Members of St. Andrew's Community Return from India with Better Understanding of the Culture and Non-Violent Traditions
Posted July 26, 2012
Twenty-four members of the St. Andrew’s community recently returned from a two week journey to India. The purpose of the trip was to explore India’s non-violent traditions, Tibetan Buddhism, as well as India’s Himalayan culture. In the end though, those who took part in the sojourn also had the opportunity to experience the country’s incomparable range of landscapes, cultures, religions, and people while gaining a better understanding of a nation that is rapidly changing economically and the glaring disparities between wealthy and poor that comes with such change.
The idea for the trip was borne out of history instructor David Brandt’s senior elective course on Non-Violent Resistance. In the course, two of the social movements Brandt’s students have focused on as case studies are Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian people’s resistance to the British Raj in the 1920s and 1930s as well as the Dali Lama’s crusade to preserve and improve Tibetan Buddhist culture and Tibetan life in general in the wake of China’s increasing influence and heavy hand in Tibet.
“This was a tremendous opportunity for us to visit an area of the world that I had been teaching students about for the last decade,” says Brandt. “I personally gained significant insight into northwestern Indian life that I can bring back to the classroom, especially in terms of the importance of Buddhism’s role in non-violent resistance and the considerable influence of Gandhi on India.”
The trip was planned and organized by Latin instructor Racquel Yerbury, St. Andrew’s Director of International Programs. For Yerbury, the trip in so many ways was incredible. As she noted, “Our 2012 India program gave us deeply authentic experiences with the ways of life of practicing Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims --what an utterly jaw-dropping, chaotic, gorgeous land India is -- what warm people of such rich intellectual and wisdom traditions we met -- how they taught us! There's nothing comparable in the west; being there was learning full force with no barriers.”
The travelers began their journey in Dehli where they visited the Bahai Temple and UNESCO World Heritage sites Qutub Minar and Humayun’s tomb, the precursor of the Taj Mahal.
From Dehli, they travelled to the Ladakh region in the Jammu and Kashmir state in northwest India where they spent five days visiting gompas (aka Buddhist monasteries), experiencing northwest India’s rugged landscape and Tibetan influence, as well as visiting Pangong Lake, the highest saltwater lake in the world at 14,500 feet.
Upon returning to Dehli, the group took a rickshaw ride in Old Dehli, visited the Raj Ghat (Gandhi Memorial), strolled through Lodi Gardens, and witnessed Muslims in prayer at Jama Masjid, the Muslim holy site in Old Dehli.
After the short stay in Dehli, the travelers made their way to Dharamshala, the home of the Dali Lama in the foothills of the Himalayas. While His Holiness was not present, the group explored Tibetan settlements, schools, and monasteries.
The group concluded its time in India with visits to two of India’s most fascinating historical sites – the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar as well as the Taj Mahal in Agra. In Amritsar, the travelers had the chance to witness the closing of the gate at the India-Pakistan border.
Along the way, the students and adults travelling had the opportunity to hear lectures from Buddhist monks, noted Indian scholar Dr. Navina Jafa, and the group’s guide on the trip – Manjeet Singh, a member of India’s 1993 World Cup cricket team.
Of the twenty-four individuals who traveled to India, twelve of them were students who ranged in age from rising sophomores to St. Andrew’s students who will be entering college in the fall. In addition, a number of parents joined former St. Andrew’s nurse Susan Murray and her husband as well as alumnus Lindsay Mayhood Liwanag ’97 and her husband on the trip.
For junior Billy Weber, like all the students who participated in the trip, “the trip was enlightening and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The program opened my eyes and I saw how excessive our lives as Americans are. India is radically different than anywhere I've ever been.”
Junior Sam Wolf went further in saying: “Every building we visited had a story to tell, and every natural scene was a piece of paradise."
Wolf’s mother Judy, who joined the group on the trip, summed up the initial St. Andrew’s experience in India well when she states, “Certainly the contrasts were striking, from the poverty seen on the streets to the opulence of the weddings in Delhi. India is culturally so rich, and much more different from the U.S., or the "west," than I imagined. It is truly a fascinating and diverse land, one which I intend to explore further at the next opportunity!"