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101 chapter four Altitude and Attitude If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present. buddhist sutra hat makes us who we are? Stories. Tenzin’s story: He says it was the many pairs of socks and the plastic bags from his parents that saved him. It was just about all he carried, other than the clothes on his back and the small roll of money his father tucked into his shirt pocket at the last minute. One of our project translators, Tenzin was fifteen when his family said good-bye to him late on a cold night. They did not expect to see him again. They handed him over to smugglers, who packed him into the back of a truck in Tibet with many others he didn’t know, buried him under wood and bricks, and told him not to make a sound. The next days and weeks of hiding out and escaping over the Himalayas from Tibet to the safety of Nepal are a blur of night walking, scaling some of the highest peaks in the world, and sleeping in caves during the day. He recalls finding the bodies of fellow countrymen from failed past journeys frozen whole in the snow, and seeing the frostbitten toes and fingers of cotravelers. Every day he changed his socks and covered his feet in plastic before sleeping. The Tibetans in India are a people in exile, a people disconnected. Many in our Dharamsala classroom have stories similar to Tenzin’s. These stories are an elemental part of what makes them who they are. W 102 the enlightened gene Stories like these are carried from generation to generation and weave the fabric of our memories. What makes us who we are is a driving question of Buddhism and of modern science. It seems we all seek answers to this question. Biology is a deep part of our stories. Nothing happens in us without our cells and genes having a say, responding, translating. Whether getting hungry, eating, digesting, or walking, loving, thinking, or having a religious epiphany, everything passes through and changes our physiology , up and down the steps of our own personal living staircase. This does not exclude God, nor does it reduce humans or other organisms to mere piles of molecules. It’s simply a fact that for us to sense and respond, to act, to create or refuse to create, our physical parts must be engaged. Together in a profound, sometimes subtle, and continuous conversation with the environment, our genes both tell and help create our stories. Many stories, like parts of Tenzin’s, are tragic, broken, or buried. The Dalai Lama (a man whom Tibetan Buddhists recognize as the fourteenth reincarnation of a long and epic story) imagines that the integration of his story with that of our genes and cells might help ease, heal, lighten, and enlighten our stories, as we hear from him in chapter 8. during our teaching in Dharamsala, we often take a break with other teachers and some of the monks to drink chai and relax for a moment. Chai is the drink of choice among the Tibetans without the yak of their homeland around to provide them butter and the tea made from it. Each day we have class for ninety minutes, then break for thirty minutes for chai, then ninety more minutes of class before lunch, followed by another ninety minutes of class, more chai, and then a final ninety minutes of teaching and learning. Sometimes answers to the most innocent of questions hit hard. Small talk over chai: Where are you from? What do your parents do? Sangpo, one of the monks, has not seen his mother back in Tibet in twenty-five years. So he and his brother in India arranged a Skype conversation with her. The call took weeks to arrange, back-and-forth negotiations via mail, cell phone, and Internet cafés. When the moment finally came and the connection was made, Sangpo and his brother sat in a café in India and their mother in a café in a Tibetan town to which altitude and attitude 103 she had traveled from her village. The first thing Sangpo’s mother asked his brother: “Who is that monk sitting next to you...


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