Bodhicitta Reflections

Bryson Smith

India is a place of dynamic diversity in landscape and lifestyle. It is not the vast disparities of wealth, which can be found in our own country, but the contrasts between the environments that struck me. The landscape shifted from agrarian countryside to a skyline dominated by looming high rises still clasped in their scaffolding. I saw old men wearing traditional Indian clothing standing next to people in suits talking on their cellphones. India presented many contrasts between archaic and modern ways of living. Witnessing people living in so many different ways brought to the forefront of my mind the question, “What is the best way to live?” People go around living in so many ways but what is the end result? Some people are happy and some people are depressed. My question is really, “What is the meaning of everyone’s life?” While sitting on the bus I realized that it really is up to people to determine and impart meaning to their own lives. If everyone’s lives are so different then it seems that the meaning is something determined by the individual. One of the main themes of the Dalai Lama’s teachings is that everyone desires happiness. When we met with him he spoke about this. Listening to the Dalai Lama talk about the universal qualities of happiness left me feeling more confident in my viewpoint. Everyone seeks happiness in a different way, but the goal is the same. The different dualities I observed in India were representative of this theme. I am not sure how this trip changed me or affected me yet, but I observed more in the two weeks I was there than I do in six months here. That is what is so valuable about travel; being out of your comfort zone creates awareness and a presence of mind that is harder to achieve at home.

Graydon Griffin

When I think about my trip to India, I think about the people. I was struck partly by the sheer number of people, but more importantly, I was able to meet people. Meeting and dealing with people is what made my trip. The Taj Mahal and the Himalayas are incredible sights to see, but once you’ve seen them, then that’s it. In the same way I could not truly see the Taj Mahal without going to India, many of the people I met I would never have even known about, much less talked to, had I not gone. An individual person may not inspire the same sweeping kind of awe as the Himalayas, but an individual is able to tell a story in ways inanimate objects cannot. Some of the people we met were teachers, some were students, some were monks and some were random pedestrians, but all of them live in a world very different from my own. While I was only able to get glimpses of these different worlds, they had stark enough contrasts with my own as to give me insight. This insight was not only about these other people’s lives, it also highlighted aspects of my own world that would otherwise go unnoticed. The greatest gift I received on my trip was stories. Stories told to me about the experiences of individuals living, literally, on the other side of the world. I also now have stories that I hope to tell about my fascinating and informative journey to India.

Kavi Duuvoori

Rinchen Khando’s forgiveness and compassion and wisdom felt accessible.

I deeply admired her after our interview. I really didn’t know anything about her so I was in some ways expecting a fairly traditional Tibetan Buddhist woman and I expected to have some trouble understanding her. This was not the case at all. We talked about “connecting” a lot. I found a new way to understand that – it was possible to connect my own experiences with what she described. What she said about silent integrity, about doing things in a right, thoughtful way, and trusting that that is enough, validated and inspired something in me. The culture here in the United States is generally very much one of showing, of presentation and gestures. Even when doing good, we want to prove that we are doing good – and, while these are necessary and worthwhile things, a lot of charitable work takes the form of advocacy or political activism. What she said, and embodied, about doing what is right quietly and genuinely was very much a universal lesson, and more than that, an accessible and practicable one.

Amber Zeise

I see the world in terms of emotion, connection, and healing. India, and in particular Pardada Pardadi and Sri Ram Ashram, overwhelmed my world view. I was flooded by the love, energy, and authenticity of the children in these places. My first realization was that people can be healed. At Sri Ram Ashram, I was awestruck by the trust the children quickly bestowed on us. Even though some of the children had been terribly abused and neglected they gave their hearts to us as if they had never been broken. Their happiness was proof to me that deep emotional wounds can be helped by the unconditional love of others. This knowledge has changed me; given me more determination to help people because I now know people can be helped.

I am thankful for the opportunity I was given because in reflecting on this trip I realized how every lesson that ever mattered to me in values class solidified in India. The fact that wealth is not happiness, the power of human connection, interconnectedness, and moments of wonder; they have all come together into this huge part of who I am and who I want to be. Now, as I leave Mount Madonna and go into the world of college, jobs and dreams, I have this hope. The hope given to me by the smiling faces of the people next to their homes made of tarps, the hope of the orphaned children who love unconditionally, the hope of the students who love to learn, the hope of a woman who is a mother to a country in exile, and my hope that I can go out into the world and help people to heal their wounds.

