The Dalai Lama in the Land of Enlightenment. It sounds like the name of a sacred documentary. However, I, as a rather pampered American, still thought I was the star, when I landed in India to brave the 16-hour trek by train from New Delhi to Bodhgaya, the Land of Enlightenment. There were smog delays, scam artist ruses and mad dashes through congested intersections full of rickshaws, motorcycles, taxis, humans and cows, all resulting in a 12-hour delay at the train station and 24-hours on the train itself. In Bodhgaya, the smog/fog was so thick my taxi driver couldn’t find my hotel! So, after five days of virtual nonstop travel from California to Bodhgaya, I was fortunate to arrive right when His Holiness The Dalai Lama began his teaching on the morning of January 5, 2018.
How epic! Frightening! Sensory overload! Twisted! Ahhh. This film should be scored like a Wes Anderson film, I texted to a friend.
Then His Holiness took the stage.
After three hours of teaching, as I pushed forward with the throngs to find an empty seat at Mohammad’s Restaurant for lunch, I looked around, listened and observed, and realized that my small little life is not the film at all. These strangers, my brothers and sisters, are not free to leave the theatre in a few hours, or even weeks or months, like I am. I am here to learn about warmheartedness and compassion. However, these spiritual goals are much harder to practice in the real world, when trying to wade through a rough sea of sacred cows, rickshaws, chickens, goats, stray dogs, cars and motorcycles, with unwashed, barefoot children poking at your side begging for money at every footstep, vendors thrusting goods in your face and the air thick with soot and difficult to breathe (not as bad as New Delhi, but still unhealthful). It is heartbreaking. You can feel so helpless with the meager amount of money that you might offer, not knowing if it is only going to exploit the children further or purchase cigarettes. And the word, “No, no no,” spills too easily from my lips and makes me feel dirty and embarrassed. This is not compassion. My complacency and rationale and Western comfort (and yes, arrogance) were all being winnowed, like chaff from the grain of my heart. (Click to see an Instagram video of the streets of Bodhgaya.)
These challenges are so minor compared to what HH The Dalai Lama has endured.
Few of us can even imagine, let alone live up to the challenge of, the hardships that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has faced. Imagine being officially proclaimed the spiritual leader of Tibet at the age of four, and becoming the political leader of Tibet at the age of 15 in 1950, when his small country of six million was being invaded by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Picture the stress of worrying about being kidnapped or assassinated as a teen, and then finally escaping by horseback in disguise to live in exile in India at the age of 23.
The World’s Beloved Peacemaker: His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet
And yet, instead of being defeated by a giant nation with over a billion citizens to his seven million, Tenzin Gyatso has become far more powerful during his 60-year exile (since 1959). He has been embraced as the world’s peacemaker. No one could have predicted then that the spiritual and political leader of one of the most remote and little known regions of the world, would rise to become one of the most prominent and beloved teachers of all humanity. In 1989, HH The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Of course, His Holiness did not do this all on his own. On December of 2017, The Dalai Lama met with 150 elderly monks, known as the Buxa Lamas. These 150 are all who remain of the original 1500 monks who helped HH The Dalai Lama to establish Tibetan Buddhism in exile in India, where their message of warmheartedness and compassion has resonated and been received around the world. The Dalai Lama applauded their hard work and determination for rebuilding the Tibetan monastic tradition in exile. Theirs is an extraordinary achievement.
Photo © OHHDL. Used with permission.
Making Friends With the World
His Holiness said in his teaching on January 7, 2018, “By respecting and cherishing others, I get benefits. People will trust you. You will be happy. Altruism is of benefit to yourself… If you want to be foolishly clever, then indulge in a self-cherishing attitude.”
