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.
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.
Guest Post: Interview in Dharamsala
by Tim Shields
“You don’t teach curiosity, but you create the context in which it’s important to show up. Because staying curious is the best way to learn, it’s the best way for self-development, and curiosity is connected with compassion. When you judge people there’s no compassion in it, but when you’re curious about people there’s a possibility of understanding who they are.”
– Ward Malliard
A few days ago I was privileged enough to tag along with Malliard and his senior high school class from Mount Madonna School in Santa Cruz, California, a class of just 15 students. Over the course of his career in teaching, Malliard’s students have interviewed leading global thinkers and world leaders across several continents, and during this trip alone, his class has interviewed Timothy Roemer, U.S. Ambassador to India, Mani Shankar Aiyar, a member of the upper house of parliament, Samdong Rinpoche, the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in Exile, Rinchen Kandho, head of the Tibetan Nuns Project, and His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama. His students were poised, intelligent, and mature, while at the same time they managed to retain the youth and innocence of adolescence.
As the son of United States Congressman, he “went over the wall,” as he says, but never strayed too far from his upbringing. He is driven by political awareness and social service, yet at the root of it all is his desire to do good in the world and “to be on a journey that I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”
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.
Reflections on our conversation
We spent the morning preparing for our interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Part way into our preparation we received a phone call informing us that the Dalai Lama was at a public prayer session and we could go to it if we wanted to. We quickly put our things away and rushed to the Kirti Jeypa Monastery. Once there, we learned that the prayers were for two Tibetans killed on April 22, 2011 by Chinese soldiers. The two men had been trying to protect Tibetan monks at the Kirti Monastery in Ngaba, Tibet. After the prayers, there were several speeches and then one hundred monks began a protest march to New Delhi. Afterwards, we returned to the hotel to finalize our interview questions and get ready.
A short time later, we returned to the Kirti Jeypa Monastery for our interview with the Dalai Lama. Sitting in the room waiting for His Holiness, I started to feel the excitement that I had been waiting for all of Senior year. When he walked in I wished I had volunteered for one of our first five questions. Once he was seated, Lily introduced our group and asked if he had any opening remarks. He spoke to us for a short time and then we asked the questions we had prepared.
When asked a question about love and compassion being essential to the survival of humanity, the Dalai Lama spoke about the necessity of being happy and having a healthy body, family, community and mind. I found myself carried away by thoughts about this and began to cry. It touched me in a way I never expected and I was startled by my reaction.
The Dalai Lama is the most compassionate and genuine person I have ever met. I was blown away by how clear his thoughts were. When he laughed it lit up the room and I could not help but smile.
When asked about how we can counteract the sense of entitlement so pervasive in American culture, he responded by speaking about ambition. He said that compassionate ambition is fine but that selfish ambition is harmful. I never thought of ambition as having different aspects and his comments made me look at it in a different way.
In his opening remarks to us the Dalai Lama spoke about how ethics are crucial to human happiness. He said that the only universally possible way to integrate ethics is through education. What struck me most was his comment that education is the reduction of the gap between appearance and reality. I thought that this was an amazing and accurate way to think about learning. The closer our perception of the world and ourselves comes to the actual truth, the greater our ability to make wise decisions and act ethically. Even with the language barrier, His Holiness was able to articulate the most truthful and accurate description of the world I have ever heard.
I had been waiting for the chance to interview the Dalai Lama since I saw him speak in San Jose last Fall. Two things he said really stood out for me. The first was when he said, “Even your enemy was created by God.” Though I am not religious, this comment struck me and left me with the understanding that both friend and enemy deserve respect. The second thing was the idea of unbiased compassion. This is probably the most enlightened idea and difficult concept he spoke about.
The beauty of our interview with His Holiness was that he brought no sense of inflated self-worth or boastful attitude, but rather the complete absence of ego. The clarity and thoughtfulness of his words was impressive. We were able to connect with Dalai Lama on a level that is very rare. The feelings behind his words allowed me to follow even the deepest of topics with curiosity. At no point did I ever feel like we were being spoken down to.
The Dalai Lama spoke about the importance of clearing the mind of too much emotion. He said too much emotion hinders your ability to see the goodness in life and that a clear mind allows you to see a wholistic view of the world. It was important for me to hear this because I think I carry too much emotion and as a result, at times I can’t think realistically. The way he spoke was precise and I felt the presence of a calm and pure mind.
Our interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama was incredible. He seems like one of those rare people that actually embody what they stand for. I felt moved and honored to be in his presence. When he blessed me and looked in my eyes I felt like we were the only people in the room.
His Holiness made a point of saying more than once that there is too much stress, anxiety and fear in the world. He said that there is too much foolish selfishness as opposed to wise selfishness. He said that selfishness is a natural human quality, but there is a difference between selfishness for self progress and selfishness that begins to negatively effect others. The answer, he asserted, lies in a compassionate attitude. This leads to an open mind and a wider perspective.