I spent 11 days in Dharamshala in the first half of February, 2013. I quickly grew to really appreciate the mountain environment, clean air, and wonderful people; Tibetans, Indians and visitors from all over the world. I wanted to attend the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad to be able to bathe in the Ganges on one of the auspicious bathing days and the one I could get to was on the 15th of February. After a great experience there (that story will come in the not distant future), I visited Jaipur, Ajmer, Pushkar and Delhi. I knew His Holiness, the Dalai Lama would be speaking in Dharamshala on 25 February and wanted to return here for that.
click here for photos of the Venue:
I had a very difficult time getting transportation arranged until my good friend Avinash jumped in and snagged the last seat on a “luxury Volvo bus” from Delhi to Dharamshala. I had been almost resigned that I wouldn’t make it back up here in time. Thank goodness for the amazing talents of Avinash, the self-proclaimed and veritable “master of inexpensive travel.”
The night before the "Teaching of the Dalai Lama," I woke often during the night, feeling like I'm catching a bit of a cold...going fast for many days with disrupted sleep has probably got my resistance down a bit... thinking that I didn't feel like getting up at 3:30 am, sigh, but not wanting to miss anything...
Alarm goes off at 3:30; I hit 10 min snooze, then jumped out of bed at 3:40, got dressed, gathered all of the things I wanted (blanket and extra pillow for sitting). I knew we could not take camera or cell phone so left camera and figured I could turn off cell. I hurried along the 15-20 minute walk to the main temple where he gives his talks. I walked through the dark in a parade of Burgundy draped monks and nuns. It was cool but not as cold as I anticipated. I met a few monks that I had met before and greeted them. They appraised me with "positively interesting" expressions, me being one of the only westerners in the procession.
I came layered in clothing for the warmth and draped in colors, adding blessing upon blessing to sacred fabric for sacred partner, Suzha...
My Tibetan friend, Ngawang Norbu, who had helped me secure the spot where we would sit, and provided cushions and a radio to listen to translation, had said to call him when I approached the temple. He lives with his uncle, a monk, in an apartment on the temple grounds. He knew I would arrive shortly before 4 am and said his cell would wake him when I called. I called and called but no answer... so I went on in alone.
As I approached the final "checkpoint" entering the temple, the security was not surprisingly much tighter than usual. The guard asked if I had camera or cell phone. I told him I had cell phone and would turn it off. He said "no, you must take it home and put it away." I didn't want to "lose" our reserved space so definitely didn't want to go back to my room. I pulled a plastic bag from my pocket and buried it under some construction material just outside the outer temple entrance gate. I was pretty confident nobody would be doing any construction before His Holiness finished his teaching and I tucked the phone away in an obscure location, then returned to the security checkpoint. I knew I had my pocket knife in my jeans pocket but it had always made it through security at the temple before so wasn't too worried... well... security being much tighter, they found my knife and said they would keep it for me until after the teaching. They were quite nice about it and did return it afterwards. I've had that knife for 12+ years, a special personalized gift from a special friend and was happy to retrieve it.
I went to our "reserved" spot, spread the additional blanket I had brought, arranged the cushions, did a few stretches and sat comfortably, serenaded by the impossibly deep and resonant Tibetan chanting, the bass voice going places deeper than most human voices dare to go... going on live inside the temple and piped outside with numerous speakers. The nearly full moon was 20 degrees up the western sky and diving in a relaxed slow motion to earth's shadow. The air was brisk and refreshing with a few stars still winking at me in the heavens. I felt good! I felt happy! I felt peaceful! I felt so grateful to be here in this spot, awaiting words of wisdom from a great spiritual leader in his "home away from home." Again...I felt incredibly Blessed! I also felt Blessed to Love greatly and be Loved right back!
Monks and Nuns continued to flow in to the temple compound. They ascended stairs upwards to inner and outer sanctums where lays like myself were not allowed. Other laypersons slowly filtered in to the common seating area. We had obtained an excellent seat, a few rows back from the front of the "gallery" section, a good natural viewpoint for the Dalai Lama's Dais. We had spread our space to accommodate the two of us and maybe two more. There was still plenty of unclaimed space behind us, so I wondered if the crowd would fill it. The chanting had been going on when I arrived shortly before 4 am and I soon learned that it had been going on steadily for the previous few days. I had heard it the day before when we were laying down our cushions to secure our space. The chanting was so good that I wondered if it was recorded and again soon learned that it was "alive, not Memorex." Wow! What an atmosphere!
