Another turn of the calendar page, and here we are, standing at the threshold of 2016. We had a quiet celebration, here at Chez Shore. No fireworks, no champagne flutes at midnight…we just reveled in each other’s company, and that of longtime friends. After dinner, we hiked to a beautiful vantage point, not far from our home. We watched in awe as the sun extinguished its fire in the Pacific Ocean, but not before putting its final punctuation mark on the year.
I’ve been reflecting today on the highlights of 2015, while also imagining the possibilities for 2016. No, I’m not planning to write a formal list of New Year’s resolutions–an illustrated journal page is more my style. In 2015, for instance, I created a collage of sorts for the word SUSTAIN, a multi-faceted theme that I oftentimes referenced.
I haven’t yet settled on a word for this year, but from my 2015 catalog of pictures and blogs, I pulled together a brief retrospective. Here, some of the myriad people and events that sustained me last year. I invite you to revisit those special moments with me, and to consider how we might respond this year to Mary Oliver’s question:
Awareness of impermanence and appreciation of our human potential will give us a sense of urgency that we must use every precious moment. –Dalai Lama
It took nine days for two monks to create a sand mandala, in honor of His Holiness XIV Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. My friend Karin and I were fortunate enough to watch those artisans at work, and to share tea and conversation with them a few weeks back.*
Earlier this week, the Center for Living Peace provided a short video clip of the private dissolution ceremony.
<a href="https://instagram.com/p/5vC-qDvfVp/" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_top">"Impermanence" was truly the word of the day. • • • After spending 9 days of tireless work creating the Sand Mandala in honor of @dalailama's 80th birthday, the monks dissolved it this morning. Such a beautiful display of #impermanence @ucirvine</a>
A video posted by Center for Living Peace (@occlp) on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2015-07-29T21:26:49+00:00">Jul 29, 2015 at 2:26pm PDT</time>
(For still images of a dissolution ceremony, click here and scroll down. A more detailed video is available at this link.)
In witnessing these ancient Tibetan Buddhist traditions, I am reminded of the simple joys available to us in each moment. Beauty. Unity. The healing balm of sacred rituals. Too, in watching the attentiveness with which the monks go about their tasks–the physical endurance and mental discipline required to create and then dismantle the sand mandala–I see illustrated the concepts of detachment and impermanence.
The metaphor is deep and wide, with a special resonance for each of us. I’m appreciating it anew this morning, as a memoirist whose book is currently out on submission to publishers.
When we contribute our stories to the collective, we spare them from the dustbin of history, albeit temporarily. Pages crumble; interests wax and wane. So we aim for the transcendent, more so than permanence. We stay in the room with story, despite any temporary discomfort. In writing about past events, we remain fully present. And we try to remember that who we are– in this moment; in light of our experiences, and despite them–is the heartbeat of our memoir.
*Oh my goodness, I’m remembering now that I teased a second blog entry about that! I’ll post it next week, I promise!
Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. –Dalai Lama
Three friends and I were among the 18,000 people who flocked to the Honda Center in Anaheim last Sunday, in celebration of His Holiness XIV Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. We paid big bucks for center-front seats, a worthy trade-off for the privilege of seeing firsthand the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who embodies Tibetan Buddhist values and the art of happiness. Creative souls that we are, we thought it serendipitous that program featured a panel discussion with the Dalai Lama about “awakening compassion” and “the transformative power of creativity and art.”
Artists put the finishing touches on a giant mural, in the final hours before curtain call.
You know me: I’m a spoonful-of-sugar kind of writer. But I’m gonna give this to you straight. Global Compassion Summit, Day One was more glitz than substance, accessorized as it was with frothy celebrities, a fluffy hashtag, and Styrofoam cake. As a local resident (in any capacity, really), I was well and truly embarrassed. #WithCompassion
In an emotional opening, Venerable Lama Tenzen Dhonden attempted to set the stage. “The Dalai Lama does not want any physical gifts. For him, this birthday is just like any other day, but if we can help to create a more compassionate, kind planet, that would be the most beautiful gift of all.”
I’m guessing the event coordinators handpicked the performers, measured each act against a set of objective criteria. No doubt, they asked the finalists to be mindful of the Dalai Lama’s very specific birthday wish. They probably choreographed everything beforehand, too, as organizers are wont to do. But you know what they say about “the best laid plans…”
Some presenters wove their personal remarks into the overarching theme, if only tangentially. “Meditation alone will not change the world,” Jody Williams told us. “We have to have action.” After the applause faded, she added, “The Dalai Lama is my favorite action figure.”
