Visit of a lifetime
There are moments in life you can try to repeat – retaking a test, applying for a job, even big events like marriage (look at Adam and I! Three weddings, no divorce!). There are some you can repeat if you’re lucky – and some that simply may never happen again. On Sunday, Adam and I were lucky enough to have one of those latter experiences.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama came to Woodstock School on 16 September, giving a talk about the importance of compassion in today’s world. At least, that was the nominal subject matter. It turned into a talk about compassion, love, the need for inner peace and open minds and hearts — and full of hilarious anecdotes, like the time at a speaking engagement in England and Queen Elizabeth’s skirt flipped up in the back.
One of the most poignant parts of the whole experience was the fact that you genuinely just couldn’t help yourself and had to smile – His Holiness was very up front, honest, and humble. “I am Dalai Lama. I am special, I must be 100% perfect. Nonsense! I have faults.” was one thing he said; another was that he does not believe he can bless anyone – he can pray for them, but he does not have special powers (and another anecdote about some American psychic who bombed, horribly, with an attempt at mindreading). Hearing a highly regarded man – both for his religious and political actions – be so up front and self-deprecating was refreshing; the jokes only added to the experience.
It’s not hard to see he’s 77; His Holiness is thin without being all bones, wears his glasses, and requires some assistance walking, and does tend to ramble slightly when talking. Still, he stands straight, possesses a clever wit and occasionally barbed tongue (particularly as regards China – “I’ll come back to Tibet as soon as they let me!”), is quick to laugh and his mind full of incisive insights… and I would lay money that all those wrinkles on his face are nothing but laugh lines. He laughed frequently and it was contagious, the entire auditorium laughing along with him. It was infrequent at best that he needed his translator to give him words, though he did have all questions translated just for clarity.
A few highlights from his talk and answers to questions include the fact that one of his “secrets” to his health is sleeping 8-9 hours every night, full stop; he thinks it is very important to have inner peace before you can pursue anything, because inner peace lets you avoid distraction, materialism, etc; this earth is our one home, no matter the Curiosity Rover – we have to behave as if this is our only home and pay more attention to the environment; a heart consumed with only one goal (religion, hate, politics, whatever) will have no room for anything else in it, and you must have room for love and compassion and kindness for all.
As a Buddhist (though a nonreligious type), I particularly liked the fact that he pointed out that Buddhism requires critical thinking and investigation and does not ask its followers to take anything on blind faith. He talked not about any one religion, trying to keep his talk as nonreligious as he could, and I think he did a good job with that; his examples with Buddhism served more to highlight aspects of that faith rather than claim any superiority. In fact, he more or less said that anyone who is hyperreligious – of any faith! – needs to look at their practise, and determine whether they are practising out of love or out of mere obedience. He shared an anecdote about a Japanese Buddhist monk who was so busy praying with his mala at a ceremony that when the beads broke, he kept on going as if nothing had happened!
This morning, I received a note from a friend – that on the most recent Facebook/G+ feed from the Dalai Lama (or his staff, technically), a publicist had posted a picture of HH at Woodstock. Adam and I looked – and we’re in the picture!