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Thursday, 12 April 2007

Enlightenment through Osmosis, The Dalai Lama's Teachings in India - Page 5

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.

By now it is almost noon and I am sitting cross-legged on the outer ring of the temple. The Dalai Lama is inside speaking at the front of the temple. If I crane my neck around, I can catch a peek of him through a window frame. The monks—some in bright gold, some in maroon—are spellbound, capturing every word in their memories to take back to their dorms and study. The spattering of foreigners is concentrated on the outer ring with me. I can tell the hippies from the tourists who just happened to be in the McLeod-Ganj area from the converted Buddhist monks and nuns. They will devote years to living near the Dalai Lama, studying his books and teachings, and searching for inner peace when outer peace is unattainable.

The Dalai Lama speaks in a soft, murmuring voice that is soothing in its own right. After thirty minutes of not understanding a word, though, I am getting antsy. I am wondering how long is an appropriate amount of time to listen to someone who I don’t understand. Focus on the feelings, not the words, I tell myself. Try to feel what the monks are feeling. Let the peacefulness wash through me and let all the bad karma from past negative experiences flow out. People around me have their eyes closed; they must be meditating. If you just listen and don’t know what someone is saying, is it meditating? I’m not sure. I listen for some sign of his guidance. Maybe just being in his presence is all anyone needed, but I am rethinking my rejection of the translator earphones. At least then I wouldn’t have to rely on enlightenment through osmosis.

At 1:30, I look around at RanHee, Mily, and Aisha. They nod that they are ready to go, too. A few foreigners have left already, which means it might be acceptable to get up. Compani is somewhere nearby; we need to find him. The girls and I file quietly through the lines of cross-legged people back to the stairs, down to the picnickers, to an open spot on a cement bench. Aisha goes to find Compani. Mily, RanHee, and I start talking about how amazing this experience is when I remember I better fetch my camera.

Upstairs, the monk is alone in the office, he stayed to guard the cameras. The other monks are down watching the Dalai Lama.


“I’ve come for my camera, please,” I say, trying to sound demure and grateful. He turns toward me from the window. He can’t see the speech from up here on the third floor, but he can hear everything. Loudspeakers are blasting the speech across the monastery grounds. Even the taxi drivers can take part in the teachings—if they understand Tibetan.

“Name?” the monk asks. He is pleasant, unable to be resentful about missing a glimpse of his leader; after all, he can probably go up the road and hear the teachings some other time. He finds my camera in a small pile, making me think that the majority of the other visitors thought to leave their cameras at home. I guess I know now for the next time. I thank him profusely for keeping my camera for me. It was probably safer with him than it would have been in a marked bin or a locker anyway.

Downstairs, Aisha has found Compani. He could have stayed there for hours. I feel a little guilty for dragging him away, but when Aisha agrees that we have stayed long enough, he complies.

The taxi ride home is anticlimactic, as is the rest of the day. What else can you do on the day you saw the Dalai Lama speaking in a Tibetan-style temple near Dharamsala? Everything pales. I wander around the muddy, potholed streets of McLeod-Ganj trying to decide what color scarf to buy to punch up my four-shirt, two-pant wardrobe.

(Page 5 of 7)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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