The Dalai Lama Doesn’t Ski on Cyber Monday

By Jon Turk

The massive red Dong Feng truck passed so close that I could feel it vibrate as it downshifted, as if I were astride it, like Dr Strangelove riding the atomic bomb to oblivion, waving his cowboy hat in the air. In Chinese, Dong Feng means “East Wind”, inspiring images of mating cranes taking flight — like everything in Chinese propaganda – idyllic and pastoral, with no connotation of a diesel belching 22-wheeled monster carrying re-bar onto the Tibetan Plateau, to build skyscrapers across the Himalayas.


At first light, the early October snow cast steel-blue hues over the high peaks and the grasslands below. We had pedaled our bikes out of the industrial lowlands, and across the steppe, drawn inexorably toward snowfields and glaciers. Then, we had bumbled into the Holy Mountain without knowing that it was there, and passed around its southern flank in a counterclockwise direction — the wrong way — as if to unravel our prayers. I meant no insult to the deities; so many times in my life, the wrong way just happened to be the way I was going.

Nina Maclean riding the wrong way around the Holy Mountain

Now, we rode down out of the snow, into the heavily industrialized Xining Valley, with forests of construction cranes, and multi-levels of highway overpasses. A billboard announced, from beneath a shimmering grid of high tension transmission lines, “The Center of the City – That’s Where Money Grows.” We climbed narrow switchbacks up another mountain until we were enveloped in the fog, replacing the money-farm with hand-stacked sheaves of barley. An old Muslim man in a skull cap was herding sheep along the road with a long weathered stick. He smiled when we asked directions to the birthplace of the Dalai Lama and pointed up the hill, deeper into the fog.

The Dalai Lama’s original adobe farmhouse house was still standing, like an island, now encased within a brand new, much larger walled complex, with a brightly painted, orange and red lintel and an ornate door. My wife, Nina, our friend, Ma Lu Bin, and I stood in the fog, weathered and tired, honed and lean, on this peaceful mountain, like a larger island – surrounded by the commotion called western civilization.

The Dalai Lama’s niece in front of the old farmhouse (right) where the Dalai Lama was born. The new ‘tourist attraction’ birthplace, built by the Chinese, is on the left

Today, a little over a month after we reached the Dalai Lama’s birthplace, the internet is plastered with reminders that it is cyber-Monday. Yeah, “That’s Where Money Grows.” But at the same time, here in southeastern British Columbia, we have some of the best early season skiing we’ve had in a long time. We’ve got about a meter up high, dense on the bottom, a little fluff on top, and seemingly bomber stability. So…..on this greatest of all great internet shopping days, lets remember that it is the beginning of ski season. Ahead, there will be powder days, rain events, avalanches, sunshine, and fog. Joy and danger. The solitude of the mountains. I am not anti consumerism. I have a new pair of K-2 Sidestashes on order and can’t wait to mount them up.


I found, “20 Instructions for Life by the Dalai Lama” on the “Girls do Ski” website ( .

As far as I know, the Dalai Lama isn’t a true powder hound.


If you have time after finishing your online shopping today, read the list, stretch the metaphors a little, and you’ll see that powder skiing helps us apply every one of the 20 Instructions. And if that isn’t reason enough, it’s more fun than anything else I can think of doing this winter.

1.Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
3. Follow the three R’s:
– Respect for self,
– Respect for others and
– Responsibility for all your actions.
4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great relationship.
7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
8. Spend some time alone every day.
9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.
10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and
think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.
12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.
14. Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.
15. Be gentle with the earth.
16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.
17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
19. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
20. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

Jon Turk is author of, most recently, The Raven’s Gift: A Scientist, a Shaman, and Their Remarkable Journey Through the Siberian Wilderness.” Parts of this essay were taken from an article for Whitefish Review, also written by Jon.