Happiness According to Yauch – The Project Happiness Interview with Adam Yauch

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Adam Yauch, aka MCA, is one of the founding members of the hip hop trio, the Beastie Boys. Inspired by his own extensive travels as well as the his interactions with the Dalai Lama, Adam became publicly passionate about the situation in Tibet and created “The Milarepa Fund” to help promote awareness and generate support around the world. He organized the first “Tibetan Freedom Concert” in San Francisco in 1996, which he followed with years of a similar series in the United States and worldwide. Yauch has influenced an entire generation of human souls to look deep within themselves in search of a greater truth and a peaceful, compassionate understanding of all that surrounds us.

Adam spoke with some of the students participating in Project Happiness to offer his thoughts on lasting happiness. This interview was edited for space and flow.

PROJECT HAPPINESS: I was wondering what your definition of happiness is, and whether it is in the long-term or short-term spectrum?

ADAM YAUCH: It is good that you’re making the distinction between short-term and long-term. I think there is

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Modern Society and Happiness Through the Eyes of His Holiness

Mercy Bisi Olatunji
Mercy Bisi Olatunji

Mercy Bisi Olatunji is one of the students from the original Project Happiness program. As part of their original curriculum, the students read and reviewed the Dalai Lama’s book Ethics for the New Millenium and discussed how it applied to their current situations.

As I study Chapter One of the Ethics for the New Millennium, three major issues come to my mind. The first and most important is the Dalai Lama’s handling and definition of genuine happiness, the nature of happiness and where it is located in the innermost part of our being. The second major issue that the Dalai Lama addresses is that the quest for happiness and avoidance of suffering and pain is a basic and fundamental human desire. Everyone wants and needs to be happy, but nobody wants to even contemplate suffering or pain. Thirdly, the Dalai Lama describes a practical reality in our lives; the fact that there is so much suffering and pain even though nobody wants to suffer. What an irony this is. So many people suffer and even go hungry in the midst of plenty or abundance.

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My Question

For my first question: how do you start a conversation about selfishness? Personally, I am torn on whether to classify selfishness as either good or bad. Being from a large family I subscribe to an ailment that others with similar situations would diagnose as Brady Bunch syndrome. For so long of the amount of people in my direct family made me feel suppressed in my emotions and even in my being. The first person pronoun “I” disappeared from my vocabulary and I’ve lived my life as a “we”. Now of course to someone who is especially lonely this would be a blessing more than a curse, but I find that these feelings of isolation and yearning to be noticed can sneak up even when in a crowded room or surrounded by those I love. These very confusing feelings make me reflect on how I truly feel but in order to reflect I retract from others and find myself in a state of what others would classify as selfish. So, in short I suppose my question is: Can reflection ever turn into selfishness and where is the line between excess and a healthy dosage of “me time”?

Hi ya’ll

Hi ya’ll my name is Nina! I’m a new member of the Project Happiness Team and am ready to try and spread the happy. I was part of the class at Mount Madonna School of which worked with Project Happiness back in the early days while the movie was being filmed and since then I have been trying to be conscious and track my feelings of happiness, sadness, and everything in between. I’m a born and raised California girl that has moved up and down the coast since birth so it’s pretty hard to find someone that I can’t relate to. I feel that it is our duty as “conscious” beings to embrace our emotions and really try to make ourselves healthy not only in our bodies but in our minds as well. To me the truest form of a person can only be seen when they decide to let down their defenses and succumb to the scariest feeling in the world which is vulnerability. Starting a conversation whatever it may be is the best diagnosis, in my opinion, to most people’s woes. As stated by Ernesto Cortez “Through confrontation the most is learned, so go ahead argue for the sake of education.” My mission in life is to bring people back to the essential the meaning of life: interaction, love, and happiness.

A Little Update

In a previous blog I talked about how I form connections with others. I didn’t know when to cut off ties with people. While the concept applies to everyone in my life, I was really talking about one person in particular. I think I know what I am supposed to do. I knew it then too but I wasn’t ready. I need to say goodbye to this person. I need to stop pouring my energy into them. I think I am ready to do this. I have some old friends and some new ones and they are going to have to fill the space I had given to this friend. It is so much easier to break a link when you know that your chain isn’t going to fall apart.

Open up.

1914076277_059bddaa68“The key is to get to know people and trust them to be who they are. Instead, we trust people to be who we want them to be- and when they’re not, we cry.” – Unknown

I was sitting in the park enjoying the sun. Not enjoying. I was feeling sorry for myself. I was wishing I could be somewhere else. I was hoping that I would be able to cry. It happens so infrequently for me. Crying is such an outpouring of emotion. I feel like I bottle up much of my emotion so when I am able to cry I feel vulnerable, human. I am scared of not being able to feel anything. 

As I am sitting, a man walked over and started to talk to me. We started talking about happiness. He said, “It is sad people feel like they have to be on guard all the time.” He seemed to think people aren’t happy because they are not open to others. I felt closed; I couldn’t find anything to say to him because he was a stranger and right away I was weary of him. If I had been crying I would have been open but would he have been so ready to start talking to me? 

I don’t know why I didn’t tell him the real reason I was there, why I was not happy. I feel like most people wouldn’t care. He might have. I’ll never know. And what if people did care? What if every one was just open with others? No secrets. A burden shared is half a burden so why is it such a scary thing to be honest? Even now I am not being completely honest. I haven’t said why I was sad. And I won’t but I don’t know why I wont say it. I realize that people trust all the time. It is the basis of society, economics, and religion. So why can’t I trust you out there? I think it is because I am scared that you wouldn’t approve in some way or judge me because of it. Most people seem to only want advice if it goes along with what they already think. I don’t want to share unless I know how it will be received, that I will be understood. I am sure my problems are similar to some of your problems and that people would understand. But I still don’t want to share. 

“The inability to open up to hope is what blocks trust, and blocked trust is the reason for blighted dreams.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Early Obama Pictures

So I was going through my mom’s old yearbooks from middle school and I found some early pictures of President Obama. I thought it would be fun to share them with you guys.

obama1obama_2obama_3obama_4

City Lights

looking-at-lightsWorry is a misuse of imagination.
– Dan Zadra

Last night I was sitting with a friend looking at the city lights. He asked me what I want to do, meaning what do I want to do with my life, where do I want to go. I didn’t have an answer. In that moment I didn’t want to think about life or goals or anything important. All I wanted to do was look at the lights.

When I didn’t answer he phrased it as “What would you never give up?” To me that is a completely different question and it doesn’t make much sense. I would never give up sleep but I can’t sleep for the rest of my life. I guess he meant what is the one thing that you love to do more then anything else. But that doesn’t correlate very well into a life plan. I like to watch movies and listen to music. I like to paint. But I do that all for myself. It is a very private thing to me. I can’t use my heart to make a living. That just seems weird to me.

I mean sure there are jobs I can do that involve these things and I figure that means that one of these jobs is my life goal. Working for a record company, a gallery, or a production company. It doesn’t seem that I would pick one of those jobs because I would enjoy it, even though I would enjoy it very much. I think I would pick one because it is what is expected of me. Yet it is expected because it is the smart way to go with my life. I don’t know why it bothers me so much to do the expected thing. It is almost like I am so scared of doing what others want and not what I want, that I won’t do anything. Even if the two are the same. It is really stupid of me.

My 20th Birthday

20

There is only one you… Don’t you dare change just because you’re outnumbered.
– Charles Swindoll

I am very happy right now. I am looking forward to this weekend very much. Monday is my birthday. I am ready to turn 20. I feel like it is time to stop being a teenager. I realize that it just a small thing; it is really just a word and the transition from teenager to adult happens when you are ready and not when you reach the age that society has decided. However, there is still much stigma attached to being a teenager, to being young.

Many of my friends are older than me. In the group I have taken the role of “the youngest”. It has worked for me. In some way it lets me get away with things, like not understanding what people are talking about or being quiet. It separated me from them in a way that I wanted. Being younger made it so that I didn’t have to be the same as them. But now I am ready to be the same. It had a lot to do with my confidence. I didn’t believe I was at their level so I made myself “younger”.

I am slowly coming to realize that there are no such things as levels. We are all on even ground and your physical or mental age has nothing to do with who you truly are. If you feel you belong somewhere, others will agree. You are who you are whether you are as smart as someone or as worldly or as outgoing. And however you are is perfectly fine as long as you never stop trying to become happier and improve yourself in your own eyes.

Can love for others become a bad thing?

porphyra
Man has no choice but to love. For when he does not, he finds his alternatives lie in loneliness, destruction and despair.  
– Unknown

I have been thinking a lot about my interactions with others lately. There are two main questions I have: 1. How do I form connections? And 2. When does it become important to break past connection? Some of my thoughts:

1. It is not that I can’t make friends or even that I am too shy to be the first to talk, but I still seem to be less connected than the people around me. Is it possible to blame it on my nature? Am I only introspective and just not one to have many friends? I am not sure that that it is the answer. There is something more than that, something that keeps me at a bit of a further distance. In a group I am the one that mostly listens, but I enjoy watching people and hearing what they think. I guess that could give a bad impression. Maybe that I don’t have any thoughts in my head or that I don’t care what the people around me are saying? I am thinking and I do care. I think that I am very caring. In the first moments of meeting someone I grow to love them as much as I love my best childhood friend. But what I wonder is: why do people see this as something strange? Shouldn’t everyone feel love for others if for no other reason then that they are human beings? Yet I have met very few people that I think truly understand how I feel and I am not sure if I have met anyone who feels the same way. What I think is even sadder than that is the way people react to my feelings. So many people I have met seem to be scared of how fast I come to love them. Love should be so universal that people expect it rather then shy any from it.

