The Dalai Lama is in town again, to give a series of teachings to the Korean Buddhists who have requested them.
Purnima and I went, joining the throngs of monks, nuns, and ordinary people who streamed into his open temple. We followed the crowds, past vendors selling jellibies and paranthas, past old Tibetan women selling colorful wool shawls, and past barefoot Indian kids playing music for a few rupees.
As we entered a darkened corridor that connected us to the inner courtyard, a large cow plodded in front of us, swinging his tail and chewing grass. The entire crowd slowed and the corridor turned into a bottleneck as the cow made his leisurely way through to the other side.
Once the teachings began, the entire temple became quiet, thousands of people sitting with their hands folded in their laps. Purnima and I shared a set of headphones to listen to the English translation. The Dalai Lama talked about “emptiness” as it pertains to Buddhism. The notion of emptiness is that nothing has an inherent essence. All things are connected and reliant on each other. A flower is only a flower because it was nourished by the soil, watered by rain, and energized by the sun. No flower stands alone, independent of all other causes and factors. Similarly, no human stands alone. In that sense, we are essence-less. Empty.
About halfway through the teachings, crimson-robed monks moved through the crowds with huge pots of steaming milk tea. They passed out Styrofoam cups and filled them up. Purnima and I drank ours on the balcony as the mist rolled in and the monkeys played in the trees.
As the teachings came to a close, a palpable excitement rolled through the crowd. We strategically maneuvered our way to the front, where the Dalai Lama would emerge from the inner temple. We knelt down on cushions, and pressed our hands together before our hearts.
The doors swung open, and several senior lamas walked out. Then the Dalai Lama appeared, his arched eyebrows halfway up his forehead, that happy, childlike smile on his face. He bowed and nodded, his crimson and yellow robes grazing the floor. When he came to where Purnima and I knelt, I got so excited, I took my hands away from my heart and waved at him with both hands. He looked right at me and smiled, and I felt like I was buzzing with happiness. Everyone around me was smiling. The whole place felt so happy and enlivened by his presence.
Later, we emerged from the temple into the afternoon sunlight. We moved with the throngs of cars, people, and cows up the narrow, winding road. About halfway up, we passed the shop where I have dropped far too many rupees on beautifully hand-stitched rugs. Hilal, my favorite suave businessman, invited us in for chai.
Come, come, my friends, he insisted. Sit, have chai with me!
He disappeared through the fluttering scarves that shrouded the door to his shop, and Purnima and I looked at each other, shrugged, and went in. On Dalai Lama day, it’s hard to say no to anyone.