“Traveling To The Monastery”
By Linda Shore
Like almost every Westerner who travels through rural India for the first time, I am awestruck by the people we see as we drive from Hubli to the Drepung Monastery. I’m not actually shocked by the poverty; I am embarrassed by how much I have and how little I appreciate it.
We pass tiny thatched huts with sheet metal roofs that are just barely standing. A windstorm will blow these houses apart. Outside one hut, the family has hung a brightly colored quilt out to dry in the sun. They own a chair. They have a goat tied to a post. They have an old motorbike that runs. Their children are clothed, laughing, and playing in the streets. Compared to most of their neighbors, they are wealthy.
As we drive, I can’t help but feel guilty about all the “stuff” I own, about the size of my house, my two cars, and all the fruit and vegetables I throw away because I never get to eat it all before it rots. I knew coming here would be a transformative experience and that I needed to directly witness how most of the world lives. I’ll think twice before I complain that my 401K lost a quarter of its value or that I have to make a choice between getting a new washer/dryer or a new dishwasher. It’s not I live better than the rest of the world– it’s that I live lacking an appreciation of what the people of the world sacrifice for my excess.
We arrived in Mundgod and the Drepung monastery. For my two-week stay, I’ll have a foam bed, a top and bottom sheet, a pillow, a bathroom with a gravity shower and working toilet, toilet paper, and a plastic chair. There will be electricity most of the time. I will eat three meals a day. There will always be enough rice, bread, vegetables, hot tea, and coke-a-cola. I will live like a queen.
“Watching TV with 2000 Monks”
By David Barker
After a series of long flights, we arrive in Hubli, the local “big city.” Three-wheeled rickshaws careening, tricked and glittered out trucks honking, cattle wandering the streets… I feel like I’m in the middle of a third-world pinball game.
We are traveling to the monastery via SUV’s accompanied by our new colleagues Richard Sterling (former Exec Director of the National Writing Project), Stephanie Norby (Director of Center for Education and Museum Studies, Smithsonian Center), David Presti (Professor of Neurobiology, UC Berkeley), and Kristi Panik (Psychotherapist, Berkeley).
The route is lined with small huts, shacks; rudimentary housing at best. The poverty is appalling, yet small kids wear nice shirts and shorts, and the women, with multiple piercings highlighting their dark faces, have lovely yet plain saris. We whiz by fields of mangoes, cotton, bananas, wheat. Everywhere piled stacks of hay, cattle grazing.
As we enter the perimeter of the Monastery, we are suddenly in Tibet. Huge, massive painted temples, burgundy-robed monks strolling along the streets, little kid monks laughing and playing. We get curious gazes, being the only westerners around. This is going to be very very interesting…
Later that evening, having met our Team Leader, Bryce Johnson of the Science for Monks project, we hear what sounds like a blaring rock concert sound system. Bryce and I wander onto the balcony to scope it out, and it turns out it is the regular monthly of Voice of America video broadcast. About a hundred monks are sitting in a dark field, watching the flickering images being projected on a large concrete monolith.
I grab the camera and head over to see what this is all about, still getting adjusted to this new culture. Along with some younger monks, I peer over the wall and see images of President Obama greeting the President of India, then pardoning the White House Turkey, all with a Tibetan narrative. Then the Macy’s Day parade, with giant balloons representing Spiderman, Sponge Bob Squarepants, Mickey Mouse. Then the Rockettes chorus line kicking up their heels in a tribute to Thanksgiving, all viewed by a rapt audience of monks.
All my preconceptions about what to expect are now thoroughly vaporized. I think I’m going to like these people.