Cat Easterbrook

Back to school with the Dalai Lama


…we’re off to see the Dalai Lama, the wonderful Dalai Lama of Tibet

Our Dalai Lama experience started with waiting in a queue for three hours. Because of the policy of letting Tibetans and monks go first, the queue grew in the middle and not the end and we ended up being further and further away from the front. After an hour of waiting it seemed that we had longer to wait than when we arrived.

Luckily we discovered that there was a special office for queue-weary foreigners and we found our way into the inner sanctum of His Holiness’ Security and Passport office. That makes it sound secretive and luxurious but it was neither of those things. The room was full of dusty files and little else. Foreigners were baying at the stereotypically inefficient officials behind the desk, thrusting their passports forward, hoping to get seen next. Even the queue-loving English had become incapable of queuing by this stage.

A framed photo of the Dalai Lama with the advice to ‘Never Give Up’ was hanging on the wall. I suspect he probably didn’t have our plight in his office in mind but of course we had no intention of giving up. Studying Buddhism, learning about Tibet, interacting with Tibetan refugees and learning about the Dalai Lama’s work had made my interest in and respect for him even stronger. Besides, having been in Buddhist parts of India for a couple of months that smiling man’s face had been a constant companion, in every cafe, guesthouse, restaurant and office, and everyone seems to have a Dalai Lama story to tell.

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Getting sane at Tushita Buddhist Meditation Centre


Meditation cushion carnage

Meditation cushion carnage, about as tidy as our minds

Walking along the path to Tushita Meditation Centre, I walked past the ‘silence please’ sign feeling the usual first-day-at-school nerves. This wasn’t my first silent retreat but you never quite know what to expect when entering the murky depths of your own mind. A touch of trepidation is probably wise.

An introductory course had started the day before and a girl with a desperate look in her eyes sidled up to me. Her eyes scanned the courtyard furtively whilst she whispered to ask if she could use my phone to message her mum. She’d forgotten to tell her she’d be out of contact for ten days.

Moments later I was joined on a bench overlooking the beautiful pine forest by a good-looking guy with a cheeky grin. He sat unusually close and reached into his bag for pen and paper. He scrawled the words ‘do you have toilet paper?’ and raised his eyebrows in hope.

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