The Dalai Lama Blesses Us

After we had been in Dharamshala for two plus weeks we reached the apex of our visit: an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Months earlier our friend, a former minister in the Tibetan Government in Exile, had suggested that we apply for an audience, so we visited the temple to inquire and were given the Dalai Lama’s Secretary’s office contact information. Internet connections were poor, worse even than I remembered, so I tried the wifi at our favourite breakfast restaurant. Oddly my email request for an audience disappeared from the tablet, so Dr. D. sent an email and phoned the Secretary’s office.

On our way back to Dharamshala from the Golden Temple Dr. D. received a phone call from the temple office, asking why she had not returned their email. Apparently she had forgotten her email password! Our presence was required the very next morning at the temple, she was told.

We arrived at the temple office early the next morning, as instructed. We had no hard copy invitation to present, but after a bit of  confusion, the words “We’re from Canada”, alerted the security officer to who we were. We were then sent outside where female and male security guards searched us and instructed us to leave our bags. My body search was thorough, the female guard found a toothpick in my pocket and confiscated it!

We then lined up on the driveway towards the reception building and home of His Holiness, standing in the chilly morning air for about an hour. Most of the sixty or seventy attendees were Tibetans, with about a dozen Westerners. Finally the Tibetans were directed to move up towards the building, where they stood, heads bent and khata prayer scarves in hand. All the Westerners stood a few yards back.

After a short time along came the Dalai Lama, accompanied by several monks. His Holiness took his place in front of the entrance to the building. The audience was tightly orchestrated, with several older monks flanking Him and a long line of Tibetan security guards forming a tunnel visitors walked through. An Indian Army guard with an automatic rifle stood on each side of the doorway, a much smaller army presence than during the Dalai Lama’s teachings, when thousands of folks are present.

Each group or individual was directed through the tunnel of Tibetan security guards, while the rest of us stood back and waited our turn. Four Western women went before us, one of them a nun. When a question was asked by one of them, the Dalai Lama offered them a ten minute mini history lesson. His recall of historical dates was impressive.

Then it was our turn to meet Him. He grasped my hand, then Don’s. I told him that  twenty Tibetans live in our community near Vancouver, (part of Canada’s Tibetan Resettlement Sponsorship Program). He expressed interest, and I had the sense he was about to ask me something, but the staff intervened and told us to line up for  pictures. The monk photographer quickly took eight pictures of the three of us. I then asked His Holiness if he would bless our friend who was very ill at home in Canada. An expression of deep compassion crossed his face, and he gave a brief blessing in Tibetan. We thanked him, bowed, then left, with precious pills and blessed red silk thread in hand.

What remains with me, and, I believe always will, was the gentle peace surrounding His Holiness, indeed around the whole area where we stood. His Holiness gave us a lot that day. We received a powerful healing energy from his presence and his touch.

Afterwards, walking down the driveway of the temple towards the street, I was attacked by a street dog, a first. The dog jumped on me twice, and in my haste to get away from him I fell off the roadway to the ground below, a drop of a foot or more; I remained on my feet and fortunately was not harmed. The dog and his friend continued to follow us after this. Naturally, I was shook up and afraid they would jump again and bite me this time.

No one, including the police, believed the dog was harmful, however, there is still a  threat of rabid dogs in McLeod Ganj.  The vaccination program is improving each year, though. Eventually Don took charge of the situation and, taking me by the arm, suggested we leave the main road and go up the  Kirti Monastery laneway.

After mulling over what happened for a while we concluded that the dog did not mean harm, he was being playful, and was responding to my altered state after meeting His Holiness.

The meeting with the Dalai Lama had a great impact on both of us. Our previous exposure to Tibetan Buddhism, both in India and in Canada, and to Tibetans through our enduring friendships in Dharamshala and our Tibetan family sponsorship in our home community, deepened our experience.  And I would venture to say that past  lifetimes as Tibetan Buddhists also contributed to making the encounter more profound.

In later days we met a beautiful man, a Tibetan Buddhist who manages a catering facility for the government in exile’s cultural department. He told us that he blacks out every time he meets His Holiness and does not remember the experience.

Looking up the term “medical blackout” I found: a transient dulling or loss of vision, consciousness, or memory. While we did not have that experience, the audience had a strong effect on us and we believe we received a powerful healing from the Dalai Lama’s touch and from being in his presence, one that we are still integrating into our energy system.

At our initial chiropractic session within a week of our return from India, our spines were quite integrated, and our doctor sensed that it was from the experience of meeting His Holiness.

