The Dalai Lama’s Earring

I thought they were joking when my social club 1880 said we were going to see the Dalai Lama. After all a private audience with the reincarnated Buddha and Nobel Peace Prize winner was something I always desired but never thought of because it seemed too complicated to make into a reality.

After the first briefing for the trip, another participant asked me if I was Buddhist. He was trying to ascertain the reason I would take such time and efforts to fly to Dharamshala. I told him I was Catholic and practiced Vipassana meditation and taught Hatha yoga in a Hindu Temple in Yishun (the north east of Singapore) and my best friends are Jewish. In fact I refer to myself as Ca-Bu-Mu-Hi-Jew (all religions in one).

But more importantly, I was going to see the Dalai Lama because he was a compassionate man. I facilitate leadership developments at Fortune 500s and startups and I follow compassionate leaders as part of my research and teaching to inspire my leaders. He nodded and liked that answer immensely. The people coming from 1880 for the trip were made that same way, all nations, cultures and faiths; all moved by the Dalai Lama for multiple reasons but mostly because we saw his divinity in the daily and we were very much magnetically drawn to it.

I had seen the Dalai Lama once before in Vancouver. I say ‘seen’ and not ‘met’ as I was one of the thousands who filled that stadium. I was a tiny dot in his eyes. I did however feel how much energy he had and how he was a kind man and his stories held that simple yet profound truth. This time I felt I not only met the Dalai Lama, I knew his pain and story more intimately because I was in his city and in the schools where the Tibetan students studied and in the meditation and temples on the grounds on the white peaks of Dharamshala. It was more mystical and more real.

We arrived on Tuesday afternoon and started with a meditation lead by Tara in the Tushita meditation center. It was huge and filled with a large Buddha and prayer flags. It bore the history of many who came there to sit with the monks in prayers all through the years. I believe in energy and vibrations and how places hold sacredness and sadness and hope from those who sat in those same prayer cushions. That elevated my own meditation and made the few in our group who were new to meditation feel the force of the practice for the first time.

From there we went to watch a cultural show by the Tibetan students. They greeted us along our walk up to the hall. “Hello! Hello! How are you?” Rosy cheeked and bright eyes, these exiled youth bore the enthusiasm of life and yet I realized now their identities were so shaped by the nature of their country. The performances were so strong and vivid almost as if to reclaim their cultural heritage while they were miles away from their home soil. The dances spoke of harvests and banishing spirits and village traditions and mating and relationships between the men and women each dressed by their region of origin in Greater Tibet. I was taken by the performance but I was truly shaken by their national anthem. We all stood up for the anthem. In that hall, it echoed far and wide — and my hope is that it carried across through the wind to their brothers and sisters in Greater Tibet. For the first time ever, it dawned on me, that I never had to hide my culture, religion, gender, nationality from anyone. The country I grew up in welcomed the diversity of race, language and creed. While Tibetans in exile and living under the Chinese rule did not have the freedom to express parts of their identity. I took mine sorely for granted.

Photo: Anita G Kapoor

The laughing and crying began even before we met the Dalai Lama. Seated outside in the sun with the birds chirping and surrounded by friendly faces and realizing the much awaited life-changing moment was soon, left many of us in a special high. High on life. We were going to meet someone we respected, for some of us he was a god.

I remember reminding myself that I wanted to see what he saw when he said the Buddha nature is in everyone. I sought the days leading to the trip and during the trip itself to see the Buddha nature in everyone I met. I saw smiles, I saw tenderness, I saw love again and again. So to me I already met the Buddha in daily life. I did however feel extremely blessed and grateful to have the time and resources to be there and soon to be in his presence. This time with only 88 other vying for his attention.

