Ten Days at Tushita – Part 1 of 4

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The road leading there was steep and dirt. My bag was too heavy so my legs ached and the altitude made my chest pump for air. It was easier when I walked slowly, but I walked fast anyway. I always seem to be in a hurry, even when I have nowhere to go. I came upon a girl carrying nothing and taking one step a time, like she was thinking about each one and pondering life. She was European, had a nose ring and a quiet smile and she wore Indian dress and carried no bags. She was a real free spirit, the kind I often think I am, but really I just want to be. It made me jealous, so I kept from passing her and caught my breath.


The group was huge. There were seventy of us and we all sat and waited, mostly in silence watching each other like we would for the next ten days. I’d signed up early, so I got one of the few single rooms with a toilet. There were some elders who got stuck in dorms. I thought about giving up my room for one of them and in many cases I might have, but I really wanted the solitude to reflect on all the things I’d be learning about, which would happen to be compassion and selflessness, making the whole bit kind of ironic.

They took all my electronics and locked them away when I checked in. I gave them my cards and books too. I really wanted no distractions and didn’t trust myself. Good thing, because about seven days in I went rummaging for a deck of cards I was convinced I’d left in my pack. The room was tiny, but spotlessly clean. A pleasant surprise, it was the nicest place I’d seen since I got to India. I usually just live out of my bag, but knowing I’d be there for ten days, I emptied my stuff on to the bed. I stacked my shirts and socks and everything else up nice and neatly on the thin wooden shelves, then made a spot for my headlamp and pocket coins and another for the peanut butter and bread I’d picked up on the way. I put my journal and a pen on the desk and readied a candle and some incense for the evening. Realizing I had no clock I lined up nine match sticks, so I could use one each night to light the candle and keep track of what day it was. Looking around at my little room, I felt satisfied and at home.

There were hours to wait, so I walked around the grounds. All the buildings were built differently. Some were modern and stood straight, but others were ancient and Asian and falling apart. Monk’s with shaved heads and dark red robes with a splash of yellow walked in and out of doorways. They’re pondering life and karma and if they should buy more toothpaste, I thought. There were four puppies running around too. One of the dogs had given them a few weeks before and now she was chafing and bit them hard when they tried for her milk. They yelped and cried and were well fed by the staff, but they kept at it anyway.

A gong sounded and we all filled into the Gompa, which was the big meditation hall. There were blue cushions on the floor lined in seven neat rows. The back filled up first, like it always does. I thought about my challenges with attention during college and how sitting in the front had always helped keep me from falling asleep or writing song lyrics or daydreaming that I’d just discovered the unified theory of Physics and how my professor would give me an A. I took a spot in the second row. The director came in and told us the schedule and the rules. We’d be up at six everyday for meditation and breakfast. For a week we’d have class twice a day and meditation three times. Plus we’d have yoga each day, which wasn’t required but really recommended, since it’d be the only moving around we’d do. She talked about the monkeys and warned they can be aggressive and not to look them in the eyes. I found it interesting, but doubted the seriousness considering how close they came to people. She went over the cleaning duties that each person had and that these were labeled “Karma Yoga Jobs”, because by doing the work in good and helping spirits we’d be creating a positive future for ourselves. It reminded me of the “suggested donation” that was finely calculated and collected upfront and how I pondered the value in labeling such things. Then she spoke of the silence.

We were not to talk at all for the entire ten days except during our one hour discussion groups or when asking questions during teaching sessions. Couples and friends were asked to stay away from each other. For the most part everyone obeyed the rules. The hardest for me was using a smile instead of saying “please” or “thank you”; those words seem to just jump out of me. Of course there were times people started to talk a bit. When it happened, I’d instinctively look over at the culprits. They’d see me look, because they knew they were being sneaky and were aware of their surroundings. I found it funny that we can feel guilty for breaking silly rules we create for ourselves. I wondered if they thought I was looking because I cared that they were talking. I was really just curious. I’d spent days smiling and nodding at people who’s voices I’d never heard. Friendships were made with eye contact and facial expressions. So when someone started talking, I wanted to see who it was and what they sounded like.

The silence was a very good thing though. I didn’t realize how many of my thoughts were a result of communicating with people. After awhile of keeping to myself, the seas in my head would calm and I could keep to thinking about life and philosophy. Without the silence, I doubt I would have been able to stay completely focused on those things for such a long time.

Going around the room, each person introduced themselves saying where they were from and why they came. Most were from Europe, but there was a group of students from America too. Others came from Canada and Asia; two girls were from South America, one guy from South Africa and three men from India. Most of the group was young and female, but the ages ranged from seventeen to wise and experienced. As everyone talked, I listened to the accents and levels of fear for speaking to a group. My turn came quick and I said nothing relative or significant. I nodded and shrugged at the end and I couldn’t stand the irrationality of my mild discomfort. It came out of nowhere. It always does.

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