Sanika Lakka

Visiting the Tibetan Children’s Village School was a fitting experience because it caused me to recognize the importance of preserving my own culture. This school was not only a sanctuary for the Tibetan kids from the Chinese, it was also a place in which they could practice their beliefs freely and peacefully. It was compelling to see how the kids learned to redirect their anger from those who have harmed them and their families, and use it as motivation to become even more passionate about conserving their culture. It was apparent to me that they could not let it go because it was an integral part of their identity.

While observing these kids, I began to question my attachment and loyalty to my own heritage. I asked myself if I would be willing to pass it on to the next generation. I learned a very important life lesson through hearing about the life experiences of the students at TCV. When you have less of something, the more imperative it is to value it before there is a danger of losing it.

Willy Bryan

I don’t know if I have changed fundamentally as a person, but I do know that some of my actions and reactions will change as a result of the trip. The hard part will be remembering the trip in situations when what happened might affect the way I react; remembering how I felt when interacting with the girls from Pardada Pardadi, the kids at the Sri Ram Ashram, or students at the Tibetan Children’s Village. What will it take to commit these memories so completely that they alter my actions in a positive way?

Experiencing the people, the places, and the culture takes a lot out of you. The sights, sounds, and above all the smells, are all things that you can’t truly fathom unless you go yourself. Part of what may help finalize the India trip for me is simply working to understand the differences in the cultures and people of India and the United States. Maybe then I will understand what makes the Tibetans so inherently gracious and kind, or the children we met in India so happy and instantly loving.

Aimee Hopkins

There were many instances that struck me on our journey to India, but the predominate aspect that I noticed was the ability to overcome adversity. The kids that we met, who were living in poverty with no electricity and running water, with very little to eat, and sometimes violent, irresponsible parents, were able to overcome their suffering and be kind, compassionate, open and loving. In every school and orphanage we found ourselves at, we were welcomed in without hesitation. I feel that as a group, we learned a bit of this ability from them. Seeing suffering first hand, and being empathetic and compassionate toward these individuals helped us adapt to the complex country that India is. Of course, I am not comparing the suffering that we felt to theirs, but only that whenever we were met with adversity we formed into a team to overcome it. When we had to sleep on the floor, it became a laugh instead of a worry, or when we had interviews to write late at night, it became a deep philosophical conversation where we chose to immerse ourselves and learn instead of getting frustrated. It felt to me as if we learned a lot about how to stay strong in the face of adversity from the people that we met on our journey.

Joseph Frediani

Two weeks seems like an unbelievably short amount of time considering all that we did. To this day I still find myself deconstructing all that happened. I often find my thoughts back on the other side of the world, lost in the vibrancy of culture that is India. I think about the schools we visited, such as Pathways, where students do service work in their community or schools like Pardada Pardadi, which are an act of service work to begin with. I linger on memories of Dharamsala, high above the lands below, yet still dwarfed by the towering Himalayas. There in the crisp clean air live a people who have left their homeland to escape oppression and search for better opportunities in life. Mostly children, who cross the great Himalayas on foot in search of an education, leaving behind all they know and love with little to no chance to return. These people live by the Dalai Lama’s teachings; teachings on how to live a compassionate meaningful life, teachings that are one of the reasons that we traveled to India in the first place, teachings that will help us understand how to spread values based education.
Some days I find myself back at the Sri Ram Ashram, a place I heard a thousand stories about but had never before had the chance to visit. A family on the other side of the world that I know I can always return to and find open arms and warm smiles. There are many more places that hold great meaning for me. The Golden Temple, Har ki Pauri, and Jama Masjid, are places of tremendous power that exemplify how integral faith is in India.

There were an infinite number of things to learn from India and I know that I will continue to learn from this experience for many years to come. One thing that I know will stick with me is the compassion and warmth I saw throughout India. I feel like people accepted us as an extended family and welcomed us in.

Brooke Staveland

We visited many schools during our time in India and we saw everything from kids who were at the top, in terms of their wealth and quality of education, to kids who were paid to attend school as first generation students, to kids who had no access to any education at all. Meeting these kids showed me how everything comes down to education. At the top of the socio-economic ladder, the kids we met were the most similar to us; the conversations began easily, and we quickly began diving into what was important to us. We talked about certain values we held, about our “hardships, such as the fear of going out into the world untested, being confronted with an overwhelming number of choices, and navigating the responsibility that comes with privilege. Challenging issues, but very different from the issues of the students at the next level. These students knew their path; all of them said they wished to be doctors, or firefighters, or engineers. These students knew some of the struggles of the world and their gratitude for having what they had was endless and inspiring. However, it was when I saw a child who clearly had not been educated at all that I realized how large the range of potential in any student is.

