Tushita actually means ‘The place of joy’, the land of Maitreya Buddha, who according to Buddhist tradition is a future Buddha, yet to take birth on Earth.
For me though, Tushita is a place above clouds. Why so? Well, I hope you’ll find that out by the end of this post.
After I failed at the CSE this year, I was no longer sure I could continue doing what I was doing. I wasn’t sure I had the courage to walk the same uncertain road with the same uncertain destination. I was exhausted. Both Mentally and Physically. But somewhere in my heart of hearts, I knew I was not willing to give up altogether. There was a tiny, very tiny voice that asked for some time. Some time to think. Some time to breathe. Some time not just to heal but to gain perspective. Not just to start anew, but to just start.
At that time if someone I knew was in my shoes, I would have told them to pause a bit. To take a break. To get back to a state where the little things bring joy to life.
Yet somehow at that point in time I felt selfish to even think of a break. Let alone take one. It felt like I was trying to run away from everything and everyone. Instead of facing my failure head on, I was looking for a way out. Some sort of Salvation. Some sort of answer.
I realized talking to friends and family, unlike always, didn’t bring any comfort. There was no excitement for all the books I thought I’d read once the exam was over. I could feel that tiny voice inside me fading away. And I did not want it to get lost. I had to find a way to get away from all the noise, the clutter. Do something outside of the four walls of my room. I knew there were meditation retreats happening at various places in India. My best friend had attended a 10 day Vipassana course some two years back and I remembered her telling me what a life-changing experience she had. Having been a Yoga student for four years (and having dreaded meditation classes for those four years) I knew my mind needed some training, some discipline. A simple google search for meditation retreats in the Himalayas found Tushita Meditation centre. I realized it was the same retreat centre Megha Arora, one of the UPSC toppers for the year 2017 had recommended in her blog. In many ways I could relate to her journey. I knew it was a sign.
Tushita is a centre for the study and practice of Buddhism from the Tibetan Mahayana tradition. It is located in Dharamkot, just above the town of Macleod Ganj (the seat of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama in exile) in Dharamshala, District Kangra in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
From where I stayed, Tushita was just 2000kms. Just enough for most Indian parents to lose their sleep over their daughter’s saftey. I knew they wouldn’t let me go alone. Not by public transport anyway. Plus to simplify things, my sometimes just way too smart brain kept on reminding me geographical facts like, ‘Hey, but the Himalayas are a seismic zone-category four, I mean shouldn’t you be travelling to some place safe? And there are landslides all the time. Are you sure about this? I mean you do read the newspaper every day. You know about the landslides. And what about the incessant rains? August is the wettest month for most of the Himalayan states. Do you think it will be safe to travel by road through the mountains during this time of the year? Also since we are talking about safety, is this Tushita place safe? Does it even exist? I mean what do we really know about it, Aashu. Also, did you register? Was the registration successful? What if you actually travel 2000kms to finally know your registration wasn’t successful.’
Most days I listen to my brain. Some days I don’t. I think I like myself better when I don’t.
Mum and Dad were fine with the idea as long as my brother dropped me to Macleod Ganj. And I was fine with my brother as long as I got to go.
I reached Macleod Ganj on day three of my journey. Day four I checked in at Tushita. ‘It exists, Brain. Also My registration was successful. How about that.’ 😛
Day one was all about getting to know Tushita, its history, the retreat environment, our daily routine, rules of conduct, our teacher for the course : Venerable Khadro, Our meditation trainer Maya and our Karma Yoga jobs.
So Tushita is a no gadget zone. When you commit to a retreat at Tushita, you commit to spend your days in silence. (In hindsight, what a blessing!) Oh and the Karma Yoga jobs, To quote Tushita’s website verbatim, Karma Yoga is a Sanskrit term which means ‘Work which is done to benefit others.’ We were allotted our Karma Yoga jobs on the check in day. These Karma Yoga jobs can be anything from cleaning toilets, sweeping floors, saving little insects from being stepped over (❤), cleaning dishes to cleaning the dining room. Anything that can help you practice mindfulness and selflessness. I got to be a Dishwasher! We were also divided into discussion groups, so everyday for an hour for six days in a row, we could talk and discuss everything that was taught in the class. We then had to make a short presentation on whatever the topic of discussion was.
