Sleep last night didn’t come easy. I am not sure if it was pain in the ass that the camel gave me or the excitement of hearing the Dalai Lama’s teaching that we would attend today. After breakfast, we headed over to the Diskit Phodrang (the Dalai Lama’s local residence) on the other side of town. We walked the last kilometer or so because of the crowds and we were awed by the sight. We now know what it was like with Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Pilgrims were walking in from every direction. Older people were coming down the mountains or up from the valley, alternating steps with walking stick placements. Those too old or frail were carried on the backs of their slightly younger children. Young children were either in tow or strapped to the backs of mothers. It was an incredible sight.
When we arrived, we were told by Khandro-la that the talk was on “The Ornament of clear Realization by Maitreya and its Commentary by Haribadra” and entirely Tibetan or local dialects. Huh? What were we doing here? Then she added that she would be sitting on stage as an honored guest of the Dalai Lama and we should just find a seat on the ground in the crowd. Never mind. I know why we are here. I mostly wandered around the crowds taking photos. It was impossible to get comfortable within 300m of the stage and appreciate the teachings so wandering around the crowd was my best alternative. Melanie did head for the “Westerner area” closer to the stage where a small scratchy speaker tried to relay an English translation of what was being said. I wasn’t as keen.
One fun thing that happened during the talks was that volunteers were brewing up some more yak butter tea and distributing it to the masses along with loaves of Indian bread. We watched as older grizzled man in an oversized local winter coat receiving his bread, slyly slipping it into a large inside pocket then calling the volunteer back to ask for some bread. The volunteer looked confused but handed him another loaf which the old man again slipped it into his coat. He then asked another volunteer for bread. I can’t remember if he ended up with four or five loaves but he didn’t go home hungry that night.
I was feeling a little disappointed and bored as the long morning went on, I guess because I was hoping for a better interaction with the Dalai Lama. It wasn’t long after that feeling hit me that things started to look like they were wrapping up. As some of the seated pilgrims rose and started walking away, we heard a voice over the PA system announce that the Dalai Lama had noticed the many foreigners in the crowd. He was requesting that any non-Indians or Tibetans meet with him at his residence on the hill for a “private” audience. Wow! You mean THIS residence that I happen to be standing at the gate of, right now?!?! I’m the first in the front yard of the residence after a few minutes of confusion by the guards but I was soon joined by Melanie, the rest of our group and about 150 other Westerners followed by His Holiness and his entourage. There, standing on his front porch, just meters away from the group circled around him, he gave a 15 minute talk to us in English. His charm, sweetness, honesty, intelligence and humor enchanted all of us and when he left, I was in tears like many other people. The Dalai Lama’s talk to us covered three main points, 1) inner beauty is more important than outer beauty; 2) we should not be trying to convert to Buddhism; and 3) he is not a “spiltist” and he asked us to tell our government leaders that Tibetans would be happy to live in Tibet under Chinese rule but only if they are allowed to practice their true religion, speak their own language and keep their own culture, all like they are currently doing in India.
This evening, we visited a monastery across the river from Diskit and the thing that will stick in my mind the most is what turns out to be a regular sight at these monasteries. On the roofs, they all seem to have wooden posts with carved ornamental skulls at the top. I am not sure of the significance but some look kind of cool. At the monastery, we also got to meet the two year-old, reincarnated senior Lama. It was a little strange to see this young boy enjoying playing with a toy dump truck while sitting on the floor like a regular child then, on command, sit on his throne and honor visitors by putting khata (white scarves) around their necks. I cannot say that he looked very happy but this is his karma.