It was a crisp Himalayan morning in Northern India when I arrived at the Dalai Lama’s temple.
Dharamshala was buzzing, the town swamped with Tibetan monks, white-haired women and dreadlocked Westerners. All here to witness the Dalai Lama’s teachings in person.
I passed through security unscathed, watching the monk in front of me surrender his mobile phone. I paid the ten rupee registration fee (about 20 cents), noting that the Dalai Lama really should contact the Pope about how to monetize religion. The temple was crowded, monks sitting inside the temple, while the general rabble (i.e. me) had to sit outside. A hush descended as the Dalai Lama appeared from a house opposite the temple.
My reaction was Christ, he looked old, even a bit senile. He hobbled slowly towards the temple, flanked by AK-47 wielding guards. His eyes were fixed to the ground and I was worried that he might topple over. The Dalai Lama stopped by a group of children, and it was then that I realised my first impression was wrong.
A massive smile erupted from his face. The children were enraptured as he spoke and handed them white scarves. The Dalai Lama continued walking, the focus of every pair of eyes in the temple. The Tibetans in the crowd were singing, the woman beside me had tears running down her face. A magical aura was being exuded from this man. I felt like I was in the presence of a demigod.
The Dalai Lama entered the temple and we all sat down. Behind me, a hippie-ish figure told his friends, “the Dalai Lama looked straight at me man, I felt my karma get boosted!” I couldn’t help noticing how he fell asleep and then left during the first intermission, his kombucha levels distressingly low.
I switched on my radio, tuning it to the frequency of the live English translation. The Dalai Lama speaks English, but he teaches in Tibetan, for the benefit of the Tibetan people. He spoke to us for three hours a day for the next four days. The Dalai Lama’s teachings were about Chandrakirti’s Entering the Middle Way, some complex Buddhist philosophy. I didn’t follow it, but my head was pretty sore. However, I found his general observations very interesting.
The Dalai Lama made the simple point that if you have compassion for others, you will be happy. Not money or material objects. He noted that we give so much attention to our physical health these days, but neglect our mental health. I couldn’t help thinking about my old job and the people going to the gym at lunch time, before doing another all-nighter in the office.
This feeling was reinforced as I looked around the temple. Perched on the mountainside, we sat in the cool air and and looked out at the Himalayas towering in the distance, eagles floating past on the thermals. Monks were scurrying around serving tea to Tibetans in their distinctive native dress — cowboy hats, dangling necklaces, massive earrings. I was impressed by the intense reverence that they had for the Dalai Lama, yet the words he was speaking were so humble.
The Dalai Lama is Tibet’s spiritual leader, and is believed to be the 14th reincarnation of an enlightened being of compassion. Recognised as the Dalai Lama when he was two years old, he assumed full political power at 16 and has since dedicated his life to the Tibetan struggle against China. In 1959, he fled Tibet, fearing for his safety at the hands of the Chinese army.
It was inspirational to simply sit in this great person’s presence. I could truly feel his wisdom sinking into me. He said that while animals only kill for food, humans kill for too many reasons, which is something we must change as a species. Holding a grudge or seeking revenge is counterproductive and only does you more damage.
Despite the Chinese taking Tibet and repressing its people, the Dalai Lama said that he does not hate China or its government. He even has compassion for the Chinese leaders, and has prayed that they receive love and friendship. Meanwhile, China has banned photos of the Dalai Lama in Tibet, to stop “criminal gangs and bad elements”. Despite his old age and everything he has gone through, the Dalai Lama is still dedicating his life to creating lasting peace for the world. It’s a humbling thought.
On the final day of the Dalai Lama’s teachings, he offered us the opportunity to take vows. People all around me were prostrating themselves, chanting orations in Tibetan. There were five vows: against killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct and taking drugs and alcohol. I considered it briefly and then decided that two out of five were good enough for me.
After seeing the Dalai Lama’s teachings, I remained in Dharamshala, learning more about Tibet and Buddhism. You can read about it here.