This short trip to India has shown me more about myself and the world than I’ve learned in the rest of my entire senior year of high school. For the most part, I was able to set aside my personal mental, physical and emotional discomforts and problems in order to focus on soaking in the contents of the interviews, the cultural differences, and my own gradual transformation. The interviews taught me about acting ethically, nonviolence, and truth; the experiences showed me the application of those things, and the reflection I did in my journal and on my own allowed me to track my journey. When, as a class, we talk about the learning journey, I can now affirm that the Return is the most important part; in the past few days of being back in the United States, I’ve really realized what I got out of the trip and how I’ve changed because of it.
Journey to India 2011
I find there is an almost amusing dynamic to our class, which has become especially conspicuous to me during this trip. Being the small and relatively close-knit group that we are, we often get frustrated with each other’s shortcomings. We, in turn, become relentless in provoking each person’s respective annoyances, whether it being too bossy, being a downer, over questioning of others involvement, not participating, or complaining. We reach breaking points where we divide and tell ourselves we can’t take it anymore.
But then, something both amusing (as I said before) and strange happens. We have a great interview, or a meaningful conversation with the students at the Heritage school, a dance party at the Ashram, or a sad goodbye with kids we have become attached to, and it’s like it never happened. There is a subconscious decision within each of us to let it go, to overlook it for the greater whole, to set it aside for the purpose of what really makes us friends. Whether it’s a voluntary or inherent choice, our class has this unmistakable and valuable tendency to accept each other’s faults in these trying situations.
This is what really makes us a community. Not because we all go to school at Mount Madonna, not because we’re all seniors, not because we all go on trips together. We are a community because we have developed the practice of forgiveness for the sake of progress and relationship.
The way I see it, there were two different types of experiences I had on our journey to India. There were several deeply emotional experiences such as when I felt great happiness and contentment at the Sri Ram Ashram, and when I felt profound shock and despair at the poverty and chaos at the market place in Old Delhi. These were just a few of the many experiences I had in India in which my emotional state was dramatically altered or challenged. During these moments I discovered something new about my own happiness and undeniable connection with others.
However, there was also another type of experience that had a significant impact on my mind and the way I reason and make decisions in life. These experiences were mostly through our interactions and interviews with various leaders on the trip. The interviews that had the greatest significance for me were our last three. These were comprised of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Samdhong Rinpoche and Rinchen Khando. While these three individuals had different outlooks, they essentially stressed the same points and made me truly think about and evaluate the way I have been living my life.
It’s still hard to put into words what I have taken away from the experience of traveling to India with my class. I am definitely still processing everything that happened, how I dealt with it, and how I will move forward with what I learned. What I know for sure is that the trip pushed me way past my comfort zone and forced me to see what I am truly capable of.
Being sick for the first part of the trip was a bummer to say the least. I felt horrible physically and emotionally. I had to stay back at the YWCA in Delhi, and missed out on the first interview and the first opportunity to go shopping. I felt like I was a burden to have around because I wasn’t able to contribute anything. And most of all, it made me feel homesick; I just wanted my mom to take care of me. But not being able to get what I wanted was actually a blessing in disguise. If I hadn’t been sick, I wouldn’t have discovered that despite my lack of comfort, I made it through and now know that it is okay for things to be hard, and it’s okay to be put to the test, and that I can handle it. I had a lot of self-doubt before the trip, but I came home with confidence.
Jet lag, train rides, crickets, the sensory overload of Old Delhi and the serenity of the Golden Temple, the Taj Palace hotel and the YWCA. One day, car horns, the smiling faces at the Ashram, the pulsing masses at aarti and elderly Tibetans mumbling prayers as they walked the streets, the smells of burning trash and Indian food, small group discussions, excitement, confusion, contrast, challenge, connection, inspiration, the Dalai Lama¹s infectious laugh, and Krishna’s grinning face as he frantically scrambled over our suitcases to escape the moving train. Just a few outstanding memories from the two weeks I spent in India; a brief peek into a country so vast and varied that no one could possibly comprehend it.
