Encoutering the Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

Dharansala and Teachings at the Tibetan Children’s Village

I have been asked why it is so different here, why is it here in India that somehow one has all these mysterious coincidences and seeming miracles. I don’t know, but my hunch is that in India, one is away from habit, daily routine and , because of that, the mind is just more open, aware and notices what is happening in the present. Just walking down the street is a challenge. You may get almost sideswiped by a taxi (they do not have side view mirrors as they cut it much too close on these narrow streets and need every inch they can get) or nudged by a cow (I love having them in the street, moving slowly, big wide eyes, just being), or just trying to get out of the way of a bunch of young Tibetan girls, linked arms, coming full bore down the street. or perhaps you are simply sidestepping a cow plop. At any rate, one is a bit more alert than on an American street.

McCleod-Ganj is a small hill town, at about 6225 ft (1897 m) above sea level. The streets in 1999 were dirt, they are now paved (more or less), but no wider and the population is much much larger. As well, Indians now have cars. They are more affluent and go on weekend trips in their cars, zooming into this lazy town, staying in new, fancy hotels, all dressed up. This is a huge change and none of the roads were designed for it. So getting about is noisy — many traffic jams, many horns, which seem to be a sport in India — and jarring.

So, the town has changed. Like everything else, everywhere. Constant change. Sometimes in such small increments that we don’t notice until we go away and come back. Then it is so obvious. Perhaps this is just the nature of denial. We want things to stay the same so we have certainty. We live off our memories of how things were and all too often operate from that point of view. So, the long and the short of it is that I am having to adapt to this new McLeod-Ganj. I continue to go to morning classes in the Library, down the mountain, stepping carefully down the pointed stone paths. These have not changed. It is a great exercise in one-pointed concentration. It is also a puzzle to wonder who thought that placing some stones point side up would be a satisfactory way to build a path through the woods. Was the end motive wild goat training?

A few days ago, I went to a 2 day teaching with the Dalai Lama up at the Tibetan Children’s Village, a school for refugee and orphaned Tibetan children.. When he arrived, with his usual grouping of police protection, and walked into the hall, he looked older. At first I was taken aback. Somehow, my mind has the habit of seeing him as I first saw him in 1999. My mind just wants things to stay the same. It’s known, safer…but it just is not accurate. Of course I think of myself as younger, less wrinkled also. Sometimes it is a startling moment when I catch my aged face in the mirror!

The Teaching was for college students, given every year, as His Holiness wants to encourage the young to remember and value Tibetan culture and Buddhism. He chose a text on the interdependence of things, not an easy text, but, for him, a piece of cake. We were seated outside (not being college students) listening to a translation via FM radio. It must look very odd to passer-bys to see a bunch of foreigners sitting quietly, concentrating, while the Dalai Lama is explaining that no phenomena exists alone (from its own side), that all are interdependent, connected, even though we definitely believe that we are “individuals,” standing alone, important, justified in our “me first” attitude. Our ego prefers this stance. Otherwise, how could we possibly be important? How could we justify our own self-centeredness? Our own self-cherishing? Given how many other beings there are, kazillions, if we were all dependent on each other, wouldn’t we all be at least equally important? And given there are so many more of them than just little ole me, wouldn’t others in fact be more important than me? Shouldn’t we have the utmost caring and respect for the farmer, the worms in the soil, the birds that carry seeds and pollen from one place to another, the crop pickers, the packagers, the truck drivers that carry the produce to market, the grocery store clerks, the gas station attendant where we fill up our car to go to market, and every person that brings us the gas and repairs our car, each and every person who made our home, our refrigerator that stores our food…in short, every being in the universe?

While sitting under a pine tree for shade listening to things like this, a family walked by, the father holding the hand of his fully grown son. Both were in very neat and starched white shirts, black pants, polished shoes. The son walked haltingly, most likely had Down’s syndrome. The father was so utterly loving with him, so caring. It was just so touching. The mom followed after. They looked Indian. What they were doing here, who knew?

After the Teaching, many of us line up to see His Holiness come down the stairs and get into his car. I noticed that the father and son were there, that the Indian police had let them into an area that is usually not permitted in front of one of the police jeeps . For some reason, they bent the security procedures and let these two stand very close to where His Holiness would get into his car.

Presently The Dalai Lama came down the stairs. He is easy to spot, as he is under a big, bright yellow umbrella to keep the sun off him. (I just cannot imagine Obama being treated this way!) One man on either side to help him with the steps and lots of security. His Holiness peered about at the crowd, interested, smiling, open-hearted as always, seemingly offering encouragement to everyone standing there. Spotting someone he knew, his smile broadened and he nodded and then went on.

Then His Holiness saw this boy/man and his father. He bee-lined right for them, grasped the shoulders of the young man, looked him right in the eyes as if he was his closest friend and then hugged him on one cheek and then the other. He just stood there for a little while with great joy and love at having met this young man. It was as if the world stood still. Then he turned and got into the car. I had tears streaming down my face. Who knows how far this family had come? Who knows just how this had happened for this young man to receive such blessings? And I am sure, from his side, that the Dalai Lama considered himself the one to be blessed.. His joy was unmistakable, as was his great compassion and love for all beings, seeing all as more important than himself.

I am reminded of a prayer he does each morning between 3:30am and 6:30am. He imagines himself and all his needs and desires and goals and stresses and problems – all the things he considers ‘important’ – in the palm of one hand. He then imagines all the needs and desires and goals and stresses and problems, whether starvation, poverty, medical issues, emotional issues, etc. of all other beings, in the palm of his other hand. And he contemplates this, realising over and over the lack of importance of himself and his own problems in the face of the problems and needs of so many others. With that, he starts his day. Can you think of any better way?

Lee Purser