"We think happiness is what we get when attachment gets what it wants. Buddha says happiness is what we get when we give up attachment."
In Dharamsala after seven months on the road, but this time for just a couple of weeks. My journey around the world started here in April. Now I begin another circuit: three months in the States, three months in Australia and three months in Europe. This moving, moving, moving suits my speedy nature.
I arrived on November 10, a Buddha Day, just in time for a blessing of the body, speech and mind of the Twenty-one Taras from Lama Zopa Rinpoche, as a prelude to a Tara retreat. Rinpoche is being treated by Khadro-la (see photos below), who is based in Dharamsala at His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple.
But it was a bit of miracle that I made it on time. On the evening of Tuesday November 8, the day before my departure from Sydney, where I was participating in Vajrayana Institute's latest Mind & Its Potential conference (see below), the chilling realization that I'd forgotten to get myself a visa for India dawned on me. I could not believe it.
Visas become a huge drama for people wanting to live and study in India, as thousands of foreign Dharma students have discovered. The rules are very strict. Unlike Nepal, where you can get a visa at the border, you must apply in advance, and five days is usually the bare minimum it takes. For most passports, you cannot stay longer than six months, and there needs to be a two-month waiting period before you can renew for another six months. You're trained to deal with this well in advance of travel.
I was flying out of Sydney at 4.30pm the next day, Wednesday. I had to lead a workshop for the conference until noon, which meant that I had about three hours in which to accomplish what normally takes five days. Impossible. To even think it was possible was absurd. There was not an ounce of logic in my decision to try. But there was nothing else in my mind but having that visa in my passport. I simply could not leave the retreaters in the lurch; and how could I possibly miss this rare opportunity to see Rinpoche, who's virtually in seclusion these days because of the stroke? I would will a visa into my passport! That's it.
At 1pm on my way to the visa agency, I think my mind wasn't in a normal state: high energy focus on one thing only. Obstacles, difficulties, simply didn't enter my mind. I enter the agency to find 40 people waiting their turn. I bypass the ticket machine and jump the queue without hesitation, asking for the person in charge. He's right there. I tell him I'm flying at 4.30 and want a visa. Amazingly, he doesn't flinch; he's not officious and obstructive.
He starts a process that included many incredibly willing and helpful people: the consul himself who, after repeatedly saying no to my heartfelt requests, amazingly changed his mind; the visa guy who, in his frantically busy office, filled out my forms, got my photos, issued a receipt for the $350 emergency fee and sent me running through Sydney's streets, dodging traffic, for nearly a kilometer to the consulate, my precious file in hand; the consulate staff who printed out the visa and glued it into my passport - "Be careful! it's not dry yet"; Peter and Dana waiting with the engine running in their saffron yellow car, with an hour before flight departure, driving through dense traffic to Sydney airport; British Airways staff who, upon declaring that the flight was closed, running me over to Qantas; the Qantas man happily finding me a seat on their flight an hour later; and the Singapore airport staff who met me in a electric vehicle at the plane that sped me to the Delhi flight seconds before the door closed.
I made it to Delhi. I felt like I'd won the lottery.
But I'm not at Tushita yet. After two hours on the road in the car that picked me up at 3 in the morning, I discover that he's not my driver after all: we're driving to Musoorie! He picked up the wrong nun! Back to Delhi, find my real driver, who has 10 hours to make it in time, a journey that can often take 12. We stop for potato pancakes and later a cup of chai, that's it. We make it five minutes before the statue shop closes; buy a Tara statue for Rinpoche; and up to Tushita.
I stayed alert throughout the three hours of Rinpoche's precious blessing and at 11 o'clock hit the pillow and slept for nine hours without budging an inch.
In Australia, I always make sure I spend time with my family. There are seven siblings, and most of them have their own children and, some of them, grandchildren. Jan lives in Sydney with her husband Marshall and has recently retired from running an art gallery in Paddington for 11 years. Julie and her husband Ian, a pharmacist, have also recently retired and live in Carlton, in Melbourne. Their daughter Millie is a designer and architect. Marie and her husband Nicholas, who live in Ocean Grove, 90 minutes from Melbourne on the coast, have seven children and 10+ grandchildren. Their oldest daughter Sarah is married to Mark, who just been appointed the head coach of the Melbourne Football Club, one of the main clubs in the Australian Football League, the hugely popular style of football unique to this country. Judy, a chiropractor and lawyer, has recently reconnected with her daughter Rachael, whom she had adopted out when she was a baby. Judy has met for the first time her own three grandchildren and is over the moon! Polly, an artist, is the mother of Amiel, a filmmaker, who directed Chasing Buddha, a documentary about me, 10 years ago; her daughter Hannah is a photographer. Finally, the only male in our family, Tony, is a chiropractor also and has three sons, and he lives in the bush two hours north of Melbourne, in Violet Town.
In Melbourne I stayed first with Julie. Sisters five and six, Judy and Polly, came over every night for dinner and plenty of laughs. Polly is excited because she has an exhibition of her work lined up for next year at a gallery in St. Kilda (pollycourtin.com). Later I moved over to Judy's, in Brunswick. As a lawyer, she is intent on exposing the inappropriate behavior of the Australian Catholic Church in its defense of its sex-offending clergy and its lack of support for the victims. She had an article published in the main Melbourne paper, The Age, last month and, she said, she received emails in response to it from all over the country.
Vajrayana Institute's conferences: they're excellent. Gatherings of some 50 speakers that attract thousands of delegates, they highlight some of the cutting-edge thinking and discoveries in the world of the mind and science, and how it impacts on the world of the arts, education, spirituality. Tony Steel, who runs Vajrayana and whose own company Terrapinn runs business conferences worldwide, started them in 2006 as a way to support Vajrayana. He does an amazing job.
Because I travel light these days I (lazily) leave my mandala set in Sydney, which weighs a few kilos. So I asked Ven. Chokyi, who took over running Liberation Prison Project from me, to make the mandala and put it as an offering on the Vajrayana Institute's altar. A bit better than sitting unused in its bag!
Also while in Melbourne I attended the 50th anniversary reunion of the 1961 class at Sacré Coeur, the Catholic convent where I received 12 years of education from the age of five. Just some of us turned up. I don't have any contact with most of them in the intervening years, but it's always good to catch up. The only person I do have a connection with from those days is Adèle Hulse, who was a couple of years behind me, whom I met again in 1976 at Chenrezig Institute at my first course. She too is a student of the lamas. And she is the author of Lama Yeshe's biography, which should be coming out soon, published by Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.