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Lions Roar : September 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 68 We walked out the door of the waiting room that leads to a veranda overlooking a garden and lawns. I was expecting a long walk to yet another holding area and then, perhaps, to be ushered into His Holiness’s interview area. As we turned the corner, I was looking down because when I am nervous I have a tendency to be klutzy. When I looked up, I almost walked into His Holiness. I stepped back quickly, placed my palms together and modestly dipped my body from the waist up. As I began to bow again (I remembered you are supposed to bow three times, one for each of the three jewels of Buddhist wisdom: the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha), out of the corner of my eye I saw him stepping toward me, hand ex- tended presumably to shake mine, Western style. I looked to Mr. Lhakdur, the translator, inquisi- tively. He read my mind, smiling and nodding ahead, which I took to mean it was okay to make physical contact. The Dalai Lama—the fourteenth reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion, Nobel Prize win- ner, revered as an enlightened being—took my hand and shook it robustly. Awkwardly at first and then enthusiastically, I returned the shake— and added a bit of my own robustness. Still try- ing to maintain decorum and out of great respect (and the fear that my sweaty palms would belie my exterior cool), I tried to withdraw my hand, working on the assumption that there must also be some protocol that defines the length of time it is appropriate to shake a Dalai Lama’s hand. But much to my surprise and delight, he tight- ened his grip. Sure, I thought, keep my hand—forever. His grip softened slightly but he did not let go. Rath- er, he led me like that—his right hand holding my right hand, walking side by side—from the veranda all the way into and across the length of a large room until we came to a stop in front of his seat. Finally he let go, at this point to my relief. If he did not let go—and halfway across the room I decided I would hold on until he let go, and no sooner—I was already strategizing how I would maneuver the tape recorder with one hand. We must have held hands for close to a minute. I have never shared an experience like that with another man, and I have hugged more men than the average guy. It completely disarmed me—as a man, as a journalist, as a human being—and at the same time it made me feel completely embraced. It was asexual but very sensual. His gentleness was palpable. And somehow his calm made me feel calm. It was like he gave me a tran- quility transfusion from his hand through mine. The man had me at hello. So much for your journalistic objectivity, I thought. I was putty in his hands and any idea of a no-holds-barred interview vanished. He took his seat, a high-backed stiff-looking wooden chair, covered with the thick tapestries that are charac- teristic of Tibetan furniture. I sat beside him on a high, oversized couch that made me feel about nine years old, my legs dangling over the sides. Seeing him so close up, about two feet from me, I was riveted. He has a huge face, dominat- ed by his glasses, and it is an expressive face. He shifts from earnest man to wise man to the jokester in the same sentence. He has very few age wrinkles, just laugh wrinkles. I immediately went into the spiel I had been rehearsing for about six weeks. “Holiness, I know I sent some questions and I’llgettoasmanyasyouletmeask.ButIwantto depart from that and ask your indulgence first.” I briefly explained about my journey to Taktser. “So I brought you back something from where you were born,” I said, and with that I brought out the photos I’d had printed back in D.C. and showed them to him. Among them was a shot of the white stupa in the next rise from Taktser. He stopped at that one and said, “Has anyone told you or not...?” he started. I knew the story I thought he was going to launch into but I shook my head. I wanted to hear his version, already prepared to ask a question about it. “It was in this place that Thirteenth Dalai Lama...I don’t know exactly but I was told the Thirteenth Dalai Lama was passing through this way. Then here he stopped and took some rest, and looked toward my village. Then he exclaims, ‘Ah, this village is very beautiful.’ People said the Thirteenth Dalai Lama determined his next reincarnation will come in that place.” We must have held hands for close to a minute. I have never shared an experience like that with another man, and I have hugged more men than the average guy. It was like he gave me a tranquility transfusion from his hand through mine.