Sunday, February 06, 2005

Laughing monks in saffron robes

Thanks to cable tv, I just watched the beautiful movie Seven Years in Tibet, a depiction of the young Dalai Lama. In many ways, the movie is very sad, showing the fall of Tibet to the Chinese Army, but it brought back memories of the Dalai Lama’s visit to New York City. Deborah, a junior high friend, with her sister Colleen, are among the dearest friends of my life, and Deborah braved New York to see the Dalai Lama.

I don’t remember the year, but I remember that it was November and it was freezing cold. Girl-like, I remember the exact coat I was wearing, and that there were not nearly enough layers below it. We were up early to get to Central Park by the time the monks’ meditation began. Very early, very cold.

We parked on the west side and walked into the park. It was early, cold, frosty, and as we approached the Sheep Meadow, we could hear the monks’ horns. We came closer and could see those wonderful orange curlicue hats that look like a Mohawk cut. Lots and lots of monks. The park was silent, except for the monks’ horns and distant traffic. As the appointed hour approached, we were all squirming from cold and wishing we had remembered to pee one more time before leaving home. We didn’t know what to expect.

Suddenly, there he was: the Dalai Lama. Diffident, relaxed, he walked forward and sat down. There was not a sound. In all of Central Park, it seemed in all of New York, there was silence. He began to chant and the monks joined in, and all of the huge crowd was as one in meditation. It went on for, oh…half an hour or so…then, he bowed, stood and thanked everyone.

It was a wonderful experience, one of my top ten New York memories, maybe in the top three. Who could have imagined that one man could have such an impact? I will never forget the contemplative silence in Central Park that morning, nor will I forget the mournful tribute of those horns.

There is a story about the Dalai Lama traveling through the US, that in one city, a troubled and agitated man tried to reach him backstage. The security people kicked into high gear, only increasing the intruder’s anxious flailing. Suddenly, the Dalai Lama appeared out of the crowd, walked over to the man, and seized both his hands in a warm clasp. “Thank you!” he exclaimed, looking straight into the troubled man’s heart. “Thank you for coming to see me.” And then he quietly moved on. Having met the Dalai Lama across Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, that’s exactly how he seemed to me.

That day in New York, we went on to join a group from the Zen Center for lunch, and each group hosted a visiting monk. We fed ours Chinese food, and he ate quite a lot and laughed a lot. It was a very good day.

1 comment:

Robert said...

What a wonderful thing to experience. I hope one day to do so myself.