6 July 2013

What does the Dalai Lama think about?

[Below] His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. Today is his 78th birthday.

Shake hands with the Dalai Lama... DONE! I went to see the Dalai Lama’s public talk in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago. It was the third time I’ve heard him speak and as always I found it difficult to stay awake. It’s not that his message of kindness and compassion is
boring. It’s not. But whenever he starts talking, my eyelids suddenly get leaden. I put it down to his soothing voice and the peace that follows wherever he goes.

After having slept through the 2-hour talk and Q&A, in an attempt to reclaim some value from my ticket, I went to the front of the auditorium and joined the Lama-groupies, who were passively, aggressively, vying for his attention.

The Dalai Lama had started to leave but he turned back for the groupies like a rock star acknowledging his fans. The groupies were seven people thick, their hands outstretched and reaching for him, and the Dalai Lama strained as he leaned over the stage to shake hands. Having spent many of his 78 years in lotus position, I imagine his knees must be riddled with arthritis. Even he ages. He smiled anyway.

A pushy woman in the front called for him frantically. “Your Holiness. Come over here, your Holiness. Meet my children.” She jumped up and down, urgently, waving her hand in the air as though she were holding a golden ticket. As the Dalai Lama shuffled nearer, she picked up the younger of her two children, who was around 7-years-old (the older perhaps 9), and lifted him above the level of the stage. The Dalai Lama was only a couple of metres away.

The woman said, “Meet my children, your Holiness. They’re both Buddhists.” She grabbed her younger son’s hand and helped him ready it, extending it forward for him. She instructed her other son, “Put out your hand.” The boy did as he was told. The Dalai Lama was now upon them.

He leaned down even further to reach the small boys - his quads must be impeccable - but the strain showed on his face. As he shook their hands, the woman said, “They’ve been Buddhists since they were born.”

I shook the Dalai Lama’s hand soon afterwards. Perhaps it was the placebo effect of meeting an enlightened being or perhaps it was the aura that everyone talks of, but I felt like I shared a moment with him. He looked into my eyes and shook my hand with sincerity. That’s what it was: his sincerity. And his soft skin.

But I sensed something in his eyes. Was he overwhelmed by the crowd? Was he tired? (He usually wakes up at 3am to meditate.) Did he have sore knees? Maybe like me he was a little disconcerted by that desperate mother and her Buddhist children.

It took Buddha 49 days of meditation under a sacred fig tree to reach enlightenment; I wondered how that woman's children became Buddhists at birth. Can one become anything just by the adopting a label? Or did she mean she has imposing the teachings and philosophies upon her children since birth? Maybe they became Buddhists through epigenetics. Is that possible?

Now, having slept through so many of his teachings I was bound to learn something subliminally. Aside from the Dalai Lama’s message of peace and compassion, I learnt about impermanence. Everything changes and nothing lasts. Things come to exist and cease to exist. And there’s no point getting riled up about anything because everything passes: happiness, anger, joy, sadness, anxiety and so on.

I also learnt a thing or two about suffering. All suffering stems from attachment.  There’s no point getting attached to anything because everything is impermanent (see above). Attachment just leads to suffering.

I wondered what the Dalai Lama thought about the mother’s anxious push to force a meeting with her children – she seemed to have a little too much attachment and permanence riding on it. She was purporting herself and her children as devout Buddhists but, ironically, she had seemingly missed a major part of its teachings. Perhaps the Dalai Lama was wondering how such a dedicated Buddhist could care so much about shaking hands.

Freeing oneself from attachment is great, but sometimes the quickest route to relinquishing suffering is by getting what one wants.

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