Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Happy post-fourth-of-july...

Goats. Little goats, by the side of the road. We see them every day, on the way down into the chasm. There's not much to say, since it's hard to make isn't-he-cute coos in ASCII.

I think I promised pictures of this gas station. Here it is. The reason I include this picture is that I think the car is cute, and the mountains are pretty. I admit that it's not high art.

The white SUV-ish thing on the right is the car we took yesterday. The guys at the gas pump hadn't caught on that I was taking pictures yet...

The thing that's amazing about this gas station is how western it looks. There's a mini market, it's air conditioned, and it has great stuff, but we liked this place even before we went inside because immersion in Indian culture, even at the remove of Dharamsala, is a challenge, and when you go by this gas station, for a moment the depths of your mind think "I'm at home now." It's a pleasant feeling; sometimes I wonder why we ever leave. Not that I'm complaining - this is the second time I've been in this general area; the first time I came here, I felt the same thing: that it was silly to have put so much effort into coming here. But it's not silly - immersing yourself in an alien culture (friendly, but definitely alien) is mind-expanding. It's also very difficult, so the occasional taste of vanilla is a nice treat.

There's nothing very special about this picture except that when I was reviewing the pictures I'd shot yesterday, my reaction was that the car was passing us. This is on a narrow mountain road, with probably a fifty-foot dropoff on the right. I am unsure as to whether this car was parked or passing. Either is possible. It's kind of sobering.

One of the cool things about being in India is that with the exception of Jinmei-san, who lives in Japan, there is nobody anywhere near my time zone right now. So the usual rapid-fire email exchanges you get when you're local don't happen. So I've had to deal with a lot less email while I've been here.

I want to include something here that Geshe Michael said last night. This is from my notes, so it's probably inaccurate, and I've left out a lot of verbal connective tissue, but I thought it was well said. GM grew up in Arizona; I guess he was a teenager in the sixties. So he gave us a neat little fourth of July lecture.

I grew up in anti-war days, even went to jail briefly. Shut down napalm plant, peacefully, but they didn't treat us peacefully. So I'm very cynical about the US. We like to pick on US. It's this big dumb giant that does dumb things like Iraq. People are lazy, drinking Starbucks all day, don't do anything anymore.

We've been now in two situations recently [when we were travelling through Asia]. We were told, "there's a three-day blackout." We said "what does that mean?" They said "No public meetings allowed. No more than five people can get together." This is in the whole city. 12 million people. We said "What?!?" They said "Yeah, so we had to cancel your programs. " We said "Why?" They said "Some foreign diplomats are coming through the city."

We went driving around, to a venue, this big huge motorcycle cop comes up, looks and feels like Elvis. The driver's like "uh oh." We didn't do anything. The cop gives him a 200 yuan ticket. Driver says "yes sir." We pull over, he gives us a ticket, driver says "thank you sir," we leave.

In another case we asked for permission to have open public debate, they said no. In the America where I grew up, you can't imagine somebody telling you you can't express your religious opinions, can't wear your robes. I'm giving you this Fourth of July speech because you're overseas. Not everyone here is from the U.S., but most of you are from countries with similar freedoms. We should appreciate [democracy] - it's a great system. Based on honesty, letting everyone have a chance.

Even when we don't agree with people, we let them say their peace, don't horsewhip them, don't electric prod them. Put them on public access at 3am, they can say their peace. That's a great thing. And you'll appreciate it someday, maybe if you lose those freedoms. It's really cool. The idea of treating everybody equally, and whatever wacko buddhist religion you want to do, you're totally free to do it. You'd have been burned at stake, hanged, head chopped off by now in any normal country up to now. I think pure working democracy is a high expression of Dharma. We can improve it and we should.

One thing that occurred to me after hearing this speech was that in fact India is a lot more like America than I would normally assume. Gandhi was a beautiful recent expression of this, but India is in a way as much of a melting pot as the United States, so we can't lay it all on Gandhi's shoulders. People don't always get along well - we hear stories of shrines being blown up and that sort of thing - but even in this incredibly diverse culture, somehow the democracy survives.

Sarva Mangalam.


Anonymous Patricia said...

"Sarva Mangalam"

Translate, please.

"Sarva" looks like it could be related to "salve" and "mangalam" like it could contain a root for "many," but they could be false friends.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006 4:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Patricia said...

Nothing happening?

Or culture shock makes it hard to do anything but curl up in a metaphorical fetal crouch?

Friday, July 07, 2006 3:22:00 PM  
Anonymous nn said...

Sarva = All
Mangalam = Well Wishes

"Well wishes to all" might be a good translation.

Saturday, July 08, 2006 2:32:00 PM  
Anonymous kimba said...

That gas station is some kind of dharma lesson for you!

(I've been writing about the concept of home in my blog.)

Saturday, July 08, 2006 10:55:00 PM  
Blogger Ted Lemon said...

We haven't had internet access since we left McLeodganj - that's why the sudden silence. Maybe I'll have the energy to write something tomorrow. We just got back to the 'states after 48 hours of traveling, and I'm looking forward to my first >3 hour sleep in the last 72 hours (we were up until 2am the last night, and our car left for Delhi at 5)... :'}

Sunday, July 09, 2006 6:49:00 AM  

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