Dharamsala, Dalai-Lama and the Reality- a subjective experience

This planet’s religions have met on this land God blessed: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism… I find it impossible to think about India as a culture without involving the spiritual side. Traditions, customs, clothing, music, relationships- all is connected to religion and has spiritual symbolism. In India God is on everybody’s lips: form the Hindu priests (saadhu babas) on the holy river Ganges to the Buddhist monks on the top of the mountains.

Four kilometers up from Dharamsala is McLeod Ganj, an old British garrison. Built at over 2000 meters altitude in 1850, the garrison was the administrative center of the region until an earthquake determined the British to move at a lower altitude. Now McLeod Ganj is the headquarters of the exiled Tibetan government and Dalai Lama’s residence. In the midst on the Indian Himalayas, this Cashmere-influenced Tibetan city is generous to the tourist looking for comfort: many hotels, friendly and almost clean restaurants, Western food, Tibetan souvenirs and the latest in cinema.

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Two days a week the McLeod Ganj clubs go live. People from many continents play many strange or weird-looking instruments. Ranging from Manu Chao to James Brown, the jam session atmosphere makes me miss the concerts back in Romania.
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Asian multiculturalism: in a Tibetan bar, a Japanese plays an Indian instrument

It’s raining. It’s the monsoon season and it rains most of the time. The monsoon is a wind but in India and surrounding countries it brings a lot of rain. It rains even when it doesn’t rain! The rain is so thin you don’t actually need an umbrella but in a couple of hours you get all soaked up. In here, the rain stopped being an issue: it’s a part of the daily, ordinary life.

When it comes to classes, you find here all you can imagine and more: massage, yoga, meditation, Indian cookery, teaching musical instruments, palmistry, Tibetan painting, jewelry-making… salsa classes based on donations (you come, you dance and upon leaving you pay as much as you feel like). Just when I was thinking there is no poster for Tai-Chi classes (of  Chinese origins), one appeared.  🙂

The Tibetan Uprising Movement invites me to speak at the Pro Tibet conference, together with 17 other people from all over the world. It’s long time I haven’t spoken to such a big crowd. Before my speech they tell me that the Chinese authorities use Google as one of the means for deciding who gets visas  🙂  If that is so, I’ll probably get to China after ten years… After my speech I receive a white scarf  with Tibetan embroidery from a poet.

The Chinese invasion in 1949 destroyed 90% of the Tibetan religious institutions, all in the name of the red revolution. After 10 years of occupation, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in danger of being assassinated, decided to leave Tibet. In order to get to India he crossed the Himalayans by foot. 250 thousands Tibetans have followed him ever since, most of them finding refuge in Dharamsala.

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In recognizance of his efforts to peacefully free Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso was awarded the Nobel prize for peace in 1989.

In his meetings conversations with scientists Dalai Lama speaks about the Buddhist principles as they were offered to the world by the last Buddha – also called Sakyamuni or Gautama – 2500 years ago. What scientists need is not  a text but a living creature that that deposits all of those teachings, a wise man that understands the teachings beyond words and beyond rationality.

There is but one reality, still when we try to put it into words everything essential is lost. It is when people that have got to an understanding of reality try to depict it the best way they can. Thus the multitude of religions speaking about one and the same god that yet cannot find a common language. What all religions do is try to justify their existence and preeminence based on holy writings and historical evidence. Nonetheless, a written text is nothing but an array of words with a meaning. No matter how well written, profound or full of significance it is, it will never manage to replace the own personal experience.

During our development as human beings we are conditioned to look at life in a certain way. We see life through our own personal filter. Is just like wearing a pair of glasses we’re unaware of, thus we cannot take off. There are 7 billions people in this world, each with its own personal view on reality.
Our mental processes have taken hold of what we are and we got used to conceptual thinking. If  something has no clear logic we  find it hard to accept it. Yet, scientists now need to understand beyond concepts. Experiments, in quantum physics especially, lead to the discovery of realities that contradict the conceptual laws we all learned in school.

“All human beings in the Universe are connected” – an affirmation the human mind perceives as fantasy, even though scientists confirm it. The results are purely experimental and cannot be confirmed by the mathematical logic but were expressed, over the time, by people with a deep understanding of reality. Buddha was one of the first.

Even nowadays there are lots of them, deeply connected to reality but for the groups of scientists Dalai Lama is good marketing, with his status and credibility.
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To get there in time I travel all night long. I often fall asleep and hit my head on the car window. Curiosity cancels all bumps and exhaustion. Security is at a maximum and there are lots of people around the temple. The atmosphere is peaceful and festive. I climb the stairs, pass over the last security-check and I get inside the room. I look around and I investigate like a child discovering the world. I see him and I stop. Dalai Lama waves friendly and smiles at me. I’m confused, I don’t know if he really waves and smiles at me (we are not acquainted  ), so I turn and take a look behind me. He waves again. I blush and lean my head forward and salute him. What figure more representative than Dalai Lama himself I could have met during my “Hitch-hiking for peace and soul” experience? I enjoy every second of it. And I think that me being here is not because of me but because of all the wonderful people I have met…

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In his teachings, Dalai Lama speaks about the way to the final truth, about the difference between appearance and reality, about the disappointment people experience when they live at appearance level.

He radiates kindness and optimism. A few meters around him, the positive energy is contagious. He explains in great details the basic positions for meditation and he waves his open hand. His vitality, the tone of his voice and the confidence in his moves remind me of the Samurai warriors. He points forward with one or two fingers. He swifts slowly from side to side and he often scratches his right ear. Although very concentrated and very serious, there are smile wrinkles on his face, as though he’d burst into laughter anytime.