Jody Williams, founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, sings a few stanzas of “Happy Birthday” to “the most rocking, compassionate simple Buddhist monk I know.”
Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi spoke directly to the Dalai Lama. “”Whenever I get tired or I lose hope, I remember you. For 60 years, you have been fighting for the rights of the people of Tibet without becoming tired and without losing hope.” I teared up, right here.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi speaks in Farsi, in honor of her compassionate mother.
The oceans are signaling their distress, this team of bespeckled scientists warned. We must respond with a shared sense of urgency, or face together the dire consequences of our inaction. Believe you me, I would’ve signed any petition they put in front of me, would’ve appreciated a very specific list of action items. Even the most compassionate among us are prone to inertia…
Desmond Tutu’s grandson made a brief appearance, as did a couple of philanthropists. At several points in the lengthy ceremony, the lights dimmed and pre-recorded birthday wishes flashed across the Honda Center’s Jumbotrons. It was a parade of luminaries whose names I didn’t recall and whose faces I didn’t recognize. Putting aside for a minute the Archbishop’s charming songfest, the repetitiveness became a source of irritation for an increasingly restless crowd. “I didn’t come here to gawk at celebrities,” someone said. “I came to hear the Dalai Lama.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife, singing to the Dalai Lama.
By and large, the panelists seemed unprepared for the discussion du jour, so they talked instead about the subject they knew best. That is to say: themselves.
Comedian George Lopez made a self-effacing joke about language barriers. When it fell flat, he turned it into a political jab.
Recognize the guy on the left? Hint: Harem pants, gold lamé, and‘80s hip-hop. It’s Hammer Time, and MC’s upgraded himself to designer shades and a suit! In a bit of revisionist history, MC described the lyrics of U Can’t Touch This is “an exultation” to God. Note the panelists’ reactions. They were mirrored by the audience.
Julia Ormond (patterned skirt, blue shawl) started out well: “An important part of acting involves hearing other people’s stories and then evoking their emotions in your performances,” she said. But she stayed too long in the spotlight, prompting someone in the darkened balcony to shout, “Let His Holiness speak!”
Through it all, the Dalai Lama remained calm and observant. At times, he seemed amused by the outsized personalities that flanked him.
“The source of contentment and happiness lies within our selves.”
When the children’s choirs marched in, we saw his tender side. During the Agape Choir’s performance, for instance, a caucasian child was holding the only mic. Standing behind that soloist: a diverse group of smiling, swaying, clapping children who seemed just as eager for attention. The Dalai Lama’s smile was inclusive, and his embrace encompassed all.
Randy Jackson bellowed, “Whasssupppp, Los Angeles?”
Duuuude, you’re in Anaheim. But yeah, whasssup. Or whatever.
When Josh Radnor and Wilmer Valderrama took the stage, Ann Curry introduced them in the context of their TV series, now cancelled. “Your Holiness,” the moderator said, “You probably saw that popular TV show…”
Hit shows or not, I’m pretty sure he hadn’t.
Notables and not, the panelists sat together on the lengthy white sofa, chatting among themselves and occasionally addressing the Dalai Lama in their remarks. Ticket-holders gathered their belongings and headed toward the exits. More’s the pity, because when the Dalai Lama eventually fielded Ann Curry’s question about being compassionate in the face of criticism, his answer was golden.
His Holiness recalled for us–with twinkling eyes and make-believe horns—the time he’d been called a “demon” by a high-ranking Chinese Communist. Our critics can be our best teachers, he said. But if there is no truth to what they say…he waved a dismissive hand. His comments were so self-effacing, his laughter so infectious that we found ourselves chuckling about the accusation, maybe also rearranging our thoughts about the absurdity of it all.
He was just as mirthful about the gigantic birthday cake that was eventually wheeled onstage. Carved from fondant-covered Styrofoam, the 8-foot confection was painted a high-gloss silver, and then festooned with saffron and maroon flowers that matched his monastic robes. From a hidden compartment in the back, someone pulled a smaller, edible cake: lemon-vanilla chiffon with strawberry filling. The Dalai Lama ate a pretty big forkful, and then let loose his trademark belly laugh. “You should visualize yourself taking a taste,” he teased.