2. There are so many people that have come and gone in my life. Many times it is me that disconnects from them. Recently I moved and left many of my friends, most of whom I was not close to in the conventional sense but, like all people, I loved them very much. What am I supposed to do? It is very painful for me to not be able to see my friends, but it is so hard to keep in contact with them. I feel that since we weren’t “close” it is strange to call them out of the blue to see how they are doing, to see if they are happy. It is also so hard when friends don’t put in the effort to keep in touch with me. It is very draining to love everyone. I can’t just stop loving people though. I think it is part of who I am. Or maybe it became part of me because I am scared of not being able to love anyone. I know that it is not possible to hold on to everyone and that many times you need to say goodbye so that you can save some energy for yourself. I just don’t know when it is the right time. It is so draining that I am tempted to keep to myself and never love anyone so that I never have to lose them. Do you not eat ice cream because it will make you feel sick afterward? Of course not. You just choose to eat less but how do you choose which flavor to eat when you love every single one?

Hi Everyone.

kristen3I’m Kristen van’t Rood. I was part of the 2007 Mount Madonna School senior class that participated in the filming of the Project Happiness Documentary. Since senior year, I have gone through many things that have affected me for the better  and the worse, mostly for the worse. I  feel lucky to still be a part of the project. I am hoping that just being around Project Happiness and having the opportunity to get out my thoughts on happiness will be able to help me improve my life and maybe affect the lives of others. I am also really excited to hear what everyone out there has to say because I think the best way to learn the truth is to get as many peoples’ truth as possible and boil them down to a common thread.

I will blog regularly so feel free to post your comments, thoughts, concerns or advice.

KABOOM

Imran, blogging from 49ers Academy

Imran, blogging from 49ers Academy

Kaboom is a corporation that helps out communities by teaching them the joys of life. They do this with the help of ordinary people from software companies. Kaboom provided Costaño Elementary School and the San Francisco 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto, CA with a safe playground. The volunteers were really hard workers: They worked very hard on a very hot day when they were building the playground, but the heat didn’t seem to bother them. The volunteers just worked until the job was done. The kids at the school gave the volunteer workers a presentation to show them that they appreciated the playground. The kids also made a big poster of their finger prints on it. At the end of event all the workers and children gathered up around the new playground to take a group picture and cut the ribbon. This was truly a gift for all involved because the kids play safely and joyfully and the adults were made to feel like kids again. Our day reminded me that giving away joy and happiness often brings it right back to you.

Our Journey

Sorry it took so long, but I finally managed to get the blog working the way I wanted it to work. We have all the blogs from our trip to India organized on a separate page so that it’s easier to get to. To visit it, click on “Blogs from India” under “Categories” on the side bar or click here.

Day Twelve

Walking the Kora – By John-Nuri Vissel

Photo by Shmuel ThalerThe Kora is a path that leads around the Dalai Lama’s residence and temple complex. As we walked along the path, enjoying the views of the beautiful Himalayas spanning the horizon, I could feel a deep and powerful presence on this path. We walked as a group, passing monks left and right, all of them with mala beads in hand. There was a feeling of prayer on the path, almost as if it held the devoted energies of every practitioner that walked in silence along it.

We walked through a dense forest filled with carved stones all holding the holy mantra “Om mane padme hum”. Coming out of the woods, the path opened into a courtyard lined with Tibetan prayer wheels. I spun the wheels, focusing on a prayer as the clinking of wooden cylinders filled my head with the melody of concentrated cacophony.

Photo by Shmuel ThalerUp from the prayer wheels was a hill filled with Tibetan prayer flags hung between poles and trees. The belief is that the higher up you tie them, the luckier you will be. We were led up the hill and came to rest in the middle. It was here that I took a moment to think. Standing amongst a literal field of colored prayer flags, I let the feeling of tranquility and mindfulness that exuded the beautiful pieces of cloth enter my body and calm my mind. I have always had a fascination with spiritual practice. My parents raised me with a sense of religious freedom; they always let me know that they would never pressure me to go to church or temple. I was always given the freedom to choose whichever religion worked for me. So far I have yet to make a decision. The result of this, however, is that as I stood amongst the prayer flags I felt that I was able to see straight into the spiritual and meditative intent of each prayer. It would not have mattered if the prayers came form someone of a Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, or any other religious perspective, because the intent was the same. The practice of mindfulness was consistent throughout each flag.

I made a connection from the flags to our project. In Project Happiness no matter where we are coming from, California, Nigeria, or the Tibetan Children Village, we have to remember that just like the prayer flags that come from people with different beliefs and backgrounds, our intentions for this project are the same: to be happy, and not to suffer.

Another Goodbye – By Emily Crubaugh

Photo by Shmuel ThalerYesterday we had to say goodbye to the kids at TCV. The hardest part of this trip has been all of the goodbyes. It was astonishing how close we became over only four days. They gave us Katas as gifts, we gave them Mt. Madonna T-shirts, and we all exchanged friendship bracelets. There were lots of smiles for pictures, and tears on and off camera. They were so sad to see us go, and we were sad to leave. I thought about how many times they have said goodbye. Goodbye to their families, goodbye to their country, and yet they took us in with welcoming arms even though they knew that we would all have to say goodbye once again.

Pain of Goodbye – By Jeremy Thweatt

Photo by Shmuel ThalerOnce again we leave another fantastic group of people. And once again my entire being aches for our return. This must be why I spent so many years trying to be removed from it all. It hurts too much to lose something that you hold so dear. Each time I touch the bracelet or pin that was gifted to me, remember their faces, or more importantly, how they made me feel. They were so happy. Only once did I see a hint of sadness in any of their faces, and that was at the mention of the Dalai Lama interview, which some did not get to attend. There is something about the Tibetans I encountered that left a lasting impression that they were happy, that they were genuinely excited to be in our company. I wish I could go back. I wish I could freeze time so I could spend more of it with them.

This project has given so much to me. It has changed my way of thinking so that it is geared more towards happiness. It has brought me all the way to India where I have been exposed to new cultures, and it connected me to so many new people. There are so many new people that I will now miss. Whoever said that the leaver feels no pain? This trip has just been a series of connections and separations, and soon we shall be separated from the place as well as the people. Less than two days left. That is al I have in the heart of India.

The Colors of Tibet – By Naomi Magid

Photo by Shmuel ThalerRed, Orange, Green, White, and Black. These are the colors of Tibet and those that have become so much a part of me. Our time here has been incredible. Sharing laughs, tears, stories, and friendship…but finally it has come to an end. Leaving Dharamsala was something that I never anticipated to be so hard. Leaving the landscape and the culture is one thing, but the kids is another.

I’ve never been very good at goodbyes. Beginning with our family and friends at home, to the kids at the Ashram, and now finally the kids from the Tibetan Children’s Village…there have been so many goodbyes on this trip and with each it seems a progression of difficulty for me.

Sitting in a circle in the cultural arts theatre of the TCV, each of us said something to what our experience here has been…each with a special moment or moments that have had particular meaning for us. After that we exchanged friendship bracelets with the Tibetan colors threaded through them, gave hugs, and finally ended in group song lead by Yeshi, the TCV teacher, with all of us joining in. I could never forget these people, the laughs, the singing, and our final departure from Dharamsala. It’s bittersweet. We are leaving them forever but they are forever in our hearts And forever wrapped around my wrist will be these colors, the colors of Tibet and of friendship.

Click here for more photos.

Day Eleven


Photo by Shmuel Thaler

Spiritual Euphoria – By John-Nuri Vissell

I am coming down off of a spiritual high. We just left the room where, only moments before, we had sat in conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I’m on the verge of tears, my mind feels light, and my spirit feels lifted. I remember the way his eyes looked, soft and gentle, the way his voice sounded, booming and powerful. I have been placed in a state of spiritual euphoria, better than anything you could get from any drug. I remember a moment, at the end of the interview, when we were getting our scarves blessed, that I looked into his eyes. People say his laugh is contagious, I found that his laugh was beyond any words that could be used to describe it. When I looked at him he smiled, his mouth split, and the beautiful sound of his laughter entered my ears. There was nothing that I could do to stop myself from laughing along with him. It wouldn’t have mattered if I was in the worst mood of my life because at that moment, I was truly helpless to not be happy.

My favorite part of our audience with His Holiness was when we asked him what brings him lasting happiness. Up until this point, this has been the question that has formed the backbone of Project Happiness. We have asked everyone we have interviewed the question, “What brings you lasting happiness?” Everyone has given different answers, all in some form of profundity. But when we finally reached our climax, our audience with His Holiness, and asked him the question of what brings him lasting happiness, he paused, thought for a moment and then answered with a smile, “I don’t know.” I thought that this was exactly the answer we needed to hear. There is such a simple lesson to be learned from this wisdom. We cannot be given the answer to what brings lasting happiness. In a way, His Holiness was telling us that in the end, we just have to find out the answer for ourselves. In this way, whatever comes along in our life that gives us lasting happiness, we will be in the moment, living it for ourselves.

Photo by Shmuel ThalerI still am waiting for my heart rate to return to normal and for the amazement of what I have experienced bring me back to Earth. But as I return to my body, my soul coming back to rest, I deeply want to remember how I feel in this moment. I want to carry with me some aspect of my experience, so that wherever I am, I can always come back to this moment and remember what it meant to me. However in this moment, the moment I am experiencing in the present, I am living in a state of spiritual euphoria, feeling truly happy.

Spiritually Recharged – By Mark Hansen

Photo by Shmuel ThalerI couldn’t believe it was happening until I saw him in the flesh. It didn’t matter how many security checkpoints we went through, it just seemed too good to be true. Everything moved along at a good pace, and before I knew it we were assembled in the beautiful room awaiting His Holiness. The air was tense, and we all let out an audible sigh of excitement and apprehension when he finally walked in to the room. He came in with all smiles, and drew our respectful attention as tight as a vice. He started talking in his methodically insightful way, throwing in comedy as well as philosophy. One of my favorite moments were when he declared himself a Christian, and then quickly corrected his verbal blunder, much to our hilarity. It was a wonderfully light-hearted moment, and added to a very deep and varied interview. He was able to say with confidence that he didn’t have an answer to some of our questions, something that simultaneously established his humanity and how truly he respected our questions.

Being able to present His Holiness with a gift of a Mount Madonna School embroidered hat meant a lot to me. He slapped it on his head, grabbed my hand while looking in to my eyes, and thanked me. I left feeling empowered and happy, still recounting the events of the interview in my head. The photo we took on the steps of his abode will immortalize our time with him, and I am just staggered every time I think about how lucky I am.