This realization came during one of our train rides. I observed young boys, maybe the oldest was twelve, who swept under the train seats at each stop. At one point I looked over and saw a boy on his knees sweeping up the trash. He was missing an arm. Someone had taken pity on him and instead of giving a few rupees as a tip, they gave him a power bar. This prize was soon seen by another boy who then attacked the boy with the missing arm and took the power bar. They hit each other and spoke quickly and angrily in Hindi.  As they squatted on the ground of the dirt-filled train and attacked each other over a power bar, they seemed like animals. All that I saw was there was the survival instinct. At that moment I realized that that boy had the potential to be just like me, writing a reflection on my laptop, and that inversely, I had the potential to be just like him, fighting on the ground for food. The only difference was that I had the opportunity to be educated.

Vyvyanne Mackey

One of the most important things about myself that I was reminded of while in India is that I don’t need some giant revelation or some great experience to give me a sense of purpose or direction. I know what I want to do in life and I’ve known since I was three. I just know now that when I make commitments to myself, and I mean really commit, I have the ability to uphold them. And I know that compassion and education will always play important roles in my life and my ability to interact and share my knowledge with other people. Being in India reinforced my belief in doing what I love and becoming the person I want to be because so many don’t get the chance to do so. I have so many opportunities at my fingertips and from what I’ve learned, from all of my experiences, including travelling to India, I need to take advantage of them.

Jake Getz

One of my most vivid images of the trip is of one of the young girls at the Pardada Pardadi School. She carried herself in the most imperious and dignified way. Her pose showed me that even half the world away, in one of the most disadvantaged places in the world, you still find pride and dignity. This trip did not change me in a huge way but that does not mean I lacked powerful experiences or moments of great wonder. The trip was full of those. Rather, what should be taken is that the trip cemented the ideals I already worked towards and thought were right.

This memory of the girl at Pardada Pardadi is the only way I can find to show what the India trip meant to me. Reflecting back on the trip I find that I am not a different person. I have not come through the trip with any sort of new clarity on life nor do I find myself suddenly living any differently. I will cherish the experience forever and there is immense value in what we did, but I am still me. If anything, this trip has taught me that the best and most effective way to help the world is to do what you are good at and passionate about, no matter what the obstacles are. If you put forth positive energy and intention then you will leave an altogether positive impact on the world and the lives of those you interact with.

Daniel Fust

It is easy to see that there is no one way to live that will satisfy everyone. However, meeting people with such differing conditions for happiness altered my perspective on what criteria must be met in order to achieve happiness and what role I have as an individual in the happiness of others. Everyone deserves the basic necessities of life and as citizens of the world we have at least some obligation to fulfill these needs, but happiness can’t be supplied in the same way that water or food can. A person is ultimately responsible for discovering what it is they need in order to live an enjoyable life. That is not to say that assistance shouldn’t be offered, as people are often made aware of their own opportunities through the input of others. However lasting happiness cannot be forced upon someone through purely external means. Though Americans live comparably good lives, our lifestyles and goals may not work for everyone and only an individual can choose the path that suits them best whether it be through material gain, spiritual enrichment, social pursuits or something else. Through my travels I have learned that the nature of happiness is much more complicated than I had previously believed and that the most important step in helping a person is listening and respecting them.

Video: Bodhicitta Overview

A 14 minute video showing highlights throughout the 2013 Journey to India by Mount Madonna School seniors, including interview footage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Rinchen Khando, and Samdhong Rinpoche.

A Gathering of Gifts

Aimee Hopkins

Today we interviewed Rinchen Khando, who founded the Tibetan Nuns Project in the 1980s, and is the sister-in-law to the Dalai Lama. She has devoted her life to helping improve the lives of Tibetan nuns living in exile.

Rinchen Khando

During the interview, we asked her about what qualities she thought women would bring to the Tibetan monastic society once they achieved an equal status to the monks. She responded by saying that if the nuns live the Vinaya , equality will naturally come. She said that there is no reason to worry or fight about it. Equality will come if the nuns understand and embody what they are studying. Her pragmatic view struck me. I appreciated that fact that she was able to look at the long-term picture and focus on the positive.

Amber Zeise

Rinchen Khando is an incredibly smart and sincere woman. The clarity, insight, and humility with which she answered every question we asked was inspiring. Before we asked our questions she gave us a little background on the Dolma Ling Nunnery and how the Tibetan Nun’s Project first got started.

Students with Rinchen Khando

During our interview I was especially interested in her response to my question, “How did your experience in the Buddhist tradition and education help the nuns regain inner peace while dealing with the trauma of prison?” When first arriving, she explained, they were in immensely poor health. She told us that many of them were held prisoner by the Chinese and arrived to her traumatized, frost bitten and homeless. There was nowhere near the necessary room to accommodate the nuns, so many lived in tent houses while they slowly found the funds to build the nunneries. Many of them had damaged kidneys from being kicked while imprisoned. They had damaged joints from the treacherous journey and their spirits where hurt from the brutality they experienced.

