From the Monastery

Jeff Alworth

Hey, was there an election or something? 

There are still a few remote places on the planet, and I'm currently spending about two weeks in one--Mirik, India, in the lower Himalayas, down the (tea-planted) hills from Darjeeling.  There is but one node of information in the town, a little hole-in-the wall with three computer rigged up to the internet through a cell-phone connection.  On the evening of the election (Wednesday morning, Mirik time), I was patiently waiting for the screen to load to find out whether the wave was, as promised, blue. 

A strong contrast from the past few elections--where I watched in pain as the red waves swept across the television screens--but not so much for the results.  I am here to celebrate the consecration of a stupa at a Buddhist monastery that coincides with the two-year anniversary of the founding abbot's death.  While the election results were coming in, 300 monks and perhaps twice as many more visiting monks and lay practitioners were busy meditating and trying to set aside the hustle and bustle of the material world.

For a political junkie and agonized lefty blogger, missing this election was no easy thing.  (Though not without precedent--in 1994, I watched Congress flip while on a fellowship in Varanasi. Maybe I should have left the country earlier.)  It has been a long time since I've felt the taste of victory and the thin thread of hope that comes with  it.  And this year, more than past, the hope feels real.  I can't tell you how much I regret missing the fun.

On the other hand, the monastery had its lessons, too.  A central element in Buddhist theology is impermanence; inevitably, the things we build crumble and pass away (even Republican majorities).  Tibetans, among all Buddhists, are aware of the importance of politics--no less than the Dalai Lama has said that Tibetans were too insular before the Chinese invasion in 1959.  Yet they strike an important balance. 

Cultivating compassion, working for the happiness of beings--Buddhists prioritize these activities above temporal concerns.  For Buddhists, working from the place of clarity that arises from cultivating compassion ensures some measure of clear thought.  I bet everyone wishes President Bush had spent some time in meditation before invading Iraq--one of the new century's signature acts of confused thinking.

I don't know where I'm going with this--I guess I just wished to share a little experience happening in a remote corner of the world.  My mind is also on the act of governing, which now looms happily in front of a newly empowered Democratic Party.  I wish I could pipe in some of the emotion from this monastery, but either I'm a poor conduit or this internet line is.  I'll try to bring a little back with me.  In the meantime, will someone hoist a beer for the Dems in my stead?

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    Jeff--I'll hoist a beer for you until you come back. In the meantime, enjoy all that inner peace. Bring back a little for us here in this corner of the world.

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    Have a great time. I watched the 2000 election results while at a conference in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). Days after the election when I went to leave an Indian there said to us "Welcome to the Third World. You've elected a dead guy in Missouri, the wife of the President in New York, and days after the election you still don't know who is your President."

    Is the Fool or Leader? sign still up? (see


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