Macro- or micro-cosmic, the Dharma (and the FPMT) cast a comforting magic net over this entire planet we call home.
Part of my trip's mission was to go to the FPMT centre in each city we visited. I advise any Dharma student travelling the world to do the same. Even at the wrong time of year when some of the centres were closed, we were welcomed in for a cup of tea and a look around.
The sense of global community is wonderful. People dedicated to bringing the most benefit to as many sentient beings as possible, all under the incredible wings of the angel we know as Lama Zopa Rinpoche. It is as if we are all joined together by golden threads; power lines that encompass the globe, all running on the same main engine: enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. I have no doubt that through our individual efforts and meditation, no matter how small, we definitely do help each other (and sentient beings) along the path.
The big Dharma highlights of our trip were Dharamsala (well, der!) and America. Mostly because these were the places where we had opportunity to take teachings with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. So where did we go? Well India of course, where we dropped into Tushita Meditation Centre, which is like an oasis of calm and coolness in the overheated mayhem that is Delhi. It was closed (sensibly) for the summer months (next time you feel oppressed by the Brisbane heat just think India in summer and you won't be anymore) but they welcomed us and showed us around nonetheless. It has great teachings and serious retreats going on all the time and, naturally enough, just feels sodden with deep Dharma vibe.
McLeod-Ganj itself is like the Land of Oz or some magic mountain kingdom full of wizards and magic people in general. All those incredible lamas and monks and nuns and teachings going on all the time. You can go and circumambulate the gompas and statues at His Holiness's monastery everyday for as long as you like and every person you bump into on the street is probably an enlightened being.
The day after we arrived in McLeod-Ganj, His Holiness came home from a trip abroad and the entire population of the town was out to welcome him home. The streets were bedecked with prayer flags and auspicious symbols, and everyone was making huge clouds of incense for him to drive through.
It was a matter of waiting a few hours (no such thing as a definite time of arrival in India) and of course this was no problem. One Tibetan man noticed some deep pot holes in the road and began digging out clods of lawn-covered earth and filling the holes with them, stamping them down so that His Holiness wouldn't have a bumpy ride up the road. It seemed to me that the Tibetan people are just incredibly happy to be living so close to the man they love so much.
His Holiness taught for a week on the Four Tenets and Lam Rim. To hear teachings from His Holiness in his own monastery and among so many lamas, monks, nuns, devoted Tibetans and an incredibly eclectic bunch of Westerners, what to say? So powerful.
Being amongst the Tibetan population was really incredible. I know that Tibetans are ‘fashionable' and characterised as lovable and gentle and all (it's important to remember that they are just ordinary, fallible samsaric beings like the rest of us) but I did find their attitude to life both energizing and humbling. They work incredibly hard and really just get on with it in the face of having it pretty bloody rough. It made me realize how much I get my knickers in a twist over nothing, just for the sake of it or for the sake of putting off doing anything about it (we Westerners really can be such drama queens!) I think the Tibetans are just great in being happy to just live close to His Holiness. An unlooked for benefit to come from their hideous exile, thus transforming adversity.
Also, if you ever go to Dharamsala, get stuck into teaching English to Tibetan monks and nuns immediately. They are after any help they can get, no matter how skilled or not, and it's a beneficial way to become involved in local life. You never know, you may end up teaching a highly realized being!
In Europe we dropped into the new centre in Amsterdam which was closed for renovations, but they made some time for us (the trick is to not ring first then they can't tell you that they're closed). It is very light and elegant and Europeanly gorgeous and seems to have a lot of energy.
Jamyang Centre in London is extremely interesting in it's ex-court house/lock-up building. The residents' rooms are the ex-holding cells (very monastic) and the gompa is in the court room itself. Where the judge would once have sat is now an enormous, exquisite bright gold statue of the Buddha. So, talk about transformation of samsara!
Then America, which has an incredible Dharma buzz. So much energy and so many activities. His Holiness was touring throughout the time we were there. There were ads with His Holiness' image all over them wherever we went. Every time I started feeling nervous about getting around on the subway in Harlem or elsewhere in New York, I looked up to see a huge picture of His Holiness smiling down from the subway wall.
Kalachakra Initiation in Indiana, USA, was huge and, needless to say, incredible. His Holiness worked his highest yoga tantra magic over an enormous happy crowd and all was blissful, even the large number of security forces. There were four different kinds of police: federal police, US marshals, local sheriffs, secret service and probably half a dozen others we weren't aware of. Half way through the week they were light hearted and happy, enjoying jokes with the participants and still doing their job very well. They began to manifest as blissful Dharma protectors.
His Holiness must be a nightmare for his bodyguards. He moves like lightning to be with anyone in the crowd who needs him, and they can't keep up. One afternoon after teachings a lady in the crowd offered him a flower as he walked out of the gompa. He, of course, accepted. His loyal and protective body guard immediately took it from him to inspect. His Holiness wearily accepted this action for a minute, but then turned to his bodyguard as if to say "this is ridiculous - it's a flower!" and laughingly took it back from him.
His Holiness smiles lovingly at the Indian Military guard performing his best drill with an enormous rifle, who in turn beams back like an ecstatic five year old. It is odd at first for us from the relatively safe non-violent paradise that is Australia, to see so much security and guns in gompas and be frisked thoroughly on the way into teachings. But this is the degenerate age and it is necessary apparently, so it all becomes part of the mandala. I pray fervently for those damaged souls who bring harm and even death to enlightened beings.
I won't be able to forget one morning as His Holiness and entourage entered and filed lovingly past the crowd assembled along his way. From my possie up the back I could only see his head bobbing above the crowd. Then all of a sudden he disappeared. I waited and waited until finally he popped up again and proceeded to the throne. I found out later what had happened. An elderly Tibetan lady had asked him to bless her mala, and as he took it, it broke and the beads went all over the ground. His Holiness was down on the floor with this lady helping her to pick up every one of them. How lucky is she?
On the last day of Kalachakra there was a group of young Christian teenagers outside the entrance protesting. They were so cute. They had lots of placards about Buddhists going to hell and such, but the best one said "Don't mind us, we're just an illusion". I think all the Kalachakra attendees happily took it as helpful reminder rather than an insult.
Then on to California and the Land of Medicine Buddha -a vital centre just pumping with energy and good stuff. I was surprised, as I expected to find the whole Buddhist scene in the States just too ‘new-agey' and for my dry Australian tastes. That is undoubtedly present but it is totally overrun by these other American traits of great energy, determination and focus.
The Dharma scene in America is really inspiring. Land of Medicine Buddha wins the prize for most jaw-droppingly beautiful gompa. The entire room is lined with thousands of beautiful big fairy lights. There's a sand mandala and a million offerings and bright thankas and it's just gorgeous. It looks like a pure land heaven.
The most exciting spot is up the hill at the FPMT International Office and Mandala Magazine headquarters. This is the hub of the global network we call home. The people working here are just doing the best thing keeping it all knitted together across the world.
So there you have it. My Dharma world tour '99. The overriding lesson in all of this, from every country we visited, is that Australia is a unique little oasis where life is so easy. Survival is easy in comparison to every other country in the world; we have such comfort, luxury of time and great karma with the Dharma and our precious teachers. It's incredible. I know we're all doing our best, but lets make like Lama Zopa Rinpoche and do better than our best!
I must thank my dear husband Dave who worked so hard that we could go travelling, and my incredibly kind parents-in-law who bailed us out financially so we could keep travelling. Mention them to the Buddhas for me at the next puja you do at my all time favourite Dharma centre in all the world, Langri Tangpa Centre.