Art and locality – Ladakh

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On Aug 13, we attended a local monastic festival and witnessed a beautiful ceremony of first having the site purified of obstacles. Then in the second part of the ritual having offerings in the honor of Padmasambhava by each one of the companions. 

The most remarkable sacred art that we saw in Ladakh was at Alchi Monastery. Alchi Monasteries have the oldest surviving paintings in Ladakh and are famous for the special wall paintings and terracotta sculptures.

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 The reason for the survival of such old paintings, from 11th century, is for the dry and cold weather in Ladakh. The complex also had stupas that you could walk through and look up at the mandala structure above and find detailed wall paintings. 

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The Manjushri temple had a huge terracotta statue in the center with 4 families of the Buddhas on each side and one in the center. In the Lotsa temple, the style of the paintings was different from what previously we had seen in other monasteries, meaning there was a clear influence from Indo-Buddhist art. The influence was seen in the robes the buddhas were wearing, the style and structure of their faces, and how their bodies were shaded.

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Sumtsek Temple, Alchi Monastery, Ladakh, India

The artists of this murals had to be very careful of the proportions of the buddhas, as they were an image people would meditate on and use in their spiritual practice.  The artists were mostly anonymous and most religious art were to be done for commissions of creating good karma. The art is made not for fame, meaning it will either be on the walls working as visual dharma, or it will be destroyed (sand mandalas) or put in stupas.

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Talking about sacred art artists, we had the rare opportunity of meeting a traditional thangka painter at his local home in Ladakh.

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He graciously explained his process of stringing the cotton canvas to the frame, gessoing the surface with a special material, and then working on a grid for the painting. The proportions has to be perfect, otherwise it will cause bad karma for the artist. The best paint is from natural powders and what he actually uses.

After he’s done with a painting or series of paintings, he would then create the proper silk cover on the front, rooting from Tibet’s nomadic culture, for the convenient of display and transportation.

For this series that he was currently working on, he was commissioned by a Frenchman, whom followed the kagyu school of buddhism.

 

 

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Details of the cotton based canvas stretched to the board while the artist works on the painting.

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The initial sketched grid of the paintings is shown on the left.

As the Buddhist Vajrayana practitioner (esoteric path of Buddhism) uses a thangka image for a point of reference/focus and guide in his mediation, he visualizes himself as being the center deity to further internalize the Buddha qualities. For such reason, the artist has absolutely no flexibility in creating the imagery (besides the small details of flowers and background clouds) and has to follow the existing scripts.

The thangka painters used to not sign their names on the paintings, as they only painted thangkas not for fame and money, but for their religious obsession, creating good karma, and spiritual practice while painting. However, only recently they have been mandated to put their names on their paintings.

Another fascinating fact is that the artist does not put a price on the series of paintings but they accept whatever the client pays. If the artist fixes a price, he’s not purely doing it for religious practices.

IMG_5580-2The artist has signed his name on the bottom right corner of the painting.

On the last evening of being in Ladakh, we had the honor of visiting our host’s local house. The mother of the family graciously greeted us with butter tea and homemade Ladakhi cookies, as well as freshly picked apricots from their garden. This visit was extra special for me because the host were a muslim family and I got a chance to ask them questions about their practice, as well as communicate with them with the similar written languages of Farsi and Urdu.

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Mother of the family making us traditional butter tea by the stove.

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The structure and interior of their house was made all by local wood and very delicate Ladakhi tradition of craftsmanship -all handmade.

The harmony of architecture and nature in Ladakh was indeed one of a kind. From how houses and monasteries were build in the valleys and along the mountains, to the interior of structures all made by hand and from the local resources.

 

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Local workers extracting rocks while constructing a new road.

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During our last days in Ladakh, we visited a farm house close to Shanti Stupa, in the outskirt of Leh’s green valley. The building on the property was build from local materials, expect for the glass that had been imported. Taking out the glass, they could recycle and rebuild the house by only using materials from the property.

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Also, the food that we were served for dinner, breakfast, and lunch was all provided locally from the farm, with the exception of sugar and rice (that could not be harvest there due to the high altitude).