Clearly, meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama was our destiny, part of our spiritual path.

Tashe delek,  

Ellen

Copyright Ellen Besso 2018

Next: Celebrating Friendship, Final Weeks in Dharamshala

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Dharamshala International Film Festival 2017

Our days in McLeod Ganj, Upper Dharamshala were gentle. They passed in a peaceful, timeless way, as we reconnected with our friends and with the town. Early awakening for me during the first week as my body adjusted to the twelve time zone difference, connecting with our daughter in Vancouver by text and checking news as I sipped my hot water in bed.

Then preparations for our day, and the ten minute walk to our favourite restaurant, Kunga/Nicks Italian Kitchen, for breakfast. During the first two weeks we were able to sit outside, soaking in the panoramic view of the valley, ending in the Indian town of Lower Dharamshala below. Homes and guesthouses have been built on the steep sides of the hillsides down three sides of the valley, with Little Amdo, named after one of Tibet’s provinces, to the left, and Loseling Guesthouse, where we stayed in 2012, run by the South Indian Monastery of that name, to our right.

Our friends K & T lived in Little Amdo when we first knew them, before the paved road went in. Visiting them involved a downhill climb on a rough path, muddy after rain or during the road construction period. They did this multiple times each day, until their son moved them into their lovely self-contained apartment near the temple, with all the comforts for them in their twilight years.

Our first weekend in town we attended The Dharamshala International Film Festival, or DIFF, who’s sister festival originated in Switzerland, where there is a very active community of Tibetans and Tibetan supporters. In its sixth year, DIFF showcases the best of recent Indian and world cinema, including fiction, documentaries and shorts.

It was our second visit to DIFF, another opportunity to screen unusual films often only seen at film festivals. In 2012 we had the privilege of attending both DIFF and the more grassroots Tibet Film Festival, my personal preference, both held in McLeod Ganj, at TIPA, (Tibetan Institute for the Performing Arts) and in the tourist centre auditorium. Two films from the 2012 Tibet Festival still live in my memory; Girl from China, still not released, it appears, and Summer Pasture, released in 2010.

This year the main DIFF venues, two auditoriums, were at Tibetan Children’s Village school, billed as a ten-minute drive through the forest from McLeod Ganj. A shuttle makes the trip every half hour during the day. Alternatively, you can take a taxi, as we sometimes did, or an auto rickshaw, a bumpy ride up the mountain. A few films were shown in Lower Dharamshala in the state of the art Gold Movie Theatre, buried in the bowels of a modern building.

With so many films on offer, and not wanting to watch back to back films all day and evening, choices were difficult. Looking back, I can see that the films we screened had a common theme, explorations of the lives of women, men and children, often in smaller towns.

Our favourite was the film that opened the festival, Mukti Bhawan: Hotel Salvation; it had won thirteen awards worldwide, including the Venice Film Festival, Dubai’s festival, the South Korean Film Festival and the San Francisco Film Festival. It was the story of an Indian man who went to Varanasi, the Holy City, to die, accompanied by his son, staying in a guesthouse designed for that purpose. The acting and the photography were excellent, and we felt like we were revisiting Varanasi in person.

You might think that this would be a depressing film, but it’s not at all. It was very captivating and I would certainly like to see it again.

Turup was an in depth exploration of women’s and men’s lives in a small village in a Bhopal neighbourhood, through the lives of three very different women and a young man. An excellent movie.

White Sun, a film set in Nepal, tells both personal stories and is also a political narrative about Nepal’s rebirth after twenty years of unrest. It narates the story of a Maoist man who returns to his remote village to bury his father, a much more complicated task than it seems on the surface.

Out of This World was a documentary, a very well done update of a 1949 film shot on location in Tibet, months before the Chinese invaded the country, by Lowell Thomas, a prominent American journalist and his son. The invitation was extended to Thomas in the hopes that he could convince the US government to curtail the Chinese invasion. The photography was very well done, the journey in and out of Tibet gruelling, the exit from Tibet almost killing the elder Thomas. The original footage of the visit was fascinating, showing meetings with high lamas including His Holiness.

If you have a chance to see Angamaly Diaries think twice!  It is unusual for us to walk out of any kind of film, but we did walk away from this chaotic, cowboy and Indian type film, (read, boys on motor cycles, racing around, getting into all kinds of trouble). There wasn’t really one plot, just a series of disparate ‘adventures’, something an untalented fifteen year old film maker might have done! To say it did not live up to the level of this film festival is a gross understatement.

DIFF was a great start to our month in Dharamshala.