At last, Ann Curry presented to the Dalai Lama his ultimate birthday gift: an aerobatic performer, female, gyrating above a spiritually symbolic lotus. I wasn’t the only one who cringed, by a long shot. No telling what the Dalai Lama was thinking, because his chair was positioned at stage right, and his face was cloaked in shadows.
The pink lotus is a symbol of enlightenment, associated with the Great Buddha himself.
When the symbolic metamorphosis was complete, Ann Curry accompanied the Dalai Lama again to center stage. Again, the belly laugh, as His Holiness took notice of the artists’ flamboyant costumes.
I later realized that, in these singular moments, the octogenarian monk was exemplifying some of the values we hold dear, as storytellers and visionaries. Beauty that comes of authenticity. Lightness of being. Diversity. Objectivity. Transcendence.
The Dalai Lama also said many lovely things about peace, education, happiness, and spiritual connectedness–variations on previous talks that you can easily find elsewhere. Now that I think about it, they weren’t all that different than his remarks at UCI, back in 2011 (my write-up). But on the occasion of his 80th birthday, I came away with two important observations. Gifts of insight, if you will. 1) While compassion fuels creativity, ego is its arch-nemesis. 2) When we explore our compassionate, creative sides, we find the secret compartments in which the tastiest cakes are hidden. While I’m at it, maybe I should also add a third. 3) It’s difficult to write a fair but critical piece about something so subjective, and to (paraphrasing storyteller Ron Carlson here) “stay in the room with the story” for as long as it takes to discover the deeper truths.
“Anyone know of someone that would like to perform a song for the Dalai Lama today or tomorrow while one stage with him?? We have some time that freed up.”
Here, a long-ignored yearning, knocking again at the door to my heart.
I stared at my computer screen, watched the cursor blink in the empty comment box below it.
My first response was absolutely sincere, but it ignored completely my inner whisperings:
“Sharing with my vocal coach, Stacy Pendleton. She'd be perfect, and would no doubt choose a beautifully suited piece for the Dalai Lama's visit.”
My hands hovered over the keyboard, a safe harbor in which I’ve oftentimes reconciled Present Reality with Distant Memories.
You can do it! You’ve got years of singing experience behind you. Plus, voice lessons.
Yes, but it’s a scary thing. My heart’s pounding in my chest, my hands are trembling, and…and…feel my palms! They’re already sweating.
Yes, and yes. But. It’s a remote possibility, so what’s the harm in asking?
The battle was swift and fairly painless, and in the end…Courage for the win! I whispered a prayer, rolled up my sleeves, and typed my way past the unspeakable memory that kept its tentacles wrapped around my singing voice, for lo these many years.*
“I would be thrilled—deeply honored!—to participate in some way, if you decide to include a choir of voices.”
(*Some of you know that story already, which I won't reprise in this post. I offer you, instead, a picture of my earliest vocal ensemble. Apropos, seeing as how it's also Throwback Thursday.)
That's me, wedged in the middle, with the faraway look in my eyes!
For much of that day, my stomach was doing backward flips and cartwheels, which so often happens when I find myself on that cutting edge/bleeding edge of Something Big.
What’s your experience? the event facilitators asked me, What can you bring to the table?
"I performed with my sisters at my father's revival meetings, traveled with choirs and ensembles, took private lessons…It's a dream of mine, to sing at a special event such as this.” I left out the part about having lost my singing voice for a very long time, because—as it occurred to me later—it no longer mattered.
For several shining moments (hours, really), I visited the realm of Possibility. I crossed my fingers, paced the floor, contemplated the deeper significance of what I'd signed on for. Alone in the anteroom between Now and Future, I texted my voice teacher, and I posted this note to Facebook:
prayer flags at Land of Medicine Buddha
It's a small chance, but not outside the realm of possibility. A dream realized, not memoir-related but close. If you're so inclined, please help me send good vibes into the world, in hopes it comes to pass. If not now, then when the time is right. (Sorry to be opaque about this, but I don't want to jinx/jeopardize my chances.)
The responses were swift, and so affirming. Here again, I had a big ol’ lump in my throat, but in my heart, I was singing!