Rinchen Khando spoke of their healing process, saying that access to hot water essentially transformed their health and that love helped to heal them emotionally. She said that pills would have helped in the short term but that the hurt would have still been there when they wore off. She said that a specialist helped and the nuns’ faith helped, but that nothing heals the heart like the love of a mother. She was able to provide the nuns with this love. Every time something went wrong, for example the water wouldn’t work, the nuns would call for her and she would support them. She put to words what I have already experienced but had never named; that pills, hospitals, and machines can never heal a saddened soul; only a loving soul can do that. I fought back tears as she spoke. I saw that her words were met with the wide grins of my “family” who also knew that she was right.

She said that in her experience, nothing is more powerful than a woman’s love. She said that women of our generation don’t have to fight anymore; we need to be proud of the strength we have and be empowered in who we are. I think Rinchen Khando articulated the lessons India has taught me over these past two weeks. Although I have never before seen such poverty, I have also never before seen such love. This love has been shown to me at Pardada Pardadi, Sri Ram Ashram, Tibetan Children’s Village, and the Dolma Ling Nunnery. Through visiting these amazing places I have learned that helping people is not impossible or hopeless, it comes through loving them.

Daniel Fust

In my experience it is rare that an interview leaves a positive, lasting impression, that expands and improves my perspective on ethics and leadership. However, both of our interviews yesterday did just that. Both Rinchen Khando and Samdhong Rinpoche imparted deep knowledge and wisdom and embodied a manner of kindness and respect that fully aligned with their teachings. These intellectuals bridged the gap between Buddhist philosophy and its practical application. Their experience in effecting genuine change in society and politics gave them unique insight. This is why they are among my favorite interviewees to date.

I was particularly interested in Samdhong Rinpoche because he had held the position of the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile and I wanted to understand how he maintained discipline in his Buddhist beliefs while negotiating with the Chinese government. The first thing I noticed during the interview was the intense thought Samdhong Rinpoche gave to our questions. Before responding he paused, for long periods of time, to formulate his opinions rather than launching into a premeditated, censored speech. His humble nature was revealed in his willingness to admit when he did not know the answer to a question. Yet, he still took the time to reflect on it and he managed to consistently give us great insight into topics that he has clearly pondered for most of his long life.

Samdhong Rinpoche

I was fascinated by his thoughts on the future of the Tibetan people. He did not believe in the conservation of Tibetan culture simply for the sake of its survival. Countless cultures have changed and disappeared throughout the conflicts and changes in human history; he believed that Tibetan Buddhist philosophy would endure because it has value and relevancy to the modern world.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned from Samdhong Rinpoche was his capacity for patience. This is derived, in part, from his belief in the Hindu philosophy of Karma Yoga. This philosophy states that work is your duty and rewards should not be expected. His ability to implement this ideal, even in such severe circumstances as the dealings with the Chinese, showed me the practicality of it. If this sense of duty can apply to circumstances with such high stakes, then surely I can apply them in my own life to improve my capability for patience and happiness.

All of Samdhong Rinpoche’s responses exhibited a mind sharpened by years of study and experience. He projected integrity and compassion in his demeanor. The fact that he gave us an interview despite health issues that caused the cancellation of his trip to the United States told me a good deal about his character. Samdhong Rinpoche lives as a shining example of what an empathetic human being can be. Meeting him reaffirmed my belief in the importance of kindness and in the need to preserve the Tibetan Buddhist culture that has shaped his values.

Willy Bryan

Looking above the cluttered, dirty streets of the town I see the Himalayas slowly getting smaller, shrinking behind the grass-covered foothills. I think what an amazing adventure these mountains have given us, and how many lessons we learned in the few days we spent here.

The road to Dharamsala

Along with our practical lessons, such as learning how narrow a two-way street can be, we learned many life lessons and had many amazing experiences. We got to experience the Tibetan Children’s Village, filled with the kindest, most openhearted refugees one could meet. We met an inspiring monk in the waiting room of the Dalai Lama’s complex, who said that climbing over the Himalayas at the age of eleven, at night with no food, while running from the Chinese, was “a good experience.”

We were able to spend time with the Dalai Lama, the most personable world/religious leaders imaginable. We visited with Rinchen Khando, a woman who has done so much for the Tibetan people, but says the most rewarding part of her work is being treated as a mother to all of the women she has helped. We met Samdhong Rinpoche, an extremely wise and intelligent Buddhist scholar and leader, during whose interview we were unfortunately plagued by talking waiters, banging windows, and power outages.

