Tuesday, January 31, 2017

India Adventure III: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and His Holiness the 17th Karmapa in one week ... did this really happen?

I returned to McLeod Ganj from Geshe Lhakdor's retreat in Bir on Sunday evening, April 24, 2016 for the start of what I thought would be a regular week of classes in McLeod Ganj. I was pretty wrong ...

Panchen Lama's 27th Birthday

I passed through the main square in McLeod Ganj on Monday morning, April 25 to find a celebration taking place in the south west corner of the square. The Tibetan Women's Association was celebrating the 11th Panchen Lama Gedun Choekyi Nyima's 27th Birthday, complete with cake and white silk scarf (khata) offerings made to a picture of the Panchen Lama.

Birthday party.
Panchen Lama Birthday Celebration.

Panchen Lama Birthday Celebration.
But the Panchen Lama was not at his own birthday party.

An article about his 26th birthday party noted:

“Kidnapped at the age of 6, Gedun Choekyi Nyima is considered the world’s youngest political prisoner. 17th May 2015 will mark 20 years since his enforced disappearance,” said Nyima Yangtso, Vice-President of Regional Tibetan Youth Congress. “Through this event, we call on the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances, Human Rights organizations and world governments to inquire about his wellbeing and to pressure the Chinese governments for his immediate release.”

The 11th Panchen Lama, Gedun Choekyi Nyima, was only six years old when the Chinese government abducted the young lama in 1995. Even after 20 years in custody, the Chinese authorities have not provided any verifiable information or proof of the physical and mental well being of the 11th Panchen Lama.

The young Lama went missing after the exiled Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognized him as the reincarnation of the tenth Panchen Lama on May 14, 1989. 

The Tibetan Women's Organization invited birthday celebration guests to sign their names to a petition that accompanied the following letter:

Tibetan Women's Association letter.
Guests signing the petition.
Another day of activism around the Tibet issue in McLeod Ganj. (For more information please visit the Tibet Information Center on Jogiwara Road in McLeod Ganj, near the Snow Lion Hotel.)

That night, after attending classes taught by Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche and Geshe Kelsang Wangmo, I was back in my hotel room, trying to decide what to do about dinner. I decided to go the Peace Cafe. That was a smart choice ...

I walked into the small Tibetan vegetarian restaurant to find my friend Moon from Korea, who I met through Geshe Dorji Damdul, and a Korean nun we also got to know in India. They were seated at a table with some backpackers they had met at the restaurant.

Moon and new friends at the Peace Cafe.
I joined them a the table.

Soon after I sat down, Moon told me that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was going to be at nearby Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies the following day. The details about his visit were unknown, but there was one more spot in the taxi she had already booked to go to Sarah College early the next morning, and would I like to take that spot in the taxi?


His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

We met outside of His Holiness' temple the following morning, Tuesday, April 26, 2016 to start our ride in the taxi.

The dumpsters in the square provide food for street dogs.
Soon we were at Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies, waiting for His Holiness the Dalai Lama's arrival.

This was my first visit to campus, and I was excited to see it. Geshe Dorji Damdul has said this is an excellent place for international students to learn the Tibetan language, and my friend Julia who works as a Tibetan language translator is a graduate of the school. Another friend will begin classes there soon.

Founded in 1991, Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies is a branch of the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics (IBD) in McLeod Ganj. Geshe Kelsang Wangmo, a graduate of IBD, teaches the class I take in a classroom on IBD's campus. Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies' curriculum emphasizes Tibetan literature and language. It awards BA and Masters degrees.

It is a beautiful campus.

We learned His Holiness the Dalai Lama was visiting Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies to speak at the commencement.

Courtyard outside of the convocation hall.

Graduates outside of the convocation hall.
 We waited outside of the entrance to the hallway for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to arrive at the convocation event. We were on campus, standing alongside a narrow paved road below flowering trees.
Waiting for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to arrive at the event.
 When His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived he walked across the road and ascended the steps to the entrance to the convocation hall on the second floor. We all crowded near the steps so we could catch a glimpse of him. When he reached the top he looked out and waved at the small crowd below.
His Holiness ascending the steps to enter the convocation hall.
We walked around to the side of the convocation hall, to see where we would be able to sit. We would not be allowed into the small convocation hall - the limited seating was reserved for graduates and family - but we were able to sit outside of the hall and listen in through the open windows.

Side of the convocation hall.
Even though we were seated outside, we were offered the sweet rice and raisins that are distributed during events like this to everyone in the audience.

My bowl of sweet rice and raisins.
 Even though we couldn't see His Holiness the Dalai Lama we could hear really well. The sound was amplified by speakers, and the sound reached us easily.

Our view from outside of the convocation hall.
 Even though we could hear the sound clearly, I could not understand most of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's speech because it was given in Tibetan. I heard the word "Emory" and a statement he made in English about the importance of having a good heart.

(His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Emory University in the US partner to address global problems. Emory also brings students to India for a semester. They study with Geshe Kelsang Wangmo. I saw Geshe Kelsang Wangmo and some of the students and Emory professors at the convocation event.)

I was fortunate to be seated outside near Claire Barde, who is a Tibetan language translator. She translated for Gen Gyatso in the first course I took with him. She shared what she could hear of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's speech with me after the convocation ended.

Sitting with Claire and other students of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. 
We had a wonderful time sitting outside on a nice day.
 After the ceremony ended the graduates came out and sorted themselves into small groups.

Waiting for the graduates to come out.

Graduates posing for a photo.
 His Holiness then came outside and walked down the narrow road, stopping to take photos with each of the small groups of graduates who were waiting for him, posed for the photo.

His Holiness walking to see the graduates.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama posing with a group of graduates.

