Lama Illumination: A Monk's Tale of Tragedy and Perseverance
I'm not at all a spiritual person; I'm a strong-willed atheist, I ignore horoscopes, and Feng shui is just good taste, isn't it? If asked about my spirituality, it's "gin and tonic, please" and of faith you'll hear, "I've faith that what you're saying doesn't make sense." However, I'm at one with nature and believe in the genuine goodness of man. Spiritual? Maybe.
It was a cold, early walk to Tsuglakhang Temple, and I'd no idea what to expect. But I was soon warmed by hot chai and an electric atmosphere as I queued. After showing my ten-rupee registration card, I found a seat amongst monks, pilgrims and the curious, all waiting patiently as a hush descended, and 1500 people strained to see the Dalai Lama making his way slowly to the Holy seat. I won't refute it; I too was caught up in the moment. With a handout of translated speeches and headphones, I was all set. Once seated, His Holiness waited for the masses to settle, then began. His voice was smooth and confident. I listened.
This sounds terrible, but I'd be lying to say I was genuinely interested in his message, more involved in the experience than the lesson. Like I said, I'm a simple man who believes in little beyond even simpler human nature, kindness, compassion and humility. I'm still a work in progress myself. But just being nearby the Dalai Lama inspires one to be a better individual, and it was an extremely positive step in my quest for betterment and perhaps finding some semblance of spirituality in myself and others.
Sat by me was an equal mix of tourists and monks, way more rapt by the teaching than I. But one monk, resplendent in the traditional Tibetan gold and maroon, caught my eye with a hint of mischief in his own. No cameras allowed, so in my sketchbook I scribbled a portrait of my new friend. It was awful, but when I showed him, he could barely stifle his laughter. What had I done in this peaceful sanctuary? Then he pointed at a portly fellow and grinned. Behind his back, I sketched, then handed the unflattering drawing over. Mistake! He showed the big guy who was so unimpressed I thought he'd punch me. Thanks Mr. Monk. Next, he sketched me.
We chatted during an interval. Lobsang Paljor is forty-eight and from Monglash, Tibet. His story is incredible. Lobsang was a novice monk during the Chinese annexation, where Monasteries were limited to twenty-five novices under pain of death. He desperately wanted to continue his learning. One option; escape Tibet! In 1985, Lobsang and his family walked through extreme cold and dangerous conditions while under constant threat of capture, persecution and death. Beneath a veil of icy darkness, they survived on water and luck, and finally arrived at the Indian border... it took twenty-five days! They eventually found sanctuary in Dharamsala, where under His Holiness, Lobsang studied again. Twenty-eight years on, he now teaches children on their own path to enlightenment.
When His Holiness continued, so did our chat and my questions. He assured me his good friend the Dalai Lama would approve.
Please describe the Dalai Lama:
"The Dalai Lama is very wise and handsome... so handsome. His heart is pure. When he meets someone, he never forgets their name, never."
I asked about the tragedy of Tibetan monks burning themselves in protest of the Chinese regime:
"I had a good friend, thirty years old. Such a nice boy, pure of heart but sad with the world. He set fire to himself on a street. His name was Jambeshi. His sisters were very sad but very proud." Lobsang smiled sadly.
Could you self-immolate in protest? Smiling emphatically, he answered from the heart:
Tell me a little of life in Tibet:
"Beatings, imprisonment and torture are common. Conditions are brutal and hostile under Chinese rule."
But Lobsang remains positive.
Will you see freedom for Tibet in your lifetime?
"Without the courage and heart of this Dalai Lama, I think it cannot happen. But His Holiness has such a positive impact on the world, not only on Tibetans but on everybody, and with him I believe it can happen."
I went to Dharamsala to hear the fourteenth Dalai Lama speak, and was lucky to spend time with a loyal disciple. It was inspiring and I'll remember it for a long time. Lobsang is an enchanting, colourful character who exudes grace, peace and positivity... and a little mischief. I can't say I've become more spiritual, but I can say this: Whenever I have a bad day or feel sorry for myself, I'll think of Lobsang and the thousands of persecuted Tibetans, and beyond, to all people of the world who struggle daily to survive hunger and disease, poverty or corrupt dictators, ethnic or religious persecution. I'll never forget how lucky I am to have the life I have and the freedom to choose how and where I live it.
The Dalai Lama is probably the most respected leader on the planet. He's Buddhist, yet preaches only love, respect and compassion between all people. His message is pure, and it's difficult to understand how anyone from any background, religion or tradition, wouldn't be moved by its power. So many inspiring words are spoken by His Holiness, and it's tough to choose with which quote to finish. But chosen I have, and I hope the words ring as true with you as they do me.
"This is my simple religion, there is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness."
-The Dalai Lama.