Location: Dharamshala, India amongst the Tibetan settlements and the residence of Noble Laureate, His Holiness the Dalai Lama since 1959. He is at his temple – I am staying 15 minutes walk away at the Clouds End Villa.
Altitude: Between 1,250 and 3,000 metres.
Attitude: Open minded.
Temperature: Maximum 38 degree C in June; minimum 0 degree C in January.
Annual Rainfall: Varies between 290 and 380cm. Monsoon season is July to September so it’s dry now and great for treking.
Mission : To find Mona Lisa impersonators & to learn more about the Dalia Lama (I’ll refer to him as H.H in the rest of this article as he often is) , China & Tibet. It’s OK – the Tibetan people here encourage a sense of humour My timing here is more luck than judgement as it happens with H.H giving bi-annual teachings and an open mic Q&A session in front of a public audience. I strolled up to his Main Tibetan temple
armed with a cushion, an FM radio for Tibetan – English translation and a bottle of water I wedged myself in between a few Tibetan elders in a place where I was likely to see H.H himself. Security checks were tight as locals, Tibetan exiles, Israeli’s, Brazillians, Koreans, Tawainese, Mexicans and Europeans gathered in nervous anticipation for his arrival.
Those with teaching passes were allowed into the temple itself whilst the next best thing to ringside seats was sat in front of a 48″ Sony flat screen.
My best and only chance of understanding what was occurring for the next 2 hours of Q&A was to make a plan. As soon as H.H and his entourage had passed and entered his temple I’d have to move quickly without ruining the moment and muscle in to a reasonable spot to catch the rest on telly.
Why did I feel like an assassin in the making – this? Were security looking at ME or was I imagining it?
The only other way to meet H.H was to head up to the Tibetan Welfare Office and submit a written request for a private audience to the Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his residence. These are rarely granted and required advance planning with just cause so I settled for this chance ‘audience with the H.H.D.L’. Not even Tony Soprano could have worked through that red tape although junior, maybe.
This was the scene as H.H approached so imagine him walking a few more steps (I swear he looked at me – so did everyone else) and taking a left towards the Nelson Mandela lookalike in the orange shirt.
I can only describe his presence as powerful yet modest, unifying and silencing – you could just feel it.
I’ve only felt similar when Princess Di’s coffin was wheeled past me around Hyde Park on the day of her funeral as waves of silence ensued.
Maybe it was the build up? Like than when your football team runs out onto the field on a Saturday, bride and groom finally make it down the aisle or you get served that beer after a long wait at the bar? Whatever the arm-folding take on this is I felt something. My pivot around to the T.V after the entourage had passed was effortless, bond like and ahead of the game. With earplugs in, cushion leaning against a column for back support I was good to GO!
The Q&A session kicked off but I have to admit it despite the magical setting it was confusing. The English translation only kicked in as a summary 10-12 minutes after each question was fired in and H.H answered. I picked up it was relating to peace, China, the Olympics.
As the Tibetan exiles listened in ahead of us, sometimes laughing, a occasional tear and even looks of reassurance as their H.H waxed lyrical. I felt 3 steps behind and honestly spend more time people watching than glued to the T.V waiting for translation.
Like any football game that was a let down I left early. He would be leaving another way and as any self respecting realist would ‘leave early to avoid the rush at the end, Son.’
This may come across as ludicrous with the once in a lifetime opportunity but for me this served as a catalyst for me digging deeper in understanding what H.H was all about, how he was the chosen one and to try and unearth a balanced view on the China & Tibet situation.
For me to try and capture the essence of the Q&A session, offer a piecemeal translation, open to and probably communicated without a full grasp would be crass. It would be cheap journalism open to misunderstandings potentially bordering a case of Chinese whispers (Ahem) – so I won’t.
From the Q&A som 30 minutes later H.H shuffled out of the auditorium to start his 3 day teaching on Je Tsongkhapa’s Song of the Stages of the Pathlto Enlightenment. On this occasion he was giving it primarily to Chinese Buddhists mainly from Taiwan - something I hadn’t expected on the agenda or even understood the reasons why.
Hands up – I was confused and as I ambled down the hill form the temple bought a book on the insiders story on how he is believed to be the current incarnation of a long line of Tulkus, or Buddhist Masters, who have become exempt from the wheel of death and rebirth. These ascended masters have chosen of their own free will to be reborn to this place in order to teach humanity. I’ve just started reading it – a future post for sure.
Politics and frowns aside I noticed a T-shirt hanging up in a window of a shop that had the following words of H.H entitled The Paradox of our age :
We have bigger houses but smaller families;
More conveniences, but less time;
We have more degrees, but less sense;
More knowledge, but less judgment;
More experts, but more problems;
More medicines, but less healthiness;
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor.
We build more computers to hold more information to
produce more copies than ever but have less communication.
We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods but slow digestion;
Tall man but short character;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It’s a time when there is much in the window,
but nothing in the room.
Food for thought as I checked out the Tibetan museum that gave a mind blowing yet potted history of the China / Tibet saga so far. I was and still am ignorant to the situation, the loss of life and the reasoning behind it. Maybe a few episodes of season 3 of the Soprano’s may help? For a sample of the typical Q&A sessions held head on over to the website of H.H Maybe he’ll start a blog and we can award him a flower smelling badge?
Question to H.H : How do you view yourself?
Answer: I always consider myself as a simple Buddhist monk.
I feel that is the real me.
I feel that the Dalai Lama as a temporal ruler is a man-made institution. As long as the people accept the Dalai Lama, they will accept me. But being a monk is something which belongs to me. No one can change that. Deep down inside, I always consider myself a monk, even in my dreams. So naturally I feel myself as more of a religious person.
Even in my daily life, I can say that I spend 80% of my time on spiritual activities and 20% on Tibet as a whole. The spiritual or religious life is something I know and have great interest in. I have some kind of confidence in it, and thus I want to study it more. Regarding politics, I have no modern education except for a little experience. It is a big responsibility for someone not so well equipped.
This is not voluntary work but something that I feel I must pursue because of the hope and trust that the Tibetan people place on me.
I’d hoped my Dalai Lama post could be more inspiring, compelling and enlightening but I’d rather write it from my own experience as it happened rather than craft something that wasn’t. All comments welcomed – any insights or thoughts on my article and H.H.D.L are appreciated and given the chance what ONE QUESTION would you ask the Dalai Lama? Do tell and thanks for reading!