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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010


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Dear Friends & Parents,

Our group of 11 wonderful Dragons have wrapped up their Nepal program successfully!

We had a great evening hanging out at our program house courtyard for our final daal bhaat meal together over tons of laughter, hugs, flowers, garlands and khatas (tibetan scarves). The group now is getting prepared to board their home bound plane (except for Suzanna who leaves for Thailand tomorrow afternoon).

They are sent off with loads of warm wishes and love. We are excited for their reunion with you soon!

We do already miss their presence, warmth and smell at the program house....

I-Team

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Bye Bye Nepal!

I-Team,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Dear Friends & Parents, Our group of 11 wonderful Dragons have wrapped up their Nepal program successfully! We had a great evening hanging out at our program house courtyard for our final daal bhaat meal together over tons of laughter, hugs, flowers, garlands and khatas (tibetan scarves). The group now is getting prepared to board […]

Posted On

05/12/10

Author

I-Team

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Three months ago, I would tell you that I hadn't had a truly good spill in years. The most recent injuries I'd sustained involved high heels and cobblestone paving in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on New Year's Eve, which, relatively speaking and considering all the sequins involved, would look somewhat glamorous to me now. But aside from that mishap, the last time I skinned my knee or took a truly, point-and-laugh kind of fall was probably back in grade school. Since the clumsy days of dodgeball and flag football in PE class, I've stayed careful and in one piece, with few tumbles, cuts, or bruises to my name. Nepal, however, changed all that.

The first month or so in Kathmandu, my eyes were constantly glued to the uneven pavement, scanning for ankle-twisters, toe-stubbers, and possible ACL dangers. The ground here is a mixture of bricks, dirt, broken pieces of cement, and rocks. It has no classification, as I wouldn't quite call it asphalt but it's definitely not an unpaved road. It's more like the more sophisticated cousin of the rural dirt road speckled with potholes that winds through farming areas worldwide. What's more, as well as being aware of potential injury sites, one has to constantly be aware of an entire animal world at shin-level: the street dogs who see no better place to nap than the middle of the sidewalk, the stray chickens that will tonight be on someone's plate, the goat population (living and dead), and of course, the occasional lounging cow that draws far less attention than any Westerner walking down the street.

Needless to say, with all these obstacles, those of us who are, kindly put, coordination-challenged, find life below the knees very tricky in Kathmandu. Add sandals to the mix and it takes some serious effort, which I quickly acquired, to keep from faceplanting every ten feet or so in the city streets. I spent my first month with healthy, undamaged feet, toes, and legs. I was proud that I sustained no bruises, no skinned calves, no twisted ankles, and poop-free shoes. It was one day, while I was exiting a microbus, that I heard a telltale splash and my heart nearly sunk as I plunged my entire foot, ankle, and half of my calf into something warm, wet, and smelly. When I looked up, the boy taking my money was laughing, with his head thrown back in a way that let me know, no, he was not laughing with me, he was laughing at me. That was when I started to laugh too, and as I squished my way home and tried hard not to think about what the street concoction might have contained, realized it was about time I stepped in some crap. I'd been looking down for too long.

As time went on in Nepal, my clumsiness on the streets or in the backcountry began to amount, but so did everything I saw. Yes, I fell down the stairs in my village homestay, and yes, I fell down some more stairs in the village, and tripped over countless rocks in the mountains on trek, and slipped on some rocks in the river we were bathing in, and tripped over tent stakes, and tripped on city curbs, but all of the sudden I was seeing about 50% more of this country than I had been seeing before.

As my guard came down, my confidence in my feet went up. After all, it's hard to look at the mountains in the most beautiful mountain range in the world when you're so focused on not twisting your ankle. My legs may have a few (or a lot) more scars than they did when I came to Nepal, but they've been worth it. I just needed to trust that they'd get me where I needed to go, and the bumps and bruises along the way were all a part of the journey.