Please Note: Since I completed my research, the DIFF site appears to have been taken down, but perhaps the links will work again at a later date. Sorry!

Next: Golden Temple Roadtrip

Ellen

Copyright Ellen Besso 2018

Ellen Besso is a former Life Coach & Counsellor & a Reiki Practitioner. She is the author of An Indian Sojourn: One woman’s spiritual experience of travel & volunteering, and Surviving Eldercare: Where their needs end & yours begin, both available through Amazon.

 

Arrival in Dharamshala

McLeod Ganj, Upper Dharamshala

Our morning flight from Delhi to Kangra Airport, fourteen kilometres southwest of Dharamshala, was uneventful, but on arrival in McLeod Ganj I discovered that I’d left one bag on the airport luggage belt, necessitating a speedy, (read racing), return taxi trip down the hill by my steadfast partner.

As we travelled north from Delhi we began to fly over the lower foothills of the Himalayas, landing in the green and luxuriant Kangra Valley, sheltered by the Dhauladhar range, after one and a half hours. The Kangra Airport, at almost 2500 feet in elevation, is about half the elevation of Upper Dharamshala.

The first time we flew into Kangra in 2015, I was quite nervous. It was February, a season of unreliable weather, with plenty of rain and fog. Several years earlier I had read Mick Brown’s Book, The Dance of 17 Lives, about the seventeen  incarnations of the Karmapa, the third highest Tibetan Buddhist incarnation. In the book the author described his flight to Kangra during the month of February in bad weather. His seatmate, a monk who happened to be one of the Dalai Lama’s brothers, was petrified, constantly repeating a scary mantra: “Maybe today we will die”, unnerving all around him. We were fortunate, our weather conditions were fine for both our 2015 and 2017 trips, and we never flew over high mountains, as Brown’s book seemed to imply.

Settling in at Pema Thang Guesthouse came easy, as we had stayed there previously, and the staff really make you feel like you’re home. We had the good fortune of moving into the best room in the guesthouse after our initial two nights, with a discount, as a large party of Danish students had booked all the less expensive rooms.

Our view was superb, and we could observe the activity at the Dalai Lama’s temple any time, day or night. It was an excellent November and barely a drop of rain fell during the entire month we were in McLeod Ganj. Temperatures did not drop significantly at night until mid month.

We wasted no time; knowing we might not return to Dharamshala, we began connecting with our dear friends the day we arrived in town. Dr. D., my “Tibetan sister” came to our room with her young daughter that afternoon, with the usual arrival gift of fruit and khata welcome scarves. The next morning we visited K. and T., an older Tibetan couple who live near the temple.

This trip was memorable due to our deep connections with individuals. We built on already established relationships with very exceptional people, some of whom we have known for ten years over our many visits to the town. Their deep spirituality,  their love and generosity, allowed us to connect heart to heart at a new level. Over the years we have come to know and appreciate each other in many new ways.

Dr. D. administered to our medical needs with her powerful Tibetan medicines, invited us to her home and took a road trip with us. There was a particular reason for visiting Dharamshala this fall. The family is leaving the country, moving to the west, and our time together was especially poignant.

Our dear friends K. and T. a deeply devout couple, have taught me much about love. They and all their children are full of light, what I perceive as pure love. Being in their presence opens my heart. Formerly comfortably off nomads in Tibet, their life both in Tibet and in India has been spent in devotion to Tibetan Buddhism and to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Twice each day they visit Namgyal Monastery, close to their apartment, circumambulating the temple grounds, (ie, moving around a sacred object or idol on foot), during the morning visit, a 45 minute journey, uphill for the last part. At the temple they do multiple prostrations.

We do not shared a language with our friends, but it does not seem to matter. Their son, a monk who disrobed in order to support his family, joined us from Kathmandu on WeChat video during our first visit and interpreted. Dr. D. accompanied us on one visit, but we went alone on our final visit, enjoying ourselves as always, miming what we needed to say to each other, and eating the delicious Tibetan food, K insisted on feeding us.

Our hearts and souls know each other; it is not necessary to speak. Once I asked T., through his son, what he thought our relationship was in the past. His clever reply was “The Buddha knows”.

During the final weeks before we departed Canada to journey to India, many times I felt an urgency to leave, and heard a voice in my head saying, “I have to get to India, I have to get to India”. Having reached Dharamshala and begun reuniting with the town and our friends, I felt content to be home once again.

