Report from Ladakh: Dalai Lama inspires peace

By Mati Bernabei

Ladakh (India) – July 2014: Deep blue skies, glacial fed rivers and streams, glistening snow-capped peaks, arid landscapes of dirt and rock interspersed with lush green river valleys and hillside oases nourished via intricate ancient networks of irrigation channels. Villages and towns across the region consist primarily of flat roofed houses separated by narrow lanes and pathways, along with Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. In the capital city of Leh, mosques add additional colour and vibrancy to the landscapes and soundscapes. Modernity arrived in Ladakh decades ago, yet respect for the ancient wisdom of traditional understandings has been retained in the hearts, minds, and community practices of many people here.

It is not my first visit to Ladakh, but this year I came for a special purpose – to receive Buddhist teachings and the Kalachakra Initiation, delivered by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The event is additionally special, as on July 6th His Holiness’ celebrated his 79th birthday here, with about 120,000 well-wishers in attendance.

There are just a few ways to get to Ladakh, and this time I took the easiest route. First, I took a 24 hour flight from Vancouver to Delhi, then, after a few days adjusting to the 12.5 hour time-change, I boarded a 1.5 hour flight from Delhi to Leh. Alternatively, there are 3 possible land routes to Ladakh, each involving a minimum of 3 days driving from Delhi, including rough roads and passes of over 5000 meters (via Kashmir, Manali, or Kinnaur). In my case, the flight was long, but comfortable. I have no complaints, particularly because some other attendees may have walked and driven for many days from their villages in remote regions of the Himalayas.

On July 6th I arrived early at the teaching site near the Tibetan Refugee Settlement of Choglamsar, about 8km south of Leh. What had been an open field just a few weeks ago is now a bustling and well organized outdoor auditorium that can comfortably accommodate up to 150,000 devotees (or more … Himalayan Buddhist culture is expansive and inclusive  -- somehow, at events such as these, even when the space appears on the surface to be completely full, there is always room everyone who arrives). The vast majority of attendees are Buddhists from the local regions of Ladakh, Zanskar, and Spiti – close cultural cousins of Tibetans. In addition, thousands of Tibetans and others from across South Asia have made the journey, as have an estimated 4000 people from foreign countries. We foreigners are seated together in a region where translation from Tibetan into several other languages is provided over FM radio. I am delighted to see that amongst the “foreigners” are hundreds of Tibetans who now live in countries outside South Asia (such as Canada), yet have journeyed here with their families to participate in the teachings and immerse their children within a landscape and cultural contexts that are as close to “Tibetan” as is possible without actually travelling into Tibet. Amongst their various notions of “home”, this place is very close to the heart.

On July 6th, the commemoration of His Holiness’ 79th birthday was both heartwarming, and inspirational. With 120,000 well-wishers in attendance and many more participating via live webcast, His Holiness expressed deep gratitude and appreciation to all those in attendance physically and in cyberspace, to others around the world who were sending their best wishes, and especially to Tibetans inside Tibet who celebrated in secret and prayed for his long-life in their hearts.

Birthday greetings and speeches were delivered by government representatives of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, representatives of Ladakhi Buddhist and Muslim communities, and Tibetan community leaders. All expressed their love and appreciation for His Holiness, and expressed profound appreciation for the ways in which His Holiness has shown us all how to live well in local and global community, and relish the opportunities for learning that human diversity affords us. Actor Richard Gere spoke beautifully on behalf of all foreigners, conveying our appreciation for His Holiness’ contribution to global community through his teachings and his actions.

His Holiness responded with passion, expressing appreciation and thanks. He took the opportunity to remind us of the importance of living sustainably within the natural environment, of adopting non-violence motivated by deep respect (not simply non-violence through restraint, but non-violence of a deeper sort), and of practicing universal values that are relevant to all, regardless of religious or other difference. His passionate request the each of us act, and act now, to promote “peace” in all its forms – environmental, social, spiritual – resonated across the hills.

More in a few days –

Mati Bernabei is a member of the Canada Tibet Committee Board of Directors.  She lives in Vancouver.

