Well, I spent last night sleeping with a guru…
No, no, I didn’t do anything that would mess up my karma. I spent last night up in the caves, and since there’s a puja going on, the place was packed–so the only place for me to sleep, was the main cave, with the shrine to Guru Padmasambhava.
It was pretty neat actually, it’s a big cave, paved in marble tiles, and has three separate shrines in it. The first one is a shrine to various Tibetan gods (which I can finally recognize! having spent four solid hours looking at thangka), the second is a shrine with a 10-15 foot statue of Guru Padmasambhava, and the third is a shrine to an Indian princess who was supposed to have been his disciple. I was sleeping in the outermost area, on a Tibetan carpet, under a rock overhang. Very quiet, very peaceful, good for meditation in the morning, too. I liked it very much.
I saw Tibetan prayer flags being printed yesterday, too. These are available all over Rewalsar, and Dharamsala too–I had assumed they were printed using standard printing presses, but it turns out a lot of them are hand-printed! using elaborately carved woodcuts. One nun takes a scrub brush (like you’d use to clean your bathtub) and scrubs India ink all over the woodcut, another lays the fabric over the wood and scrubs over it with a wadded-up plastic bag. The print appears as if by magic. 🙂
(I must admit, I’ve always had a soft spot for hand-printing. One of my fondest childhood memories was printing the family Christmas cards (actually Chinese New Year cards)…we silkscreened them in two colors, using Chinese papercuts to make the designs, and we’d run all over the house, laying the cards out to dry. Probably the most fun we had all Christmas.)
I may leave for Dharamsala tomorrow, I haven’t decided yet. I have found a friend who has a friend who is close to the Dalai Lama, who probably can’t get me in (too busy right now, with the public teachings going on, and anyway there’s no real reason for me to waste His Holiness’s time), but who can get my thangkas blessed–so I may go back to Dharamsala with her tomorrow. I may also wait a day or two and then go–I haven’t quite decided yet. I’d like a few more days of peace in Rewalsar, but there are some interesting possibilities in Dharamsala…Tenzin (the woman I’ve met) has a cousin who paints thangkas at the Norbilinga Institute, for example. Ooh. 🙂
(The taxi driver who wants to marry me also runs an antique Tibetan musical instruments business on the side…while I am not up for the first proposition, the second one sounds intriguing…more gorgeous handcrafts? sign me up…. 😉 )
Today, by the way, is Yet Another Religious Festival (!). One of the wonderful things about India is that there are so many different religions and cultures, that almost every day seems to be a holiday or cultural event of some sort. I’ve been here for exactly a month now, and we’ve had Losar (Tibetan New Year), a ten-day festival to Shiva’s wife, Tibetan Uprising Day, the puja (which is a monthly event commemmorating something that happened on the 10th of the month, but I forget what), and this festival, which appears to be a spring festival to Krishna. (I’m having a hard time getting a really straight answer–language problems, again.)
This festival is more colorful than many of the others–it appears to involve a lot of dancing, parades with Hindi music and drumming, and (most importantly) smearing and splashing people with paint, especially on faces. (My face is now red. And blue. And pink. And yellow. And, at that, much less colorful than most folks’. 😉 ) I’d take photos, except that going outside puts you at imminent danger of being squirted, splashed, etc….which is not good for the camera…so I have been hiding in the Internet cafe. It’s pretty neat to watch, but at a distance.
I had a weird moment of culture shock yesterday, mostly around competencies (or lack thereof). Tenzin, the Tibetan activist woman who’s befriended me, was horrified to find out that the hotel hadn’t actually done my laundry, as they were supposed to. She said, “Didn’t you tell them you needed it immediately?”
I said, “Well, the kid didn’t speak English.”
She said, “Oh.”
Then I mentioned that I’d dropped my clothes off at the cleaners, and she said, “hmm, the weather was bad yesterday, they may not be ready yet. Do you have their number? We could call them…”
I said, “No, I didn’t get their number.”
She said, “You should always get their phone number! Then you can call them and find out…”
I said, “Well, the person on the other end of the line doesn’t speak enough English for me to ask anything…and I don’t have access to a phone…It’s easier just to show up, and come back later if it isn’t ready.”
The funny thing was, the world she lives in isn’t all that different from the world I was in, jut six months ago. I mean, once upon a time, I could do miraculous things like ask for laundry in a hurry, request bus schedules, and so on. I’ve just gotten so used to not being able to communicate, that her (completely logical) suggestions came as a total shock. Of course, she was amazed by my incompetence, too.
I was then culturally astonished to discover that many of the nuns can’t write. (They can all read, or most of them anyway.) It had never occurred to me that anyone could live without writing, but of course if one’s spending one’s life meditating…
One of the most interesting things about traveling has been seeing how required skills shift from culture to culture…an Akha, for example, who can’t handle a 15″ knife is going to have serious competency problems, whereas being able to read and write is considerably less necessary (though still useful). Conversely, in the U.S., it’s reversed: no one knows how to use a machete, but literacy is essential. Different context.
Anyway, it’s going to be really interesting getting home and being culturally competent again. I suspect I’ll go into massive shock, the first time I actually have a conversation (!) with a shopkeeper. 😉
Incidentally, someone asked me what things I missed from the U.S., while traveling…After two or three weeks of thinking about it, I’ve come up with two things: guaranteed hot water, fast Internet access, and my favorite toothpaste. (I *dream* of T-1 lines.)
Speaking of which, I’m almost out of my favorite toothpaste (I brought a six-month supply), so it’s definitely time to come home. 😉
I have had a flight change, incidentally; i’m now coming back March 31. Yes, I’m routing through Bangkok. Yes, I’ve heard about the killer pneumonia thing. We’ll see what happens.
Good luck with the war–I hope everything goes all right, back at home. (I’ll be safe, in Dharamsala.)