Tashi Delek. I’m at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India. From my window, valleys and mountains bring the green of rhododendrons, oaks, and pines alive: here I see the foothills of the Himalayas. Above them, clouds of white march as cottons through the sky. Rain washes statues of Buddha and prayers flags outside, reminding me that the connection between heaven and earth is alive. Here and Now. These Indian clouds follow their own nature towards self-realization: emptiness and compassion. They drop what they don’t need, and bring life to all of us, in need. That’s the deep nature of self-realization lived up as an aspiration by all in Dharamsala. Welcome to the heart of the Tibetan culture in exile.

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Buddhist monks, from eight years old to some in their sixties, walk by me outside my door, with prayer beads in hands and mantras recited by heart. They recite prayers, spin wheels, and smile whenever they see me: “Tashi Delek.”. Tashi Delek, I return. I walk upon a hill and, in fifteen minutes, reach the temple and residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Other monks and nuns contemplate thangka paintings and mandalas beside me, joining hearts with awe and reverence for an ancient culture preserved through art made from the heart. Tibetan Buddhism is colorfully alive here: white, red, blue and yellow and green flags hang all around trees and houses. Tibetan prayer flags with scriptures. I watch them flow with the wind, and sense hope from this people. That’s the Tibetan compassionate breeze.

It’s been three weeks since I am here. Like the wind, time flies by. The cultural and spiritual immersion have been deep, so deep that writing seemed trivial—like a vain exercise to convey ineffable experience. But I try to keep up, though it is hard. Then I remember: memorialize these moments, coat transcendence with language. The art of writing. Inspiration, where do you come from?

In the mornings, I listen to monks reciting mantras and Tibetan Buddhist scriptures for their pujas. I understand little of what they say, except the word ‘Rinpoche.’ ‘Rinpoche,’ they repeat, and I feel awe. A precious saying for them, and the more I hear it, the more I love this word—rin-po-che. Touché. My love for language increases each time. Then I read at The Tibetan Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. Geshes (Buddhist philosophy teachers) and other students discuss meditation, speak of boddhisatvas, Noble truths, and loving kindness. After class, some sit for chai and share momos, listening to each other’s soul’s journeys. We discuss bodhichitta and the contrast of East and West. The power of community grows in my mind, and conversations and insights flow in and out. For some reason, I remember Socrates often, and think: he would be happy to see these people asking each other questions openly and honestly. The Socratic method of making friends.

At lunch, friends from all corners of the world join each other for meals. My perception is deepened, and I learn about a category of friendship unknown to me before: “travel friendships.” A random person—random? What does that even mean?—sits near me at a café, and soon becomes my teacher and friend for the day or the week. Even a roommate was found this way. Connecting deeply happens naturally, and we cut through assumptions and all unnecessary stuff. For the spirit of travelling teaches: “don’t carry what you don’t need—travel light. That’s true for conversations as well. Lighthearted, and deep. Follow the principle of authenticity, to heart.”

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At a Tibetan restaurant: Spain, Portugal, Germany, United States, Brazil, England, India come together for lunch.

Fellow travellers, by the very nature of their adventures, realize: time here is finite, every moment is precious, and every person is here for only a transient period, and we are all transiently together. And the spirit of travel continues: “Make sure to say hello and exchange lessons and experiences. For when you are on the road, generosity springs as from the highways of the heart. Never mind the back-alleys of fear. Go on the main road of the heart.” Is that plenty of insight?

In the afternoons, I meet Tibetan monks, nuns and refugees for English conversation classes. They tell me stories, dreams, and their guiding principles for life. Some dream of becoming His Holiness’ interpreters, others of teaching Buddhism in the West, others, in travelling across the world. One smiles as he tells me is going to Oxford for a fellowship, and asks me to have lunch with him to practice his English. I’m delighted.

Every class, I start: “Friends, you know it already: I have a question for you. But before I ask, please know: no matter where you are from—Nepal, Bhutan, India, or Tibet—, no matter your age or knowledge, your opinion, words, and experience are really valuable. Your life has been your teacher, and here we join each other, at this moment, July—August X, in McLeod Ganj, to teach each other something, and, of course, to speak English. Is that clear?” They smile, adjust their posture, and nod. “Today, we will speak about compassion. Can somebody please tell me what compassion is?,” I opened class this way one day. More importantly, I opened myself. The answers, I will leave for you to read up in Dharma texts—or ask me.

And thank God every day has a night. How could I absorb this al without the spaciousness of each night’s darkness and emptiness of sky? Stars, planets, and falling pieces of meteorites greet me from the monastery. Shooting stars. The sky reminds me of an Enya album cover, truly made alive. And I see through its darkness that life in McLeod Ganj has been, for me, a North Star.

The night sky of Dharamsala, captured through the lenses of my friend's camera. Thank you, Nino.
The night sky of Dharamsala, captured through the lenses of my friend’s camera. Thank you for the picture and company, Nino.

Each moment, as listening Alan Watts on the veranda of Israeli friends, or witnessing Italians and Spanish women renewing their lives through yoga and Ayurveda, or joining the Swiss man inquiries to a monk about meditation, Tibetan culture, and compassion—each moment has been a teacher. A five hour lunch with someone. A Rumi poem or an inspiring passage on Milarepa’s or Shantideva’s life.  So I let the climbs to Himalayan mountains, the tabla lessons, the 5-day yoga course, the Tibetan folk music performances, the visit to His Holiness the Karmapa’s temple, and so, so much more be remembered. “Drop the trivial, and follow the signs,” concludes the spirit of travel, like the universe coming to me right in the face, through coincidences, a friend’s words, a person’s smile, a speech, a book—the interweaving of synchronicities—saying: Tashi Delek. Go ahead. And have a good day.

 

 

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