Blessed – By Prabha Sharan

Photo by Shmuel ThalerMeeting His Holiness was like a dream. All the people who had met His Holiness told us that we would feel something special when he walks in. I didn’t take that comment seriously.

Naomi, Maddy, and I woke up and were freaking out that we were actually going to meet His Holiness. I was in a very bad and grumpy mood. I was mad at everything, so when we got to His Holiness’s residence, which is five minutes away from our hotel, I sat in the very back. I did not want to be there. The residence was very simple, which was the opposite of what I had thought. When His Holiness entered the room, the first thing I said was “Oh my god!” I couldn’t believe he was there, and that I was there too. I started crying and basically cried throughout the whole interview. All my life’s problems seemed to dilute in the air and he made me smile at the most random things. His smile was the most adorable thing and I wanted to capture it and make it a Kodak moment. I kept imagining his Holiness hugging me and kissing my forehead, which was so touching that I cried every time that thought came to me.

After the interview I stood in line to be blessed. It was very touching to see him bless the Tibetan kids because they all have been in exile and His Holiness is their father figure. He hugged them patted their cheeks which just made me cry even more. When it was my turn to be blessed, the first thing he said to me was “Indian?”, and just patted me on my cheeks. I was crying and he kept saying it was OK. I walked out of the room soaked in tears.

His Holiness has made me a stronger and more compassionate person. I have loved this day and will always remember it. I love love love love love the Dalai Lama.

An Audience to Remember – By Daniel Nanas

Photo by Shmuel ThalerAwe, charge, contentment. These are the three impressions that the Dalai Lama left on me in succession. When he entered the room, I felt a sense of awe at the power of his presence. This sense of awe stuck with me throughout most of the interview, but when it came time to ask my question, I found that I wasn’t nervous. His answer however, did set me back, for the question I was asking, dubbed “the Happiness Question,” is one that we’ve asked everyone that we’ve interviewed and is usually something along the lines of “What is it that brings you lasting happiness?” Of all the people we’ve interviewed, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama was the first to tell us that he didn’t know. At first this answer was a let down for me, but upon further inspection, I’ve found that this is consistent with the Buddhist principle of living in the moment.

My wonder at the incredible presence of this man lasted until he departed. Then I was left with the residue of the room, which amounted to a sort of electrical charge, which lasted until I sat down to eat lunch back at the hotel. The final state was contentment. I was simply very happy to just sit and reflect on the amazing opportunity that I’d just experienced. I don’t have any regrets about the audience and I feel like it really was a climax to our trip.

Surreality – By Jonji Barber

Photo by Shmuel ThalerThe audience with His Holiness is over, but the feeling of surreality is still there. While for others the impact of the interview has been immediate and obvious, I am left thinking, “Wait… oh! Snap! I just met the Dalai Lama!”

The interview itself is little more than a blur in my memory. Star-struck to the point of reeling like a drunkard, I was too enraptured by His Holiness to actually remember exact quotations of anything that was spoken.

Still echoing through my head and heart, however, is his dangerously contagious laugh. Contagious because its childlike mirth and authenticity is infectious, dangerous because it wreaks havoc upon your jaw muscles. Indeed, by the end of the interview we were all massaging our cheeks, which were rosy and sore from so much laughter and smiling.

His laugh I remember perfectly, as well as his presence. What presence! The sound of his footsteps alone was enough to make the room erupt with wide smiles and eager whispers. Everything about His Holiness added to this presence: His grey-black hair, his wide, thick glasses, and his insatiable eyes. When he unleashed his gaze you could feel it searching your being. The intensity and profundity of His Holiness’s eyes can be too much to handle, and many of us had to bashfully avert our own. But it was through this purging gaze that he made you feel important. His Holiness sees your identity in its barest state, and this nakedness can leave a person feeling extremely uncomfortable. But it also has the ability to open the individual up to the world through the exposure of their true self.

The surreality remains with me, but the clear memory of His Holiness’s laughter and presence will stay with me forever.

Blessing – By Naomi Magid

Photo by Shmuel ThalerLying in my bed at our hotel, I let my face rest on the katta scarf, blessed just an hour ago by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Waking up after a short nap, I can feel the soft threads of the katta bring me back into reality. I am in a state of euphoria, glowing, from what just was. When he first walked into the room, my heart stopped. I couldn’t breathe, and yet I was pouring with tears. I felt so blessed, so honored to be in the presence of this holy man. But my true feeling of honor came at the end of the interview when His Holiness individually blessed the katta scarves and draped them over our shoulders. Watching the Tibetan children blessed before me, I was overcome with emotion. He hugged them each and held them as they cried on his shoulder. Over the past few days I have grown close to many of them. I listened to their stories, and I could see in their eyes at that moment what it meant for them to be there. To be with their leader, their father in exile, and a reincarnation of Buddha was so visibly powerful for each of them. I was already crying once it was my turn to present His Holiness with my katta to be blessed. My hands were shaking. I bowed to him, felt my hands in his, and melted…as though I was being touched by a part of God. He touched my face and smiled at me.

Hung in my room when I get home will be a picture of his Holiness smiling, that same smile, with the katta hung above it so that I will never forget the blessings of this day.

The Dalai Lama – By Nina Castañon

Photo by Shmuel ThalerToday we had an interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and it was everything that I could have hoped for, and then some. We started off the day with anticipation of the interview taking over our usually lively personalities. People wandered around like the walking dead because no one was able to get any sleep the night before. Personally, I kept trying not to think about the next couple of hours because I was afraid that something bad would happen, and what I had spent so much time planning and waiting for would be gone. I blinked, and we were at our first checkpoint at the gates of His Holiness’ residence being patted down by very “friendly” security guards and being ushered to one waiting room after another. Before entering each one I would think, “ok this is it”, and then more couches and SN saying, “ok if you have to go to the bathroom go now!” Of course when I decided to actually get up to use the restroom it was time to go to “the room”.

Right before entering the interview room at one of our “reality checkpoints”, a woman who was working with the Nigerian students said, “Are you ready kids? This is the dénouement.” For reasons unknown to myself, I frantically scanned the room looking for Melissa’s face, which would have undoubtedly been lit up while nodding with her smile saying, “I taught you that.” Once I realized that she wasn’t there, and neither were any other parents, I had a sudden feeling of longing. Even though this was my time to seize the moment that I had been working for, I missed my family, and more than anything wanted them there with me. To fight my feelings of homesickness I started thinking more and realized that even though my parents helped me to get here, it was me who worked to open another locked door in my life. This door happened to have His Holiness on the other side.

The Dalai Lama, of course, came fashionably late, and I didn’t let myself believe that we were actually going to see him until I saw him walking in the doorway. I knew then that it was safe to get my hopes up. His Holiness had a charmingly genuine tone throughout the interview, and approached each question as if he was making sure that we would learn a new truth once he finished giving an answer. That’s not to say that there weren’t questions to which he didn’t have answers, and one of those was Jonji’s. He asked His Holiness if he had any questions that he was still searching for an answer to, and to that his holiness replied, “What the weather will be tomorrow”; and when Daniel asked what brings His Holiness lasting happiness, he beat around the bush for a while and then said “I don’t know, next question.” (This was all with an addicting laugh by the way).

Photo by Shmuel ThalerI kept my composure until the end, when I realized that the Dalai Lama would be leaving soon and that would be the end. Before he left, all the students circled around His Holiness and presented him with our Katas to be blessed, hoping that he would remember to touch our mala beads as well. Then it was my turn, and throughout the entire interview I wanted so badly to reach out and touch him so that I would know for sure that he was there. When I presented His Holiness with my Kata, he stopped and looked at me for a while then said, “Your ancestors are they from” and then proceeded to point towards the Himalayas, and I said quickly “Mexico”. It may not sound like such a monumental moment as I took it to be, but if it was the only thing that could get the Dalai Lama to notice me, then so be it. Apparently, he didn’t believe me after I told him that I wasn’t Tibetan, and went to ask the Tibetan student’s teacher Yeshi if I was one of her students. When it was time to pose for pictures I was ecstatic, because His Holiness was still under the impression that I was Tibetan and held my hand while posing for pictures, and every time I squeezed his hand he would squeeze mine back. Meeting the Dalai Lama is definitely an experience that I will never forget, and one day I know that I will come back. Hopefully he will stay around until then.

From the TCV Students

Today was a moment that I lived in fully with my heart and my soul. I felt ultimate happiness within myself. A priceless moment of my life that I could have never have imagined to live in. The laughs I shared. The talks we had. The peace we felt. The sense of happiness. It was all I can ever ask for. Happy! Happy!

-Yonten

This is the most precious reward and unforgettable moment in my life. I don’t know how it happened and end with such cute smiling of His Holiness. It was also an unexpected thing for me, and during the audience my mind wandered and I thought “Is it real or am I dreaming?” So, I will really cherish this moment in my life and try to implement what he has told us. Lastly, I really want to thank all the members of the Dalai Lama Foundation for giving me such a wonderful opportunity.

-Ngawang Paljor

The very short moment I heard His Holiness talking to me is a dash to the seventh heaven. It took me back to a past, twelve years ago, when I first saw His Holiness. I was only six then, and I was with my father. It was the day when I made up my mind to leave my parents behind. My heart beat when I felt his touch and it lasted. It’s a moment with lots of unexplainable emotions.

-Dawa

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Day Ten

My General Experience in Dharamsala – By Faith

24 March

Photo by Shmuel Thaler We boarded a train in the evening to Dharamsala from Delhi. This was a very nice experience. I had thought that the train would be noisy in transit, but everything was cool, calm, and comfortable. I slept and woke up several times, looking through the windows to behold the beauty of India.
At the train station in Pathankot we were warmly received by the President of the Dalai Lama Foundation, Tenzin Tethong a very humble and kind Tibetan, and gentle man. We drove from the train station and a little bit out of town, where we all had breakfast and drove down to Dharamsala. The journey took us through high mountains and deep valleys creating so much fear, which later transformed to excitement.

