Bahai News - The Dalai Lama: Keeping the Faith


The Dalai Lama: Keeping the Faith


During a visit to Primary Children's Medical Center, the Dalai Lama shows Brandon Murphy what he can do with his robe when it gets cold. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune)

The Dalai Lama, spiritual and political leader of exiled Tibetans, is both more and less than what people expect.
He is at once anachronistic and modern. He speaks with the authority of one who has spent at least one lifetime -- and conceivably 13 previous ones -- seeking wisdom. Yet he insists he is no one special.
"Some people expect too much," he said in an interview Thursday. "That's not realistic."
And any notion that he has some kind of supernatural healing powers "is disgraceful. Totally wrong," he insists.
The 14th Dalai Lama presides over a kingdom that exists only in the memory of his people, who defer to him in everything. Yet he pushes them toward democracy.
His maroon and yellow robes bespeak his authority; his brown, world-worn shoes and sagging socks his humility.
The first two days of the Dalai Lama's stay in Utah were marked by throngs of the faithful and the curious turning out to see and hear a global celebrity.
Reporters met him early Thursday morning at Salt Lake International Airport to grill him about Tibetan politics and the future of the planet. Local Tibetans lined the streets outside the Governor's Mansion to greet and honor him.
Doctors, nurses, patients and families squeezed into a couple of rooms at Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City; several thousand participated in an interfaith prayer service with him at Abravanel Hall; Utah's political and civic dignitaries broke bread with him; and 11,000 packed into the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah to hear him discuss "Ethics for a New Millennium."
Nearly 20,000 more will see him today when he gives a Buddhist teaching at the Huntsman Center in the morning, addresses students and faculty at Utah Valley State College in Orem and meets with the Tibetan community in the afternoon.
In every venue, many have found more than just charisma.
Whether speaking from an armchair in a sports arena, or perching on the edge of a dais during lunch at a hotel ballroom, the Dalai Lama creates a sense of approachability, even intimacy, that draws adults and children as if he were an old friend.
The Dalai Lama is unpretentious, though he knows how to play to the camera or elicit smiles from his audience.
With journalists, he answered each question as if it were being asked for the first time -- making careful, thoughtful comments on Tibet's future, the status of women in Buddhism and China's quest for the 2008 Olympics.
He punctuated his remarks with an infectious grin. He laced his sermons with parables and Tibetan sayings. He wove Buddhist metaphysics into his speeches about ethics. He spoke seamlessly and without notes.
Throughout his stay in Utah, the Dalai Lama displayed an intimacy with humanity. He touched people's faces or grasped their arms -- acting familiarly with dignitaries such as Utah Episcopal Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish and Pamela Atkinson, a member of the State Board of Regents and a tireless advocate for the disadvantaged.
As he moved among adults and children waiting to greet him, the Dalai Lama locked eyes with each individual and captured them in what seemed an infinite moment.
But Utahns also got much more; they were treated to philosophical ruminations from a Buddhist scholar who challenged superficial Western thinking at every turn.
When he speaks of compassion, he means more than just being nice or feeling sorry for people in trouble.
It is the capacity to watch thousands of family, friends and Buddhist followers brutally murdered by Chinese Communists, whom he called "cruel liars," while acknowledging in the next breath that "Communists are humans, too."
On a more down-to-earth note, he said, "Mammals like tigers or lions are built for preying on other animals. . . . They have teeth and nails."
But humans belong to the "peaceful animals," he said. "Our two hands are made for hugging, not for making boxing fists."
No matter where he went, the Dalai Lama emphasized that conflicts can be resolved through "conversation, respect for others and a warm heart."
At times, journalists -- whose focus is perforce on conflict -- seemed to ask everything but the right questions. Where Westerners see strife and competition, he sees unity and possibility.
One reporter asked if Buddhism could take hold in a place such as the United States, where individuality is a credo.
"There is no contradiction between Buddhism and individualism, in general," he said through a translator. "In Buddhism, if you work for the benefit of others, out of altruistic motivation, in fact you yourself stand to gain from this."
Does he mind his "rock star" status among Americans? He furrowed his brow for a minute, then shrugged.
