This week, we’ve had a team of Thai filmmakers here. It’s a student project, an undergrad final project, and there are 8 Thai people, all young men but one.
Having guests one learns a lot about peoples of the world — two of the Thai guests were cold during the night, and when I made their beds the next day, I discovered that these two people had not slept under the down comforters, but with only the thin top blankets. Apparently, they did not notice that there was a comforter and slept on top of it. My best guess is that, being from a hot climate, they did not think to look for a thicker blanket.
Also, they are urbanites, from Bangkok. They are amazingly thoughtless of natural resources — leaving all the lights in each room on all the time, and the bathroom fans. Our solar/wind power is pretty good, but cannot handle profligacy like this. There is enough, but not enough to use wantonly. This is the same with wood; they made a campfire and burned the amount of wood we burn in a month — I asked them to use dung, and they did, but still burned what, for us, is a huge anount of wood.
Wood is not something you can buy here, and going to get one small tractor-load takes 4 people 2 days. Or we can go pick up sticks in the forest above us, but that too is hard work, and a day’s efforts only gets us a day or two of heat, even mixed with dung. Urban people simply don’t think about it, much in the same way Tibetans don’t think about where the trash goes if you throw it out the car window or into the river.
There is something within this issue that seems right to me. I want the boys to have no power since they used it all wantonly. I want people to take showers when there is a warm sunshine, rather than just any time. In the first thing, there is an obvious kind of rightness to it, but the issue for me is more than that, and less about punishment. It is that having to wait for natural resources to restore themselves before we use them seems right, and makes me, I guess, feel closer and more connected to nature. And it adds appreciation for the gifts of nature.
This, precisely, is the thing that I like about sustainable energy and indeed, living close to nature at all. If one does not have ample electricity all the time, one appreciates what one has. If one does not shower every day, indeed CANNOT, one loves a shower when one has one. If one sleeps on the ground sometimes, a clean comfortable bed is like heaven. If one does not fill one’s brain constantly with entertainment, one thinks more clearly and can more thoroughly enjoy even a more simple entertainment. To me, this kind of limitation is the source of wealth and pleasure — paradoxically!
The Thai guys asked me to arrange a few Tibetan actors. Together, they went to a small nomad temple, borrowed a wheelbarrow, and pushed a fake dead body in the wheelbarrow across the temple courtyard. The monks were angry, and told Gamzar Rinzin and Tenzin Nyima, whom I had arranged to act, that this was a “bad job,” and that one should not act such things. They should act pleasant happy things! After that, Tenzin Nyima soured on the whole affair. I find it to be essentially a cultural difference, or a misunderstanding (or different understanding) of art. How can one have art that means anything, if one can only act pleasantries? And how can one move forward in anything without thinking about serious issues?
It’s curious because dealing with death is very much what monks do, perhaps their main task. And they are demanding a monopoly on this, a monopoly on thinking about and defining it. Tenzin Nyima feels that they do indeed know the meaning, and that listening to them is right. Indeed, it feels like a requirement of his cultural identity. He is concerned, like many Tibetans, about the wearing-down of Tibetan identity and culture, and this kind of thing seems like a wearing-down of the rules, and a looking-down at the seriousness and meaning of religion. It must be a magical mystery, unquestioned. But it seems to me, and I think to a segment of Tibetans also, that this fear of losing culture and tradition is itself threatening culture — because culture always changes, and must change and develop.
It reminds me of the controversy over Tibetan art, which also goes on in the exile communities as well as communities here. There has been a real reluctance to change anything about Tibetan painting, even to change the shade of the backgrounds! And that leaves Tibetan art in a place of non-art, but craft. Complex craft, but craft rather than art.
For a break from all the commotion, I went to visit the new baby at Sola’s, and spent an hour or so there, drinking the rich yak milk tea she always makes especially for me, a real gift this brown season. The baby is a cute little thing, and the 3-year-old was talking incessantly, on and on, making it hard to talk much to Sola, but of course it is what she needs to do. Sola is well again, a solid and happy person with crooked teeth, but beautiful despite (and with) them. She commented on worry; I had slept badly the night before — worried about the internet closure here and how I would manage to get through it. She told me that my worries are understandable, because I have a lot of responsibilities. But Pengtso, her husband, she said, worries just for the heck of it, as a habit, and this is silly and pointless.
It’s true; the worry-free life of Sola (happy that she has food to eat and a nice house, nice yaks and a comfortable sleeping-place) is quite amazing. As a person trained to constantly think, think, think, work, work, work, act, act, act, it is hard to understand how Sola can be so very happy there in her simple life. For me, I think, it is a healthy thing to be reminded of. Just remember to sit, talk, be with other people, enjoy things like a cup of milk tea, slow the mind…. There is a real pleasure to be found in small things when one has the wherewithal to notice it.