Monday, February 25, 2013

Meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala


"My experience with meeting The Dalai Lama is one of the most unforgettable moment. His simplicity and compassion to the people led him to have a remarkable name in the world history of Spirituality. His message of enlightenment  is significant in today's time and truly a timeless piece of wisdom dedicated to the mankind and the future of the world."



For a few days since I arrived in Dharamsala, I have been accustomed to the unique culture and tradition of the people, most especially the Tibetans-in-exile living in Mcleod Ganj. It is a community that is vibrant with the presence of spiritual people living in a serene environment;  in the cold breeze of mountains beneath the Himalayas.


Although the Tibetans of Mcleod Ganj have been living in asylum for several decades, still they have made an effort to preserve their culture and continue to improve the living condition of the thousands of refugees. They may be far away from their mother land but they are fortunate for the achievement of freedom in exile. I have found the peacefulness and spirituality in this sacred place in The Land of the Tibetans in Dharamsala: Closer to Heaven


The simple way of living of the Tibetans is truly admirable. They remain to be content with the blessings they receive and make the best effort to develop their lives by means of the valuable teachings and philosophies of their Spiritual teacher and leader, His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama.


The Dalai Lama who has been vested the authority to rule his people has shown the capacity to lead and transform the lives of the Tibetans-in-exile. At his age, The Holy man still has got the energy and vigor to protect his people and to become a man of love and compassion that the world have known.

The Dalai Lama, being the head of state of the Tibetans is the most popular and respected Buddhist monk, yet His Holiness describes himself as a simple monk who was chosen to lead by the Tibetan people. He is not secluded in the hill station of Dharamsala since He is a well-traveled man. He has met a lot of foreign dignitaries for spiritual and peace talks and received numerous awards and recognition from all over the word including the Nobel Price award for his peaceful means of fighting for the sovereignty of Tibet against the Chinese communist rule.


The main teachings of His Holiness is for the humanity to live in simplicity and contentment while cultivating a loving and compassionate nature. I am not a Buddhist, yet I could say that his teachings are beyond religion. It is still relevant to everyone regardless of religious beliefs and merely a universal philosophy that was started by a Holy man is conquest of enlightenment thousands of years ago.


I have read some of The Dalai Lama's books when I was in Delhi last year. One of my favorites is the book entitled "The Art of Happiness" and the book about 'the four noble truths'. Reading his works gives some encouragement to live a better life, to find inner peace and happiness and to seek enlightenment in a troubled world.


Since visiting The Dalai Lama's temple on my first day of visit, I have known that he will be giving a lecture on the 25th of the month, about the teachings from the "Jataka Tales". It is a story based on the life and rebirth of Buddha. There was no registration on this event and so I decided to attend for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet The Holy man.



The Tsuglagkhang Temple
A day before his scheduled lecture in Tsuglagkhang temple, I had the chance to visit some places around and the nearby sightseeing in Mcleod Ganj. From the place I am staying at Snow Crest hotel in Naddi Village, it took me one and a half hour trek to reach the 4 km distance going to Mcleod Ganj. On the way, I was delighted to see the natural wonder of the Dal Lake and passing by the Tibetan Children's village, just a few-minute walk from the lake. For the second time, I visited The Dalai Lama's temple to pass around the prayer wheels and to observe the monks in their afternoon rituals. The temple is quite busy in preparation for tomorrow's event and a lot of pilgrims started to arrive, so I went ahead and take some 'Kangra tea' at the famous tea house--moonpeak espresso cafe as recommended. I did not wait for the sunset and came back in the hotel so I could reserve my energy for the next day's event.

Today, the 25th of February, I woke up early to prepare and go to The Dalai Lama's temple. The cab driver  upon request pick me up at 5 :30 a.m. and reached the temple before 6 am just few minutes before sunrise. The guard at entrance were strict  and no cameras and cellular phones allowed inside. I leaved my things in the nearby coffee shop and carried a handbag with a notebook and a pen for taking notes. The man on the shop was so kind and I told him to get it as soon as the lecture is finished.


Now that I am free from restricted gadgets, I passed by the two security check before heading to the Namgyal monastery just above the check point. I went to the right section to find my seating place which is reserved for the English speaking people. At the time I found the right place overlooking the Holy man without barriers, the monks started to gather and pilgrims from a round the world are in excitement to see The Dalai Lama.



