India has managed its Tibetan refugee challenge with greater grace than I can imagine from the USA. Rather than try to integrate those who escaped the Chinese invasion by coming to India, India provided what we might call “reservations” and resettled hundreds of thousands of Tibetans on these lands. It is not a perfect solution, but it does provide a way to preserve the Tibetan culture in exile.
Driving into the area on the road to Coorg it is immediately apparent that we have left India. For one thing, the roads are cleaner, the restaurants boast Tibetan names, many of the women wear traditional Tibetan clothing, and there are neat schools, cement factories, farms, and shops with Tibetan owners and many Tibetan products. Men and women walk by in maroon robes and sandals…..there are many monks and nuns here it seems.
Who knew? My goal was to visit the Golden Temple . I discover far more. There is a monastery that houses over 4000 monks and nuns from all over the world as well as practitioners from around the world. The complex includes a library, a several story main temple with three 40 foot plus gold statues, murals that are portraits of various “precious teachers” of the Nyingpa lineage, prayer wheels, and colorful columns encrusted with gold leaf with dragons twisting their way around them. No expense seems to have been spared to recreate here in India the shrines and temples that are remembered from Tibet.
This shiny, colorful temple is now on the tourist trail and the main hall was filled with photo snapping Indian school children and parents. A few determined folks sat in meditation on the floor, but their mindfulness must be far stronger than mine. As I walked around the building I enjoyed the garden, fountains, numerous prayer flags fluttering and discovered two smaller buildings where shrines are less visited and more peaceful. Hundreds of butterlamps glittered on shelves in separate buildings. Along the way I spoke with a nun from Canada who knows a Portland Lama, Clark Hansen and two visiting Tibetans from Portland OR. Talk about coincidences.
I learned from the nun, Damchie Wangone Namdraling, that another White Temple (Kaagu Gompa) was down the road….and since that would be an expression of the teaching lineage I follow I was eager to see it. How different. It sits on a slight rise shining in white splendor on a platform of imposing steps. It is approached by a dirt road and seems to rise from the arid red soil around it. There is something rather New Mexicoish about this terrain.
There is no wall surrounding it. No cars, no tourists. I climb the steps. I feel as if I am climbing one of the
Figure 1 Main Shrine Golden Temple
Mexican pyramids. Entering I am struck by beauty and simplicity. I really love the beautiful carved wood that surrounds the central golden Buddha and the ceremonial drums. I particularly appreciate
Figure 2Golden temple/ small shrine room
that the benches where practitioners will sit, the musical instruments that may accompany certain practices are in place and high on the walls hang many many traditional thankas (portraits painted on fabric and bordered by brocade). A young boy dressed in monks clothing shyly smiles. He and an old man attending the shrine are the only people to be seen. I put a small donation in the box provided and take a white prayer shawl…hoping that whatever merit is achieved will bless myself and others just a bit.
As we drive away, I note that the surrounding land is being worked. I notice a dyke planted with trees that seems to gird the perimeter. I will learn more about this place. But for now, time is passing and my driver has done me a favor to extend the tour in this direction. Before we leave First Camp, the founding community….we stop for a traditional meal of beef filled dumplings and noodles in beef broth.
Within a few kilometers, we return to India…..its crowds and traffic.
Figure 3 Prayer Flags Golden Temple
Figure 4 White Temple Buddha