institute, named after the traditional summer residence of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa, Tibet. Since 1988 the Norbulingka Institute serves as a museum of Tibetan culture, and it maintains an active teaching program to support the continuation of the traditional Tibetan arts. We got to observe the painting of canvases, metalwork, and woodwork. The artists’ work product is then sold in the gift shop, which was our last stop on the tour.

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The caravan then traveled to the nearby Gyoto Tantric monastery, where we had lunch along with the monks. By prior arrangement, the monks then gathered in the temple for an hour of chanting that we were able to observe. Many of the monks were quite festively dressed. The service included much of the deep Tibetan chant—throat singing—that this community is well known for. The deep chanting was interspersed with a solo chant that challenged the capacities of the human voice. To be present for this extraordinary performance was a privilege indeed. Ordinarily, I suspect, there is no audience. The performance is just part of the highly structured, ritualized life of the monks.

We were told that some 15% of Tibetan children, mostly boys, enter the contemplative life. This compares with some 25% in the days before the exile. One might suspect that this is a huge economic burden on the population to have such a high percentage of non-participants. But the resource consumption involved in this lifestyle is modest indeed. And as far as I could tell, these folks tend to remain in robust good health. On the benefit side, it is surely the monks who provide cohesion and support to the Tibetan community. They also contribute in various ways to their upkeep.

With respect to health, matters are not in quite such good shape when it comes to the hermits. They tend to live mostly on rice, which keeps well. In consequence there is a considerable risk of developing diabetes over time.

We got to meet with the abbot of the monastery. As is customary, we left our shoes at the door of the monastery, and again when we met with the abbot. When Sue came out to look for her shoes, they were nowhere to be found. Sue did, however, espy shoes that she recognized as Barbara’s, and surprisingly they fit her reasonably well. Folks were greatly amused that Barbara never noticed that she had on someone else’s shoes, especially since her afternoon at the monastery was an extended one in which she entered several different spaces that required taking off and putting on her shoes several times over.

Back at McLeod Ganj we arranged to host dinner for the group, but the only restaurant still able to accommodate the whole group was a Korean restaurant at the edge of town. The group was now somewhat diminished because some had left after the teaching. This meal was the only one during the whole trip where one might have hoped for something better. Too bad that this was the one that we were responsible for. Tonight Barbara—in her own shoes—was our spokesperson, expressing our gratitude to the group for their many kindnesses.

Our Trip to India Continues

Dharamsala Day 13

Siegfried Othmer, PhD

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