The Yellow Ribbon for the Dalai Lama

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Thousands of people have already crowded into the sprawling Kalachakra Temple compound in Dharamsala, India by the time my husband and I arrive at 8:00 a.m.

We’re gathering in anticipation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s first day of teachings at the very temple where he has his private chambers, and where he frequently addresses the public. Everywhere you look, your eyes rest on a sea of Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople, a sizable smattering of foreign tourists and a substantial sprinkling of Indians, many of them journalists, cameras and video gear in tow.

As we thread our way through the crowd, I get the sensation that this colorful medley of humans, against the ornate backdrop of the temple, resembles a living, breathing and moving mandala- the cosmic order come to life. There is infinite possibility on this cool, crisp morning; all mysteries might just reveal themselves in this gathering of good intentions and open hearts.

We walk upstairs past a jam-packed garden to where there are two prayer halls, one of which the Dalai Lama will use to transmit his teaching.

In and around these halls hordes of people sit, in hallways, on staircases leading to toilets, by a room full of ever-burning candles and by the cellar kitchens where butter tea is being boiled. As we look for a small space to squeeze into, a child’s voice crackles an adorable, stilted chant through the loudspeaker system; his voice rings with the crystalline innocence of youth. Others, like us, are navigating the crowds searching for an empty spot. Ropes have cordoned sections off, and security is still ramping up for the Dalai Lama’s arrival.

We jostle our way into small opening by a large column that faces the large hallway the Dalai Lama will soon walk down. Not too far ahead are a couple of stairs leading to the antechamber he’ll enter to reach his chair in the prayer hall. We arrived twenty minutes early, and the teaching is evidently going to start late, so we have time to stand among the sea of visitors, to observe the goings on that lead up to an event of this magnitude.

The smart ones who arrived early spread out mats and sit on cushions, many quietly munching on snacks.

Tibetans and foreigners are chitchatting, smiling and laughing side by side. Two of the security guards near the antechamber entrance, Indians, are rail thin, mustached, ever-smiling and holding long, austere-looking rifles. At intervals, various monks inhabit the holding area leading to the antechamber, and I keep expecting each one to be the official greeting party for the Dalai Lama. But then they leave and others take their place. Time seems to be lackadaisically seeping outward rather than moving forward in chronological sequence.

At a minute to nine, an older Tibetan man in a royal blue apron who’s been standing by the stairs the whole time, disappears into the antechamber and scurries back out with a bright yellow ribbon. He painstakingly goes about wrapping it around the stair rail that the Dalai Lama will use as a support on his way up. He corrects it, flattens and presses it again and again until it is absolutely perfect and he’s satisfied.

This tiny gesture, almost lost in the tide of brewing excitement, deeply moves me as emblematic of the purity of honest work and holy servitude.

This bright yellow ribbon that forms a vibrant part of our view on a very special day, strikes me as a beacon of far more. Sometimes we wonder about arguably overwrought rituals in spiritual tradition, and in our cynicism, declare all the pomp and circumstance excessively elaborate, meaningless and unnecessary. We find infinite things to feel sour about as we get lost in the details and distractions of our lives and lose sight of the small marvels happening around us at every turn.

I couldn’t argue with any degree of certainty about role of ritual in our lives or spiritual practice. My own views keep changing with time as the rest of me evolves and adapts to the life I find myself living.

But what I feel deeply, looking at the man with the yellow ribbon, is that every single action affects the universe.

Every act of true devotion brings out the light in the one who is devoted and that light reaches all of humanity. Everything we do that is in service of something greater than us builds into a momentum of positive energy that will only expand with our combined efforts. Before the teachings have even began – before the deliciously strange butter tea is served to thousands! – lessons arrive right in our laps. I can’t help but feel these lessons were meant for us to discover.

One yellow ribbon taken in isolation is a shiny and slightly garish curiosity. A yellow ribbon lovingly handled to mark a great occasion by a man who, just like the rest of us, has good days and bad, depends on others and has dependents of his own, and wants to be happy and free of suffering, is a beautiful manifestation of connectivity at work.

The care that emanated from those aging hands arranging one yellow ribbon one the first day of the Dalai Lama’s public teachings, those inordinately generous offerings, is also the care and love that feeds the world.

*This article was published on The Tattooed Buddha.

 

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In Compassion’s Arms: Hearing the Dalai Lama Laugh.

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Tales of India

 

There are three lines: one for monks, one for Tibetans and one for foreigners.

We’re at Dharamsala’s Kalachackra Temple on the first morning of the Dalai Lama’s three-day Introduction to Buddhism teaching. Dusty roads and smaller alleyways wind down the hilly mountains at the foothills of the Himalayas, converging past cafes, kiosks and prayer flags, taking thousands of people to the temple.

Men and women must separate at security check; it takes the women 10 times longer to get through, with the exception of the Tibetan nuns. There are far fewer of them than monks, and they fly right in, a flurry of burgundy and comfortable shoes.

There are no cellphones or cameras allowed.

Most people seem to know this in advance, but a few have to leave the line to leave them with security. Up front, there’s a thorough bag check, followed by a body check—and we’re in.

The temple’s sprawling courtyards and prayer halls are spilling over with people from all over the world. We walk among the throngs looking for a seat; there always seems to be that tiny bit of extra room, the intent of generosity and kind spirit translating without effort into miraculous spaces for new bodies.

It’s still early, and we stroll around, walking past a flat screen TV with the Dalai Lama on it, and it takes a moment to realize he’s just a few meters away from us in the hall. Right now. We have the telecast view and the actual view available to us simultaneously.

We look up—there he is, visible through a few open windows, sitting in his large chair mounted on a platform, chatting jovially with a few people nearby.