I ended up falling more than I have in years, but it wasn't the same as falling down. I fell all the time because I started looking this country in the eyes, instead of keeping my gaze down, always anxious about what lurked on the ground below. That day I stepped in who-knows-what, and we all know it was bound to happen, I started falling up. And that's what I'll continue to do, to look the world straight on, even when I'm not sure where (or in what) I'm about to place my feet.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Falling Up

Alex Kryzanowski,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Three months ago, I would tell you that I hadn’t had a truly good spill in years. The most recent injuries I’d sustained involved high heels and cobblestone paving in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on New Year’s Eve, which, relatively speaking and considering all the sequins involved, would look somewhat glamorous to me now. But aside […]

Posted On

05/12/10

Author

Alex Kryzanowski

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Living with a Nepali family is overwhemling, delicious, and wonderful. Kind of like thanksgiving. There are always people around, coming in and out of the house, or staying there for a few days whose name and relationship to the family you are unsure of, but you assume that they are simply an older brother or sister, dai or didi, and somehow they know everything about you. It is like when I go to thanksgiving and my parents tell me to call everyone cousin, because they are all related to me somehow and the specifics are not important. They also know whats going on in my life even though i don't remember the last time i talked to them or even if i have ever met them before.

There is always delicious food cooking in Nepali homes, lots of it. Once a meal is finished the preparations for the next one begin. it is like an endless cycle of dhal andbhat, lentils and rice.When food is served, you can never take enough, and i have had friends on this trip who have thrown up from eating too much, no joke. They always want you to take more and more food, and will ask you if you didn't like it no matter how many plates you finish. Often after eating a meal here i fall into what i call a food coma, and have to go lie down for a bit. This is also like thanksgiving, whenafter all the food is eaten a few hours later people start digging into thedishes again, or have just one more small slice of pie. Its a wonderful thing.

Lastly, living with Nepalis is like thanksgivng because there is just so much to be thankful for every day. It is truly incredible how each of us wasso comfortably incor porated intoour various Nepali families as a true daughter or son, chora or chori, and how much care our moms and dads, aamas and baas, sisters and brothers gave to us. The food, the questions, making sure we were as comfortable as possible, sometimes giving up rooms or beds or blankets for us in the process.It is so humbling to be a part ofa Nepali family mostly because of how much they appreciate whatever it is they have, and how readily they will offer it to you, a complete stranger who has done nothing for them.

Living with families in this culture has taught me a great deal about appreciation, and howgrateful I am for all the things I have at home, but how much more grateful I am for the many people who support and love me there. I amso amazed at how I was able to find that same support in Nepal from strangers turned family with whom when I first met them i could say little more than my name, my age, and my favorite color. I hope to carrythisgratefulness with me back home, and continue to live everyday like it is thanksgiving.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Living with Nepalis is like having Thanksgiving every day!

Sarah McKenzie,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Living with a Nepali family is overwhemling, delicious, and wonderful. Kind of like thanksgiving. There are always people around, coming in and out of the house, or staying there for a few days whose name and relationship to the family you are unsure of, but you assume that they are simply an older brother or […]

Posted On

05/12/10

Author

Sarah McKenzie

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Tired, sick, grumpy and somewhat subdued, driving over muddy roads after two weeks trekking in Rowaling, our group learned two important lessons about traveling.

1- High spirits and enthusiasm can move mountains; or more specifically it can move one bus over a lot of little mountains.

2- Never judge a bus by it's color.

At 6 am on Saturday morning, our group of stinky travelers boarded the bright pink tourist bus that had come to drive us 8 hours from the ending point of our trek back to Bhaktapur Guest House. The obstacles were numerous: The sky threatened to rain, which would turn already precarious, dirt roads into muddy, rutted, bus-wheel eating tracks; Saturday was the first day after the nation-wide banda or strike and nobody knew if traffic was passing; and finally our bus- packed, playing loud pop music and very very pink.

I say that the 14 of us were subdued and were certainly were: reading, sleeping against our neighbors shoulder, staring out the window with glum looks on our faces. However, our staff- 20 cooks and porters ranging from our own age to mid 50's, representing a handful of different ethnic groups- was anything but subdued. They got on the bus hooting and laughing, making jokes and singing and they did this for one hour. And then another hour. And another. When in the third hour, our bus's wheel did get stuck in the mud, their good spirits only seemed to increase as they piled off to push, running and slipping in the mud wearing their flowered, button-down shirts that they had saved for just this occasion.