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Early in the morning during our stay in the farm, the 4 of us made a hike up to the valleys and saw a herd of yaks feeding on the grass grown on the riverside, and a herd of bharals (Himalayan blue sheeps) running across the valley with phenomenal natural camouflage with the mountains.

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Retrospective: Pearl of the Orient

Looking back to my stay in Shanghai and feeling  little guilty for my delayed diary entry about it, I can’t help but feel a strange sense of nostalgia. The city, as advanced and cosmopolitan as it is, lingers on a heavy scent of history. Even its diversity stems from a geo-historical context.

The Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre is dedicated to showcasing the composition of the city. It stands in the city centre, beside People’s Park.

The climate was misty, characteristic of the water bound city.

It is rated a National AAAA class Tourist Attraction and National Science Education Base. The emphasis of urban planning education is evident in Shanghai, and the fact that similar exhibition centres exist in other renowned cities and towns such as Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Chongqing suggests that the government recognizes its importance.

The juxtaposition of tradition Shanghainese Nongtang (in a Shanghainese accent it sounds like Longtang) creates a hybrid of Shikumen architecture. It intrigues me, and opens me to new perspectives — perhaps the invasion of foreign architecture can spark something new, and local. 

Even the Chinese characters, the architecture speaks a different language entirely. Here, it is a mark of the city’s history and the foundation for what proceeds.

Ladakh – Little Tibet

 

Watching the rare documentary of The Yogis of Tibet offered a great insight into the ancient culture and practice of Tibetan throughout the years in Tibet and after their refuge to other regions. The hardship of their external environment allowed them to look inside and practice their daily rituals.

The presence of Ladakhi military against the Chinese army and for being part of the Jammu and Kashmir region was indeed very much felt. However, being in Ladakh and getting a sense of the Tibetan culture was an extraordinary experience.

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We were so honored and blessed to be able to attend two of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teaching in Ladakh on August 8th and 9th.

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On Aug 8th, His Holliness visited Saboo and Stok Villages in Ladakh and initiated the opening ceremony of Ngari Institute of Buddhist Dialectics at Saboo in Ladakh, which had been constructed by the instruction of His Holiness as to integrate traditional buddhists and modern education for the benefit of the people of Ladakh and other Himalayan regions.

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His Holiness the Dalai Lama talked about the need of education on compassion versus on the materials in today’s world. Despite of the differences in religions, all have the same message of self discipline and compassion, and all practice love, tolerance, and forgiveness. He emphasized that doing rituals and mantras are not solely enough and one should learn the philosophy and think about the process.

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Ladakhi Women in their traditional attire doing a dance at the end of the ceremony.

It was such a traditional, intimate, local ceremony and pure bliss that we could attend and be able to sit in the foreigners’ section with an English translator on the spot. Learning about how the local people dress and participate in such ceremonies, as well as being at the presence of His Holiness was priceless.

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During the ceremony, everyone was graciously served with traditional Tibetan tea (butter tea) and a small serving of  Dresil, Tibetan sweet rice. The hospitality and generousness of the people in Ladakh was indeed one of a kind. 

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On Aug 9th, we made an early departure to the Thiksey monastery for another public gathering of local people, Buddhist monks and nuns, and students with the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

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All streets were decorated with new or old prayer flags, locals were sweeping the streets to greet such an honorable guest, and the spirit of the villages and people were immensely high in spirituality.

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Such a blissful experience to be there! After getting there around 7 am, we were able to rest and watch the crowds come in and settle.

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The ceremony began by different talks by lamas and sheikhs, and a few debates by the student monks. The debates were on how sound is connected to consciousness and whether teachings on Buddhism need to be of the Mahayana tradition. The 101st Ganden Tripa, Khensur Lungri Namgyel Rinpoche gave a talk on the importance of leaving the materials for curing sufferings. He mentioned that today, despite of many nations having access to nuclear weapons, we as the people need to overcome our greeds in order to make a right living and avoid conflicts and upcoming of natural disasters. By examining what brings good or bad experiences, we need to find what causes religious harmony. 