In the end, they chose someone who’d already been cleared by Secret Service. Makes sense, seeing as how the event organizers didn’t know me from Eve. Too, it was very short notice, and I don’t have a wide repertoire at the ready. And come to think of it, I’m more of a backup singer than a soloist, anyway.
I’m sure the person they chose did an amazing job, and that His Holiness was blessed by her musical performance. But I volunteered, too, and that was a gift in itself. No, I wasn't selected, but I offered up my singing voice to serve the greater good, and that’s the main thing. And that I’ve reclaimed my ability to make a joyful noise—that’s the best feeling, ever.
The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.” Thích Nhất Hạnh
The invitation went out on Facebook: A Day of Mindfulness, led by Thích Nhất Hạnh, will take place at the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California. I wasn’t feeling well, and my to-do list was long. But these kinds of opportunities don’t present themselves every day, so I cleared my calendar, downed some Tylenol and hit the road.
An early-bird by nature, I didn’t mind that I had to leave the house long before sunrise. I breathed deep the welcome silence, inhaled the salty mist along the Pacific Ocean until the GPS told me to turn inland. Black Tesla in my headlights, a rusted VW bus at my back bumper…I found myself in the midst of a miles-long caravan that inched its way up the narrow, steep road to the monastery.
I felt at ease among this diverse group of travelers: roughly 1400 smiling individuals, dressed in everything from yoga pants to monks’ robes, frayed cargo shorts to haute couture dresses. We sat elbow-to-elbow on folding chairs, knee-to-knee on meditation cushions. Latecomers huddled in the doorways or settled into the spillover areas that circled the rounded stucco building.The excitement was palpable, and multilingual. Headsets were made available for those who needed interpreters.
A gong sounded, and a hush fell over the crowd. A middle-aged monastic swept into the meditation hall, brown robes swishing as he walked. Young Brother—a reformed Catholic priest, formerly known as Father—led us through a sequence of acappella songs. Simple choruses with a shared message: mindfulness in every moment, precious gifts in every breath.
(I don’t have an actual transcript, so this next part is based on detailed notes and my best recollections.)
“Now that we’re all here,” said Little Brother, “we will walk together, up the hill. No talking, no thinking. Just breathing. Notice the flowers, the blue skies, the birds in flight. Enjoy the silence. Consider each step a gentle kiss for Mother Earth–an expression of gratitude for her gifts. Share this joyful experience with the animals and plants, and with each other. In…out…deep…slow. Breathe in the joy that comes of mindfulness.”
We hiked a dusty path together, following his instructions (to varying degrees) for about 45 minutes. Hipsters loped up the hill together, scrolling through text messages and snapping selfies. A grizzled couple veered from the trail, high-powered binoculars locked on a red-tail hawk that soared through the canyon. A toddler tugged on his mommy’s sleeve, just ahead of me. “Look, a lizard!” he squealed, oblivious to the yogini-Rastafarian-monk-absentminded professor pileup-in-progress right behind him. Me, I stayed in the moment as best I could, but I confess: my shoulders were quaking with surpressed giggles. And yes, I did stop now and again, to take in the view and snap some photos.
Just beyond the chalk-white Buddha statue—where the ground leveled out and the morning sun was slanted just so—I finally caught my first glimpse of Thích Nhất Hạnh. He was sitting cross-legged in the dust, wizened face haloed by a simple bamboo hat. Was he looking inward, or into the distance? I couldn’t tell.
Thích Nhất Hạnh. Zen Buddhist monk, prolific writer, social activist, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee who was exiled from his native Vietnam for more than 40 years. Martin Luther King Jr. called him “an apostle of peace and nonviolence.” His students call him “Thây,” the Vietnamese word for teacher.
He sat motionless for several long minutes, flanked on all sides by monastics in identical brown robes. I stood off to the side and behind the assembled crowd…sort of, sometimes. I snapped a few photos, jotted notes into my journal. Random thoughts popped into my head: Wonder how long we’re going to stand here, baking in this heat? Sheesh, that winged insect sure is pesky!Oh hey, is that a security guard, hovering over Thích Nhất Hạnh? Sweat beads rolled down my cheeks and pooled at my collar–partly because of the blazing hot sun, but mostly due to a persistent fever. Fever, chills, fever, chills; jacket off, jacket on. Again and again, I had to call myself back to mindfulness, because yes, I’m human like that.
