Pam's Trip to India 2014

What a TRIP!

Going to India is always a colorful tapestry of unexpected happenings and adventures; from the moment one awakes till you lay down your head at night.  You open your eyes in the morning, and unbeknownst to you there is a myriad of experiences awaiting you. If you think you can neatly plan the day’s events, forget it! India is my teacher, constantly whispering in my ear, "Let go... just let go and BE in life!”  Whatever one had planned, well don't get attached; life has other interesting and fascinating plans for you. Expect the unexpected.  You just go along for the ride and hang on!  Whether it’s dangerously careening through the jungle on the back of a scooter to an ancient Shiva Temple for a music lesson (which turns our to be much more of course!), or finding yourself with a 105 year old yogi doing the “lion" (sticking out your tongue and having a great laugh!), drumming with a world famous drummer in Jaipur at the World Literature Festival, or having your glasses snatched off your head by a mischievous monkey, there is never ever a dull moment in this fascinating country which is so full of contrast and color.  And which for some reason, I have a huge karmic connection.

It was a great journey, enhanced by the fact that both Susan (Brown-Madorsky) and I had our daughters along for the wild ride. What a gift for these young women, and how wonderful that we mamas were able to create this experience for our beloved daughters! 

The highlight was our visit to the village in the middle of India where we blessedly spent three incredible days with His Holiness (HH) the Dalai Lama.  The "village" is the Norgyeling Tibetan Settlement in Bhandara, which is in central India. We fell in love with this village and the villagers three years ago on our first journey there with our good  friend Tenpa Dorjee, who came from this very village. Tenpa, who many of you know, owns the Tibetan Handicrafts store in downtown Laguna.  He has been our connection to the Tibetan people and their cause, and is the reason why we at NCC  have hosted the Tibetan Monks for four years running.  That event, as you know, has enriched our church family and the whole of Laguna Beach community.

The Norgyeling Tibetan settlement is one of the poorest in all of India.  Extreme temperatures (120F in the summer), remote location, non-existent infrastructure, and lack of a sustainable economy have made it a very difficult and harsh environment.  After our first trip there, we vowed to do something to alleviate the hardships of the villagers.  They are the most wonderful, warm-hearted, cheerful and generous people I know; in spite of the difficulties of their everyday lives.  Last year we raised money to buy and distribute solar lanterns to 200 families.  Electricity is a real problem: just when most needed, the lights would go out!  The school kids had to do homework by candlelight.  Our group titled ourselves "Sharing Light" and got busy doing something to alleviate the problem.  We raised money, supported by all of you and the Laguna Beach community, purchased solar lights from a company in Delhi, had them shipped to Nagpur (a big city; about six hours by car from the village), and drove in a cavalcade to deliver the lights to the villagers. A very successful project! 

This year we addressed a problem concerning the young people of the village, who, with not much to do and no healthy outlets, were getting into trouble: drugs, juvenile delinquency, etc.  We raised money for soccer equipment, uniforms, and the beginnings of a new soccer field in the village.  We also used the money to help with much needed repairs around the village.  As you can imagine, the villagers were over the top with excitement and anticipation of the visit (the first in 10 years) of their beloved teacher, HH the Dalai Lama.  However, they sorely lacked the resources to "spiff " up the place:  the monasteries needed fresh paint and new construction to properly do justice to this momentous event!  Our Sharing Light group and members of the NCC Chanting Circle (the Enchanters) donated money to help them along with the much needed repairs and additions.

Tenpa is considered a rock star back in India and especially in the village.  He became an orphan at the age of four, when his parents passed way (as did many of the fleeing Tibetans).  He has worked tirelessly for the village and given so much.  This time he was honored by the village in the presence of HH.  We were so proud of him, and were his cheering, boisterous Laguna Beach Fan club!  The Tibetans are much more sedate as you can imagine; we, the western VIPs, were highly visible and hopefully not too outrageous!

The day HH was due to arrive, we all turned out on the side of the road with our white scarves to welcome him.  We were staying at the monastery, and in spite of a night of hard beds and lack of blankets, we were all in good spirits. There is a beautiful energy at that little monastery where we stay when we visit.  It is very rustic (to say the least), but you can't help but feel enveloped in LOVE.  It’s a sweet feeling there.  The Monks (God bless them) had given up their rooms for us, the honored visitors from the West.

