A Day with the Dalai Lama

Grateful for memories!

On the (exact!) three year anniversary of my original posting on being the presence of the Dalai Lama … today I’ll give thanks for that rare experience, the direct result of simple seva.

Hotbox of Compassion ~ The Dalai Lama in Haridwar

Saturday, April 3rd, 2011.  The sun is stronger than normal today.  As the sweat beads form on my brow, I squint into the distance, just barely making out a large white van driving up the dusty paved road.  A beige colored haze forms just above the car, blurring the tops of buildings, the cows in the distance, lazily hunting for food in plastic bags scattering the ground.

We’re waiting for the white vans to pick us up and take us to the Dalai Lama.  Not straight to his lap, unfortunately, but to Haridwar, where the Kumbh Mela still rocks on strong, where the blessing for the first Encyclopedia of Hinduism goes down, amidst scores of saints, politicians, Tibetan devotees of His Holiness, media cats and lucky mo’ fos like me. We’re all going to the spiritual gangsta’s ball, and I have VIP pass!

No but really, though.  How on earth was I given the chance to go to an event where I’d be within arm’s reach of the Dalai Lama?

Seva.  Sweet and simple.

Speaking with one of the directors of the ashram where I was staying (Parmarth Niketan), I offered to do some seva (service) around the ashram, with only the intention of contributing something to this mad little community.  I cleaned room after room until I was pointed in the direction of a marble-floored residence overlooking the Ganga.  Velvet curtains and ornate furniture were not the only signs this was room was special.  It was spacious, sure.  But there was something more to it.  It had a vibe.

Later I found out I served as the Dalai Lama’s cleaning lady.  

When the director explained to me who usually stays in that room, I had a grin so massive, they invited me to the launch of the Hindu Encyclopedia where the Dalai Lama was set to provide a blessing. This was turning out to be a way cool first trip to India.

We drove for nearly two hours through the sprawling Rajaji national park (during which time I nearly hurled a few times), 10 white vans in a line, toting journalists (including an especially cool German lady who’d been writing about India since the hippy days), alongside ashramites like myself, alongside contributors to the first Hindu Encyclopedia.

The encyclopedia comes in 11 volumes and illuminates over 7000 comprehensive entries, written and cross referenced by over 1000 international scholars of Hinduism. This massive collaboration took nearly 23 years to produce, all overseen by the India Research Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization set up by Parmarth Niketan’s in house swami, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji.

Arrival in Haridwar is typically Indian: slow going, dusty and slightly confusing.  Our van drivers give up on navigating the hordes of people and cows so they stop several meters up the road from the event.  Squeezing past stationary cars, some parked, some stubbornly trying to get through the madness, we come to a massive orange gate and into the event.  It’s t-minus 65 minutes and I’m already sweating balls.

As we walk through the tent to the front rows, I notice all the Tibetan families, lined up diligently as they await the arrival of their spiritual leader.

The second row is almost totally empty – score!  I figured we could sit there until someone tells us it’s not allowed.  Either that, or we pass out from some horrific combination of hunger and heatstroke.

We watch an hour of setting up, all to the backdrop of gorgeous live kirtan, and finally the saints start making their way in.  I’m oddly reminded of the WWF stadium shows I’d seen in Hawaii, where Jake the Snake Roberts and the Ultimate Warrior would walk out from the dark back rooms to screaming crowds and flashing lights.The anticipation, the glaring power of the idol, media folks snaking around, vying for the best shot, and most of all, the heat. These are the holiest of holy men in India.

I recognize some of their faces, though I don’t know any of these saints’ names; the crowd, on the other hand, are more than familiar.  The bushy beardy long haired guy who’s all about Hinduism as the ideal path, the heartstrong saint with the shaven head who sings as though divinity were playing his pipes, and the grumpy looking leader of the saints whose staff and face paintings give him the air of a divine pimp.  Every holy man gets his props.  But when the Dalai Lama walks through, the Hulk Hogan of the spiritual realm, the crowd goes wild.  Immediately my heart starts beating quadruple time and tears literally start stream down my face.  This did not happen at the WWF show.


I hadn’t expected that at all.  I mean, I respect the man, his teachings are profound and everything I’ve read of his strikes a chord with me.  His people have endured disgusting oppression and yet he continues to lead the path of compassion and forgiveness.  But when he walked in front of me, all humility and smiles, literally just a few feet away, I felt nothing but pure joy – my heart nearly leapt out of my chest and into his arms.

Wow. It takes a few minutes to recover from the overwhelming emotions, and I’m wondering if maybe this means my heart chakra is way too open or something. No one else seems to be crying and I have a sneaky suspicion I look like one of those religious freaks who go into uncontrollable convulsions when enraptured by the spirit of the Lord.

75 minutes, two buckets of sweat, and four hundred pages of incomprehensible Hindi later, it’s finally time to hear the Dalai Lama speak.  First in Tibetan, translated to Hindi.  And then, a different speech, in English, for all us liberal minded academic hippy type folk in the West.  While the Tibetan speech, according to a girl I met at the ashram, mainly addressed the necessity to carry on, not to lose hope, and to always stay true to the teachings of Buddhism, the English talk emphasized Buddhism’s respect for atheists, the necessity for universal understanding, and the acceptance of compassion into every person’s heart.

It’s a brilliant 15 minutes (all recorded on video!), and I feel so grateful for being a part of this event.  From the long drive here, the presence of the saints, the blessing by the Dalai Lama, and the chance to just be present … it’s been the most incredible of days.

(Even if we were nearly murdered by a series of seemingly blind drivers on the windy road back to Rishikesh!  Thank Jah for our driver – a true surgeon of the road – who whizzed by more than one near-death collision that evening!  There’s so much more to write on the day, the lead up to it, how the Dalai Lama taught Ram Dev a lesson by yanking on his beard, and then, the denouement – the swanky party at the ashram.  But I’m on the road, a bit behind on these entries, and I suppose I should save some things for the book … ;o) )

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