Saturday, May 05, 2007

An afternoon with the Dalai Lama

the Dalai Lama in Madison "There are not many paths to God" a man bellowed, his voice a dirty baritone, "the Bible says you must know Jesus in order to go to heaven - know him as your personal savior." A bristly mustache kept his upper lip warm on that atypically cool May afternoon, and alongside his makeshift pulpit stood a sandwich board bluntly pronouncing that homosexuality was satanic, a declaration oddly out of place for the event. A child of about eleven or twelve tried to hand me a religious pamphlet while the forty-something man spat Bible verses. I looked into the eyes of the children as they offered their literature - blank, obedient faces providing an expressionless foil to their father's lively rant.

This was the scene outside the Dalai Lama lecture I attended yesterday. I never imagined His Holiness as a controversial speaker, hell, his talk was entitled "Compassion: The Source of Happiness" that's about as innocuous as chocolate chip cookies and puppies. And his temperament couldn't be at issue either. When the man entered the room his enthusiasm radiated all the way into the upper balcony where I was seated. At one point, as the introductory speaker read the Dalai Lama's list of achievements, this man who many Buddhists see as one of the most enlightened on the planet bent down to tie his shoes.

The self-deprecating Tibetan leader, even after forwarding the cause of his occupied people, gaining international notoriety and winning the Nobel Peace prize, still refers to himself as a simple Buddhist monk. This kind of humility is evident in every word he says. Soft spoken yet confident he exemplifies the middle path. His lecture didn't contradict this feature of his personality it portrayed it. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household I worshiped at plenty "big tent revival" weekends complete with the preplanned sermons and staged lighting cues for maximum impact, and the Lama simply cross-legged on an over-sized easy chair speaking casually to a crowd of several thousand outshone all of that affected pageantry.

At the end of his talk the Dalai Lama took questions from the audience. The first of the series asked his thoughts on how to best raise children in this age of terrorism and violence. He began by restating the day's topic, to show them an abundance of affection, but he soon stopped, restarted and joked that kids would probably be fun for a few hours however he wouldn't want to comment on child rearing as he doesn't have any children of his own. What honesty from a holy man. Why can't Catholic priests adopt that kind of frankness and resist the urge to counsel married couples?

For years the Dalai Lama has worked with neuroscientists studying the effects of meditation on the body. There has been many documented cases where Tibetan Buddhists, while in a meditative trance, have completely dried dripping wet garments with body heat.

And his close relationship with science doesn't stop there. The Dalai Lama has said in interviews and in print that whatever science disproves all thinking people should reject. This may be one of the complaints those fundamentalist preachers on the outside have with him. He accepts evolution, studied string theory and quantum mechanics and possesses considerable knowledge of relativity. The goal of the Lama is to bridge the gap between the two fields, not deepen the gulf, and in the end arrive at a better understanding of the true nature of reality.


Sandy said...

Thank you for expressing so beautifully your experience for those of us unable to attend.

rich_of_spirit said...


The Dalai Lama in person is exactly how you'd imagine. His compassion for everyone is unmistakable. Other religious leaders would do well to look at him as an example of where religion must head in the 21st century.