I began the day with breakfast at the hotel. At nine am, we met Dr. Eric Mortensen, Dr. Dáša Pejchar Mortensen and their son. During small talk, I discovered that they currently reside in North Carolina and Dáša completed her post doc at UNC-CH.
We boarded the bus with Eric and headed to the Songzanlin Monastery.
Before we entered, Eric explained the history of the monastery and tension within the Buddhist community. All of the monastery except one temple for local deities were torn down by locals during the Cultural Revolution. About 20 years ago, the 14th Dali Lama encouraged Buddhists to stop worshiping a protector entity. The Chinese government supported that protector entity, resulting in much controversy. The monastery was and still is deeply divided on the issue. There is also debate over the Dali Lama’s reincarnation and successor.
Eric also briefly explained the two major sects of Buddhism and where each is practiced. Each sect can be broken down further, and our focus was Tibetan Buddhism. Inside, Eric used tangkas to teach us about the history and beliefs of Tibetan Buddhism. During our discussions, Eric seamlessly linked modern issues such as feminism, environmentalism, white privilege, and social justice to Buddhism.
Around noon, we headed back to the Old Town to eat lunch at a phenomenal restaurant recommended by Eric.
Following lunch, we met a Living Buddha who explained that spiritual health is necessary for physical health. Based off our discussions with Eric, Lizzy and I asked the Living Buddha about the intersection of racial inequity. The Living Buddha’s response to our translator was “shénme” which means “what” in English. We found it comical that our translator had to explain racial injustice, but it also provided great insight into Tibetan societal issues.
We were given the afternoon to explore Shangri La and used this time to cross items off our gift-lists. In the evening, we met at a restaurant in Old Town. Eric and Dáša joined us for dinner and we continued our phenomenal discussions. Ironically, the restaurant had a low food-safety rating, but served the best food we’ve eaten. We headed to the town square to dance after dinner. We danced with locals until it began to rain. All of the locals retreated under the awnings, but we continued to dance.
After dancing, Karima and I continued shopping and bought tangkas. We were surprised by the prices, but even more surprised when the artist understood our English conversations. He then taught us the meanings of the tangkas and Tibetan words. Later that night, we went to a local bar and watched the World Cup with Eric and his son.
My interactions with Eric, Dáša, the Living Buddha, the local people, and the tangka artist gave me invaluable appreciation for other cultures and compassion for others. Prior to this trip, I would have been repulsed by a low food-safety rating. While I would still defer from restaurants with poor ratings, I learned to withhold my judgement in situations it may be difficult to do so. Dancing in the rain reminded me of the power of perspective; the rain could have ended our fun, but instead we used it to have more fun. July 7th was the best day of my life because everything I did that day transformed my perspective.