So many once-in-a-lifetime experiences have happened in just this week alone, who knows how long it will take for us to process it all completely. As I look up at the mountains, I imagine Dharamsala perched on the side of a cliff. I’m going to miss this place. But I can’t wait to get back home to wider streets.

Joseph Frediani
Visiting Pathways World School

“What is the question that if you knew the answer to would set you free?” My brain decided to flat line as five students from Pathways World School looked at me eagerly. They were awaiting my answer after “democratically” electing that I should go first. After a few moments the wheels slowly began to turn…. What have I never understood?… And there it was,  “What would set me free is to understand why some people are born into privilege and others into poverty. Why is it that some suffer and others do not? How is that fair? Well, I know life isn’t fair, but still, what decides the circumstances into which you are born?”

I hardly even realized what I had said until the silence that followed. As the Pathways students stared at me, I thought perhaps I had said something wrong. I quickly ran over what I had said in my head and I realized that I had not misspoken. Perhaps mine was just a question that has not been considered enough.

Vyvyanne Mackey

Today at Pathways World School we spent a lot of time getting to know the kids before the real work began. We toured the school with them and talked about our lives and realized we all have pretty similar tastes in TV shows and music. After we ate lunch, toured, and had tea, we all entered a large carpeted room to start a dialogue between us Mt Madonnians and the Pathwazians, as they like to call themselves. We split into small groups and were given a discussion starter. In my group there were four 9th graders and one teacher from their school. Our conversation ranged from human relationships and ethics, to what an ideal world would look like. I was amazed by how similar their answers were to those from past discussions at home. Many of them were almost word for word. For me, it solidified the idea that, like us, these kids are unique because of their opportunity to receive such a privileged and extraordinary education.

Visiting Pathways World School

After our discussion ended we participated in an activity called, “The Giving of Gifts.” During this activity we let others know what we appreciated hearing from them. I made my rounds, and complimented all the kids in my group on certain things they said. After I felt that I’d given plenty of gifts I headed toward a group that was socializing and was interrupted by a boy that had been in my group. He came to give me my gift. What he told me made me feel great about being there and gave me a sense of purpose. He said that he is usually a little shy in big groups and that not many of the kids there know him that well. But getting the opportunity to discuss the topics in that environment helped him feel like he could open up. He admitted to feeling sad when we finished our small groups and joined the circle because he had been having such a good time, sharing his opinions. He thanked me for helping him feel comfortable sharing his thoughts. I felt thankful that I had the chance to do so. It is a very rewarding feeling when someone lets you know that you have changed his life, even in a small way. I think that was the first time I’ve heard that from a stranger, and I hope it’s not the last.

From One Mountain to Another

Interview with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama

Bryson Smith

Before our interview with the Dalai Lama, Devin, Willy, Graydon, Shmuel and I went to set up the video equipment. After passing through multiple security checkpoints we were escorted to the waiting room. Sitting across from us were two monks who greeted us. We began a conversation with them. Shmuel asked the older monk about his journey coming to India from Tibet. He said he crossed the Himalayas in 1959, when he was 11. It was an incredibly perilous journey. He had to walk at night for fear of Chinese soldiers, he had only one pair of clothes, they did not know the way, and went for days without food. He finally arrived in India after walking for four months. After telling us about all the dangers and hardships he faced, he ended by saying it was a good experience. This was the most Buddhist answer I could imagine. He had let go of the negative aspects of his experience and seemed to have attained peace of mind.

Bryson meeting the Dalai Lama

During our interview with the Dalai Lama, he talked about how important his own peace of mind has been in dealing with the loss of his country and the terrible suffering of Tibetans. He discussed the importance of maintaining compassion for people in order to cultivate your own peace of mind. The Dalai Lama is an example of someone who is at peace with himself and the world.

His message of compassion and peace was important to me. Whenever I lose hope about the world, I will remember the courage of an 11-year-old monk who crossed the Himalayas and the compassion and forgiveness of the Dalai Lama toward the very people who have forced him into exile. Cultivating these qualities is the route to peace.

Vyvyanne Mackey
Showing the curriculum to the Dalai Lama

Today we asked the Dalai Lama if religious or social conflicts that have been around for a very long time can be resolved. He said that finding commonality in our humanity might help us solve them. He gave the example of how people in secular countries, like India and the U.S., often are able to move past religious and cultural differences. When we do this, we are able to cultivate the aspects of secularism that strengthen our world. The Dalai Lama clarified what he meant by secularism by saying that to him it means having respect for differing religious and non-religious beliefs. I think this viewpoint can help me when thinking about my family. If everyone respected each other’s different belief systems, and came together around agreed upon values, there would be less conflict.