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Both Sheikh Javed of the Shia Muslim Community and the Molvi of the Sunni Muslim Community gave talk before His Holiness, “The Jewel of Wisdom,” emphasizing on the importance of being sincere in the practice of all religions and reaching happiness in this life or beyond this life.

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During his speech, His Holiness the Dalai Lama talked about the importance of removing the distinctions between us humans from religion to nationality and realizing that we are all one. He said instead of considering himself as The Dalai Lama or a Tibetan or a Buddhist, he thinks of himself as a human being just like others.

He considered Ladakh as a unique place that all religions are co-existing together (among Buddhists, Shia Muslims, Sunnis, Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs) and for this reason Ladakh should be a beacon of light for the rest of the world in learning about tolerance and diversity. It’s disheartening that religion has become one of the causes for conflicts around the world.

A Muslim event happening on Aug 14 nearby a Monastery we visited.

An Islamic event happening on Aug 14 nearby a Monastery we visited.

Also, he addressed the buddhists that having blind faith and practice is not enough, and they have to study and challenge Buddhism philosophy. He also mentioned that in Tibetan Refugee school, he’s asked to changed the religious teacher to philosophy teacher, showing the importance of thinking in learning the religious materials.

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During the break for lunch, we visited the phenomenal Thiksey monastery and the 49 ft high statue of Maitreya inside the red building (2 stories high). 

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After the lunch break, there was a Q&A session for 350 students from Leh and His Holiness. A student asked about achieving peace when there are so much violence in the world. Again His Holiness emphasized on respecting and treating all humans as humans despite of their faith and religion. All humans strive to be happy.

Another question was about the difference of treating animals in Buddhism and having offerings in Islam. His Holiness gave a detailed answer describing the lack of vegetation in Tibet in old days and how monks cannot demand a specific food from the lay people, putting it in perspective.

On this ceremony too we were served with butter tea and sweet rice, and again such an honor to be present with the local people on such a high teaching and important gathering.

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Ladakhi Women in their traditional attire.

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On Aug 12, we made a visit to the Tibetan Children’s Village at Choglamsar, Leh Ladakh. After the Chinese invasion in 1959, genocide of Tibetan people, and upon the refuge of His Holiness and 100,000 Tibetan into exile, His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognized the need of a cultural and educational center for Tibetan refuges in order to preserve the Tibetan culture and traditions. Tibetan Children’s Village in Ladakh was founded in 1975 and offered education and home stays to young students and families.

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We were able to join a classroom when they were having philosophy (changed from religion topic to philosophy). We talked with different students and the range of interests and activities were really amazing. Some were running in Leh’s Marathon on September 11 and were super excited. A talented girl sang the song “like you” by Justin Bieber and dazzled us with her voice. Two girls showed us how they practice yoga and aerobic in school. It was an amazing experience talking to each student and learning about their interest. A lot of the students favored English and writing as their main subject. This was a senior class and they told us about the universities they will be transferring to next semester. Some were to be together and some were sad to separate due to the difference majors they had chosen.

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Toward the end of our visit, we went to a home stay that housed 20 students with a local family. All children contributed to housework and gardening.

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Ladakh Monasteries – Heaven on Earth

 

I don’t even know how to put my experience in Ladakh in words. My days in Ladakh has been amazingly unbelievable. I had very little access to wifi every few days, so here is my belated post.

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Located by the Indus River and on the silkroad, Ladakh used to have an important strategic location, which however today is dwindled and is mainly visited for tourism.

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Ladakh is absolutely a unique place, in the sense of nature, co-existence of cultures and religions, and its people. The manifestation of peace and harmony was present all around in people’s behavior and the fabric of Leh and villages. The Tibetan buddhists (Tibetan and Ladakhi), the Muslims (Sunni and Shia), and the Hindu were in complete agreement with each other. Ladakh’s two main cities are Leh and Kargil, the first mainly practice Tibetan Buddhism and the latter mostly Shia Islam.

Mosque1Mosque2Both Sunni and Shia Mosques are on the main street of Leh with a 300 feet radius.

