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

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.

 

Good Times Too in Dharamsala

Although our trip did not meet our expectations, there were some memorable times in McLeod Ganj, Upper Dharamsala. A road trip with our busy Tibetan doctor friends to their older son’s residential school and to a vast, outdoor zoo was a pleasant day. Also visits to their home in the Men-Tsee-Khang Medical Centre’s staff housing were, as always relaxing and heartwarming. We’ve been there so many times over that it feels like a deja vu to sit in their living room, with its wide screen tv showing Dalai Lama footage, while Dekyi, and sometimes her old Mom, sometimes Khenrab, prepare a Tibetan lunch or dinner for us. We’ve had the privilege of seeing the children grow into fine young people over the last five years.

Also we connected several times with another Tibetan family with whom we have a deep heart bond, despite the lack of shared language with most family members. We met both the mother, who sold her handmade bracelets on the street, and the eldest son, at the Hope Centre where we volunteered, in 2009, but we did not get the family connection until 2012. Kelo and I were overjoyed to have a translator to speak through in her son. Our non-verbal communication was loving, but only went so far.

The family is very traditional, most of the adult children are monks and nuns. The eldest son has recently disrobed to run a business to support his aging parents. Former nomads, the father from a noble family, they’ve been out of Tibet for almost 10 years, but with their traditional dress and devout ways they seem like relative newcomers to Dharamsala.

We reconnected with S, a Christian Indian woman, a widow, who begs in McLeod Ganj. S supports her two children back home in the state of Bihar by doing this work, and is currently putting her daughter through nursing school. (She receives more money, and a reliable income this way, as some employers don’t pay up). One Sunday she invited us to her place in Lower Dharamsala. S had told us she lived in a “tent house”, but when she proudly took us to her home in the downtown area, we were shocked at it’s sparseness. Set on a cement pad, the walls actually were blue plastic tarps. Her bed was a pad on the floor, with a small table to hold her food and cooking implements. The public washroom was steps away, with toilets and showers. At night her two male friends, also from Bihar, slept on the cement pad outside her home. It was apparent that S has many friends in the community who care about her. When she goes to Bihar, everything is in place when she returns.

Our good friend Choezom, who we met in 2009 at the Hope Centre, is a strong, independent woman. She lived with her sister until she married and emigrated to France. Intelligent and enterprising, Choezom has found a variety of work in this area of high unemployment, recently studying hairdressing. On this visit she brought a former client to us, a man who needed financial help to attend computer school. We began a crowdfunding campaign on our return home, but his family in Tibet were harassed by the Chinese authorities, so we had to terminate it.

At Pema Thang Guesthouse, where we spent most of our six weeks, we made some new friends. The owner, a singer, is a very westernized Tibetan, having travelled the world giving Tibetan concerts, and before that running a restaurant in Kathmandu. Before we left she told me they had a shrine right there in the hotel, the room where a very evolved monk spent the last four months of his life, after 30 plus years in a mountain hut. Later that day Don and I had the privilege of sitting in the room, soaking up the tranquil, still energy of the monk’s presence, his energy still very much there.

We met few new people on our 2015 visit to McLeod Ganj, our fourth, because we were not able to do volunteer work as expected, however, soaking up the healing Buddhist energy of the town and reconnecting with friends was a gift, as always.

Ellen Besso is a life coach, counsellor, author & energy worker. Her new work combines her newly emerging High Heart Chakra work, EMDR, Reiki & Trager. Ellen’s books, An Indian Sojourn and Surviving Eldercare, can be purchased through Amazon.

Ellen lives on the West Coast of British Columbia and is available for in person or telephone sessions. You can contact her through the blog comment section or email her at: ellenbesso@gmail.com.