We were standing behind the low hedge on the roadside, and got to see him walk by.
 His Holiness stepped off of the road and into the Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies' library. Moon and I waited for him on the roadside outside of the library, with our white scarves (khatas) in our hands.

Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies library.

Moon waiting for His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Looking towards the library and the line of people waiting with khatas.

A young girl in her chuba, traditional Tibetan dress.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama exited the library and got into the waiting car in front of the library. The car then pulled away from the library, coming in our direction. The car drove slowly. It was a narrow, winding road. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was seated on the passenger side of the car, which in India is on the left side.

He passed right by us, first making eye contact with me, and then with Moon standing to my left. I can't describe the smile on Moon's face afterwards.

We then had a leisurely walk back to the entrance to Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies, smiling and enjoying the view and the beautiful morning.

Entrance gate to Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies.
We met our driver outside of the gates, and headed off back to McLeod Ganj. It was still early in the day.

Driving through the woods with our taxi driver. The Korean nun is in the
passenger seat. She is so nice.

Moon laughing in the back seat.
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa

I had been hoping to make an appointment with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa's audience secretary to see His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. His Holiness the 17th Karmapa stays at Gyuto Tantric College in Sidhpur, a village below McLeod Ganj and Dharamsala. I asked the taxi driver to drop me off at Gyuto Tantric College so I could inquire in the office about an appointment.

Walking up to the Gyuto temple.

Getting nearer to the temple.

Gyuto temple.
Portrait of Gyuto monks hanging in the office.
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa has an administrative office inside of the temple. I went inside and asked about making an appointment. The person I needed to speak with was otherwise occupied. I sat in the office on a couch for a very long time, beyond the start time for Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche's 2PM class start time.

I thought of what Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche may have said to me - that this was an opportunity to practice patience. So I waited, and I practiced. It was a really great teaching, and a while later I had a beautiful meeting with a member of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa's staff.

I left Gyuto that afternoon, unsure of if I would see His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. But that was OK.

Leaving Gyuto's temple.
While I was on the bus on the way back up to McLeod Ganj my phone rang. The voice on the other end said, "Nicole, can you come tomorrow at 9AM?"

Local bus going back up to McLeod Ganj.
Once back in McLeod Ganj I met my old neighbors Julia and Geshe Tenzin Wangdak for dinner. It was  so nice for the three of us to get to sit down together and catch up. I had been looking forward to it. The three of us lived in the same building when I rented my first apartment in India in 2015.

Geshe Tenzin Wangdak and Julia.

Me and Geshe Tenzin Wangdak.
I don't think I really slept that night. My mind was like a pinwheel, spinning through what I would say and wanted to ask His Holiness the 17th Karmapa.

Back at Gyuto in the morning.
I waited in the same lounge I had sat in the day before, waiting to be ushered into the hallway. When I arrived I was greeted by name, by the staff member who helped me with the appointment. His Holiness the 17th Karmapa's staff are so kind. I am so touched by their kindness. Groups of other people - many Tibetan families - were seated around me in the waiting room, beautifully dressed. There was a young family carrying a small baby.

After some time I was called into the hallway, and then followed directions about where to stand, where to put my shoes. I really had no idea what was going to happen. People were disappearing into a room one at a time and then re-emerging a few minutes later, with unreadable expressions on their faces.

I won't say more, because I don't want to ruin the surprise for anyone who may go see His Holiness the 17th Karmapa at Gyuto Tantric College. But I did walk into the room all alone, and get to approach and talk with him briefly, and ask him a question.

I was handed my gifts by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa himself, and got to have a photo taken with him before I exited out the same door I had come in minutes before.

Me with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa.
Photo by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa';s staff.

When I walked out of Gyuto's temple, I found Moon and the Korean nun unexpectedly waiting outside. They had heard His Holiness the 17th Karmapa might be leaving for a trip that morning. (I was incredibly lucky to get to see him before he left, and before I left McLeod Ganj.)

We took some photos outside of the temple as we waited to see if His Holiness the 17th Karmapa would come out.
Smiling outside after the meeting, holding two things
gifted to me by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa.

Gifts from His Holiness the 17th Karmapa.
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. 
The black crown is a is a symbol of the Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Wikipedia notes:

Legend tells that in a previous eon, in a former life as an accomplished yogi, the Karmapa attained the eighth level or bhumi of the bodhisattvas. At this time, 100,000 dakinis (female buddhas) manifested their hair as a crown, and offered it to the Karmapa as a symbol of his accomplishment.

Dusum Khyenpa, the 1st Karmapa, was regarded as an emanation of that yogi and his appearance was predicted by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni in the Samadhiraja Sutra:

"A bodhisattva with the lion's roar will appear. He will use the power he achieved in deep meditation to benefit countless beings. By seeing, hearing, touching or thinking of him, they will be led to happiness."

Can you see our heart? Moon and I outside Gyuto temple.

People circumambulating the temple. A usual thing.

I think that big window on the ground level leads to the room where I met
with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa.

Gyuto temple.
 We were rewarded for our patience. His Holiness the 17th Karmapa came outside of the side door where I had recently exited Gyuto temple, and walked by us on his way to a waiting car. There were only a handful of visitors there. We were easily able to see him and bow over at the waist with khatas in our hands and smiles on our faces.

I stopped into the temple before going back up to McLeod Ganj by bus.

His Holiness the 17th Karmapa's portrait inside of the temple.

Looking back at Gyuto temple from the road.

Leaving Gyuto.

The arch welcoming visitors to Gyuto Monastery.
A local bus, like the ones I take to/from Bir, and Sidhpur.
So all of that happened in only three days - Monday, April 26 - Wednesday, April 28, 2016. I was there for all of it, but it's still amazing that it happened.

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