We visited the Tibetan children in Upper Dharamsala in the evening for a cultural show. There we met Yeshi Khando and her students and a number of other guests.

26 March

We went back to the Tibetan Children’s Village for a study circle with all the students from the US, Nigeria and TCV, along with their teachers. We dialogued, shared, and exchanged ideas. This experience was great and wonderful. I also made a good number of friends and taught the entire group some Nigerian dances.

From there we traveled back to town along with the other students. We went to the market to see the shops and meet the local residents. It was indeed a nice experience that cannot be forgotten in a hurry.

Norbulingka – By John-Nuri Vissell

Photo by Shmuel ThalerToday we made a journey down from Upper Dharamsala to the temple complex of Norbulingka. The temple housed some of the most beautiful Tibetan art work I had ever seen. Before entering the temple we had the privilege of seeing the craftsmen and women who create the wonderful tonkas (Tibetan murals). The tonkas, they explained, take a huge amount of discipline and training to create. The amount of detail that went into each rendering of Buddha was incredible. Every inch of the art had to be exactly to scale. Seeing the Tonkas made me think a lot about the art of patience. One of the masterpieces that we saw in the room took the artist an entire year to produce. If that doesn’t show an immense amount of patience and commitment, then I don’t know what does.

Entering the temple my jaw dropped open. In the center of the temple sat a solid bronze statue of Buddha sitting in his peaceful moodra, towering over the room. For a moment I literally lost all train of thought. In my mind all I could take in was Buddha, and all I could think of was how at peace I felt. In front of Buddha was a seat with a picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. There was a very surreal presence in this temple. I know that I felt very privileged to be in the presence of such an impressive idol.

We were definitely in the presence of masters of their crafts when we entered Norbulingka. We got to meet the man who built the massive Buddha that sat peacefully in the temple. He is known as the “Michaelangelo” of his time, a true inspiration. I have so much respect for a man who has worked so hard and so long to create truly beautiful works of art that bring an immense sense of meaning and spiritual power for so many people.

Drawing Near – By Jonji Barber

Photo by Shmuel ThalerTomorrow is the interview with His Holiness, and yet everything remains so surreal. Our journey’s purpose, the reason for this amazing trip, lies merely hours away, but I still haven’t come to terms with its actual occurrence. How can I have legitimate questions for the Dalai Lama when I still have questions about the interview itself: What will be the effects of this incredible opportunity? Am I really prepared for this opportunity? Do I deserve this opportunity?

It is this last question that causes me the most apprehension. What have I done that makes me worthy of this once-in-a-lifetime experience? Out of the hundreds of millions of teenagers in this world, how was it that I had the fortune to be born into the vessel of Jonji Barber, interviewer of the Dalai Lama?

I ponder these questions while time rages on, and I am forced to accept the inevitability of tomorrow’s event. My questions remain, but my apprehension has been transformed into recognition of my mission. I am still not certain what I have done to deserve this, but I am certain that it is happening, and this certainty has pushed me into acceptance.

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Day Nine

Dancing – By Xander Crawford

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardToday during lunch I had time to speak with a few Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) students about dance. They showed me some footwork for traditional dance, and I showed them some break dance moves. It was difficult to compare moves when our styles were so different. Despite the differences, it was nice to talk about dance, which is a major part of my life. I think this conversation brought us closer together because it was something that all of us could relate to and share. It was not profound or life changing, nor was it the reason for our visit, it was just light conversation, which is something also to be valued in the midst of contemplating lasting happiness.

A Day in Dharamsala – By Prabha Sharan

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardI woke up at 7:30 am to a chilly, but beautiful morning. Dogs had been fighting outside our window at four in the morning and were so loud that when Maddy and I woke up, we both commented on how annoying they were. As a result, we were tired from the moment we got up and complained about it most of the day.

Despite being tired, we had to go join the TCV kids to work on our Guidebook to Happiness. We all sat in a big circle for an introduction and then divided into group. I had a little bit of a mental breakdown (or perhaps I should call it an attitude breakdown), so I did not participate fully. But for our closing circle my mind woke up. The question we were asked to address was very interesting and the answers were very thoughtful. The question was “How has the book changed you?” The kids from the TCV had really outstanding answers. I could tell that reading the book really affected their family, friends, and, most of all, themselves. Behind their answers were honesty, pride, sadness, compassion, and inspiration. I could feel that we all were sharing a universal laugh and smile. It was very sweet. The kids are just adorable.

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardOn our way back down the hill we got dropped at the main shopping area in town. Maddy and I are buddies for the trip, so we took off together. We are the best team to go shopping with and are very hard core. I speak the language and she does all the bargaining. We both sometimes helped others with their negotiation, but mostly we walked down the strange streets of Dharamsala all by ourselves. I have met so many strange and interesting people on the streets here, and it keeps making the trip more interesting.

P.S. If you want to go shopping in India, call Maddy and I and we help you shop till you drop.

My Experience of Dharamsala – By Mercy Bisi Olatunji

We left the train station at about 9:15 pm from Delhi on 24 March and arrived at Pathankot in the morning. This was my very first time in the train. I have had a number of firsts already as a result of this trip. First time to travel out of Jos, first time on an airplane, first time to India, and so on.

I’m in Dharamsala right now, but I cannot forget the roads and houses, the mountains and tall beautiful trees passing by in a hurry. Dharamsala and indeed India presents a sharp contrast with Nigeria. In Dharamsala difficult terrain has been positively transformed to human advantage. Beautiful roads and magnificent buildings have been so carefully erected beneath, and right at the tops of the famous Himalayan mountains, which I am told are among the most beautiful and tallest in the world.

On 25 March we went to the Tibetan Children’s Village school situated at the top of the upper Dharamsala in the mountains. At the school we had a wonderful display of the rich cultural heritage of all three groups of students- the Tibetans, the Americans and the Nigerians.

On the morning of 26 March we returned to the Tibetan Children’s School for a learning and exchange session based on the Ethics for the New Millennium. Students were grouped into threes to learn and listen to one another and then share with the larger group, what they learned and understood about one another and the book. We also had breakfast and a great feasting of the rich Tibetan food. It was also an opportunity to make new friends and cement the bond of unity among us.

Then came another interesting moment. We all went into the market and streets of Dharamsala to meet the people and places of interest. I visited a number of shops, visited some famous temples and then went to Chonor House for dinner. Later it was back to the Kashmir Cottage for sleep.

Homes of Brothers – By Luke Sanders-Self

Jonji, John-Nuri, and I were lead up a pathway of cobblestone stairs by Ngawang toward the boys’ dormitory. As we looked around at the TCV school area, we were joined by Dorji who had TCV’s list of questions for the Dalai Lama. John read them aloud and I found them to be well-written and very thoughtful. Ngawang and Dorji conversed in Tibetan and then asked if we would like to see the school’s monastery. After arriving there, we took our shoes off and stepped in the holy place. The pictures of His Holiness and artwork of Tibetan gods were very pretty. We left and walked up even more stairs and finally stopped at a concrete building that was their dorm. The boys led us through corridors which connected tons of identical-looking rooms. A flitter of sadness washed over me as I looked at the dirty halls and rusted windows, but it vanished as the happiness of the kids lifted my spirits. They lead us through rooms and kitchens as we left the 11th grade dorms and headed to the 12th grade dorms where most of the Project Happiness students lived. As we walked we were joined by yet another TCV student, Dawa, who was excited to see us. We trudged up yet another never-ending flight of stairs as we joked with and about each other and laughed. When we entered the dorm, we were lead through a maze-like structure with so many flights of stairs that one could get easily lost, but these boys knew the way blindfolded. We reached the top of the building and stepped out onto a balcony that overlooked all of Dharamsala. It was beautiful. We could see the Himilayas so clearly that it felt like you were looking at a postcard. We sat on the railing and joked about how Jonji thought that they lived like Harry Potter. The six of us sat and laughed and just enjoyed our new friendship and beautiful surroundings.

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Day Eight

Car Ride – By Madeline Weston-Miles

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardToday we arrived in Pathankot in Punjab after our eleven hour train ride from Delhi. We all separated into several different four-wheel Toyota vehicles. In my car there was John Sorensen (the documentary producer), Mark, Prabha, and I. The day before John had bought some popular Indian dance music and got the CDs out so we could listen to them on our three hour drive to Dharamsala. It was a lot of fun dancing, singing and laughing along with the songs in the car. We also screamed every once in a while as our driver passed within inches of other cars, people, or animals in the road. It was almost impossible to relax and fall asleep because the roads were very windy and I felt compelled to watch what our driver was doing. Also the scenery was an incredible change from what we had gotten used to in Delhi. The first thing that I noticed was the incredible snow capped Himalayas, and the rows and rows of cut tea on the hillsides. Arriving in Dharamsala was a lot calmer. There weren’t as many people, and their style of living was different. I feel a lot more relaxed up here and just happier in general.

Worlds Away – By Emily Crubaugh

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardMy backyard is a view of an apple orchard and oak trees. The kids at Tibetan Children’s Village(TCV) have the Himalayas. We’re in the foothills here at 6000 feet and they are towering above us, natural beauty at a magnificent scale. I am missing my family and friends whom I haven’t seen in two and a half weeks. Some of these kids haven’t seen their families in over a decade. One boy I met told me that his father carried him on his back over the mountains when he was three years old and then turned around and walked back. He has seen his parents only once since. I feel like I am worlds away from the US and India. We’re in “Little Tibet” now and I am loving it. The people aren’t in your face, it doesn’t go along with their beliefs. It’s starting to hit me that we are meeting the leader of these people. What an honor, what a culture, what magnificent people, and what a location.

A Story Not My Own – By Tom Shani

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardToday was the first day that we met and visited with our counter-parts in this project from the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV). As we arrived we were greeted with friendly faces and a short, but intense, game of basketball, before we quickly filed into their assembly hall for a cultural presentation. The Tibetan students performed several dances for us, and one in particular was choreographed by a boy who also was playing a Tibetan guitar during the performance; he prefaced the dance by saying he woke up every morning happy because of this dance, and it wasn’t until later that I found out why.