When we got in and to our chairs, I was tearing. The person to my left and my right all were silent. I poked them in the arm telling them to bear with my excitement. Poking was my way of containing all the excitement that wanted to jump up and down and laugh and cry into one quiet form of action that I could do while maintain a semblance of being contained. Poking fellow pilgrims in their arms. Thankfully they bore with me, in their compassion and also in their solidarity with knowing just how fortunate we all were to be there in that very small audience. We whispered how lucky we were to be able to be in that room. We were bonded by the experience.

The Dalai Lama came in and shared. He hugged our youngest participant Max and he took our hands. I did not need to worry about vying for his attention- his presence simply filled the room. He told us were are all humans first. We are united and so there should not be artificial walls made up to divide us. He talked about how he respected India for its ability to encourage diversity of voice and culture and religion. He spoke about many things. Yet what he spoke most strongly without words was compassion and loving presence; in the way he laughed and held us in his graze. This came from a man who woke up daily at 2.30am to meditate on nothingness and to send compassion to the world — especially those in pain and that included those who wanted the end of his existence.

Some of us managed to ask him questions. I knew I would not need to ask a question to go home feeling fulfilled. I simply wanted to be in his presence. The presence of a great spiritual and political leader; the presence of a man whose life and words inspired so many others like me to be better people; the presence of a man whose laughter shook out the pain we held inside from illusions of life we learnt to hold on to. He embodied what he preached. He walked the talk. I was happy to just sit and be with him.

That’s me in the pink jacket and brown scarf. On His Holiness’s left. Photo:Abby Han

All too soon, it was time for the photo-taking and for us to rush into vans to whisk away to our planes back to Delhi. That was when I stood next to him and he asked for my hand. The Dalai Lama held my hand. I remembered saying — “I like that” — still shell shocked and honored for that moment of being connected to a man whose shoes were too large for a global village of men and women to fill.

In all the rush and bustle and tears post seeing the Dalai Lama, I did not notice my favorite Indian earrings had fallen off. I do a bit of work in India and wore them to celebrate the occasion. I only knew when a member of the group handed me one of the earrings then I realized I had lost both. I did not have time to look for the other when we were rushed into the vans. It felt silly to feel sad I had lost my earrings when I just met the Dalai Lama and held his hand. So I pushed it aside and looked at the mountains one last time.. not believing the time had come to an end.

I arrived in Singapore. I was in a little daze. Life in Singapore had gone on just the same. I, however, was no longer the same. I took some time to read and meditate and write and share my story. I also felt strong enough to write about my recent bout of depression and how I can seen now what meaning it held for me. That story moved many. And even if it did not; it moved me and that was all it was meant to do. I let the death and dying teach me. I let loss and leaving make me wiser. The Dalai Lama’s words ringing

Somehow being in the presence of such a spiritual entity held healing after-effects. I was optimistic again. So the miracle believer in me, asked the heavens in a tiny but hopeful voice, “If a member found my earring and brought it back to me.. Maybe another member could find the other and return it?” Yes even in my post Dalai Lama enlightenment — I still wanted my earrings back!

On the fifth day back, the group chat for the trip rang. I was on the bus going to teach corporate mindfulness to my clients in a tech startup. There was the picture of my earring. Here is the story that follows from the group chat.


Dalai Lama earrings?

Earrings wanted to hang with the Dalai Lama!

I am sitting here. Blessed Earring wearer. Beaming from ear to ear.

Some of the group have asked to rent my earring and one even said I should auction it off for which is one of the non-profits scaling education in India which 1880 supports.

I am simply thankful for the great story and shift being in the presence of the Dalai Lama and those who seek to be more compassionate and kind leaders has had on me. The group that went up composed of many leaders who have employees around the world and many parents who lead their families and many lovely souls willing to be more compassionate in their daily lives and that is already a force to be reckoned with.

I am hopeful and have called myself to an even higher level of turning up in the world so that my Buddha nature shines through. That when I lay my right hand (hand held by His Holiness) on a fellow human — we will both be healed and enlightened while on earth.

The Power of Your Spirit Writer, Coach and Facilitator

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