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Dharamsala Field Trip 2009

In 2009 as part of my PhD research I took a trip in India, Dharamsala the home of the 14th Dalai Lama where most of these photos are taken from. While there I met a bunch of amazing people – including monk and yogis. Not to mention having the great fortune of meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and attending a private Buddhism and science conference held inside His Holiness’ private residence.

Most nights friends and I would go out walking (chum chum in Tibetan) through the surrounding mountains. It is the beauty of the mountains that captured my heart. There is something deeply and still about mountains. I guess that is why for so long my teachers have often said to me: let your mind be like a mountain. Now, I understood.

Enjoy…Clarke

end of Temple road

Looking up towards Temple Rd.

Looking up towards Temple Rd.

Dinner at Lhasa Kitchen

Dinner with Geshe Yonten and Geshe Tsetan

On the road to Baksu (is that how you spell it?)

Evening walk with Geshe Tsetan

More of the same

Circumambulating HHDL residence

more of the same

Mani Rocks


The Twisting of a Phrase For Clarity

A pithy turn of phrase, a quip engendering insight, all these linguistic devices are the tools of smarter men (and women) than I. Philosophy, for the most part, is not easy. It is not easy because of the hours spent frustrated by misunderstanding, or, as is more often the case, a sense of not understanding what the hell it is that you are reading. In the end, I must add, it is an experience for which one is better off for having. With the afore written in mind, and as good evidence of my point, I want to address the notion of clarity in philosophy.

photo taken from my widow sill

Some might argue there is, in fact, a lack of clarity in the very enterprise of philosophy. Is this true? Perhaps, for philosophy is inherently abstruse. After all, the ideas we are grappling with are difficult. Yet, is it their importance that renders these questions difficult , or is it their difficulty that makes them important? I think one could argue it is, in fact, both, and for that very reason, it is important for those engaged in the articulation of these difficult questions, to make certain the answers are accessible to as many inquisitive minds as possible. If philosophers, through wordiness, simply add to the abstruseness of their project, thus taking important questions and making them impenetrable, philosophy, turns into the “quibbling of vain men” (and women).

Having said all that, and in such a way as to highlight my very point, I want to ask the following question: Is misunderstanding the fault of the reader or the writer? Is clarity, merely comprehension? Or is understanding, “given” through the art of eloquence? This goes to the heart of a pedagogical dilemma: how do we get knowledge from the page to the heart? Is it the duty of a writer to forge understanding by presenting difficult ideas in plain English, even at the risk of cogency? Or is it up to the reader to lift up, so to speak, their intellectual arsenal, in order to encounter first hand the wisdom hidden behind the words? These question seem important ones to me, for freedom from suffering is at stake here.

If philosophy is to be important to future generations, it must be important for future generations. It must speak to them in such a way as to seem important, even when difficult. For it is only when we see the doing of philosophy as important to community, important to the future of persons, that we will be interested in investing in its comprehension. Therefore, I believe, clarity is dependent on both reader and writer. Writers should strive for clarity at every turn. Making certain, to the best of his or her ability, what is said is as clear as it might be. This means, using the language (up to a point) of the day. Indeed, if your writing does not “speak” you run the risk of becoming the intellectual equivalent of a drunken shadow-boxer ranting at passers-by. Yet, readers of philosophy, too, have a responsibility to do some heavy lifting  to bring meaning from the page. To borrow something of a Heideggerian turn of phrase: To bring Understanding to understanding is to bring Being to being.


News, Updates and a Timely Message – December 2009

So, it has been a while since the last post. I promise this one will be less obscure. Since we last spoke His Holiness the Dalai Lama has visited Australia. Sydney in fact is where the teachings were held. Unfortunately I do not have any photos from the event. I spent the week traveling from just near Gosford to Sydney with friends. 90 minutes in a car each way, was, believe it or not, alot of fun. I got to see parts of NSW I have not seen and we spent most of that time in discussion on Buddhist philosophy, meditation and university politics. My friends – (Daniel and Ally) are also attemting PhDs. Daniel in philosophy, while Ally (Daniels wife) is doing philology at Harvard. The teachings were fantastic and I met several old friends as well as new ones. I should make particular mention to Ross Bennetts, an old reader of this blog. Even if it was a rather short chat, it was nice to met you, Ross.

 

At the same time as the teachings by His Holiness were taking place, there was a conference on Mind and Its Potential going on across the road. On day two of that conference HHDL participated in a panel discussion. As sangha were given free tickets to this event many of us joined His Holiness at the conference. The panel was chaired by Natasha Mitchell from the ABC radio program – All in the Mind. You can download the MP3’s from this panel discussion here: Dialogue with the Dalai Lama Part 1 and part 2 with part 3 to come next week, I believe. Particularly listen for Alan Wallace as his training as both a meditator and researcher, I believe, sets him apart from the other Western academics on the panel.

