Prepare yourself for every superlative and cliché in the book, as I try to describe the experience of meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama this week; an extraordinary and outrageously special experience (you see? I’ve already started with the hyperbole). My journal entry says, “I’m not sure if ‘holy crap!’ are appropriate words to use in the same sentence as the Dalai Lama, but holy crap, I met His Holiness the Dalai Lama on my flight to Delhi today”. Since the experience was much more profound than that, I will now try to give it due reverence.
During my advanced yoga teacher training in McLeod Ganj, India, I was optimistic that I would get a chance to see His Holiness, since his residence was on our doorstep. Over seven weeks, like a DalaiGroupie. I checked his official itinerary online, applied through the web site for a “private audience” (although I would have been happy to be one in a cast of thousands), visited the security office in the town, asked local Buddhists, monks and nuns who had now become friends if they knew of any unscheduled appearances, and when I had a chance to visit the Buddhist temple adjacent to his home, I’d stay alert, just in case he felt a spontaneous urge to venture out and have some time with his peeps. It was not meant to be. The harder I searched, the more elusive he was.
Finally, it was the end of my stay and time for me to accept I was not going to see HHDL. There’s some irony in that acceptance, since the Buddhist and Yoga philosophy of non-attachment suggests that to avoid suffering, we should detach from our desires to the point that if they remain unfulfilled, we can still be content. Best we accept, with grace, the things we can’t change – no Dalai Lama as part of my yoga teacher training? Okay, then, I could live with that … it had still been an unforgettable seven weeks at Kailash Tribal School of Yoga.
And so, on the Dharamsala to Delhi flight, I was staring out the window, saying goodbye and thank you for my special Himalayan yoga experience, when I noticed the American couple sitting behind me were now taking selfies with two Tibetan monks in the front row. I thought, “Oh, isn’t that sweet; they’ve obviously not seen many monks yet and this is still a novelty for them”.
Half an hour later, without really knowing where the question came from, I found myself casually asking them if there was any specific reason they were taking photos of “the two monks”, and they stared at me and said, “Uh, YES. That’s the Dalai Lama”. My jaw dropped. I hadn’t even noticed them boarding the aircraft, I’d been so lost in my Goodbye-McLeod-Ganj thoughts. To Art and Amy from DC … THANK YOU!
All these weeks of wishing and hoping to see him, and now here he was, two rows in front of me, within an easy yoga stretch. The next slice of time (2 minutes? 2 years? 2 seconds?) passed in a daze (cliché, but true). I found myself crouching down in the aisle, waiting shyly and not wanting to disturb him, while simultaneously also wanting to sit in his lap and ask him for All The Answers to All The Questions. He looked up and reached out towards me, beckoning me to come forward. I knelt down, simply holding his hands and staring at him. His grip was firm and strong and when I looked at the photos afterwards, I realized I was crushing his hands in my white-knuckled grasp, not wanting to let go.
Friends have asked me what I said to him and he to me, but there was no need for words. There was nothing I wanted to say. I simply held his hands and gazed at him; his deep, brown eyes alert and filled with light and wisdom, and a small smile on his face. I drank it all in. I felt his presence as pure; his spirit kind, humble and compassionate. It felt like I was bathing in his energy, on the receiving end of unconditional love and I wanted nothing more than to return this love to him, from my heart. (Yes, I warned you about the superlatives).
At some point, I placed my palms together in “Namaste”, and stumbled back to my seat. I sat for a while, not even looking at the photos my fellow American passenger had taken of me. I sat and absorbed what had just happened, and my eyes filled with tears as I realized how blessed I was to have experienced this. As many people pointed out, it was the perfect end to an already perfect yoga adventure in India. Once we had landed in Delhi, I looked down to notice I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt after I had floated back to my seat. But somehow, I think our flight was in safe hands.