By Barb Arland-Fye
Our chauffeur maneuvered his car up steep, alley-sized streets in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India. Colorful houses and open-air markets hugged one side of the foothills; sky-high trees and plunging open spaces defined the other side.
The breathtaking climb in the city of Dharamsala served as a metaphor. The car’s passengers — Bishop Thomas Zinkula, Father Francis Bashyam and I — awaited a mountaintop experience on March 4 with one of the world’s preeminent peacemakers: the Dalai Lama.
Bishop Zinkula anticipated presenting the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award to the Dalai Lama, the 83-year-old spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists and 1989 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. TIME magazine just published a cover feature on him. People worldwide admire this humble, Buddhist monk for his lifelong commitment to nonviolence and world peace. For 60 years in exile, he has advocated for the preservation of the culture, language and well-being of his fellow Tibetans.
My dream assignment to cover this award presentation half a world away from home was moving closer to reality. Fr. Bashyam, a close friend of Bishop Zinkula who served as our guide in India, also looked forward to meeting the Dalai Lama. His priority, however, was the logistics to make this encounter happen!
Arriving the day before the audience, we took a walking tour of the Dalai Lama’s temple complex and the open-air markets. Vendors hawked everything from tea, baked goods and hot food to Buddha figurines, artwork, books and clothing.
Earlier that day on the shuttle bus to the airport, the bishop struck up a conversation with an Australian who, captivated by her first visit 15 years ago, moved to Dharamsala. She encouraged the bishop to walk the “kora,” a path circling the temple complex. And so we did. Colorful prayer flags fluttered above us and we spun prayer wheels along with other hikers. The bishop posed for photos with monks wearing maroon robes. Water buffalo crossed our path. So did a few young male beggars with scrawny frames, crippled legs and pleading looks on their faces.
The following morning we walked the short distance from our hotel to the temple complex. I clutched the large cloth bag holding the framed peace award. Large groups of people mingled inside and outside the reception area — our first stop before advancing to the Dalai Lama’s home in the temple complex. Security officers collected our passports for inspection. Still others screened our packages and us.
After a few tense moments regarding whether or not I had permission to take my iPhone into the Dalai Lama’s residence, we got the OK and were escorted to a sitting room. We sat on padded benches and talked with another group waiting to see the Dalai Lama.
Bishop Zinkula’s 10-minute audience was to take place between 10 and 11 a.m. At 11:20 a.m., he was still waiting. And we had a plane to catch, back down that picturesque mountain, to another event. As the bishop pondered whether to cancel that long-planned event, the group ahead of us insisted that we move ahead of them. What a blessing!
We were escorted quickly into what looked like a living room. The Dalai Lama rose from his chair, with a bit of assistance, to greet us. A warm smile formed on his face and he extended his hand to each of us.
He listened attentively as Bishop Zinkula explained the purpose of the Pacem in Terris award and identified the interfaith groups that choose the award recipients. I took photos on my iPhone and so did Fr. Bashyam and a photographer with the Dalai Lama. That relieved my fear of leaving without photos!
Our 10 precious minutes with the Dalai Lama passed swiftly. He motioned for the three of us — Bishop Zinkula, Fr. Bashyam and me — to join him for a photo together. He treated us like friends. Peacemaking begins in moments like this.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)