“Lack of pride” is a virtue among these people.”
“No one has ever seen a fight,
or even heard of even a rumor of a fight occurring,
even in the memory of the elders.”
In 1887 a Russian war correspondent, Nicolas Notovitch claimed that while at the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh, he had learned of the document “Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men” – Isa being the Arabic name of Jesus in Islam. Ancient scrolls reveal that Jesus spent seventeen years in the Kashmir region. According to the “Life of Saint Issa”,
“Jesus reached a mountain pass. And in the chief city of Ladakh, Leh, he was joyously accepted by monks and people of the lower class…. And Jesus taught in the monasteries and in the bazaars (market places); wherever the simple people gathered — there he taught. Not far from this place lived a woman whose son had died, and she brought him to Jesus. And in the presence of a multitude, Jesus laid his hand on the child, and the child rose healed. And many brought their children, and Jesus laid his hands upon them, healing them. Among the Ladakhis, Jesus passed many days, teaching them. And they loved him, and when the time of his departure came they sorrowed as children.”
After the Buddha dropped his body, Buddhist from India, China, and as far as Shri Lanka would gather every 100 years and hold a centennial Buddhist council. The 4th council which took place at Harwan, in Kashmir, is now considered by most scholars to be the birthplace of Mahanyana Buddhism. Jesus was present at the 4th council and gave birth to Mahanyana Buddhism. Such a great insight requires a great personality. Scholars feel that this great personality was none other than ‘Yusa Asef’ or Jesus Christ. The 4th council was commemorated with two coins. One for Buddha and one for Jesus.
It is from this council presided over by Jesus Himself, that the ‘Ban-Ya’(반야) Sutra’s, or the ‘Greatest Wisdom Sutras’ which include the Diamond Sutra, the Heart Sutra, and the Lotus Sutra find their prominance. The Lotus Sutra in particular is where the Buddha reveals himself as the ‘father’ instead of just a teacher. The two coins that were issued by King Kanishka, who was a Buddhist reveal that the Buddha and Jesus were considered to be equals by those present. One coin was issued in the name of ‘Budho’ while the other in the name of ‘Yuzo,’ or Jesus.
For more details watch this great documentary made by the Indian Government:
Govt of India Documentry on Jesus in Kashmir !!
Baba also confirms that Jesus spent many years in the Kashmir region after leaving Israel. During his journeys in Kashmir, Baba also personally visited and did his work in the Ladakh region. Some Sanskrit and Pali documents suggest that Jesus would leave the Ladakh area only if he had to. Otherwise, he preferred to stay with the Ladakh most of the time. I bring this up because, once Baba stood in a certain spot somewhere in the Kashmir region and told the Mandali, that the spot he was standing on was very special. Baba said something like “When I was Krishna, I stood in this spot. When I was Buddha I stood in this spot. When I was Jesus, I stood in this spot. Now, as Baba I’m standing in this same spot again.” Having learned about the Ladakh, I sometimes wonder if the ‘spot’ is somewhere in the Ladakh region. For me, if there ever was a ‘kingdom of God on earth,’ it was the Ladakh. For me, the closest culture to Baba’s New Humanity ‘was’ the Ladakh. I’m using the word ‘was’ because the Ladakh culture is almost no more.
In the Discourses Baba says that:
The New Humanity will be freed from a life of limitations, allowing unhampered scope for the creative life of the spirit; and it will break the attachment to external forms and learn to subordinate them to the claims of the spirit.
What is this ‘spirit’ he’s talking about? In a section called ‘Life of the Spirit’ Baba explains:
If the body yields to the claims of the spirit as it should, it is instrumental in bringing down the kingdom of heaven on earth.
The Ladakh were living the ‘kingdom of heaven on earth. If you doubt this—by the end of this article—you won’t. I wish to urge you to read every line carefully. The New Humanity is stranger than we can imagine. For people of the 1st Period, the 5th Period is a strange place. But for the people of the 5th Period, like us, the 1st Period is even stranger. (To understand 1st ~ 5th period, check out Buddha’s Prophecy)
Ladakh is the highest plateau of state of Kashmir with much of it being over 3,000 m (9,800 ft). It extends from the Himalayan to the Kun Lun Ranges and includes the upper Indus River valley. It is one of the most inhospitable places in the world. It is referred to as the ‘high desert.’
Though the terrain is even worst than that of Tibet, the Ladakhis have never known starvation. They always had plenty to go around. When a great famine would hit the Tibet region, from time to time, historically, the Ladakh have always been able to accommodate all the starving refugees that crossed into their region. They would all mobilize in a great effort to help the starving refugees, sharing what they had—every time!—without fail.
To understand the Ladakhis better, we have to step into the shoes of Dr. Helena Norberg-Hodge.
Helena Norberg-Hodge, a linguist by training, was the first Westerner in modern times to master the Ladakhi language. For seventeen years, she spent half of every year in Ladakh, working with the Ladakhi people to protect their culture and environment from the effects of rapid modernization. For this work,
Norberg-Hodge was awarded the 1986 Right to Livelihood Award,
also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize.
What I want to do is quote sections of her book ‘Ancient Futures.’ To get an accurate picture of the Ladakh way of life, Helena’s work is essential.
Watch carefully the documentary on the Ladakh click:
The vast majority of Ladakhis are self-supporting farmers, living in small settlements scattered in the high desert. The size of each village depends on the availability of water, which comes from the melted snow and ice of the mountains. Generations ago, channels were built, tapping the melt water from above and bringing it down to the fields. The water is often channeled for several miles, across steep walls of rock and scree, stretching it as far as it will reach. An elaborate, well-maintained network of smaller channels weaves through each village.
The Ladakhis’ attitude to life——and death——seems to be based on an intuitive understanding of impermanence and a consequent lack of attachment. . . . Rather than clinging to an idea of how things should be, they seem blessed with an ability to actively welcome things as they are. . ,
Baba said the New Humanity will be free from any form of attachment, even to life itself.
The average family holding is about five acres; occasionally a household might have as many as ten. Optimum acreage is determined by the size of the family, roughly one acre per working member of the household. Beyond that, land is not of much use. There is no point in possessing land you cannot work. (This is reflected in the fact that Ladakhis measure land according to how long it takes to plough it. The size of a plot is described as “one day,” “two days,” and so on.)
Ownership, or more like ‘stewardship’ for the Ladakhi, and is based on ‘active use.’
Animals play a central role in the economy. They provide dung, the main fuel, as well as transport, labor, wool, and milk. The most common domesticated animals are sheep, goats, donkeys, horses, cows, and the famous yak. The dzo, a hybrid between the local cow and yak, is the most important and useful draft animal.
For those of us that are into ‘Permaculture’ and ‘sustainable living’ understand that special variety is essential for sustainability. What the Ladakh’s have is a sort of ‘Noah’s Ark’ of Permaculture. Lets take a deeper look into their farm life.
Once the sowing has been completed, the crop does not need much care—only watering, which is usually done on a rotational basis, sometimes established by dice. In most villages, irrigation is regulated by a churpon, who is appointed or elected from within the village. He operates the flow of water, blocking and opening the canals as required. Householders are allotted a certain period of time every week when they can divert the main channels into their own fields.
Harvest is another festive occasion. A line of reapers, old and young, men and women, sing as they cut the crop low to the ground with sickles. In the evening, people gather to sing, drink, and dance. A butter lamp is lit in the kitchen, and garlands of wheat, barley, and peas are wrapped around the wooden pillars.
I walked out onto the balcony. Whole families—grandfathers, parents, children—were working in the fields, some cutting, some stacking, others winnowing. Each activity had its own particular song. The harvest lay in golden stacks, hundreds to a field, hardly allowing the bare earth to show through. A clear light bathed the valley with an intense brilliance. No ugly geometry had been imposed on this land, no repetitive lines. Everything was easy to the eye, calming to the soul.
Farther down the valley, a man sang to his animals as they ploughed his fields:
Oh, you two great bulls, sons of the wild yak!
Your mother may be a cow,
but you are like the tiger-and the lion!
You are like the eagle, the king of birds!
Aren’t you the dancers of the high peaks?
Aren’t you the ones who take the mountains on your lap?
Aren’t you the ones who drink the ocean in one gulp?
Oh, you two great balls. Pull! Pull!
The Ladakh’s have one of the most advanced, and one of the largest water systems in the world. It is the longest continuously used large scale irrigation systems in the world. The people here had running water in their homes for centuries. Helena tells us:
Soon after I had arrived in Ladakh, I was washing some clothes in a stream. Just as I was plunging a dirty dress into the water, a little girl, no more than seven years old, came by from a village upstream. “You can’t put your clothes in that water,” she said shyly. “People down there have to drink it.” She pointed to a village at least a mile farther downstream. “You can use that one over there; that’s just for irrigation.”
They are self sufficient and they waste nothing
Where we would consider something completely worn out, exhausted of all possible worth, and would throw it away, Ladakhis will find some further use for it. Nothing whatever is just discarded. What cannot be eaten can be fed to the animals; what cannot be used as fuel can fertilize the land.
Ladakhis patch their homespun robes until they can be patched no more. When winter demands that they wear two or three on top of each other, they put the best one on the inside to keep it in good condition for special occasions. When no amount of stitching can sustain a worn-out robe, it is packed with mud into a weak part of an irrigation channel to help prevent leakage.
Virtually all the plants, shrubs, and bushes that grow wild, either around the edges of irrigated land or in the mountains — what we would call “weeds” —— are gathered and serve some useful purpose. Burtse is used for fuel and animal fodder; yagdaz, for the roofs of houses; the thorny tsermang, for building fences to keep animals out of fields and gardens; demok, as a red dye. Others are used for medicine, food, incense, and basket weaving.
In such ways Ladakhis traditionally have recycled everything. There is literally no waste. With only scarce resources at their disposal, farmers have managed to attain almost complete self-reliance, dependent on the outside world only for salt, tea, and a few metals for cooking utensils and tools.
They are kind to animals
Oh, you beautiful beast, you strong beast!
Your tail is long, and your horns reach to the sky!
Please plough our fields,
Please work hard for us now,
And we will take you to the pastures
Where you can eat long grass and flowers
And do nothing all day! Oh, you beautiful beast!
