Attending The Dalai Lama’s Teaching In Dharamsala
For Tibetans, the Dalai Lama is not just a wise spiritual leader, they view him as an incarnation of Divine love, wisdom and compassion, something akin to the Buddha incarnated.
They believe that he came to earth to guide people to achieve enlightenment and to bestow spiritual blessings on his people.
The meaning of the name, Dalai Lama, is an “Ocean Of Wisdom.”
Tibetans have enormous respect for the 14th Dalai Lama (who’s real name is Tenzin Gyatso), not just for being Divine Compassion, but for promoting the Tibetan cause and bringing awareness to the beauty of the Tibetan Mahayana form of Buddhism, and for making it so popular in the Western world.
Early in the morning we lined up at the security queue at the entrance to the temple.
The Dalai Lama’s residence is adjacent to the temple in which the teachings took place.
The security team checked every item in each of our backpacks.
No cell phones, iPads or computers were allowed; no cigarettes, matches, or any kind of spray or sharp items.
There are no X-ray machines in Dharamsala; they are too expensive, so every bag is searched by hand.
After the bag check, each person had a body search, and I was thoroughly felt by a Tibetan women wearing a traditional dress and braids in her dark hair..
We took our place on the top level of the temple where we had laid our Katas and written our names the day before.
The area was overcrowded with monks and nuns in saffron robes who had traveled from all over to hear the Dalai Lama’s teaching.
We hardly had room on the floor to place the little pillows that we’d bought in town, and we squeezed in between the monks and nuns.
Thin and agile local monks walked around with large tin buckets filled with freshly baked Tibetan bread.
Each person took a handful of bread and passed it all around.
Next came the tea.
The monks served Tibetan butter tea, which has a slight salty taste, poured from huge silvery tin pots.
Each participant had brought his or her tea cup.
We bought teacups in town, but the butter tea was a bit rich for Jules’ taste, and we did not hand our cups over to be filled again.
Foreigners also brought FM radios and earphones, because the teaching of the Dalai Lama was translated over the radio waves to Japanese, English, French, Spanish, Korean, German and Chinese.
There are over three hundred French people in McLeod Ganj right now.
They had organized a marathon race up the stony hills, with the finish line at the entrance to the temple.
If you saw how steep and how stony the running path was, you would have had a great deal of respect for those French people, for their stamina and strength.
At exactly nine thirty, the Dalai Lama walked from his gated residence through the crowds seated on the floor in the garden.
Most Tibetans had moist eyes as they saw him and clasped their hands together in devotion.
The Dalai Lama with his entourage of Tibetan security men and Indian armed soldiers, walked up the long staircase and around the top level of the temple, until he sat on a high chair which was draped with a yellow silk cloth, in the inner chambers.
On the floor in front of the Dalai Lama’s seat, sat hundreds of the high ranking monks and nuns, along with a huge delegation of hundreds of Taiwanese who arranged for this teaching.
The teaching had a slow pace.
The Dalai Lama talked at length in Tibetan, which of course all the monks and nuns understood.
Sometime they burst into laughter or nodded in agreement.
Then the Dalai Lama got quiet and the translators started translating into the different languages.
Translation is a hard job.
Philosophy, poetry and religion, do not really translate well, unless the person doing the translation has a deep and profound understanding of the original text or doctrine.
In this case, the English translator was not great.
He emphasized things that did not matter, and skipped over the important teaching and wisdom by not translating all the words.
He also shortened the teaching and gave his own explanation, instead of translating word to word.
The Dalai Lama’s humor was totally lost in translation.
It went something like this:
The Dalai Lama spoke for ten minutes, then the English translator said:
“Well, it basically means…” and then he spoke for less than two minutes, leaving everything unsaid.
The Chinese translator who translated the Dalai Lama for the Taiwanese, spoke at length and drew much laughter from the Taiwanese.
I think he did an excellent job at translating.
I sat on the floor behind a kind monk who befriended Jules and I.
He made sure that we had room to put our shoes and bags, and that we could stretch our legs when we were tired of sitting in a cross legged position.
While we waited for the English translation to come up, I drew in my notebook and wrote ideas that I could catch from the teaching.
As always the Dalai Lama spoke about suffering and how everyone, even animals wished for happiness and to avoid feeling pain.
He spoke about compassion and living a virtuous life,… About loving others and about the importance of kindness.
Since he was speaking mainly for a group of Buddhist Taiwanese, he explained at length the lineage of Mahayana Tibetan Buddhism.
The friendly monk sitting in front of me, took my notebook and examined every drawing and sketch that I drew in it.
He handed me his own small book and asked me to draw his face in his book.
He was too shy to look straight at me, and he kept moving his head, so I could only get
glimpses of his facial features and so I did a fairly mediocre job, but he seemed pleased to no end.
The other monks and nuns seated around us, were also extremely friendly.
Lunch break was offered to the public while the Dalai Lama took his break.
Huge vats of white rice and Dhal lentils were served to the crowds of thousands of people.
We’d brought our own snacks and skipped the lunch.
We did not want to go out of the temple to a nearby tea shop, because we did not want to go through the security check agin.
It was nice sitting with so many thousands of people who all believed in similar spiritual ideas.
Thousand of people who were totally committed to their enlightenment and spiritual growth….
It was heart warming to be surrounded with so many and such devoted students of Truth, who each made an inner commitment and vowed to help eliminate suffering and to bring peace and love to other human beings in the world.
We returned the next day for the morning session of the teaching.
It was even more crowded and because many of the traveling monks and nuns came from far away monasteries and spent the night sleeping on the floor on the mattresses, the place reeked of body odor and I spotted a few bed bugs and fleas running under the cushions.
The friendly monk who developed the habit of using my pencils to draw in his own book, took one bed bug which was sucking on his blood and kindly released it under Jules’ pillow.
Monks take a vow not to consciously kill any living creatures, not even fleas or mosquitos.
Later, as we spoke to some monks who spoke very good English, we learnt that some of them take a vow not to kill other human beings, but that this does not extend to bugs and fleas.
I, who regularly spray for spiders and ants around my homes and kill thousands of ants and bugs annually in the two continents where my houses are located, felt like a mass murderer…. (Albeit one with not a single mosquito or bedbug bite…)
For the Tibetan people, looking at the Dalai Lama or sitting in his presence, is a dream come true, and they sincerely wish it to happen even once in their lifetimes.
If they do get to see him, they describe it as if the whole sky had become filled with flowers.
We are not born Tibetans…. And I am ashamed to admit that on the third day we ditched the Dalai Lama and went trekking in the high Dhauladhars mountain range.
Too many days spent breathing dust and exhaust fumes around the village, took their toll on me, and I was craving to see this region beyond the narrow streets of the village.
A part of me was thinking that I must be nuts to miss such a precious opportunity to hear the Dalai Lama teach and to experience the friendly camaraderie of this setting, learning together with so many other eager students….
But from every street and from every cafe and restaurant around town I can see the tall, beautiful and pristine mountains…. I hear a silent call to trek there and gain the knowledge that is beyond the intellect…… Knowledge that engulfs you as you walk in the silence of the mountains….
I know that the kind Dalai Lama would not care that we missed the end of his teachings.
After all, it was he who said:
Be KIND whenever it is possible…
And it is ALWAYS possible!