The Dalai Lama: Tibet's Axis Mundi PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Rebecca Novick   

Attending the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Dharamsala, India, is quite a different experience from doing so in the West. Trade comfortable cushioned seats in a temperature-controlled environment for seats on a concrete floor under a covered rooftop exposed
to the wild fluctuations of the Himalayan weather. Trade state-of-the-art bathrooms with the most basic plumbing alternative (bring your own TP and handwash); and trade a relatively demure and subdued crowd with all the earthy boisterousness of a Tibetan community.

There is a special section where most of the foreigners sit and receive English translation through FM radio, but the reception works anywhere in the vicinity, and I find myself preferring to sit in the Tibetan area with a group of monks, elders and a young Tibetan family with their two-year-old daughter. Around us prayer flags flutter in the mountain breeze and the mountains themselves offer a spectacular backdrop. The lively chatter dies down as the Dalai Lama is spotted emerging from his private residence which is a stone’s throw from the main temple (tsuglakhang) where the teachings take place. Indian police holding ancient-looking rifles snap to attention as he enters the temple.

Exiled Tibetan monks serve tea while their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama delivers teachings to thousands of devotees inside the Tsunglakhang temple complex in the northern I Indian hill town of Dharamsala September 15, 2008
Exiled Tibetan monks serve tea while their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama delivers teachings to thousands of devotees inside the Tsunglakhang temple complex in the northern I Indian hill town of Dharamsala September 15, 2008

The foreigners look on as the Dalai Lama takes his seat, their face full of admiration and appreciation. But the old Tibetan man next to me, with his texts laid carefully on his lap and his three-foot high prayer wheel turning so naturally in his hand, has a deeper expression – for him and the other Tibetans around me, the Dalai Lama is the axis mundi, the center of their world, around which revolve all their hopes and aspirations both in and beyond this earthly existence. For us, the Dalai Lama is an ambassador for world peace, who preaches religious tolerance and makes us feel united with humanity in a way that we rarely get to feel. But for them he is so much more. The relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people feels ancient. Genetic. Immeasurable.

By the second day we are deep into the text, Commentary on the Awakening Mind by the second-century Indian master, Nagarjuna, that presents a complex analysis of our experience of inner and outer reality, said to all be ultimately dependent upon our own perception. These teachings have been sponsored by a community of Korean Buddhists, and the English translator occasionally struggles to fit in all the points before the Korean translator has finished. Profound and seriously intellectually demanding, the teachings require undivided concentration even from experienced Buddhist practitioners, and when a small army of monks arrive to distribute buckets of round Tibetan bread and pour sweet tea from giant tin kettles, there is a palpable sense of relief. An exhausted monk has nodded off, and to everyone’s amusement, his friends balance a mug of tea on top of his head.

The Dalai Lama speaks about humility and compassion. How we don’t connect these qualities to our own personal happiness, but think of them instead as just “good qualities.” After breast-feeding her daughter, the young Tibetan mother wraps her in a sweater and places a set of prayer beads on top. The child’s face is a picture of security. By the end of the day, we are all part of her family, catching her when she falls, feeding her, playing with her, monitoring her explorations.

A cold mist rolls in and the man next to me pulls a blanket around my back. The translator’s words struggle through the static of the radio. “Although none of us desire suffering, we chase after the things that cause us suffering. And even though we all want happiness, we treat the causes of happiness like our enemies.”

The Dalai Lama will be participating in the Mind and Life Dialogues, October 8 - 9 in Washington DC: Educating World Citizens for the 21st Century: mindandlife.org.

Rebecca Novick is the founding producer of The Tibet Connection radio program online at: thetibetconnection.org

 
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