Thursday, June 11, 2009

saying my reluctant goodbyes

it is a bit more than three years since i first came to india for what was to have been a year of dissertation research. this extended period in 'the field' has been fruitful beyond what i could have imagined when it began, and has been fruitful in unanticipated ways.

these fruits grew slowly, in gardens that were initially harsh and sometimes lonely, but always lush in their rewards: reading vinaya narratives in sanskrit five to six hours a day, month after month, in visakhapatnam with the magnificent prabhakara shastri garu whose kindness to me far outweighs his not inconsiderable gruffness. later, reading in tibetan with lobsang norbu shastri, tashi tsering and geshe rinchen ngodrub in dharamsala and in varanasi with shrikant bahulkar-ji; their erudition, humility and gentleness of spirit were a rare and deeply inspiring combination. what i received from them are not small gifts.

i do not think it an exaggeration to say that i really learnt sanskrit and tibetan during this time in india, although on the day i first landed here, i had already completed five years of sanskrit and some eight years of tibetan language study. some years ago i attended a summer seminar in sanskrit regional literatures in jerusalem, led by some of the finest western scholars of sanskrit literature, and at that time i became aware that those scholars whose depth of knowledge of sanskrit culture and language most inspired my respect and admiration had all spent long periods of time reading in india with indian pandits and scholars. most had been years in completing their dissertations. on some partly-conscious level, their example was a partial inspiration for my willingness to open up this large swathe of time to read in india. that example itself was a gift i have savored slowly over these three years.

these years themselves were funded by grants from fulbright, american institute of indian studies and woodrow wilson foundations. truly, their support has been no small gift.

during the past two years, two dear dharma sisters from mexico came at different points to stay with me, and each received her ordination vows during that time. these are great, great gifts.

however, perhaps the greatest gift of all was the bond discovered and deepened during these three years with my lama, his holiness the 17th karmapa. within days of my arrival in sarnath in 2006 for this research period, his holiness happened to turn up in sarnath as well. although i had already met his holiness in 2000, when he first arrived in dharamsala from tibet, this time he gave a short talk for western students that overwhelmingly alerted me to his depth as a teacher. a month later i found myself in a private audience translating his talks into spanish for a group of pilgrims from puerto rico and mexico. in the three years since, those auspicious beginnings have ripened in many ways, too many to even begin to document here.

although my connection to his holiness is without doubt the towering centerpiece of the luxuriant and generous garden that has taken shape through my time in india, alongside that steady and protective presence there now grows the nuns' community i have so long yearned to be part of. my two dear mexican dharma sisters opted to remain in india and a fourth nun has joined us, and somehow together we have found the conditions for a harmonious and joyful monastic life.

i leave india now, to finish the phd requirements that led me here in the first place. but many seeds have been planted, and are being nurtured beautifully by the warm, moist compassion of this lama and of our community's commitment and care for one another. a new research project awaits me here as well - but that is a whole other story, and perhaps an other blog. so just as soon as the dissertation is done and defended, i will be back. i will return to share with my dharma sisters the fruits of life in monastic community, and to explore whatever other opportunities to grow and serve together might happen to crop up.

until that hopeful day of return, i will let our community blog speak for me. what words may find their way onto this site in the future, we shall have to wait and see.

to read more, follow this link.

* first photo in this entry taken in sarnath in 2007, where this dazzling time in india began, second during teachings by hh karmapa at root institute in bodhgaya in 2008, and third at our home in dharamsala in 2009.