My first meeting with Dalai lama

Dalai lama
Reclining Buddha by Yuliya Glavnaya

My first meeting with Dalai lama

Dr Satyapal Anand

Back in early sixties of the last century, as the youngest member in the Department of English, Panjab University, Chandigarh (India) I had the privilege of keeping the company of my postgraduate students almost at an equal level as they were just a couple of years younger to me. Problems, academic, personal and emotional, that they dare not take to older teachers, they would bring to me to get my advice and, like a true confidante, I would keep their trust.

One by-product of this was the weekend excursion that some of us (I, as the head of group of six to seven students – both boys and girls) took to the nearby Shivalik Hills. At least once every semester I would take a group to Dharamshala, a hill resort in the lower Himalayas, where we stayed at the University’s own Rest House. We wondered about, taking pictures and meeting the hill people.

A definite attraction was the presence of a large number of Tibetans, both monks and ordinary folk, who had come down in the wake of the Chinese occupation of this Buddhist nation. Dalai Lama, the Head of the religious order as also a couple of hundred strong group of his followers trekked down  from lofty heights of Tibet to the foothills in India….. and India offered refuge and hospitality by giving him a ‘home and habitation’ in this hilly town. He was there most of the year but he went about visiting other countries and one had to get to know his schedule so that one could have his ‘darshan‘.

     It was a sunny morning in this town while, it seemed, the fog had rolled down into the valleys and gorges when we all went to the public enclosure where the  living Buddha was scheduled to come to greet his visitors. I was one of a hundred nondescript men and women of all ages. I was with my students – almost of my own age – dressed in light winter clothes befitting the climate of a hill station. There was nothing to tell me apart from others — and yet, what electrified me was the fact that Dalai Lama, surrounded by two of his aids, came down the three steps of the verandah of his large British-built bungalow of the British period – and ….

     …And walked straight to me !

Inwardly I trembled with … what? Apprehension? Foreboding?  Fear? Was it fear, love or reverence … I just didn’t know, but when he stopped in front of me, my head automatically bowed. I tried to touch his feet. He bade me not to do it by putting his hand on my shoulders. Then he looked deep into my eyes and said in perfect British English with just a hint of nasal twang, ”Änanda  …  It took you so long to come meet your compatriot!”

I wasn’t taken aback: just let the question sink into my whole being, before I said….. nay, someone inside me said, “Yes, Your Holiness, it took me so long for there is always a place and a time for special events…..”

I don’t know what made me utter this seemingly philosophical but otherwise a very  innocuous figure of speech, but he smiled….. Yes, he smiled ! Sober and sombre, his countenance just changed into a smiling Buddha. Two thoughts automatically occurred to me. Did I ever see a smiling Buddha? No, I said to myself in my own mind  “No Buddha statue has ever shown him smiling. And yet … and yet … the second thought said, I’ve seen Buddha smiling … Not a statue but a live Buddha in flesh and blood.”

And then he smiled, put both his hands on my shoulders and said, “Try to get to know yourself, Ananda, who once waited at his Master’s bidding and then, in succeeding cycles, tried hard but could never reach him.”

He traced a step back and went about his routine of greeting other people. Before he did so, one of the two monks with him handed me a small replica of the fasting Buddha and said, “You have been  blessed.  Go and do your work. Your name and fame … both are blessed now.”

My students who had accompanied me were in great awe and asked me many questions to which I had but just one answer. ”Änand,” I said, is the magical word that triggered off the sequence.” …..”But how could he know your name, Sir?””They asked me almost in unison.  ”I don’t know, “I said,  ”except that the name of Lord Buddha’s first disciple and and his confidante  was the same as mine.”

     But I knew that I knew!

     And later one of them told me that she knew that I knew.