Tuesday, May 10, 2011

His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Minneapolis

Right now I'm in my hotel room in Minneapolis, getting ready to fly home in a few hours. I'm here because I decided to do something on my wish list ... to see His Holiness (HH) in person. I suddenly had this ah-ha a couple of months ago: he's an old fellow. He is in good health now I think, but would anyone be really surprised if an announcement came through from his office that told us he is cutting back on his schedule because it's too much for him? Or, what about just having that proverbial massive heart attack one day? So I thought, I had better go see him while I can.

I googled "Dalai Lama schedule", found this opportunity and several credit card charges later, here I am.

I could not get good pictures. The venue was the U of MN basketball / hockey arena which is a huge venue, big enough for the crowd,  but not good for getting photos unless you have nice big zoom lenses. But taking photos wasn't the point. The point was to just be there and listen and absorb what I could. You can find some excellent photos on the websites of the 2 local newspaper, The Minneapolis Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The St. Paul paper had a great big front page photo on Monday.

As we were told a zillion times, Minneapolis has the second largest Tibetan community in the US (NY is #1.) The place was filled up with Tibetan families. Most of the women and girls wore their beautiful traditional dresses in every color you can imagine, all in lovely silk fabrics. The girls, of course, were just so sweet. The elder women all looked so happy. About half of the men wore traditional dress, but that's not as colorful as the womens' clothing. I was surprised at how few monks there were ... only a few on stage in teh morning and sitting in the two front rows in the afternoon.

I could see and hear HH just fine because they had those big TV screens. My seats were far away so all the real people looked like little dolls on stage. (I decided that I did have pretty good seats. The expensive ones were all on the main floor, but, perhaps you can tell, that all those people sat in even leveled rows on folding chairs. I wonder how well the people just a few rows back could actually see.)

The morning was a Buddhist session. HH gave an extended lesson on basic Buddhism coupled with reflections on other religions. About 2/3 of the way through there was a ceremony about blessing the "Medicine Buddha."

The morning stage had HH sitting on a traditional dais above the others on stage. Monks and others sat in rows on either side in front. There were 2 altars or maybe just displays, of Buddhas and other religious objects in the back on either side. Behind HH was a large blue banner with a mandala that depicted the theme for the visit. It had the words "One Heart, One Mind, One Universe" written in the outside circle.  There were also traditional banners with blue and white (I think) Buddhas on either side in back.  HH had a table with various things on it beside him. He used a kind of tablet with the ceremony and other things written on it in Tibetan script. The tablet has long and narrow and all in bright yellow, wrapped up on a yellow, probably silk, cloth. The pages he read from were all loose, and he moved them around as he needed. He had his big bell beside him which he used during the ceremony.

Because of the bright lights he wore a maroon visor cap. He spoke mostly in English, but when he broke into a long discourse about Buddhism, he would change to Tibetan and then had his translator speak afterwards. Sometimes the translator helped him out with English words or facts / details about something or another. (e.g there was an extended prompt from the translator about Salt Lake City, The Church of Jesus Christ of LDS, Mormons at the time HH was speaking about how some religions are active in trying to convert others.)

There was a laminated card that was passed out to the audience with a mantra on it, but hardly anybody got one, as far as I could tell. I certainly did not have one (and couldn't find one left over later either.) HH explained about the meanings of the various lines in the mantra, and eventually we recited it together. It would have been great souvenir.

In the afternoon, the talk was totally secular. First the people from the U of MN gave him an honorary degree and a new U of MN visor cap. As it happens, the U colors are maroon and gold, just right to match HH's wardrobe. He wore the hood and cap the rest of the time. The hood kept falling off, and he would fling it around as needed. He looked so very sweet in the new cap. This time he stood at a podium for his speech with his translator beside him. He spoke almost all in English with just little prompts from the translator.

What were some highlights that I remember hearing? Here are a few paraphrased things I do remember in no order at all.

HH said that prayer without action was just wishful thinking ... kind of like hoping to win the lottery but never buying a ticket. He said prayer didn't hurt anything, but its real purpose is to put one in the right frame of mind to then be able to take appropriate action ... to get your head in the right space so you can then be effective in what you do. It sounds like using right mindfulness in order to take right action.

He said all religions are equally good and valid. He said that each individual should decide as an individual what belief system (or none, he was always careful about saying that there was always the option of having none) worked for her/him self. But then he said that humanity needed ALL religions. One for a person, all for the people.

He said that government should be secular and treat all people equally. He said that democratic government is the best system we have (at least at this time.)

He spoke a lot about having compassion for all people and acting out of that compassion. Sometimes he called it "warm heartedness."

He said that all people, no matter how bad their deeds, still had a small seed of goodness within. All people had the possibility of acting compassionately.

He said that education was a good thing. He said science was good thing. He said it was good that science was now studying things like meditation and spirituality.He said he was going to return to the U in a few years to hear reports about how the research they were doing about spirituality was turning out. (That was heartening. He sounds like he intends to keep traveling, so probably there will be other opportunities to see him in the near future.)

Throughout he told cute little personal stories and made some jokes (e.g. he made jokes about his bald head while talking about his new visor cap). He laughed a lot. He had no script. He spoke for several hours. He made some mistakes and laughed at himself. He smiled all the time. When he was on the dais he would lean over and talk to some of the people on stage. He really was that cute little elf guy you have seen on TV.

What was my experience? certainly not any kind of transcendence. For one thing, the venue really interfered with anything like that. But I was smiling the whole time, feeling good, knowing I was feeling good and knowing that I was really happy to be there in that place with HH and all those other people. I was really happy. And isn't that the point?

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like a very memorable and beautiful experience. I really enjoyed hearing about it and am so happy for you that you were able to be in HH's presence. It sounds a little similar to the time I got to meet Maharishi. The presence of the enlightened is a healing experience in itself.