We had been looking forward to our trip to Dharamashala since the minute we left Tibet. McLeod Ganj (near Dharamashala) is the home of the exiled 14th Dalai Lama and about 2,000 Tibetans. Some people say that Dharamashala is more like Tibet than Tibet is under the Chinese rule, however we didn’t see half the culture here that we experienced in Tibet… there were no rug bench tea houses with thermoses of sweet tea, no high plains with yaks or yak butter, and the Tibetans don’t sing while they work or dress the same. However, in this place the Tibetan flag can be raised freely.
McLeod Ganj offers a wide range of information regarding the situation in Tibet from classroom sessions to informational videos and grassroots meet-ups. The small mountain city also hosts a variety of activities to experience and learn about Buddhism including debating monks, lectures by monk, yoga, and meditation classes. There is a lot going on and most of it is either word of mouth or advertised on bulletin boards. It felt eerily like being back in college on the UC Berkeley campus speckled with Free Tibet stickers and shoeless hippies everywhere you look.
We began our daily quests to learn as much as we could by having a spirulina (grown in India) sprinkled breakfast and some fresh air on our guesthouse rooftop balcony.
In the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, we sat in on a daily lecture by a monk who was one of the Dali Lama’s interpreters. This lecture focused on “destructive emotions” (i.e. anger, jealousy, ignorance and attachment). Although the lecture was based on old Buddhist scriptures, the monk twisted in modern life and used analogies and references us ‘youngstas’ could understand. He also reinforced seeking happiness from within and one of Robin’s favorite quotes was: “Seeking happiness from outside will only make you tired.” Here is the entrance to the lecture room with huge Tibetan protection weaves:
We visited the museum near the Dalai Lama’s temple that had a very different perspective than the one we visited in Lhasa and portrayed a hostile takeover, rather than a peaceful liberation. At the museum, we watched a documentary called With My Own Eyes presented by the founder of the Tibet Oral History Project. This was a project requested by the Dalai Lama to interview elderly Tibetans (about what Tibet was like before the Chinese occupation) and then have them translated into English and Chinese.
We had hoped to find a place to help monks and refugees learn English, and as luck (or karma) would have it, Robin was handed a flyer by a monk for an organization in need of volunteers at 2pm followed by dinner (monk made momos) and a movie (Kundun - biography of 14th Dalai Lama). Being called ‘teacher’ and hearing our student’s stories at the English session was humbling as we sat in small groups on the floor. The momo feast included 4 types of momos –potato, spinach, cabbage and chocolate. Never fear, we are determined to make momos when we return home!
One of the great things about McLeod Ganj is that it’s up on a mountain so it’s an excellent place for yoga and meditation retreats. We didn’t enroll in any of the week long retreats but spent a few mornings with guided yoga and meditation classes as well as a long hike through Dharamkot to Triund. Along the paths between the towns we admired the many old monks who hiked uphill daily (one who from a distance totally looked like Yoda).
Our Tushita meditation instructor shared an analogy with us… he said our minds are like a murky glass of water – full of thoughts. When meditating, we allow the glass to settle all the particles (aka - thoughts) to the bottom of the glass, so that you have a clear glass of water (aka - a clear mind). It all finally made sense to Robin; she just needed a water treatment explanation to make sense of it all. Unfortunately, we need a bit more practice before going more than a few seconds between thoughts
One of the reasons why we traveled to McLeod Ganj was based on a recommendation from an Aussie couple that we met on a boat in Thailand three months earlier. As fate would have it, we ran into Angie and Nigel on the streets of McLeod Ganj and caught up over dinner and a glass of fresh lemon ginger honey tea!
We are thankful and lucky to have had the opportunity to visit both Tibet, and the Dalai Lama’s temple in McLeod Ganj.
As we post this blog the Tibetan struggle continues with two recent monk self-immolations in the heart of Lhasa and China has once again closed Tibet’s borders to foreigners.