Their devotion to religion, specifically Himalayan Buddhism, is portrayed in both people’s respectful behavior and all around Ladakh in forms of prayer flags, stupas, mani walls, and praying wheels. I will dedicate an entire post to depicting this devotional manifestation in daily practices and rituals all around Ladakh.

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After getting acclimated to the high altitude (over 9,800 ft) for the first day, we as the program studying Himalayan Buddhism philosophy and sacred art, visited a different monastery in Leh each morning and afternoon and had a relevant lecture/discussion in the monasteries.

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On Aug 6, at Spituk Gompa, we had a lecture on the introduction to Buddhism, different schools of its philosophy, Siddhartha Shakyamuni, and the process of his enlightenment and his teachings.  Interestingly enough, this day was the first day that Shakyamuni Buddha began teaching the Dharma around 500 BCE.

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In the afternoon of Aug 6, we focused on the spread of Buddhism in Tibet in the 5-7th Century, the widespread replacement of Tibetan ancient religion, Bon faith with buddhism, and the creation of tibetan language off sanskrit to translate indian buddhist concepts.

At the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa  a sacred painting of the Buddha was analysed and each element and symbol was introduced. Inside the temple was an amazing great statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha.

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Namgyal Tsemo Gompa was located on top of a mountain on the outskirts of the valley and offered a phenomenal view of Leh.

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Hemis Monastery (also known as The Lone place of the Compassionate One) is an ancient monastery honoring Padmasambhava annually in June with its well-known festivals. This monastery offered a great classroom for learning about the sacred art of the wheel of life, wrathful deities, and the philosophy behind each symbol.

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It’s amazing how by knowing the symbols of visual dharma, one can internalize the concepts through practice and looking at the art -manifestation of the philosophy.

At the Samker Gompa, we practiced and studied the mind in Buddhism through meditation.

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At the Stakna Gompa, overviewing the Indus River, we started our focus on Mahayana Buddhism, on the Lam Rim and Lama Tsongkhapa: three principal aspects of the path.

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During our trips to different monasteries, we had a local high lama, Genla, with us and it was such a phenomenal experience talking to him and being around his humbleness.

Genla was a monk at the Lama Yuru (Yungdung) Monastery, which is one of the largest and oldest gompas in Ladakh. It is situated on a mountain overviewing one of the wonders of Ladakh, lamayuru, the moonland of Ladakh. The mountains are some of the last remaining depths of former mediterranean sea.

 

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Lama Yuru (Yungdung) Monastery, similar to a lot of other monasteries in Leh was built on/within a mountain, secluded from society. The coexistence and balance of nature versus man made structures are absolutely amazing in Ladakh. Even the traditional architecture is respecting nature and what exists priorly.

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Lama Yuru (Yungdung) Monastery had amazing art works at the entrance and inside. The sacred art works as visual dharma, depicting the teachings in other ways than words. Learning the imagery and symbols are very empowering and all has meanings. Inside the temple was the cave where master Nāropā meditated in his time.

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Outside overviewing Lamayouro village and the moonland mountains, there were a series of ancient stupas, chakras, and prayer flags. 

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At the Likir Monastery, we learned more about imagery symbols used in the murals of the sacred art, as well as death meditation with a focus on impermanence.

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At the Rizong Monastery, one of the most secluded monasteries, we observed beautiful murals inside the monastery and did a very powerful meditation on mothers and an attempt on visualizing all beings as our mothers in the past. I am speechless of the power of the compassion of the Tibetan Buddhists and how they envision other human beings and animals.

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We finished our visits to Ladakh’s monasteries at the magnificent Phyang Monastery. There were two different temples of ancient and modern, and the below pictures are from the modern temple. The murals inside the monastery all around depicts the life of Siddhārtha Gautama. We had a final discussion on the Correct View. 

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Gentle, Marketplace

Upon arrival in Suzhou, I went straight to the Urban Planning Centre. As I walked out of my uncle and aunt’s place (they so kindly put me up), I chanced upon this small alley and was immediately taken by its architecture.

Narrow, vaguely occupied, and the sound of motorcycles — the alley connects to The Master of Nets Garden (网师园).