Especially in winter, Ladakhis eat meat (goat in particular, but also yak and dzo) presumably because it would be difficult to survive without. Fish is never eaten, as it is thought that if you are going to take a life, it is better for it to be the life of a large animal that can supply food for many people; if you ate fish, you would have to take many more lives. The killing of animals is not taken lightly and is never done without asking for forgiveness and with much prayer:
Those animals which I use for riding and loading
Which have been killed for me,
AH those whose meat I have taken,
May they attain the state of Buddha-hood soon.
Village houses are large structures two or three floors high, with a floor area of four thousand square feet or more. Whitened walls slope gently inward toward a flat roof, giving the house grace despite its massive, fortress like proportions. A new house is never built without concern for the Sadak, the spirits of the earth.
Bricks and stones are often transported by long lines of people who pass them along one by one; for something like a large tree trunk, groups of men will form a team.
Although stone is often used for the first floor, the main building material is mud. Together the whole family prepares the bricks; even small children join in putting mud into the wooden molds. Walls are often three feet thick, plastered with a fine clay called Markala (literally, “butter-mud”) and then whitewashed with limestone.
For those of us into Permaculture—this is a ‘cobb house’—the best kind of house there is—for us, that is.
The house is more than just functional; time is spent on details that are purely aesthetic. Windows and doors receive special attention. Some have ornately carved lintels (the work of the village carpenter); the most popular design is the lotus. A jet black border, about ten inches wide and made from a mixture of soot and clay, contrasts with the white walls. Small balconies, again finely worked, adorn the upper floors.
Here comes the best part for me:
The kitchen is the heart of the house; here the family spends most of its time. Kitchens are usually so large that it can be difficult to talk to someone on the other side of the room.
Much of the house is given over to storage, as for more than six months of the year nothing grows outside. Off the kitchen is the main storeroom, its thick walls ensuring that it stays icy cool in the heat of summer.
On the top floor, surrounding the courtyard, are usually two or three rooms—typically the guest room, a summer bedroom, and the family “chapel,” the most elaborate and expensive part of the house. The guest room, which is where more formal entertaining goes on, is lavishly decorated and carpeted throughout with Tibetan rugs. The “chapel” is filled with religious texts and other treasures that have been passed on for generations: The strong smell of apricot oil pervades this dark and silent room. Worn Thankas (religious paintings on cloth) cover the walls, and a large drum hangs from the ceiling. An intricately carved and painted altar is lined with silver bowls and butter lamps. On special days of the Buddhist calendar, monks gather here to perform religious ceremonies, and each morning and evening one of the family makes offerings, lighting the oil-filled lamps, filling the bowls with water, and chanting mantras and prayers.
Man, that sounds NICE!!
“Despite an extreme climate and a scarcity of resources, Ladakhis enjoy more than mere subsistence—an achievement all the more remarkable since people have only the most basic tools to work with.”
The only artifact besides the plough and the loom that we might label “technology” is the water mill, an ingeniously simple design complete with a friction-operated grain-release mechanism that obviates the need for supervision. Otherwise, only such implements as spades, saws, sickles, and hammers are used. Nothing more sophisticated is necessary. For many tasks in which we would employ large machinery, Ladakhis have animals and teamwork instead, each task accompanied by song:
Lhamo khyong, Lhamo khyong Yale khyong, Lhamo-le
(“make it easy, easy does it”)
Sounds like Bill Mollison’s wet dream(one of the fathers of Permaculture). It is a Primitivist dream come true.
With only simple tools at their disposal, Ladakhis spend a long time accomplishing each task. Producing wool for clothes involves the time-consuming work of looking after the sheep while they graze, shearing them with hand tools, and working the wool from beginning to end—cleaning, spinning, and finally weaving it. In the same way, producing food, from sowing the seed until the food is served on the table, is labor-intensive. Yet I found that the Ladakhis had an abundance of time. They worked at a gentle pace and had a surprising amount of leisure.
Time is measured loosely; there is never a need to count minutes. “I’ll come to see you toward midday, toward evening,” they will say, giving themselves several hours’ leeway. Ladakhi has many lovely words to depict time, all broad and generous. Gongrot means “from after dark till bedtime”; Nyitse means literally “sun on the mountain peaks”; and Chipe-chirrit, “bird song,” describes that time of the morning, before the sun has risen, when the birds sing.
Even during the harvest season, when the work lasts long hours, it is done at a relaxed pace that allows an eighty-year-old as well as a young child to join in and help. People work hard, but at their own rate, accompanied by laughter and song. The distinction between work and play is not rigidly denned.
“When your work becomes your play, you never have to work again.”—Alan Watts
Remarkably, Ladakhis only work, really work, for four months of the year. In the eight winter months, they must cook, feed the animals, and carry water, but work is minimal. Most of the winter is spent at festivals and parties, even during summer; hardly a week passes without a major festival or celebration of one sort or another, while in winter the celebration is almost nonstop.
Damn! That sounds Aaawweeessssooommmeeee!!!!!!
Winter is also the time for telling stories. ***I like stories. In fact, there is a saying in Ladakh: “As long as the earth is green, no tale should be told.” This prohibition on story telling in the summer must arise from the need to concentrate on agriculture in those few short months.
Health & Medicine
“Illness is caused by lack of understanding.”—Ladakhi belief
The Ladakhi people exude a sense of well-being, vitality, and high spirits. In terms of physique, almost everyone is trim and fit—only rarely underweight and even more rarely obese. In fact, obesity is so unusual that I once overheard a woman complaining to a doctor of “strange folds in the stomach,” without having any idea what they were. Even without obvious muscle (something that has puzzled Western doctors), both men and women are extremely strong, and like many other mountain peoples, they seem to have endless stamina.
Starting to sound like the Tarahumara…..
The old are active until the day they die. One morning I saw the eighty-two-year-old grandfather in the house where I lived running down a ladder from die roof. He was full of life, and we exchanged a few words about the weather. That afternoon at three o’clock he died. We found him sitting peacefully as though asleep.
FYI. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba had no source for oil. Faced with mass starvation Castro needed a miracle. Cubans lost an average of 25 lb. But then two Australian Permaculturists arrive to present Castro with a plan. Castro says “Lets do it!” 25 years later, now Cuba is food self sufficient without the use of any fertilizers or pesticides. Almost everyone is a Permaculture farmer. Cuba has become the largest Permaculture garden in the world. In the aftermath of the Heiti earthquake Cuba sent more food and medical aid to Heiti than the U.S. With the abundance of organic food, the people have become so healthy that Cubans now outlive Americans. But the real difference is that while our elderly are kept alive by surgeries, medication, and emergency care units, the elderly in Cuba were working the garden that morning and died in their sleep. In healthy societies—people die in their sleep—eyes closed.
As to why are the Cubans now outliving Americans, check out Max Gerson.
Of course people do get ill; respiratory infections and digestive disorders in particular are relatively common, as are skin and eye complaints. More seriously, the extreme cold of winter produces a high infant mortality rate, especially around the time of weaning. But once those first critical years have passed, the general level of health is high.
In the traditional way of life, people experiences little stress and enjoy peace of mind. The pace of their lives is relaxed and easy. They breathe pure air, get regular and prolonged exercise, and eat whole, unrefined foods. Their bodies are not forced to accommodate materials alien to the natural world of which they are a part. The food they eat is locally grown and organic, and until recently there was virtually no environmental pollution.
Consumption of both butter and salt is, by our standards, dangerously high. Yet few of the health problems seen in the West as consequences of such imbalance are found. Despite the extremely high cholesterol intake, for instance, heart disease has been almost nonexistent.
I love Butter! and salt!
Responsibility for the sick is primarily in the hands of the Amchi. Most villages have at least one Amchi, some many more. They are among the most respected members of the community and generally learn their craft from their fathers and grandfathers before them. They do not work full time, for like everyone else, they too farm their own land.
Even the Doctor is a farmer!
The Tibetan system of medicine, which has recently been gaining considerable respect in the West, dates back to the eighth century.
As is common in other traditional systems of medicine, diagnosis involves an examination of the whole patient. Illness is not seen as a malfunctioning of this or that particular part of the body, but as a more general imbalance. Disorders are viewed from a broader perspective, with body, mind, and spirit recognized as integral parts of the same entity. As a consequence, a part of the prescribed cure will often be spiritually oriented— the saying of mantras or even the performance of prostrations. More so perhaps than in Western medicine, the Amchi’s experience is all-important. His patients are his fellow villagers, so he has an intimate knowledge of their habits and character.
It is a Holistic approach to health. (mind, body, and spirit)
Most unusual of all treatments that I have known was the one recommended by an Amchi in Zanskar for a woman whom a Western doctor diagnosed as suffering from hepatitis. “Strong sexual intercourse” was urged upon her; remarkably, the patient was greatly improved only a few days later! Another unusual and shocking remedy is the practice of placing a hot iron directly on the skin, leaving a small scar. Ladakhis who have undergone this treatment assure me that it is effective and painless.
Appendicitis, perforated ulcers, and most of the other sudden-onset conditions common in the West are rarely encountered.
When Helena described many of the common Western psychological disorders. The Doctor explained that he had never come across these conditions but had read about them in his books. In other words, they haven’t had a case of insanity in quite some time.
Sense of Community & Conflict resolution
“Even a man with a hundred horses may need to ask another for a whip.”
“To the Ladakhis the overriding issue was coexistence.
It was more important to keep good relations with your neighbor
than to earn some money.”
A concern not to offend or upset one another is deeply rooted in Ladakhi society; people avoid situations that might lead to friction or conflict. When someone transgresses this unwritten law, as in the case of Sonam’s neighbor, extreme tolerance is the response. And yet concern for community does not have the oppressive effect on the individual that one might have imagined. On the contrary, I am now convinced that being a part of a close-knit community provides a profound sense of security.
In traditional Ladakh, aggression of any sort is exceptionally rare: rare enough to say that it is virtually nonexistent. If you ask a Ladakhi to tell you about the last fight he can remember, you are likely to get mischievous answers like “I’m always beating up my neighbor. Only yesterday, I tied him to a tree and cut both his ears off.” Should you get a serious answer, you will be told that there has been no fighting in the village in living memory. Even arguments are rare. I have hardly ever seen anything more than mild disagreement in the traditional villages—certainly nothing compared with what you find in the West. Do the Ladakhis conceal or repress their feelings?