It was as if they were saying to themselves "Maybe if we yell loud enough, laugh hard enough and generally show the world that we own our own happiness, maybe just maybe this bus will move over this hill." And this is pretty much what happened.

Our pink bus encountered several other muddy patches but each time to the spinning, fishtailing wheels, the shouts or encouragement from within propelled the "Off-road Barbie Bus" out of trouble and onto dry roads. And each occasion of course, only added to the high level of energy within. As each hour passed, with us watching to see when they would fade, it soon became apparent that we were in for the whole ride. And as we finally pulled into the Bhaktapur Guest House with chants of the pop song "Om shanti Om" ringing in our ears, there was a humbling aspect to the experience. Here were men and boys our own age who had just carried heavy loads for 2 weeks over steep hills and valleys so that we could be comfortable and happy. And these same men and boys, after we were exhausted and grumbly, rallied their spirits and energy to bring us home.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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OM Shanti OM

Deva Steketee,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Tired, sick, grumpy and somewhat subdued, driving over muddy roads after two weeks trekking in Rowaling, our group learned two important lessons about traveling. 1- High spirits and enthusiasm can move mountains; or more specifically it can move one bus over a lot of little mountains. 2- Never judge a bus by it’s color. At […]

Posted On

05/11/10

Author

Deva Steketee

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Pictures of Rolwaling Trek

Instructor Team,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Posted On

05/11/10

Author

Instructor Team

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Whew! Who knew three months could fly by this fast. We are back in Bhaktapur at the very same Bhaktapur Guest House we started our adventure at in February for our two days of transference. It really feels like yesterday when we were here last. I'm trying to find the words to explain to you all what I experienced while being here, and what I can tell you are some facts....

In the last three months I:

lived with my Nepali family in Kathmandu for 6 weeks, I spent 70 hours sitting in Nepali class with the two most patient and kind Nepali teachers in the city. I've eaten at least 100 plates of dahl baht, 200 cups of tea and probably about 20 liters of curd (very thick and creamy, delicious Nepali yogurt). I've spent 10 days feeling ill with stomach problems, and gone to the international clinic 6 times. I've thrown 30 water-filled "lolas" on Holi, have waved down 150 micro-buses, ridden in only 5 taxis, and have had five sets of Kurta Surwal made to fit me. I have down 65 twelve-round sets of sun salutations, have spent 10 days in a Buddhist monastery, and 2 days keeping noble silence. I have lived 8 days in a one-room house in the rural village of Chaukati. I have built one smokeless stove for a family that did not have the means to have one. I learned 4 very catchy (maybe a little bit too catchy) Nepali songs, and of course have learned how to dance to them too. I've hikes 14 days straight carrying everything I needed on my back. I went those same 14 days without showering! I've have one incident with stinging nettles, 2 leech bites, and 1,000,000,000,000 bed bug and mosquito bites.

Most importantly in the last three months I have acquired two new families that include 12 new loving family members, 11 new nest friends, and 3 amazing mentors/role-models (our instructors). I've filled one whole memory chip with beautiful photos, and have filled one whole journal with thoughts, reflections, and realizations. I have formed countless memories of my most cherished time spent here in Nepal.

So like I said, here are some facts about what I have been doing the last three months. However I realize that there is no way I could explain what I really experiences while I was here, how I have changes, how I have grown. This is somethings I can only demonstrate through my behaviors, through my interactions with different people in my life, and through my reactions in certain situations. These kinds of things cannot be expressed in words.

