Watching the rare documentary of The Yogis of Tibet offered a great insight into the ancient culture and practice of Tibetan throughout the years in Tibet and after their refuge to other regions. The hardship of their external environment allowed them to look inside and practice their daily rituals.
The presence of Ladakhi military against the Chinese army and for being part of the Jammu and Kashmir region was indeed very much felt. However, being in Ladakh and getting a sense of the Tibetan culture was an extraordinary experience.
We were so honored and blessed to be able to attend two of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teaching in Ladakh on August 8th and 9th.
On Aug 8th, His Holliness visited Saboo and Stok Villages in Ladakh and initiated the opening ceremony of Ngari Institute of Buddhist Dialectics at Saboo in Ladakh, which had been constructed by the instruction of His Holiness as to integrate traditional buddhists and modern education for the benefit of the people of Ladakh and other Himalayan regions.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama talked about the need of education on compassion versus on the materials in today’s world. Despite of the differences in religions, all have the same message of self discipline and compassion, and all practice love, tolerance, and forgiveness. He emphasized that doing rituals and mantras are not solely enough and one should learn the philosophy and think about the process.
Ladakhi Women in their traditional attire doing a dance at the end of the ceremony.
It was such a traditional, intimate, local ceremony and pure bliss that we could attend and be able to sit in the foreigners’ section with an English translator on the spot. Learning about how the local people dress and participate in such ceremonies, as well as being at the presence of His Holiness was priceless.
During the ceremony, everyone was graciously served with traditional Tibetan tea (butter tea) and a small serving of Dresil, Tibetan sweet rice. The hospitality and generousness of the people in Ladakh was indeed one of a kind.
On Aug 9th, we made an early departure to the Thiksey monastery for another public gathering of local people, Buddhist monks and nuns, and students with the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
All streets were decorated with new or old prayer flags, locals were sweeping the streets to greet such an honorable guest, and the spirit of the villages and people were immensely high in spirituality.
Such a blissful experience to be there! After getting there around 7 am, we were able to rest and watch the crowds come in and settle.
The ceremony began by different talks by lamas and sheikhs, and a few debates by the student monks. The debates were on how sound is connected to consciousness and whether teachings on Buddhism need to be of the Mahayana tradition. The 101st Ganden Tripa, Khensur Lungri Namgyel Rinpoche gave a talk on the importance of leaving the materials for curing sufferings. He mentioned that today, despite of many nations having access to nuclear weapons, we as the people need to overcome our greeds in order to make a right living and avoid conflicts and upcoming of natural disasters. By examining what brings good or bad experiences, we need to find what causes religious harmony.
Both Sheikh Javed of the Shia Muslim Community and the Molvi of the Sunni Muslim Community gave talk before His Holiness, “The Jewel of Wisdom,” emphasizing on the importance of being sincere in the practice of all religions and reaching happiness in this life or beyond this life.
During his speech, His Holiness the Dalai Lama talked about the importance of removing the distinctions between us humans from religion to nationality and realizing that we are all one. He said instead of considering himself as The Dalai Lama or a Tibetan or a Buddhist, he thinks of himself as a human being just like others.
He considered Ladakh as a unique place that all religions are co-existing together (among Buddhists, Shia Muslims, Sunnis, Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs) and for this reason Ladakh should be a beacon of light for the rest of the world in learning about tolerance and diversity. It’s disheartening that religion has become one of the causes for conflicts around the world.
An Islamic event happening on Aug 14 nearby a Monastery we visited.
Also, he addressed the buddhists that having blind faith and practice is not enough, and they have to study and challenge Buddhism philosophy. He also mentioned that in Tibetan Refugee school, he’s asked to changed the religious teacher to philosophy teacher, showing the importance of thinking in learning the religious materials.
During the break for lunch, we visited the phenomenal Thiksey monastery and the 49 ft high statue of Maitreya inside the red building (2 stories high).
After the lunch break, there was a Q&A session for 350 students from Leh and His Holiness. A student asked about achieving peace when there are so much violence in the world. Again His Holiness emphasized on respecting and treating all humans as humans despite of their faith and religion. All humans strive to be happy.
Another question was about the difference of treating animals in Buddhism and having offerings in Islam. His Holiness gave a detailed answer describing the lack of vegetation in Tibet in old days and how monks cannot demand a specific food from the lay people, putting it in perspective.
On this ceremony too we were served with butter tea and sweet rice, and again such an honor to be present with the local people on such a high teaching and important gathering.
Ladakhi Women in their traditional attire.
On Aug 12, we made a visit to the Tibetan Children’s Village at Choglamsar, Leh Ladakh. After the Chinese invasion in 1959, genocide of Tibetan people, and upon the refuge of His Holiness and 100,000 Tibetan into exile, His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognized the need of a cultural and educational center for Tibetan refuges in order to preserve the Tibetan culture and traditions. Tibetan Children’s Village in Ladakh was founded in 1975 and offered education and home stays to young students and families.
We were able to join a classroom when they were having philosophy (changed from religion topic to philosophy). We talked with different students and the range of interests and activities were really amazing. Some were running in Leh’s Marathon on September 11 and were super excited. A talented girl sang the song “like you” by Justin Bieber and dazzled us with her voice. Two girls showed us how they practice yoga and aerobic in school. It was an amazing experience talking to each student and learning about their interest. A lot of the students favored English and writing as their main subject. This was a senior class and they told us about the universities they will be transferring to next semester. Some were to be together and some were sad to separate due to the difference majors they had chosen.
Toward the end of our visit, we went to a home stay that housed 20 students with a local family. All children contributed to housework and gardening.