Very good question, Helena!
I asked Sonam once, “Don’t you have arguments? We do in the West all the time.”
He thought for a minute. “Not in the villages, no—well, very-very seldom, anyway.”
“How do you manage it?” I asked.
He laughed. “What a funny question. We just live with each other, that’s all.”
“So what happens if two people disagree——say, about the boundaries of their land?”
“They’ll talk about it, of course, and discuss it. What would you expect them to do?”
I didn’t reply.
One means of ensuring a lack of friction in traditional Ladakhi society is something I call the “spontaneous intermediary.” As soon as any sort of difference arises between two parties, a third party is there to act as arbiter. Whatever the circumstances, whoever is involved, an intermediary always seems to be on hand. It happens automatically, without any prompting; the intermediary is not consciously sought and can be anyone who happens to be around; it might be an older sister, or a neighbor, or just a passing stranger. I have seen the process function even with young children. I remember watching a five- year-old settling a squabble between two of his friends in this way. They listened to him willingly. The feeling that peace is better than conflict is so deeply ingrained that people turn automatically to a third party.
This mechanism prevents problems from arising in the first place. The spontaneous intermediary, it seems, is always around in any context that might possibly lead to conflict. If two people are involved in trade, for example, they can be sure that someone will be there to help them strike a deal.
One spring I was traveling on a truck from Kargil to Zanskar. Since snow still covered the road, the journey was taking longer than usual, but though it was rough and uncomfortable, I was enjoying the experience. It was fascinating observing our driver. He was exceptionally large and burly for a Ladakhi and had become a bit of a hero in the short time since the road had been built. Everywhere along the way, people knew him. Traveling up and down the road every few weeks, he had become an important personage in the eyes of the villagers— sending messages, delivering parcels, and carrying passengers.
He had brought a sack of rice, for which he wanted some of the famous creamy Zanskari butter. As he approached an old woman, a large crowd gathered around. Suddenly a young boy no more than twelve years old was taking charge. He was telling this King of the Road how much to expect, what was reasonable. The whole affair lasted fifteen minutes, the driver and the old woman bartering through the young lad, never directly with each other. It seemed incongruous, this big tough man meekly following the advice of a boy half his size, yet so appropriate.
Respect for kids is common
Before coming to Ladakh, I had always thought that the best judges were the ones who were in no way connected with the individuals they were judging; maintaining this neutrality and distance, it seemed, was the only way of administering real justice. Perhaps it is, when you are talking about a society on the scale of our own. But having lived in Ladakh for many years, I have had to change my mind. Though no system of justice can be perfect, none is more effective than one that is based on small, close-knit communities and that allows people to settle their problems at a grass-roots level, by discussion among themselves. I have learned that when the people settling disputes are intimately acquainted with the parties involved, their judgment is not prejudiced; on the contrary, this very closeness helps them to make fairer and sounder decisions. Not only do smaller units allow for a more human form of justice, they also help prevent the sort of conflict that is so much a part of larger communities.
“What power structure?”—moa 🙂
“Power doesn’t corrupt; Power IS corruption.”–moa2 😉
Traditional Ladakhi villages are run democratically, and, with few exceptions, every family owns its own land. Disparities in wealth are minimal. About 95 percent of the population belongs to what one might call a middle class. The remainder is split more or less evenly between an aristocracy and a lower class. This latter group is made up primarily of Mons, the early settlers of Ladakh, who are usually carpenters and blacksmiths. Their low status is attributed to the fact that extracting metals from the earth is thought to anger the spirits. Differences between these three classes exist, but they do not give rise to social tension. In contrast to European social boundaries, the classes interact on a day-to-day basis. It would not be unusual to see a Mon, for instance, joking with a member of the royal family.
Keeping the banker, the blacksmith the preacher, and the carpenter in check is how we keep the planet, and ourselves, from being totally exploited. We see this pattern in many cultures including the ‘Dogon Tribe’ in Africa. For the Dogon it is forbidden to ‘invent’ beyond absolute necessity. Their version of Satan, who they call ‘Kachina’, is the ‘sly fox of invention’. The blacksmith is not allowed to own property, and must live only via the generosity of others. Don’t open the Pandora’s Box!—is core to the Dogon belief. The Ladakh also understand this concept very well. This is the philosophical basis for Primitivism—A belief we need to ‘decomplish’ most of our technological ‘acomplishments’—for life to restored on the planet.
All technologies inevitably cause more problems than they solve.
For each problem a technology solves, it creates an even larger one.
This problem continues to fractal up until one day….
Man wonders, if perhaps, just maybe, it might be a good idea to….
PUT IT ALL BACK IN THE BOX!!!
… lets get back to Helena…
Since every farmer is almost completely self-sufficient, and thus largely independent, there is little need for communal decision making; each household essentially works its own land with its own resources. Many activities that would otherwise require the whole village to sit down and draw up plans—like the painting of the village monastery or arrangements for Losar (New Year)—have been worked out many generations ago and are now done by rotation. Nonetheless, sometimes matters have to be decided on a village level. Larger villages are divided up into Chutsos, or groups of ten houses, each of which has at least one representative on the village council.
Since villages are rarely larger than a hundred houses, the scale of life is such that people can directly experience their mutual interdependence. They have an overview and can comprehend the structures and networks of which they are a part, seeing the effects of their actions and thus feeling a sense of responsibility. And because their actions are more visible to others, they are more easily held accountable.
Economic and political interactions are almost always face to face; buyer and seller have a personal connection, a connection that discourages carelessness or deceit. As a result, corruption or abuse of power is very rare. Smaller scale also limits the amount of power vested in one individual. What a difference between the president of a nation-state and the goba in a Ladakhi village: one has power over several millions of people whom he will never meet and who will never have the opportunity to speak to him; the other coordinates the affairs of a few hundred people whom he knows intimately, and who interact with him on a daily basis.
In the traditional Ladakhi village, people have much control over their own lives. To a very great extent they make their own decisions rather than being at the mercy of faraway, inflexible bureaucracies and fluctuating markets. The human scale allows for spontaneous decision making and action based on the needs of the particular context. There is no need for rigid legislation; instead, each situation brings forth a new response.
Ladakhis have been fortunate enough to inherit a society in which the good of the individual is not in conflict with that of the whole community; one person’s gain is not another person’s loss. From family and neighbors to members of other villages and even strangers, Ladakhis are aware that helping others is in their own interest. A high yield for one farmer does not entail a low yield for another. Mutual aid, rather than competition, shapes the economy. It is, in other words, a synergistic society.
Cooperation is formalized in a number of social institutions. Among the most important is the Paspun. Every family in the village belongs to a group of households that helps each other out at the time of birth, marriage, and death. The group consists of between four and twelve households, sometimes from different villages. Generally they share the same household god, who is believed to protect the families from harm and disease. At New Year, offerings are made to the god at a small shrine on the roof of each house. The Paspun is most active at the time of a funeral. After death, the body is kept in the family house until the day of cremation (usually a week or so later), but the family does not need to touch it. The Paspun members have the responsibility to wash and prepare the body; from the moment of death until the body has been totally consumed by fire, it is they who arrange most of the work so that the relatives are spared unnecessary distress.
On the day of the cremation, hundreds of people gather at the house, bringing the customary gifts of bread and barley flour. The relatives of the deceased, in particular the women, sit in the kitchen wailing the mourning chant over and over between tears: “Tussi loma, tussi loma …” (“Like falling autumn leaves, the leaves of time”). Neighbors and friends file past, expressing sympathy: “Tserka macho” (“Don’t be sad”). The sounds of the monks’ music and chanting fill the house.
Much farming work is shared, either by the whole community or by smaller subgroups like the Chutso. During the harvest, for instance, farmers help one another to gather their crops. This works well since fields ripen at different times even in the same village. With everyone working together, the harvest can be gathered in quickly as soon as it is ripe.
Bes, as shared work of this sort is called, often incorporates more than one village, and the reasons for it are not always purely economic. Some farmers will stagger the harvest, even when two fields are ripe at the same time, just so they can work together. You almost never see people harvesting alone; instead, you find groups of men, women, and children all together in the fields—always with constant laughter and song.
Rares (literally, “goat turn”) is the communal shepherding of animals. It is not necessary for someone from each household to go up to the mountains with the animals every single day; instead one or two people take all the sheep and goats from several households and leave everyone else free to do other work.
Damn! It sounds exactly like the Shire! —Lord of the Rings 🙂
Private property is also shared. The small stone houses up at the Phu, though owned by one household, will be used by many, usually in exchange for some work, or milk or cheese. In the same way, the water mills used for grinding grain are available to everyone. If you do not own one yourself, you can make arrangements to use someone else’s; and only in late autumn, when the water is very scarce and everyone is trying to grind as much grain as possible for winter, might you compensate the owner with some of the ground flour.
At the busiest times of the agricultural year, farm tools and draft animals are shared. Especially at the time of sowing—when the earth is finally ready after the long winter and fanners must work hard to prepare the fields—families pool their resources to enable everything to be done as quickly as possible. Again, this practice is sufficiently formalized to have a name, Ihangsae, but within this formal structure, too, a high degree of flexibility is possible.
Roles are generally not so clearly defined as they are in the West. The vast majority of people are not specialists; instead, they have learned a whole range of skills to provide for their needs. With the exception of a very few tasks that are the exclusive province of either men or women—like ploughing the fields, which only men do—almost all activities are carried out on an unstructured basis; most work within the family or village is done in a relaxed, spontaneous way by either sex.
Specialization can show symptoms such as: A dentist who can’t help but look at your teeth. Or a dermatologist who only sees your skin. By the way, do you what they call proctologists in Jamaica: “Pokimon.”
While in Tongde, I tried for a long time to figure out how work was coordinated. Things seemed to get done without the need for discussion and there appeared to be no regular pattern. Sitting in Angchuk and Dolma’s kitchen was like watching an un- choreographed dance. No one said, “You do this,” “Shall I do that?” Yet, smoothly and gracefully, everything that needed doing got done.
