“We are all the same. We don’t want suffering; we all want happiness.” — HH the Dalai Lama
There seems to me a natural progression in backpacking. In the beginning, we want to see everything, go everywhere, have every (positive) experience. This is both great fun and completely exhausting. I’ve reached the stage where I want to go deeper, I want to stay put for a while and really get a feel for the place. It’s why I’ve been working and volunteering and taking courses abroad. I like cultivating a routine, testing out all the coffee shops until I find the best coffee in town, and seeing familiar faces in the shops and cafes.
Amber and I have been in McLeod Ganj for the better part of two weeks. More than enough time to do a proper survey of the coffee shops, bond with the street dogs and develop a repartee with shop owners on our street. We’ve been waking up early, climbing to Dharamkot to attend a guided meditation at Tushita, a Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Center, and then in the afternoon we do yoga on a rooftop patio overlooking the valley. Life is good.
Our beautifully simple two weeks here culminated in attending the Dalai Lama’s teaching at his temple just down the street from our hotel. He’s giving a four day talk to a group of Buddhist Mongolians. He teaches in Tibetan and then it’s translated into Mongolian. An English translation is then broadcast on FM radio.
The teaching begins at 8 am, so shortly after 7, we join the long line of monks in red robes and lay people heading towards the temple, like a procession of ants. The sun is just risen, the mountains are bathed in soft pinks and purples. As we get closer to the temple, we can hear chanting and Mongolian throat singing warbling from the loudspeakers. The temple is a modest, almost nondescript building in faded yellows and greens.
After passing through a very thorough security checkpoint (no cameras allowed!), we climb the stairs to the main pavilion. There are people everywhere, bundled up in warm winter clothes and carrying mats and cushions to sit on the cement floor. It’s very calm and quiet. The seating area spans two floors, under a large white awning. A handful televisions broadcast His Holiness from his seat within the temple proper.
At exactly eight o’clock, the Dalai Lama emerges from his rooms and walks through the crowd, up the stairs and into the temple. He’s surrounded by his people, and he’s using one of other monks as a walking stick. The crowd is serene as he passes. He seems a little frail (he is getting up there), but he radiates happiness. He takes his time. He holds his free hand in half-prayer in front of his heart and blesses the crowd as he passes. He looks in my direction and tears spring to my eyes. This man *is* love.
The teaching opens with a prayer, during which the monks pass out bread and Tibetan butter tea to everyone. The Dalai Lama blesses the bread and tea and begins to talk. He giggles a lot, and laughs at his own jokes. He talks about the limitations of materialism (“a diamond ring won’t comfort you when you’re sad”), how anxiety and stress make us sick, and the importance of affection. Right when he’s talking about how animals need affection from their mothers too, I’m distracted by a pair of baby monkeys playing on the rooftop behind me; the older monkeys are sitting in the sun and grooming each other. “Fear,” he says, “distances us from each other”. We should instead practice love and compassion for every sentient being, because we are all the same. All the religions are the same at their core; atheists are the same too. We all want happiness.
The Dalai Lama talks for four hours, with a fifteen minute tea break. In the second half, he reads scripture and discusses the dhamma, and takes audience questions. He gently chides the Mongolians for drinking too much vodka. Vodka is no good, but their fermented horse’s milk is okay. Someone stands up and asks how many camels he has. Turns out, the Dalai Lama has twenty camels. He likes riding on Mongolian camels; they’re comfortable, he says.
The Four Immeasurable Thoughts
May all sentient beings have happiness
and the causes of happiness;
May all sentient beings be free from suffering
and the causes of suffering;
May all sentient beings never be separated from
the happiness that knows no suffering;
May all sentient beings live in equanimity,
free from attachment and aversion.