An old acquaintance of mine from the Channel Island of Jersey, recalled a remarkable story to a sweating tribe of transients as they waited for the rain in a dingy Delhi boardinghouse devoid of any air conditioning. Our storyteller was not an atheist, far from it, however he had over time become thoroughly sceptical of the Buddhist tradition in general and the international flying circus that the Tibetan variant in particular had degenerated into. He was an ardent advocate for the rights of animals, his time, efforts and money being devoted to this cause in the rather myopic and militant manner that European activists have.
He had been on a visit to MacLeodganj nestled in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh, although as with most of the travellers who arrive there, he called it Dharamshala. The town of Macleod is home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and thousands of his devoted yellow hatted monks who dominate the town much as they have done for centuries in Tibet. On a visit to that pretty valley some years ago I was told by a monk squashed against me on a ridiculously overcrowded bus, that the Lamas who had been in the first wave of exiles arriving in the 1950’s had initially settled a little lower down the ridge along which MacLeodganj now sprawls. That small settlement still exists, nestled in the damp, darkness of coniferous woodland although definitely not as tiny as it was fifty years ago. Those first monks and their Lamas had left within a few short years, sometimes months, apparently suffering from a sickness that they could neither alleviate by prayer nor potion. That was the town of Forsyth.
Today the buildings of both of these settlements are decorated in the colourful prayer flags that are favoured by these refugees, although it is in MacLeodganj where the thriving tourist driven businesses are capitalising on the western interest in all things Tibetan. They sell everything from incense sticks, to books and writing paper, metal statues, meditation courses and all of it stamped with an image of the Buddha or an assortment of other spiritual personalities. Some of these outlets also offer for sale health, beauty and medicinal products. The Tibetan-ness of the products are accentuated; the packaging essentially communicates to the customer by using the distinctive script and spiritual symbolism to decorate the cardboard and plastic.
Our storyteller, Malcolm, is the son of a working class Belfast Protestant and as you would expect him to be, he is stubborn – bloody minded, it could be said. Anyway, on a filthy day when the thoroughfares are rivers of rainwater and cow shit, Malcolm took shelter inside one of these medicinal markets. To pass the time he gazed at the tidily stacked shelves; soaps, skin creams, and suppositories seemed to be selling. He would take a box from the rack and try to make sense of the Tibetan before reading the English translation of the ingredients. The weather continued and so he did too; box after box, jar after jar. In time he came across a product that was making the usual incredible claims of life enhancing properties, however this particular potion, perfectly clearly promoted that part of a tiger was among it’s ingredients.
Had he been in a similar shop in Jersey or Belfast he may have behaved differently, however on this occasion he photographed the offending article, smiled at the shopkeeper whom he had formed a hatred for by this point, and left quietly. According to his own testimony, he had made straight for his lodgings and making full use of the intense heat of his volcanic anger, began to compose a letter outlining in no uncertain terms a long list of legal, moral and spiritual contraventions. He insisted to those who were listening, that his letter was polite and I’m inclined to believe him. You see, he actually received a reply from the recipient of this written rage, a genuinely concerned and reasonable Dalai Lama.
Malcolm, in spite of his unwillingness to consider the holder of this particular temporal office to be anything other than an everyday, regular pensioner, took the letter to a secluded spot before he opened it. Perhaps affording more respect and dignity to the sender than he cares to admit to himself.
He had picked a pretty tree that was in blossom and sat beneath it’s benevolent boughs before he ran his penknife along the envelope’s edge. He took out the letter and carefully unfolded it, noting the beauty of the sun and the stillness of the air as he did so. As he bowed his head toward the well worded page and began to read, delicate blossoms began to fall gently onto the paper and they continued to drizzle until all of the soft grass that grew in the shade of the canopy had been carpeted. He looked around at the other trees of the same family that were growing in the orchard, yet none of them had chosen to shed their precious pink petals.
Malcolm met Magick
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