"He said he doesn't really give it much thought," the translator said.
If the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama were found in the United States, would he have the right kind of values?
"I don't know. I don't know. That is beyond my control," he said.
What would he do to broker peace in the Middle East?
"Some people would say he has nothing particular to say," replied the translator.
Then the Dalai Lama thought for a moment.
"There is too much suspicion," he said, slowly. "Personal relations make a difference. . . . Maybe important leaders of both sides [could be] brought to a pleasant place to talk without any political agenda, without any other work, just to simply rest, play chess and [get to] know each other personally, then eventually truly become friends."
Political battles often begin with religious differences, and the Dalai Lama has spent a career addressing such conflicts.
He did so vividly on Friday during the interfaith service at Abravanel Hall.
After a performance by the International Children's Choir, the hourlong service began with Clifford Duncan of the Ute Tribe in traditional dress singing and blessing the gathering.
Next, dozens of leaders from an array of faiths, including LDS, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Baha'i -- nearly all dressed in black or muted colors -- filed in and filled the hall.
Finally the Dalai Lama entered, dressed in robes of vibrant maroon, yellow and gold, smiling and bowing, waving and pressing his palms together in the traditional Tibetan greeting. Seeing scores of Tibetans in the first rows, he stepped nearly to the edge of the stage. He bowed to the audience, flashed a grin and bowed deeply again.
"My brothers and sisters," he began. "It is a great pleasure to be together, particularly in this joint prayer session."
He then launched into a half-hour sermon, gesturing and pointing like a teacher and occasionally fingering the orange prayer beads wrapped around his wrist.
Religious faith is one of the "defining characteristics of human beings and that has been true for thousands of years of human history," he said. And even at the beginning of the 21st century, he said, faith traditions that span the centuries still have a place.
He knows that, he said, because even though many people in prosperous countries have every material possession they could possibly want, "still they are not free from suffering."
"I notice some people have mental unrest, suspicion, doubt, sense of insecurity," he said. "If material wealth solved all problems, then such people should have no worry, right?"
The audience laughed, but squirmed a bit.
"When I see some beautiful articles that I want, like a watch, if I concentrate on it, attachment grows," he said. "Even in Tibet the image still comes."
Pause for a moment, he said, and ask, " 'Do I really need this?'
"Often, no," he said to more laughter, adding that contentment means sacrificing short-term needs like watches to achieve enduring satisfaction.
These principles are taught by every religious tradition, yet still there are conflicts among the faiths.
Even within Buddhism there are sometimes contradictory schools of thought that evolved from the same teacher. Seeing those divisions in his own tradition has helped the Dalai Lama grapple with the great differences among the world's religions.
"The spiritual needs of millions of believers worldwide are met in different faith traditions," he said. "Each is valuable and necessary, responding to diverse spiritual inclinations."
Whether to accept a religion is an individual decision, but those who choose to embrace a faith tradition should implement its teachings "seriously and deeply."
He simply dismissed "New Age" religion, which takes bits and pieces of other traditions. "I don't think it is right."
Even those who believe an Almighty God created the world, he said, should celebrate religious diversity because it "may have been created for the benefit of all creation. . . . It is originating from the same source."
After the Dalai Lama's remarks, leaders of religions ranging from Catholicism to Baha'i offered their own prayers. The service ended as the Dalai Lama sonorously chanted an eighth-century dedication prayer in Tibetan. "For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world."
People stood in quiet reverie after the Dalai Lama bowed and then exited the stage.
"I expected a simple, peaceful man talking about simple, eternal, universal truths," Suzi Nielsen of Salt Lake City said afterward. "I didn't hear anything new, but I loved the feeling of being in the presence of a spiritual man."
Salt Laker Ardean Watts was more effusive.
"This was an occasion to be savored," he said. "Who could not say 'amen' to his message?"
Then he added, "It's not what I learned that I will take away, but what I felt."

©Copyright 2001, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Top 19 Baha'i Sites Page last updated/revised 051201
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page