This is what has become my focus for when I leave Nepal and see my friends and family. I wish to express my experience through action rather than through picture and story-telling time. I feel like this is a much more effective way to bring my Nepal experience forward with me in life.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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No words to express

Susanna McMillan,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Whew! Who knew three months could fly by this fast. We are back in Bhaktapur at the very same Bhaktapur Guest House we started our adventure at in February for our two days of transference. It really feels like yesterday when we were here last. I’m trying to find the words to explain to you […]

Posted On

05/11/10

Author

Susanna McMillan

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What about now? Are you aware that you’re aware of reading this? Are you aware of the infinite recession these questions could become? Are you aware of how much they twist my brain until I feel like it’s going to explode?
Writing this while not sitting in the ‘meditation position’ feels pretty strange, having just finished ten days of bum-numbing contemplation. My initial attitude towards our short stay in Kopan Monastery was a sceptical one- to me, Buddhism was ‘that Eastern religion in which they’re nice to animals, and they sit around breathing deeply and thinking about things’ and that was about it. The extent to which that view has changed is hard to describe, as is my happiness that it did.


The reason behind that original scepticism was a concrete, atheistic outlook on life, which I have adopted over the past few years because of what I thought were some solid reasons, such as the narrow-mindedness of dogma, the beauty of the rational reasoning which ridicules such dogma, the arguments against the existence of an omnipotent being, and the numberless examples of religion denying people’s intellectual (especially scientific) and humanitarian progress, which I believed, through the course of human history, had outweighed the good it has caused. Reading as much Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens as I could get my hands on hardly helped.


Anyway, our first few days saw us launching into the ‘nature of the mind’, receiving teachings from the wizened Ani (nun) Karin each morning and a Geshe (PhD-certified monk) in the afternoons, interspersed with meditation sessions. We were introduced to the idea that the mind (consciousness/awareness) is an eternal entity, the reason being that, as a non-physical phenomenon, it cannot have been created by a physical organ, such as the brain. As certain as I am that consciousness is actually a physical phenomenon, the concept was interesting, not least because nobody knows of any distinct proof which can support the argument that it is our brains’ neurons’ electron activity which is responsible for it. Indeed, I was stunned to discover how little is known about the vast majority of the human brain’s functioning, especially concerning what Buddhism calls our sixth ‘gross body’ sense- the mind. Buddhism asserts that this sense is very different from the other five bodily senses, not simply in its operation, but in its very nature. According to Buddha, ‘The Awakened One’ (the first person who thought about this with any result, about 2,500 years ago in northern India), consciousness, while in the post-death/pre-birth state of “Bardo”, “chooses” which being it will be born into, according to magnet-like “karmic imprints” which link the karmic history of that mind to an earthly being, birthplace and a situation in which that karma can “ripen” into actual events. Karma is the Buddhist theory of cause-and-effect, which can transcend lifetimes, accounting for very good/bad things which happen to us despite our not having done very good/bad things to cause them in our known life. An example provided was that somebody who seems to lose their possessions often may have committed an act of theft in their previous life. However, it must be stressed here as much as our teachers did at Kopan- the beings which committed these previous acts are not the same as those on whom the karma unfolds, though they do have the same “mind stream”, which carries the marks of all of their actions. Their personalities, goodness and badness are different; the poor possession-less person should not be branded a thief (unless of course there is evidence from this life). And so the karma accrued over one’s life determines how one will be “re-born”.

This is no small thing, for as well as the potential of escaping this endless mind stream cycle (“samsara”) by attaining enlightenment and realising the true nature of all things (ultimately becoming no longer controlled by the mind’s fabricated “self” which is the cause of all of our deluded negative thoughts and actions), there is the risk of being re-born as an animal, which has a mind but not the capability of using it. Furthermore, there are other mind realms, such as the Hungry Ghost realm, in which tortuous pains and frightening demons abound.


Fortunately though, karma is not the be-all and end-all; if you have a feeling that you’re the victim of some negative karma, whether or not it has been created in this life, it is possible to purify it by following the instructions of your lama (teacher). I feel like I could really do with some anti-confusion purification right now.


