The snake appeared quite unannounced, silently slithering over the red, dusty sand of the drive leading up to the imposing white, old colonial house, built for grandeur with little acknowledgement of the hot humid climate in which it is set.
We were quite a way from the snake and yet, in its shimmering brown progress, it seemed to turn its glittering eyes towards us before effortlessly ascending the low red cement wall and disappearing into the newly fallen leaves and branches. We looked carefully to see where it had gone; no trace was left.
He came into the large hall where wicker chairs had been put to one side for us to meet. His head was not shaved, but the thick covering of white hair was very short. Placing his hands together gently in greeting, he sat down to be introduced to us, arranging the deep maroon robes so that he was comfortable.
At the age of seven, having been recognised as the reincarnation in a line of important religious figures, he became a Buddhist monk and began his studies in a monastery in Tibet. When he was twenty years old he was part of the group that accompanied the Dalai Lama in his flight from the Chinese invasion, seeking refuge in India. In the years that followed he worked predominantly in setting up educational institutions for the Tibetan refugees that also sought asylum in India. Recently he had spent a term of ten years as the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in exile.
That evening he was to give a public talk in front of the white, colonial house entitled: 'Buddha's Teachings and Krishnamurti's Insights'. However, he had agreed to meet us for a conversation soon after our arrival at the end of a six hour car journey.
Towards the end of our conversation we observed that humanity was on an almost irretrievable course towards disaster; that, even if it was not to be precipitated by human behaviour, it might equally come about through some natural phenomena. This, he felt, had the possibility of bringing about some sense of realisation or understanding of the effects of self-centred or egotistical activity. The global economic system as it is currently, underpinned by violence and greed, with the existence of rapid environmental degradation, widening inequality between the poor and the rich, and increasing religious intolerance is destroying any semblance of balance or harmony in the world - negating the values and ethics that might give some avenue to ensuring the survival of the human race.
We talked of the education system as it generally is worldwide; the superficial approach to learning with the tendency towards the acceptance of information without examination or questioning. From this emerges a form of blind faith whether it be in religion, modern technology or in the economic system. In Buddhist terms, he explained, the process of learning is seen as a movement from the imparting and acquiring of knowledge through to the direct perception of truth, at which point it becomes authentic learning. Thus the individual, through reflection and meditation, gains an insight into the truth and therefore is no longer a second-hand human being, accepting what has been told. When asked about the relationship between teacher and student, he responded that the Buddhist view is to use the word 'friend', that is one who removes fear and explains with simplicity and clarity. And that this relationship, if it is lo lead to authentic learning had to be a collective, collaborative process, involving neither comparison nor competition. In this quality of collaboration, doubts and difficulties would emerge, but in this collaboration there would have to be the removal of all authority.
The question was then put as to whether this process was also one that occurred in self-knowledge, or self-realisation. Learning about the self was entirely dependent on an understanding of what the 'self' and the 'other' is, as opposed to the misunderstanding that leads to the confusion of self and ego. He mentioned that the realisation, or perception, of the self leads to the transformation of behaviour and relationship, particularly with nature.
He left us with an apology for his limitations in the English language.
Learning, whether through the words of wisdom of another or the observation of the snake over the sand has the potential to be of extraordinary depth and endless.
Our travels in India continue until March 14th.