The residence of The Dalai Lama in Tsuglagkhang Temple

At around 6:20 a.m., The Dalai Lama is set to leave his residence to have his processional ceremony. The monks and pilgrims including myself were rushing to get to the nearest place where the Holy man will pass by going up to the Namgyal Monastery which is adjacent to his residence. As the procession started, he was guided by the Namgyal monks and guarded by the security men. The entourage followed the footstep of the Holy man who waives his hand to greet the thousands of people gathered in his temple.

For about an hour and a half, The Dalai Lama together with other monks performed early morning ritual of sacred chants and mantras. At 8 a.m., His Holiness along with his entourage went down and proceeded to his lecture place which is an elevated rectangular platform with Tibetan decorations in it. Another 20-minute chants and mantra have been observed before The Dalai Lama started to give his lecture in Tibetan language at 8:20 a.m.


The whole complex is filled with the audience mostly Tibetans who understood the message very well. Some have brought an fm radio since the lecture is also translated in the English and Chinese language in a specific radio frequency. I did not have one so I just listen to the original message in the Tibetan language. The Dalai Lama's voice was clear and calm and he even cracked a joke to the crowd.



The Namgyal Monastery
The lecture ended at 10 a.m. followed by a recessional going back to his residence which is just few meters away. The audience witnessed the Holy man's last walk before he is gone out of sight. The people along the aisles were lucky to have shook hands with The Dalai Lama while others started to walk down the temple to return back at respective places or destinations.

My experience with meeting The Dalai Lama is one of the most unforgettable moment. His simplicity and compassion to the people led him to have a remarkable name in the world history of Spirituality. His message of enlightenment  is significant in today's time and truly a timeless piece of wisdom dedicated to the mankind and the future of the world.


The Dalai Lama is committed to serving the humanity and not just the Buddhist Community. The world has been constantly changing and there is no such thing as permanence. The Dalai Lma is a Holy man, but the ordinary people is capable of achieving enlightenment given that There is Certain Holiness in You.


I am grateful for another day full of learning and energy. I am hoping to see His Holiness The Dalai Lama in some other time if given another opportunity. From now on, what is important is to live with the message of love, compassion and inner peace--The Dalai Lama's way.



© 2013 Del Cusay




Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Land of Tibetans in Dharamsala: Closer to Heaven

It is always nice to have a vacation in a far away place; to unwind and escape from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. It is a great time to relax and become one with self while enjoying the soothing ambiance of the place. Since I am in India for the second time, It was surprising to receive an invitation to visit the Northern State of Himachal Pradesh, particularly in the highlands of Dharamsala--the place of the Tibetans-in-exile.

From the Tibetan Colony called Majnu Ka Tilla in Delhi, it took approximately 12 hours to reach Dharamsala. The bus departed at 7 pm of the 22nd and I arrived at 7 am the following day. It is the longest land travel on a single journey that I have experienced so far. In the boarding point in Delhi, I got the chance to talk to some people about the history and culture of Tibet and its people living in the upper Dharamsala called Mcleod Ganj. The bus got delayed for an hour and a half so I was lucky not to get bored while waiting. It was a pleasant conversation, and I have instilled the knowledge I gained on that moment.


In the bus stand of Dharamsala, It took approximately 10 minutes to reach the hotel at Naddi Village--about 3 km. from Mcleod Ganj. It was not a tiring journey since they have a good quality road linking the northern state. When I stepped out of the bus, it was so cold as the temperature reaches near zero degree centigrade. The whole day was rainy and and the whole place is covered by fog and the wind is chilly.


I had time to set my things and prepare myself to go to Mcleod Ganj after I took breakfast and few hours to rest and contemplate. Back in Delhi, I already read the popular tourist spots and the activities happening. I wanted to spend my time wisely and get the best thing that Dharamsala could offer, so it is nice to have planned ahead of time.


The Dhauladhar Range
Although it rained on my first day of visit, I got to see the picturesque panoramic view of the Dhauladhar range which is widely visible at the balcony of hotel located in the Kangra district. It is truly magnificent to view the snow-capped mountain range with the tall deodar and pine trees in the alps. The Dauladhar range offers a great view of the whole Kangra Valley. At this time, the mountain is not open for trekking since the weather is unpredictable. 

