This is the first entry from my fieldwork diary.
We stood in the kitchen when my mother asked me, "Would you like to come along tonight?"
Although I was tired, I agreed to go. After all, I really did wish to see that place with my own eyes. So in a rush I grabbed a random exercise book (which would later become my fieldwork diary) and a pen from the desk in my room, slipped my shoes on and ran out of the front door.
We walked along a path and crossed a few streets until we reached a light yellow house. The center had been there all along, surprisingly quite close to our home.
The minute we walked into the corridor I could smell Tibetan incense coming from one of the doors that had a Drikung Kagyu symbol on it. My mother went ahead of me and I followed with excitement. We went inside.
Then we walked into a spacious candlelit room decorated with Tibetan Buddhist symbols on the walls, an altar with offerings and statues, portraits of lamas, flowers in a vase and more flower pots on the window-sills and so much more. There were people sitting in meditative poses on mats and cushions on the floor behind small desks, almost like in a school. And the lama himself, Drupon Sangyas Rinpoche, sat a little higher than the others, behind something that resembled an altar. It looked some sort of throne. He was wearing these typical kind of maroon-coloured Tibetan Buddhist monk robes. It was a pleasant sight and it made me smile. The red and the yellow colours, and the aura this room radiated, felt very familiar to me. Movies such as Kundun or Seven Years in Tibet instantly came to mind.
A little lost and confused at first on how to behave or what to do, I let my mother show me. She grabbed cushions and mats and chose a spot for us to sit down on the floor. "Make sure that you don't sit with your feet pointing at the lama's direction," she instructed, "it's rude." I nodded and watched her bring us precepts. These precepts had Tibetan writings in them with Estonian translations. They were very long mantras and teachings. It was fascinating to me because I had seen Chinese script, Japanese script, Hindu, Arabic, Cyrillic etc, but I had never seen the Tibetan script before. It looked beautiful, unique and so different.
I don't remember what my first mantra was at the center, but I do remember that I was too shy to chant with the others. So I sat silently and observed, taking it all in at once. I felt a little bit like an outsider or intruder, even though I knew I was as welcome as any other person in there. I guess you could call it being nervous in a new environment.
After it was over and everybody left the room, me and my mother remained. "I want to go and ask him permission to do this fieldwork," I said, "I need to explain why I'm here." Our professors of Anthropology had always advised us to politely ask for permission from the authorities before getting carried away with our fieldworks.
"Are you sure you want to ask him now? Perhaps you should wait and do it the next time," my mother said.
"No-no, I want to do it now. I have already made my decision. I am certain that this is the right choice."
So we approached the lama and I introduced myself to him. I wasn't sure where to begin because I didn't know if he was aware of a social science called "Anthropology". Explaining what it is and what anthropologists do is always a bit frustrating, mainly because I am never sure if I have grasped the true meaning of it all. But nevertheless, I gave it a shot and I hope I did well. I tried to explain it in simple terms. Here is what I essentially said:
"The idea is to create more awareness about this in the academic field. Cultural Anthropologists aim to understand another culture by studying it, doing research and fieldwork on it. So if you don't mind, I'm going to bring my fieldwork diary with me to write down your teachings and describe the environment, the rituals and everything."
I also made sure to let him know that I was not only there for the fieldwork, I also had a personal interest in Tibetan Buddhism, which was true. I had felt a familiarity with Tibetan culture ever since I discovered its existence as a child.
He replied, "Your mind is awakening."
I wasn't sure what that implied but it seemed like a good thing.