Sarnath and SINI
We are staying at the Sarnath International Nyingma Institute.
SINI is an amazing complex built brick by brick, literally, by a handful of volunteers.
While the final product is the result of hundreds of people it was driven by one powerful and stunning woman, Tsering Gellek, Tsering (think Serene) is the leader, but more importantly the heart of what you see and feel here.
SINI has four buildings, the temple, the school, and then two wings of boarding. One for volunteers, and guests and the other for the monks that board here on a three-year program.
SINI has many purposes, but the one that I related to best is the English for Dharma purpose.
This program is a three-year long program, for both students and teachers and designed to provide students from Tibetan monasteries with complete English language immersion both residentially and academically.
These monks sit daily with the staff not only in classrooms but in the dining hall and out and about on field trips or daily errands into town.
This is where I ran straight into a western prejudice and more importantly a western privileged way of thinking.
When in Tibet, these monks learn by rote. They can recite the sutras beautifully in their own native language, and then many can continue to do so in Sanskrit and/or Pali, but that is where we diverge radically.
When you are taught by rote, you know the words, but do you know the actual meaning of the words? Do you understand what is behind the words that you speak?
When you learn by rote, do you understand that to question is the greater path to learning?
When you learn by rote do you really learn anything at all?
I have spoken to the teachers about how rewarding and yet difficult it is to teach in these circumstances.
This is NOT a discussion on the students, this is a discussion on the concept of learning and how we are taught effects what we are taught.
This is Khyenrab Wozher. Last night he asked what state in the United States I was from, and I told him California.
He instantly said Fire! We are just coming off of the worst fires in Northern California where so many people in the Sonoma/Napa area lost their homes and some their lives.
Khyenrab knew of the fires because they had held a prayer session during the fires, he then insisted that since I was from the area and could smell the smoke that I was very brave to have been in such a dangerous situation.
I attempted to explain that I lived far away but he still was very concerned.
We then had a discussion of the how and why of fire. It is difficult to explain to someone that comes from an area where underbrush is not the most prevalent part of your forest system, and where dryness is the definitely not the norm how a small fire can become a raging fire in just moments. Khyenrab spent a lot of time questioning me and trying to learn.
He asked, what kills fire? I tried to explain that water kills fire, but then one must explain the concept of giant fire hoses and even the idea that airplanes can drop water from the sky. If you had a video it would be simple, but over the dinner table, it is an entirely different skill set for both of us to understand each other.
I was so heartened by his kindness and moved by his intense desire to learn.
SINI is a very special place and my hats are off to each and everyone one that is here, out of the kindness of their hearts, to better the lives of others through their contributions of time and love.
My special thanks to Renatta for sharing her room, her knowledge and her kindness, to Patricia for her eagerness to help me understand the learning process at SINI, to Doug for his laughter and to Andy for his downright American wholesomeness and joy and Todd for helping me teach about fire.