Saturday, August 7, 2010

The shape of Shangri-La to come

As a collectivity, one of the most important task(s) in our lives is to decide on how we should imagine, shape, and actuate our future. The world, as it is today, is in a serious crisis: with a finite amount of resources and an exploding population, we are forced to make uncomfortable choices, choices that will forever affect the way we live. The time is up on borrowing from future generations. If we want to live sustainably, many argue that we have to learn to let go of our impulses to consume and produce--anything that re-ignites desire(s) for plunder. But the crisis is not confined to ecological decay. Though this seems to be a fundamental concern, many would suggest that political violence carries a heavier bag of destruction. More people die from social conflict than from environmental degradation. It may definitely be the case that harmony is not the dew point of human existence but a by-product, intermittent instantiations if you will, of the bearings of repetitive social repression. Now the real problem is how do we proceed from here...

The question we asked our students was 'what would you change about Dharamsala?' The aim of this question was to push students to think less about superficial concerns and more about some issues that heed immediate concern. The trick worked! For one, many of the students felt that Dharamsala was far too polluted. One verbalized, "I think it's important to have cleaner roads and streets. People are always throwing cigarette butts and garbage in the streets." But pollution is not defined by only those visible wastes we can see around us. Another commented on the source for ecological adulteration, "The environment is very dirty, factories release a lot of smoke. There is pollution everywhere. I think they should plant more trees in India."

But are the senses only disturbed by that which is deemed dirty? Of course not. Other students lamented over the disparity of wealth in Dharamsala, and India as a whole: "I would like to change the poverty in India. Some of the Indians are the poorest people in the world and that is very sad and upsetting." A neighboring student added: "The caste system is such a strong part of Indian culture and prevents people from rising the 'ladder of life.' It should not be ignored...we should push for more equality amongst Indians." It seems that most of the problems are centered around ecology and sociopolitical inequalities. Well... for the most part.

Some mentioned that corruption was a problem rampant in Dharamsala. One expressed this sentiment succinctly, "I wish that some of the Indian people wouldn't cheat foreigners." With Buddhism being the window of one's moral vista, it is not surprising that character development would be an issue demanding attention. The same student then added a brief adage in a follow up sentence, "The mind is important!"

Relaxed within the fold of the subtext is the Shangri-La to come: the Tibetan dream is not just one of independence and freedom from Chinese occupation but a kind of future that interweaves education, social equality, and environmental preservation within the fabric of daily life. Even if a free Tibet is somewhere remote, somewhere far in the future, many wish to make changes now, to begin the utopic vision by practicing the cultivation of compassion. The mind is indeed important as the aforementioned student nodded. So to make this possible, as Dr. Lobsong Soepa reminded me, "We have to investigate ourselves, the interal." "Science," he added, "focuses too much on the outside. It is now time to create a world that integrates Buddhism."

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