One minute Uncle Dawa was cuddling the baby, the next he was stirring a pot on the stove, then he was bringing in some flour from the larder. He passed little Angchuk to Dolma, who held him on her lap as she chopped vegetables. Angchuk pumped the bellows to keep the fire burning and held put a pot for Uncle Dawa to pour the flour into. Abi-le, or Grandmother, took over at the stove while Angdus began to mold the dough for bread. Dolma went out to fetch water from the stream that ran beside the house. Then Uncle Dawa sat down beside the stove. He spun his prayer wheel of shining copper and brass while gently murmuring a sacred mantra, as if it were an accompaniment to the movement around him.
It is the Shire!
Old people participate in all spheres of life. For the elderly in Ladakh, there are no years of staring into space, unwanted and alone; they are important members of the community until the day they die. Old age implies years of valuable experience and wisdom. Grandparents are not so strong, but they have other qualities to contribute; there is no hurry to life, so if they work more slowly it does not matter. They remain a part of the family and community, so active that even in their eighties they are usually fit and healthy, their minds clear.
This is how I want to grow old.
Once I was in the village of Sakti at sowing time. Two households had an arrangement whereby they shared animals, plough, and labor for the few days before sowing could start. Their neighbor, Sonam Tsering, who was not a part of the group, was ploughing his own fields when one of his dzo sat down and refused to work any longer. I thought at first that it was just being stubborn, but Tsering told me that the animal was ill and that he feared it was serious. Just as we were sitting at the edge of the field wondering what to do, the farmer from next door came by and without a moment’s hesitation offered his own help as well as the help of the others in his Ihangsde group. That evening, after they had finished their own work, they all came over to Tsering’s fields with their dzo. As always, they sang as they worked; and long after dark, when I could no longer see them, I could still hear their song.
I want to live with people like that! That does sound like the New Humanity.
In fact, the more time I spent in Ladakh, the more I came to realize the importance of scale. At first, I sought to explain the Ladakhis’ laughter and absence of anger or stress in terms of their values and religion. These did, no doubt, play an important role. But gradually I became aware that the external structures shaping the society, scale in particular, were just as important. They had a, profound effect on the individual and in turn reinforced his or her beliefs and values.
For those of you who are already into ‘localism,’ ‘local-economy,’ ‘localization,’ ‘decentralization of power’—cudos to you. For those of you who have made the leap to outright ‘Anarchism’ or ‘Voluntaryism’ or ‘True Libritarianism’—you have my respect. I’m a ‘No-ism-ist.’ Baba said “all isms have to go.”—even democracy. Therefore my ism is ‘No-ism.’ or ‘all isms have to go-ism.’
Lets see how their women are doing?
“The Ladakhi lady is complete head of her own household,
and the men are well underneath her capable thumb.
She has her own money, she trades on her own;
her word is very much law.”
Major M. L. A. Gompertz, Magic Ladakh, 1928
Wow, does that mean I have to be subservient to my wife? NOooooo!
One of the first things that struck me on my arrival in Ladakh was the wide, uninhibited smiles of the women, who moved about freely, joking and speaking with men in an open and unselfconscious way. Though young girls may sometimes appear shy, women generally exhibit great self-confidence, strength of character, and dignity. Almost all early travelers to Ladakh commented on the exceptionally strong position of women.
Anthropologists looking from a Western perspective at formal, external structures might get” a misleading impression, since men tend to hold the public positions and often sit separately from women at social functions. However, from my experience of several industrial societies, I would say that women in Ladakh actually have a stronger position than in any other culture I know.
Wow! My wife is gonna have a field day…
Once I understood the society more from the inside, as it were, I became aware that differences in roles did not necessarily mean inequality. I sensed a dynamic balance; it was difficult to say who had more real power, men or women. When Dolma sat with her female friends at a party, chatting away, there was no question of sexual discrimination. And although differences between the sexes are not denied in Ladakh, in some ways they are less accentuated than they are in the West. For instance, names for men and women are often identical, and the one pronoun kho stands for both “he” and “she.”
Another difference in language, not unlike the left right paradigm that disables dead reckoning.
“I don’t want to get married and have children. I would rather become a nun,” a Ladakhi friend once said to me. In some cases, women with children choose to leave their families to become nuns; and there are nuns who choose to marry, as well as those who have “illegitimate” children. The role of the nun is surprisingly flexible and rather unusual. Most nuns live at home. In appearance they can be distinguished by their short hair, and they spend more time in prayer than the rest of the family. They benefit from close-knit family and community ties. Even though they remain celibate, they are involved in caring for the young, so they too have close contact with children.
Undoubtedly, monks rank higher than nuns in the formal hierarchy, yet the balance between male and female plays a central role in Buddhist teachings. A monk explained, “Just like the two wings of a bird must be balanced for it to fly, so one cannot attain enlightenment unless wisdom is accompanied by compassion.” The female is symbolic of wisdom, the male of compassion! Together they form the very essence of the religion.
All right, that sounds better. I can live with that. She’s my other wing stuff sounds a lot better.
Most significant of all for the status of women in Ladakh is the fact that the “informal” sector, with women at the center, plays a much larger role than the “formal” one. The focus of the economy is the household; almost all important decisions to do with basic needs are settled at this level. So women are never forced to choose between being with their children and playing an active pan in social and economic life. As I mentioned earlier, there is little need for communal decision making. Thus the public sphere, in which men tend to be the leaders, has far less significant than in the industrialized world.
Although the difference is marginal, women on the whole work harder than men. Unlike in the West, however, they are given full recognition for everything they do. In this agrarian society, maintaining good relations with family and community is vital; so too is knowledge of the land and animals. In these areas women excel.
Wow, this deal is sounding better and better. I’m starting to like this ‘strength in women.’
I remember talking to a young woman a few months after her brother had married:
“Was it an arranged marriage?” I asked.
“Yes, my brother wanted it that way. It’s very important for both families to be involved. They can bring a lot of experience and knowledge to an important decision like this.”
“Are there special qualities that people look for when choosing a wife?”
“Well, first of all, she should be able to get along with people, to be fair and tolerant.” “What else is important?”
“Her skills are valued, and she shouldn’t be lazy.”
“Does it matter if she’s pretty or not?”
“Not really. It’s what she’s like inside that counts—her character is more important. We say here in Ladakh, ‘A tiger’s stripes are on the outside; human stripes are on the inside.’”
Lets hear the story of Dolma.
Dolma was twenty-five when she married Angchuk, who was two years younger. She came from Shadi, a tiny village upstream from Tongde, nestled high up in the mountains. The two villages have a lot of contact with each other. A very high percentage of marriage partners in Tongde come from Shadi, and because Tongde, at a lower altitude, has more grain and Shadi, higher up, more animals, the villages trade between themselves as well.
Dolma’s marriage, like others in Ladakh, is polyandrous. She is also married to Angchuk’s younger brother, Angdus. However, the third brother remains celibate—a monk in Tongde Monastery. I have heard of some cases in which the third brother joined the marriage, but this is rare.
As Angchuk is the oldest brother, he is the head of the household and the senior husband. He is the “boss,” but the hierarchy is not very rigid, and in most situations it would be difficult to tell that he is. Dolma treats her husbands more or less the same; she refers to both of them asatcho, or “elder brother,” and does not seem to favor one or the other.
When I was in Tongde, I visited them often and got to know Dolma well. We would sit together for hours, discussing differences between life in Zanskar and the West. The emotional side of polyandry fascinated me. How did it feel having more than one husband? J asked her whether she loved one brother more than the other. She was embarrassed at first because affection between husband and wife is not expressed openly. Rarely will you see couples holding hands; you will never see them kissing.
“Angdus is more gentle, but I am dose to them both,” she said shyly. If she did not use the verb love, it is because Ladakhi has no word to express our Western preoccupation with an exclusive, passionate, romantic attachment.
When I talked to Angdus and Angchuk about their relationship with Dolma, they seemed a bit embarrassed too, especially when the discussion turned to sex. They took turns sleeping with Dolma, they told me, though Angchuk would sleep with her more often as Angdus spent a lot of time on trading trips; but sometimes—and it was said with such howls of laughter that I did not know whether to believe it—they would all three sleep together, with Dolma in the middle.
Even though Ladakhis are reluctant to show affection in public, they are for from sexually inactive; they seem neither repressed nor promiscuous. Extramarital sex is discouraged, but the attitude js more “These things will happen.” Mothers of illegitimate children are not outcasts. In fact, losing your temper is more scorned than being unfaithful. One of the strongest insults you can hurl at a Ladakhi is schon chan, “one who angers easily.” Angchuk Dawa, a student who has helped me translate folktales, explained that it is bad form for a cuckolded husband to make a scene. “You see, if he should become enraged and kick up a terrible fuss, it would be his conduct, rather than hers, that would be judged more harshly.”
Polyandry has been a key factor in maintaining a relatively stable population in Ladakh over the centuries. This stability has in turn, I believe, contributed to the environmental balance and social harmony. That population control is an important factor in maintaining a balance with the environment is clear. The link with social harmony is perhaps less so. Nevertheless, it seems that social friction is likely to be reduced if the
number of people depending on a fixed quantity of resources remains the same from generation to generation. Under those circumstances, the need for scrambling and fighting to survive is clearly minimized.
The ratio of men to women in Ladakh is roughly equal, so if a number of men take one wife; it means that some women do not marry. Fewer married women means fewer children. Women who do not marry become nuns. And, in fact, a large number of men, usually one or more of the younger brothers, also remain unmarried, living as monks. Thus polyandry has worked hand in hand with the monasticism of Tibetan Buddhism.
Interestingly enough, though polyandry is the preferred form of marriage, it is not the only one. There is some polygamy and monogamy as well. This unusual situation probably reflects a careful adaptation to scarce resources. By keeping social relationships so flexible, the relationship to the land can remain optimal. In other words, from one generation to another, each family has the freedom to choose the ideal marriage option, depending on the amount of land available, the number of offspring and potential partners, and so on.
Polygamous marriages often occur when a woman cannot bear children. In those circumstances, a second wife, usually her sister marries into the family. However there can be other reasons too. In the case of Deskit and Angmo, whom I came to know in Zanskar, the situation was rather different. Not only were these two unrelated, but Deskit had had several children with her husband, Namgyal, before Angmo appeared. Namgyal had been having an affair with Angmo. When she got pregnant, he told Deskit that he would like to bring her and the baby into their home and to treat her as a second wife.