There’s security everywhere, but everyone inside had been checked, and now it’s deemed safe to allow people to wander around in his immediate vicinity.

This would never happen in the West, if say, Brad Pitt was making a personal appearance somewhere. And that’s Brad Pitt.

This is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Every day it becomes easier to see how strangely skewed things are.

We eventually settle on a very pleasant courtyard outside and one level down, and fish for our newly-bought little FM radio, two sets of earphones and a splitter. We’re able to locate a faint Japanese translation—and a Korean one—but no English.

Meanwhile, the teaching begins and we can hear the Dalai Lama speaking through loudspeakers in Tibetan, and a Hindi version follows. We fall into the rhythms and cadences of these two languages dancing with intermittent periods of silence.

And laughter.

That delicious, life affirming sound of the Dalai Lama’s booming giggle permeates the entire space of the temple, right through our bodies as though we have all become porous beings, ripe for absorbing this infectious laugh.

It almost seems beside the point that we don’t understand a word of what’s going on. Along with most of the foreigners in our area, we cheerily give up the search for the right frequency after a few minutes, as the Dalai Lama’s chanting begins.

Namo Tasa Bhagavato Arahato Sama Sambuddhasa.

(I pay homage to the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Fully Enlightened One)

Then:

Buddham Saranam Gacchami

(I go to the Buddha for refuge)

Sangan Saranam Gacchami

(I go to the Sangha for refuge)

Dhammam Saranam Gacchami

(I go to the Dharma for reguge)

Listening to the melodious sounds, I close my eyes and observe a new feeling of gentility and acceptance permeating my thoughts (obliterating them for the time being) into the bodily level, where I’m accustomed to searching for signs of discomfort and distress.

Warmth washes over me.

I feel so lucky for whatever forces have conspired to bring me here in the genuine name of heart-opening. I’m struck by the truth and beauty that has emerged through an act of communal gathering in the presence of this great leader, teacher and healer, and by the seemingly impossible set of circumstances that have brought me here.

I take myself centuries back in time and wrap my imagination round The Buddha, who in my understanding, wasn’t trying to start a religion or become the object of worship. He wanted everyone to recognize the cycles of craving and aversion that perpetuate suffering, and to learn how to free ourselves the way he had: through self-reflection, awareness and hard work.

The path there allows no shortcuts, but the rewards are numerous and exponential if you have the right intention, persistence and diligence.

These are things I have always instinctively believed in, maybe even known, whether I had the language for it or not; they’ve come to me now cased in a new context, outside the intellectual one that is my comfort zone.

Hindus, Tibetans, and foreigners of all backgrounds sit together today, drinking Tibetan butter tea doled out by monks into our borrowed tin cups, quietly enjoying the presence of someone who palpably epitomizes kindness and compassion.

I feel that together we are not unlike a breezy bamboo forest in late spring, soft, pliable and strong.

Compassion, we soon learn, is the subject of today’s teaching, according to our neighbor and friend, who eventually manages to find the English frequency by sitting just outside the temple complex.

We catch it too, for about 30 seconds, during which time I hear His Holiness say that it is very important to study.

Wisdom, I read later in one of his books, comes from analytical thinking and reflection, and complements compassion on the journey of evolution.

For the time being, I’m still stuck on his laughter, and the powerful freedom it evokes in me.

Studying, maybe for the first time in my life, will have to come later.

 

*This was originally published in The Tattooed Buddha – check them out!

 

 

Fast {There’s No War in World)

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Fast

(India)

 

Fasting is like watching a dream fade away, one that shows itself for in its shiniest colours while in the act of receding.

Slowly, the world falls away.

According to Tibetan Buddhism, and probably Western medical science, this is also what happens at the time of death. We withdraw – or the world withdraws from us, depending on your world view.

This time, we embarked on a nine day fast, by far my longest. We observed our energy ebb. Before long, we were ceasing our modest activity – walking around the mountains of Dharamsala, visiting the popular chai shop hangout, where the owner very graciously allowed us to sit and sip on water. We were now sheltered in the cozy confines of our guesthouse room and the concrete balcony outside.

This was no state of impoverishment. Our balcony, without any bars or railing, drops right onto a wheat field, in front of which is a Himalayan-Indian family home and the guesthouse they run.

Walnut and other trees brush against the Earth below our feet. In the far distance, there are mountains on all sides, changing temperament each way you turn.

The sky, too, is moody. We would sit, wrapped in blankets, on our grey plastic chairs, on and off from early morning until late at night, chronicling nature’s activities: how it went so suddenly from cold to bright hot as soon as the sun peeked over the mountain; how the moon, which reached full on on day six of the fast, made its appearance over the mountain in the starry sky later and later each day; how butterflies, birds and bugs I’ve never seen before would interact with each other and the shrubs by our feet; how sun followed rainstorms with alarming speed.

The world was our screen and we were its passive, meek observers. The most interesting thing for me to watch every day was the activity of a boy (more of a young man by disposition), a very dark, energetic Indian, working the fields. I remembered him from our pre-fast days, when we’d do yoga in the room or on the balcony and he’d march past, a few metres below us, stopping in his tracks to gape at our strange body positioning.

This now seemed like a lifetime ago, when we were limbre and took our energy for granted. Now we were the gapers. Back and forth he went, carrying wheat in a large woven basket hanging off his shoulders.

Where was he taking it too? He’d walk straight – out of our view to the left – all the way down a hilly steppe of cut wheat (there is a gorgeous and expansive stepped wheat field here, and many others all over Dharamkot, the northernmost of the three tourist enclaves here).

He’d return minutes later. Often he’d be whistling, singing or even making little dancing steps as he moved. His mobility, agility and strength staggered me in my incapacitated state. He radiated life. I’ve never known anyone, especially at that age, who had had to work that hard, and did it with the body language of joy.