Sunday, February 01, 2009

like we were gods, but also human

en route from sarnath to dharamsala, i stopped briefly in delhi for a talk about friendship at tushita meditation centre in delhi. while in town, i had lunch with my friend meena, a teacher at the american embassy school and visited her classroom. the embassy school, like the americam embassy across the street from it, is accessed only after the sort of security on might expect at an embassy site in a country plagued by terrorism that can be explicitly targeted at americans, as we saw recently in mumbai. after showing my passport at the guarded entrance, there was a repeated twilight-zone sense of having left india entirely. the entire school could have been lifted up from any american city and dropped piecemeal into the center of delhi, complete with its disaffected teenagers, their hip wardrobes and high-tech accessories. as meena and i - a teacher they knew and a buddhist nun they did not - strolled together across the campus, one thing i encountered that i would not expect in your random american high school were the frank looks - mixing curiosity and a quiet respectfulness - that we received from the students.

the school largely serves embassy offspring and the children of other expats. though it does accept local students, the annual fees of $20,000 - for a day school no less - makes it accessible only to the tiniest slice of local population. as it turns out, meena had taken her ninth graders to tushita some time back, and given them an opportunity to experience buddhist meditation. she mentioned that they had written of their experiences and offered to send me a copy. i found their responses both sociologically interesting and unexpectedly inspiring, in terms of the impact of even the simplest buddhist tools - applied even briefly - for opening the heart. i share here a sample of the students' frank responses in hopes they might also touch yours.

When we all got into the room we all took pillows and sat on it. Ms. S then explained what the whole place was about. After that we closed our eyes and we sent happy thoughts to one person that we thought needed them the most. We did this because Ms. S said that we usually think only about ourselves. Which is true, people are very self-centered. I thought of this little street girl that I see every day at the stop light near my house. I had seen her crying the other day and I just couldn't stop thinking about her. It just made me feel really sad. So I tried to send her all of the happy thoughts I had within me. – Scott

We sat in a circle and practiced meditating and creating these good vibes. In doing so, not only was I relaxed, but I also felt that possibly the person I was sending the vibe to might receive it and be happier. This chance to relax and be positive was both spiritually and physically calming. From our field trip I learned that Buddhism exists in the most random locations of the city and that it's not the location of a religious center but rather what it contains. – Danny

While I was meditating Ms. Srinivasan whispered to us to think about someone who was suffering and to think about them from our side. She then told us to give them a blessing from the bottom of our hearts. At that moment I felt a sense of pride coming over me because I hadn't done such a deed for someone in a long time which proves how selfish we humans can be. Others who live on the streets and live in hardships every day are satisfied and are happy to a certain degree. Those people are heroes and whom I look up to and am inspired by because they hardly complain. After that Ms. Srinivasan told us to remember the last time we ever helped anyone. Honestly for me it had been awhile because I always tried or attempted to but I never ended up helping my friend or family member. As I thought of this I felt dissatisfied. Even though it was only a blessing it came from my heart and I really care for that person but unfortunately they don't know that. I hope someday they will. This experience has made me more mature and to keep a lookout to help those in need. – Kresha

We were told to clear our minds completely and think of any one person that we know or we've seen that is suffering. Then from deep inside our hearts, we were to wish the best for this one person. Then we were to think of all the people in the world and do the same for them. I think this is a really good principle of this religion. When you think like this, you are basically telling yourself that every living person is in a way like you and is basically you. When you show compassion for these people, you are not only helping and caring for them but helping yourself. – Anmol

I think that every religion is the same just looking at different points from different angles and giving more importance to some things. When you start seeing what each one is about you realize all of them are kind of the same. I think Buddhism is a really nice way of seeing life, but at the same time I think it is really difficult because you care a lot more for others than for you and it is really cool but I need to be honest…I mean for me it is really difficult. Anyway, if some day I can really care about others without thinking about myself first, it is going to be a miracle. I would really like to learn more about Buddhism. When we did the meditation I felt so relaxed and I think it is a good and nice way of remembering the people who are going though a hard moment, especially the ones you know but as well as every single person in the world that is suffering. In our daily life we hardly think about all of the people in the world that are suffering and when you think about that you realize how lucky you are and we live in a very nice bubble. I really like my bubble but I really want to try to get out of it especially when I am in India. – Ale