Another problem I have faced in my life is finding my own faith after being raised in a family with so many varying beliefs. Today the Dalai Lama said, “God is infinite love.” I feel like this is a very easy idea to adopt for people of my generation who find themselves connecting less and less with organized religion. Occasionally organized religions can encourage rituals and practices that are hard to relate to. Sometimes this discourages people from continuing to invest in their religion. In my case, I think that if I cultivate and aspire toward infinite love and compassion, internally and externally, that can become a form of devotion.

Aimee Hopkins

In preparation for the Dalai Lama interview we spent hours working through questions. We had a lengthy discussion about the clash of cultural beliefs and universal human values. We discussed religious and cultural practices, such as the flogging of children in schools, and whether or not these kinds of cultural practices should be changed since they conflict with virtues such as compassion, empathy and kindness. We also discussed whether or not we have the right to try to alter these cultural perspectives and practices, or if they will change over time on their own.

Aimee with the Dalai Lama

During our interview with the Dalai Lama, we asked, “What do we do when we see that some cultural practices and beliefs are in conflict with universal human values? ” He responded that it is our responsibility to judge if the practice at hand is working toward a more compassionate world. At the same time, we need to have respect for traditions that are not causing harm. This was important to me because I often grapple with these types of issues. How do we deal with gender inequality, violence, and discrimination that are societally accepted?

I found the Dalai Lama’s answer to our question to be inspiring. I appreciated that he recognized the need to change harmful practices but at the same time protect cultural beliefs that do not cause suffering. He taught us that change is okay as long as it comes with the utmost respect.

Brooke Staveland
Talking with the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama is a man who follows his principles of love, compassion, and kindness to a degree that is incredibly rare. The way his smile and laugh spread through the whole room was unlike any other person I have met. Even when the joke was not funny at all. At one point he explained how scientists predict that eventually our universe will collide with another and how everything and everyone will end. He followed this comment by bursting into laughter and making eye contact with various people until everyone joined in with his smiles.

At the end of the interview, more than anything, it was his ability to love a stranger that shone through. Following the interview, I lined up to have my kata blessed and placed around my shoulders. After he did this, he held both my hands while looking into my eyes. I thanked him, and as we made direct eye contact, I saw infinite love in his eyes. It is hard to explain and hard to believe, but I saw it again and again throughout his interactions with my classmates and me. At that moment I felt seen, and I felt loved.

Mount Madonna seniors with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama

Tibetan Children’s Village

Vyvyanne Mackey

We walk into a dusty courtyard. Children’s voices from open windows of the buildings up the hill fill the air. We head toward a few older girls lingering outside the door of one of the buildings. We are told to mingle so I strike up a conversation with one of the shyer looking girls. She’s going into 12th grade and wants to join her sister who is in college in Bangalore to study accounting. People start to trickle through the door so we take that as a sign to head in. The room is large with colorful flags hung from the rafters. There is a projector and a white screen with six or seven smiling faces of Tibetan children. We take our seats and watch two presentations; one about the history of the Tibetan community in exile and the other about the Tibetan Children’s Village.

Meeting TCV students

The Tibetan Children’s Village is not only a safe haven for Tibetan refugee children, it is a place of conservation and education. The children here are given a safe and healthy environment to grow up in, while being taught the skills required to successfully live on their own. Here, young refugees and orphans are given surrogate mothers to look after them, filling the roles that need to be filled for each child. But TCV has another important role; it is trying to conserve the Tibetan culture.

After the presentation, a young man comes to the front to share the story of his life before TCV. His father was an alcoholic. He says that the Chinese government has made alcohol and tobacco so cheap that it is now cheaper than food. As a result, many people have become alcoholics. His father eventually died from his habit, forcing his mother and him to beg on the streets. When he was four, his mother died of starvation. Then he was adopted by a woman who eventually brought him to TCV. At the end of his story he points at the children’s smiling faces on the screen. He says, “They are smiling but they are not happy. There is a great suffering that you cannot see behind the smiles”.

Although the children have been given new lives with more opportunities, they have still suffered immense loss. Some have not seen or spoken to their parents for over half of their lives. Others were born in India, and can only dream of seeing Tibet someday. All of them have lost a country, and a place to call home. While most of the world doesn’t understand how important these children are to the legacy of the Tibetan culture, I hope that today we proved to the TCV kids that we care and support them in their wishes for Tibet’s independence.

