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Between Monks and Monkeys

The Dalai Lama's teachings, Dharamshala, August 2013

INDIA | Tuesday, 27 August 2013 | Views [2425] | Comments [1]

The Dalai Lama has just returned from a month’s meditation retreat in Ladakh. I must say, it was good to think of him there, having the time to do some quiet meditation after a fairly hectic few months of foreign travel which even took him to Australia and New Zealand.

Anyway, he drove back to Dharamshala last Friday, on a very beautiful fine morning.  The monsoon weather is at last starting to improve, and it’s not either raining or misty all the time.

This week His Holiness gave three days of teachings on a text by the Tibetan master Tsongkapa. The teachings were sponsored by a group from Korea. This seems to happen with all his teachings here. A particular group of Buddhists pays for the event and brings hundreds of people to hear HH, and the rest of us get to attend as well.  Tibet Charity English classes were suspended for three days so teachers  and  students could all go.

Security at the temple has generally been increased a lot since the recent bombings at Bodhgaya, and as expected, the security for the teachings was tight. Everyone, including the Tibetans, had to register beforehand and get an identity card, which for the foreigners involved filling out a form, producing two passport photos, and paying 10 rupees (20c NZ).  On my card I’m identified as “Gillian” from “Newzland”.

On the day of the teachings you go through a metal detector, have your bag searched and get patted down. No mobiles or any electronic gizmos are allowed in the temple – I even had my little penlight torch taken away when I visited one day.  If you have water with you, you have to sip it to prove it’s not dangerous.  And no cameras, which is why I’ll post a few drawings that I did.

The other difference from the teachings I attended in 2010 is that no radios are allowed in the temple any more. Previously you bought a little FM radio, and the translation (His Holiness talks in Tibetan) came through in English and a number of other languages. You could sit anywhere in the temple, and I used to enjoy sitting in the lower garden area with the Tibetans. Now all English-speaking people have to sit in the same area and a translation is broadcast over a loudspeaker.  It’s tough on people whose second language is English, as the choice of translations was either Korean or English.  However it seems to work quite well. His Holiness talks for a while, then pauses for the translators to do their stuff.  There are TV screens throughout the temple area, so everyone can see what’s going on.

On the first day of the teachings the Dalai Lama spoke generally about the need for compassion in the world, about the ways in which different religions encourage compassion, and the role of secular ethics in the modern world.  On the second day he started working through the writings of Tsongkapa and interpreting these, discussing the means of achieving compassion through reading and analysing Buddhist texts and through the practice of various types of meditation.  The third day included the taking of several vows for those Buddhists who attended. For some people it would have been the first time they had done this, while for the Tibetans it was an opportunity to renew their dedication to Buddhism.

I was glad to see that His Holiness was looking really well. He’s as sprightly as ever as he walks through the temple to his throne in the main teaching space, lighting up the place with his smile and occasionally stopping to talk to some lucky person.

Unlike 2010, I now understand a little bit more about Buddhist philosophy, and I was able to follow most of the teachings. There’s another series coming up next week. It’s a bit of a nuisance in terms of breaking up the teaching continuity at Tibet Charity, but a wonderful opportunity to see and listen to His Holiness.

As always, there were some uniquely Indian and Tibetan aspects to the teachings. Because the temple is an open space, it’s very common for monkeys to make their appearance. One large monkey had a great time playing a game of tightrope-walking along a metal pole – part of the canopy over the garden area – and jumping up and down so that the pole shook with a resounding banging noise.  Later it (well, it looked like the same monkey..) was raiding a rubbish bin as we were walking out, and made a rush at a woman who got too close. Luckily she was protected by the thick material of her chuba when it grabbed her skirt.

Tea and Tibetan bread are also part of the ceremony. Relays of young monks come through the crowd (of several thousand)  with rounds of fresh Tibetan bread in buckets, followed by others bearing big battered teapots holding lightly salted Tibetan milk tea.  Delicious!

Many Tibetans, both men and women, dress in their best chubas (traditional dress) for the teachings, and often put their small children into beautiful brocaded chubas. When your attention wavers from the teachings, there’s plenty to look at.  It’s a very Tibetan occasion – a nice mix of ceremony, hospitality, good organisation and a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. Highly recommended…


Tags: dalai lama, dharamsala, dharamshala, teachings, tibet, tibetans



What about the rats? Are there close to people?

  Marta Jan 24, 2015 5:53 PM



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