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardWe took our leave after the assembly and managed to get a few minutes of rest before we sat down to dinner. It was a surprise to me when we were joined by the 12th class (12th grade) from the TCV. I sat down at a table occupied by none other than the boy who choreographed the dance and played the Tibetan guitar.

“My name is Tom,” I offered in greeting. He was quick to reply: “I am Ngawang.” We sat down and chit-chatted over soup. He spoke about what his classes were, and we explained what ours were, and how the systems in our two schools were different. At some point we even compared our heights, at which point I learned that I stand at 66 cm tall against his 67. Even among a culture of shorter people I’m short! But after a little bit more food he started to tell me about his past:

“I come from a village very near to the border to Nepal where I lived with my family until I was about 11 years old. We had a house with a beautiful pasture where we used to gather in small groups and dance and sing. This is where the dance we performed for you at the assembly came from. It reminded me of home.

Photo by Sadanand Ward Mailliard“When I was in Tibet (he refused any pretense that it was China), I had no idea that our people were under Chinese rule. I don’t understand why my parents kept it from me, but none of the other children in my village seemed to know either. When you come from Tibet, you are granted an audience with His Holiness Dalai Lama, and he asked me if I had known about the Chinese occupation, but I had not.”

Curious about his life, I asked him how he got to the TCV where I met him.

“One day in Tibet my father told me that we were going to cross the border into Nepal. Our village was very close, but it was still a 3 or 4 day walk to the border. We could only walk at night; we slept during the day.

“Right before the border there is a very fast river. Normally we throw ropes across and help each other across, but it is still very dangerous. Two people from the group I traveled with lost their lives. I remember the water being very cold that day. But when we were across the river it was still very dangerous. The Nepali people at the border are asking us Tibetans for money, because if we do not give them enough money, they turn us into the Chinese who will give them money. We reached a check-post and we got enough money together in our group to go past the Nepali guards.

“My father and I walked to the bus station and took a bus to my Auntie who lived in Nepal. From there she sent me to Delhi and I went to one branch of the TCV schools until class 10, where I decided to take the stream of science (the three streams are: science, commerce and art) so that I could study medicine, and that is how I came to be at the (Dharamsala) school today. I have not seen my father since I left Nepal; he went back to Tibet to care for my mother.

“Some time ago we started writing letters to each other. He tells me that he has until June of this year to demolish his house and rebuild it in the Chinese style.”
I sat and listened to his story in awe. Both by the magnitude of the story itself, but also with his openness in telling it. He did not seem sad at any point; in fact, quite the opposite. He smiled at times during his story. Time was running out though, and they all had to go back to their Hostel soon, but I was focused entirely on him by this point.

“How is it now, being so far away from home?” I asked, emboldened by his openness.

“When I first reached the TCV, I shared stories of home with the other nomads (the name that was given to those who crossed the border). Many nights I cried in my bed, as did many others. It is sad to be so far away, but I know I am here for the better. Back in my home village, there is very poor medicine; people lose their lives from simple things that can easily be cured. I’m going to become a physician. I am going to learn how to help all my friends and family back home.”

Dinner – By Jonji Barber

Photo by Shmuel ThalerDinner with the 12th grade TCV students working on the Happiness Project with us began in the same way all introductory meals do: people glancing over their water glasses to analyze their new acquaintances, the awkward restlessness of hovering forks waiting for the “polite” moment to eat, and strained silence.

We danced in this uncomfortable tango, waiting for the ice to be broken, but not daring to tread upon it. Then, recognizing the discomfort of the situation, Tenzin, a member of the Dalai Lama Foundation, proposed a question to the TCV students. When Tenzin asked the girls at the table what they were interested in doing after graduation, the group elicited an all too familiar groan. They, like us, have undergone a year of being pestered and probed with questions regarding the future, and it became clear to us that the profound distaste for these questions is universal.

With that, the tension between us was broken. We conversed in universal teen-speak, we smiled universal smiles, we laughed universal laughs. Once we established our first connection, our similarities began to emerge and shine. The dialogue carried on in this way, reaching the peak of our newfound comfort when the girls asked me to sing an Enrique Inglesias song. But before their goads and prods could convince me to imitate the Latin pop-star, the TCV students were required to return to their dormitories.

Despite the abrupt end to our bonding session, we were able to make tremendous progress tearing down the divisions between our cultures in just one day. I can’t wait to see what else we can achieve in the rest of the time we spend here.

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Day Seven

Old Delhi — A Poem – By John-Nuri Vissell

Keep your arms and legs inside the cart at all times
Don’t make eye contact, don’t lose your passport
If someone bumps into you, check your pockets

Isolated inside the crowded shell of the Capital city
The dirty, exotic, rough,
And exhilarating streets of Old Delhi
Twist and snake tightly
Through shops and food stands
The alleys growing progressively smaller with every turn

The conflicting smells of different street goods
Waft eagerly through my nose
Already exhausted by the nasal overload
Of new experiences

I turn left, then right
Then come to stop at the Brass market
The looming figures of metal deities
Fill my optical frame
Forcing me to step back and take a breath
Trying to take in the magnitude of the spiritual giants

I see a miniature statue of Hanuman
400 rupees, barks the store owner
About 10 dollars
200, I report back, eyes fixed, stare steady
In this manor we haggle for a bit
I keep by eyes intense and focused
I get the Hanuman for 200

Photo by Sadanand Ward Mailliard

The sounds and smells of Old Delhi meet me
Like a wave as I step into the street
Playing dodge ball with the passing carts and cycles
Frantically avoiding the blurs of people
Packed into the alleyways

The crowded streets are alive
I feel the pulse beat heavily
Just below the pavement

As I emerge from the winding labyrinth
Passport still in possession
Wits still about me
I look back at the writhing mass of people
Growing smaller and smaller
I feel the pulse of Old Delhi
Fade from its crescendo
And with a long smooth exhale
I feel my our heart beat

Slow and return to normal

Day Six

My Experience of India – By Mercy Bisi Olatunji

Photo by Shmuel ThalerI am Mercy Bisi Olatunji. Traveling to India has been a first time experience. This is the first time I am traveling out of Jos and out of Nigeria.

We have left our home in Jos, Nigeria on Tuesday 20th March 2007 and traveled by bus for almost 13 hours to Lagos. It was indeed a very hectic journey, but also one full of excitement. We spent the night at the ECWA Guest House in Lagos. The following morning we drove to the Murtala Mohamed International Airport in Ilceja, Lagos.

This was my first experience flying in a plane. I was so afraid of flying, having heard so much about plane crashes or air mishaps back home in Nigeria. As the plane increased acceleration and gathered further momentum my fear suddenly turned to joy and excitement as I watched through the window and beheld the great clouds. This actually brought me closer to myself and to my God. I also listened to the rich variety of Ethiopian music in the plane watched different videos.

We arrived Delhi International Airport in the morning of Thursday, from where we were taken straight to the YWCA Family Hostel at Ashoka road, New Delhi, India. We enjoyed a lot of Indian food and music as we awaited the arrival of the American students. The American students arrived on Friday afternoon. We had lunch together at the YWCA and then visited the American Embassy for an audience with Ambassador Mulford, the US Ambassador to India. He was such a frank, nice, sincere and attractive personality in the company of his very beautiful wife. He listened to and responded to a number of questions from us. I was also privileged to ask him a question on what makes him feel happy.

From the US Embassy we were all hosted by a very wonderful and nice Indian friend called Arif. He gave us a lot of food, drinks, and gifts. I met a lot of people of Arif’s house and I also took photographs with two of his beautiful daughters. I cherished this experience and will recall this for a very long time.

Today will be traveling by train to Dharamsala where we shall have an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Creative Capital – By Daniel Nanas

Photo by Shmuel ThalerWe’re leaving the U.S. embassy after a very interesting interview. Ambassador Mulford did his homework and was prepared for us. He was quick to make it clear if he disagreed with anything we said, which was good because it kept us on our feet.

Some of his ideas I found very interesting. One that rang true for me in particular was that creativity is a kind of energy that can be expended and recharged. Ambassador Mulford called it ‘capital’ and suggested that it is an essential quality for all public servants. As such, public servants should spend time out of office to recharge their creative capital; otherwise their ability to problem solve becomes limited and falls into a state of stagnation. I did have trouble with his ideas about the environment, as he spoke about challenges involving India’s reliance on coal, but I don’t believe the answers to our global energy crisis lie in non-renewable fuels. In the past, I might have let something like this cloud my overall impression of the ambassador, but I was successful in seeing past this and came out of the interview positive.

Later in the interview, I asked him what advice he had for those of us who were interested in public service. He recommended that we not specialize in political science and not go straight to Washington D.C. to get a permanent job there. This knocked me back a step, as I’d been thinking I might do just that. He advised that those of us who were interested in politics specialize in other areas and work in other fields, so that when the time came we’d have diverse experiences and possess the kind of perspective that is essential to any job in government.

The interview was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Ambassador Mulford was genuine and obviously cares about young people and what we plan to do with our lives after school. Given his vast amount of personal and professional experience, he was willing to talk about just about anything with some authority. I always feel good after meeting with a political leader who has these qualities, as it reaffirms my belief that positive change in the world is possible.

Arif’s Feast – By Mark Hansen

Photo by Shmuel ThalerAfter our interview with Mulford we were graciously invited to a dinner at Arif’s house. Arif, a friend of Babaji’s, is a very succesful merchant, and he invited us to spend the evening with him in his carpet showroom. It was a truly magical experience to spend a nice meal in the presence of Babaji once again, and to experience Arif’s wonderful hospitality. Arif’s English was excellent, and he made it a warm and celebratory atmosphere with his staff and family taking very good care of us. After the meal he gave all the students gifts, India key-chains, which cemented the good feelings that were in the room.

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Day Five


Sorry about the uploads and the frequencies of the latest posts, but we have lost SN’s laptop in India and his internet connection with it. We will try to keep as current as possible, but it will be a little more difficult now. If anyone in the U.S. has seen the laptop, please let us know! Also, you’ll notice that there is now a link at the bottom of the most recent posts with more pictures. We hope that you’ll enjoy them.

