By Vijay Kranti
This article is the latest in his ongoing series ‘My Journey Through the Tibetan Mindscape’ in Phayul.com
As I look back at my relationship with Tibet and her people in this 50th year of my association, one thing which overwhelms my mind is the endless energy and capacity of HH the Dalai Lama to win friends and influence people. Having enjoyed the privilege of watching him from a close distance, I’ve lost count of occasions when I could travel with him for days together; stay for hours in his close proximity; or photograph him during his public and not so much public appearances. One common denominator of all these occasions has been the zeal and intensity with which he walks up to strangers; shake their hands; holds them from their shoulders; looks deep into their eyes with an infectious smile; and shares laughter with them to leave them spellbound and spinning in the joy of meeting and knowing him ‘personally’.
There have been quite a few occasions when I happened to travel in the same plane with him. And every time he stunned me with the ease and comfort with which he would talk to and hold hands of fellow passengers who would either walk directly to him or most of them pretending to be walking to the front toilets only to have a close look at this smiling, friendly monk. Though he is entitled to travel business class, yet he has been always traveling economy class wherein he is invariably offered a front row seat as a special courtesy by the host airlines. Every time he completes a journey and walks out, he has already made a plane load of new friends and admirers who are thrilled at establishing a ‘personal’ link. Once, in response to my question about his choice of traveling by economy class and not the entitled business class, his reply was simply disarming, “Because it is ‘people’ who travel in the economy class. It is so easy to connect with them.”
One such moment which I would never forget in my lifetime was Dalai Lama’s encounter in Sarnath with a large group of blind children who had come to see him from a Church run school of Varanasi. The children were accompanied by a group of nuns and they occupied one corner of a huge round table in a hall where HH Dalai Lama had a scheduled meeting with some prominent citizens of neighboring Varanasi. It was one of those numerous public meetings which were organized by the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies of Sarnath where His Holiness had come to give month long Kalachakra teachings.
At one stage of this meeting he walked around the hall to meet and greet the people in the audience. As he was shaking his hands with people on his both sides, his Tibetan and Indian security staff, stiff and tense as always, were busy in making an arrowhead through the crowd to ensure that he finishes his round as quickly as possible. As a photographer such moments have been always challenging for me too as it is not easy to avoid the excited crowd and keep His Holiness in clear view of my camera. The moment he discovered this group of children sitting and waiting for him, he called it a stop and got engaged with the children. As he was talking to the children he made it a point to shake his hand with every child or hold one’s face in both of his hands so that none of them missed having met him and felt him personally.
There were quite a few questions from the children to him and he too had his own questions which kept the kids engaged and excited. From any corner of the hall people could make it out easily that both the children and Dalai Lama were excited as their endless sounds of chatting and occasional bursts of laughter echoed in the hall. And then, suddenly the electricity went off and the hall was enveloped in pitch darkness. As I felt pushing and hushing from the security staff who were taken by surprise by this sudden development I could very well imagine their tension. There was a sudden collective sigh of shock from the general audience too. But there was simply no change in the excitement of the chatting and laughter being exchanged between the Dalai Lama and the children. For the blind children the presence or absence of electric light made simply no difference. And Dalai Lama too looked completely oblivious of what happened to the lighting in the hall. The dialogue went on with full energy without even a hint of a pause. In that pitch darkness of the hall, both of them looked drenched and engulfed in a difference kind of light which soon overwhelmed the rest of crowd too. It was an interesting set of darkness and silence which was now melodically punctuated with chattering of the kids and their collective laughter with Dalai Lama. It sounded like a musical orchestra until the lights turned back after a few minutes. Now it was the turn of the crowd to explode in laughter and clapping. For everyone present in the hall it was a unique and a wonderful display of the power of light from within.
(Views expressed are his own)
The author is a senior Indian journalist, a veteran Tibet watcher and Chairman Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and engagement. This is his 50th year of association with Tibet.