Slowly, methodically…Thíchbrought his palms together at the center of his chest, bowed to the singing bowl in front of him, and then raised it to the level of his heart. After a brief pause, he tapped the bowl with a mallet, thus inviting it to sing. And when the last notes echoed over the canyon, he clasped hands with two children, and led us back down the hill. Breathing in…breathing out…feet of clay in dusty brown clogs, mindful of every step.
We rearranged ourselves in the meditation hall, so as to better accommodate the influx of newcomers. Thích sat cross-legged on a cushion at the altar, with a bemused smile on his face. A devotee fell to his knees in the doorway, prayerful hands extended toward his teacher, forehead kissing the wooden floor. Friends stepped over his prostrate form, fingering mala beads and chanting.Thích took a slow sip of water, and thus began hisDharma talk:Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.Breathing in, we invite our ancestors to enjoy breathing with us. We inhale together, oxygen and thoughts. Our ancestors dwell in every cell of our bodies, and they enjoy breathing in with us. Together, we enjoy the exhale. Our smiles show the world that we are free spirits within our bodies.”
“We are in the habit of running,” he said, “running away from the moments that are brought to us by our ancestors. We are afraid of going home to ourselves and to the suffering. But you don’t need to run anymore. You’ve been running all your life. Walk instead like the Buddha, enjoying every step. Every step brings us home to the here and now; every step is healing. No matter how short or long the distance, you nourish yourself with every step. Stop thinking. Breathe and enjoy. Walk like a free person. Release all expectations. Touch Mother Earth…let her nurture you. Let her teach you to walk in joy.
The conversation turned serious, if only for a moment. “Be mindful of your sensory consumption,” Thích warned. “Everything is so accessible these days, but the messages are oftentimes toxic. This leads us to a state of anxiousness, fear and despair. Even with so many electronic devices, communication is more difficult now than ever before.”From deep in the bowels of a woman’s purse, a ringtone sounded. Her cell phone vibrated again and again, until the woman finally stepped outside to take the call. Thích’s eyes crinkled, and the corners of his mouth lifted–a smiling acknowledgment of this teachable moment.
Thích‘s Dharma Talk lasted roughly 90 minutes—a quiet unfurling of loosely stitched thoughts. He spoke quietly, in measured tones. Although their Buddhism-inspired messages are very similar, I’d say his speaking style is more subdued than that of the Dalai Lama, whom I especially appreciated for his burbling exuberance. He wasn’t judgmental; nothing he said was prescriptive. Just a kindly man, offering seeds of wisdom. I couldn’t help notice, however, that a handful of people took it upon themselves to stare pointedly at anything that violated their own, unspoken rules: whispered conversations, for instance, and restless children. At some point, the prostrate man rolled onto his side, fast asleep, and started snoring. Breathing in the humor…erupting in laughter. I stifled those giggles again, dodged the dagger eyes they aimed at both of us.
During a lull in the conversation, I leaned toward the woman next to me and asked if she perhaps had a couple of Tylenol. “Can’t seem to shake this fever,” I joked, “even with all this meditative breathing.” Well now! You would’ve thought I’d asked a vegan for a Big Mac. “Maybe,” she snapped, “you aren’t trying hard enough.”
“Suffering is the first awareness, Thích continued, “the first Noble Truth. The noblest aspiration is to help people to suffer less. Some of us do not know how to handle pain, and so we have a tendency to run away from ourselves and seek forgetfulness. [But] when we return to ourselves and recognize our own suffering, we can more easily understand the suffering in others. When that happens, it is very easy to feel compassion, and to help people come home to themselves.”
Home. This seems to me a good place at which to end this post. No, I didn’t summarize all the ideas that Thích shared with us that morning. Even if I had the transcripts at my elbow, I don’t think I could give them their due justice. Too, there was more to the group dynamics than I was able to see through my own, limited lens. But these are the memories that carry me back to that Day of Mindfulness at Deer Park Monastery. Memories of my arrival, of my homecoming. Breathing in those moments as I write this; smiling even now.
His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. May 4, 2011, at UCI. All photos via DayLife
NOTE: This is a lengthy post–sorry! I do realize that Buddhism invites us to simplify, but I had trouble distilling this entry to a smattering of pithy sayings. No worries if you’re too busy to read it right now; stop by when you’ve got time for a cuppa!