The urban planning centre is beautifully designed. The guide gave us a thorough introduction to the way of the city. I was amazed by how the city balanced its new Industrial Park and the heritage architecture. The history of the city’s evolution was translated into models, while every bit of me hoped that such a comprehensive and thoughtful planning process will be given to every developing town in China. That the heritage is taken into account and not overshadowed by economics.

Then I arrived at a marketplace the following day. Some say that, if you can bargain for your best deal at a marketplace, you have aligned yourselves with the locals. The crowds of this market was roaring with gentle phonetics of the Suzhou dialect. I compared its organization to that of the city’s layout.

There was something intuitive about how the market was tucked closed to a famous tourist shopping street. In between were small streets filled with vendors selling street food.

Temples and Diversity – New Delhi

 

The more I stay in New Delhi, the more I feel the similarity between here and my hometown Tehran. I love that I can identify like this and go back to my traits before moving to the US. I had missed risking every minute of precious life walking across the streets and highways with no red lights, having streams of cars pouring from all over. Being alive becomes much more valuable. My favorite time was close to Dilli Haat, a tourist shopping center that I met a classmate from Parsons, and the cars didn’t stop at the red light only because it was intended for people passing the street and not any cars crossing intersection. When we were about 7 people waiting to cross, the group started to shout at the cars and stop them, pointing their arms at the cars. I tagged along with them and successfully crossed the victorious achievement of the crowd. Power of people!

Walking places, using the bus and uberpool has offered me a lot of insight into the daily life of people here. 

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Uberpool passengers have offered me tips on restaurants, places to visit, and just normal things I wouldn’t notice. The other day I met two locals through uberpool and they pointed out to me the two Kanwariyas that were passing by the cars. That’s when I found out about Kanwar Yatra, which is an annual pilgrimage of devotees of Shiva. The devotees’ journal folds as walking from their town to Gangas river and bringing back water in their pots carried by Kavad (a bamboo pole) to their temple. The ritual came from when Ravana, a follower of Shiva, meditated and brought the water to sooth Shiva the negative suffering energy caused by the poison he inhaled. Such a powerful cause and journey! After knowing this, I could spot the tents and spots designated for Kanwariyas across town by volunteering organizations, providing them food and rest stations. The journey could be done alone, with another fellow, or even through different groups (I heard some even have a cart carrying music and deejays!).

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Also, talking to locals lead me to knowing about the Amarnath temple, and how they described it was somehow different from what I later read on the Internet. They described the temple as a destination that devotees go to, and the journey to the temple is from harsh mountain roads that hundreds of people die each year either due to road accidents or falling off the cliffs since animals take up on the roads. When I read about it as one of the holiest shrines of Hinduism, I thought it’s very rad that due to its location, it is covered in snow most of the year and during a short period (a month or two) is in season for pilgrims. And the ice stalagmite created inside the cave is the purpose of worship and indeed where Shiva revealed the secret of life and eternity. Another amazing story about this temple is that between the Middle Ages and the 15th century, the cave was forgotten and under water/snow and was rediscovered by a shepherd.

In India, I feel a very strong sense of rituals in most things I observe around me. People live their religions passionately and devoutedly. I visited the Jagannath Temple in Hauz Khas and every single person’s behavior is with certainty to his practice. I feel to understand Hinduism or Jainism, you have to practice it through your daily life with strong devotion.

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When I visited Akshadarham, from checking my bag to the cloakroom, to entering the corridors of the place, entering the holy temple, and indeed walking around it, all felt very ritualistic to me, as even me, a foreigner was doing a pilgrimage. The three exhibition at Akshadarham offered a great introduction to India’s 10000 years culture and philosophy and specifically learning about Swaminarayan, his journey through life, and what had been in him that has inspired thousands of people. The temple has been built by 11,000 artisans and volunteers during five years and the craftsmanship of the stone structure (no steel) is pretty wondrous. Akshadarham is the World’s Largest Comprehensive Hindu Temple and by followers it is known as “a temporal home of God on earth.” Unfortunately, no phones or cameras could be taken inside the site. No words can describe the manifestation of passionate belief.