-Tom

Gujra Village – By John-Nuri Vissell

Photo by Shmuel ThalerToday we went to the Gujra Village. The village was extremely isolated from the rest of India, and therefore showed very little influence from the outside modern world. In fact, going to the village was perhaps the closest thing you could get to going back in time.

Once we arrived at the village, the people all showed us a warm welcome. I was impressed by their style of life. They lived a quiet, simple life free of most of the stress and chaos of our modern lives. They didn’t work long hours; they didn’t worry about a morning commute, or being late to an important business meeting. Everything seemed to move at exactly the speed it needed to; they had more free time, more time to relax, more time to be in the present moment.

They lived with virtually no electricity. The only power they needed came from several small solar panels that they used to charge their flashlights for the night-time. The houses were made out of a simple form of plaster made of mud and cow dung, and the roofs were made of tightly packed dried grass. We were invited into one of the houses by the villagers where it was much cooler than standing in the hot sun. Inside the atmosphere was warm and inviting. The whole house had a natural smell that soothed me and made me feel like a part of the Earth and ground.

Being in the village and seeing the beautiful simplicity of their day-to-day lives made me think about how ridiculous our lives can be. So much of our lives are spent trying to catch up with our technologically blooming society. I can see how it would be nice to escape the rush of my life and get back to the roots of what is really important: self-reflection. I have learned a lesson from the villagers: that it is important to simplify our lives so that we can really take a step back exist in a state of reflection, living for the present moment.

Too Little Time – By Jeremy Thweatt

Photo by Shmuel ThalerI never thought that I could get this close to so may people in such a short amount of time. Three days. These three days were all the so-called orphans needed to solidify themselves in my heart. Three days of jumping on me, running between my legs, and just being with me. And now we are gone, evaporated into the five a.m. mist just as we had appeared three days before.

So many of them asked if I would come back. Would they see me again? The best I could say was that I would come back if I could. I pride myself in thinking I am the most stable in my class when it comes to goodbyes but, I found myself chanting Jai Jai Ma under my breath from the moment I woke, until I got to the train station, frantically fighting back the ocean of tears welling up behind my eyes. One of the kids said that she wished that Prabha had not brought her classmates because it would be sad to see us go, but I think that it is worse for us because it is we who are doing the leaving.

But enough sadness, for we now take one more step towards the reason that brought us to India, the interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. With each rock of the train we move closer, closer, and further away.

Goodbye, For Now – By Jonji Barber

Photo by Shmuel ThalerI have been told that when you stay at the Ashram, you are adopted by the children. Mom, Dad, I’m sorry, but you may just have to sign me over. Today is our last day at the Ashram, but I am not yet ready to leave this family.

As we prepare ourselves to leave, I notice how much the children are lamenting our departure as well.

“You leave tomorrow?” asks Parama, a small girl with large inquiring eyes. When I give a solemn nod, she pulls on my arm and exclaims, “No!”

As night approaches and with it comes the foreboding morning departure, we find ourselves soaking up the little time we have left with the kids. We play games, take pictures and bathe in the love that our relationships exude.

Parama, my Ashram companion, grabs my hand and skewers me with her eyes. “Jonji-bhai,” she starts, making sure she has my attention, “will you come back?” Pondering her question, I survey the scene around me. The girls are taking pictures with the youngest of children, Jeremy is being chased around the courtyard, Xander is teaching the kids to break-dance, and everyone else is engaged in a friendly but competitive game of basketball. My class is happy here. I am happy here. I look back down at Parama, whose unwavering stare is fixated upon me, awaiting my reply. “Of course,” I affirm. We smile together, content with this conclusion and join in on chasing Jeremy.

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Day Four

Ultimate Frisbee Destruction – By Xander Crawford

Photo by Sadanand Ward MailliardWe were destroyed. I usually don’t play ultimate Frisbee, but I never considered that I was particularly bad at it. I was wrong. It was a six-on-six match that pitted Americans against Indians. It ended with a staggering loss for us. The final score: 12 to nothing. We never even got close to scoring. Although it was a friendly game, I can’t help but think that they really enjoyed destroying us. Yesterday we did the same thing to them in volleyball, so now the competition is tied one to one. Tomorrow, the sport is basketball and a winner will be decided, but I don’t really care who the winner is. I am simply glad that we get to compete with friends.

Laughter – By Prabha Sharan

Photo by Shmuel ThalerLaughter. That word was so strange to me two years ago. I hated that laughter even existed. Laughter was miles away from me and the fact that people loved to laugh made me angry. I stopped hanging around people just because they had laughed around me. But last year those dark days started to fade away. Laughter was slowly creeping into me. Now it seems that all I want to do is laugh. I’m glad I was open to it, because now that I’ve returned to the Ashram, I can see how loving and funny my home is. Since I have been here,
Photo by Shmuel Thaler
all I have done is laughed with my brothers and sisters. No matter where I sit, I am surrounded by kids. Again and again I make fun of them and we laugh together. My sisters and I call each other VIPs because everybody makes room for us, and if we ask for something, the other kids run off to get it. I have cherished every single moment of my stay with the kids and every moment that we have shared laughing.

Dancing Fiend – By Nina Castañon

Photo by Shmuel Thaler

Today, our second day at the Sri Ram Ashram happened to be Babaji’s birthday. The day started out normally but after breakfast everyone broke into a birthday frenzy getting ready for their performances. We Mount Madonna students practiced “Jai Jai Ma” and “Seasons of Love” and were all very nervous about performing in front of a large crowd of Babaji’s friends. Especially since were already in awe of the talent of the students from the Ashram who would also be performing. I went from room to room finding people, scurrying around to get their costumes just right, or trying to put on that last bit of lipstick before running out the door. I was busy trying to find someone to tie my sari for me which I had bought a Photo by Sadanand Ward Mailliardcouple days earlier in New Delhi and was dying to wear. A kind woman who was very skilled at tying saris helped me out and her tie made it past Babaji’s very experienced eye. We performed our songs and quickly took our seats to watch the rest of the performance. Just when we thought that our time on the stage was over, Ranu, a college student at the orphanage, invited us up on stage to dance with the Indian students. A brave few ran up quickly and within a matter of seconds the two schools were performing together in what I think was a better dance then we could have ever hoped to choreograph. I myself was cutting a rug and had a great time. Hopefully that won’t be the last time that we dance together.

Sorry today’s upload took so long, but we hope a couple more photos will make up for it:
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Day Three

Spectacles – By Kristen van’tRood

The most surprising part about this trip so far has been the way people have been treating me. The way the people in Delhi looked at the group, like we were special, shocked me. We are not a spectacle, they are. It is amazing how little they have and are able to survive. Again at the orphanage the children looked at us like we were strange, yet they are so happy and friendly. No one I have met before has acted like them. Doesn’t that make them the strange ones, the spectacles?

It is hard to describe the interaction between our two apparent spectacles. I had expected hesitation. There may have been a little, only visible in the slight stiffness of our actions. Soon even that was gone. It is hard not to relax when a little kid decides to sit on your lap and orders you in their little voice to teach them a game you play or to share with them whatever is in your hand. The difference between them and me is in the way we approach the unknown. I tend to watch and wait, proceed only once I have determined the way not to do harm. The children do not seem to wait or watch, but jump into the mess and try to sort it out with questions. Where I miss many beginnings, they are using the beginnings to skip right to the end where they already treat me like family. Their questions and actions make me feel like I have known them for as long as I have known the people in my class, although it has only been one day. I am grateful that they have been able to pull me out of myself and into the beginning of my stay with them.

New Family – By Jonji Barber

I have officially added another country to my list of homes. This update leaves my abode-like areas as follows: my various familial houses, Naveen’s house, and the Sri Ram Ashram.

When you first arrive, the children are reserved in a relievingly polite way. Equally relieving, but much more entertaining is when this resolve is ruptured by familiarity and the children break into playful comfort. Merely hours into my stay the children no longer parted way for my passage, but rather mobbed me with questions and hugs. They have terminated their elegant silence, replacing it with a cacophony of laughter and loving chides.

Seeing such radiant happiness is somewhat surprising considering the backgrounds that lay in their shadows. Sri Ram Ashram is, after all, an orphanage. How blissfully ironic, considering that this is among the strongest and most authentic families I have ever encountered. So utopian is this family that, should I live in India, I would want my child to grow up here. I want to be a child here. Fortunately for me, I have recently been indoctrinated into this family. They have made me part of their beautiful union, and I am forever grateful. Thank you brothers and sisters for the laughter, love, and happiness you have provided for me.

Integration – By Luke Sanders-Self

The sun beat down on our face’s as we stepped out on a dirt volleyball court. This was it. The game SN has been waiting for: the Mount Madonna Hawks versus the Sri Ram Vidyha Mandir. This was the time for the Mount Madonnians to show our true skill – volleyball.

The game waxed on as our spirits soared. All the cheering in English and Hindi made us happy, and both teams played well. We made friends quickly as we mixed up teams. Everyone seemed so happy, even as we played in the intense heat of the sun. Somehow we were able to communicate in a haze of bad English and even more battered Hindi, as we tried to learn some of the native language. After leaving the volleyball court we went to play Frisbee and jump on the trampolines before we were asked to get ready for tea and then work. The kids were sad, asking us not to leave and to come back as fast as we could. I feel as if I have known these kids for much longer than one day, and surprisingly, here at the Ashram, I feel at home.

Aarti – By John-Nuri Vissell

We got on a Bus from the Sri Ram Ashram and rode to Hari Ki Pauri to watch the nightly Aarti of Ganga Ma. Aarti is a celebration that occurs every night on the shores of the sacred Ganga river (known in the West as the Ganges). The belief behind the Aarti is that Vishnu stepped down to Earth, making a foot print in the river. Therefore every night thousands of people gather at Hari Ki Pauri and take a bath in the river, believing they are washing away their sins as they do.
Before making our way to the celebration at the river’s edge, we bought leaf boats filled with flowers and a candle. The boats carry a special prayer that will be sent out into the Ganga river, carried away by the current.

