First day in Dharamsala

A group of beggars pining for a small donation

A seemingly endless row of beggars line the path leading up to the Main Temple during Kora in Dharamsala, India

Spinning the wheels of the Dharma Chakra

Namaste from Dharamsala, India,

Arrived yesterday afternoon after a full day of traveling to the secluded, yet thriving, Tibetan community and government in exile.  Words cannot fully, nor accurately, express the sea of humanity that I encountered last night in this small, mountain side, community perched below the Himalaya Mountains.

A vast difference from the sheltered, quiet surroundings of Mussoorie, Dharamsala instantly grabbed me and pulled me into its arms.  I awoke this morning, met a friend for coffee and local, Tibetan style bread with jam and then decided to take advantage of the special once a year happening overtaking this community yesterday and today.

An event that takes place here once a year and is built around the celebration of the full moon and its auspiciousness, called Kora, was an eye opening and mind blowing experience.  Kora is an ancient and revered pilgrimage and a type of meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and is carried out by making a circumambulation around a holy site, in this case the Tsuglkhang Complex in the very center of Dharamsala.

The traditional event begins with the ritualistic spinning of prayer wheels, chanting of mantras, and the counting of mala beads while circling the complex clockwise, however today was a special occasion that was marked by a Tibetan custom that I have not yet fully understood.  Apparently, coinciding with the auspiciousness of the full moon, Tibetans, who already have so very little money to give, receive a thousand fold in return for the giving of small amounts of Rupees to beggars.  Thus begins the very strange and delicate dance of give and take between local Tibetan Buddhist monks and the “visiting” Punjabi pilgrims who make the trek every year to be on their end of the receiving line.

Our trek began with a ½ mile walk along a very narrow and dusty trail lined with beggars of the most extreme magnitude on either side, each clamoring for a small piece of hope from the passersby.  We must have passed 1,000 extremely destitute souls before reaching the Main Temple, each one reaching out from the altar of the dark star with a heart wrenching stare and utterances of “money” and “hello, please”.  The sight brought me to tears within minutes and most certainly has impacted me forever.  There are only so many Rupees I can carry at one time.  The trek ended at the entrance of the Main Temple and H.H.’s residence with monks sitting in prayer and chanting inside the main room and scores of people in line to enter the Main Temple and pay their respects to a statue of Avalokiteshvara, the manifestation of compassion of all Buddhas.

As I exited the Temple I was reeling in the thought that this is just my first day here.  Tomorrow morning at 9am I am registering with H.H.’s office for His lecture on Buddhism this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  I also begin my volunteer effort of teaching conversational English to Buddhist monks tomorrow at 4pm with an N.G.O. named LHA.

Here are some pictures I captured earlier this morning, enjoy…