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The most powerful and mystic experience that I’ve had so far has been in the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib. When entering the temple, there was a place behind the kitchen that food and edibles were donated and for each day, thousands of people were freely fed. People passionately were donating their resources and time, working and helping (service to humanity). Everyone from all religions and casts are welcomed inside; all have to cover their head and bow to the Holy Book. Upon entering the temple, the spirit and the atmosphere was felt very sacred and reminded me of the notion of Darśana . Sikhism starting as a movement in 15th century to unite the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus and turning into its own religion combining the two is really awing. From Islam the monolithic God is deriving and from Hinduism the notions of the cycle of life and incarnation. I am AMAZED that such thing exists. Upon leaving the temple, a bite of sweetness (tasted like Halva to me) was being given to leave there with a sweet taste of God. They believe in living spirituality and leading an active life in society, no celibacy and becoming monks since their goal is service to humanity. Daytime is to work, night is to rest, and early morning before dawn is for prayer. Salvation can be achieved by earning an honest living in a normal life. And interestingly, they do not believe in idol-worshiping, rituals, or superstitious.The five symbols (K) that they follow are Kesha (unshorn hair, to respect nature of the body), Kangha (a comb), Kara (a steel bracelet), Kachha (a pair of shorts), and Kirpan (a sword). Seeing those who apply all are very easy since they are united in their uniform and this gives a real sense of brotherhood. When I was googling “Sikhism and haircut” (such irony!), I came upon a documentary on 6 different Sikh people (mostly young generations) who have cut their hair. Seeing that allowed me to get a better sense of their beliefs and traditions, as it was depicted how their families react to their decision.

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What Akshadarham  and The Sikh Temple has depicted to me is the existence of such strong and powerful spirituality in a leader or guru that years and centuries after, millions of people are still influenced and touched.

Taste of Home

The small independent shops may be gaining popularity in Williamsburg, where millennials who wish to stand out from the mainstream consumers patronize. Here, in the small town of Shantou, it is the backbone of many households, the fabric of neighbourhoods.

This old beancurd store is a specialty in Shantou. It began with the owner selling a bucket a day on a cart. As his business grew thanks to word of mouth, he started selling two buckets. Then, demand grew as the  word spread and Shantou prospered, and now they have a storefront standing in the old neighbourhood of the city.

I managed to catch the last two bowls of the day at 4:40pm on a Saturday after a little begging with the current owner, whose father started the business. Now, this store is known by every Shantou resident.

Here is a old sesame and almond paste store. Their green bean cake is also famous, handmade daily without preservatives. I prefer their sesame cake though, much stronger in character.

These old stores exist in old, old buildings. To think that Shantou is in a earthquake and tsunami zone. I can never imagine what will become of my birthplace should nature strike. I worry for the safety of the residents and business owners. And the comforting culture that this delicate landscape supports.

 

 

Tibet House and Ladakh Buddha Vihara – New Delhi

Visiting The Tibet House in New Delhi was indeed an experience. I once visited the museum of The Tibet House on the second floor, and was lucky to visit for the second time and attend a sacred ceremony of ‘Aspirational Bodhisattva Vow’ for the late Tsering Chungdak. It was such a different experience I’ve ever had, religiously or generally. As part of attending the ceremony, one commits to not to harm others but help with best of one’s ability. It marked the seventh week of her passing and the session pledged for her peaceful transition to a favourable rebirth, once again as a student of the Buddha’s teachings, for the benefit of all dear mother sentient beings.”

Tibet House Sacred Ceremony

From the moment the Director of Tibet House, Ven. Geshe Dorji Damdul step in the room, there was a sacred spirit in the atmosphere and the session passed by reciting some passages of “Prayer and Meditation Manual” published by The Tibet House., and then meditating for Tsering Chungdak and the rest of the world. The guidelines of the meditation were indeed poetic, peaceful, and imaginative.

