Finding the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala: On the Path to Enlightenment, Smelly Feet

Getting inside was the easy part, I’m holding the aspiring Buddhist’s equivalent of a backstage pass.

The monk at the entrance to the Dalai Lama’s Tsuglagkhang Temple takes one look at the little saffron-colored book with the title “Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva” stenciled in silver lettering on the cover and wordlessly waves me through the gates. Inside the temple, diffused morning sunlight streams through large windows giving the room a peaceful glow. I pause at the entrance to try and figure out what to do next. Buddhist followers shuffle solemnly past me and take their places on folded yoga mats or small cushions scattered on the red carpet around the large room. Everyone is holding a copy of the little yellow book.

The Dalai Lama’s ornately-carved throne in the middle of the Temple exerts a sort of gravity on everything within sight of it and I find myself walking towards the front of the crowd to a cramped patch of open carpet among the other Buddhists sitting lotus-syle on the ground. I squeeze in beside a woman silently studying an ancient text and wait for His Holiness to arrive and begin lecturing about the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva.

The crowd keeps growing and now the little gaps between the people already seated on the floor are filled by new arrivals like bricks being added to a wall. Realizing that things are about to get a whole lot less roomy, I pull my feet in even tighter to make more room on the floor for somebody else.

With my feet now almost directly beneath my nose, I notice a familiar and unwelcome smell. I try to think of the last time I took a shower since I’ve been in India—maybe one or two overnight bus rides ago?<!–more–>

The smell from my feet is gaining strength and envelops me in an unholy cloud of…

“Your feet STINK!”

I look up to see the sour-faced woman in front of me has turned around. She is frowning and her nose is scrunched up, sniffing. I look around nervously and try to pretend like she’s not talking to me, but she’s not finished.

“I think you should go and WASH THEM RIGHT NOW!”

She adds the last part of the sentence so forcefully that I imagine the words bouncing off the carvings at the back of the temple. Some people around us are now looking disapprovingly in my direction.

I try mumble something in response, but there’s not much to say. I mean, she’s right—my feet really <em>do</em> stink.

Embarrassed, I’m trying to decide what to do when the woman sitting next to me leans over and says quietly “she is your teacher today”.

I’m not understanding the clue, so she says with a smile on her face “as you follow the path of the Bodhisattva, this woman will teach you patience.”

I wonder if sometimes on the path to enlightenment, even the Bodhisattva had smelly feet?