Back of the Book
In this travelogue of the spirit Swati Chopra brings alive the narrow lanes of Dharamsala which echo with footfalls of seekers from all over the world. Interacting with them - old and young, Tibetan and non-Tibetan, guru and novice- she realizes it is possible in Dharamsala to retreat within, to heal one's spirit, to learn skills for the inner life and perhaps even find answers to sticky life questions - 'Does God exist?', 'Why do I suffer?', Does my life have a deeper meaning?' Dharamasala emerges as a modern day caravamserai on the inner journey, one of the few places in the world where one can access transcendental wisdom.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who lives in a house on the hem of the snow-clad Dhauladhar peaks in McLeodganj, a suburb of Dharamsala, has provided this place with a certain grace and turned it into a pilgrimage for many. Tibetan Buddhism forms a part of the rich tapestry of spiritual traditions, old and new, that taken root in Dharamsala and are manifest in its old Devi temples, wandering sadhus and the more recent centres for meditation, yoga and alternative therapies.
Through the stories and experiences of those that pass through Dharamsala, and those that find their refuge there, this book explores the nature of the spiritual journey and indeed of life itself.
About the Book
'An evocative, inspiring book that incisively captures the spirit and textures of Dharamsala with sensitivity and passion
if you haven't been to Dharamsala this is next best. If you are planning a visit, have been or are there, it will be your perfect guide. The book offers you insights that will deeply enrich your experience and understanding not just about Dharamsala but about Buddhism. A must read - Rajiv Mehrotra, author and honorary secretary/trustee, the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
'Dharmsala Diaries is an accurate presentation of Dharamsala through personal experience and observation. It gives a flavour not of the place, but also of the spiritual path. Most importantly, it is an engrossing read.' - Geshe Lhakdor, director, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala.
About the Author
Swati Chopra is a writer who focuses on spirituality and religion in her work, with special emphasis on exploring ancient wisdom in a modern context. She is the author of a contemporary guide to Buddhism, Buddhism: On the Path to Nirvana (Brijbasi Art Press, 2005). She has worked as editor of a quarterly journal, Life Positive Plus, as contributing editor of Life Positive magazine and as spirituality correspondent of the Times of India.
Her writing has appeared in journals and newspapers in India and abroad, including Resurgence, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Hindustan Times and Daily News and Analysis. Her essay on the Dalai Lama's dialogue with modern science appeared in the anthology Understanding the Dalai Lama (edited by Rajiv Mehrotra, Penguin India, 2004).
Swati is currently working on her next book, which documents contemporary women's spirituality.
I have known Dharamsala all my life. In the way one knows the taste of strange fruit eaten once years ago - vaguely, at the back of one's mouth, there yet not there. Dharamsala has existed in my consciousness for the longest time because of a granduncle that spent part of his life as a wandering yogi here. Dharamsala was for me a luminous presence that gathered around it layers of mystery and secrecy until I had to go to it, touch it, feel it, place it in the real world for myself.
My first visit to Dharamsala happened after years of thinking of it as a special place. To the yogi's mystique was added His Holiness the Dalai Lama's presence. I had become interested in spirituality and my writing was focusing on it, and I was deeply affected by the Dalai Lamas use of spiritual insights in social, political and economic situations. I became inspired to try and interpret ancient knowledge in modern contexts, to communicate an engagement of inner awareness with problems we face today as individuals and as societies.
I came to Dharamsala with a sense of personal pilgrimage. This must be how tirthas develop, with people's instinctive faith in the power of a place. I arrived with a bit of this blind idealization, eager to make holy what I have long carried as a dream in my heart.
That visit turned out to be quite the homecoming. I was soon wandering the streets, picking up conversations with fellow travelers, rushing into a Buddhist philosophy class every morning, breathless from climbing steep inclines that my city girl legs and lungs were unused to. I felt as if one had arrived in a temple laden with pooja things that the mad deity knocked away as insignificant - and proceeded to give one the run of the hallowed precincts.
The very air sparkled a diaphanous gold with warm energy as I walked by old Tibetans swirling prayer wheels, monks happy to be on 'summer holidays' from being monks, Himachali women bent double under grass-load, and people of all hues from all corners of the world clacking rosaries and meditating by the wayside. There was tremendous freedom in the ready access to profound philosophy taught by good - humoured geshes (teachers), and the spirit of earnest inquiry and seeking that wafted through Dharamsala like heady pine incense.
On this first visit, it became apparent that much of the excitement and new energy in Dharamsala was due to the Dalai Lama's presence. Its old Devi temples, ashrams and sadhus had always marked it as somewhat different from its surrounding areas. With the Dalai Lama's growing stature as world guru, this town was acquiring an identity few sleepy hamlets dream about - that of a world spiritual capital.
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