In this piece I take an extensive look at my experience listening to the Dalai Lama, especially regarding interfaith cooperation. It’s worth the read (or at least I think so), but if you’re short on time there’s an article here.
This morning I was honored to have the opportunity to go and listen to His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak. It was an amazing experience, and one which I wish to share with all of you and also write down so that I can remember it myself! His intention specifically was to teach from the text entitled “In Praise of Dependent Origination,” but he often went on tangents discussing other things.
The room itself was huge, there were so many people there and by the time I had finally made it to the center and through security at 9am, so many seats were already taken. (I found out later that I was one out of 3,500 people in that room watching him!) I found a perfect spot on the risers, sitting in an aisle, behind a shorter person, directly in line with the Dalai Lama. (Winning.) For a half hour until the talk began, I sat and looked through the book of Buddhist scripture which was given to us and admired the beautiful stage and original clothing many Tibetan families wore. I was ready.
When His Holiness came on stage, the whole room became instantly quiet. The entire room stood up and quietly watched as the Dalai Lama greeted the crowd with two very intentional bows and then climbed up onto his very tall chair. He sat down in a cross-legged position which he then did not move from the entire time, only leaning occasionally from side to side as he spoke.
The first few minutes were very trying: there were a lot of small children crying, the microphones were not loud enough, and the Dalai Lama’s accent was very thick and hard to understand, especially with all the noise. However after some time I was able to understand what he was saying when the noise died down, the mic went up as well as my understanding of His Holiness’ dialect.
I will be honest, a significant amount of what the Dalai Lama said went right over my head. However it was refreshing to hear Buddhist terms and teachings that I already knew! I took notes on my phone of whatever I could hear and understand which was unfortunately not as much as I’d like. However, one part of his lecture which I not only heard and understood, but loved was what he said about other religions.
He first made reference to the Christian religion and all of the different organization who had helped his people in Tibet and all of the good that these Christians had done. He told a story about a woman who was so grateful and touched by the help that these Christians gave her that she became Christian herself. “Buddhist monks,” he stated, “listen to Christian nuns!” Education is key to understanding each other, and what better way to understand than to listen. “Today we really need constant effort to gain mutual respect.” His Holiness encouraged everyone listening to really think seriously about other traditions and pay more attention.
When the topic of conversion arose, the Dalai Lama had no qualms with the idea of changing religions. However he did say, “Be generous towards your old tradition,” emphasizing the truth of all faiths and that it is important to respect and understand where you came from to know yourself better.
The Dalai Lama made several connections between all of the world religions. If my understanding was correct (again, the accent was difficult) he was making a point that previously many messages of faith were pointing towards one creator, whereas now it all points to one point of universal faith, connecting them. There is one statement I heard loud and clear though: “Different traditions are literally different backgrounds all going towards the same goal.”
One facet of interfaith which he was extremely passionate about was reverencing the non-religious as well as the religious. “We cannot exclude the non-believers. They are human beings. There are one billion of them, and that is a large number of people to discount.” He talked extensively about how important it is to extend compassion to all people, believers or non-believers. We must share with everyone.
When talking about the younger generation, he turned to an area which I’m sure had many young people and said, “You are truly the generation of the 21st century. This is your opportunity to create a better century, a peaceful century, a happy century.” He encouraged everyone to not only center in prayer, but to take action to bring peace. You must work hard to obtain peace, not just wishing things to happen.
He then went to talk about the text extensively, which I had a hard time following, even though thankfully he had his translator explain most of it to us. I hope to learn more about the text later now that I have it in my possession. The Dalai Lama I think sensed how overwhelming it all was though, encouraging us by saying how he really lives by these texts in his daily life. “Since I can do it, you all can too. We all have the same potential.”
I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s something awe inspiring about having the same potential as the Dalai Lama.
After we finished the text (an hour after we had expected to) we closed by reciting the “Generation of bodhicitta” three times. Just before the translator was about to start the prayer, the Dalai Lama stopped him to make an important announcement. He explained that during this prayer he wanted Christians to think of Christ, Muslims to think of Allah, all religions their god or gods, and non religious to think of a person you care about, like a mother. Then we were allowed to recite as His Holiness prayed fervently on his very tall chair.
As the whole event came to a close, I was tired and hungry, but at the same time so energized and full. Being in the presence of someone so impactful, so kind, so genuine was an amazing experience. Despite everything that I learned though, my favorite thing about the Dalai Lama was his laugh.
Whether he was laughing with the audience at his own jokes (like when he called the newest generation the “people making factory” because of our growing population or when he told an endearing story of how he had to recite scripture in the middle of the night growing up making him realize “the importance of sleep”) or whether it was him laughing at the jokes he made in Tibetan to his translator (which I’m sure were far funnier to him) that laugh warms your heart and makes you smile no matter how hard you try not to.
To me, that laugh will always mean happiness.