I have planned to go trekking in the triund hil which is about 9 km. from Mcleod Ganj and it would take 2-3 hours to reach there, and they said it's a good place for sightseeing the frosty mountains and the alpine forest at the ridge of the Dhauladhar range. Since it is temporarily closed, I only get to see it from afar while imagining the life of the Naddi/Gaddi people living on the cold  mountains and what is it like to be there at the snowline of the Himalayan foothill. I myself needed 3 thick blankets at night, and going closer to the snowy mountains would really be a great challenge to conquer.




I am in the Naddi Village and I have witnessed how they live in peace and harmony. In a place that is culturally preserved, they live simply with contentment and happiness. They are friendly people and seeing them early in the morning bringing their cows in a greener pasture of this hill road is a wonderful experience.

In the afternoon, I prepared myself to go to Mcleod Ganj to go to Tsuglagkhang temple--the place of the Dalai Lama. It was drizzling and cold  but I dared to go for some sightseeing. I walked uphill and entered the temple that was full of monks and tourist. I have felt the serenity of the place and seeing the pleasant smiles of the monks while roaming around the Namgyal monastery of the temple. I have been there for 2 hours to have a glimpse of the Tibetans-in-exile. They are peaceful and happy people despite the miseries they have suffered under the Chinese rule in Tibet.



The Tsuglagkhang Temple in Mcleod Ganj
The Tibetans in Mcleod Ganj have formed their Government under the leadership of the 14th Dalai Lama. I have met a Tibetan souvenir vendor just below the temple and had a brief conversation about their condition. It was then I have learned that the Tibetans fled to Dharamsala after the failed uprising that took place on 1959 headed by the current Dalai Lama. They have suffered cruelty and harsh treatment from the Chinese invaders and the best thing they did is to have themselves in exile. After 50 years, the Chinese Government have not given back their sovereignty which is what they have been fighting for several decades. The history I learned from this encounter gave me the knowledge of the existence of the Tibetans in Dharamsala.

Adjacent to the Namgyal monastery  is the residence of the Dalai Lama. The most surprising moment is when I learned that the Dalai Lama is in town and have been meditating in his room on that period of time. He will give a talk on the morning of the 25th. It is open to the public and there is no need for registration on this particular event only. My visit was a good luck and I will be attending the lecture of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. I still have a day to explore the place before the lecture of the Dalai Lama, so I need to prepare myself to see and meet the Holy man.


It was raining in the afternoon before I left the Monastery so I decided to have a cup of cafe latte in the nearby coffee shop. I stayed for a brief period to warm up since I can't go out and bear the downpour of rain. I thought of not getting sick and reserve my energy to see the Dalai Lama, so I bought an umbrella and started to walk going up to the square center which is the central area of Mcleod Ganj. Along the way I passed by some souvenir shops, bookstores, tea shops, restaurants and numerous hotels. It was still raining when I standby to wait for the cab driver going back to the hotel. I planned to stay in Mcleod ganj until 8 pm, but since it was raining and cold, I decided to have some rest and be ready for another journey the next day.


Bearing the extreme temperature is a challenge. I am used to a tropical and humid climate, but I am now becoming tolerant with cold weather that at some point reaches negative degree centigrade. In a few days time I will be leaving in this heavenly place and what I would be carrying is not a thing, but a collection of memorable experience from the finest places of the sacred mountain and the wisdom from the great people.


© 2013 Del Cusay


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chilly Winds of India's Wintertime: A Reflection


"India could be a land of contrast, but I have witnessed and learned how they persevere and raise the bar towards excellence making them achieve economic progress and rising power. There may be some serious challenges confronting them, but with faith, unity and goodwill, then India could gain something it deserves."





The wintertime in India is about to end, yet early morning is still misty and foggy while late night gets chilly. In daytime, the weather is a bit warm specially in the afternoon, but it is fine and favorable weather. Few days ago when I arrived on the evening of the 16th, the temperature is quite tolerable and that I did not wear thermal jacket compared to last year when I arrived for the first time on November when the weather is cold and chilly.