I’m not sure how I feel about what this means for individuals’ responsibility for their actions, which I imagine could be defended with this karmic theory (“I didn’t choose to rob this bank, it’s just my karma ripening from when I was a lion and I killed an antelope so I could feed my family” (Buddhism views the act of killing sentient beings as the worst neg-karma contributor, so I suppose one wouldn’t want to be re-born as a carnivore… according to Ani Karin it is very difficult for animals, in their brutally competitive lives, to be reborn as humans, and it is usually the result of some of their previous pos-karma ripening)). Worse yet it could be blamed or mistaken as the ‘only’ cause for events which actually have other suitable explanations (c.f. “The Devil made my wife ill” and “My wife had negative karma” instead of “My wife had the terrible bad luck of catching an illness, though it’s certainly logically explicable and I won’t attribute it to any supernatural force out of my control”). Though maybe that wouldn’t be approaching karma properly…


Shooting our confused and confusing questions about these topics at the teachers, they answered with a calm, cool clarity which more often than not helped us to understand a little more about what they were trying to say. I apologise for my extreme lack of clarity and hope that any of this has made sense!


For a far better explanation of these theories, I would highly recommend Matthieu Ricard’s ‘The Monk and the Philosopher’- a lucid, deep but easily readable summary and debate concerning the main Buddhist philosophies.
Finally, I had a memorable experience with meditation, which is so much more than calming breathing exercises- there are two main types. The first involves the effort of fully experiencing the present the moment and clearing the mind as much as possible in order for its true state to become apparent, bereft of clutter constructed by our “self” (which isn’t really there).


The second- “analytical” meditation, which is infinitely thought-provokingand a reason why we can never be ‘bored’ again- can occur after the first. With the mind clear and at its best, problems or situations (anger, death, relationships, attachment to people and things) can be tackled with diamond-sharp thought, resulting in potentially life-changing realizations about the true nature of things. I haven’t spoken about the difference between ‘Ultimate Truth’ and ‘Conventional Truth’ but I’m still struggling to get to grips with the title of this post so I’ll leave that for another day. Maybe trekking over these ideas will help me understand them a little more. I hope so, for the sake of my sanity…

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Are you aware that you’re reading this?

Dougie Foster,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

What about now? Are you aware that you’re aware of reading this? Are you aware of the infinite recession these questions could become? Are you aware of how much they twist my brain until I feel like it’s going to explode?Writing this while not sitting in the ‘meditation position’ feels pretty strange, having just finished […]

Posted On

04/15/10

Author

Dougie Foster

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My experience at Kopan Monastery was just what I needed after six busy weeks in Kathmandu, ten days of self reflection. Going into Kopan, I had a very mystical view of Buddhism and saw it almost in a supreme light over other religions. I have never connected whole heartedly to a religion in my life before and have always had this subconscious belief that Buddhism was the philosophy for me. I’m still amazed by how much I was exposed to Buddhism in those ten days. In the end, I found aspects of Buddhism that don’t sit well for me and other aspects that make perfect sense to me. I hold Buddhism in a completely different light now than I did before, not better or worse, just as another path to happiness and peace that all religions aim for.

My favorite aspect of Buddhism is the emphasis on spiritual independence. Buddhism is not about blind faith, an understanding of the religion is the only way to truly understand the Dharma. I also like that there is no god to worship. You are the only one capable of making yourself truly happy and understanding your mind. You’re your own savior in Buddhism.

I still can’t get my head around Karma and reincarnation. I do believe in positive and negative energies but I never thought about them on the scale that Buddhism sees them on. There are so many realms in Buddhism and they believe that you can be reincarnated anywhere in the universe. I don’t have any solid reason to disbelieve or believe this. I am at the beginning stage of understanding it.

Kopan was a struggle in patience. There were days when I just couldn’t keep myself focused in mediation and my mind would wonder to the future, past, etc. I think a lot of good came out of my distracted moments though. I made a list of things I either want to change in my life and start doing. When I called home a few days ago, I told my parents to prepare themselves for a long conversation when I got home! I realized a lot about myself and my life in those few days. I really hope I’m able to continue living my life with these new ideas from Buddhism. It really is possible to live a happy, peaceful, compassionate life just as the monks and nuns at Kopan do.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Just What I Needed

Hannah Oblock,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

My experience at Kopan Monastery was just what I needed after six busy weeks in Kathmandu, ten days of self reflection. Going into Kopan, I had a very mystical view of Buddhism and saw it almost in a supreme light over other religions. I have never connected whole heartedly to a religion in my life […]

Posted On

04/15/10

Author

Hannah Oblock

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After having the opportunity to dive into Buddhism over the past few weeks, I feel a real connection to it. It is both simple and approachable, and applicable to daily life, yet still offers goals to strive for and subjects that are a bit out of reach. What remains most attractive about it is its emphasis on not just believing what is written in the dharma, but to understand the concepts through the application of reason. There is no point in practicing and diving deeper into the religion until one takes time to understand and relate the basic principles to one’s own life.

