Dean leads trip to Buddhist institution

By Drew Paul, Emory Wheel Online, February 25, 2005

Atlanta, Georgia (USA) -- For members of a delegation to India earlier this month whose trip included an audience with the Dalai Lama, the experience is difficult to put into words.

?For me, it was a life-changing experience,? said Sam Cherribi, assistant to the provost and senior lecturer of sociology. ?Really, I don?t have the words to describe the moment [of meeting the Dalai Lama]. It was beautiful.?

Dean of the College Robert Paul led the trip, the purpose of which was to sign an agreement with the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala, India.

Paul said he had previously worked to set up the Emory Tibetan Studies Program, in which Emory students study in Dharamsala and Tibetan scholars come to Atlanta.

?I?ve been waiting to go on this trip and pay this visit for a long time,? he said.

He was joined on the trip by his wife and son, Cherribi and Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs Nancy Seideman. The group departed on Feb. 6 for Dharamsala, the capital of the Tibetan exile community and home to the Dalai Lama, and returned on Feb. 17.

On Feb. 14, the delegation and students in the Emory Tibet program met with the Dalai Lama, which Paul described as ?life-changing.?

He said they talked about issues ranging from politics and the future of Tibet to Buddhist doctrine and religious practice during the meeting, which lasted nearly an hour and a half.

?It was wonderful, a really remarkable meeting,? he said. ?We spoke freely and candidly about a wide variety of issues.?

Paul said the Dalai Lama easily switched from an ?almost playful tone? to ?serious when required.? At one point during the meeting, he was given a copy of the Emory-Tibet Partnership brochure.

?The look of wonder and pleasure on his face was very moving,? he said. ?He saw that his dream was being realized.?

Another highlight of the trip was the agreement signing ceremony, which featured Tibetan students performing traditional and modern dance and music.

?The official purpose [of the trip] was to sign a formal agreement of scholarly exchange between Emory and the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics,? Paul said. ?It will solidify our position as one of the premier institutions in North America of the study of Tibet.?

Participants in the trip also spent time with students from Emory and other American universities in the Tibetan Studies program.

?Meeting the students was great to know what they do,? Cherribi said. ?They are the greatest ambassadors for Emory and the U.S.?

Paul said it was good to see the impact the program has on American students.

?They come back with their horizons broadened and transformed,? he said. The delegation flew to Delhi, India and visited the Taj Mahal in Agra before traveling to Dharamsala.

Paul said he had seen pictures of the monument, built by a Mughal emperor of India in the 17th century in memory of his wife, but nothing compares to seeing it in person.

?When you actually see it, it is quite magical,? he said. ?It seems to float in midair.?

Cherribi called it a ?beauty on earth,? but he also liked the symbolism of a ruler?s monument to his wife.

?It?s a love story,? he said. ?He did it for his wife.?

Paul described the city of Dharamsala, situated in the foothills of the Himalayas, as an ?international crossroads? where Indians, Kashmiri refugees, Tibetan exiles and western tourists all encounter one another.

?We were in an incredibly beautiful spot,? he said. ?It?s just a fascinating place.?

Cherribi said he was amazed by the reception the people they visited in monasteries and during their travels gave them.

?They were so open to us,? he said. ?It is unbelievable. They take hospitality very seriously.?

Paul called the experience one of the high points of his life.

?I?m glad I did it,? he said. ?I have no regrets.?