Author: Alexander Herz
It was about noon when I fully realized that I was much farther away from the Dalai Lama then I had anticipated. I suppose, in retrospect, that that wasn’t entirely in my control (the Kalachakra festival officials only allowed foreigners to sit in a quartered-off section to the left of the massive center stage), but I couldn’t help but feel an innate sense of disappointment at my not being able to see His Holiness up close. I wanted to bask in his irreverent glory, to feel in depth his radiating Dharmic energies, or at the very least take his photo.
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Not that the photo was the most important thing in the world. The group I was with had traveled to the Kashmir region of India as part of a summer photography expedition, and we had come, rather coincidentally, at one of the most pivotal times in the region’s recent religious history, it being the much-anticipated 33rd Kalachakra festival for world peace. The event was to be emcee’d by His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama.
I, being a Western teenager captivated by the mysterious appeal of Tibetan Buddhism, was enthralled to learn that we would be attending Kalachakra on July 6th, and would, unmistakably, get to see the high lama in action. I thus vowed that I would do whatever it took to give myself the chance to look into his eyes and experience nirvana.
After traversing a few thin pathways around the venue to try to close some distance, I came across the section of the venue dedicated to Tibetan monks, and, rather excitedly, whipped out my camera in order to capture them and all their visceral glory. I found myself mesmerized by the apparent grace and calmness with which these individuals held themselves, their concentration never faltering from the man at center stage. These were men of the highest order, forever so mystical, so profound, so enlightened.
And so human.
After snapping a few photos, I noticed that most of the actions the monks were performing were pretty much commonplace. A nearby group whispered and giggled in the midst of the Dalai Lama’s speech. An older monk to my left reclined on his back, his hands folded behind his head. A boy, no older than me, produced from his mahogany robes an iPhone 4 and began an intense round of Angry Birds.
At that moment, the Dalai Lama reached a pivotal point in his speech, or must have (my Tibetan isn’t very good) judging by the way his voice rose dramatically in volume. I directed my attention toward him, only to find that the man who I had only moments before placed on a pedestal of godly proportions seemed, in an instant, just that: a man. A wide smile stretched across the Dalai Lama’s face, his eyes wrinkled from years of similar joyous expressions. After reading a brief sentence, he suddenly erupted in to a fit of giggling, and then, after taking a moment to compose himself, emitted a long and contented sigh, letting the happiness of the moment sink in.
And so it was that, for the first time in my life, I came to realize just how much like us the Buddhist monks of Kashmir really are. To a point, we Westerners tend to boost these people to a point of idyllic perfection, shaping them in our mind’s eye as a perfect ideal to strive for. In the process, however, we lose sight of the fact that, deep down, these monks are people, and, though we might not think it, so is the Dalai Lama.