The Tibet House itself was very persistence in preserving the culture, heritage, and race of Tibet, specifically after the invasion of Tibet in 1959 by the Communist Chines. The Tibet House explores and expands Tibetan Buddhism, as well as adapting to the modern world and new means of contribution to the world. During the sacred ceremony that I attended, very much time and attention was spend for all the current terrors that is happening all over the world, and that was very powerful for me.

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The library and the museum preserve Tibetan artifacts and books and by visiting them, a sense of nostalgia is created, for its sensitivity to being preserved. Among the rare sculptures, the Mahasuddhas (Teachers of vajrayana buddhism) vey much seemed fascinating to me, as the chose Unorthodox paths to enlightenment and meditating in cremation grounds among the corpses to go beyond fear of death.

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During my stay in New Delhi, I also visited the Ladakh Buddha Vihara, a temple next to a community of Tibetan refugees (or at least what was saying on the sign of the entrance).  I got off the subway at Kashmere Gate and had a 20 minutes walk to the place by the side of two highways that some people were resting/living on their sides. Kind of freaked out by the walk, I entered first the monastery market and then found  my way to the Buddha Vihara.

Ladakh Buddha Vihara Temple

Such a peaceful and quiet place, words in their literal meanings! The Tibetan ‘Chakras’ on the monastery walls grabbed my attention that could be rolled by the visitors. Inside, resides a large statue of Lord Buddha and the walls are decorated by large paintings and artifact of Tibetan art. This mystic experience along with the institutional experience of The Tibet House indeed very intrigued and excited me for my upcoming trip to Ladakh.

Ladakh Buddha Vihara Chakras

Art Scene – New Delhi

 

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The weather has been amazing since the past week. It’s either super hot and humid or rain is pouring down as infinite blessing (both catched in the photo above, Aug 2 4:15 PM). Apparently based on Skymetweather Delhi’s Monsoon rains has broken record this past weekend since the last 10 years! Not carrying an umbrella around and walking places has created a couple of incidents where I have been soaked wet and upon arrival to somewhere froze due to the high functioning AC’s indoors. Similar to the weather that is in a cycle of humidity and showers, one of the magics of India is you never know what you’ll stumble upon. It could be a community of inner-city slums or an Indian wedding, which you can hear the drums from distant.

 

I went to a couple of contemporary art galleries in Lado Sarai and had the chance to meet the artists from a curated group show named “As You Can See” at Exhibit 320. One of them was going to Art Institute of Chicago in the upcoming fall, and one of the other one had previously graduated from there. One of the artists, UBIK, talked to me about the current art market in India and how there are so few artists who do and appreciate contemporary art. Apparently the art market in India is solely in hands of a handful rich people, who have selected artists and styles and play the power roles. I think it’s almost the same thing around the world as the people with money have the power to make the artists’ reputations build or destructed by managing the market of what gets sold for how much. I vividly understood this when I saw the solo exhibition “A Hue of Devotion” by Ritu Gupta at India Habitat Centre. Her works were recognized as trade marks of Shades of India, and using traditional devotional art, she portrayed her meditations through traditional art and color, in her own style. She had reinterpreted characters and concepts such as NavDurga (enlightened women as source of infinite power), Navagraha (combination of myth and reality with flavours of hindu astrology), Mahakali (goddess of time, change, power, creation, preservation, destruction), and Lakshmi (goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity). Her attempt was to reinterpret this figures based on today’s modern life.

Seeing this exhibition that carried a heavy cultural background and conceptions, I felt moving away from traditional indian art that has been cultivating and so weaved in people’s lives and religion is very hard and frustrating (similar to how Italians tried to move away from their centuries of classical art and paintings through the Futurist movement at 1909). Having paintings and sculptures that resembles the essence of daily lives and committed religious practices, it takes a lot to move away from it as a nation and open to new ways of perception, for example conceptual art. At the National Museum, I had the chance to witness India’s rich history of 5000 years of craftsmanship through viewing different objects such as sculptures, miniature paintings, and religious artifacts and relics. I noticed some styles of making art is very specific to India and those mostly encapsulate local practices, rituals, and gods. The artifacts related to Buddhism for example, were indeed influenced from the areas like Pakistan and Afghanistan based on the centuries of influence. The miniature paintings were also a great representation of different variation of Indian miniatures and even included Persian miniatures with Farsi texts.

