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Thursday, 12 April 2007

Enlightenment through Osmosis, The Dalai Lama's Teachings in India - Page 3

Written by Lisa McCallum
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“My Tibetan’s a bit rusty. I’m having a hard time following what he’s talking about,” I whisper to Aisha, one of the people I came here with. She smiles and nods, but doesn’t really laugh. It’s meant to be funny. I, however, am an anomaly in this audience: I am an American backpacker who ended up traveling to McLeod-Ganj, the home of the Dalai Lama, to escape the harassment of the rest of North India.

“Thanks!” I relayed the news to the others and suggested foregoing the teachings today for the monastery dedication tomorrow; the overnight bus ride up from Delhi had made me absolutely knackered and if I could see the Dalai Lama tomorrow, I would be refreshed and ready to absorb the experience. The others agreed. We decided to hire a taxi to take us out to the monastery at 9 a.m. On straight, flat highway, it would have taken about ten minutes. But this was the foothills of the Himalayas, so the trip might take half an hour or longer.

The rest of the day, I wandered the muddy streets of McLeod-Ganj, poking my head in shops bursting with Indian scarves and Buddhist beads, thinking about tomorrow. Seeing the Dalai Lama would be almost anti-climactic if I had known about this speech in advance, reserved a ticket to it, and put it on my calendar. This way, it was the perfect surprise after the chilly and cramped fourteen-hour bus ride up here.

On Sunday, our group of five foreigners traveled to Goryk Monastery. The monastery could have been in Tibet, judging from its architecture. After all, we really weren’t that far away (though I wouldn’t say that to any refugees from Tibet who had literally walked for days to cross the border into India). The Himalayas formed a picturesque backdrop to a blur of red, yellow, green, white, and blue Tibetan prayer flags that lined the pathway up to the monastery, reminding me briefly of a used-car dealership. When monk after maroon-clad monk filed up the entryway toward the monastery, that analogy was shattered. Attending the opening of a monastery in the Tibetan part of India was surreal enough, but when I saw the monks, it hit me that I was actually going to see the Dalai Lama—and not in an American lecture hall, a stadium, or a state capitol building where he delivers speeches about peace in a tongue foreign to him.

Yesterday I felt lucky when I found a pleasant (albeit freezing) hotel room with a double bed, my own private bathroom with a water heater for the shower, and a Thai restaurant on the rooftop. Mily and RanHee, joined me in my quest. The three of us checked with at least ten hotels before finding rooms in the hotel that was the farthest along the winding road down to Dharamsala. Any farther and we would be sleeping with the mountain goats. But, like everything else on this trip, it all worked out. And now I was preparing to enter the spiritual center of a group of monks who were deemed important enough to have their monastery welcomed into the family of Buddhism by their leader himself.

Everyone formed two long lines to enter the temple, men on the left and women on the right. My camera was a problem. I hadn’t thought it would be, or else I wouldn’t have brought it. Tough police officers insisted on everyone opening their bags and showing what they’re bringing in: all cameras had to be disposed of. The female officer in charge of our line explained to me that taking pictures of the Dalai Lama is forbidden because all the flashes would blind him and distract him while he was speaking. I understood that. But I’m one of those tourists who is used to carrying a camera at all times. I had automatically brought it with me; I didn’t know what I’d do with it now.

I begged politely, “I won’t take any pictures of him. I promise!” I was disappointed about the rule, but I controlled my anger. If I pissed off the officer, I wouldn’t get to go inside at all. She said quietly that there was an office in one of the monastery buildings in which a monk will maybe hold my camera for me while I watch the speech. I latched onto this idea, hoping this saintly monk would feel generous enough to hold onto my camera for an hour. This was not a tourist-ready operation, so they didn’t have tiny lockers or a desk with a bored worker who will keep your verboten items and return them later for a small fee. This was a place of worship. Aisha came with me as we went in search of the camera-keeping monk.

(Page 3 of 7)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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