Aimee Hopkins

Today we visited the Tibetan Children’s Village above Dharamsala. The school is located below the vast and divinely sacred, Himalayan Mountain range. Upon our arrival, open, friendly, and kind students greeted us. After watching a short presentation we split into small groups to break the ice, and learn more about each other’s cultures.

Aimee with TCV students

I was in a group with a young Tibetan woman born in India, the student president and his older sister. The student president told us about how the Tibetan culture has been diluted by the influence of other cultures and the oppressive rule of the Chinese government. He told us that the school tries its best to preserve the culture by wearing traditional clothes and only speaking Tibetan on Wednesdays, and by teaching the language and ensuring that there are Tibetan books on the shelves of the library. He also explained that the first step to preserve the Tibetan culture is to influence these people into having pride in their lineage. In many cases, the absence of confidence has diminished their sense of identity and self worth.

Today I learned so much about the Tibetan culture and how crucial it is to preserve the values that Tibetans embody. The Chinese government is trying to eradicate a culture that teaches us about the values that make us human.
The Tibetans have held strong to their beliefs and values during this time of great suffering. Today, the students at the Tibetan Children’s Village changed my life with their insight on preservation of culture, and unconditional strength amidst worst of circumstances.

Golden Temple and the Road North

Karina Fox

During my time here in India I have seen many beautiful sights. Today was no exception. The most sacred Sikh temple is the Golden Temple located in Amritsar. The moment you first lay eyes on the temple it is almost too overwhelming to describe. The temple stands large and impressive, shining with a brilliance that can take your breath away. Surrounded on all sides by water, the temple’s reflection is almost as magnificent as the real thing. Despite the early hour of our arrival there were already thousands of people waiting to experience something they consider to be very holy. Everywhere we looked we saw adults and children bathing in the holy waters, men on their knees praying, and families slowly moving through the crowd towards the temple.

Mount Madonna seniors at the Golden Temple

The Sikh religion is the 7th largest organized religion in the world, but I did not grasp the significance of this until today. The number of people that decided to visit the temple on the same day, during the same hour, as us was astounding and yet, this was still only a small fraction of the number they receive. The golden temple gets an average of 100,000 to 200,000 visitors a day, and on days with special services the numbers can be uncountable. Being witness to so many people having a religiously significant experience was both compelling and humbling. You could plainly see that everyone present was invested in the experience and grateful to be there. I feel extremely lucky that I was able to have this once in a lifetime experience.

Jake Getz
The Golden Temple

In India lines function differently than they do back home. In place of orderly rows of disgruntled people, you encounter a mass of people, all pressed together, moving forward in surges. I now know how a sardine must feel. In line at the Golden Temple everyone was so packed in that when the crowed moved forward, I moved forward.

When we finally reached the entrance to the Golden Temple I was astonished to find that “golden temple” was no exaggeration. The entire inside of the temple was gold. When you looked to the side you saw gold walls. When you looked up you saw a gold ceiling, complete with gold ceiling fans. In the center of the temple there were three men playing instruments and continuously chanting a prayer. A set of speakers carried the chanting throughout the entire compound.

Sanika Lakka

Walking through the alleyway into Jallianwala Bagh, was like walking through fog and not knowing what to expect on the other side. I tried to picture the British soldiers running through the passage, armed and ready to kill the hundreds of innocent protesters enclosed within the courtyard walls. The historic massacre occurred in that very spot, at the end of the passage, in 1919.

Jallianwala Bagh

When we entered the courtyard we saw that it was beautifully landscaped. I could not grasp the fact that so many people were murdered there, even while looking at the walls that were still indented with bullet holes. It was horrifying to know how the people desperately tried to find a way out. They struggled to climb up the walls, but were shot instantly. Some even jumped into a well to escape, but none survived.

Inside the museum was a very detailed painting of the massacre. The painting made the event seem less theoretical and I was hit with emotion. Hanging on the walls of the museum were paintings of men and women all of whom had fought and died to free India from colonial rule. Next to each painting was a writing explaining their sacrifice. Each face brought a sense of realism to the event, each death a loss rather than a historical event. As we left the building I was overcome with appreciation for the world of freedom and justice I live in.

Bryson Smith
Arriving at the foothills of the Himalayas

This morning, after visiting the Golden Temple, we left Amritsar for Dharamsala. The drive was an adventure filled with heavy traffic, obstacles and fallen suitcases. Gradually the traffic gave way to a curvy mountain road barely wide enough for a motorcycle. As we began the climb up, the hills got steeper and steeper until they gave way to looming mountains. A window opened in the billowing clouds and I caught my first glimpse of the mighty Himalayas. The snowcapped peaks are so awe-inspiring that it is easy to see why the Himalayas are the home of the Hindu gods.

