A puja with the Dalai Lama

An incredible man who exemplifies his message of compassion, the Dalai Lama is an inspiration. Seeing the Dalai Lama in person was an experience we will never forget.

High in the Himalayas, in a small hillside village, lives the leader of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama fled from Tibet to India in 1959 when he feared for his life from the invading Chinese Army. In the village of McLeod Ganj, the Tsuglagkhang Complex houses his residence, 2 important temples and a gompa. The temples are small, Tibetan-style rooms with large golden statues of Buddha, Guru Rinpoche and the Bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara. Bodhisattvas are beings or mythical creatures who have been enlightened but chose to stay on earth to help mankind. This Bodhisattva is especially important here as Buddhists believe that the Dalai Lama is a manifestation of Avalokitesvara.

When we were in McLeod Ganj the Dalai Lama was giving 3-days of teachings, so the town and the complex were filled with excited Tibetans, monks and Buddhists who had come to hear him speak. Our friend Colleen came to visit and met us in McLeod-Ganj.

Tibetans dancing in the Tsuglagkhang Complex
Tibetans dancing in the Tsuglagkhang Complex
Monks at the Tsuglagkhang Complex
Monks at the Tsuglagkhang Complex
Mountains surrounding McLeod Ganj
Mountains surrounding McLeod Ganj

The day before the seminar began, the Dalai Lama led the morning puja (monk chanting ceremony) in the main temple. When we arrived at the complex, there were hundreds of people already there. The pathway from his residence to the temple was lined with pilgrims, at least 5 people deep. On his walk to the temple, the Dalai Lama stopped several times to welcome or bless the devotees. We were lucky to get a spot where we could see him from about 10m away, but had to watch the puja on a large screen as only lamas were allowed in the temple. During the puja, he sat in his decorated throne and recited the mantras with the other lamas. With a sparkle in his eyes and a warm smile he would often give a little wave to someone in the temple that he knew. The puja was much like others we had seen with lamas chanting, instruments being played, and butter tea served throughout. At the end of the puja we raced to get a front row spot on his exit route. Unfortunately, he drove by in a car instead of walking. His car drove very slowly along the short route, and as he passed us he looked at us, smiled, waved and made eye contact with each of us. It was quite thrilling.

Credit: Dalailama.com
Credit: Dalailama.com

The next day, for the lecture, the courtyard in the complex was even more full than for the puja. We had to watch his lecture on a large screen and listen via headsets to an interpreter. In the first hour he spoke of compassion, love and emptiness. He gave many examples and ideas to inspire his audience to make those qualities a part of their regular life. Even through an interpreter we could feel his passion. It was fun to see him giggle at his own jokes with a twinkle in his eyes, even though the interpreter didn’t relay the joke. A few times during his talk he stopped to smile and wave to a friend in the crowd. For the rest of the morning the talk was very theological. It was above our understanding of Buddhism and difficult for the English interpreter to translate. We knew this in advance and so only attended the first day of the 3-day lecture. It was an amazing, once in a life time experience to be so close to such an amazing human being.

(Cameras were not allowed during the Puja or Teachings. Photo credit: Dalailama.com)

Credit: Dalailama.com
Credit: Dalailama.com
Credit: Dalailama.com
Credit: Dalailama.com

Around the outside of the complex is a 1 ½ km kora. At the midway point is an area with 3 or 4 large, colourful Tibetan chortens draped in prayer flags. Across from these is a shelter with photos of over 120 Tibetans who self-immolated (lit themselves on fire) in protest of the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the atrocious acts they’ve committed. As well, in town, there are many posters with photos of the hundreds of missing and murdered Tibetans in Tibet. They are very poignant displays of the Tibetans’ suffering.

Kora around the Tsuglagkhang Complex
Kora around the Tsuglagkhang Complex
Photos of TIbetans who self-immolated
Photos of TIbetans who self-immolated

South of McLeod Ganj is an ancient 10th century Hindu temple. Masrur Temple was carved out of a massive sandstone cliff in a style similar to the buildings of Angkor Wat. It was partially damaged in an earthquake in 1905, but much of it is still standing. In front of the temple is a small pond that nicely reflects an image of the temple.

Masrur Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Masrur Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Masrur Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Masrur Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Masrur Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Masrur Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Masrur Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Masrur Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Masrur Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Masrur Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Masrur Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Masrur Temple, Himachal Pradesh

Not far from Masrur is the 1000-year-old Kangra Fort. It’s an impressive stone and brick fortress on a hill overlooking the river. It has been used by different conquers over the years from Hindu Rajahs, Mughals, Sikhs and the British. The walk through the fort took us through many large stone gates and along 4m thick stone walls with narrow openings only wide enough for archers to shoot their arrows. The palace at the top of the fort was damaged in the same 1905 earthquake, but enough remains to imagine its grandeur.

Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
One of the gates of Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
One of the gates of Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
One of the gates of Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
One of the gates of Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
View from Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
View from Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
Masrur Temple, Himachal Pradesh
Palace, Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
Palace, Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
Palace, Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
Parrots at Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh
Parrots at Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh

A short walk north of McLeod Ganj is the small hillside village of Bhagsu. Above the village is a large waterfall that is very popular with Indian tourists. Since we were there during monsoon season, the waterfall was very large and powerful. It started to rain on our walk back to McLeod Ganj. In fact, it rained heavily for most of our time in this area, but the rain didn’t diminish our experience.

Friendly men at their vegetable stall on a rainy day in McLeod Ganj
Friendly men at their vegetable stall on a rainy day in McLeod Ganj
Bull on the roadside, McLeod Ganj in the background
Bull on the roadside, McLeod Ganj in the background
McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh
McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh
Bhagsu Waterfall, Himachal Pradesh
Bhagsu Waterfall, Himachal Pradesh

Dedicated to our nephew, Jordan Kayes, you will always remain in our hearts.

Coming up next: Stranded in a blizzard… in India

For extra pics from this trip go to Gallery/Northern India. For extra pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.

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