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Lions Roar : July 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2006 27 WHEN YOU SCRAMBLE UP the unpaved paths that link guest- house to teahouse in the exiled Tibetan center of Dharamsala—the spiritual home of Tibet today (and of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama)— you can feel yourself subject to an optical illusion. On many days in the spring and the autumn the sun rises so sharply behind the snowcaps overlooking the central temple and the blue is so intense in the high mountain air that you can truly feel as if you’ve landed in Shangri-la. The Tibetans are an outdoors people and they quickly spill out onto terraces and rooftops; they take picnics on lawns near their brightly colored houses, and the young monks come out to play in monasteries brilliant with marigolds and tidy gardens. The gold roofs of other temples glint along the mountainside, catching the sun, and if you travel down to the library and look up toward the Dalai Lama’s house on a hill, all you can see is blue, blue, blue— making you believe that it will be like this forever. And then, of course, the next day a storm comes raging through town, the rain is so intense you can’t leave your tiny cell, the electricity across the settlement goes off, and all the phones are dead. You are trapped inside a thunderous prison that brings much too forcibly to mind the Buddhist hells being described in the only companions you now have, your books. The weather! As one who was born and grew up in England, I Whatever Way the Wind Blows So-called objective reality, PICO IYER finds, is as fickle as the weather. Maybe that’s because it’s as much mind as matter. learned very early that it was the safest thing to talk about because it was so completely anodyne. In England, besides, the weather never changed; talking about the weather was like talking about the class system, or possibility, or the future—it was a way of saying we were all stuck with things and the best thing we could do was just practice the national sport of keeping our upper lips stiff. Later, when I grew up (on paper), I realized that the weather was the one thing you should never talk about precisely because it was so banal and never changed. To talk about it was to keep out of the conversation the much more important issues of progress and eternity and change. Now, though, slowly, I’m coming to see that the weather—not just in Dharamsala, but anywhere—is really one of the most im- portant tools we have. It is a living parable, constantly shifting and constantly murmuring many of the same truths. For even in California, in Zurich last year, in places we think of as tropical, the weather is offering the same illustrations: I wake up one day and the world is an enchantment, waiting to be conquered by that om- nicompetent force I call myself. I wake up the next and I can barely see my car through the mist and the hail and the gloom. It hardly occurs to me to register that the change is mostly in myself, and not the world around me. Buddhists, as Matthieu Ricard says in his luminous new book, Happiness, excerpted in The changing view from Pico Iyer’s window PHOTOS©PICOIYER