We skimmed the surface of thousands of years of history, adding in our own small way to the infinitely complex web of experience and memory that defines India today. If there is one thing I took away from India, it is a sense of deepened wonder and curiosity about the world I live in. The spirit of wanderlust, drugged into sleep by the comforts and petty worries of everyday life was once again awakened within me. Like Rama, in the ancient Hindu epic, Ramayana, discovering his true destiny when faced by the terror of the demon army, an encounter with the intensity, diversity and (barely) controlled chaos of India has reminded me of my duty to myself to experience as much of the world as I can, because in the end, genuine experience is all that really matters.
Now that we have returned home, we re-uploaded the videos on the blog in High Definition. Feel free to go back and watch them in high quality (change the setting from 360p to 720p)!
-Vidya Dharma Project
Founder of Tibetan Nuns Project
Today we interviewed Rinchen Khando Choegyal, founder of the Tibetan Nun’s Project. She was the perfect person to interview last because it seemed like her ideas combined the perspectives of many of the other individuals we had previously interviewed.
One of the highlights of this interview was when Emma Petersen asked, “I imagine that what you and others are doing for the nun’s project takes sacrifice. If this is true, I am curious to know what values come to an individual from personal sacrifice?” Rinchen Khando Choegyal responded by saying that she wouldn’t call it a sacrifice. It was something she wanted to spend her time doing and she enjoyed it.
Another highlight of the interview was when I asked the advice question at the end of the interview. She said that we should have set values and stick with them.
She also said we should have moral courage and know what’s right and wrong. The last piece of advice that stuck with me was when she said don’t cling onto things when they don’t turn out how you hoped they would. She said let go and start fresh. It was a great interview to have at the very end of our trip.
Lobsang Tenzin, Prime Minister of the Central Tibetan Administration
Today we interviewed the Tibetan Prime Minister-in-exile Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, a truly intellectual individual. Being a well studied Buddhist monk he is also an authority on the teaching of Buddha and on training the mind through meditation and other traditionally Buddhist methods. Throughout the interview he mentioned the idea that the human mind has inner intelligence but is limited by conditioning, such as by the way we are taught to learn by regurgitation of what we are made to perceive as fact.
At the end of the interview I asked him if he had any advice for us, his reply was simply “No”, something that elicited surprise in both myself and the rest of the class. He explained to us that the only way to gain knowledge is to gather information, examine it, and determine the truth of the object or idea in question. After a period of thought about this, I have decided that he did in fact give us a piece of advice by encouraging us to learn by our own means and a guideline for how to do so. I appreciate the depth of his answers to our questions. In my a opinion, he is a man of incredible intelligence and spiritual faith and someone to strive to be like.
After our interview with the Dalai Lama we got in our cars and traveled up a beautiful windy road with a steep incline. We finally reached approximately 8000 feet where the Tibetan Children’s Village peacefully sits. Although there was an apparent presence of serenity, the minute we stepped out of our cars, tons of children were screaming on the monkey bars, skipping around laughing, and dribbling loudly across the basketball courts. We made our way across the large and hilly campus to the auditorium where we watched students perform traditional Tibetan dances and songs in traditional Tibetan attire. We then interacted as groups and talked about the similarities of our education systems and what we see in our future. We then moved to the cafeteria where we freely talked over tea and cookies.
One boy that was in my group interaction earlier sat down next to me and we started talking. I was a little hesitant to initiate conversation regarding Tibet, but it was largely apart of him so asking was necessary in getting to know him. I asked him if he crossed over the Himalayas to get to exile. He told me he paid someone to guide him over and he traveled with nine other kids. He said he saw two or three of the kids die along the way and explained through rough English the dangers due to the Chinese guards and the extreme whether conditions. I asked him about his family and he told me he has an older sister and a younger that are both in Tibet with his parents who he only gets to speak to two or three times a year. I looked at him and said, “This must be really hard”. He looked up with a huge smile on his face and explained that it’s something he had to do and how lucky he is to be safe and where he is. Since this conversation, I’m struck by his positive outlook through such a hard situation and it made me reflect on my attitude given how fortunate I am to have everything that I have in my life.
We have arrived safely home to California. Please continue to check back for updates on the last few days of our wonderful journey to India!
- Students of Vidya Dharma Project