Ellen

Copyright Ellen Besso 2018

Next: The Dharamsala International Film Festival, (DIFF)

India 2017 – Delhi Yet Again

Each of our trips to India has been different, in its own way. Our fifth journey, in the fall of 2017, was remarkable, although we visited many of the same places. The journeys built on each other, bringing us to this point. This recent one, likely our final visit to India, with its strong themes of spirituality and love, lifted us to a new level, one where we began to connect with humanity in deeper ways.

We arrived at Indira Gandhi Airport in New Delhi just after midnight on the 28th after leaving Vancouver at dinnertime on Thursday October 26th. Exiting the airport was a slow, exhausting process, taking about two hours. The new e-visas for foreigners visiting India for less than 60 days proved to be very popular and immigration lineups were exceedingly long. The fingerprint machines were malfunctioning and the bored and weary security officers repeated the instructions to each passenger four or five times before successful readings were taken, spraying our hands with hand cleaner between attempts.

Our goal was to reach Dharamshala, our main focus, about 500 kilometres to the north, as soon as possible. We passed a fitful half night’s sleep and a lazy day in the neighbourhood around Bajaj Guesthouse, in the quiet, middle class Karol Bhag community, followed by another full night of predictably disturbed sleep, (jetlag from passing through twelve time zones is often brutal). We began staying in the Karol Bhag area when our wonderful hotelier, Brij, sold the Prince Polonia Hotel in Paharganj, a fascinating working class market district closer to Old Delhi.

Sunday we rallied and enjoyed a half day outing. Around noon our hotel driver drove through the heavy traffic of Old Delhi to Jama Masjid Mosque. Built in the 17th century, it holds up to 25,000 people on special holidays. We had attempted to enter the mosque during our 2009 trip but were turned away as it was Friday, the day of worship for Muslims.

On the plaza of the beautiful mosque we were surrounded by Indian families and groups of young men who asked to have their picture taken with us. This is common in India, I suspect they tell folks that we are their Canadian friends. A quick getaway is necessary after a while or you would find yourself still there an hour later!

After the mosque we walked the narrow lanes of the market for a while, searching for an interesting place we had visited eight years previously, but we’d not done our homework, and all the lanes looked pretty much the same. Our driver came and found us there, concerned that he’d lost his charges.

Copyright 2018 by Ellen Besso

Coming Next: Arrival in Dharamshala, home of the Dalai Lama

Ellen

Ellen Besso is a former Life Coach & Counsellor & a Reiki Practitioner. She is the author of An Indian Sojourn: One woman’s spiritual experience of travel & volunteering, and Surviving Eldercare: Where their needs end & yours begin, both available through Amazon.

Tibetan Refugees Paved the way for Syrian Refugees on the Sunshine Coast

The first two Syrian refugee families have completed their first year on the Coast, sponsored by a Gibsons Church. They are doing well and are enjoying being part of this special, supportive community. They have paved the way for the next family, sponsored by the Sechelt Activity Centre, later this year.

Being part of the Syrian folks lives has been an honour and a privilege, and we are happy to call them our friends, as we do the Tibetan family we sponsored several years ago.

The first Tibetan families from remote northeast India, arrived on the Sunshine Coast in December of 2013 and were followed by several more families, for a total of close to 20 here in our community. The private sponsorship project ended at the end of 2016.

All these folks have made a positive difference, enriching our community by their hard work, their deep spirituality and friendly manner. They are willing to help other new refugees, like they were helped. The 1st arrivals  helped the next Tibetans. Now the Tibetans help the Syrians in any way needed, by attending fundraisers and loaning their vehicles.

We get so much back from volunteering, whether in India or at home. As the research has shown, helping releases feel good brain chemicals: dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin.

There’s more, but you can read the article through the link if you’re interested.

I really can’t imagine what my life was like before we began volunteering!

An Indian Sojourn by Ellen Besso

My second book, An Indian Sojourn: One woman’s spiritual experience of travel & volunteering” was truly a labour of love. Three years in the making, it chronicles my journey through many parts of India, and volunteer work in the Tibetan community of Dharamsala, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

An Indian Sojourn is available through Amazon, (sample pages available there), and locally on the Sunshine Coast, from Ellen (ellenbesso@gmail.com), WOW Art Gallery in Sunnycrest Mall, and at Molly’s Lane Market.

Here are a couple of testimonials about my book:

“I journeyed with you every day. It is travel writing with depth to it.”  Jan Degrass, Coast Reporter

“A factual account, plus an emotional and spiritual journey.” Sara MacDonald

An Indian Sojourn is for women looking for a deeper travel experience and for the arm chair traveller.

Best wishes  

Ellen