I asked Deskit how she had felt, whether she had liked the idea of having Angmo in the house. “I didn’t,” she said. “I didn’t like the idea at all at first. I was upset. But Namgyal and Angmo were so keen that we should all live together that I thought, “Chi chcen?—(What’s the point?) We might as well all be happy.” And for twelve years now, they have been living together peacefully. According to Angmo, Deskit was friendly to her from the start. “We’ve never argued,” she told me. “Once in a while, we get a bit annoyed with Namgyal—he can sometimes be lazy, and we have to push him to work; but the two of us, we’ve never fought in twelve years.”
In traditional Ladakhi society, women have a very strong position, so Deskit’s acceptance of Angmo had nothing to do with being downtrodden. In fact, just next door .in a polyandrous marriage, the situation was the other way round. There, Norbu and his younger brother Tsewang had one wife, Palmo. Tsewang had a shop in Leh and spent a lot of time away from Tongde. But when he came back home, Norbu would often throw a party for him, and Palmo and Tsewang would sleep together.
Whatever the system of marriage, landholdings are kept intact. The guiding principle behind the system of land inheritance is that it remains undivided instead of being split into smaller and smaller pieces. Whatever happens, whatever the configuration of children may be, the land is passed on to just one individual. This is the case even when there are no children at all: then, someone is adopted as heir.
Bhauji told us that Khayla is our land lord. So we already processed our will documents, leaving my three sons entirely out of the loops as far as our property goes. As expected, the boys, who were there when Bhauji said this to us, are very happy with our decision to follow Bhauji’s instructions.
It is usually the eldest son who formally inherits the family’s holdings. Since land is neither sold nor bought, and private ownership of land does not exist as in the West, he does not become the owner of the land, but rather a sort of guardian. If there are no sons at home, or if other circumstances make it desirable, the eldest daughter inherits everything and brings in a magpa, a husband who himself has no property rights.
Angchuk’s situation is quite typical. The property is officially his; he inherited it at the time of his marriage. His parents, as is common custom, then moved out of the main house into a smaller cottage, or khangu, next door. So at an early age Angchuk became the head—and the political representative—of the household. While his grand-mother and one uncle have remained in the main house, his parents are in the khangu with his grandfather and two of his sisters, both nuns. There are separate fields attached to the khangu, which they work largely for themselves, and they cook in their own kitchen. Al- though there is constant cooperation and the family spends a lot of time together, the two households retain a good deal of independence from one another.
Childrearing & the Elderly
“If you want a happy baby, do like we do.”—Dolma
The majority of births occur in the warmer months of summer. For one whole week after his baby has been born, the father avoids working in the fields, for fear of inadvertently harming even the smallest insect, and thus disturbing the ihu. Mother and child remain peacefully in a separate room, protected from the outside world. The family spoils them, bringing the freshest and richest milk, and the best yak butter. They hang an arrow of good fortune from the willow-ribbed ceiling.
So long as the Onpo gives his approval, it is on the seventh day that neighbors and friends are invited to see the newborn child for the first time. They come with heaped plates of flour and butter, and little figures molded from dough in the shape of an ibex, the Horse of the Gods. In the prayer room, monks burn incense. The house echoes to the hypnotic sounds of plainsong chant, and the harsh, reedy tones of the religious music. Children chase each other in play, while their parents chatter, the merrymaking mingling with the heavy beat of the ceremonial drum.
The celebrations that take place a month after the birth involve the whole village. A child has been born to the community. The blacksmith comes with gifts of a spoon and a bracelet. The musicians play a lhamga. Kataks and special food are brought for the mother and child.
The Onpo also chooses the day on which the baby should leave the house for the first time. Nothing is left to chance. All the omens must be favorable and the elements especially well matched. The parents rub a little butter on the baby’s head for good luck, and paint a black mark of soot and oil, jut, on the forehead, to ward off evil spirits. They dress it in a long homespun robe and a woolen hat adorned with a silver Om.
After two or three months, the baby is taken to the monastery to be blessed and Gnen a printed prayer for protection. It is at this time too that the infant receives what we would consider first names from a Rinpoche, or high lama. The names are derived from Buddhist concepts; for example, “Angchuk” and “Wangyal” mean “powerful” and “victorious” in the sense of overcoming one’s ego. There is no last name as we know it. In Ladakh you are identified by the name of your house and landholding, a clear indication of a deep and lasting connection to the land.
Like Jesus of Nazareth.
Dolma’s children refer to both Angchuk and Angdus as “abba,” or “father,” but any man old enough to be your father can be addressed in this way Dolma says she knows who the father of each child is. The eldest child belongs to Angchuk, she says, the youngest one to Angdus. “How do you know?” “I just know.” Neither Angdus nor Angchuk is concerned about which child is his own: the children are cared for equally.
Baba says ‘if you feel for other’s (children) as you do for your own (children) then you are loving God.’ These guys don’t even care who’s kid it is. This is also true of the Kalahari.
Spending time with Dolma’s family, I saw something of how children are brought up. They have continual physical contact with others, a factor that plays an important role in their development. Dolma spent more time with little Angchuk, who was six months old, than anyone else did. All night he would sleep in her arms, able to feed whenever he wanted. In the daytime she would usually take him with her if she was working in the fields. But caring for the baby was not her job alone. Everyone looked after him. Someone was always there to kiss and cuddle him. Men and women alike adore little children and even the teenage boys from next door were not embarrassed to be seen cooing over little Angchuk or rocking him to sleep with a lullaby:
Alo – !o – lo . . .
Alo -lo-lo. . .
Please give a happy sleep to our little one!
Alo – lo – lo . . .
The traditional way of life allows mothers and children to remain together at all times. When villagers, gather to discuss important issues, or at festivals and parties, children of all ages are always present. Even at social gatherings that run late into the night with drinking, singing, dancing, and loud music, young children can be seen running around, joining in the festivities until they simply drop off to sleep. No one tells them, “It’s eight- thirty. You must be off to bed.”
Now thats gotta be the coolest grandma in the world!
I told Dolma how much time some babies in the West spend away from their mothers and how at night they might sleep in another room and be fed cow’s milk from plastic bottles on a schedule rather than when they cry. She was horrified: “Please, aiche Helena, when you have children, whatever you do, don’t treat your baby like that. If you want a happy baby, do like we do.”
Everyone remains calm with children, even when the young ones are being demanding. Once I was working with Yeshe, a traditional doctor, translating a text on childbirth from one of his old medical books, while he was looking after his neighbor’s grandson for the day. The boy kept grabbing at the pages, sometimes actually tearing them, and all the time asking, “Chi inok? Chi inok?” (“What’s this? What’s this?”) He never stopped; he kept asking the same question over and over again. It was almost impossible to concentrate on what we were trying to do, but Yeshe was infinitely patient. Each time the boy got hold of the book, he would gently take his hand away, answering, “It’s a book….it’s a book. . . it’s a book.” He must have said it a hundred times, always in the same calm way, and unlike me, he had no trouble concentrating on our work!
Dolma once slapped her three-year-old son as he tried to grab the hot teapot. At the same moment, almost instantly, she gave him a big hug. I wondered whether receiving such unclear signals would be confusing for the child. But after I had observed many similar incidents, I realized that the message was, “I love you, but don’t do that.” Dolma had been demonstrating her displeasure with the act, not with her child.
Children receive unlimited and unconditional affection from everyone around them. In the West, we would say they were being “spoiled,” but in fact very soon, by the time they are five or so, Ladakhi children have learned to take responsibility for someone else, carrying infants on their backs as soon as they are strong enough. Children are never segregated into peer groups; they grow up surrounded by people of all ages, from young babies to great-grandparents. They grow up as part of a whole chain of relationships, a chain of giving and taking.
talk about segregation
Quite unprompted, a young child will break a biscuit into tiny fragments to share it with siblings or friends. This is natural and spontaneous behavior, not a conscious gesture of generosity. Countless times over the years, sticky little fingers have pressed apricots, peas, and bits of bread into my hands. At a party to celebrate the Skangsol festival, I watched two young boys, no more than ten years old, as they were given their share of the special feast——a plate that they were to share, piled high with rice, a helping of vegetables, and a piece of meat. They set about it eagerly, their nimble fingers working away at the rice, which soon disappeared. My curiosity grew as the boys paused to wipe their mouths, leaving the prized piece of meat sitting on the empty plate. Each then refused it, in typical Ladakhi fashion, insisting that the other should take it, even pushing the plate away in feigned disinterest.
Awesome kids! You can’t teach that. It mustn’t be taught, but it can be shown…
Taking responsibility for other children as you yourself grow up must have a profound effect on your development. For boys in particular, it is important since it brings out their ability for caring and nurturing. In traditional Ladakh, masculine identity is not threatened by such qualities; on the contrary, it actually embraces them.
One of the main reasons old people remain so alive and involved is their constant contact with the young. The relationship between grandparent and child is different from that between parent and child. The very oldest and the very youngest form a special bond; they are often best friends.
As I write this, another such scene is being played out in front of me. Outside the window, two maroon-colored shapes are moving slowly toward me between the fields of barley. The path is stony and steep, and as they come closer, I can see that a little boy monk is helping an older one. Bent and shaking slightly, the old man, perhaps eighty years of age, hesitates at every boulder and turn. The little shape zigzags back and forth, finding the best position from which to give a helping hand.
How beautiful is that?
Relationship with the Beloved
Everything in Ladakh reflects its religious heritage. The landscape is dotted with walls of carved prayer stones and Chortens, fluttering flags whisper prayers to the winds, and always on some distant height rise the massive white walls of a monastery. Buddhism has been the traditional religion of the majority of Ladakhis since approximately 200 B.C., when it was introduced from India.
The villages where I have lived are Buddhist, but in the capital almost half the population is Muslim. In addition, there is a small group of Christians numbering a few hundred. Relations among these three groups have changed in recent years, but when I arrived they all showed profound mutual respect and an easygoing tolerance, strengthened by quite frequent intermarriages. On the main festival days of the respective religions, people of all groups would visit one another, exchanging katats, the ceremonial white scarves. In my first few months in Ladakh, I was invited to join in the festivities at the time of Id, a Muslim holiday. I will never forget the sense of warmth and good humor as Buddhists and Muslims sat down together.
