By Tammy T. Stone
Thousands of people have already crowded into the sprawling Kalachakra Temple compound in Dharamsala, India by the time my husband and I arrive at 8:00 a.m.
We’re gathering in anticipation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s first day of teachings at the very temple where he has his private chambers, and where he frequently addresses the public. Everywhere you look, your eyes rest on a sea of Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople, a sizable smattering of foreign tourists and a substantial sprinkling of Indians, many of them journalists, cameras and video gear in tow.
As we thread our way through the crowd, I get the sensation that this colorful medley of humans, against the ornate backdrop of the temple, resembles a living, breathing and moving mandala- the cosmic order come to life. There is infinite possibility on this cool, crisp morning; all mysteries might just reveal themselves in this gathering of good intentions and open hearts.
We walk upstairs past a jam-packed garden to where there are two prayer halls, one of which the Dalai Lama will use to transmit his teaching.
In and around these halls hordes of people sit, in hallways, on staircases leading to toilets, by a room full of ever-burning candles and by the cellar kitchens where butter tea is being boiled. As we look for a small space to squeeze into, a child’s voice crackles an adorable, stilted chant through the loudspeaker system; his voice rings with the crystalline innocence of youth. Others, like us, are navigating the crowds searching for an empty spot. Ropes have cordoned sections off, and security is still ramping up for the Dalai Lama’s arrival.
We jostle our way into small opening by a large column that faces the large hallway the Dalai Lama will soon walk down. Not too far ahead are a couple of stairs leading to the antechamber he’ll enter to reach his chair in the prayer hall. We arrived twenty minutes early, and the teaching is evidently going to start late, so we have time to stand among the sea of visitors, to observe the goings on that lead up to an event of this magnitude.
The smart ones who arrived early spread out mats and sit on cushions, many quietly munching on snacks.
Tibetans and foreigners are chitchatting, smiling and laughing side by side. Two of the security guards near the antechamber entrance, Indians, are rail thin, mustached, ever-smiling and holding long, austere-looking rifles. At intervals, various monks inhabit the holding area leading to the antechamber, and I keep expecting each one to be the official greeting party for the Dalai Lama. But then they leave and others take their place. Time seems to be lackadaisically seeping outward rather than moving forward in chronological sequence.
At a minute to nine, an older Tibetan man in a royal blue apron who’s been standing by the stairs the whole time, disappears into the antechamber and scurries back out with a bright yellow ribbon. He painstakingly goes about wrapping it around the stair rail that the Dalai Lama will use as a support on his way up. He corrects it, flattens and presses it again and again until it is absolutely perfect and he’s satisfied.
This tiny gesture, almost lost in the tide of brewing excitement, deeply moves me as emblematic of the purity of honest work and holy servitude.
This bright yellow ribbon that forms a vibrant part of our view on a very special day, strikes me as a beacon of far more. Sometimes we wonder about arguably overwrought rituals in spiritual tradition, and in our cynicism, declare all the pomp and circumstance excessively elaborate, meaningless and unnecessary. We find infinite things to feel sour about as we get lost in the details and distractions of our lives and lose sight of the small marvels happening around us at every turn.
I couldn’t argue with any degree of certainty about role of ritual in our lives or spiritual practice. My own views keep changing with time as the rest of me evolves and adapts to the life I find myself living.
But what I feel deeply, looking at the man with the yellow ribbon, is that every single action affects the universe.
Every act of true devotion brings out the light in the one who is devoted and that light reaches all of humanity. Everything we do that is in service of something greater than us builds into a momentum of positive energy that will only expand with our combined efforts. Before the teachings have even began – before the deliciously strange butter tea is served to thousands! – lessons arrive right in our laps. I can’t help but feel these lessons were meant for us to discover.
One yellow ribbon taken in isolation is a shiny and slightly garish curiosity. A yellow ribbon lovingly handled to mark a great occasion by a man who, just like the rest of us, has good days and bad, depends on others and has dependents of his own, and wants to be happy and free of suffering, is a beautiful manifestation of connectivity at work.
The care that emanated from those aging hands arranging one yellow ribbon one the first day of the Dalai Lama’s public teachings, those inordinately generous offerings, is also the care and love that feeds the world.
Photo: Tammy Stone
Editor: Peter Schaller