As the celebration began, the air was filled with flames from hundreds of candles all lighting at once. As I was watching Aarti, a meaningful connection to the project came to mind. Watching all of the leaf boats float down the sacred river, a special prayer harbored in each one, I realized that our mission to India, our quest for Happiness, is very similar to that of the leaf boats’ journey down the river. We, like the boats, have been sent off with a special prayer by everyone who wants us to achieve great things. And, like the boats, our purpose and challenge is to stay afloat against the strong currents of challenge. As we get swept down the river of opportunity, we must ensure that we do everything we can to keep the flame of our journey alive. That burning flame represents all of the people that have helped us get this far, and by committing ourselves to the project with all our hearts, we honor them.

Day Two

Thoughts on President Abdul Kalam – By Daniel Nanas

President Abdul Kalam entered the room and everything went silent. Although certainly not a big man, his presence commanded attention. I had researched him and I knew that he was an engineer turned president. In India, the president is less like a politician and more like a national icon. The thing that I didn’t know and would soon find out was that in addition to being an engineer, mathematician, and national figurehead, the president is also an amazing teacher. The bits of wisdom and various anecdotes he shared were all captivating and packed with meaning. Like any good teacher, at the end of each lesson he shared, he looked around the room to make sure his lesson was learned. He would say “Understand? Understand?”

Generally, his lessons weren’t difficult. He spoke simply and always to the point. One lesson in particular stood out to me. It was a simple equation from a poem he had written. Righteousness of the heart leads to peace in the home, which in turn leads to order in the nation, which ultimately leads to peace in the world. He skillfully built from the individual level to the global level. In his understated eloquence, he answered the very complex question: What are the guidelines we can live by that will bring about positive change?

Before the interview, I spent some time looking through the President’s autobiography, Wings of Fire. In the very beginning, he talked about the importance of prayer. Prayer is something that I’ve always been curious about, never finding it a key part of my own spiritual practice. I was curious to know about how prayer had served him in his life. After a couple of opening questions, I asked mine. The answer he gave was truly beautiful. He spoke about how the most meaningful prayer is one made for other people. Upon reflection, I find that this rings true for me as well. I don’t feel the need to pray for myself, but I can still give forth gratitude for what I have by praying for others.

He was not one to talk for the sake of talking and he loved to keep his students (who were us on the auspicious day) on their feet. Sometimes this was an endearing quality and on occasions it was truly terrifying. He was prone to turn a question back on the inquisitor and at points during the interview I was forced to ask myself who was truly being interviewed. Perhaps due to jet lag, the president’s quick wit occasionally caught us off guard, but overall the interview was a positive experience that I won’t quickly forget.

Railway Musings – By Jonji Barber

It is about 12:00 am, and I am sitting on the train to Haridwar. Seated across from me is an Indian man, probably in his 70’s. He looks at me. Without a smile or a frown, but rather a look that showcases the fact that he knows me all too well. India had, after all, once been new to him, and he now appears to be comparatively analyzing the way in which I react to my surroundings.

Observing this man, I can’t help but notice the resemblance of his manner to that of President Abdul Kalam. During our interview, those same curious and knowledgeable eyes that now peer at me through curtains surveyed our class. These two men, venerable as India itself both know what I am experiencing better than I do.

This wisdom is some of what I’d like to take home with me from this trip. I believe that if I can harness even a fraction of India’s knowledge, I will be more acquainted and comfortable with myself.

Now the man on the train has noticed the inquisitive reply of yes, and at last breaks into a smile. I smile with him, and for a moment we are connected in delight. But my eyes are still naive and shallow, whereas the eyes of the man, resting placidly above his dancing smile, remain the omnipotent eyes of India.

Homecoming – By Emily Crubaugh

I keep yawning but I feel wide awake. We’re finally at the Sri Ram Ashram, a place that I have been dreaming about coming to for ten years. We stepped on the sleeper train out of the light rain at 11:30 last night, and I slept despite the lack of room and privacy. At 3:45 am the conductor came by saying Haridwar, Haridwar. I stuck my head over my bunk to see if Prabha was jumping off the walls yet, but that didn’t happen until we got off the train. I can’t imagine the excitement of returning home after being away for three years, especially with the anticipation of seeing so many brothers and sisters.

They surprised us with leis of marigolds at the train station, and our short trip to the Ashram was filled with Prabha’s excited voice finally talking in Hindi with her few brothers and sister that had come to meet us.

I was helped up the stairs this morning by an adorable four year-old. She led me to a room full of dancing girls. Prabha was in the middle swinging the small kids around. I am going to savor these three days, I can tell. I mean how often do you get as many hugs from children as you want?

Arriving at the Ashram – By Madeline Weston-Miles and Nina Castañon

We arrived at the train station after a wonderful meal at a Japanese/Chinese restaurant called Aka Saka. The train station was not too overwhelming, even though the train arrived late. Our travel agent Karan helped us to navigate our way through the station to A2, the “executive class sleeper car”. Much to our surprise, the executive class was not as posh as we had imagined it to be. We crammed into the very crowded compartments, some of us getting yelled at for sitting in other people’s seats. When we finally figured out all of our seating arrangements, the four hour ride went relatively fast.

“I didn’t find it to be as shocking or scary as the other students, as I had traveled the train to the orphanage before.” (Maddy). “It was definitely a surprise to me to be in a train cabin with people that I didn’t know and whom I couldn’t understand a single word from.” (Nina)

We arrived in Haridwar, the nearest large town to the city, with a wonderful greeting from some of the kids at the Ashram, and Dayanand, our World Religions teacher. They had flower malas for us, which are like leis made of marigolds and carnations. We all packed on the school bus that they had brought for us from the Ashram. We arrived at the Ashram at 5 am, and all found our rooms, which had welcome signs on them with our names that the kids at the Ashram had made.

We rested for a couple of hours until we were awakened by the children singing and the sun coming up. We took a quick bucket shower and went out to see all of the different kids singing and dancing and some practicing volleyball for our upcoming match.

“The hospitality and welcome that I felt was unlike anything that I have ever encountered before. Within about an hour I had at least three children following me around hugging me and calling, Ninadidi, (didi meaning older sister and offers a level of affection and respect) when they thought that I was leaving” (Nina). “When Prabha had one of the students come and get Emily and I and bring us over to the girl’s dorm to watch them practice, they stopped and performed a dance from the Bollywood movie for us. It was really wonderful to experience their enthusiasm and willingness to honor us as visitors. We just don’t get that kind of treatment everyday” (Maddy).

At ten we sat down for breakfast and had a scrumptious meal that was very filling since we hadn’t eaten for several hours. After that we passed the time sipping tea and getting ready for a volleyball game against worthy adversaries at one. All in all the Ashram has a great feel about it and we can’t wait to spend a few more very promising days here.

Day One

The Streets of Delhi – By Mark Hansen

The bus trip from our YWCA lodging to Kingsway Camp was one of the first cultural shocks that I have experienced since coming to India. The bus simply owns the road, driving straight and aggressive, in a sort of constant bluff saying “I will run over anything that doesn’t yield.” Motor and bicycle rickshaws travel in groups everywhere, and in India honking is the preferred way of announcing your position and thus saving your life. To my right an open-backed truck passes, holding what looks like the local Delhi SWAT team. Cows are positioned in random places along the road; one is lying down in a small patch of grass in between several lanes of busy traffic on both sides of the street. A small scooter is pulled up next to five or six other ones, but this one is slightly special. A young boy of about ten is sitting in his father’s lap as his father drives and the mother is perched precariously on the back of the scooter, holding a small child She’s holding it casually, with one arm, apparently without even the thought that the whole enterprise is slightly dangerous. Might I mention that the only one wearing a helmet the driving father? A small village is created at each stop light due to the large amount of people amassed. A young man walks among the scooters, rickshaws, cars, and buses selling slices of coconut. The light turns, and the man deftly dodges the chaotic rush of Delhi traffic. An elephant is chilling on the side of the road, and I am forced to wonder how such a large, slow, animal is able to negotiate an area where space is at such a premium. There are a ridiculously huge amount of walls and fences in Delhi; it’s almost as if everything is broken up in some kind of indirect effort at deterring the ease of travel and freedom of movement. We finally approach Kingsway Camp and the Gandhi Ashram, the area and group of people dedicated to celebrating Gandhi’s life and achievements. It’s been quite an immersion in Indian culture just in our first 24 hours, and I can’t wait to see what else this wild country has in store for me.

And then there were the vikrams…

Life of an Orphan – By Prabha Sharan

Passports, visas, curriculum, clothes, packing, everything went by so fast. Even the plane ride, the takeoff, landing, just the whole thing – it was fast. But as soon as I came out of airport it felt like the Earth had stopped. The people here just don’t have the urgency to run after life like they do in America. They don’t rush to do anything. Simplicity in living is everywhere. For example, yesterday we went to Kingsway Camp where the Harijan orphans board and are educated. Harijans are the lowest class in India. They are the neglected and street dwellers. It was really sweet because when we walked into their boarding school’s courtyard, they all yelled “Welcome!” at the top of their lungs. It reminded me of the days when I was one of them and would get really excited when somebody came to our orphanage. The students invited us to sing prayers with them. We had our lunch while they all went to the Gandhi kutir where they do their prayers and also where Gandhi used to sleep. We all walked towards the kutir and saw all the shoes beautifully lined up. The fact that I was in India hadn’t really hit me, but when I walked up and saw their faces, my heart just melted. They all started to sing their prayers and that was the moment when I lost it. I saw the faces of these orphans full of life and happy to see us. They had nothing, but in a way had everything. The prayers they sang were the prayers I used to sing every day. I think they were surprised about the fact that I knew the words. Just those 15 minutes with the Harijan orphans were precious to me because I am one of them. They have been given a home, a place to grow up with love and education. I had the sudden realization that the opportunities I’ve been given, my education, my community, my caregivers are incredibly valuable to me.