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The experience at the National Museum was topped with the special temporary exhibition of “Yoga in Indian Art.” It influenced me so much that a couple of days later when I went to the opening of the exhibition “Our Everyday Portraits” I unconsciously were trying to tie the traditional Indian Art to Shantala Palat’s contemporary paintings. Fascinating that just by knowing the artist is Indian, I was looking for cultural cues in her art. Later when I talked to her, she indeed was also surprised by my observation as an outsider to Indian culture and art. In my art classes at Parsons my teachers and classmates always mention that due to using cultural references in my work, they feel a barrier to understanding my point of view. However, I don’t intend that and always were upset about not being able to communicate my points without having a specific cultural mindset perceived for me. Now I understand this conception that being in the context of India, my mind was looking for cultural hints and distanced myself from what she might have truly meant. For example, I saw a resemblance between this ancient paintings of chakras and the yogic sitting pose and this piece of her that is very similar yet she did not intend for any references to Indian background.

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When talking to Shantala Palat, I got to meet Vaibhav Kaul, who is a Himalayan geographer, photographer, and environmental researcher. His recent exhibition ‘Two Bodies, One Soul: Glimpses of the Alps and the Himalayas’ was on view at India Habitat Center in June. 

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India Habitat Center was a very interesting and sustainable building, with beautiful gardens and contemporary outdoor sculptures by Indian artists. I also attended a free event on music and dance, provided by Swaraanjali Institute Of Dance, Drums And Harmonic Arts, and it was a great introduction on Hindustani classical vocal recital.

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Chapter Eight: Beijing + Homeward Bound

Bullet trains are fun. But what’s even more fun is getting shanzhai’d. That’s me and Jordenn’s new word for being scammed, since it’s such a present theme in the narrative that is our trip. It’s actually not all that fun (clarifying just in case the sarcasm didn’t come across).
We’ve been staying in Airbnb’s as a budget-friendly alternative to hotels, since some of the places we’re visiting can be costly. I was pretty excited when we found one for $37 USD a night right new Tiananmen Square. HA! I should’ve known. The day we got to Beijing was by far the worst we’ve had in China. Here are the highlights:
-our $37 Airbnb was nowhere near Tiananmen; after wandering for over and hour trying to find it, we got shipped out to the suburbs via cab for nearly 100 RMB to find the place we were supposed to call home
-upon arrival, the cab driver viciously yelled instructions at us in Mandarin, as if that was going to increase our comprehension of a language we don’t know—then he left
-our apartment was in a complex of rundown buildings that I wouldn’t pay $5 USD to stay in, let alone $37. The “hosts”—a few young kids hired by a company to deal with the guests, which clearly told us this was a full-on business—claimed there was an error with Airbnb and that’s why the map showed it being downtown
-after translating back and forth for 15 minutes, it was agreed that we would receive a full refund, so then we took a cab back to the city to find Wi-Fi and book a hotel
-KFC didn’t have Wi-Fi
-McDonald’s didn’t have Wi-Fi
-REalllllyl??!?
-Starbucks sort of had Wi-Fi
-The only hotel we could afford was an hour north of the city, but at least we had a bed (it was nearing 10 PM at this point, and we hadn’t eaten since that morning)
-After having dinner in the hotel restaurant, the manager stopped us from leaving as he claimed that our cash was fake
-WHAT
 
-Yep, it turns out that the cash we took out of an ATM in the Shanghai Metro was, in fact, counterfeit: shanzhai’d, part. II
So Beijing was a bit of a downer. To say the least, we’ve been a little discouraged over the past few days—trying to get money back from all these scams has been a hassle.
Nevertheless, we made it to the Forbidden Palace, the Silk Market (holy shanzhai), and Koolhaus’ CCTV Tower, observing and filming as we go. In the end, however, we learned much more about ourselves than the places we visited (our greatest observation being that we’ve got serious tenacity).
Jordenn and I spent our last hours before jetting off to different places grinding away on our video project—stay tuned for the final cut!
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