He entered like a radiant grandfather, with a steady but purposeful stride, the reverent crowd already fallen to their knees. Right hand up, smile wide, both salutary in nature. The primarily Tibetan crowd was excitedly respectful, or maybe respectfully excited? For his people the man transcends godliness, and has led them through years of Chinese oppression and a lengthy Indian exile. As a Westerner, this was a rare opportunity to see one of the most revered people on the planet, a religious and spiritual leader, master philosophizer and famed advocate of peace: His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama.
Due to gender-segregated searches (and corresponding lines), coupled with HHDL’s apparently majority female audience, as a male my wait time was quite short, so shortly before 8 am I was well-positioned to wait for both wife and peace-warrior in the cool shaded garden outside of the main temple area. My survey of the packed upstairs hallways around the inner sanctum made a strong case for a grass chair with a view of the flat-screen TV broadcast. Best to at least see a picture of HHDL, given that his Tibetan words would be spoken over by an English-translation FM-radio broadcast. Seat well-chosen indeed, as the main man appeared mere minutes after I’d settled down! He relatively quickly, yet calmly and confidently, passed by the downstairs crowd, surrounded by a small red-and-gold robe-clad Buddhist entourage. He paused for a moment to speak with a man near me, maximizing my darshan experience. Liz of course arrived minutes later, more entrances having been opened up to handle the abundance of ladies, though she wasn’t the most ecstatic to discover her timing concerning HHDL’s arrival. Fortunately he is speaking for an entire week, so surreally such sightings might almost become normal.
We settled down against a tree, nature’s blessed backrest, and as the cool morning turned sunny, the morning began with we non-Tibetan-speakers adjusting radios and earphones. A few Buddhist chants allowed the Dalai Lama to flex his wit, asking the chant leader if this was his regular job – apparently he missed the head-nod cues! Despite the fact that all we could comprehend was coming through an often lagging translation, HHDL’s jovial mood and sense of humor became readily apparent – he also joked about an overdressed monk suffering in the heat. Soon enough it was time for the teaching, officially the topic being as follows:
Teaching in Dharamsala (H.P.), India from July 7 to 13: His Holiness will give seven-day teachings on Je Tsongkhapa’s The Principal Path to Enlightenment (jangchup shoonglam) and Bestowing Boddhisattva Vow (jamdom bokjog) at the request of the Bliss and Wisdom Monastery of Taiwan.
After explaining he was going to skip his usual general brief introduction to Buddhism, the Dalai Lama dove right into the deep philosophical explanation and exploration. Like most dogmatic discussion, simplicity gave way to technicality, but deep concentration on the rampant pace shifting translation enabled most things to make sense. A nearby French-speaker was not so lucky, only English and Korean being available over the radio.
Buddhism’s key tenets were examined, in a fine detail, beginning with the question of how we can eliminate the three root causes of suffering – those being afflicting emotion, attachment and aversion. Ignorance was then clearly explained as the root cause of all these poisons, being opposed to the wisdom of reality. This must be combined then, with the transcending of sorrow, being the ultimate selflessness. The remedy to combat ignorance is to seek ultimate education and cultivate wisdom. And that was just the partial explanation of the first line of text being examined!
Many of the points raised early on dealt with the dualism of reality, at one point described as a “dualistic dualism,” and that while wisdom can be obtained through mere learning, it is rather the secondary learning through contemplation and reflection that needs to be cultivated in order for “immaculate wisdom to be born.” This, the second line of text, combined with the first, are an explanation of all the teachings of Buddha. So simple, yet so very complicated to properly digest as a member of the audience!
The Dalai Lama’s voice was clearly audible much of the time, as the translation was sparse at times, even dropping out for five or ten minutes on occasion. He sounds an awful lot like Yoda, a general low-tone crossed with intermittent higher frequencies, although HHDL is probably stronger in the force. He delivered a steady compassionate speech of knowledge and wisdom (albeit highly specific) – evidently he talks just as he walks. The teaching began at 8:15 am, ran until around 10, stopping for a brief chant-filled break to relieve ourselves, allowing HHDL to wax comedic again, inquiring about some diligent attendees at their 13th-annual post-birthday teaching: “any changes?”
The teaching was interspersed with readings from the two source texts, although based on the English-commentary it appeared that the Chinese text reader was, like the chant leader, missing his cues – evidently HHDL causes quite the case of nerves even in the Buddhist hierarchy, or else they were hung over from the birthday party the day before?
Other key dogmatic points included: wisdom with selflessness is needed to obtain a state of Buddha-hood; one must simultaneously abandon their afflictions and perfect their generosity by being infinitely cherishing of others; “all obstacles [must] be removed” to achieve realizations; one must seek the “wisdom of emptiness” – “go, go, go beyond, still beyond;” the dharma of Buddha himself is dual: profound and vast; the teaching of perfection of wisdom is the highest kind; and perhaps most importantly — “without effort one cannot obtain enlightenment.”
It was a bit of a mental adventure at times: the juggling of highly detailed linguistic intricacies with complex philosophy while also attempting to interconnect overlying themes and ideas of the technically specific Tibetan Buddhist religion. Perhaps that sentence encapsulates the entire experience in a way :-). Thus the crowd, myself included, began to get a little restless as the heat of the day increased, the experience was quite enjoyable and at moments rather amazing.
The Dalai Lama, unlike most MCs, has no need for a hype man – he’s peace’s heavyweight upon the international political scene: purposeful and profound. The weight of the tragic plight of HHDL, his government-in-exile, and the Tibetan people firmly lies on the Chinese government and the ever-idle rest of the world. Do your part and get informed, and “eliminate the darkness of ignorance.”
* It should be (redundantly) noted that all quotes are from the English-language translation, so their accuracy in regards to the Dalai Lama’s words in Tibetan may or may not be exactly precise.