The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

A glimpse of an expatriate’s adventure in 1970s India

by C. W. Huntington, Jr.
June 30, 2015
Tue, 06/30/2015 - 14:05 -- C. W. Huntington Jr.

Excerpt from Maya: A Novel by C. W. Huntington, Jr. Please note: this excerpt contains strong language.

My alarm went off just before sunrise. Today I would meet Nortul. If I were going to arrive at Delhi University by midmorning, I needed to get an early start. I knew the trip through the old city would take at least an hour by auto rickshaw—especially since traffic would be worse than usual because of the recent election. I cleared a place in one corner of the room where I could meditate and settled in.

There was an open window above the door to my room—which could not be closed—and before long I could hear people outside going to and from the communal bathrooms. They were shouting to each other, singing, whistling, and yelling at their kids. The sounds reverberated up and down the hallway as if it were a gymnasium. Every now and again someone would slam the door with such force that the walls shook. I was already in a dismal mood, and the racket outside my room made it worse. My attention jumped from one sound to the next, and every sound was the catalyst for a frenzy of self-righteous indignation. How could people be such totally thoughtless assholes?  Looking at my mind was like standing knee deep in the middle of a stinking, polluted swamp that extended out to the horizon in every direction. Anger and irritation, guilt and regret and fear, all of it smothered in an endless toxic babble of thought. Me, me, and more me,  as far as the eye could see. I sat there with my eyes closed for about two hours, watching things come and go, until finally I’d had enough. By that time it was around seven; I opened the drapes and sunlight exploded into the room.

I took my towel and headed down the hall for a shower. After that I went downstairs for breakfast. Over a pot of coffee, I took stock.

Nortul Rinpoche was sorting through a collection of old texts that had been brought, in the early sixties, from impoverished monasteries in the hinterlands of eastern Ladakh, a region that is politically Indian but culturally and linguistically a part of Tibet. For the first time, it occurred to me that this was the very same region where Colonel Singh from Corbett Park had commanded a regiment during the Sino-Indian War. He had actually talked with Penny and me about the artifacts in these monasteries. How is it that I had never before made this connection? Singh himself could have been involved in shipping these very texts to Delhi.

In any event, it was possible that the material in these crates had not been studied—or even looked at—for several generations. The tiny monasteries in eastern Ladakh were provincial, to say the least. The texts now being stored at Delhi University’s library came from monasteries that had been isolated fro the political and scholarly centers of Tibet for hundreds of years. It was at least conceivable that some of them may have been safely locked away from the outside world since the ninth century or earlier, when this area played a critical role in the transmission of Buddhism to Tibet.

It was just as Penny had said that evening in Corbett—Ladakh had been a crossroads of the Buddhist world. Beginning in early Christian times, and perhaps even before, there was a steady stream of traffic passing back and forth between Mediterranean Europe and Beijing. Merchants moved along trade routes passing near this area on their way to and from Kashgar, on the edge of the Taklamakan desert. And in the third century, when Buddhism was just beginning to enter China, this was where Indian Buddhist monks and Chinese scholars met. Kumarajiva—one of the most famous Chinese translators—journeyed to Ladakh and studied Sanskrit there with Indian pundits, who sent him back to An Jing with bundles of texts, including scriptures on the perfection of wisdom and commentaries by Nagarjuna and other early Indian masters. Several hundred years later, Buddhist teachings began to filter into Tibet via this same route. And now, another thousand years down the road, several crates of texts from the region had been transported to the library of Delhi University, where they were at this very moment being pried open by the lama I had been sent to meet.

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