This past Wednesday, I went with my friend Stace to hear the Dalai Lama speak at UCI*. It was a sold-out event, and by the time we pulled into the parking lot, the outside temperature was 80 degrees and climbing. We staked our claim to a shaded berm near the front of the line–a diverse group of individuals that mirrored SoCal’s population: robed monks with shaved heads…a cluster of hijab-wearing women in flowing skirts…a platinum blonde in red-soled stilettos, eyes shielded by Chanel sunglasses…a grizzly old man, Sierra Club t-shirt barely covering his belly…a school girl, peppering her parents with questions.
A protester arrived. He paced up and down the sidewalk behind us, spewing hatred into a bullhorn. “Tibetan Buddhism is a false religion–an ignorant lie, spawned of Satan.” UCI students skirted around him, flip-flops slapping the pavement as they rushed to God-knows-where. They barely gave him any notice. He stabbed a picket sign in our general direction–a boldfaced collection of slogans and Bible verses that punctuated his sermon. There was a brief murmuring, followed by a smattering of boos. But then the doors opened, to everyone’s relief. After passing through (tight) security, we entered the non-judgmental world of the Dalai Lama.
A Tibetan singer invited us to participate in a moment of silent meditation; then, a group of Gaden Shartse monks performed a traditional Tibetan horn tribute, thus inviting His Holiness to join us. The Dalai Lama crossed the stage, bowing. We rose in unison, applauding. The Chancellor handed him a UCI visor, which the Dalai Lama immediately perched atop his head. Scarlet and saffron robes aside, doesn’t he resemble your favorite grandpa?
The Dalai Lama spoke with us for about 90 minutes. With the occasional assistance of a translator, he talked about compassion, global leadership, happiness, and interfaith harmony. His eyes twinkled, and his speech was infused with joy and humor. Laughter burbled from his belly the entire time, as if he were being tickled from the inside. [Note: A webstream video of this event is available here.]
Much of what he said was contextual–I suspect the takeaways were different for each listener. Still, and while I certainly don’t want to reduce this multi-dimensional event to a series of trivial sound bites, I’d like to share the highlights I scribbled in my journal. [All apologies for my ineloquent translation; also, ‘most everything here is paraphrased.]
*Money, fame, power, and a strong physical body are important. But the full development of healthy individual is dependent on inner strength. Inner strength could never be brought about through anger.
*Everybody wants –and has the same right to–happiness.
*Throughout history, many conflicts have taken place in the name of religion. The Dalai Lama believes it is absolutely wrong to use differences in philosophy or perspectives as reasons to initiate (or continue) conflicts.
*The underpinnings of all religions are similar, in that they value compassion, love and forgiveness.
*Unhappiness is of our own creation. “No one wants this problem,” he said, “yet they themselves create this problem.” It’s caused by too much stress, anxiety, fear, and frustration.
*“Your enemy is your real [true] teacher.”
*Emotions color our perspectives. They blur our understanding of the world’s complexities.
The Dalai Lama wove together examples from his own life and from history, returning always to our shared responsibility in bringing about world peace.
*”One reason [we have conflict],” he said, “is that we don’t look at things holistically. We focus on one small thing. Therefore, we are not objective.”
*Peace is a choice…one that’s worth it, every time.
*To bring about world peace, we must cultivate calm minds and warm hearts. “Warm-heartedness brings self-confidence, so our mind will be calm,” he said. “With a calm mind, we can use human intelligence properly.”
*“A compassionate mind thinks more about others,” he said. “That makes it very easy to communicate.” In developing compassion, we equip ourselves with the ability to rise above hate–to realize that we are more alike than different.
*Warm heartedness boosts self-confidence, which calms the mind. This gives us a clearer view of the world.
*”Self confidence doesn’t come from always being right,” he said. “It happens when we lose the fear of being wrong.”
*While religion helps its practitioners develop compassion, current events suggest we must also discover other means by which we can reach common objectives. The Dalai Lama emphasized the importance of respect, with regards to people of all religious persuasions. Similarly, he said, we must respect those who are nonbelievers. This coupling of ideals drew sustained applause from the audience.
“This is not a new idea from my mind,” he said. By way of example, he cited India’s 1,000-year tradition of respecting different religions. “Indian secularism includes respect for religious observers. Non-believers, too,” he added. This value/practice [secularism] is imbedded in India’s Constitution.
*While some of his Christian friends think secularism is disrespectful toward religion, the Dalai Lama does not subscribe to that belief.