I fiddled with the radio, getting it setup beforehand for sharing one radio with three headsets. It turned out there were six of us squeezed into our space. I had invited Katty, a wonderful new friend from France and she brought a couple of delightful friends along, Anais and Florent, also from France, hoping to join us. We created the space for all of us. We shared the headsets, with one ear bud allocated to each of us. An American new friend also joined us who didn’t have a radio for translation so we lent him an ear bud. It worked out fine and added to our feeling of togetherness in this wonderful event. Smiles arose spontaneously at this simple sharing and unspoken unity.
I relaxed, did some meditation with fabulous vibrations and closed eyes. Later, I alternated between inward awareness of sensory input and internal processes, then occasional visuals, watching the people as the area filled up; mostly Tibetans, a few westerners and easterners from all over the globe, babes at breast and ancients who walk among us...
Around 7:15 am, the chanting changed then stopped awhile; many of the monks and nuns descended to the main level and took seats, milled about or stood watching and waiting. Something was going to happen; an electric enthusiasm buzzed between us all. Twenty five minutes later there was a unique vibration of sound and most everyone got to their feet; a procession of monks was coming down the main aisle towards the dais, accompanied by armed security guards with AK-47’S and long rifles... the monks stood attentively near the dais and the guards took their positions on stage and around the upper balconies and other high places. Sound checks were finalized and the radio transmission was turned on. Seemingly by magic, His Holiness appeared on stage near the dais and climbed to take his seat. Microphones were adjusted. The Dalai Lama popped what seemed to be a pill into his mouth, said something to an attendant and was soon served some beverage of which he partook. He inserted an ear bud or two, adjusted his microphones, then started to speak, using his native Tibetan language coming through the many loudspeakers around the grounds. Years earlier, the Tibetan government and people wanted to erect a structure for him in which to teach. His Holiness said "no, that is too expensive." He wanted a low cost solution that would meet the needs and they decided on permanent tent like structures with tremendous sail like coverings and wide-open air.
When he started to speak, the whole compound became instantly and amazingly silent and respectful. The translation came through somewhat haltingly, but steadily and understandable; the quality of transmission varying from crystal clear to somewhat statically. His Holiness spoke on many subjects, ones he usually addresses such as the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the need for solidarity throughout the world dealing with the situation and the importance of love and compassion in this and all aspects of life, the need for "right action" in adversity, forgiveness, the validity of all religions and tolerance among their followers, meditation in many forms, including moving toward the "Clear Light of Truth", reincarnation, not accepting the word of saints but finding the truth within your own experience, cleaning up your own karma with service in all forms, eating right to serve the bodily temple, telling the truth, not harming or killing, the importance of ancient Tibetan Buddhist writings and commentaries by many masters, dealing with anger and care with all types of attachment. He spoke vital truth that we've all heard and love and need to be reminded of frequently, clearly and simply, such as His Holiness does so well.
Two thirds of the way through his talk, the local troupe of monkeys decided to cause some distraction and gave us a brief entertaining intermission. They scampered and bounced along the tent-like top of the structure and swung and climbed all over the supporting guy wires and massive framework sometimes making a lot of noise with their antics. They would stop frequently and peer down at us. We could see their silhouettes through the opaque covering as they raced along the top of the structure. The Dalai Lama laughed and commented on the monkeys and said he hope that they wouldn't pee on any of the crowd below; we lucked out in that regard.
After speaking for a little over one and one half hours, he quickly said a few words I didn't understand, the resident resonant monks started chanting and the "teaching" was over. Monks, attendants and security changed positions around the dais, the crowd stood and His Holiness descended from the stage and walked smilingly and slowly along the red carpet pathway through the center of the compound, stopping along the way to reach out and touch certain elderly people and meeting the eyes of as many as possible. There was a powerful reverence for this lovely man, all in awe of his Great Spirit, humility and generosity of love and compassion.
After his exit, the crowd, smiling and peaceful, exited also, via numerous gateways around the temple compound. I along with a few thousand others was deeply moved by this sacred event. I felt great blessing to be there in the midst of this. What a fine venue to experience His Holiness.
go here for some photos of the venue: