Monday, March 12, 2007

Typing with gloves on

Fools in the rain
McCleod Ganj, Dharamsala

It is beating down cold heavy rain, has been since March 10 which was Tibetan Uprising Day. It's so cold I am typing with gloves on. Not so many typos as I expected, aactual;l;y
WHOOPS - actually.

My gloves are borrowed, teal-coloured acrylic-yarn gloves, from my friend Victoria. Victoria is a five-foot seven spark plug of a former schoolteacher. She used to teach on the Hupa Indian reservation in California, and in the tough neighborhoods of Oakland (SF). When she retired, she "decided to devote the rest of my life to helping Tibet and Tibetans win freedom and autonomy."

The Daily Lama
Today HH the Dalai Lama gave the Avalokiteshvara initiation. The weather could hardly have been worse; but an amazing number of people (probably 1000) turned up anyway in woolly hats, boots, raincoats, umbrellas, sweaters and shawls. The giant yellow canopy over the temple courtyard gets heavy with rain, and every so often, a great gust of wind ripples it and literal gallons of cold rainwater come crashing down, through the canopy seams, onto the people's heads. Never the same place twice, so you really don't know where to stand. People got to using their umbrellas even while under the canopy.

I noticed that as he came in today, HH had a very small entourage (normally he is proceeded by monks carrying incense and so on), and carried his own maroon umbrella. A lucky few Tibetans seated by the railing, holding the white "khata" scarves, got a brief handshake, as he paused to greet them.

As he approaches the brocade-covered, carved wooden throne, everyone stands up to prostrate three times before him. But he also prostrates three times - to the throne itself and to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. He lifts his robes like a skirt and carefully climbs up the four steps to to the seat. I noticed that every day, as he sits down and arranges his robes and cushion around him, an attendant monk hands him a single Handi-Wipe. He wipes his hands, then tucks it inside his robe.

When he does initiations, HHDL sits upstairs in the temple with his Namgyal monks. So, we downstairs only see him on a video screen at these times. I kept hoping he would put on the pointy yellow hat, which looks extra cool. He has even joked about it in the past ("Now I am going to put on the yellow hat. I say this because photographers like to take my photo in this hat. I notice this. Tee he he hehe").

HH's teachings can be roughly divided into a few segments, which he rotates. First, there are the opening prayers. Sometimes, he makes comments on what's happening - like, "Some of the Chinese delegation are leaving tomorrow afternoon. Therefore, I will give the initiation tomorrow morning instead of waiting till Wednesday." Or a rare bit of scolding - "I see that many of you do not have the printed text. Perhaps you have such great powers of memory that you do not need to see the words themselves. " (nervous laughter from crowd) "So, maybe you can look on with some friend sitting nearby who does have the text."

Then, he reads directly from the original text itself. Next, he gives commentary and elaboration.

Often, he adds to this personal stories, which are my favourite part. I love the one about the parrot he hit with a stick when he was a boy (this is also in his autobiography). It was a friend's parrot that showed great affection to the friend, but paid no attention to the boy Lama. Young HH was kind of lonely for friendship and got angry that the bird didn't love him too. So he attacked the poor bird. Of course, this terrified the creature and certainly didn't make it love him. From this he learned the limits of using force. (You can just see it - "I'm the Dalai Lama, dammit, you have to love me!!!" Whack!)

In an initiation, first we take the Bodhisattva or Upasaka (layperson's) vow not to lie, steal, kill, commit sexual misconduct or take intoxicants. If you feel you can't keep all five of the vows, HH always says "just take the ones you feel you can keep, to the best of your ability."

Then he goes into the elaborate visualizations of Avalokiteshvara, the deity of universal compassion. The tradition is that HH is actually a living incarnation of this deity. The visualizations help you to picture yourself as the deity, "with one face, and four arms" emitting universal love and compassion to all "sentient beings."

Then there are his jokes. One day he warned the Tibetans about getting too fat, "because it will be a burden on your health. In the west, there is a saying - 'eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunchtime, and take supper like a pauper.' But in Tibet we say - 'In the morning you should eat a great deal, because you have the whole day ahead of you. Then, the afternoon is also a good time to eat. And at night, you should eat a good dinner, so you will sleep well!' " All the Tibetans laughed in recognition of their habits.

HHDL also manages to get in all kinds of social commentary. During the past 7 days we have heard about vegetarianism, animal rights, women's equality, the equality of all religions, nutrition, non-violence, medical testing on guinea pigs, the importance of charity, Mother Theresa, AIDS awareness, religious freedom within Tibet, and of course the environment.

I try to scribble down as much as possible, but today, my hands were freezing - as they are now, even with gloves on.

Also, I have a ton of photos to share, but have to leave the laptop way up in Bhagsu at the room (security dictates 'no electronics inside the teachings site') and it's just too far to go back up and get it.

On Saturday, HH had a special audience with the mainland Chinese - about 50 of them. He spent an hour with them, according to my Chinese friend, answering their questions about Buddhism. No political topics were discussed.

I wondered, considering the prohibitions on his photo within China, whether they got the world's most desired photo-op - a picture with the Dalai Lama. She said, "Yes, they were so kind - they took a group photo, then gave it to each of us on a computer disk." A good way to get past Chinese customs (they might see a photo, but just don't have time to search every disk)!

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