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Thursday, 12 April 2007

Enlightenment through Osmosis, The Dalai Lama's Teachings in India - Page 6

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.

churchThe next morning, I find a church on the Lonely Planet map for the town. After months of visiting Buddhist and Hindu temples, a church is irresistible, despite my lack of church attendance at home. It’s located a short hike away—up a hill, along a wooded path.

Following my map first and then the small signs for the Church of St. John in the Wilderness, I see the church through the trees. I could be in Ireland: the pathway leading up to the entrance boasts a massive Celtic cross made of stones embedded in it. Fir trees line either side of the path and then stop growing when they reach the little cemetery to the left of the church. There is not a soul around. The tall, dark firs and overcast sky lend an eerie feeling to the area.

I approach the small, white church and wonder if any non-tourists ever come here. Inside, pews are lined up in rows just like my church at home, minus the deep red carpet and immense marble cross with a ghostly Jesus carved into it. But the silence in this church is the same. In fact, there’s more of it, possibly due to my being halfway across the world. In my opinion, any spiritual experience—even just visiting a church—often seems more intense when it happens far from home, far from your comfort zone.

I enter the church and walk slowly towards the front, where a guest sign-in book is laying open on a dusty table. I sign it, as I sign every guest book I have seen along this solo trip, just to prove I have been there. When you travel alone, there is no one who can account for your existence unless it’s in written form. I turn around and take a seat on a worn, wooden bench. A few cobwebs don the ceiling. The roof might be made of tin. The wood that makes up the actual building could use a paint job, both inside and out. All in all, though, I can tell someone takes care of this place. They must, for it to survive inside a tiny refuge of Buddhism inside a huge slice of Hinduism in the world. And when I’m wondering what kind of person cares for this place, in walks an older Indian man carrying a shovel. He looks at me with calm eyes.

I smile and say, “Hello,” though I’m not sure if he knows English. Contrary to the popular believe that East Indians all learn British English, most Indians I’ve encountered who are not in the tourist industry don’t know much English.

“Hello. Did you sign the book?” he asks politely. Business comes first for him, I guess.

“Yes.” I ask, “Do you work here?”

“Yes. I work here. I live here. Over there.” He gestures to a shack behind the church, stuck at the edge of the cemetery. Then comes the ubiquitous question: “Where are you from?”

In every city, in every nation, always the same question. I don’t mind, unless locals who only want to practice their English say it in a taunting manner. This man, however, does not need to practice his English. It’s grammatically correct. His manner is kind, patient, and simply curious. When I answer him with, “America,” he grins and nods.

“America! I think yesterday we had someone from…” He searches a page in the guest book. “No, I’m sorry. It was Canada. But close!”

We laugh. There are worse things than being mistaken for a Canadian.

(Page 6 of 7)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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