Recently, I visited with Dr. Norbu to talk about our trip to his homeland, Tibet. We reported on our trip with pictures and commentary over brunch. We talked at length about the old days before the Chinese forced many Tibetans into exile a half century ago. He recalled many of the places of his youth from our pictures and descriptions and was surprised at the many changes that have taken place since leaving. Dr. Norbu also spoke warmly about his coming to Bloomington, IN. He reminds himself every day just how fortunate he and his family were to have escaped the Chinese and settled in America.
As we drove back to the Tibetan Cultural Center, Dr. Norbu turned to me and asked, "Well, Allen, where will you travel next summer?" I shrugged my shoulders and said that I didn't know, but I was open for suggestions. Without missing a beat, he said loudly, "Mongolia!" "Mongolia," echoed back from my mouth-loud enough for my wife to take note. I continued, "Well, I don't know about Mongolia."
After the third time hearing the word, Mongolia, my wife cautiously said, "Hey, you promised a place with sun and sand." To wit, Dr. Norbu, responded, "Mongolia has both sun and sand-especially sand." My wife didn't verbalize her displeasure with Dr. Norbu's suggestion. Had he not been the Dalai Lama's older brother, I'm sure that she would have made her feelings known. After all, we had just gotten back from an arduous trip to South Asia.
I could sense her displeasure, because it was similar to her irritation with my incessant joking about adopting a little Tibetan orphan at our age. So, I gently turned the conversation away from the tourist attractions of the Mongolian Steppes and the excitement of an expedition into the Gobi Desert.
It wasn't long before my Buddhist friend and I had turned our talk to complaining about our aches and pains. After each gave the other enough time to verbalize all the ailments that we are experiencing, I summed up our common plight with the comment, "Well, given that we are both growing older, we ought to expect some aches and pains. After all, what is the alternative to growing older?"
There was a pregnant pause, and then Dr. Norbu merely replied, "Rebirth!" I had been had. All that I could do was to laugh and say, "Touché." There two men were talking about nature's reminders of growing old, and we had differing worldviews about the life. Granted, there are major differences between the Buddhist and Christian view of life and death, but both attempt to move their followers toward an ultimate reality. Within Christianity, the goal is to reach heaven, and within Buddhism, the desire is to obtain Enlightenment and release. However, by differing paths, both are attempting to get beyond the pain of this physical existence.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, each of us has been forced to rethink our time and purpose here in this life. Life is filled with tears and trouble. We Americans have been quite fortunate to miss much of the basic troubles that face most residents of the world that of food, shelter, and clothing. Nevertheless, we too have been reminded of the uncertainty of life itself. We often assumed that our lives were predictable, and largely under our control. However, with the recent loss of six thousand in the terrorist attack, the reality is that life is not predictable.
Nevertheless, we do have a great deal of control over our lives in spite of terrorists and the general uncertainties of life like accidents and illnesses.
We don't know whether we will go around again as my Buddhist friend believes nor do I know whether there is a heaven. However, you and I both know that we possess the gift of life...use it and enjoy it. It's the only one that you have for now.