Tens of thousands of people come from all over the world to hear the teachings of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet in person, here in Bodh Gaya, India. I have traveled over 8,000 miles, taking almost five days to reach here. Vietnamese devotees chartered two airplanes to attend. There is a large section, full of hundreds of mainland Chinese attendees. I hear English, Hindi, Tibetan, French, Spanish, Italian and more languages spoken in the restaurants regularly. I met a beautiful young Russian girl, traveling alone, and a husband/wife media team from Poland. Many of the travelers boast years of following HH The Dalai Lama from teaching to teaching in Dharmasala and Bodhgaya. And then there are the Tibetans, easily visible with their sturdy stature, their leathered skin, their distinctive nomadic clothing, often in barefeet, who have braved political persecution, hardship and severe weather for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see their Patron Saint. Some even travel by foot over the Himalayas. Their only concern is whether or not they will actually be able to see and hear His Holiness in person – not the life-threatening trek they undertake to get to Bodh Gaya.
Photo © OHHDL. Used with permission.
In the above photo, The Dalai Lama moved in close to speak directly to an elderly Tibetan woman.
His Holiness The Dalai Lama: “How old are you?”
Older Tibetan Woman: “I am 82 years old and I am a pig (Tibetan Horoscope). I have never seen you this close, Kundun!”
HHDL: “How about now? Is this close enough?? Ha ha ha.”
Older Tibetan Woman: “Yes Kundun, now I have no regret even if I die tomorrow.”
The Dalai Lama in the Land of Enlightenment is an extraordinary documentary about an 82-year-old man, who still jokes and laughs like an impish child, and who is the true embodiment to his calling as the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The only problem is that the film hasn’t been distributed yet, though you can see a lot of videos on his website. Due to his age and more limited travel, you may have to brave the journey to India to see this great Master, while humanity is fortunate to have him in our midst. And the journey itself becomes part of the teaching.
The Dalai Lama’s latest endeavor is to share the Buddhist Classics with all of the world, as secular texts on science of the physical world, science of the mind and philosophy. As The Dalai Lama noted in his teachings this week, quantum physics, psychology and other science of the physical and mental world are in direct alignment with Buddhist teachings. According to HH The Dalai Lama, “The world is full of problems based upon the mind – anger, hate, attachment and so forth. Mental hygiene helps our physical hygiene.” On January 7, 2018, joined by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, HH The Dalai Lama released the first in this four volume series, Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics, Vol. 1: The Physical World. The second volume, on mind science, will be available later in 2018. It is The Dalai Lama’s hope that this Buddhist wisdom will be taught at universities.
Photo Caption: His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar releasing Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics, Vol. 1: The Physical World in Bodhgaya on January 7, 2018. Photo © OHHDL. Used with permission.
Inspired by three days of teachings from His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, I tried one simple practice in the streets of Bodhgaya. Instead of saying, “No,” I said, “Namaste.” Some of those in my circle, who are also attending the teachings, believed that I would become the woman the locals despise because, instead of giving money, I was only giving a kind word and a smile. My thinking was that a kind word, a song and a smile to a 5-year-old might remind them that they are still a child, full of mirth and imagination, even in these harsh circumstances.
Only two days later, instead of getting poked and having goods thrust in my face, I received smiles and greetings, “Namaste,” I hear as I walk along. Three girls, who look to be younger than five, sang shyly to me, “Namaste. Namaste,” giggling.
As The Dalai Lama says, “Understanding and love are not two separate things, but just one. To develop understanding, you have to practice looking at all living beings with the eyes of compassion.” This one small step I took toward being more kind to others resulted almost instantaneously with kindness back to me 100-fold. My walk is easier. One of the Spainards commented, “You have changed your face. Now you are so much more beautiful.”
I asked my friend, “What does he mean?”
“You are smiling,” he replied.
Ah. Yes. The greetings have made me happy. My simple exercise to try to be kinder to others has indeed resulted in making more friends and creating more happiness for myself. And yes, this is only a start.
Namaste, my friends. I will update with more teachings and insights in the days to come. (His Holiness begins another teaching on January 14, 2018, here in Bodhgaya.)