Monks, Mountains, and MacBooks

We spent the majority of our time in India on an incredible travel adventure to the northern tip of the country in the Himalayas. Our good friend Courtney introduced us to her friend and SaS alum, Laura, who lives with her husband Darren in the mountains of McCleod Ganj, Dharamsala. Dharamsala is the town where His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) has lived in exile since China invaded and claimed control of Tibet in the 1950s. Home to many Tibetan monks, ex-political prisoners, and refugees, this little Himalayan enclave has nurtured the dreams of many who still hold out hope for Tibet’s future. It is, of course, also home to a great many Indian people, so it offers an enriching blend of cultures and perspectives. Getting there was quite a trip with cab and rickshaw rides around multiple cities, a flight to Delhi from Chennai and a crazy and mostly sleepless overnight bus ride that involved joyfully screeching babies, high speed roundabouts in the mountains, gargantuan potholes, loud snoring, repetitive blasts of the bus horn that often lasted a good 10-20 seconds (no exaggeration), monster sneezes, backpacks and briefcases falling on our heads from the overhead storage areas, and Shannon falling into fits of giggles at the madness all around us. Upon arrival, however, Laura was waiting with smiles hugs, ready to introduce us to many fabulous cafes with friendly baristas. Who can remember a sleepless night with a king-sized cappuccino in hand?

On our first day in town, we had the supreme privilege of accompanying Laura to a conversational English practice session she leads with several monks. HHDL has encouraged them to make the study of science and scientific methods a high priority, and improving their understanding of English is the first step in that direction. All of the monks we met held the title “Geshe,” and most of them have spent well over 20 years studying Buddhist philosophy, which involves quite a bit of discussing and debating with each other (or anyone else who might be interested) about truth and compassion. It was a surreal experience to chit chat in English with these wise men about the weather when it was immediately obvious how much more they could teach us about kindness, wisdom, truth and compassion if only language was not a barrier. Picture the warmest, kindest, sweetest, and most humble person you know then imagine meeting them for the first time over a cup of chai tea in the Himalayan Mountains, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what we experienced. These guys were funny, charming, and very excited that we were there and interested in learning about the Tibetan struggle for freedom.

In the morning of our second day we went on a hike that circles around a beautiful stupa built at the top of Kunzum pass. Just a short walk from Darren and Laura’s flat, this part of the mountain is home to elder monks as well as HHDL. The stupa is surrounded by prayer wheels and prayer flags that move in the breeze. Turning the wheels sends prayers and blessings of peace out to all the sentient beings of the world. Similarly, the wind blows the prayers off of the flags and out into the world. Sending out prayers to all the world from the top of a beautiful mountain was an exquisite pleasure. The sun shone down on us and filled us all with a sense of calm gratitude to be there. Back on the ship now, it gives us a warm feeling to know that people from Dharamsala and all over the world visit there everyday to send their prayers and blessings to everyone.

On the last day of our visit we got up early to watch the sun come up over the Himalayan mountains. We had mentioned to Geshe Lobsang Yonten, one of the monks we met on the first day, that it would be nice to have tea with him again on our last day. As we were walking back from our sunrise hike, he called Laura’s mobile and told her that he had prepared tea and was almost finished making breakfast for us if we wanted to stop by his house. Once there, he charmed us with stories of how he became a monk because it looked like a happier life than an arranged marriage at the age of 12; he made our heads spin with ideas about quantum physics, the big bang theory and the Buddhist concept of the impermanence of Karma; and he illustrated complicated and beautiful ideas about life and spirituality with plain and simple analogies that anyone could understand. We experienced first-hand one of his many gifts: teaching. The people of Dharamsala are extremely fortunate to have him in their midst. Incidentally, the young woman he would have married at age 12 also chose a spiritual path and became a nun. He laughed as he told us how he ran into her in Dharamshala in 2008 and how, even after all these years, he “felt very shy to meet her.”

Laura and Darren spilled the beans to us that Geshe Yonten owns a MacBook that was given to him as a gift. He’s the only monk they know in Dharamsala who has one, so we had asked him get it out and show it to us. Credit goes to Courtney for snapping the following fantastic pic, which is our last memory of what was a wonderful conversation with a great, great man.

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librarian, writer/editor, floundering guitarist, breakfast addict

mobile software developer, dog owner, hiker, adventure racer, enemy of bureaucracy
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