As the program moved into the teachings on Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva, more people arrive to the covered venue. They are now lining the walkways, even sitting across from each other in the narrow aisles between the corrals. The entire venue is laid out with designated spaces for Russians, Japanese, Koreans, “Foreigners” of any stripe, Robert Thurman’s Tibet House of NYC, the Root Institute of Bodhgaya and others. Mainland Chinese are allocated some of the prime real estate in front of the glass-enclosure where the prayers are conducted and where the mandala is being created.
There have been at least 4-5 monks working on the mandala at all times (time lapse video). They wear masks to prevent any disturbance of the sand. Working with at least a dozen colors, they are gradually covering a 6 ft square blue top table on which a measured white design of the mandala has been drawn.
Morning prayers continue for a couple of hours before a short break, after which the Dalai Lama begins his teaching. During this time every day, all types of behaviour are visible: talking, eating, sitting, writing, gazing aimlessly, walking around. Many are simply sitting in meditation. It is in this field, infused by the ambience and energies of the space, the gathering, the prayers, the comings and goings, is when I melt into complete imperturbable bliss. It is all a prayer, all complete samsara and complete nirvana. At times I feel I could sit here forever.
The teachings are conducted entirely in Tibetan with simultaneous translation in 20 languages including Ladakhi, Amdo and two dialects of Kham (eastern provinces of Tibet). When the teaching is completed, the entire mass of devotees heads for the dozen exits, spilling into the narrow streets and filtering past the Maha Bodhi temple complex into the main street of the town. Masses of monks head straight to the temple, quickly creating a queue several hundred meters long. No traffic except official vehicles is allowed in this area. It is wall to wall people, a sea of monk red.
One auxiliary tent outside the venue was packed today with more people occupying every possible square foot of concrete outside the tent, spilling into and completely covering the street. The entire population of the tent outside was Himalayans. Loudspeakers down the block broadcast the teaching to people sitting 4-5 deep on the side of the road, nearly all Himalayan.
Inside the main venue, over several days, the variety of people sitting within arms length of me have included a Hungarian, a Norwegian, several Mongolians, a German-speaking Tibetan from Switzerland, a woman from Hong Kong, an American living in Kathmandu with her three children, a clot of spaniards behind me, residents of Mexico City, Malaysia, Singapore, the Ukraine, a monk from Scotland, an American teaching in Bhutan, an Indian poet and a San Francisco Bay ferry boat captain.
Outside the venue, there are two large booths for donations to the Kalachakra Organizing Committee, each with about 20 clerks receiving donations. The Dalai Lama’s Trust tent has a dozen lines perpetually stacked 8-10 deep waiting to donate. I was finally able to make a donation on the last day after waiting 45 minutes in line.
A word about security: each gate is manned by Indian police on the outside and Tibetan security inside. We pass through metal detectors, are patted down, wanded and every pocket of every backpack is inspected. There are also large numbers of Indian police inside patrolling the sitting area. Closer to the glass house are armed soldiers and more Tibetan security. Outside the gates are armed commandos. The rooftops nearby are covered as well.
I skipped staying in the tent for the entire teachings the third and fourth days because the physical conditions. My allotment of less than three square feet was too difficult to endure for another six days. So I spent two days walking, taking photos, listening to the teachings by FM radio.
Scores of young monks run at full speed in and out of the venue to serve bread and tea for the entire multitude…twice a day.
One of the locations for that practice was along the exit walkway from the Maha Bodhi temple. As I sit on a stone retaining wall with dozens of others, a constant parade of people who have just visited the temple passes by. I see every nationality, every costume, every religion; Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and muslims. I see families, groups of elderly Tibetans working their malas, Himalayan people of all stripes, teenage Indian girls in blazing colors, looking like they are wearing makeup for the first time, young Tibetan women in their chubas, teenage boys holding hands, the elderly, monks in every possible variation of monastic dress, Indian sadhus. Every possible place to sit is occupied by someone listening to the teachings by radio. It is a constant stream of entertainment, beauty, diversity and ever-freshening amazement. There is ease, friendship and warmth across all barriers, everywhere.