Almost 10 years ago while studying in London I read a book called The Art of Happiness. I don’t remember exactly how I came across this book or why I decided to read it, but the content would change my life forever. Since reading this book (and many others on similar topics) I have tried to live a life of meaning and ultimately made it a point to create a more positive state of being for myself and the world around me.
Last week Christina and I were able to learn directly from the author of this book, a man whose teachings challenge my mind on a daily basis, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
When we heard he would be speaking at his home in Dharamsala, we took a jarring 17 hour minibus from Leh to Manali, waited for 5 hours in Manali (a stunning town on the foothills of the Himalayas), and then took a 10 hour overnight bus to Dharamsala, or actually McCleod Ganj, the home of the exiled Tibetan community and his holiness the Dalai Lama.
Arriving early in the morning, we were able to spend the day sorting out arrangements and getting permits to see the Dalai Lama teach for 4 days. The process was extremely easy compared to what we were expecting. The next day we woke up at 5am to claim our spot in the temple for his teachings.
We sat on the ground of the temple with a group of 50 Tibetan monks on our left and Tibetan women and children on our right. I made friends with a couple monks before the Dalai Lama walked in. Over the next 4 days the monks felt comfortable talking to me and asking me questions every 15 minutes or so, even during the teachings. Questions like, “What time is it?” “Where are you from?”, “Why do you move around so much?” ,“Your beard is very long…Why?” It was quite comical considering we were in the presence of the supreme Tibetan spiritual leader. I would think his teachings would trump anything I would have to say.
But the monks later told me they’ve met the Dalai Lama and have listened to him teach countless times, so for them it must not have been as much of a novelty. Later I asked one monk how long it took to get here from their home in Tibet and he paused for a second before saying “30 days”. “Walking?” I asked, confused. “Yes walking” he said like it was an obvious answer.
Most of these monks moved from Tibet in the past 20 years to escape the increasingly brutal conditions forced on them by the Chinese.
The 4 days of teaching by the Dalai Lama were life changing. He is a selfless, compassionate and brilliant man. It was fascinating to listen to his philosophy and his presence was humbling. He taught on The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva, of which there is to much to repeat but in a very few words:
Be compassionate and help others in this world. If you can’t help others, at least do no harm to others. You are the master of your own mind. The more you cultivate a positive outlook and compassion towards others, regardless of how they treat you, the happier you will be and it will make the world a better place. These lessons are proven to be effective in the lives of those who practice them.
*Above is a very short explanation and interpretation of the past 4 days. It does not explain nearly enough to put the Dalai Lama’s life philosophies into context. If you are interested in learning more, I would advise reading “The Art of Happiness” or any other published work by the Dalai Lama.
Since his teachings, we have signed on to teach Intermediate English to Tibetan exiles here in McCloud Ganj. It’s been a really great experience thus far and we’ve learned a lot from our students about what life has been like living away from their families here in India.
About 50 years ago the Indian president at that time, Nehru, allowed the Tibetans to seek exile in India and gave them a beautiful area of land in the mountains to form the Tibetan government in exile. Since that time this area has become a thriving town that helps support India’s economy and Tibetan exiles. If you ask anyone in Dharamsala about this everyone agrees that allowing Tibetan refugees in India 50 years ago was not only the right thing to do but it has had a very positive outcome for both countries. I think it is important for people to remember this when considering the refugee situations around the world at the current moment.
I ended up visiting the temple again before our English class one day. I sat and watched as people of many faiths- Buddhist, Hindu, Islam, and Sikh- circled the temple making charitable donations as they passed by a statue of the Buddha. To watch people of many faiths give donations to a different religion than their own is not something I was used to seeing. I believe it showed the respect and tolerance people can have for other human beings, regardless of where they are from or what they believe in. It was a choice these people made and it was a very beautiful thing.