At the end of his speech, the Dalai Lama took questions from students in the audience. When asked how he might encourage interfaith friendships and dialogue, His Holiness suggested 1) meeting with scholars from a variety of religious traditions, so as to learn from them; 2) meeting with religious practitioners, so as to seek common understanding; 3) visiting their holy sites and sacred spaces; and 4) taking pilgrimages together. Here, he talked about meditating under a Bodhi tree with Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews. “People with different philosophies and viewpoints often have the same purpose, the same goal,” he concluded, “We all want to be better, sensible human beings.”
A sociology undergraduate asked, “What is the secret to happiness?” The Dalai Lama paused. A grin spread across his face; his shoulders shook with inner mirth. “If there is a secret,” he finally said, “I must keep it.” But then he suggested that the shared aim of humanity is a happy world. A happy world depends on the existence of a healthy community, which in turn is based on a healthy family, which depends on healthy individuals living happy lives. And true happiness comes of living accordance with inner (and shared) values. Therefore — and now we’ve circled back to the beginning of his talk–as we become happy individuals, we bring about change in the world. He also encouraged us to “Provide maximum love and compassion to children…If we make some effort now, in the later part of the century we can produce very sensible compassionate leaders.”
Before exiting the stage, the Dalai Lama reminded that these are his personal thoughts, borne of over thirty years’ study and experience. Patience is key. If you expect too much, too soon, you are setting yourself up for feelings of failure. Practice in compassion, extending grace to yourself and others.
Many thanks to UCI and Center for Living Peace, co-sponsors of this amazing event. I’m grateful also for the opportunity to share this experience with you.
*In typical self-deprecating style, Tenzin Gyatso describes himself as “a simple Buddhist monk.” His official title is His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, but most people simply call him “the Dalai Lama. A world-acclaimed Nobel Laureate, the Dalai Lama has met with presidents, prime ministers and crowned rulers of major nations. He also hosts international dialogues with world-renowned scientists and key figures from major religious sects. He has authored more than 50 books, including “The Art of Happiness” and “Toward a True Kinship of Faiths.”
Mindfulness and detachment: paradox, or two sides of the same coin? I’m pondering both this morning. I invite you to consider two anecdotes, loosely tied to the topics at hand…
1) I attended three panels at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books last weekend. Most authors were gracious; their books, compelling. I scribbled lots of take-aways into my journal. More on that later, but I wanted to mention an aha! moment I had while listening to the Q/A portion of "Memoir: Finding the Hook."*
Question from audience member: In this era of Internet anonymity, people seem increasingly comfortable in posting negative comments about authors, and in writing nasty book reviews. Given that you’ve poured your heart onto the page, how do you handle the hurt?
In response, Jillian Lauren (SOME GIRLS: My Life in a Harem)related this story: After a particularly unkind newspaper reviewer ripped into her book, readers piled on. Negativity bred negativity, and the comments got ever more personal and insulting.
Jillian railed against the injustice. She buckled under the pain. Then she dried her tears and tried to move on. But again and again, she allowed herself to be sucked back into that negative vortex.
Until, that is, her husband intervened. "Are you done?"
"What do you mean?"
"Bad reviews are going to happen," he told her. "They’re part and parcel of what you do. You can’t control their reactions to you or your work. But you control your own responses. So…are you done?"
Quick disclaimer: For brevity’s sake, I’ve paraphrased this interaction, I’m no doubt telling it to you slant, as I’m relying on memory, not transcripts. Still, in honoring the sacred bond of trust that comes of being privvy to something so deeply personal, I’ve strived for accuracy in intent. So if I distorted the original conversation in any way, I’m open to correction.
"The Dalai Lama emphasized to us the importance of seeing the big picture and looking with detachment on our problems. He himself demonstrated the detachment of a great laughing Buddhist master who is wise enough not to take anything too seriously–except his efforts to help others. When he first came to meet our group, the Tibetans put on an elaborate welcoming ceremony with singers, dancers, and a tea and rice ceremony. After all the ceremony was finally complete, he put down his tea cup, and looked around carefully at everyone in the audience with a bemused expression. Then he burst into a long period of deep, heartfelt laughter that soon spread to everyone in the room. He seemed to be saying “Isn’t this all laughable –all this ceremony and formality? Don’t take it all too seriously.”