Saturday, October 08, 2005

Yo, lama

At the risk of sounding like a jerk, being a lama is not that big a deal. This realization becomes more clear after spending time in a Tibetan community. Anybody with a sponsor who can stay in school 12 years can be a lama - and for most Asians it seems to be second nature to stay in school, follow orders, don't ask questions, and get that piece of paper. Then you get the title "lama." (It would be a much bigger challenge for a Westerner.) They are walking the streets here, so they no longer seem exotic. I shared a taxi with one last night who kept hitting on me (and this one was a shaven monk in robes). Then there was the one who told me he wanted my body - and that was standing in front of the Maitreya statue in the lakhang of his monastery. Dharmsala is full of Tibetan guys hoping to get a foreign wife and a green card, trading on the Tibetan mystique the same way Indians did in the 60s and 70s.

My friend maintains that part of this (extracurricular monk behavior) is because so many monks are now Bhutanese and Nepalese, that the Tibetans are "different." Somehow, considering the more relaxed Tibetan attitudes toward sexuality, I doubt this. To be fair, I guess there are lamas and then there are Lamas. Also, definition of the word Lama seems to vary between the Buddhist schools. In some places anyone in robes is called Lama; in others only a current incarnation of a previously highly evolved soul gets this title.

Most of the Western Buddhists I meet here appear to be very miserable people. Is that what happens when you focus on Emptiness so much? I confess that I don't find it a terribly motivating concept. A great deal of the Baby Buddhists' motivation appears to be Being Part of Something Cool, particularly the younger ones who got involved once Tibetan Buddhism was already trendy. But they're just so gosh-darn cute and squeaky-clean "dharmic." I love the way they know nothing about Hinduism and the fact that Buddhism came from Hinduism (as much a shock to some of them as, say, telling most Christians that Jesus was actually a Jew.) They also assume an innate piousness on the part of ethnic Tibetans, who to me appear nothing if not terminally tough and practical.

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