Young poplar trees scatter the sunlight into patches of shade in the courtyard of the Main Temple in Dharamsala, India—home of the Buddhist spiritual leader and the Tibetan government-in-exile.
A mixed crowd, equal parts monastic, tourist (Indian and Westerners) and Tibetan exiles sit in anticipation of the Dalai Lama’s arrival. A young Tibetan father chases his infant son who’s running from group to group touching everything in sight. Elders sit with their families and friends, prayer beads in hand, talking quietly or praying. Westerners sit alone or in small groups of two or three, mostly reading or sitting in silence.
The way lightning charges the atmosphere signalling an approaching storm, a buzz charges the air. The ocean of humanity swells together and moves to the gate, joining the dozens already waiting.
A Tibetan security guard with the international standard military-style buzz cut motions to get down. The front of the throng comply, sitting or bowing deeply, hands together in front of their faces, heads craned up, eyes fixed on the entrance. Unlike the frenzied excitement that accompanies a visit by an A-list member of the entertainment industry, this excitement’s a tranquil one.
A plainclothes Indian police officer leads the entourage, a rifle strapped to his right shoulder, finger not far from the trigger. The busy eyes of the security guard dart from one spot to another.
His Holiness arrives. With this signature smile he passes the flame from his torch of everlasting joy to the many willing candles bowed before him. One by one, he lights the candles with glowing smiles of delight. The Westerners in particular beam wide smiles. The courtyard’s charged with His Holiness’ light.
On this second of three days of teaching, he covers the basics of Buddhism at the request of the Indian sangha from his seat in the temple with more than 2,000 spread out within and outside the temple on two floors. Non-Tibetans tune in their $4 made-in-China hand-held radios as the translator crackles through the low-frequency signal. His Holiness speaks in Tibetan then gets translated into a few of the more commonly spoken languages. The mixed crowd of Tibetan and non-Tibetan speakers take turns tuning in and tuning out.
His teachings are clear and direct. He cuts through the complexities of Buddhist philosophy to speak to the commoner. Despite being elevated to godlike status by his Tibetan followers, he remains ever humble, putting himself on par with others.
In five- to ten-minute increments he pieces together the basics of shamatha meditation—right from the basics: hold right hand on top of the left, thumbs together, held at navel—to explaining the nature of impermanence.
“The body is always changing so people think ‘I’ is the mind. But a German brain scientist at the Brain-Mind conference pointed out that if there was an ‘I’ in the brain, it would have to be the brain’s control centre, but there is no control centre, the brain works independently,” he explains, as he often does, from another person’s perspective to help people better relate to his teachings.
The session ends and the familiar buzz of excitement again charges the crowd. Herds of people cluster around the exit to catch His Holiness on the way out. A man and woman from the Indian sangha precede the procession with a bowl of ashes and a stick of burning incense. A middle-aged monk runs down the steps followed by the rifleman. Two monks flank His Holiness on either side, one hand each wrapped in their robe. Like a precious gem they hold His Holiness as he descends.
For many, if not most, attending the teachings is more about seeing the Dalai Lama than hearing his words. His presence lights the path for the doubtful. In title, he’s the living embodiment of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of compassion, but he’s also a humble human whose presence clearly shows that a life of infinite compassion and truth can be realized by all, grounding abstract Buddhist teachings into reality.
image: Serjao Carvalho (Creative Commons BY-SA)