Ladakh (India) – July 2014: Deep blue skies, glacial fed rivers and streams, glistening snow-capped peaks, arid landscapes of dirt and rock interspersed with lush green river valleys and hillside oases nourished via intricate ancient networks of irrigation channels. Villages and towns across the region consist primarily of flat roofed houses separated by narrow lanes and pathways, along with Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. In the capital city of Leh, mosques add additional colour and vibrancy to the landscapes and soundscapes. Modernity arrived in Ladakh decades ago, yet respect for the ancient wisdom of traditional understandings has been retained in the hearts, minds, and community practices of many people here.

It is not my first visit to Ladakh, but this year I came for a special purpose – to receive Buddhist teachings and the Kalachakra Initiation, delivered by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The event is additionally special, as on July 6th His Holiness’ celebrated his 79th birthday here, with about 120,000 well-wishers in attendance.

There are just a few ways to get to Ladakh, and this time I took the easiest route. First, I took a 24 hour flight from Vancouver to Delhi, then, after a few days adjusting to the 12.5 hour time-change, I boarded a 1.5 hour flight from Delhi to Leh. Alternatively, there are 3 possible land routes to Ladakh, each involving a minimum of 3 days driving from Delhi, including rough roads and passes of over 5000 meters (via Kashmir, Manali, or Kinnaur). In my case, the flight was long, but comfortable. I have no complaints, particularly because some other attendees may have walked and driven for many days from their villages in remote regions of the Himalayas.

On July 6th I arrived early at the teaching site near the Tibetan Refugee Settlement of Choglamsar, about 8km south of Leh. What had been an open field just a few weeks ago is now a bustling and well organized outdoor auditorium that can comfortably accommodate up to 150,000 devotees (or more … Himalayan Buddhist culture is expansive and inclusive  -- somehow, at events such as these, even when the space appears on the surface to be completely full, there is always room everyone who arrives). The vast majority of attendees are Buddhists from the local regions of Ladakh, Zanskar, and Spiti – close cultural cousins of Tibetans. In addition, thousands of Tibetans and others from across South Asia have made the journey, as have an estimated 4000 people from foreign countries. We foreigners are seated together in a region where translation from Tibetan into several other languages is provided over FM radio. I am delighted to see that amongst the “foreigners” are hundreds of Tibetans who now live in countries outside South Asia (such as Canada), yet have journeyed here with their families to participate in the teachings and immerse their children within a landscape and cultural contexts that are as close to “Tibetan” as is possible without actually travelling into Tibet. Amongst their various notions of “home”, this place is very close to the heart.

On July 6th, the commemoration of His Holiness’ 79th birthday was both heartwarming, and inspirational. With 120,000 well-wishers in attendance and many more participating via live webcast, His Holiness expressed deep gratitude and appreciation to all those in attendance physically and in cyberspace, to others around the world who were sending their best wishes, and especially to Tibetans inside Tibet who celebrated in secret and prayed for his long-life in their hearts.

Birthday greetings and speeches were delivered by government representatives of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, representatives of Ladakhi Buddhist and Muslim communities, and Tibetan community leaders. All expressed their love and appreciation for His Holiness, and expressed profound appreciation for the ways in which His Holiness has shown us all how to live well in local and global community, and relish the opportunities for learning that human diversity affords us. Actor Richard Gere spoke beautifully on behalf of all foreigners, conveying our appreciation for His Holiness’ contribution to global community through his teachings and his actions.

His Holiness responded with passion, expressing appreciation and thanks. He took the opportunity to remind us of the importance of living sustainably within the natural environment, of adopting non-violence motivated by deep respect (not simply non-violence through restraint, but non-violence of a deeper sort), and of practicing universal values that are relevant to all, regardless of religious or other difference. His passionate request the each of us act, and act now, to promote “peace” in all its forms – environmental, social, spiritual – resonated across the hills.

More in a few days –

Mati Bernabei is a member of the Canada Tibet Committee Board of Directors.  She lives in Vancouver.

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