I could never have imagined that walking past the Ekno Experience information desk during HHDL’s visit to Melbourne in June 2011 would result in such a life-changing experience.
To think, it all started with picking up a volunteering-related postcard. When I went home that evening, I put aside the postcard with Ekno’s website on it, intending to check it out at a later date. It sat patiently on the coffee table for six weeks until I returned from a trip to Thailand, waiting for me to do something productive with it…
…within two or three weeks, I had confirmed with Sharon that I was coming to do some volunteer editing in Dharamsala with the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives (LWTA), and that I would join the Buddha’s Sites tour beginning in early January 2012.
After spending three weeks in Nepal in November doing a trek to Everest Base Camp, I was in need of a tranquil place to recover. Welcome to Dharamsala.
Macleodganj is one of those places you never want to leave. With a population spread fairly evenly between Indians and Tibetans, there are plenty of friendly people and amazing food. The entire area has a very positive energy, no doubt as a result of HHDL and ordained people living there, and attracting similarly-minded people.
Volunteering with LWTA was an incredibly satisfying way to spend time. Who wouldn’t want to assist with editing a text written by HHDL, and sit around discussing Buddhist philosophy while drinking tea?! There are also classes to learn Hindi or Tibetan if that’s your flavor. Maybe do a kora or two at the temple if you feel like it? I spent quite a lot of time eating cheesecake with new friends, and planning the day’s social activities.
The three-day teachings at the temple during December were a highlight for me during my Dharamsala experience – sitting with thousands of people, listening to HHDL’s teachings can’t help but have an impact. We all sat huddled together and somehow, I managed to end up in the Spanish section of the crowd. I did a lot of smiling and not much talking that day…
…but they say that actions speak louder than words. If so, I guess now would be an appropriate time to mention that I enjoyed my experience in Macleodganj so much, that I’m moving there for the rest of 2012! I’ll be back in early March to continue editing with LWTA, and attending one of the daily Buddhist philosophy classes with Geshe Sonam Rinchen. Yeah…life’s tough in Dharamsala.
I also joined a group for the Buddha’s Sites tour which taught me more in 17 days than I thought possible. Glen Svensson, a teacher from Tushita Meditation Centre (up the hill in Macledganj near Dharamkot), led the tour and discussed introductory Buddhist philosophy. The group spent the first six days or so in Bodhgaya at the Kalachakra teachings given by HHDL, and hanging out drinking copious amounts of chai. A highlight for me was meditating around five metres away from where the Buddha became enlightened, under the Bodhi tree. What can I say? A humbling experience…
Over the next 10 days or so, we visited loads of sites of Buddhist significance. Lumbini in Nepal, where the Buddha was born, was simply beautiful. Some of the temples and surrounding gardens are like none other I’ve ever seen – truly breathtaking. We went to Saranath where the Buddha gave his first teachings ever, on the Four Noble Truths. There is a stupa there that must be about 70 metres high and somehow, people have used slingshot-type device to launch katas to the very top! It has to be seen to be believed. And another place that the group really enjoyed was Varanasi which is a bustling town with plenty to see, and lots of interesting alleyways to walk down.
I had an amazing time on the tour and made some friends that I know I’ll have for years to come. I learned more about Buddhism in 17 days than I had in the two years preceding it…and I can’t wait to get back to Dharamsala to pick up where I left off.
Thanks so much to Sharon and Dawa from the Ekno team, who helped me to have one of the best experiences of my life!