June 20, 2009, Dharamsala:
FALSE ALARM! THE MONSOON HAS NOT ARRIVED! Since Tuesday, when I last wrote, the weather has been unremittingly sunny, not a drop of rain. And our days have been so busy, until this most welcome Saturday.
Very good busy. Wednesday we visited the Karmapa Lama. The visit was far more pro forma than the one four years ago, when he chatted with our group for quite awhile, placed our white scarves on our shoulders himself, and gave us his blessing. This time, after a lengthy wait, we followed a long line of assorted individuals, his assistant monks did the white scarf thing, the Karmapa handed us each a red string without making eye contact, and, after another wait, took a hurried picture with the group. But then again, his importance in the world has certainly grown over the past four years. He looks older, too. Still attractive, to be sure, but at the advanced age of 23, I do believe his hairline is already receding!
Afterwards, we visited the Norbulingka Institute, toured the amazing workshops where the exquisite crafts are made, and had the chance to shop and/or refresh ourselves in their lovely garden café. Click here to see videos.
After that, we visited the Transit school, also in the outskirts of Dharamsala. Many of us were grumbling about yet another stop, but once we arrived at the unbelievably gorgeous view up the valley into the snowcapped Himalayas, all grumbling promptly stopped. The school was nice enough—got to see a group of teens rehearsing a dance to Chinese music for the Dalai Lama’s birthday next month, chatted with some lovely young people—but the view was just spectacular; itself worth the journey. In some ways the school—one only for older children— reminded me of visiting my daughter at French Woods Performing Arts camp when she was a relatively young teen—the place seemed like a teenager’s dream! Of course the French Woods campers had families to return to at the end of the camp session; these young refugees from Tibet do not. Still, if you have to leave your family and your homeland, it seemed like a pretty nifty place to end up.
Thursday we visited another haven for displaced Tibetans—the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV). Much, much larger than the transit school, it houses about 1500 young people from about age 2 to 20. We spent most of our time in the baby house, entranced by the dozen or so delightful toddlers and pre-schoolers, who gave and received boundless affection. Even our students who remained somewhat remote at first were, after a short while, sucked into the vortex of the children’s charm. TCV is an oasis of compassion, nurturing, and education (both Tibetan and contemporary), and one can’t help but be impressed with this haven for their young people that the Tibetans in exile have created in a relatively short time. Click here to see videos from our visit with the children at TCV.
And Friday was the capstone to our extraordinary first week in Dharamsala. Our audience with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Our appointment, scheduled originally for noon, rescheduled to eleven, then rescheduled again to 12:30, didn’t happen until more than two hours later, but regardless of what at the time seemed like an interminable wait, it was so worth it. He spent a good deal of time with us, and seemed so interested in everything. And that laugh! A laughing, living Buddha! You would think he didn’t have a care in the world. I asked what he thought of our new president, and he had appropriately wonderful things to say about our democracy, the election, and the possibilities presented by our first African American president. He frankly admitted, however, that it was too soon to tell whether Obama’s presidency would make any positive difference for the future of Tibet. He hopes to meet with him this coming year.
We were thrilled to see how healthy he seemed, after recent reports of his illness and hospitalization. I left with a warm, peaceful glow. And then we went shopping.
Click here to see videos in and around McLeod Ganj.
By Professor Marjorie Silver, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in India