The Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, has been in town or near it during our whole expedition. Thursday morning he gave a public speech, a sermon really, in Leh so some of us went to hear what he had to say. By the way, in the USA a lot of us have been pronouncing his title wrong. He’s not the “dolly” lama, he is the “da-LIE” lama.
Needless to say there was a big traffic jam on the way. We should have started much earlier. But the traffic never quite stopped moving, our driver was skillful, and in the end we were only half an hour late. In India, that’s nothing.
The Dalai Lama’s speech lasted for hours. This was partly because he spoke in his native Tibetan, with simultaneous translation into English for the benefit of us foreigners, who had our own seating area close to the stage. But after each major section of his talk, it would be read a second time in the local Ladakhi language, which is related to Tibetan but different enough to merit a re-reading. So we snoozed through these parts. We were sitting on a canvas tarp in the hot sun. The binoculars I brought allowed us to watch him as though he was right there. He smiles a lot, and cracked some jokes. The crowd was the most orderly gathering of people I have ever seen.
What did he say? I took some notes but they are necessarily fragmentary. Here they are; the errors and omissions are mine, not the Dalai Lama’s:
The Buddha overcame his own suffering. Get rid of negative emotions. Buddha-hood is a state where your mind is free. Become a Buddha to benefit all sentient beings. It doesn’t come to you merely through prayer. He talks about happiness. He tells the story of Siddhartha Gautama; an Indian prince who discovered birth, aging, sickness and death once he left his privileged home. Siddhartha Gautama lead an ascetic life for years, then became enlightened in the forest. He found a nectar-like principle: compassion and love. Four noble truths. Suffering must be known (but there’s nothing to be known.) The origin of suffering must be rooted out. Impermanence, emptiness, selflessness, mindfulness. He says “I am speaking from scripture, but also from my own experience.” He talks about the Buddha’s disciples. He talks about some “sutras” (holy books). He talks about the spread of the Buddha’s teachings into China, Japan, Vietnam, etc. He talks about the transmission of texts to these cultures. It’s partly a history lesson.
Then he takes questions from the crowd. The first one was “how do we know we all have the Buddha nature?” The Dalai Lama’s answer to this is long and involved and invokes some scripture. We leave before all the questions have been answered, because we have a meeting to prepare for with some school children from the Rangdum Valley Middle School. They have driven for two days to see the Dalai Lama (and to meet us.)