Nirmala Deshpande – By John-Nuri Vissell

During the second half of our stay at the Gandhi Ashram, we were blessed to have an audience with Dr. Nirmala Deshpande, also known as Didi (big sister), who was a follower of Gandhi. She was a disciple of Vinoba Bhave, Gandhi’s spiritual heir, and the man who took over Gandhi’s work after he was assassinated. She walked thousands of kilometers across India with Gandhi’s movement, giving land to the landless. She had a lot of wisdom and experience to share with us.

The interview for me was a pure joy to experience. She had something special to bring to the conversation that few people can. Her experience with Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave was inspiring and incredible to hear about. The many amazing things she had seen and done in her life gave her answers to our questions a certain depth and understanding. I asked her a question that I had asked others concerning our project. The question went something like this, “Part of our work with Project Happiness is trying to make our material accessible to as many people who want to take part. This accessibility includes opening the project to people regardless of religious or spiritual differences. With all of your wisdom and experience, how do you think this can be accomplished?” In her answer she focused on prejudices. She posed the question “Have you ever seen small children playing together?” Her point was that children have no concept of religious differences. They do not think about all of the reasons they should not play together due to conflicting values or beliefs. All they think about is the present moment and just playing. While she was talking, all of the sudden I had a major moment of discovery. For this project, I’ve been working to meet people at as deep a level of thought as I can. I’ve been trying to find gems of profound wisdom in all facets of our experience and I found it in her dialogue. I never thought that the answer could lie in pure childlike innocence. It gave me joy to think that in order to make our project accessible, we may have to invoke our childhood experiences, remembering our innocent bliss playing together in with no prejudices conflicting with the present moment, no complicated thoughts interfering with simply existing together in harmony.

I am very happy to have talked with Nirmala Deshpande. She gave me a new insight on this project and showed me that sometimes the answers to life’s tough questions can be as simple as getting back to our most innocent forms and letting our experience and pure instinct lead our responses. I thank Nirmala Deshpande for sharing her wisdom with us and feel that I have been given a true gift of knowledge through the experience.

Insights – By Daniel Nanas

There’s nothing I can write, or even a photograph that can encompass how vastly different India is from where I’ve grown up. I can look out the window of the bus at any given time and see something that resembles nothing that I’ve ever seen before: cows strolling down the sidewalk (if it can be called such, for it’s not always paved) and rummaging through the garbage for a bite to eat. As I ride through the innermost part of New Delhi, I continue to look for that perfect shot on my camera that will embody everything new and exciting about India, but I can never seem to capture the essence of the scene, let alone the essence of the country, which I couldn’t even begin to profess to understand. And yet, everything I see still makes a profound impression on me. The contrasts are stark.

The obvious truth is that New Delhi is nothing like California, but beyond that, one block of New Delhi can be nothing like the next. Government buildings or offices of elected officials can be mere feet away from various stalls and shops whose patrons could only be the most impoverished members of society. The thing that I’ve heard said so often that keeps coming back to me is that India is a multifaceted place, and I’ve only seen one city. And to say that I’ve “seen” New Delhi would be a gross distortion. What I’ve seen are several blocks of New Delhi, each one full of scenes so remarkably packed full of little complexities that I have trouble digesting even those. But there are things that will stay with me, even in the first twelve hours of our journey. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the wisdom shared by Nirmala Desphande during our interview today, or the thrilling vikram taxi ride through the city taking us to dinner which may only have felt immensely dangerous. Looking back on it, I’m sure that the danger was, indeed, only in my mind, because I haven’t seen a single accident and the city continues to function despite what I might perceive as dangerous driving. With this said, I can only hope that each coming day is as full of surprise and delight as this past one has been.

Simple Beginnings


The Mount Madonna students arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, tonight. After months of preparation and planning it was almost dreamlike watching them push their baggage carts up the ramp to the arrival area.

The students have been working extremely hard to prepare for this trip while in the classroom at Mount Madonna School in California. They have beendeveloping ideas for the curriculum on Ethics for the New Millennium since September, emailing theircounterparts at the Tibetan Children’s Village at Dharamsala, working on questions for interviews, and no doubt dreaming about what it will be like to be in India in a culture many times older than ours. What they have not seen are the preparations on this side of the world where my wife Kranti and I have been doing our annual stint at Sri Ram Ashram (home for previously orphaned children and school for the village children of the area) for the past two months. www.sriramfoundation.org .

From this side with so much help from our friends we have been working on visas for the Nigerians, permits for our film crew, and additional interviews with some of India’s leading figures such at the noted Gandhian and member of the upper house of Parliament, Nirmala Deshpande, and thanks to her an interview with His Excellency the President of India, Abdul Kalam and the top American in India Ambassador David Mulford.

One of the great lessons of The Dalai Lama’s book, Ethics for the New Millennium that is at the core of this project, is that we live in an interconnected world where nothing arises independently. This is exactly the case here. So many friends here have been helping us prepare this experience for the Mount Madonna Students: people like Raman Bhatia, networking to find us help when our friends from Nigeria were having difficulty getting their visas, Vivek Sharma my colleague on the Gandhi Ashram Trust, skillfully following up with the President’s office to secure the interview that Nirmala Deshpande requested from her friend President Abdul Kalam. Every person we asked for support in some way or another has added to the potential of the adventure that our students are about to experience.

After a brief orientation the students have all gone to bed. Tomorrow we will breakfast here at the YWCA in central Delhi, and prepare for our Nirmala Deshpande interview. This tiny woman now in her 70’s was part of one of the most extraordinary projects in Indian history. The chief disciple of Vinoba Bhave who was known as Gandhi’s spiritual heir, Nirmalaji as a young girl joined the Boodhan movement where, after independence Vinoba and his disciples spent 13 years walking through the Indian countryside collecting land and distributing it amongst the landless. Now a member of the Rajya Sabha, Nirmalaji, or Didi, as she is known to her admirers, is a leading proponent of peace between India and Pakistan. We will meet her at the historic Kingsway Camp where Gandhi stayed in the early days of the freedom movement. This beautiful old campus is still home to a small school for the Harijan children who come from the lowest of the casts and who were particularly dear to Mahatma Gandhi. It is Nirmalji’s fond hope to fully restore this national treasure and create an international center dedicated to the Gandhian values and the uplift of all human kind. It is a fitting place to begin our story at this is where the modern nation of India began.

Over the next two weeks these Mount Madonna seniors will begin sharing their experiences through postings on this blog, so stay tuned. Much, much more to come.

-Sadanand Ward Mailliard

A Taste of New York

Richard Gere
Richard Gere

I was amazed by the seemingly endless layout of the city that stood before me; an everlasting wonderland for my eyes. Buildings so high it hurts your neck to try to see the top. People so many in numbers it’s like trying to count the stars in the sky. It is a city of beauty. We only had two days in NY, but it was just enough to get me hooked. The people, the food, the sights, it was all a wave of new experiences for my mind to absorb.

We had two interviews during our stay. Our first interview was with a member of the Beastie Boys, Adam Yauch. He was a very down to earth person. Being a practitioner Buddhism, he has done a lot of work through his band and his fame to promote the Free Tibet Movement. One thing I really respected about Adam Yauch was how sincere he was with his answers to us; he showed no restraint in asking for clarification in our questions.

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Just a Smile

Naomi Magid
Naomi Magid

I don’t believe there is anything more contagious than the human smile. I remember when I was a little girl, I’d test the theory in a car game called “sweet and sour”. I’d sit in the back of my mom’s Volvo wagon and smile gleefully at passerby’s in the cars alongside ours and based on their response deem them either “sweet” or “sour”. I can recall how happy it made me to see a stranger reciprocate the smile…an expression of their internal happiness. I couldn’t place why at the time, but thinking of it now I am sure it came from a place of compassion for others…that seeing another’s happiness delighted me because it touched something that I believe is engrained in many of us: a wish for universal happiness. His Holiness touches on this same subject in chapter 5 of his book. He says that even in the case of someone he has nothing to do with, when that person smiles at him, he is touched. He goes on to ask why this is. Why is it that such a basic human function on the face of a stranger can brighten one’s day? I ask the same question and I believe the only answer is that is something engrained in humans…that seeing someone truly happy can bring up that same emotion within us. Happiness is created by our surroundings, what we choose to take in. But why then is there so much suffering in the world? We spread all sorts of diseases and negative emotions instead of infecting others with our smiles. We forget that our happiness is just as powerful as our sadness. If any of you are upset with the world we live in today, I ask that you bring this awareness back and utilize it. Smile at a stranger, and see how it makes you feel, knowing that with such a small and natural action, you may have brightened that persons day. Smile when you might want to frown…you may remember how powerful it can be.

Self-Patterning

John-Nuri Vissell

Our discussion about the concept of self-patterning from Chapter 10 in “Ethics for the New Millennium” prompted me to share my feelings in writing. When I was little, my older sister would tell me a story that went something like this: A young boy goes to visit his grandfather. The boy is in a very bad mood when he goes, and right away the grandfather knows that something is not right with the boy. “Why are you so upset?” asks the grandfather. “I have no control over how I feel” say the boy naively. The grandfather goes on to tell the boy that within every person on the face of the earth dwells two wolves of emotion, one wolf is the wolf of negative emotion, the other wolf is the wolf of positive emotion. The boy asked his grandfather curiously, “which wolf wins?” the grandfather sighs heavily and replies, “which ever one we feed.”

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Ethic of Restraint

Mark
Mark Hansen

One of my favorite parts of the Ethics book is his idea of the ‘ethic of restraint’. The road towards happiness is truly a two pronged approach, or rather a balancing act of our restraint and cultivation. I definitely agree that compassion is one of the core virtues that contain such things as humility, love, tolerance and forgiveness. Through our own restraint of our afflictive emotions, and the cultivation of our own deep compassion, we can truly be on the road to happiness. This brings up the question, “Is happiness inborn?”

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Star Wars and the Dalai Lama

Luke
Luke Sanders-Self

Jedi CodeIn the Ethics for a New Millennium the Dalai Lama talks about many concepts of Tibetan Buddhism that run parallel to the main themes of George Lucas’ film Star Wars made in the late 1970’s. Filmmaker and Director George Lucas borrowed from multiple sources, including the ancient Greeks, Taoism and Tibetan Buddhism.

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