I squinted in the harsh morning light and shivered in anticipation. Standing outside a hotel near Carmel, NY on a May morning in 1997, I felt like a celebrity stalker. I was hungry for spiritual contact.
My husband Vic and I and a few friends from our spiritual community had come to see the Dalai Lama; He was taking part in a dedication of the Great Buddha Hall at the Chuang Yen Monastery. We’d been tipped off that the Dalai Lama was staying at a certain hotel, so about fifteen of us gathered outside the entry way, waiting for him to emerge.
Through large glass windows, we saw maroon monk’s robes and business suits milling in the lobby. We quietly arranged ourselves in two rows on either side of the door. Ella May Damiani, our deceased teacher’s wife, stood up front.
The Dalai Lama emerged into the brisk day, grinned, shaded his eyes with a flattened hand, and looked us over. Recognizing Ella May, he walked over to her and grasped her hands. They spoke quietly and then she offered him a recently published book, Living Wisdom, by her late husband and our philosophy and meditation teacher Anthony Damiani.
The Dalai Lama remembered Ella May and a few others in our group from his first trip to the United States in 1979. During that trip, he spent four days at Wisdom’s Goldenrod, our meditation and study center in the Finger Lakes of New York. He dedicated our library and blessed our studies and our children. In 1993, he visited us again. During that time, many of us also traveled to see him.
In those years, the Dalai Lama was accessible rather than walled off by security guards and impenetrable layers of protection as he is now. In large or small public groups, he moved through lines of devotees, gazed into eyes, held hands, leaned close to touch the heads of small children, and talked to people in wheelchairs. Then, as now, he beamed love.
On that morning in 1997, after his exchange with Ella May, he walked down our small line toward his waiting car, pausing before each of us. As he grasped my hands and gazed into my eyes, a startling current of heat pierced my heart. Bowing to touch my forehead to his soft hands, my chest filled with an expansive warm love for him and all of life.
I watched as the Dalai Lama stopped in front of my friend Lauren Cottrell who stood beside me. After he had moved on, Lauren and I leaned into each other, stunned, wet-eyed, and overcome with joy. Vic snapped our photo and quickly moved to the end of the line to wait for his turn.
All the photos in this piece were taken by my husband Vic Mansfield (1941-2008). Have you seen the Dalai Lama? How did he affect you? Have you been strongly affected by other spiritual teachers? I’d love to hear about it. The Dalai Lama usually visits the United States once a year, so if he’s coming to your neighborhood, you might want to consider getting tickets. You may also be interested in this post about the Dalai Lama.