Buddhism - Lot more than little Lhasa
by Amit Jayaram
When I first visited McLeod Ganj in the mid-eighties, my
aim was simply to learn from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Five inspiring, joyful days flew past, and I returned to the hustle and
bustle of Delhi, still enrapt by the presence and grace of the Dalai
Lama. The second time, a couple of years ago, I was a part of an audience
which heard the Dalai Lama give a discourse on secular meditation,
as it was being shot on video. The highlight of this brief three-day trip
was that His Holiness recognized me, commented on the length of
my hair and called me 'old friend'.
Understandably, I came back in a supra-gravitational state, supported and surrounded by pink clouds, and my consciousness surrounded by the Dalai Lama. In retrospect, it's clear that I was a victim of tunnel vision on both occasions. McLeod Ganj, in all its diversity, surely surrounded me then, as it did in my recent visit there. But my eyes, filled with the splendor of the Dalai Lama; had seen nothing else. This time, I finally looked around as I set about writing my impressionistic piece on McLeod Ganj.
McLeod Ganj, uphill from Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, the Himalayan state of India, has the kind of phenomenal energy that I have rarely encountered in a large geographical space like this, except perhaps in New York City or at the Osho Commune in Pune, the latter being much more intense; not surprisingly, since it is a small, secluded commune. But in McLeod Ganj the energy was everywhere, tangible, almost visible.
What is energy, you might ask. Energy is a quality of certain spaces that permeates you and imbues you with a freshness and vitality you wouldn't be so easily possessed of elsewhere. It is something which is better experienced than described. Think of it as something you feel when you're deeply in tune with another, be it a lover or friend, your mother or even with fat dewdrops on fresh green leaves in the early dawn.
I was not the only person to feel this way about McLeod Ganj. Innumerable people I met there talked of their sensitivity to the high levels of energy in the place. Ajai Singh owner of the beautiful Glenmoor Cottages, where I stayed; told me that the Dalai Lama was offered a choice of places to settle down in, including Mussoorie and some locations down south. But he zeroed in on McLeod Ganj, because it was a dharam chakra, an area blessed with a positive energy field.
If the energy is unique, so is the ambience and social structure. McLeod Ganj is truly cosmopolitan, urbane, sophisticated, even avant garde a global town, if ever there was one. As some Indian tourists I met there remarked, an Indian can easily feel like a foreigner here! Home to many globetrotters. I noticed a sizeable number of Israelis—who are drawn to the place, it's difficult to point out who belongs and who is visiting. The place has the rich, textured feel of a space in which you can't feel out of place.
McLeod Ganj is an interesting synthesis of an idyllic hill station and a city. While its environs and general feel are those of a picturesque retreat, it has a cultural and social life throbbing with activity. To continue the parallel with New York City, there's something happening everywhere all the time in McLeod Ganj. While the pace of events might not be anywhere near as frenetic as that in NYC, the events are wide and varied and easily at hand, if one is on the lookout for things mystical and alternative. And there's the same free feel and enticing aroma of initiative and enterprise here.
Take meditation. There are signs up everywhere, advertising any kind of system you can think of—from 10-day courses in vipassana to the humbler offerings of half-day and one-day sessions. Probably meditation contributes to making McLeod Ganj what it is.
A delightful 15-minute walk from the main square, the beautifully located Tushita Retreat Center is an idyllic spot for meditation and other spiritual practices in the Buddhist Mahayana tradition. Founded by Lama Yeshe in 1969, the center is popular with seekers from the West.
The name 'Tushita' means the heavenly realm of the future Buddha, Maitreya. Its present spiritual head is Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who also heads some 50 Tushita centers worldwide.
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