Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An Encounter With His Holiness

Tashe Delek. Namaste.

Yesterday I had the very special opportunity to see HH the Dalai Lama at his main temple residence in Mcleod Ganj. The Indo-Tibetan Friendship Society was celebrating the 50th year of the arrival of His Holiness and the Tibetans to Mcleod Ganj. The whole thing was somewhat esoteric though, there was no official announcement or anything - it was one of those things you heard rumored from a friend of a friend, that maybe HH was going to be making an appearance Tuesday morning??

I got to the main temple around 9am and after a heavy Tibetan security shake-down, with every little item searched in my bag, down to the very ink of my pen, I was told I could not bring my camera inside (So no photos my friends). I turned around and rather than walk all the way back up to my room, I entrusted it to the Tibetan woman running the temple gift shop. All good. Walked back through and the same security guard did the same pat down and search, down to the ink of my pen, that he had done 2 minutes prior. It was a little much, but understandable given the circumstances.

For the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama is a god, the living example of the Buddha in human form, and literally the most recent incarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Avolokiteshvara - not to mention the political leader of the Tibetan people. For many Tibetans still living in Tibet, it is their most wishful dream to one day meet HH. To be in his presence is a great spiritual blessing. And this I truly felt.

For a few hours I waited, sitting on the hard concrete in the hot sun - surrounded by old Tibetan women prostrating, surrendering their egos and their withered bodies, while countless men chanted prayers, fingering old rosary beads. I chanted Om Mani Padme Hum right along.

As people continued to file in, filling all empty space, a group of about ten Hindu Brahmacharyas, began offering a Puja ceremony to HH. All of a sudden the ground began shaking with movement and excitement, prayers and prostrations erupted, everything was bustling - HH the Dalai had arrived. Surrounded by security and armed Indian forces, he slowly began walking up to the stage. Taking his time, smiling and shaking hands with people along the way, doing what I have dubbed the "Lama Walk," this little bent over hobble-shuffle the older lamas do. He sat down on his yellow throne while the Hindus finished the fire Puja at his feet. Above them a large yellow banner read: LONG-LIVE INDO TIBETAN FRIENDSHIP. Up until this point I really had no clue what was going on.

As the Puja ended, the Brahmacharyas prostrated one by one at HH's feet. Then some Indian officials spoke for a little while in Indian-English and I began to get the picture. They were enthusiastically honoring and thanking HH for all that he has brought to the region. He said this small mountain town has benefited so much in the past 50 years, not only the people, but the trees, the birds, and the hills. They have benefited not only physically, but also spiritually by the teachings and wisdom HH has imparted over the years. It felt quite genuine. Through a small crevice between security guards and photographers, I was able to watch HH. He kept smiling and laughing, nodded his head yes. It was all very simple.

They blessed HH with a red shawl, then he got up to speak - in Tibetan... with a Hindi translator... for a about fifteen minutes I watched. Every once in a while the audience would burst into laughter or applause, and I would join. It was really fun just to see him speak even though I had no clue what he was saying - it was just so joyful. At one point I heard the words America and Australia...

Then the Indians brought out a big feast, served on banana leaf plates. For a while we just sat and watched the Brahmacharyas and HH eat their food, not really quite sure if we were also being fed, was the ceremony over?... But eventually HH the Dalai Lama finished his meal and waved goodbye, and Lama Walked away... And we were served lunch. Big buckets of rice and six different kinds of dahl were efficiently served to the few thousand in attendance.

I have learned a few things about these big Indian meals served on the floors - they give you SOO much food. They just keep coming with more rice, more chapatis, more dahl, more curry. And the food is prasad, it's holy, consecrated, so you have to finish EVERYTHING, which can often be painfully challenging on the belly. Eventually you have to swoon over your plate with your arms and say, "Bas, Bas!" "Enough, Enough!" I have been getting pretty good at eating with my right hand, however, yesterday I learned a new trick that I must share with you. Some of you may already know this one, but it totally elevated my Indian hand-eating to a whole new level. The trick is to gather the food in a nice round snowball, pick it up, and then, the trick - you flick the food with your thumb, across the other fingers into your mouth. It totally works. Try it.

For photos of the event, check out HH the Dalai Lama's Facebook page.

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