8/24/2009 to 8/25/2009 | India , Ladakh

The Dalai Lama in Leh

I returned to Leh in time to catch one of Dalai Lama’s public teachings, the last in a series of five.   The teachings in Leh are held in a large outdoor ground in nearby Choklamsar home to large community of Tibetan refugees.  The atmosphere the massive gathering reminded me something of an outdoor rock festival meets religious rival.  A large stage held a throne where the Dalai Lama would speak from. It was decorated with the usual array of Tibetan thankas (religious paintings depicting various aspects of the Tibetan Pantheon).  Devotees, monks, tourists, and others who had come to hear the Dalai Lama speak sat on the wide lawn surrounding the stage.  Families gathered with their picnic baskets, thermoses of tea, and umbrellas to ward off the intense sun.  There were special cordoned off areas for monks, nuns, old people, VIPs, and foreign visitors.  The foreigners section was situated next to several speakers through which a semi-simultaneous English translation of the teachings was given.  The translations reminded me a bit of the scene in the movie “Lost in Translation” where Bill Murry’s character is given lengthy instructions by a Japanese photographer in Japanese which the translator translates into the two word phrase, “more intensity.”   It seemed apparent that not all of the nuances of the Dalai Lamas teachings were being conveyed in the English translation.  In addition to being translated into English for the foreigners benefit they were also being translated from Lhasa dialect Tibetan which the Dalai Lama was speaking into local Ladakhi dialect.  Though a related language I’m told it is difficult for the Ladakhis to understand classical Tibetan.  I envision it to something like a Spanish speaker listening to Italian or vice-versa.

It was the first time I had heard the Dalai Lama speak in person, and I was very impressed with the man. In addition to the teachings, he also presided over a ceremony inducting monks into the order.  He encouraged the newly inducted monks to study other schools of Buddhism, science, and even other faiths, emphasizing the need for broad knowledge and the dangers of narrow mindedness which can lead to bias and “attachment” to a particular line of thought, even the dharma (Buddhist teachings).  I wouldn’t hold my breath, while waiting for televangelists in the States to similarly encourage their followers to study Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.  During his teachings the Dalai Lam also went into the arguments for deconstructing the self using logic to reach the conclusion and urging those who were unconvinced to meditate on the issue and work through the arguments for themselves.  I couldn’t help comparing it to many of the sermons I’ve herd in Christian churches and it seem so much more intellectual and even though the prime audience were not intellectuals but average Tibetans and Ladakhis both monks and lay people.  He did not just stand up in front of the audience and say, “Believe me because I said so I’m the Dalai Lama and have faith,” instead his message was let me help you work though the issues for yourself so that you can come up with the solutions independently.  Of course compassion also was a major theme and in the initiation of the monks they make vows to attempt to attain enlightenment not for themselves but to guide all sentient beings to liberation.  I was really glad I got to one of the teaching sessions, though I don’t think I would have made it through all five, each lasting from 7:00 am to noon including the time spent waiting for him to appear.  I was also happy to finally get to see the Dalai Lama in person after being in Dharamsala on his birthday but still not seeing him.  Actually I think if I could have seen any one person in the world in person, it would probably be him.  As far as an iconic person goes I don’t think there are too many living people who can match his stature.

Getting back to Leh after the teachings was a bit of an adventure in its self.  While only about 10 km it was long enough to want to take bus back rather than walk.  I’ve ridden on a number bus roofs over the years, but I’ve never been on one so cram packed with people as when I returned from the Dalai Lama’s teachings.  I was on the back end of the bus outside the luggage rack, which is where people normally sit when they ride on the roof, hanging on to that luggage rack for dear life as my feet dangled over the rear window.  Every inch of horizontal, and much of the vertical, surface area on the bus was covered with people.  Not the most relaxing half hour ride I’ve ever had.

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