This morning I was driving the lovely Janell Bye to the airport after our (way to short) visit at Starbucks, and somehow she brought up Diwali. It took us a while to figure out what order the letters went in and how to pronounce the word, but as soon as we did, a truly wonderful memory came to me.
For those of you that don’t know what that is, Diwali is a Hindu festival it is known as the ‘festival of lights’. It’s celebrated sometime in October and November and this year it fell during the time that we were in Dharamsala, and more specifically while we were at Tushita.
This festival is celebrated withing many religions, and each one has it’s own specific purpose for it, but the main spiritual significance behind this celebration is the ‘awareness of the inner light’.
In order to paint you a picture of our last beautiful night at Tushita, you need to understand that there is an upper Dharamsala and a lower Dharamsala. Dharamsala is located in northern India in the mountains (kind of in a valley). Lower Dharamsala is lower on this mountain and upper Dharamsala is, well, higher up on the mountain! The difference between lower and upper is unmistakable. Lower Dharamsala is very much so chaotic, crowded, and dirty. Upper Dharamsala is peaceful, clean and home to the Tibetan Refugees (it was a relief to be staying up out of ‘India’ for a while!). Tushita was about a 20 minute hike higher than upper Dharamsala.
Lower Dharamsala was where Diwali was being celebrated because of he Hindus and Sikhs and Jains, etc., the people who celebrate this.
Our last night at Tushita, we had our very last evening meditation. After a week spent in silence and mediation, and with the anxiety to be able to release all that we’ve had to hold in, this was a very powerful and united meditation. After (I think it was) an hour of this meditation, we were told to make our way outside. So we gathered our blankets and mittens and layered up in the chilly weather and together we walked over to the Stupa (a buddhist shrine).
This same night was the last night of the Diwali celebrations and there were fireworks and lights going off everywhere! I remember just feeling the excitement radiating up from the valley.
As we were gathered around in front of this shrine, our teacher started us in the ‘om mani padme hum’ chant and gave us each a tealight which he lit. He explained to us that it was a blessing and that we had to accept it in order for it to be recieved from him. He explained to us that we were to carry our lights around the Stupa before placing it down. The significance of this was to represent our light, love and compassion. It was almost like tangible evidence of our success and growth for that week, tangible evidence of our open minds and open hearts.
It was incredible to see the simpilarity of light between the hindu religion and buddhism. It was empowering to feel the intensity of all of our love, faith, passion, compassion, friendship, unity and (things that I can’t even put into words) being let out into the universe.
To top it all off, the stray dogs of Dharamsala were fightened by all of the commotion and explosions and were trying to escape it by getting higher in the mountains. Many of them found refuge with us that night, between our legs, and under our beds, and huddled together with us. It was as if they knew that we had all become aware of our capability to love and the potential of our compassion. It was as if they knew that were sending our energy out to those in need of us. It was as if they knew that they would be safe.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt that kind of unity before. Nor will I ever again.