Religion permeates all aspects of life in Ladakh, inseparable from art and music, culture and agriculture. People are deeply religious. Yet, from a Western point of view, they appear strangely casual about it. This apparent paradox struck me particularly strongly in 1976 when His Holiness the Dalai Lama came for a visit—the first one in many years. For months before, the sense of anticipation grew. People painted their houses, printed prayer flags, and stitched new clothes; they even dismantled their elaborate headdresses, washing the turquoises and corals and refurbishing the felt backing with bright red cloth. It was to be the Great Wheel, or Kalachakra, Initiation, performed on the banks of the Indus outside Leh. Long before the event, villagers from all over Ladakh started streaming in, some coming by bus or truck, thousands more walking or riding for days to reach the capital.
By the middle of the week-long teaching, the numbers had swelled to forty thousand. The air was charged with intense devotion, and yet amazingly at the same time there was almost a carnival atmosphere. One minute the man in front of me was lost in reverence, his gaze locked on the Dalai Lama; the next minute he would be laughing at a neighbor’s joke; and a while later he seemed to be somewhere else, spinning his prayer wheel almost absentmindedly. During this religious teaching—for many of those present, the most important event of their lifetime—people came and went, laughing and gossiping. There were picnics and everywhere children—playing, running, calling out to each other.
Attending the ceremonies was a young Frenchman w ho had studied Buddhism in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama’s residence in exile. He took his new religion very seriously and was shocked by the Ladakhis. “These people are not serious. I thought they were supposed to be Buddhists,” he said scornfully. Even though I knew there was something wrong about his reaction, I was not sure how to respond. I too had grown up in a culture in which religion was separated from the rest of life. It was something a small minority did on Sunday mornings, solemnly and seriously, but that was all.
“It is a serious matter that we come to see that nothing is serious.”—Alan Watts
From daily prayers to annual festivals, the entire calendar is shaped by religious beliefs and practices. The day of the full moon, which always falls on the fifteenth of the Tibetan lunar month, is when the Buddha was conceived, attained enlightenment, and died. Every other week of the month also has its religious significance. The tenth day, for instance, marks the birthday of Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Tibet from India. On this day villagers gather in one another’s houses to eat and drink while reading religious texts. For Nyeness, in the first month of the Tibetan calendar, people assemble to fast and meditate together in the Gonpa, or monastery. On holy days, the family often prints new prayer flags. Cloth in the five holy colors—red, blue, green, yellow, and white—is pressed onto inked carved wooden blocks. The new flags are placed on top of the old, which are never removed, but left to slowly disintegrate, spreading their message on the winds. Every house is filled with reminders of the region’s Buddhist heritage.
God’s presence is always on their minds…
The Ladakhis have a relaxed attitude to their spirits. Ceremonies are performed to appease them, but people certainly do not live in fear of them. In fact, they do not seem absolutely sure of their existence. “Do you think the spirits are real?” I once asked Sonam. “Well, they say they exist,” he answered slowly. “I’ve never seen any, but who knows.”
They have un-certitude.
On a broader societal level, however, the monasteries offer real economic benefit. (***They are not parasites) In fact they provide “social security” for the entire community, ensuring that no one goes hungry. If an individual family should find itself with too many mouths to feed, any number of sons——usually the younger ones——become monks. In the monastery they are provided for by the community in exchange for religious services. The process of give and take between the monastery and village sustains a rich cultural and religious tradition in which all members of society are involved and benefits accrue to everyone. Moreover, anyone, male or female, young or old, can opt for celibacy and spiritual devotion as an alternative to the life of a married householder.
I guess theres no need for social security…
They seem blessed with the ability to actively welcome things as they are. For instance, during the middle of the harvest it can snow or rain, ruining the barley and wheat that have been cultivated with such care for many months. And yet people remain completely unperturbed, often joking about their predicament.
These people are fearless. Nothing is serious. Impermanence.
Even death is more readily accepted, in my second year in Ladakh, a good friend of mine lost her two-month-old baby. I thought she would be distraught, and when I first saw her, she was clearly upset. But there was a difference. Although, as she told me, she was extremely saddened, her belief in reincarnation meant that death did not have the same sense of finality as it does for us.
The Ladakhi conception of reality is circular, one of a constant returning. There is not the sense that this life is the only opportunity. Death is as much a beginning as an end, a passing from one birth to the next, not a final dissolution.
You can’t embrace life until you befriending death.
Ladakhi attitudes seem to be influenced by meditation. Although deep meditation is rarely practiced outside the monastic community, people spend significant periods of time in what you might call a semi-meditative stale. Older people in particular recite mantras as they walk and as they work. Often a conversation will be punctuated with snatches of prayer: a few words and then, in the same breath, the hallowed refrain “Om mani padme hum, Om mani padme hum Recent research in the West suggests that during meditation, the mode of consciousness that perceives in wholes or patterns is dominant. This would play a role in shaping the Ladakhis’ holistic or contextual world view—a world view that is characteristic even of those who have little knowledge of Buddhist teachings.
They are into God’s presence, not his words. They abide by the claims of the spirit.
“…complex grammar, one of the world’s most complicated.”
—Linda (a linguist)
Lets first take a look at what Baba said about language:
Thus on the eve of the great seclusion, the entire atmosphere was charged with great spiritual reactions, as is evinced by the writings of Princess Norina Matchabelli, one of the close disciples of Baba: “The Truth … has been previously revealed by the Avatars and Prophets of the past. But in the centuries, that rolled on, it got wrapt up in the phraseology of its learned exponents. Used by many people and in many contexts, their high sounding words have acquired the crust of careless usage. These words then begin to conceal the Truth rather than reveal it. They are worshipped rather than understood…. We meet these words in the mouths of friends and foes. But they only astound without enlightening…. Hence arises the need for … new language, which the world must understand … with the simplicity of children…. Once again the world is receiving the Truth without garb. Drink deep at the fountain…. Entertain in yourself the Go-back-to-God drive….”
Go-back-to-God drive, thats what I want.
What might this new language of the New Humanity be like? We know it probably doesn’t have the self centeredness of ‘left & right.’ And we know it might be missing the destination between ‘he & she.’ But what else is there? Would it be something like Marshall Rosenburg’s “Giraff”? Or could it even be better?
Commenting on Baba’s writings Dr. Gani wrote (in Lord Meher)
Regarding your book, whatever you have written by hand in English [in the book] and whatever you want to express cannot be expressed in English. I suggest that such works ought to be written in Sanskrit or Gujarati. First and foremost, there are no appropriate words in English for some or most of the terms, which would bring out their real meaning. For instance, avidya in English is ignorance; that is, the want of knowledge. But the term ignorance does not carry the true meaning and connotation of avidya, which it can never evoke. What is avidya is avidya and nothing else! It just cannot be translated.
Baba agrees with Gani, and says Persian or Gujurati would be better.
A Ladakhi monk once told Helena:
In great Europe where you were born,
Man Free states are flourishing
With immense material prosperity,
Industries and technologies.
More is the worldly pleasure there,
More is the busy life.
More science, and literature,
More change in state of affairs.
Though we lack in progress here,
We have happy peace of mind.
Though we have no technologies,
We have way of deeper Dharma.
Our language in Ladakh and Tibet
Is a tongue of wise lamas,
Is a treasure full of Dharma.
No other tongue can be its equal.
Though not Sanskrit, the Ladakhi language is an offshoot of Tibetan language influenced strongly by sanskrit. Even English, Greek, Russian are all offshoots of Sanskrit. In fact, most of the words in English can be rooted back though the middle east back to Indo-arian roots.
To learn about how physicists and mathematicians are turning to Sanskrit including NASA click below.
My goal here is not to promote Sanskrit, Persian or any other language—but to place significant doubt in our own language—English. Language effects consciousness in that, it is all we have in our tool box to conceptualize with. A ‘flawed’ language can effect us like ‘bear goggles,’ precluding us from being able to see things as they really are. Apparently, sanskrit has mechanism built into it’s structure that prevents these types of conceptual distortions, essential for undistorted perception—i.e. ‘clear perception.’
Helena is a linguist. Lets take a look at what she wrote about the Ladhaki language.
Compared with any Western language that I know, Ladakhi seems to put a greater emphasis on relativity. The language obliges one to express more of the context of what one is trying to say. Most strikingly, the verb ‘to be’ has more than twenty variations, depending on the specifics of the situation—in particular, on the relative intimacy of both the speaker and the listener with the subject matter. Unlike Westerners, Ladakhis never express themselves with certitude about something they have not experienced. Any event in which they have not personally participated will be described using verbs that reflect the limitations of their knowledge: “It is said that…. ,” “It appears that. . . ,” “It is probable that. , . “If I ask someone, “Is it a big house?” he or she will be likely to answer, “It seemed big to me.”
What Helena is pointing out is that the Ladakhi language has ‘built in mechanisms’ to prevent inaccurate conveyance of information. One’s relationship to the ‘information’ is built into how the information is expressed. Language is ‘put simply’ a method for communicating ‘data’ or ‘information.’ How accurately in captures the actual ‘data’ is the first critical element of language. The second part is ‘how the data is stored or filed. Unless one has ‘direct experiential certainty’ one cannot put any data in the ‘confirmed truth’ folder. If the data is obtained ‘indirectly’ it must be filed as ‘hearsay.’ The third part of language is ‘expression.’ When the ‘data’ is expressed in such a language, the built-in mechanism packages the data in such a way that includes with it the data’s file location. The recipient of the data unpacks in such a way that the ‘context’ can never be left out. For the New Humanity to be a people incapable of lying, dead accurate conveyance if information is a necessary prerequisite.
Baba says in the Discourses under the title:
True aspirant seeks direct knowledge of spiritual realities
A true aspirant is not content with knowledge of spiritual realities based on hearsay, nor is he satisfied with pure inferential knowledge. For him the spiritual realities are not the object of idle thinking, and the acceptance or rejection of these realities is fraught with momentous implications for his inner life. Hence he naturally insists upon direct knowledge about them.
