We had been in Mcleod Ganj for three days when we heard that our group?s request to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama had been accepted. Our in-country partner, Goutam-Ji, had pursued multiple avenues to submit our request, going to His Holiness? secretary?s office many times to check on the status of our request. My co-leader and I found out in the morning. We waited all day until all our activities and routine announcements were done, and then we told the students.
When we announced that we would be meeting the Dalai Lama, the students erupted in excitement, disbelief, and glee, jumping to their feet and asking us if it was really true. When we described the lengths Goutam-Ji went to secure the appointment, the students immediately mobbed him in a group hug, thanking him profusely. Many students were crying from joy and excitement.
Our appointment was for the 24th. We patiently continued our programming that week, learning about the Tibetan struggle, the Tibetan community in exile, the movement to preserve Tibetan language, culture, and traditional medicine, and getting to know our Tibetan host families more and more each day.
On the morning of the 24, our eagerly-awaited appointment finally arrived. Many of our host parents dressed us in their very best silk shirts and chupas (traditional Tibetan dresses.) We were also carrying their malas (Buddhist rosaries), in case we had the opportunity for His Holiness to bless them. We left all our belongings at home and walked to the Dalai Lama temple. Along the way, many townspeople asked us if we were meeting with His Holiness, and upon hearing that we were, gave us smiles and words of encouragement.
After a thorough security check-in, we finally arrived at the tail end of a long line of people – old, young, Tibetan, Indian, and other foreigners like us. The line curved up ahead of us, we didn’t know how many people were ahead of us, but we knew we were at the end. We worried – maybe we should have arrived earlier. We began to see the line move, and people departing wearing the khatas (white scarfs) signifying the Dalai Lama’s blessing.
We rounded the curve and there he was – sitting in a plain wooden chair on some stairs in a doorway, half inside, half outside, greeting groups of people, giving his blessing, and smiling broadly for photos. The groups were moving fast, and soon it was our turn. We donned our khatas and he began to receive us, one by one clasping our hands, giving his blessing, and simply connecting, human to human. Some of us were very shy and nervous, others filled with joy and crying, others in shock and not sure how to act. We were ushered around His Holiness for a group photo, him holding the hands of the leaders next to him. He took our hands like it was the most natural thing…we tried to be nonchalant about it and failed.
We began to move, thinking we would be ushered out, but then he began to speak. We were amazed that we were being blessed with his words and thoughts, and we crowded around with the other people who had been at the end of the line, only 30 or 40 people in total.
We sat in happy attention as he spoke on a range of subjects; the importance of the preservation of Tibetan culture and language, the necessity of a holistic perspective of health that includes mental and physical wellbeing, the importance of life-long learning, critical thinking, and logic. He spoke directly to the students, imploring them to read more books. He then gave us two books and autographed them as he continued to speak to us. The books were Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics (Vol 1- the Physical World) and Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
We departed in a blur, beaming ear to ear and walking on clouds. I remember thinking that people could see us collectively glowing from meeting His Holiness. Afterwards, we sat together and recollected our strongest impressions from his teachings. Students and leaders all had different takeaways and heard different messages, including a call for living life with compassion, nonviolence and peace, an encouragement to learn and question knowledge rather than accept it, and a request to learn and appreciate the deep wisdom of Tibet.
We are so grateful for our time in McLeod Ganj with our host families, who have provided us with invaluable context on all of the different parts of the audience, the gifts we received from His Holiness, and the cultural background to deeply, deeply appreciate our time with His Holiness.
India Group Leaders