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. 🙂


Departure. Reloaded.

After a couple of days for 24-hour-a-day-Internet-digging, I finally find an excellent transportation mix. Istanbul to Cochin, south of India. Due to previous Iranian frustration I decide for a 2-day loop in the Arab Emirates.

Train is my best option for the Bucharest-Istanbul chunk of the trip. It’s guaranteed that I’ll make it in time, that I can get a rest after struggle times plus my ticket’s cost is covered from another project’s incomes. I’m done with all the packing and preparing, here I am on the platform, waiting for my Bucharest-to-Istanbul train… my Bucharest-to-Istanbul train which is not here. It just left, 44 minutes before time… that same train I recently used on my returning from Istanbul, that same train listed on the Internet with THIS departure schedule…

No, it is not the departures schedule that has changed. It is this train’s schedule and starting with yesterday.
So currently I have no other train option and my only other possibility is hitch-hiking. For now “Hitch-hiking for Peace and Soul” can only hitch-hike to get to the plane and get to India. I manage to overcome my shock and whining and I get out to find a hike. I have plenty of time so I chill, enjoying every second of time spent waiting. I reach the Bulgarian border changing two hikes, a brand new Mercedes and a truck. This is done with reasonable timing.

At the border I wait a long time, nearly 2 hours until a truck stops to pick me. My Bulgarian driver is an excellent and very sociable host. Nearly everything is perfect about this hike: the weather, the already-mentioned driver, the truck itself (very comfy), the fact that I can even sleep, the landscapes that pass my eye… but not the speed though! The truck is fully loaded and snail-fast. We rarely go over 30 per hour and time ticks-ticks-ticks! This truck is my slowest hike ever. I fidget but cannot get off cause I don’t know how much more I’ll be waiting and waiting in a deserted Bulgarian field. Definitely, the truck is better than nothing. Six hours later I’m 40 kilometers away from the Turkish border. I’ve still got enough time so I try to get another hike, smile on my face. So many cars that pass, none that stops.

Lots of trucks heading to Istanbul, Turkish drivers… and still none to stop. Heavy rain and I’m all soaked. Finally, a bus passes that will take me straight to the border. Special story about this bus: each little village means a detour, each stations means waiting for long and 40 kilometers take one and a half hours. Tensions builds up, each minute passing scares me… but I’m still on time.

I walk across the border, it’s almost 3 kilometers. Once in Turkey I get my visa fast, fill in the papers and get the best place for hiking: it’s where all cars and trucks going to Turkey pass, all vehicle coming from Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Europe. Each vehicle has to stop for checking. The people here are very nice, they let me go back across the border and talk to the drivers but still no luck. The drivers either have no more place, either go to sleep, some don’t even bother sparing a look.

Turkey is a country I love, the people here are most kind and welcoming. I’ve always felt at home in Turkey and I’ve had the most amazing relations with Turks. The drivers’ behavior could not surprise me more… The only other explanation I have is the time they spent out of their country: it somehow mutated them. Yet again, absolutely everything shows me I shouldn’t have left. Yet again, my quasi-mystical question occurs: what am I supposed to do, understand or finish back in Bucharest that does not let me go?

I check the time once more. Time never seemed to run faster than it does now. All my clothes dried while on. I feel like I’m about to explode. I really cannot miss this plane. It’s too late to re-schedule, I won’t get a refund and losing it would mean money going down the drain. A new ticket plus one extra week in Istanbul ’till the next flight, that would leave me with insufficient funds for India. I already start thinking of other possible destinations: Syria, Morocco…? I cannot get back to Romania now, that I’ve arranged all my issues for a few months… yet again I would find myself with no place to live… and I would feel like such a failure!

Text messages from friends
: “Vaya con Dios!”; “May you find good humans!”… Yes! Oh, yes! Thank you! It’s God and Humans that I need right now.

I pee every 10 minutes. My signals are mechanical. I’m not able to think anymore. Never in my life have I felt so full of tension. The buses that were supposed to leave via Istanbul didn’t leave anymore. The buses that were coming from Istanbul the way to Edirne didn’t arrive anymore. I had settled to meet a painter, a really great guy, for a coffee in the serenity of my hours before the take-off. Ha-ha-ha…

I find myself stuck in here, 300 kilometers far away from the place where my plane is going to take off in just hours. My plane without me in it

I feel like a machine running its program.

It starts raining again.


My hiking sign doesn’t skip one single car.

Still, from now on no truck or bus could make it in time!

I show my cardboard that says Istanbul and I put my hands together in a desperate prayer.

The next driver says “Come on up.” like it’s the most natural gesture in the world!

This angel arrived from out of nowhere is driving a BMW. God must have sent him to me to prove me that you can have misery and sheer ecstasy in just one moment!

I cannot believe my eyes when I see the speed, 220 kilometers per hour. Same day, the slowest and fastest speed I have ever traveled with in a hike. We reach Istanbul in one hour and 10 minutes. All of this time my soul stays connected to the heaven above, in a deep thanksgiving.

This insane day happened just to show me that God does exist. Whatever his name, He exists and is so much greater than my own will… All I can do is walk this road I chose until I reach the end… And accept whatever result comes my way!

In the airport I get to eat the yoghurt-muesli I had prepared for the train trip. An Australian couple manages somehow to smuggle a little bag of weed past the Turkish border. They smuggle themselves out of many years in the Bosporus prison as well… I fall asleep between the clouds and I wake up surrounded by sand dunes…

Technical data 🙂
Time spent on hike: 15h30mins
Vehicles needed: 6
Shortest wait: 2mins
Longest wait: 2h30mins