There were a few principles that I felt resonated with me. The first was the idea of impermanence. The prospect of finding a way to accept and deal with change is a hard one; it is easy to become comfortable in an environment, as well as attached to people, but inevitably your relationship to the environment and people will change. It is extremely beneficial to examine the impermanence of everything in life, including life itself, and once one accepts this, change beces easier and less painful. By recognizing that this moment, this object, this person, this place will never be the same, we understand the true nature of things and become more comfortable with reality and can move a bit more peacefully through life.

Another subject I was particularly fond of was the application of compassion in our lives, versus the presence of anger, judgment and ignorance. It is often understated how powerful the act of compassion is, and that it can be shown towards every single being on the planet. We often resort to other feelings and when someone does something that hurts us, we act and feel negatively towards them. This negativity becomes a cycle, and we begin to hurt others and add to the suffering in the world. With compassion, however, we not only benefit those we act positively towards, but become a role model for others around us once they see its positive effects. This creates a cycle of love, and eventually eliminates the negativity in our lives and others.

With Buddhism, there were also a few concepts that were a bit harder to grasp. Theidea that everyone is reincarnated into either a higher or lower realm based on their karmic imprints. For me, the reality of life is that it is unchangeable and unpredictable, and that the hardships and luxuries we acquire are simply the luck of the draw. I believe we are able to acrue positive things by positive thinking and positive behavior, but blaming our experiences today on actions in our past life does not resonate or seem to make sense.

Overall, Buddhism was presented as a fascinating religion, especially because it offers more than just rituals and scripture, but an actual guide to life. While living with love, compassion and understanding seems like an almost impossible task, I now realize that just a small bit goes a long way. Also, the dharma emphasizes not only learning about oneself, but to be able to understand more about others in the process. Buddhism is a challenging yet rewarding approach to life, and allows one to focus on cultivating what is most important and beneficial to us humans: awareness and understanding. I’m thankful to have had such a unique opportunity to explore this religion and look forward to exploring it more and applying it to my life from here on out.

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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“Buddhaverse”

Katey Parker,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

After having the opportunity to dive into Buddhism over the past few weeks, I feel a real connection to it. It is both simple and approachable, and applicable to daily life, yet still offers goals to strive for and subjects that are a bit out of reach. What remains most attractive about it is its […]

Posted On

04/15/10

Author

Katey Parker

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NamasteFamily and Friends,

Tonight we take a breather in familiar Kathmandu before we head off to Chaukati, home to our village stay for 8 nights and 9 days, and from there directly to our trek for 16 days.

We will finish full circle by returning to the site of our orientation, Bhaktapur Guest House, where students will reflect on their experiences andtake stockof our learning over the past three months. Alreadywe hear how students appreciate how muchthey've grown.

While leaders will be in touch periodically with the office during this time, students will be out of touch and will not be posting yaks until wereturn. We arrive at Bhaktapur May 10 but this day will be filled with ritual and activity, whereas students will have much more free time on May 11 when we come back to Kathmandu to write and call.

As we start our transference piece, where we examine how we wish to re-enter our home communities, evaluatewhat we'd like to leave behind and what we'd like to keep, we will feel gratitude to our strong connections at home who have supported us and made this trip a possibility in our lives. Sending you our love and appreciation,

Nate, Shannon and Sweta

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Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

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Village and Trekking: Out of Touch until May 11

Instructor Team,Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2010

Description

NamasteFamily and Friends, Tonight we take a breather in familiar Kathmandu before we head off to Chaukati, home to our village stay for 8 nights and 9 days, and from there directly to our trek for 16 days. We will finish full circle by returning to the site of our orientation, Bhaktapur Guest House, where […]

Posted On

04/15/10

Author

Instructor Team

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