Rumors were flying about the arrival time of HH; we waited about three hours, but no worries; it was a party atmosphere.  Everybody was over-the-top excited!  There must have been  there a thousand or more Tibetans from all over India and the world, plus Indians from surrounding villages in the region.  There were nine of us Westerners:  myself and my daughter Skye, Susan Brown-Madorsky and daughter Anna, Tom and Vicki Lamb and daughter Morgan, Jason Hall our good friend from our Kirtan Circle at NCC, and our friend June Sinclair (another Lagunatic).  Security was tight and we carried  ID permits at all times.  A special visa was required to be in the village which was not easy to obtain.  Finally HH arrived in a cavalcade with great fanfare and that was that!  Such a beautiful feeling to know that we were breathing the same air as the beloved Lama; in the same small village, in the remote middle of India!

HH was with us all for the next 3 days.  Bright and early next morning, he began his teachings and Dharma talks.  We were lucky enough to have wonderful seats and an interpreter that had come from Dharamsala  (the seat of the Tibetan Government in Northern India) especially for us.  I am pleased to report that HH (the 14th Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet and the world) was strong, clear, healthy, and full of good humor, and… very optimistic!  I was inspired and in love!  He is a beautiful teacher and my personal hero.

That first day we all took the Bodhisattva Vows:  an initiation in which one pledges to practice compassion and kindness, and work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of all sentient beings.  In this aspect of compassion which is the central tenet of Buddhism, I find such a similarity with Christianity and Jesus'  teachings of compassion and loving acceptance of everyone no matter what their particular path.

We were able to be with HH three more times after that day. The second afternoon he came to the little monastery where we were staying.  That day was so very special, as we were able to get "up close and personal” with him.  We had prepared a "gift " from NCC:  a letter from Pastor B.J. stating who we are at NCC and our connection with the Tibetan community, some lovely pictures (thanks to Tom Lamb) of our past events with visiting monks, and a monetary offering from The Enchanters.  I told HH about our church, our open hearted mission in the world, our work in the village, and our commitment to the Tibetan cause.  He looked at me with kind eyes and told me how much he appreciated our hard work.  I was, needless to say, overwhelmed with gratitude at that personal connection with this great Teacher and wonderful Human Being. 

The next day HH left the village and it was a replay of the first day, as we lined the sides of the road to bid him farewell.  It felt like family:  being with all these beautiful, now familiar people with whom we had shared so much. 

But there's more! 

A perfect ending to our time in the village:

That night some young men in the village had organized the first ever Monastery Fundraising Event.  It took place on the very spot where the soccer field is being built.  A huge tent had been erected ( which was a little shaky). Every Tibetan who lives in the settlement faithfully attended, and for three and a half  hours (yes, that’s right!  Three and a half hours!) we were entertained by the villagers.  There was rap music, breakdancing, bands, traditional Tibetan dancing and singing, non-traditional dancing and singing, comedy acts, and even a little jazz number from me (the only westerner who performed).  We sat in the VIP sections and were presented with adorable VIP badges. We drank inordinate quantities of chai and soft drinks which were offered to us non-stop.  It was hilarious and wonderful.  At the end of it all, we cut loose and danced with the Tibetan performers and organizers.  It was a love fest, and a perfect ending to our week in this lovely village in the middle of India.  

I can't believe how lucky and blessed I am to be along for this incredible “ride!” 

I would highly recommend a visit to this Tibetan village in India to experience the beauty and dignity of these brave Tibetan people . They have suffered so much and yet continue to keep their hearts open, inspired by the example of their beautiful Teacher,  His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Pam Wicks, Music Director

Author of this post

Pam Wicks Music Ministry Director "Pam has been the Music Director at NCC for almost nine years. She has been a musician her entire life and is grateful every day for her parents who gave her this gift - and made her practice! She loves her job and the openness and inclusiveness of NCC which allows for such creativity and eclecticism. Pam also leads a weekly chanting circle in the sanctuary, and organizes community concerts at NCC... and much more! She is thrilled to serve this wonderful church and share her musical gifts with all!"