Alas, the teachings ended at noon today and it left us with a bit of that “emptiness” that Buddhists talk about (only that has nothing to do with the wisdom of emptiness, a very important Buddhist concept…it’s even too complicated for me to explain after two weeks of hearing the teachings). People who had become friends over these past days together were leaving and everyone was attempting to clear the enormous open spaces of the cardboard and debris left by the crowd. The Dalai Lama‘s schedule had made it necessary to cut the teachings short, but I think we were all pretty drained and our brains needed a rest. We’d not only been attending during the day, but had been fortunate to have a review session each afternoon from 4:30 to 6 PM to help us understand the teachings and clarify any questions. Not easy, but we had a marvelous teacher, Geshe Dorje Damdul.
Unfortunately, the bad weather returned last Saturday (our room temperature hovers around 50) just in time for the annual March 10 celebration and march to lower Dharamsala in memory of the Tibetan uprising in Lhasa on March 10, 1959. But this didn’t dampen the spirits of the thousands of Tibetans and friends who flocked into the temple and stood in the downpour to hear the Dalai Lama‘s message. I’m sure you’ll find it on his website. He had warned the many Tibetans who crossed into India from Nepal not to attend or to show their faces, in case there were Chinese spies taking pictures, as in the past. Our friend and former guide, Dorje, had told us the danger to himself and his friends as a result of coming to the teachings, but felt it was worth the gamble. Still, they had no intention of coming to the march.
Cary dropped in at the temple gathering and said that the entire yellow canopy would fill with water and when the wind blew, would dump gallons onto the spectators below, who just laughed and continued waving Tibetan flags and singing songs of liberation. These are a hardy people who feel strongly about their cause. After the ceremonies, they marched, still singing, ten kilometers to lower Dharamsala and late that evening we encountered them returning, holding lit candles, still singing, and waving tiny flags. I was moved to tears, standing by the side of the narrow street and waving back as they passed.
I looked up the history that led to the March 10 uprising, which can be found on the internet. It’s a devastating story. I quote from the conclusion: 300,000 loyal Tibetans surrounded the Norbulinka palace in which the Dalai Lama was, forming a human sea of protection for their Yeshe Norbu (Precious Jewel).They feared he would be abducted to Beijing to attend the upcoming Chinese National Assembly. The mobilization forced the then 16-year-old Dalai Lama to cancel the army leader’s invitation. He was held prisoner by devotion.”
The rest is history, with the dramatic and courageous flight of the Dalai Lama and his family to India. Nobody knows how many perished that day, but 10,000 Lhasa Tibetans are known to have disappeared–either been killed or sent into forced labor.
I spoke to a Tibetan who runs a tour agency and asked him if he thought any of this did any good or could ever change what China is doing. He spoke, as so many do, by telling a story.
“A big strong man is bitten by a tiny mosquito. He tries to kill it but it bites him somewhere else. Hard as he tries he cannot get away from it and it makes his life miserable. China is a superpower, but after a while it will have to deal with the annoying mosquito that is Tibet. It is like a festering sore, a boil, which won’t heal and continues to give pain. We will not give up–never–and we will annoy the superpower so much that it will eventually give us our country back. It will be glad to get rid of us. And we will do all this without killing.”
The cold, rainy weather has continued, with a few rays of sun sneaking through during the day, greeted by wild applause from drenched, cold spectators standing under umbrellas. Hail greeted me as I stumbled down the hill this morning. Some evenings are beautiful as one only sees in the high mountains…clouds of varying grays tinged with white, and winds that prove their power to instill awe and terror. Last night I walked home late from the temple in another blackout (electricity is rather capricious in this town), having forgotten my flashlight, and met a car coming down our steep hill. He didn’t honk for a change, but just blinked his lights for me to come ahead. The rain and wind had turned my umbrella inside out, so I stepped into a doorway to let the car pass. Its wheel was a few inches off the road, but it continued down as I leapt off the stairs and straight into a gulley of water up to my ankles. Recovering, I hopped further and plunked my other foot into a similar “river.” I found one sliver of pavement on the side and ran the rest of the way home, laughing. Then I had to open a heavy, locked gate, which meant getting totally wet before reaching my double-locked room…and, well, you get the picture. Cary pointed out that no Himalayan trek could possibly top this experience for sheer endurance. She also lent me a pair of dry shoes. They’re big, but as I told you before, vanity has gone out the window.
By the way, you might want to catch her blog: carypeterson.wordpress.com She’ll be traveling until December and I’m sure the adventures will continue.
A word about these last two days. We had a very significant initiation into the study of the Bodhisattva for a group of monks from mainland China. This interrupted the teachings for a morning, but to me is a very significant gesture on the part of the Dalai Lama. I was surprised that Buddhists were allowed to practice in communist China.
I wish I could have taken a camera into the temple, for during the heavy rains of the last two days we all had to squash together so the Tibetans and many monks, who were sitting in the main plaza under the canopy and open sky, could have some shelter. This made for a merry meeting of cultures and a chance to show the compassion and patience the Dalai Lama has been promoting. Before this occurred, however, the winds had begun shredding the huge yellow canopy. The Tibetan flag also did its part as the wind blew the billowing material against it. There are 8 large panels with 24 designs altogether. I watched the patterns undulating in the wind and the silhouette of the solitary leafless trees against a steel sky. In the distance, when it wasn’t raining, you could see the fir trees poking through the mist. It was a lovely, very dramatic sight.
Today the canopy was completely gone and there was no shelter at all. At the end, after the “long life ceremony,” large buckets of small round cookies were distributed by the monks. Banks of people swarmed, with their hands outstretched, then stood, reverently, as the Dalai Lama left the temple.
We thought we had another day, but tomorrow will be a puja on long life for the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama, during the teachings, talked a great deal about science as well as other religions. He encourages everyone to practice the religion of his or her choice, but not be lax or lazy in understanding and following it. He is a brilliant mind and continues to be a voracious student, obviously. The study of Buddhism should not be taken lightly and will not be accomplished easily.
We met several people who volunteer in the audio-visual field and are working on a documentary about the Dalai Lama‘s work as well as an upcoming conference he is hosting for world-renowned scientists. I believe they are called Mind and Life conferences and they’ve been held in the spring for eight years. The subject covers science and how it relates to Buddhism. You can find out about this on the Dalai Lama‘s website. I was struck with the selflessness of these individuals, giving their time, and requesting not to be mentioned by name. It is their service and although they are Americans, they despair of the material grasping they see in their country, and the egotistic need for adulation and recognition. As you can see, we’ve had plenty of chance for discussion during these weeks.
One rather prosaic note as I leave you. I’ve hardly seen any smokers…two I believe…and nobody drinks. The town is dry and mostly vegetarian. And there is, happily, great coffee and cappuccino.
On Friday Cary and I leave for Suja and Bir, with stops at Norbulingka and several other places I’ll relate next time. We’re hoping to get in a little trekking, or at least walking in the mountains…if it stops raining. We met Dorje, again, and talked at length after the teachings. His English has improved greatly, but I’m trying to figure out what books to send him to help in his study. Books from English to Tibetan do not comprise a burgeoning market! He said that this weather doesn’t bother his 83-year-old mother at all, because she’s used to it. Tibetans are tough.
Hey, the sun is out!! And we’ll have a sunset. Hooray!