A typical day at Tushita comprised of both Lectures on Buddhist Philosophy and meditation sessions. First session of the day began at 6.45 a.m. The last session of the day got over by 8-8:30 p.m. In between we had breaks for breakfast (7.30 a.m. ), Lunch (12 p.m.), tea (3 p.m.), and dinner (6 p.m.).
If I am to be completely honest, by day three I was questioning my decision to have come to Tushita. The silence wasn’t making any sense. The little bit of what Buddhist Philosophy I learnt in class brought no solace. The dish-washing gave me back ache. On top of that the food I ate was bland. There are very few things I can’t eat with a happy face. Bland food tops the list. And most importantly I found my mind wandering during the meditation sessions. Exactly why I dreaded the meditation sessions with my Yoga teacher back home. What was the point of coming here?
As I was contemplating all of this, something happened. During a guided analytical mediation class, the teacher said something and things fell in place. Just like that. A line and everything made sense. Peace, after all. She talked about taking refuge in the self. Not in people, not in things. Just the self. Because salvation lies within.
I realized I had come to Tushita thinking it could solve my problems, I had expectations from the course. I realized this is what I’ve been doing all my life. Looking for answers outside of myself. Taking refuge in everything that I thought would bring long lasting, true happiness. That meditation session gave me the courage to look within. The voice that was timid before, it grew confident. It craved to be heard.
Once I realized that the answers to my confusion, my so called dilemmas lay within, I knew I could find the answers and through that process may be my peace of mind.
That session was a turning point of my stay at Tushita. I was back to my positive state of mind where the little joys of life made me happy and content. Tushita, then became a place that provided me with the much needed silence I required to look within. Once I let go of my expectations from the course, the meditation sessions started helping.
I found joy in everything I did.
The silence made sense.
The Gompa, which is Tibetan for a meditation hall, became home.
The library, no matter how small, felt magic.
Sipping tea while looking at the valley downtown with small cumulus clouds became meditative.
Smiling to fellow meditators became the norm.
Not having a mobile phone or a camera to capture everything beautiful had its own beauty. I could just be in the moment and breathe in the beautiful.
Looking at the monkeys going about their day in a way was fun too.
One thing that a lot of us did at Tushita was to save little beings from being stepped over. As they say at Tushita, they are small but sentient. Little lives matter. They are worthy of life too.
Learning became fun. And although I did not agree with everything we learnt in class, I truly believe that whatever I learnt at Tushita is valuable nonetheless. Especially the anecdotes about His Holiness The Dalai Lama. They’ve taught me more than all the philosophical concepts combined.
I looked forward to discussing the philosophical concepts of Buddhism with my discussion group friends every day. Bodhichitta, you guys! 😉
I became grateful for the bland food I ate. (I still ask Mum to put a little less salt in food and preferably no onions and garlic.)
The dish-washing became enjoyable, mindful even. Although my dishwasher friends know what kind of tantrums I threw with all the, ‘I can’t remove the remainder of food from the plates, I need some change today, please!’. Thank You for being so patient and compassionate with me. I wish I was equally patient and compassionate with you all. Just know that in my heart, I am sorry if I was rude and inconsiderate. I miss you to three different countries and back. 💕
Above all, the meditation helped. At least I don’t dread the sessions anymore. I know if my mind wanders off, at some point it will come back. And when it does, it is important to smile at it and not be angry. The little exposure I had to Buddhism taught me how important it is to discipline one’s mind. Most problems disappear if we treat our mind as a friend instead of treating it as foe. I am practicing that now and I feel like I become friends with my mind a little more every day. We have our fights but we are still friends. (:
Tushita is etched on my heart. And even though I now know how important it is to seek refuge within the self, Tushita is in many ways my refuge. My corner of peace. My place above clouds.
Did I find the road?
Did I find the answers I was looking for?
I found some, some I am still trying to find. But I know I will find them.
Huge shout out to everyone who made this trip happen.
Thank you Mum, Dad and Anuj for having faith in me and for recognizing my need for a break. Aakash, thank you for being Gandalf to my Bilbo Baggins, wouldn’t have been possible without you!
My Teachers at Tushita, Thank You for being your kind compassionate selves. Thank You for all the wise words.
My fellow meditators at Tushita, thank you for being your amazing selves. I wish you true peace and joy. Friendships forged in silence are indeed beautiful. His Holiness is right, “Deeper human values and compassionate friends are the most important things in life.”
To the reader on WordPress. Thank you for finding the time to go through my blog.
I’d like to end this blog by saying what they say at Tushita.
“May all beings everywhere be happy!”