One of the most peaceful ten minutes of my life since I came to India. This field trip that we went on today was a very, very exciting experience for me because I am very fascinated by the Buddha. I have been reading the book "Buddha" by Karen Armstrong recently and find his theories and teachings very interesting and true. So for me to come here to a place where the Buddha is worshipped is something I have wanted to do for some weeks now. It was really interesting because I have never really meditated like that before and I found it rather nice. At first I thought I wouldn't like it and that it was silly but when I got started I felt happy and excited at the same time. The whole concept of meditating and relaxing yourself in this way is something I have only read about in a book. I felt as if I had been lifted up. I felt lighter. – Rasmus

I liked the idea of love and compassion meaning different things. Love meaning you want the best for someone else and compassion meaning you want to end suffering. I think those meanings are much better than the meanings we all, know them for. You told us to think of someone we saw or remember or concentrate on sending them a blessing. This was interesting, in most religions people pray to a god, in this case it was like we were gods, but at the same time people. We were feeling for other people and sending them blessings, as if answering their prayers. – Alex

In this field trip to a Buddhist place, we meditated and thought about the suffering of other people. First we sat in a circle and breathed and then started thinking about someone other than ourselves who was suffering. We then offered them hope from our hearts that their suffering would stop. According to Buddhists life is suffering and when we discover the cause of suffering is desire or an expectation we understand that is we let go of our desires and expectations we wouldn't suffer. However, that wasn't the goal of this field trip. The goal was to move on from focusing on your own suffering and notice how much others around you suffer. The goal was to wish for the well being of someone else for a chance. We were asked when the last time we wishes for the wellbeing of someone from our hearts were, and honestly I had trouble remembering a time I wished well from the heart for someone other than myself, my family and some of my friends. This really showed me that I should be happy for what I have, because there's someone out there who doesn't have anything, and is truly suffering. – Anya

We were told to choose someone who is having a hard time with life at the moment and that we should send our blessings to them. This was very hard as I see so many people that I know having a rough time right now but in the end I chose my grandmother and tried to send out positive thoughts and prayers for her general wellbeing. After our blessings, we focused on Delhi, the whole of India then Asia ands we were asked the last time we really thought about suffering in the world. I couldn't remember and I figured that I should start to do some thinking. Meditation is very calming and I personally have the feeling of sleeping but being awake at the same time. The environment that we were meditating in at the dharma center also contributed to the calming affect it had on me. The lighting was appropriately dim and the fact that we could not hear any of the chaos and noise outside also helped us reach a point of isolation from everyone else in that room. I felt like I was alone and at peace with myself. – Nina

While thinking of people who are less fortunate than me, I pictured the two sisters I pass everyday on the way to school. One of them has something wrong with their foot, the other gets beat regularly. I thought about what it would feel like to live like that, it would probably break me. I realized that they were dealt a bad hand when they were born, but people like my driver, who had befriended them over the years, helped whenever they could. Every time I see them they always smile and wave, I think that it's amazing they can do that when their world is so cruel, for lack of a better word. – Irena

Usually I don't enjoy meditation or yoga, this time I felt that it was really precious time to think about one person who was having a hard time and bless them kindly. Although our class couldn't stay there long enough because of a lack of time to go back to school again, I felt really comfortable and purified after I blessed one kid I met in "Reach Out" one of the service clubs at the American Embassy High School who lived on the streets in front of the school. I couldn't forget his bright eyes and facial expressions though he was very poor. – Jeeyeon

I really liked meditating, that helped me relax and forget the outside world a lot. I believe my spiritual well wishing might have done someone some good. - Kevin

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