I leaved India on the summer of mid-April last year. It was about ten months ago and now I am back for the second time. I had a pleasant experience on my first visit since the people were nice and friendly. The warm acceptance and welcoming smile is their way of showing hospitality to visitors; and this is what I felt like when I arrived few days ago; in return, greeting people in an Indian way 'Namaste' is a good start of embracing their culture and beliefs.

Misty and chilly morning in Dwarka, Southwestern Delhi

I never imagined that I would go to India and become exposed to its cultural and social norms. Back in the Philippines, I learned the Indian salutation 'Namaste' but later I learned its spiritual significance. It is not just a normal greetings but it means that when two or more persons meet 'the presence of God in me, meets the presence of God in you' is the real significance of this sacred word. In a philosophical context, it is right since God is present in everyone and it only needs recognition of this fact. 

People of all ages greets 'Namaste' whether at home, in the street,  in a social gathering and even on the phone conversation. Bowing of head while putting hands together in the center of the chest shows courtesy, friendliness, love and humility. This simple yet graceful gesture is significant even in today's time, however I have observed that the use of this salutation is declining due to the influence of western culture. Saying 'hi and hello' is what I have been receiving. Last year, when I was in Mumbai, I was seldom greeted 'Namaste' and what I have been hearing most of the time is 'hi and hello'.

I remember when I was in elementary, we used to greet our teachers and visitors in a Filipino way 'Mabuhay' but before the 20th century ended, it was changed to 'hi and hello' which is both a formal and casual way of greetings in the west. 

In India, 'Namaste' as a form of salutation feels like being at peace with someone even without using the bowing and the hand gestures. Just by uttering the word is already a humble experience like no other in the world. 

for someone who is not used to cold weather especially winter season, it is not easy to wake up early in the morning. The good thing is that I had my winter clothing kept here when I went back home in Manila last year. Morning walk is possible but could not do jogging or any vigorous exercises on the street or else I get chilled.

Foggy streets of Dwarka in Southwest Delhi

On a foggy and a misty morning, people starts their day bearing the coldness. They wear 
thick clothing usually made of wool while riding in a bicycle. I have seen some students chatting while patiently waiting for their school bus. It is obvious that they are tolerant with the winter season and they have nothing to complain but to bear with it.

In Mumbai and the rest of southern Indian State, they don't get this kind of weather that northern India including Delhi are experiencing. Himalayan region of India is very cold at this time and could even have some snows in the mountain range. The place called Dharamsala, is one of the most visited place in India and most popular among foreign travelers.

In the cold weather it is nice to have some cup of hot tea with milk or they call it Indian chai. I have learned to make this kind of beverage and it has a warming and soothing effect. Tea is a staple drink in India and the country is among the top producers of tea in the world. I like the Indian chai rather than drinking a regular tea, however I could not miss drinking a cup of coffee since I drink it regularly any time of the day. I am in India, so I can enjoy both beverage that they can offer.

I am also grateful to been taught how to make their staple food called 'chapati and paratha'. Both are plain bread that is made from whole-grain flour, but cooking differs in thickness. I also learned to cook the 'dum aloo' which is a dish made of potatoes and some spices and it complements with the 'paratha' or 'chapati'. I eat rice as my staple food, but since I am in India, I have to learn eating the Indian way.

It is always good to learn something new. To learn the culture and the tradition of another place is not just a wonderful experience but a wisdom. In a land that is multi-cultural and diverse, there is nothing to be ignorant about, but to understand and accept its norms, beliefs and social standing.

India may be a land of contrast, but I have witnessed and learned how they persevere and raise the bar towards excellence making them achieve economic progress and the rising power. There may be some serious challenges confronting them, but with faith, unity and goodwill, then India could gain something it deserves.

Wintertime in India  is about to end while spring/summer is fast approaching, and it is like the rebirth--the restorative phase. It is the most wonderful season when the sky is clear and the weather is warm with the blossoming flowers around. I hope I could witness their celebration of the 'Holi festivalwhich marks the beginning of the spring. For now what is important is to be grateful for the learning that the winter could bring, until such time that it will come to an end--then comes the season of rebirth.


© 2013 Del Cusay






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