An Audience with the Dalai Lama

dalai lama
 There is this thing when you are an Anglo-Sikh. See, as far as reactions go when it comes to people seeing someone like you for the first time, there are whole classes of reactions. Often times in towns like McLeod Ganj that attract a lot of New Age tourist types, people glare at you assuming you are some religious fanatic. Shopkeepers shout slogans at you like “Sat Sri Akal” to try to pique your interest in their wares. Some people relate to you like you’re some kid going through an experimental phase. Other Sikhs who’ve never seen the likes of you are enamored and inspired, and sometimes (to my regret) they are full of guilt upon seeing your uncut hair and turban for they may have made different lifestyle decisions.

I was in McLeod Ganj to see the Dalai Lama teach. McLeod Ganj is a mountain town full of charming shops and quaint restaurants and cafes. The streets teem with pedestrian traffic. The local population consists largely of exiled Tibetans, displaced Kashmiris, western expats, and local people from Himachal Pradesh. Peppered into the fray are Buddhist monks and nuns wearing saffron and earthy red robes.

In order to see the Dalai Lama, one must register with the central office. For ten rupees you get a little card covered in Tibetan writing with your picture on it. Security at the temple is fairly tight. All attendees must go through a metal detector and a pat down. As it turns out, there are concerns of an assassination attempt on His Holiness by the Chinese government. While waiting in line I recalled a sweet story I once heard from a friend who had met His Holiness.

Once a friend, Gurmeet Singh, who is an amazing servant of humanity, recounted his own trip to the same temple to me. He wears Nihang bana, the garb of a Sikh warrior. Blue dumalla turban, blue chola, long kachera, and covered head to toe in melee weapons of all sizes: small blades in his turban, a long sword by his side, punching dagger in his belt. Needless to say, passing through the metal detector to see His Holiness was going to be a problem. He waited with some anticipation, not sure how this issue would be handled. Before he reached the security check, one of the guards approached him and, to his surprise, directed him around the metal detector.

Brother,” asked Gurmeet, “thank you, but why have you allowed this?” The Tibetan security guard smiled and said, “don’t worry, we’re from the same house! Werevere Nanak as a Lama, so I know I can let you through.” Gurmeet continued on and found a spot in the temple. His Holiness came before the assembly and began to teach. He entertained questions from the many devout Buddhists in attendance. Gurmeet admitted that he felt lost in the highly intellectual nature of the teachings of the Mahayana, what the Tibetans consider the original teachings of Buddha. Gurmeet’s approach to spirituality and meditation were steeped in a much different language. Regardless, he felt blessed to be in His Holiness’s presence.

Gurmeet raised his hand. When he was called on, he stood and said, “I don’t know how to greet you, so I will greet you as I greet the Khalsa: Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa­-” the Dalai Lama finished his greeting: “Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh! What can I do for you Singh Sahib?” Gurmeet replied, “Your Holiness, I don’t know how to ask you a question because I don’t know all of your traditions. I simply ask if I can touch your feet.” His Holiness laughed and granted his wish. After the teaching session, Gurmeet was invited by an attendant of his holiness to dine with the monks and stay with them for the night. He slept at the temple and woke in the early morning and read his paath while the monks read their’s.

Step through, sir.” It looked like I had no such luck! I was politely patted down and waved through to climb the steps to the temple grounds and find a seat. I was with three friends from MPA. One was Hari Mitar. Him and I, dressed in our bana and turbans, were the only visible Sikhs at the affair. 10am was approaching and the crowd approached fever pitch in anticipation of the arrival of His Holiness. Chanting of “The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” began in Tibetan.

16   If someone were to fill with jewels

As many Buddha fields, as there are grains

Of sand in the Ganges,

To offer to the Protector of the World


17   This would be surpassed by

The gift of folding one’s hands

And inclining one’s mind to enlightenment,

For such is limitless

Silence overtook the crowd and through the aisle, toward the sanctum sanctorum of the temple came a small band of monks. In the center walked a glowing faced man. He smiled and waved at anyone who caught his eye. I watched from across the aisle as he noticed Hari Mitar Singh. His Holiness stopped and turned to Hari Mitar. With a big smile he said,

“American Sikh?”

“Yes sir.” Hari Mitar later said he felt timid before him.

“Where from?”

“New Mexico.”

“Good!” And reaching out he shook Hari Mitar’s hand.

Teaching began. It was great. His Holiness was candid and humorous. His jests were sweet and well delivered. He spoke of a concept that he had recently written a book about: secular ethics. His words that day closely reflect words from a recent post on his Facebook page:

“All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.”

Another point that he mentioned was that to be attached to Buddhism is to no longer be Buddhist. I did not take that to mean that we should easily shed our religious identities in the face of adversity, but that we should not be attached to “our team being right”. The more we are attached to ideology and rules rather that learning and principles, the further we are from Sat Nam, the True Self.



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