You Are Here: Dalai Lama

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Photo by Kris Krug.

“The Dalai Lama is having a public audience.”

These were the first words I heard upon arrival to McLeod Ganj, India, exile home of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. The strong smell of burning incense and Tibetan momos filled my nose, taxis and rickshaws noisily whirred by as I became enlightened to the magnitude of this little boy’s grandiose statement. I had been working in and traveling India for the past 7 months on trains and buses, fighting aggressive strangers and rabid pick-pockets along the way. Upper Dharamsala (McLeod Ganj), was to be my last stop before returning home to the West. I hopped off the bus and was greeted by an Indian boy with kind eyes and acid-washed skinny jeans.

As a Tibetan born in Canada, there was no higher calling, no person I’d rather meet than he who I have idolized my entire life. I had no idea he was even in the region, but somehow I had been guided to being here, at this exact time. Lucky for us, it turned out that His Holiness had just returned from teaching in Japan.

There was a buzz in the town. You could feel the sense of wonder, of excitement that we would be personal witnesses to such a transcendent man. The line to meet His Holiness in his home the Tsuglagkhang complex, was winding through and spanning the entirety of the quaint hill station. There were at least 1,500 people from 62 countries, including 300 Indians. As we entered, each country was partitioned into groups and kept in bewilderment. I was stationed with a group of about 40 Canadians representing every age and area, from Newfoundland all the way to Victoria.

I had no idea what to expect, as the organizers cryptically withheld the details to the audience. This lack of information added to the experience, as I heard those around me eagerly hypothesizing what could transpire. There was constant chatter between countries, and a state of wonder filled the air.

An hour passed by, as we eagerly waited under the sun-filled canopies. And then it happened. As the gates opened, my heart rose into my throat and sank back down into my stomach. I felt a rush of every emotional extreme: pointless thoughts and past troubles cluttering my mind dissipated in an instant. Pure elation followed decisive numbness, while the fluttery crimson and orange robes began to materialize through the distance. Soon, he appeared, seeming to glide along the temple floor. This was the Living Buddha, the physical manifestation of Chenrezig, God of compassion, making his way towards us, towards me. His joyous, worry-free smile instantly captivated the crowd, and my imagination.

A woman next to me burst out into tears. Every hair on my body stood, as if magnetically attracted to the tangible aura of the Dalai Lama. There is much written about the achievements, philosophies and struggles of the Dalai Lama, but it is extremely difficult to put into words the aura and genuine happiness when in close proximity with the physical being of the Dalai Lama. Forever smiling, laughing and cracking jokes, his inner light shines through and touches anyone lucky enough to be around him. I felt that indescribable aura: a warm, kind energy that envelops the body and mind. In that moment, my head was clear, my emotions were pure and my thoughts genuine. I looked to my left, and the Chinese-Canadian woman next to me raised her eyebrows at me, as if to acknowledge what we were feeling together.

As the Dalai Lama made his way to our group of Canadians, Tibetan khatas (white ceremonial scarves) were being tossed and thrown in the air. An elderly Tibetan-Canadian woman gingerly approached His Holiness, her back hunched over in respect and tribute. She presented Him with a khata, still gazing at the floor, hands cupped and folded together in prayer. As He accepted the gesture, His Holiness looked right into my eyes and smiled. In what felt like an eternity, I instantly felt like he knew everything there was to know about me. I was frozen.

“There is no objective reality.”

The words echoed and in that moment, I realized the world was subject to my thoughts, not the other way around. I understood that we were not independent observers, nor objective observers. Every thought and emotion I’d ever experienced guided me to this serendipitous moment. Face to face with the Dalai Lama was my own reality, and now it’s yours.

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