 

Upon my return to Hobart I emailed Allan to let him know just how much I admired his work. I had met Alan early in 2009 at the Mind and Life conference I attended in Dharamsala. In the email conversation that ensued, several exciting things came out as a result. And although things may change in the future, particularly as i need to check stuff with my teachers – including HHDL, it seems as if Tasmania might just be an ideal place to setup a meditation research center. A center where both contemplative practices and science takes place. Although, there are no firm details as yet, so do not get too excited. Suffice to say, I am 100% behind this project and more details as this particular dependent arising, arises! Here is a little of what I had to say: “I also agree that “contemplative observatories” are vital in the ongoing collaboration between Eastern and Western thought. As you know, there is a movement in the Western philosophical tradition, albeit very small, which sees meditation as an important tool in the investigation of consciousness. However, I think what is also needed is for these meditators to be people trained, to some extent at least, in both traditions, for reporting requires a level of critical analysis and articulation that comes from study.” He agreed, adding that HHDL calls such types “hybrids”.

 

Next in my month of madness (that is, too busy to even get proper sleep) was the visit by His Holiness to the University of Tasmania. His Holiness was here to show support for the exchange program between Utas and the Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, India. During the visit HHDL spoke on topics such as secular ethics, population control, and faith based not on simple minded believe, but rather, faith based on critical analysis and reasoning. Saying (paraphrasing a little): “it is imperative that faith is based on reasoning, for without this as a foundation, at some point in time faith will be tested and it is easy to be spiritual when things are going well. Not so, when thing are not.

 

HH Dalai Lama khata offering after lunch

From what I can tell the audience was most pleased with what HHDL had to say. One PhD student telling me later that he was not what she had expected. She said and I quote he was “quite pragmatic”. She particularly liked what HHDL had to say on the worlds population. Which was basically that for a sustainable future we should make sure that population numbers are kept under control. He also went on to provide a solution for birth control by saying that Buddhist monks and nuns were proof of a viable solution. Although, this was somewhat of a joke. I, in fact, think HHDL really does believe this. As the spiritual vocation of monkhood and nunhood is a very rewarding and comfortable lifestyle. It is not as austere as you may think.

 

Anyway, back to the story. After this HHDL presented a Tibetan nun Ani Sonam with a scholarship. This was the first time she had met HHDL and she was very nervous. She was not told of this presentation until the morning of the visit. Seems this was a wise move. Then, lunch with the Dalai Lama. Yes, I had lunch with His Holiness. The photos above are from that meeting. There was about 6 of us from the School of Philosophy. Although I was supposed to be there as a photographer, I ended up being given lunch and told to sit near HHDL. What an honour, even if I felt totally uncomfortable about eating with him. I had rice and curry, if you are wondering. After eating we each presented HHDL with a khata and photos were taken. Then, we were off to the entertainment center in Hobart for HHDL public talk. At this point even more extraordinary good fortune fell at my feet, as I was able to ride to the Hobart entertainment center with HHDL’s entourage. Upon arriving at the entertainment center the bus pulled into the rear of the center and the gates were locked behind us for security. So, I find myself with HHDL and entourage for the next hour moving through various backrooms of the entertainment center as HHDL speaks to politicians, reporters and others. It was an amazing turn of events, I must say. All I was looking for was a lift to the public talk. Now, I found myself following His Holiness, witnessing his incredible ability to engage people from all levels. The activities of a Buddha, no doubt about it. As I said to one of the Professors earlier in the day HHDL is a template for our practice. That is, he embodies wisdom, compassion and power. These words, for me, have taken on a new and profound meaning after being witness to the events that took place that day. He is, what I would like to be – a Buddha.

 

AABS Conference University of Sydney 2009

The day after His Holiness’ visit to Tasmania I was back to Sydney for the 2009 Australian Association of Buddhist Studies (AABS) conference held at the University of Sydney. At this point I should apologize to Arwen – a long term supporter for not finding the time to visit her and her family. Sorry, Arwen! Next time, I promise to find the time. The fact is I could have filled another day or even two with activities of various kinds. Alas airline tickets meant I could not extend my visit.

 

The conference was well attended by professional academics and grad students from all over Australia and from New Zealand also. I gave a paper on Tsongkhapaian personal identity which was well received. That is to say, there was not too much descent from the participates. Needless to say, it was a fun event, held at a wonderfully old university, one in which, photo opts were amply abundant.

 

It has been an incredible year, marked largely by change. Traveled to India; almost died; had a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama; attended a Mind and Life conference inside His Holiness’s private residence; was told to move to Tasmania (a different state) being told: “it is important for your future”; left my monastery of 14 years ; received university backed stipend funding ; had lunch with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and offered a job. A year of change, indeed.

 

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has emailed or written me and generally shown their support for my projects in various ways. I truly appreciate your kindness and friendship. Without your help I would not be in the position I am today. I also wish you, and your families, seasons greetings. And I look forward to hearing from you in the new year. As for me. I will go into retreat for a short while over the break. Cannot tell you what the retreat is on as it is secret. Although it is pretty cool.

 

So, with all that said, I say goodbye and good luck. And I leave you with a most inspirational video, that for me, embodies the Bodhisattva path. See you all again in 2010 – Clarke Scott.