Notes From a Pilgrimage
Fran Korten makes a pilgrimage to speak with the Dalai Lama.
The letter came out of the blue. The Association for Global Thought wanted to know if Dave and I would like to travel to Daramsala, India, in September to meet with the Dalai Lama. We would be part of a dialogue group of about 35 people, mostly Americans, concerned with the evolution of consciousness. Was the invite for real?
We discovered it was indeed for real and, months later, found ourselves in a bus bouncing along the rutted roads of India headed to Daramsala. Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, the small town hosts the residence of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile.
On the train and then again on the bus ride to Daramsala, I took in the Indian countryside. Though I have lived much of my life in poor countries, my consciousness was once again seared by the depth of the poverty that is the grist of everyday life for many people of India. We passed a muddy, barren field housing hundreds of families, each with one simple open tent and almost no possessions. The image stuck in my mind and heart.
By the time we arrived in Daramsala at midnight, friendships among our group had bloomed. I had had rich multi-hour conversations with Jean Houston, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Justine Toms, and Sergio Lub. The group had shared the uncertainties of a bus trip in which no one was in charge and the drivers spoke no English; we came to enjoy the indignities of peeing together by the side of the road; we flocked to tiny roadside stands for crackers and bottled water in the absence of dinner. And then we arrived, exhausted, hungry, bonded, and full of anticipation for the extraordinary opportunity ahead.
We met for the next six days at the gracious Norbulingka Institute, an oasis of Tibetan culture, which was established in Daramsala after the Tibetan government fled the Chinese invasion of 1959. Throughout our discussions, held in the temple with a massive golden Buddha looming above us and Tibetan art on every wall, we could feel the strength of this age-old culture.
There is much to tell of our interactions with the Dalai Lama, other Tibetans, and one another. In this small space, let me relate just three insights that touched me most.
One came in watching compassion at work. With every word the Dalai Lama spoke, with every gesture he made, he expressed compassion for all sentient beings – no exclusions – including the Chinese, whose government has dealt so cruelly with the Tibetan people over 40 long years. Every day, refugees arrive at Daramsala and other sites in India full of stories of torture and the systematic defilement of Tibetan culture. The Dalai Lama takes in the fear, anger, and hatred expressed in those acts of destruction and transforms them to compassion.
A second insight for me was the meaning of deep listening. When each person in our group spoke, the Dalai Lama listened with his whole being. His body leaned forward in eagerness to absorb new thoughts, his enormous powers of attention focused fully on the speaker. On several occasions when I had the chance to speak, I looked into his eyes and felt that my very being had entered into a large room – a place with space enough for ideas, tragedy, laughter, acceptance, and great compassion. I vowed to practice deep listening. If we all were to listen deeply to one another, how much greater might be our understanding and how much lesser our conflicts?
A third insight flowed from our discussion of the media. We spoke about the media’s emphasis on the negative and its effect of engendering discouragement and paralysis. Of course the news is negative, the Dalai Lama exclaimed. That’s because people are basically good! We take good actions for granted. We are shocked by bad actions – that’s what makes them news. In our media-saturated world, however, we are so immersed in the bad news, we get confused and think that violence and meanness reflect our basic nature. He urged us to select with great care the media we consume, balance the negative with the positive, the trivial with the wise, the alienating with the empowering. We must search for media that show the possibilities for change and educate us all about the human spirit.
I believe these three powerful insights can nourish us all as we cross the threshold to a new century, creating new possibilities and celebrating the magnificence of the human spirit.