In McLeod Ganj we signed up for a 10-day silent meditation retreat at Tushita on a hill above town. The accommodation was pretty basic, dorm rooms and bucket showers, but the location stunning; overlooking a mixed forest of conifers and broadleaves on the hill-slope below, with rhododendron just starting to bloom under the trees. The first couple days the forest was covered in mist, later it cleared to show snowcapped mountains in the distance. Some days we could spot silver-coloured langur monkeys or flying squirrels in the treetops, and every day around lunch we could spot hordes of macaques trying to steal our food – they’d get away with at least one or two people’s sandwich or piece of fruit at every meal. The days started at 6am with mixed meditation sessions and Buddhism teachings the full day until about 9pm. Other rules included not killing any animals, including mosquito’s. However, throwing stones after the macaque monkeys so they wouldn’t steal food was Ok! – ..try to imagine ordained nuns in robes hurling rocks after the monkeys! (..will need to imagine as camera had to be handed in to the safe at checkin together with other distractions like mp3 player and non-dharma books.) The silent-rule wasn’t actually fully absolute either as there were discussion groups in the afternoon and questions during class etc. The teachers were good and did their best to fit the teachings to the pretty diverse group of students; some people would be in to every pyramid-energy crystal-healing tantric-kundalini-yoga new-age invention there is, and at the other end of the spectrum they’d have to put up with people like me who think that Richard Dawkins just might be a little too religious. The teachers explained at the beginning they weren’t out to “convert” anyone, that the course was like a smörgåsbord and everyone could just pick the pieces that make sense for them. I found the meditation very interesting anyhow, it’s something I’d never tried before, and quite a lot of the Buddhism teachings do seem to make sense to me without having to resort to faith..I’ll just have to leave the old Hinduism legacies with reincarnation and karma at the side. There must be something to it really – the old Buddhist monks in the pictures hanging on the walls here always feature a beaming smile on their face…they’ve seen their millenia-old culture destroyed bit by bit and still manage to feel compassion for the people causing this? I remember a National Geographic article where a number of Tibetan monks where fitted with electrodes and run through an MRI scanner..think it concluded they were actually the happiest people in the world..
We had one great meditation session with Mark, a friendly vegemite-obsessed Aussie with shaved head who led most of our meditation sessions; the ever-present macaque monkeys were fighting as we were trying to sit quietly and observe our mind..Mark speaking in his serene meditation voice guiding a mental-state check “…maybe you’re feeling tired…”, the monkeys start running and fighting on the roof, “…maybe you’re feeling distracted…”, more and heavier monkeys join in – it sounds like thunder above, “…maybe you’re wondering why they built a meditation hall with a tin roof?…” – everyone laughing loud!
Edel unfortunately got sick within 24 hours of observing silence. Sorry, that didn’t come out right at all! Edel unfortunately got food poisoning on the 2nd day, and missed a lot of the meditation sessions. We would probably have left both of us, but they convinced us to stay on and Edel took a trip down to the doctor together with an Israeli girl who needed some rabies shots after getting bitten by one of the monkeys..
Once the course was finished and Edel felt better we did a couple short walks around Dharamsala before deciding to head off to the city of Amritsar which we had missed on the way up from Delhi.