- by Timothy Koock, Fredericksburg, TX
Ki Monastery, the location of the 2000 Kalachakra could not have been more exotic.
Perched atop a clump of gargantuan boulders, the 9th century Ki Monastery posed nearly 12,000 feet above the vast Spiti Valley in the Himacal Pradesh, India. The Dali Lama was invited to dedicate a new prayer hall there and offer the 10 day Kalachakra ceremony to the people of that region. I was one of the few Westerners permitted to attend this sacred event thanks to the dedicated work of Barbara Sansome and her Spirit of India team who specializes in small group excursions to rare sacred events.
Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, this monastery was the closest His Holiness had approached China since his exile nearly fifty years earlier.
Dressed in richly colorful garb, most of people were the indigenous mountain folk of the Spiti Valley. Some rode their small Mongolian-like ponies, many wore heavy jewelry made from coral, river pearls, silver and large turquoise. Their Buddhist spirituality was thickly seasoned in the Bon Po shamanic tradition. They danced and performed rituals daily in the courtyard while His Holiness and the heads of the major lineages chanted for hours inside the new prayer hall.
Each day His Holiness would appear on a throned porch overlooking the courtyard and present his teachings to the monks and nuns below. I found a shaded banister to sit upon with a close and direct view of His Holiness, whose face from time to time, erupted into great bursts of laughter. While he addressed the crowds in their native language, the mountain folks spread their quilts and picnicked and chatted joyfully, seemingly unconcerned for the solemnity of the talks given below. They shared their food with me and offered me pillows to cushion the concrete railing. There was a soft electricity in the air accompanied with a feeling of crispy clear consciousness. Something profound was happening.
One afternoon the Kalachakra symbol appeared to the sounds of gasps and awes of the crowd, blazoned and pearlescent across the blue Himalayan sky; a gesture of gratitude to His Holiness, perhaps, offered by the assembled Spiti shamans.
After the Kalachakra, it just so happened that our small entourage of Jeeps left Karza the same time as His Holiness’s Range Rovers. The little villages we passed through had its entire tiny populations all dressed in their finest, waiting with hot butter tea and honey-pistachio cookies tiny-tabled on carpets of flowers with the largest, grandest chair of the region at its center, all to welcome His Holiness. They wished he might hopefully stop and bless their homes with his presence. In one tiny place the inhabitants accidentally mistook us for the Dali Lama’s group which seemed extremely flattering to us until he pulled up right behind and the their adulation suddenly shifted and corrected its focus of attention.
There was only one road back home through a magnificent stony landscape and winding curves through deep canyons and we shared it with His Holiness for most of that long day. To look across a deep ravine to the road on the other side and see his beige Range Rovers leaving behind puffs of clouds of sandstone dust. Now and then in the distance we caught a glimpse of His Holiness as he would lean forward from his “shotgun seat”, wave and beam his huge smile towards us. We swore we could feel his bone cracking laughter penetrate the glass and steel of our vehicle.
Was this his essential teaching of the Kalachakra?
Editor’s Note: Timothy Koock is returning to attend the Kalachakra in Ladakh with Spirit of India in July 2014. Original World/Spirit of India offers cultural immersion tours to India, including the upcoming once-in-a-lifetime tour, Himalayan Tour Ladakh: Kalachakra Teaching with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Hemis Festival which takes place July 4-19, 2014.