When we finally arrived in Dharamsala, I was struck by the spirituality of the place. I have been looking forward to this leg of the trip for months and being here is surreal. Watching monks hike up the narrow streets and vendors selling fruits, vegetables and other knick-knacks is amazing. I can’t wait to explore this community nestled in the Himalayan foothills.

Daniel Fust

After our visit to the Golden Temple and Jallianwala Bagh we drove to Dharamsala, the home of the Tibetan government in exile and the Dalai Lama. The fertile mountains that make up the foothills of the Himalayas were a beautiful contrast to the flat grasslands in which we have spent most of our time.

Driving up to Dharamsala

As our altitude increased, a new world revealed itself, displaying its distinct flora, fauna and people. The population was much more sparse in the foothills giving way to a different way of life. Houses were farther apart which allowed for a more sanitary environment, despite the rural lifestyle. An increased number of cows and water buffalo wandered freely across the twisting mountain roads. Mountain goats and sheep joined the region’s collection of animals, and tall trees that resembled pines formed a comfortable tree cover. Green was the prevalent color of the landscape but bright, multi-colored wildflowers added excitement to the mosaic. Water-rounded stones made riverbeds for streams of snowmelt. These brooks weaved through rock and poured from ledges onto our path. Heavy clouds rubbed up against the peaks and the air temperature dropped to a level reminiscent of Mount Madonna.

My excitement grew during the final hour of the drive as we scaled the hill toward the Tibetan Children’s Village. The switchback road gave an alternating view of the snow- capped mountains above and the vivid valley below. The town of Dharmasala seemed more inviting than the other cities we have visited. Monks walked by houses and shops, which hugged the steep hillside. The demographic shifted to include more Tibetans, which reflects the historical background of the community. After arriving at our hotel, I peered down at the path we had traveled and realized that it is now time for me to prepare myself mentally for the next chapter of our journey.

Dance Party at Sri Ram Ashram

Graydon Griffin

At the end of each month, the Sri Ram Ashram family has one big party to celebrate all of the month’s birthdays. We were at the ashram for a more pumped up version of the normal birthday party. The celebration also doubled as a going away party for several ashram kids leaving for college.

I have heard a lot about the ashram’s ability to welcome others. These rumors were confirmed for me last night. When I went to go sit with my class for the celebration, I was instead directed to go sit with the other birthday honorees. My birthday was on March 27th . I was lucky to be able to celebrate it with my class in India, however that was three days ago and I had already forgotten about it. The people at the ashram didn’t care that I had already celebrated my birthday. I had a March birthday, and I was part of the community, so I was asked to sit down next to Deepak and Vijay Raj.

The celebration was only one-seventeenth mine, but even that fraction of the singing, dancing, and general celebration was more than double any other birthday party I have had. I think one would be hard pressed to have found a better group to celebrate my eighteenth birthday with.

Amber Zeise

As the bright, multicolored lights went up around the courtyard and the girls changed from casual cotton to embroidered saris, the atmosphere changed to one of nervous excitement. A dance party/birthday party at the Sri Ram Ashram was about to ensue. The children were to perform 10 dances for us. We were to perform 3 songs and a dance for them and then we were going to finish the night off with a huge dance party.

Just as we feared, the children’s talents put us to shame. They started off the night with an incredibly precise and visually interesting duet dedicated to Ganesh. They demonstrated their talents in hip-hop, traditional Indian dance, jazz, and lyrical with incredible diversity as a group, as well as within each individual dancer. Our songs, even when slightly off, were met with great applause and support. However, nothing could prepare us for the delight they took in watching us perform our imperfect, learned in two days, Bollywood number. As we took our places our names were shouted and hoots, hollers, and whistles filled the air. We miraculously made it through our dance with few mistakes. It was met with huge booming cheers. I have been performing for over 7 years and have never had such an incredible audience. Then, to the dismay of my classmates, the entirety of the ashram and the volunteers began to chant, “Once more! Once more!” We could not resist the demand for an encore performance. This time however the staff and volunteers joined us.

After the speeches and thank yous had been made, we had a giant dance party. It was one of the best times I have ever had. Everyone danced; the youngsters, the teachers, the students, the boys, the girls, even Devin. For over an hour, somehow, the cultural differences blended together in a perfect mix of character, personality, self-expression, and pure enjoyment. I have always thought that music and art are the most powerful ways to bridge differences. In that courtyard we were just people; fun loving, joyous, laughing people.