Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Escape from Manju ka Tilla

Once again I sit down in the square in the front of the the two small temples , thinking this is .. well , not great , but it works. Then I put my hands on my knees , and afterwards the pants are not wet , but soaked. Time to get out of the monsoon.

On the night train to Kalka (camera bag under my head, backpack under my knees ) I pick up Kim Robinson's Escape from Kathmandu , a minor guesthouse libarary classic.

A standard theme in boks from Nepal and Tibet is time travel : moving in to another age on a commercial flight. The time travel picks up another dimension when the now in the book also represents another age.

It starts with a ... letter. Gather around my feet little ones , and I'll tell you of a fara away time when we sent pieces of paper to each other. I was there , and I also was in Nepal just before the book was written : a time of innocence when you could point the finger and laugh at the theatrical aspects of the royal power , before the long dirty war between the government and the Maoists.Timewarp has moved Nepal ahead of my home in some respects : there is a lot more software produced in Kathmandu than in Stockholm , and Nepal today has stripped the king of ceremonial powers beyond our constitution : our king can't be brought to court.

At the same time the life along the trail has not changed much since early eighties, and many of Robinson's one-liners survive well , like the one about flying with (formerly Roayal Nepal) Airlines : In Nepal , clouds have rocks in them. It is written at the breaking point of our innocence , at the time when you start to to wonder of the life banana pancake baker , and step in to the kitchen.

This sounds really serious , which is far from the truth . It's a grea romp ,with a supporting cast to match : Jimmy Carter (former american president) , Tsongkhapa ( founder of Gelugpa school of Buddhism ) , pot-smoking Secret Service-men , Ang Rita ( twelwe time successfull climber of Mount Everest) . And of course a Yeti named Buddha ..

Nice walk with Sally from Oz in the morning , playing guide , and a nice dinner in the White House with Jamyang , Tsering and little Tenzing , who treated me with a first review of the new Milarepa film. Will pick up a copy in Manju before leaving , hopefully also Angry Monk , the film about Gedun Chopel.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Re-united ...

at last with my backpack , that never left Helsinki.

37 degrees and - obviously - humid on landing , but feels less. Quick shower and drying under the ceiling fan.

Lots of food (shabalay , momos, phing) and lots of languages in the dining room of Wongdhen House : English , Tibetan , Nepali and French to start with.

Thenthuk in the small square outside the temples , this year with awnings. Communal dining area , prayer chantings and kids just running and screaming. No photos taken , people made me feel invited and after that it stayed down . The kids took some photograhs though.

Todays Tibetan word : Tinda ! Look !

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Linux and sutras

Everybody loves seeing monks with computers.In a small net cafe in Manju ka Tilla , the Tibetan enclave in Delhi , I regularly met three young guys with shaved heads : two young monks and cyber wallah in charge of the place , with a multi colored mohawk hairdo . The place was cramped , the keyboards more or less worn out ... and hanging down at angle was a large portrait of Dalai Lama , framed with multi colored blinking LED´s.
The titillation of seeing Buddhists monks in this role lies in an assumed transgression : men or women of the cloth should remain isolated from the world of technology.

In The Argumentative Indian Amartya Sen raises an interesting contrasting view to this , high lighting the early Buddhists role as technological ground breakers. Book printing is obviously one of the greatest leaps forward in transmitting knowledge and ideas , and Indian and Chinese Buddhists had a key role in disseminating this technique : in fact the first dated printed book is the Diamond Sutra from Dunhuang. It was the Internet of it´s time : slow but hip , and in no way restricted to religious themes - the Himalayas were crossed in both directions carrying the latest landbreaks in astronomy , medicine and technology.

And in keeping with the Internet analogy , the Diamond Sutra echoed eerily of Linux terminology : "free and for universal distribution" as it says in the prologue .
Buddhists we´re involved the earliest book printing ventures in India , Japan , China and Korea. One could choose to see this as a co-incidental interest in material technology - or as an expression of the underlying social technique : printing became an extension of the public debate that from the beginning was a central feature in Buddhism .

As Sen point out , when Ashoka arranged the first known public debates between different religions (at the same time time as the Catholic church had Giordano Bruno burned at the stake ) , they had a couple of centuries of the great Buddhist councils to lean on.

Sen points out this tradition as a quintessential Indian quality , that explains some of the unique qualities of Indian democracy : the only Asian country I can think of where the Army has remained consistently uninterested in wresting the power from the elected governments . This tradition predates Buddhism , like the one line from the Mahabharata that has gained foothold in many Western minds : I am become death , the destroyer of worlds..

When Robert Oppenheimer (a truly cultured man , who had read the Mahabharata in the original Sanskrit) used these words to describe his anguish in seeing the end result of his work , the detonation of the Hiroshima bomb , he fixed one side of the epic debate between warrior Arjuna , who at first refused doing the unthinkable and Krishna who in the end literally drove him out to the battle. Most in the West seems not to remember that final outcome , but Arjuna´s voice is still a living , working cry resisting the horrors of the war.

In the same way , Sen shows , the Vedas contain a multitude of voices , that gives unexpected firepower to unexpected standpoints : an complete agnostic tradition , women speaking out against male power structures, Brahmins being descibed as con artists..
Even though the Krishnas so to say won in these conflicts , they never made their opponents invisible , and we can pickup their side of the debate to day.

In comparison , much of Christian literature gives about as much depth to their societies inner conflicts as statements from the old Communist party conferences.

Photo from the Asian Classics Input Program , www.asianclassics.org here in the process of transferring woodblock prints to hard drives in the library of Diskit Monastery , NUbra