Name, profession, religion, lineage and land constitute an individual’s identity. A mere thought of sudden disappearance of any of these leaves a big question mark regarding one’s existence. In an attempt to explore oneself, scores of differently aged backpackers often set out on individual voyages to McLeod Ganj, a small town in Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. While some return with a reinvigorated perspective towards life, others turn numb and a few permanently settle there. The silence resonating within the lush green slopes of Dhauladhar range is believed to be attributed to the presence of Buddhist monks in exile.
Gangchen Kyishong, a Tibetan phrase, meaning ‘happy valley of snow’ is a site of Tibetan Buddhism in Dharamshala. It has its roots in the teachings of Nepalese Sakya King, Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. Tibet, a land of separate tribes, dominated by the indigenous Bon religion witnessed a Buddhist cultural exchange between Tibet and India across the Himalayas in the 7th century BCE. Indian sages were invited to Tibet to propagate Buddhist teachings to the locals. It is speculated that a blend of tantrism rooted in India with the practices of Bon religion developed into an exceptionally distinctive form of Vajrayana Buddhism, prevalent in Dharamshala. In 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, had escaped from the clutches of Chinese communist regime in Tibet to establish their ‘government in exile’ in India.
These homeless expatriates struck with an identity crisis chose to pursue Buddhism in a city that breathed a fresh life to their existence. Several even aspire to return to their hometowns to begin an education in Buddhism. It is said that a Tibetan Buddhist is inseparably linked to his ancestral clan, believed to have protected his lands for years. An invasion of their mountains and holy lakes is considered an infringement of religious beliefs and annihilation of their forefathers’ legacy.
The monks and nuns–popularly known as lamas–meditate to collectively protect their legacy and attain the ultimate goal of Buddhism–nirvana or enlightenment by freeing themselves from worldly desires. The path to achieve this goal is considered to be rejuvenating.
To eliminate evil energies coming in the way of their ancestral beliefs, the lamas spin differently-sized prayer wheels printed with mantras, a practice unique to Himalayan Buddhism. It is said that Chakrasamvara Mandala, a meditation technique, brings about a radical transformation in the conception of self and experiences of the world. It is believed that this process enables an individual to encounter his own uniqueness.
Within the cradle of Mother Earth, clinging onto Buddhahood, several landless lamas have created new identities, while many others continue to create one.