In their search for the Truth, the greek philosophers soon figured out there was something wrong with their minds. They discovered ‘errors in reasoning’ in their thinking. So for a period they actually set aside the search for Truth in order to first repair their minds. They had to clear the CPU of it’s virus’ first. How can an un-sane mind behold the Truth? They called these errors in reasoning (or viruses) ‘fallacies.’ Among all the fallacies the Greek philosophers identified ‘Ad Verecundiam’ is by far the most important. Ad Verecundiam(AV) is defined as: “appeal to authority, belief in authority, and obedience to authority.” AV is accepting something as True, that which was not been confirmed through direct experiential certainty. The Greek philosophers identified some 20 odd fallacies. Once their mind’s were tuned up (as in their CPU’s were clear of viruses) they jolly well went back to the search for that elusive ‘Truth.’
Honesty, even with oneself, requires clarity of thought. A clear mind is a mind free of fallacies. If there is a language that has a deterrent built into it that prevents unclear thinking, that would be the language of the New Humanity. Baba might have even call it ‘the language of the heart.’
Even when people have personal experience, they are far more reluctant than we are to categorize and judge. Good and bad, fast and slow, here and there; these are not sharply different qualities.
In other words, the Ladakhis are discerning but not judging. I once asked Baba ‘what is the difference between discernment and judgement’? It took a while but I finally understood the difference. The difference between the two lies in how one sees oneself. Judgement occurs only when one comes from the position of ‘‘I’m sure I’m right’ or ‘I am in the right’. Discernment, on the other hand, comes from a position of ‘I could be wrong’ or ‘it is possible that I could be wrong about everything.’ Discernment, unclouded by any attachment to certainties, can see ‘what is’ as ‘it is’ undoubtedly far clearer than what judgement sees skewered by the insecure need to be always in the right. As long as one maintains a sense of uncertainty, one is discerning. As soon as one feels sure to be in the ‘right,’ the ‘wrong’ one sees is judgement. The Ladakhis are keeping their perceptions clear by not judging. Poised in a solid state of ‘uncertitude’ they are discerning—not judging. In the Discourses, Baba mentions the importance of discernment.
COUNTLESS are the falsehoods which a Maya-ridden man embraces in the stupor of ignorance, but from the very beginning, falsehoods carry within themselves their own insufficiency and bankruptcy.
Categorical thinking is another regrettable feature that our language upholds. The Buddha once taught the importance of hermaphrodites. According to Zen monk Bub-Ryun, there are three types of hermaphrodites. One is mostly male but with female features. Another is mostly female but with male features. And there are ones that are male just as much as they are female. If not for the hermaphrodites(half man-half woman), venus fly trap(half plant-half animal), penguins(half fish-half bird), and the likes of the great platypus(egg laying reptile yet warm blooded mammal, venomous, with duck & beaver like features), without these in-between creatures ‘categorical thinking’ would have been unquestioned. Thank God ‘categorical thinking’ as a ‘falsehood’ carries within itself its own insufficiency and bankruptcy. The hermaphrodite provides us with a solid case wherein the clear distinction between man and woman is flawed. The venus fly trap, as well as the penguin do the same for plants, animals, and fish. But the great Platypus gets us as far as to question ‘categorical thinking’ altogether.
Lumping authentic & unique individuals into clear cut categories, based primarily on superficial external features is the modus operandi of English as spoken today. The New Humanity will be free from the cages of categorical thinking—-instead they will discern the truth.
Ladakhis will not think in terms of a fundamental opposition, for instance, between mind and body or reason and intuition. Ladakhis experience the world through what they call their semba, best translated as a cross between “heart” and “mind.” This reflects the Buddhist insistence that Wisdom and Compassion are inseparable.
Categorical thinking combined with Polarization of distinction is the magic ingredient for precipitating conflict. Psychological Warfare is based on this principle. The language of the Ladakhis, on the other hand, seems to have a de-polarizing effect, rather than a polarizing effect. They are able to discerns subtle differences without feeling the need to categorize. For the Ladakhis, the ‘clear lines of distinction’ categorical thinking requires do not exist. They live within a de-polarized world view.
Happiness and self-respect
“Why were they always smiling?
“And how did they support themselves in relative comfort in such a hostile environment?”
“I have never met people who seem so healthy emotionally, so secure, as the Ladakhis.”
“Their self-respect is so deep-rooted as to be unquestioned.”
“You mean, everyone isn’t as happy as we are?’’
At the end of one summer, I went with Ngawang Paljor, a sixty-year-old Thanka painter, to Srinagar in Kashmir. He was traditionally dressed in woolen goncha, hat, and yak-hair boots, and in the Kash-miris’ eyes he was obviously from the “backward” region of Ladakh. Wherever we went, people made fun of him; he was constantly teased and taunted. Every taxi driver, shopkeeper, and passerby in some way managed to poke fun at him. “Look at that stupid hat!” “Look at those silly boots!” “You know, those primitive people never wash!” It seemed incomprehensible to me, but Ngawang remained completely unaffected by it all. He was enjoying the visit and never lost the twinkle in his eye. Though he was perfectly aware of what was going on, it just didn’t seem to matter to him. He was smiling and polite, and when people jeeringly shouted the traditional Ladakhi greeting, “Jule, Jule!” he simply answered “Jule, jule!” back. “Why don’t you get angry?” I asked. “Chi-choen?” (“What’s the point?”) was his reply.
Ngawang’s equanimity was not unusual. The Ladakhis possess an irrepressible joie de vivre. Their sense of joy seems so firmly anchored within them that circumstances cannot shake it loose. You cannot spend any time at all in Ladakh without being won over by the contagious laughter.
As Baba says, happiness must spring from within. It is not something that comes from the outside-in, but something that can only come from the inside-out. Unlike the New Age movement, Baba’s happiness goes beyond the enjoyment of creation. Baba’s version of happiness, is the kind that can remain in tact in the face of adversity. His happiness does not rely on the external at all, instead it springs for spontaneously from a deep source within. His happiness is the kind that circumstances cannot shake loose.
At first I couldn’t believe that the Ladakhis could be as happy as they appeared. It took me a long time to accept that the smiles I saw were real. Then, in my second year there, while at a wedding, I sat back and observed the guests enjoying themselves. Suddenly I heard myself saying, “Aha, they really are that happy.” Only then did I recognize that I had been walking around with cultural blinders on, convinced that the Ladakhis could not be as happy as they seemed. Hidden behind the jokes and laughter had to be the same frustration, jealousy, and inadequacy as in my own society. In fact, without knowing it, I had been assuming that there were no significant cultural differences in the human potential for happiness; it was a surprise for me to realize that I had been making such unconscious assumptions, and as a result I think I became more open to experiencing what was really there.
As I return each year to the industrialized world, the contrast becomes more and more obvious. With so much of our lives colored by a sense of insecurity or fear, we have difficulty in letting go and feeling at one with ourselves and our surroundings. The Ladakhis, on the other hand, seem to possess an extended, inclusive sense of self. They do not, as we do, retreat behind boundaries of fear and self-protection; in fact, they seem to be totally lacking in what we would call pride. This doesn’t mean a lack of self-respect. On the contrary, their self- respect is so deep-rooted as to be unquestioned.
Wow! What a statement.
I was with about fifteen Ladakhis and two students from Calcutta on the back of a truck taking us along the bumpy and dusty road from Zanskar. As the journey went on, the students became restless and uncomfortable and began pushing at a middle-aged Ladakhi who had made a seat for himself out of a sack of vegetables. Before long, the older man stood up so that the students—who were about twenty years younger than him——could sit down. When, after about two hours, we stopped for a rest, the students indicated to the Ladakhi that they wanted him to fetch water for them; he fetched the water. They then more or less ordered him to make a fire and boil tea for them.
He was effectively being treated as a servant—almost certainly for the first time in his life. Yet there was nothing remotely servile in his behavior; he merely did what was asked of him as he might for a friend—without obsequiousness and with no loss of dignity. I was fuming, but he and the other Ladakhis, far from being angered or embarrassed by the way he was being treated; found it all amusing and nothing more. The old man was so relaxed about who he was that he had no need to prove himself.
I have never met people who seem so healthy emotionally, so secure, as the Ladakhis. The reasons are, of course, complex and spring from a whole way of life and world view. But I am sure that the most important factor is the sense that you are a part of something much larger than yourself, that you are inextricably connected to others and to your surroundings.
The Ladakhis belong to their place on earth. They are bonded to that place through intimate daily contact, through knowledge about their immediate environment with its changing seasons, needs, and limitations. They are aware of the living context in which they find themselves. The movement of the stars, the sun, and moon are familiar rhythms that influence their daily activities.
Just as importantly, the Ladakhis’ larger sense of self has something to do with the close ties between people. At that wedding, I watched the paspun group as they laughed and joked together and then sat quietly drinking tea, lost in their own thoughts for long periods without the need to exchange a word. They had shared many experiences— grieving and rejoicing. And they had worked together, supporting one another, during the ceremonies that mark the important transitions of life.
Before feeling my way into Ladakhi culture, I had thought that leaving home was part of growing up, a necessary step toward becoming an adult. I now believe that large extended families and small intimate communities form a. better foundation for the creation of mature, balanced individuals. A healthy society is one that encourages close social ties and mutual interdependence, granting each individual a net of unconditional emotional support. Within this nurturing framework, individuals feel secure enough to become quite free and independent. Paradoxically, I have found the Ladakhis less emotionally dependent than we are in industrial society. There is love and friendship, but it is not intense or grasping—not a possession of one person by another. I once saw a mother greeting her eighteen-year-old son when he returned home after being away for a year. She seemed surprisingly calm, as though she had not missed him. It took me a long time to understand this behavior. I thought my Ladakhi friends reacted strangely when I arrived back after being away for the winter. I had brought presents I knew they would like. I expected them to be pleased to see me and happy at the gifts. But to them it was as if I had not been gone. They thanked me for the presents, but not in the way that I was hoping. I wanted them to look excited and confirm our special friendship. I was disappointed. Whether I had been away for six months or a day, they treated me in the same way.
