Teachings with the Dalai Lama Days 1-3

“Those desiring to escape from suffering hasten right towards suffering. With the very desire for happiness, out of delusion, they destroy their own happiness as if it were an enemy. ”
-Santideva, “A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life”

Our skin has a wet layer of dirt and salt, and each minute the air thickens, making it harder to breathe. Our ears are buzzing from the people around us; to our left two young Tibetan women are giggling and talking in hushed tones, and in front of us three older women from Poland are speaking loudly and shouting at someone behind us that we do not see.

A woman’s voice to begins roar through the loud speaker, chanting a mantra. There is a flat-screen T.V in front of us showing the inside of the temple. The golden Buddha sits behind an empty chair.

Beyond the women surrounding us, speaking in languages we do not understand, we are engulfed by hundreds of people from the far ends of the Earth. We sit crossed legged on the dusty cement, and there is a collective lump in our throat as we try to process the sounds, the smells, and the sight of all these people. Image

“What’s the station we have to tune in to?” I am fumbling with my FM radio.

“92.3 for English,” says a woman’s voice I don’t recognize. It is one of the girls from Tibet and she is smiling at me. “Where are you from?”

“America,” one of my peers speaks up from beside me. “We are all from New York.”

Suddenly every noise goes mute. Several people lean towards the open path between the mass of spectators. A few monks funnel down the opening, followed by two tall Indian men with large guns. And then he is there, dressed in yellow and maroon robes. He bends down to pat a child on the head several yards in front of us, and all of us, the whole temple, are smiling. Three young monks help His Holiness walk, as he bows and greets people on the edge of the path. He walks up the stairs slowly, which take him into the temple and out of our view.

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“Death does not differentiate between tasks done and undone. This traitor is not to be trusted by the healthy or the ill, for it is like an unexpected, great thunderbolt.”
-Santideva, “A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life”

It is the first day of the Dalai Lama’s teachings in McLeod Ganj, HH’s home in exile, at the base of the Himalayas in Dharamsala, India.

He appears on the flat-screen and begins to speak in Tibetan while our radios hum static. But when he laughs, we all do too. He pauses and a Hindi translator begins over the loud speaker, while HH sits there in soft contemplation. The English translator begins to speak in our headphones.

The teachings, which were requested by 1100 Indian Buddhist practicers, are on the first three chapters of the text “A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life”, the primary literature for Tibetan Buddhists. The text guides those wishing to seek an enlightenment, and carries readers through the thematic topics of compassion, meditation, wisdom, and the ethical treatment of others.

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Each morning before the teachings our belongings and bodies were frisked and searched for weapons and cameras. We would gather into the temple, anxious and overheated, tired and still jet legged. But once the teachings began, we were able to settle into our surroundings.

The teachings were less like a classroom, and more like a causal, intimate discussion. Young monks would filter through the crowds and pass out salt butter tea. We were free to walk about the temple and get first hand looks at the Dalai Lama, who sat perched up in a comfortable chair. We were encouraged to talk and make connections to the other pilgrims who came from all over the world to hear HH speak. We would talk about where we were from. We would talk about art and about religion. We would giggle and talk to children, who would put their hands on your shoulders and arms as they would run through the crowds

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“Doubt is not bad,” the translator speaks into my ears. “Strong conviction should be found through research. There should be no blind faith. One should seek reason for what they believe.”

*All photographs were taken by Carly Moreno.

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