To my left- an English nun, recently converted, explains it is forbidden to touch each other. To make sure, she places a handbag in between us. To my right- a monk that escaped two years ago from Tibet. His father was asking him to return home and help him get his retirement fee back. But if he goes back home, to Lhasa, his father will get his pension back and in return, the son will get torture and Chinese jails. He has one more sister, a nun in a monastery from the top of the world. He smiles a lot, he’s friendly and he tries to teach me some Tibetan words. At tea-time, he serves me first. He only speaks Tibetan and we communicate with the help of an American nun (she took up Buddhism  12 years ago).

Buddhist meditation is a form of inner exploration. In its most pure form it’s called vypassana. It has been preserved intact over centuries in Burma (Myanmar) and it’s among the most precious gifts of Buddha.

Almost all methods of inner discovery talk about the relationship with a “guide”, somebody in a higher level of understanding. Depending on the place we’re in, the “guide” is called priest, master, psychotherapist, lama, guru… Perfect substitute of a parent, such a guide can easily generate addiction… and there are plenty of fake gurus that take advantage of their disciples’ weaknesses.

Most of them “explain” how things really are and give solutions. The thing is, our life scripts are different and the guide’s solution comes from his life and his experience to supposedly solve a problem from my life. Our roads in life are different and my way is not his way. They can happen to be similar; not identical. Even when he perfectly understands and explains what happens to me our communication is inherently limited. No word man speaks and no thinking mind can comprehend the wideness of the human being. I interpret the information I receive, I put significance and meaning into it and I filter it according to how I was conditioned…

No matter the domain we refer to, the best treatment or learning method is the integration of the own personal experience. Unfortunately, the modern society led us to “function” based on the law of cause and effect: in order to clear away the unwanted effect we hurry to heal the pain and we often forget about what is beyond it, what caused the pain. Nonetheless, a solution coming from outside us and the system we are, no matter how appropriate, is nothing but a momentarily solution. The problem will eventually come back, perhaps in a more complicated way. The cure is the personal effort put into self-exploring and exploring the problem, in understanding the personal experience. A spiritual guide that is helpful indeed is the one that encourages the process, offers freedom and assists the exploration.

During the ages saints and mystics have tried to find a way for the understanding of reality. But here is no “one way”, a universally valid solution; we are different and we are conditioned in different ways. Religion is the most embraced path. Zen is known mostly as a style of dressing or automobiles design. Romanians see yoga as a devilish thing due to the MISA affair. It’s a pity, but the media never presents people that do good things. Mario Sorin Vasilescu is an internationally acclaimed yoga teacher. He cannot practice anymore but he knows and understands the dynamics of every muscle. He teaches the purest yoga and he has prepared exceptional instructors.

I warmly recommend psychotherapy, first of all because it’s the professional path I chose (I’m being subjective, obviously). Second of all, because the psychotherapist-client relationship is a natural, profound and reality-connected one. Psychotherapy is addressed to any normal person: is another way of personal development. A good psychotherapist is much better than any guru telling stories of  little angels and fairies.

Despite appearances and despite recurrent pain and suffering, life is about bliss and joy! No matter the hardship and difficulties, nothing can stop us from enjoying our every breath of air. I sometimes think I might be mistaken: maybe things are not like that, maybe all this spirituality will eventually lead me to the understanding of some sort of mystery that will freeze me into silence and contemplation. I’m afraid I’ll lose my joy of living, loving and joining Life in a dance, the joy of laughing out loud. Nonetheless, all fear is in the future. On the path zero, fear disappears. Here and now, all we have is harmony, freedom and a strong grasp of reality. 🙂

Some kind of “Hotel California”

Bombay is probably the most expensive city in India. It is where the richest people from the movie making and IT industries live. Their palaces conceal treasures and luxury beyond imagination. Renting a simple room in your usual neighborhood 50-60 minutes away from the center is 600 euros. So I choose Salvation Army Hostel because is the cheapest and it has the Lonely Planet recommendation. Huge mistake! The official story is that the hostel is highly institutionalized and the rules are strict, because Salvation Army is a religious organization. The unofficial reality is that one can drink, smoke and use drugs in here basically everywhere. The dirt in here is hard to describe, one wouldn’t know where to start from. The most useful items I own are the antibacterial gel and the sleeping bag!

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In the bedroom, two-leveled beds. In the bed “downstairs” is where Joseph lives. I say “lives” because he’s still got 19 more days of waiting for the results of  college admission exams. A trip back home would cost him too much. Joseph is 19 and he comes from the far East of the country, in Mizoram, farther away from Bangladesh. Everything is different back there. He doesn’t speak Hindi and I initially thought he’s Japanese. He abides by everything happening around him with great stoicism and although he lives in this polluted environment he never used any drugs or alcohol. He spends most of his days reading. He asks many questions and he’s a fast learner.
I meet many interesting travelers, with interesting stories and great ideas. There are people that in the mornings practice yoga in the hallways and also citizens of  respectable countries (Sweden, Switzerland, England) that have hashish running down their veins. It’s a long time their visas expired, some of them even sold their passports. All they live for is the next cigarette. Some kind Indians picked them from the streets, brought them to the hostel and send them food every day. They smoke in bed, lying on their backs. They beg, lie, fight for every cigarette and have cut-off crises that leave them shaking for half an hour. They wake up in the middle of the night and light very concentrated joints. I get sick and spend my second night throwing up. I get high fever and miss one of the meetings in the Bombay International School. If  I stay here I probably won’t get any better. Barely walking, I leave the “Salvation” hostel.