I came to realize, however, that the ability to adjust to any situation, to feel happy regardless of the circumstances, was a tremendous strength. I came to appreciate the easy, relaxed attitude of my Ladakhi friends and to like being treated as though I had never been away. Ladakhis do not seem to be as attached to anything as we are. Most of them are, of course, not completely without the attachments that so affect our lives. But again, there is a difference—an all-pervasive difference——in degree. One may be unhappy to see a friend leave or to lose something valuable, but not that unhappy.
If I ask a Ladakhi, “Do you enjoy going to Leh, or do you prefer staying in the village?” I am likely to get the answer “I am happy if I go to Leh; and if I don’t go, I am also happy.” Their contentedness and peace of mind do not seem dependent on such outside circumstances; these qualities come more from within.
The Ladakhis1 relationships to others and to their surroundings have helped nurture a sense of inner calm and contentedness, and their religion has reminded them that you can be healthy, warm, comfortable, and well fed, yet so long as you remain “ignorant,” you will not be happy. Contentment comes from feeling and understanding yourself to be part of the flow of life, relaxing and moving with it. If it starts to pour with rain just as you set out on a long journey, why be miserable? Maybe you would not have preferred it, but the Ladakhis’ attitude is “Why be unhappy?”
The coming of the West
“In one day a tourist would spend the same amount
that a Ladakhi family might in a year.”—Linda
“We don’t have any poverty here.”
—Tsewang Paljor, 1975
“If you could only help us Ladakhis, we’re so poor.”
—Tsewang Paljor(the same guy), 1983
“Who needs monks?”
—Ladakhi youth, 1984
The Ladakh lay on one of Asia’s major trade routes, and had been exposed to the influence of other cultures. But in the old “days change had come slowly, allowing for an adaptation from within. Outside influences had been incorporated gradually, on the culture’s own terms. In recent years(1970’s), however, external forces have descended on the Ladakhis like an avalanche, causing massive and rapid disruption. The Indian army, which had been in Ladakh since 1962 to protect the region from Pakistani and Chinese incursions, had already had an effect on the culture, But the process of change began in earnest in 1974, when the Indian government threw the area open to tourism——a move that was probably intended to place Ladakh firmly on the map as Indian territory.
I remember the first time I went with Sonam to visit his family in Hemis Shukpachan. As we sat around the kitchen stove, he described the tourists he’d seen in Leh. “They look so busy,” he said. “They never seem to sit still. Just click, click, click . . .” He pretended to take a photograph, to the incomprehension of his audience. Then he patted his little sister on the head, imitating a tourist:” ‘Here’s a ballpoint pen for you.’ They’re always rushing like this,” he said, jumping up and running jerkily around the kitchen. “Why are they in such a hurry?”
So here come the tourists…
Every day I saw people from two cultures, a world apart, looking at each other and seeing superficial, one-dimensional images. Tourists see people carrying loads on their backs and walking long distances over high mountain passes and say, “How terrible; what a life of drudgery.”
Dawa was about fifteen when I met him, and he was still living in his village. When the tourists started coming, he became a guide. He used his donkeys and mules for trekking, as pack animals. I lost contact with him for several years, but I heard that he had started his own tourist agency—one of the first Ladakhis to do so. Then one day in the bazaar I bumped into a young man wearing the latest fashion gear: metallic sunglasses, a T-shirt advertising an American rock band, skin-tight blue jeans, and basketball shoes. It was Dawa.
“I hardly recognized you,” I said in Ladakhi.
“Changed a bit, eh?” he replied proudly in English.
We went to a restaurant crowded with tourists from every part of the globe. Dawa insisted on talking in English.
“You know I’m working for myself now? Business is great, Helena. I have lots of customers and I’m making a lot of money. I have a room in Leh now.”
I’m surprised I haven’t seen more of you,” I said.
“Well, I’m hardly ever here—I collect the groups myself in Srinagar, and spend most of the time trekking and visiting monasteries.”
“You like your new life?”
“I like it. Most of the tourists are real VIPs! Not like these Ladakhis who just laze around all day.” He grinned at me. “A surgeon from New York gave me this,” he said, pointing to his brand-new backpack.
“Do you go back to the village much?”
“Every few months—to take them rice and sugar. And they always want me back to help with the harvest.”
“How does it feel to go home?”
“Boring. It’s so backward there! We still don’t have electricity, and Abi [grandmother] doesn’t even want it.”
“Maybe she likes the old ways.”
“Well, they can be stuck in the old ways if they want, but Ladakh will change around them. We’ve worked in the fields long enough, Helena; we don’t want to work so hard anymore.”
“I thought you said Ladakhis just laze around all day.”
“I mean they don’t know how to get ahead.”
Dawa ostentatiously pulled a pack of Marlboros from his pocket. When I turned down his offer, he lit one for himself and leaned toward me with a worried look.
“I had a fight with my girlfriend this morning. I was looking for her when I met you.”
“Oh! Who’s your girlfriend?”
“I’m not sure I still have a girlfriend, but she’s from Holland. She was in one of my tour groups and stayed on to be with me. But she doesn’t like it here anymore—she wants to go home. And she wants me to go with her, to live in Holland.”
“Would you do that?” I asked.
“I can’t leave my family. They need the money I earn. But she can’t understand that.”
A Ladakh university student told Helena:
“In the future, and it’s probably not that far away, we’ll be able to construct a machine and you’ll be able to push a button and anything you want will come out-—from a plastic bucket to an apple.” This is what Tsering Dorje told me just after he had returned from university in Kashmir, where he had become very interested in physics. When I expressed surprise, he explained, “Since everything is ultimately made out of the same atoms, there’s no reason why we can’t put them together to create whatever we want.” Tsering’s sentiments reflect a fundamental change in attitudes and values—the birth of a new world view in Ladakh, a world view that gives human beings greatly increased power over the rest of creation. In the traditional society, the most respected person was the lama. In the modern sector, it is the engineer.
While I was staying with the Smanla family in the village of Stok, I heard the father and grandmother talking about the future of the youngest son. Their conversation was typical of many. Abi (Grandmother) wanted the boy to become a monk. She said every family should have someone in the monastery. But the father was eager for him to have a modem education so he could get a job in the government. Even though the father was religious, he wanted his son to learn the new ways. An older son, Nyingma, was already studying at the agricultural college in Kashmir. Abi said, “Look at what happened to Nyingma when he went away to school. Now he has no respect for religion anymore.” “Yes,” said the father, “but soon he’ll be able to earn money, and that’s necessary these days. How can we know what’s best? Here in the village we don’t understand the new ways.”
Now, the celebration here of traditional Ladakhi life induces exhilaration but also sadness, as if some half-remembered paradise known in another life had now been lost. So evocative is it that I felt—I’m not sure what—homesickness for the Crystal Monastery? Or perhaps a memory of “home going,” as if I were returning to lost paradise, that ancient and harmonious way of life that even Westerners once knew—and indeed still know—in the farthest corners of old Europe.
“What happens under the rule of specialization is that,
though society becomes more and more intricate,
it has less and less structure.
It becomes more and more organized,
but less and less orderly.”—Linda
No one could deny the value of real education, that is, the widening and enrichment of knowledge. But today education has become something quite different. It isolates children from their culture and from nature, training them instead to become narrow specialists in a Westernized urban environment. This process is particularly striking in Ladakh, where modern schooling acts almost as a blindfold, preventing children from seeing the context in which they live. They leave school unable to use their own resources, unable to function in their own world.
With the exception of religious training in the monasteries, the traditional culture had no separate process called “education.” Education was the product of an intimate relationship with the community and its environment. Children learned from grandparents, family, and friends. Helping with the sowing, for instance, they would learn that on one side of the village it was-a little warmer, on the other side a little colder. From their own experience children would come to distinguish between different strains of barley and the specific growing conditions each strain preferred. They learned to recognize even the tiniest wild plant and how to use it, and how to pick out a particular animal on a faraway mountain slope. They learned about connect ions, process, and change, about the intricate web of fluctuating relationships in the natural world around them.
For generation after general ion, Ladakhis grew up learning how to provide themselves with clothing and shelter; how to make shoes out of yak skin and robes from the wool of sheep; how to build houses out of mud and stone, Education was location- specific and nurtured an intimate relationship with the living world. It gave children an intuitive awareness that allowed them, as they grew older, to use resources in an effective and sustain able way.
None of that knowledge is provided in the modern school. Children are trained to become specialists in a technological, rather than an ecological, society. School is a place to forget traditional skills and, worse, to look down on them.
Modern education not only ignores local resources, but, worse still, makes Ladakhi children think of themselves and their culture as inferior. They are robbed of their self- esteem, everything in school promotes the Western model and, as a direct consequence, makes them ashamed of their own traditions.
Thank you Helena for you most awesome work. Without it I would have ‘Vastly’ underestimated the coming New Humanity of Baba. Thank you.
I believe, we humans are currently in a state of ‘mental’ captivity, utterly deprived of our actual potential. We are like ‘tigers’ who see a ‘pussy cat’ in the mirror. We are like god’s who believe themselves to be mere mortals. Our true potential, to us, has become something we are actually having a hard time believing even possible. As a whole, we have been reduced to our lowest possible selves. The end of the 5th period is also referred to as Oh-Tak-Ahk-Seh (오탁악세), which translates like “ a period where the river runs thick with the five evils.” The mind’s of men are filled to the brim with the thick mud of the five evils. No wonder we cannot think straight. Its as if we need it wash away all that we thought we knew, and start fresh. The highest hope, is what I have for the New Humanity. I can now see that when Baba said the New Humanity was going to be awesome, he wasn’t kidding. I can see the New Humanity’s awesomeness, though nothing special for the Ladakhi’s, will be a big deal for us. Can you imagine a bunch of people who— never lie, never masturbate, kind to kids, kind to animals, always happy, impossible to make miserable, no pride, humble as a rock, loves everyone, loves God most of all, in a society with no conflict, no crime, no theft, no bankers, no unnecessary technology, no police, no mayor, no governor, no president, no government, and no king. Where God’s jurisdiction is restored in in the hearts of men, who become the living law of God on earth.
In conclusion, like Baba, Buddha assures us that the thick mud of evil will come to a zenith, and then wash away, bringing forth the Bul-Gug-To(불국토), or “The Kingdom of Buddha on Earth,” which I believe is Baba’s New World Order—the New Humanity—the Kingdom of God on Earth—where the claims of the spirit—Rule!