In the Presence of a Living Buddha

October 18, 2008 - Dharamshala, India



After arriving in Delhi I decided, for whatever delusious reason, that rather than going straight down the trodden path to Dharamsala, this time around I should do "something else". This proved nothing other than a gross distraction. Even though Shimla was nice, and Rewalsar and Tashi Jong were absolutely great places to be, only when I arrived in Dharamsala (McLeodGanj) everything began to fall in place again.

Meetings, Teachings & Retreat

Coming to McLeodGanj feels like coming home after all. And miracles start happening. Spontaneously meeting old friends, some of which actually live here, and some happen to be around again just like me - which can be explained by the fact that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is about to start a series of teachings starting a few days after my arrival, which I consider a miraculously fortunate coincidence.. And meeting new friends, as always one meets the like-minded in this place, but this time around it is special to me to meet many Dutch people - not something I am particularly eager for, but when it happens it is of course nice to speak one's own language for a change - such as Sheona (indeed: half-Dutch :-)) who is just like me going to attend the one-month retreat in Kopan, Nepal in November, Gerard (a retired "Art Consultant" and literature adept who has been visiting the Himalaya regions since decades) and moreover Marijn whom I had met in the Netherlands in a meditation retreat of Shamata's Shakti institute, last December - we now almost literally ran into each other in the Dalai Lama's temple during the lunch break in His teachings and seeming to be in the same flow of energy, having similar plans and interests, we have decided to travel to Nepal together by bus and train. Apart from enjoying each others company, even though I have traveled plenty of miles on India's public transport on my own, it still feels much nicer, more comfortable and relaxed if there is someone to share the experience with and if necessary be able to cover each others backs, as India is always full of surprises, pleasant and unpleasant.


Earplug delivery

One unpleasant surprise - actually originating from my preparations in the Netherlands - was to discover that the Ohropax earplugs that I had bought were not what they appeared to be. Had it seemed to me that the package was somehow upgraded - needless of course, after decades of market leadership and stable brand-/product recognition - in fact, Ohropax had decided to introduce a new product (new to me, at least) under the same brand and logo, looking very similar to their traditional earplugs package, a disastrous decision obviously when brand name and -logo have become completely synonymous with the product. Most certainly, many customers must have made the same mistake as I had and bought the woolen plugs to keep your ears dry and warm, that have absolutely no sound-dampening qualities at all! This is a complete disaster for travelers in India, seeking a quiet night's sleep, considering that earplugs are an unknown phenomena in India! The Indians don't seem to need them. Thank the universe that Jorinde, whom I met in Shimla together with her mother Klaartje, was going back to the Netherlands and was able to send a box of the proper earplugs to my guesthouse in Dharamsala. My gratitude will at least extend for the entire length of my journey to come!

In the presence of a Living Buddha

Less than a week after my arrival, His Holiness the Dalai Lama started a series of teachings in the temple complex of His residence. His teachings in this place can be attended for free after just a security registration. So do many of the local Tibetans, monks and nuns, visitors from South-East Asia and a handful of Europeans. The teachings start every morning at nine and last for two hours in the morning and resume for another two hours after lunch. Halfway each session, tea is being served by young monks - indeed: butter tea :-P  The teachings cover the Lam Rim (staged path to enlightenment) and Boddhicitta (the mind that strives for enlightenment). Rather profound philosophical subjects and not that easy to follow, even though His Holiness has a custom of leading His audience into the subject in a step-by-step approach from the ground-up, initially making you think "this can't be true, this is too simple", then after half an hour finding yourself completely lost... But attending alone, being there and staying there, listening and contemplating on what you think you're hearing is an impressive experience of a meditative quality by itself as if one is breathing tiny drops of wisdom. Being there and being in the presence of His Holiness is a moving experience that one is not likely to ever forget. Even though security around His appearance is tight, ample opportunity is taken to approach the public, shake some hands and most of all offer many friendly smiles and lots of waving, which people take-in as a true blessing. Long before His appearance the crowd starts chanting "Om Mani Padme Hum", later followed by a few more formal invocations by senior lama's. At that point it feels as if the air is already filled with Boddhisattva's and other deities, half-gods and other less visible beings that take the opportunity to take-in their dose of Dharma-wisdom. Even the birds' singing and the crickets' continuous high-pitch are songs in praise and anticipation of the Wise Man's appearance. Then when He actually does appear, all go silent in admiration and full attention of eyes, ears and minds is given to Him only, making sure not to miss one millisecond of this golden opportunity. Only after he has passed (either in the direction of the temple, or in the direction of His residence), the murmur slowly starts-up again. It feels as close as one can get to being In the presence of a Living Buddha.

Breakfast by Surprise

After His Holiness's teachings I attend to a short, 7-day retreat in Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamkot, which is a great and instructive experience and moreover it is great to see Tushita's wonderful new gompa, yet noticing that nothing got lost of the original inspiring energy of the place. Unfortunately on the last day of the course I did catch a very bad cold, which confined me to my guesthouse room for two days, after returning to the village.  Somehow the boys of the guesthouse - who are usually not that attentive - caught notion of my condition and the next day just after nine in the morning there is a knock on the door and out of the blue there is a marvelous fruit muesli and curd breakfast with hot coffee as well as a hot ginger-lemon-honey (the magic drink for staying healthy in India during early post-monsoon season) - another miracle has just happened.

Next Steps

This article was post-dated as I was way behind with my journals. On October 19th Marijn and I left McLeodGanj on a night-bus to Delhi, continuing the next night by night-train to Gorakhpur. On the way we discovered that this was too close to Kushinagar - the place where the historical Buddha passed away - to ignore the opportunity. We spent two days in Kushinagar, before proceeding to Lumbini, Nepal, the actual birth place of the Buddha. This is where we are now enjoying the relative calmness of the place as well as that of Nepal as a nation and a culture, very distinct from that of India.. from here our respective ways are likely to separate again as my next intended destination is Pokhara and Marijn has appointments in Kathmandu - I will miss you.. :'(

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Tashi Jong prayerwheels
Main square
Young monks Institute
Tashi Jong - Monastery
Fuzzy Travel