Inconvenient Compassion

 

by Jhamtse Gatsal Graduate Pema D.

According to the Tibetan lunar calendar, the 10th, 15th, 25th and 30th day of every month are considered very auspicious. Since 2018, Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community has voluntarily given up dinner on these nights.

 

It started as a thoughtful seed to give back to the world in a small way—not in the future when we grow up and become capable of doing more—but starting now, in this very moment of our daily life. Even within our limited means, we can try to help our neighbours who are suffering and in great need. We learn to give, not because we have a lot, but because we know through experience what it feels like to have nothing.

 

When we perform traditional dances or other cultural pieces at local celebrations, we are awarded monetary gifts as tokens of appreciation. We decided to donate this money to those around us who were in need. Lobsang has taught us the practice of inconvenient compassion—to give, not just when it is easy, but even when it may cause us suffering. In this light, donating our earnings from cultural performances was a convenient form of compassion from us. Thus, as a small step towards the ideal of inconvenient compassion, we proposed to the Community the idea of making a commitment to skip one meal every week on the above-mentioned days to donate our saved groceries to a school nearby, which all community members wholeheartedly supported. To our pleasant surprise, we learned that what we could save as a community by giving up four meals a month was sufficient nutrition for a month for the children and at this school that we adopted!

 

Even before I left Jhamtse Gatsal in 2018 for pursuing further studies, this had become a regular practice. Almost three years since, these evenings of fasting have turned into something even I could not have imagined evenings of intimate celebration! Now, every night of fasting, we gather as the community to enjoy the Jhamtse Durbar. It is a platform where any member of the Jhamtse family can share their talent, skills, and thoughts. It is a platform where you can work on your weaknesses or show off your skills! There are many interesting things to do in Durbar such as dancing, singing, debating, storytelling, poetry recitals, etc. The intent is to have an intimate family gathering which serves as a safe space to practice our skills and develop our confidence.

 

Looking back, I feel proud of our Community for taking this step together as a family and for seeing it through. I am honoured to be a part of this tradition

Compassion on a Train

by Saurabh Sharma

It was the summer of 2018. Our first batch of children had graduated and were getting ready for college. I was travelling with a group of them from Bangalore to Guwahati by train after finishing a series of university interviews and entrance examinations. The trip had been fruitful yet tiring. We were ready to board the train, knowing that we had a 60-hour journey ahead of us. The train was called the Humsafar Express – Humsafar in Urdu means companion.

 

Leading the group to our berths on the train, I remember taking in a pitiful sight as we entered our cabin – an extremely malnourished child with medical tubes taped to his nostrils. He barely had any clothes on, his ribs were visible under his skin and dark circles surrounded his sunken eyes. He was accompanied by his parents whose faces were marked with exhaustion and worry. The picture was so disturbing and painful to my senses that I immediately looked away, feeling a rush of discomfort and pity. We walked past the child to our seats and settled in. I took my place at the topmost bunk to help me keep an eye out on our kids and to let them have some time to themselves.

Saurabh Sharma

 

A little while into our journey, I noticed the children moving away from their seats a few at a time and not returning for quite some time. Curious and a little concerned, I looked past our seats to see where they might be going. To my surprise, I noticed them sitting with the sick child and his family. My curiosity peaked and I began to eavesdrop. I overheard them casually talking with the family. The children were asking about the child and wondering where the family was going. The parents told them that he was terribly ill and needed to be taken to Hyderabad, 4 hours away, for better medical treatment. They were too poor to afford a flight ticket but had managed to buy train tickets. The conversation smoothly and naturally flowed to other topics. In minutes, I could hear the child’s feeble laughter and the parents joining the conversation.

 

From my vantage point, the whole scene was coming together like utopian fiction. The children were in deep conversation with the family, like they would with their own. There was no discomforting barriers separating them – caste, colour, creed, status. The suffering that was so palpable in that cabin a few minutes ago was slowly dissipating. Of the hundreds of people on the train, including myself, our children were the only ones to embrace the family the way they deserved to be embraced – as fellow human beings on their journey through life. They were subtly, almost magically, healing their suffering by just being with them. The scene that looked like a tragedy now echoed with conversation and laughter. I was overwhelmed with emotion just observing from afar.

 

As I allowed my emotions to settle within me, the children surprised me even further. They began approaching all the travellers in the coach asking them to donate as much as they could for the child’s treatment. As I gave the children the money I had, I looked around and saw the faces of our fellow travellers who were now willing to help. I saw sympathy and pity in their eyes as they took some money out of their wallets to give to the children and another thought struck me! These children, who came from a very remote corner of India and grew up with little, but within the comfort of love and compassion, were able to embrace the suffering of their fellow human beings with such warmth, while the best of us with far more education and life experience could only come up with pity.

 

When the children tried to give the collected money to the family, they refused to accept it at first. The children convinced them to take the money with their genuineness – the money was not charity, but a chance for the child to get better treatment, they said. The family graciously accepted the money from the children. As they approached their destination, I felt a tap on my shoulder. The mother was handing me an apple from her bag – a care package she was carrying for her son. She would not take no for an answer. I reluctantly accepted when she insisted and said her goodbyes to all the children.

 

As I sat there holding the apple in my hands, all I felt was that I did not deserve it. This was the fruit of love and compassion – the fruit of a simple and profound lesson that I would hold in my heart forever. I had lived at Jhamtse Gatsal for 3 years then, but I realized that my understanding of Jhamtse (love and compassion in Tibetan) was naïve at best. This journey made me understand the potential that each one of us must spread Jhamtse and to relieve suffering for others, no matter what the situation may be. It made me understand what Gen la always tells us: “Jhamtse is not a place; it is a feeling that we carry within us wherever we may be.”

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