This past December when I was in Bhutan a chance meeting with a girl in a shop landed me standing on the side of the road in India awaiting His Holiness. I walked into her store and we began to chat. She informed me that she was a student in India on break. In turn, I informed her that I was off to India in just a few days. “Are you going to see His Holiness?” she asked. I was unaware that he would be only 15 Km from the town I was staying in.
Who is the Dalai Lama? His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is both the head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibet. At the age of two, Lhamo Dhondup, was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso. The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet.
My adventure to see this man started on December 23 in West Bengal with the first goal of the day being to find a shared vehicle to Silliguri. I checked out of my rustic chalet of a hotel and started walking down the hill to the taxi stand. A jeep caught my attention as it drove by with waving hands. The monk I had met at the monastery the day before was with two monk friends. “Silliguri?” they asked….”Yes!” I said with relief as it made my life much easier – no looking for transport, and they could help me find my way. I jumped in and we drove on. I was joined in the front seat by a women and child. Four of us squished in the front, the three monks sat in the middle and people were continually getting in and out of the back along the way. Driving down the hill through the tea fields listening to American pop music while monks talked on their cell phones made for a surreal, memorable, fun and actually comfortable ride. When we stopped, I felt disappointed; for some reason I just wanted it to continue.
The jeep parked and the driver unloaded our luggage from the roof. Where am I? I booked a hotel but had no idea how to find it. My new monk friends wanted to help me. They started by taking my bags. The first monk, let’s call him Monk 1, thought that the hotel I booked may cost too much so he suggested another Tibetan run place. He hailed two bicycle taxis, and we were off to the Chancellor. Monk 1 and I were in one vehicle and the other two monks were in another with my bag. Hmmmm…how does this story sound…my luggage was stolen by two monks…sure Amanda. The traffic was hectic, but I kept looking back to make sure they were with us. I am happy to report that they did not steal anything…in fact they wanted to stay with me. I am not joking. “Can we stay with you?” Monk 1 said as we drove along the city streets. “We can stay at the same hotel but not in the same room,” I said with a smile. “Oh,.” he said with a very sad look. I felt bad. On one hand, they are monks; on the other, they are three huge dudes. It just did not seem to be a great idea. We arrived at the Chancellor, and they were full. Of course, the Dalai Lama was coming. We then walked to the hotel I booked. It was quite a site – I was safely ushered across the busy street by three monks while they carried my luggage. We arrived and all was well. We exchanged numbers for possibly meeting up to see the Dalai Lama the next day.
After spending some time roaming around the city, I was off to bed. Then at 10:30 PM my cell phone started ringing. Who could this be? Monk 1? Really? “Did you have dinner?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. “Did you?” “Yes,” he said. “My friends are gone now. I am only 5 minutes from your hotel,” he continued on. Hmmmm…OK. Is this a booty call from a monk? He kept talking, with a bit of awkward silence in the mitts. Come on!! Eventually I said “OK…so maybe I will see you tomorrow.” I hung up.
December 24– In order to get to the Dalai Lama, I was told to go early. His talk was scheduled for 9 AM so I started at 8 AM. I was told I could get to Salagura (next town) for 10 rupees. I walked outside and found that bicycle taxis and three wheel taxis wanted 110 rupees…feeling a bit confused I walked on. Eventually I found a small shared vehicle to Salagura for 10R…super…but how do I know when to stop? The vehicle filled up and we drove on for 15 Km dropping people along the way. I was a bit nervous since no one was going to the same place as me, and eventually I was the only person left in the vehicle. Finally, it stopped. There were cars and people everywhere. I saw a monastery and felt a little better. Military police were very present. After asking many people and getting conflicting data, I found the correct street to walk down and I walked with a crowd.
Finally a walled in monastery appeared with people guarding the gates and hoards of others trying to push them down to get in to see the Dalai Lama. It was a bit scary and almost violent. I started to think that going inside was not the best idea, plus it seemed that they were not letting anyone else in. I stood and watched as people went a bit crazy. Then I noticed a line of people entering. Should I go? I decided that it would be OK. There were many small children in the madness, so I should be able to handle it.
The line moved swiftly and I entered the field-like location surrounding the monastery. It was split up into pens made of bamboo fences, something like you would see for cattle with small walkways to keep the thousands of people in some sort of order. For a few minutes, I stood at a fence not knowing what to do. A security lady approached me and directed me to sit with a family at one of the corner areas. The family said “OK” and made space for me on their blanket. The small son (maybe 10) and two teenage girls sat with their parents. For the next three hours, they treated me like family telling me how to sit, how to hold my hands, giving me food etc. Monks came around with cups and butter tea that was blessed by His Holiness. While I don’t love butter tea, since it was Dalai Lama butter tea I figured I would have some. Then they passed out bread that he blessed and I took a piece of that as well. The Dalai Lama spoke, but of course I had no idea what he was saying. By the number of people that were there to listen; it must have been interesting. Seeing I was the only blonde and since I was sitting, I was at the perfect height for small children to stare at, wave to, and throw kisses to throughout the day. They were cute and clearly fascinated by me 🙂
Towards the end of the three hours, people came out with a plant –a sort of wheat looking plant. Wow, I have never seen anything like it; people went nuts. They were full-on attacking those giving out the plant to the crowd; everyone wanted it. Kids were getting stepped on; it was complete madness. Since my seat was within the pen but at a corner, I was in the center of the attack zone and little seeds were falling all over me from every which way. People were just grabbing blindly, so some fell on the ground, and I was able to pick it up. One of the daughters told me to put it under my pillow and I will have good dreams. Hmmm…are good dreams worth crushing small children? Apparently yes. I thought the plant frenzy was chaotic until at the end of the talk, a monk was seen with little red holy ropes and it was even worse. People literally jumped on him and grabbed what they could.
My adopted family helped me get out safely as it resembled total masses of humans leaving a concert hall through very small doors. This made my Seoul subway experience during rush-hour look like a kindergarten class. The streets were filled with people, many wearing “Free Tibet” and “Save Tibet” masks over their mouths. Someone passed one to me.
I just flowed within the human wave, not really certain on how to get back. Groups of people walked on and so did I. A few old women grabbed me as if it may bring them luck. Then all of the sudden people started to be quiet and they lined the road, police cars passed; HE was coming. I stood and looked on as an elderly man crunched up in the front seat of a white Ambassador drove by. Everyone wanted to be close to him. Calmness took over for all of five seconds; it was almost in slow motion. We all stared at him, and then just as suddenly as it stopped the hustle and bustle, it started again.
While moments of the day were a bit tense, the experience was like no other and truly made me happy – the kind family, the moment of silence, the kids throwing me kisses – it was a special day. While I could not understand his talk, there are many quotes from the Dalai Lama that make me smile…
“I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear.”
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
“If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.”
“Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.”
Happy Orange Suggestion: Make a meaningful friend and have a meaningful day! Seek happiness in everything you do!