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Lions Roar : March 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2008 44 In its report on the visit, Time magazine informed its readers that “many people thirty and younger are drawn to Oriental reli- gions that explore inner spiritual resources through meditation,” and that the Dalai Lama was “particularly interested in meeting this younger generation.” I was one of them. My Buddhist teacher had instructed his students to do what we could to help host His Holiness. Our group in Washington mustered as many people as we could to provide a form of “security” for some of his com- ings and goings, including a public talk at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall. The day His Holiness arrived, we were briefed for our upcoming duties by a private security operative hired by the Office of Tibet. He intimated that he would be “packing heat.” To call him amateurish would have been a compliment, and we his volunteer charges didn’t really know what we were doing either. Such was the state of the entou- rage of the Dalai Lama during Visit One. Today’s Dalai Lama, fourteen visits later, is still a simple monk, but he came to Washington last autumn as one of the most well- known and celebrated people in the world. His books, includ- ing a very creditable book on science, merit their own section in the bookstore now. The Washington Post publishes op-ed pieces from him on world affairs, and he is without question the lead- ing spokesman for peace and cooperation in the world today, having inherited the mantle of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. No longer a mere inconvenience to the U.S. government, he is attended by a security and escort detail that befits the leader of a nation. When he came to the capital this time, he did not slip in through a side entrance. In the years since my stint holding doors for His Holiness, I’ve followed his rise to prominence and paid attention to his work, but at a distance. Finally, I decided to see what the Dalai Lama road show was like these days, and how he came across in person. I chose his five-day swing through Atlanta, sponsored by Emory University, which would include an all-day meeting with scientists researching depression. The Dalai Lama came to Atlanta fresh from his triumph in Washington, but he was not triumphal. His dignity came not from adulation and celebrity, but from simplicity. He was a hu- man being, a Buddhist monk, a gently persuasive teacher—but also an amateur scientist, the leader of a nation, and a moral voice for the world. These are the faces of the Dalai Lama I came to know as I—and several thousand others—followed him around for a long weekend. Warm Heart, Cool Mind: the Buddhist Teacher When I first heard the Dalai Lama speak back in 1979, I was swept up in the spectacle of crowds streaming through the two- storey colonnaded entrance to Constitution Hall, which abuts the large green space just behind the White House. His Holiness was introduced by a congressman, who mentioned that he would be visiting the Capitol the next day. It was a big deal, because for most of us Buddhists, our families had treated what we did as bordering on lunacy. The Dalai Lama’s reception in Washington somehow made it more legitimate. The talk itself I forgot completely. He spoke mainly in Tibet- an, so you couldn’t quite sense the whole package, the intonation and the passion behind his message. He was a personage with something to say, but I didn’t connect with him as a teacher, re- ally. As it turned out, the talks he gave on that tour had been stra- tegically planned to form his first book, Kindness, Clarity, and Insight, which introduced him to the world as not just a kindly figurehead but as a genuine Buddhist teacher. As I now read the Constitution Hall talk, the first in the book, I’m struck by the consistency of his message from then until now: “...in my simple religion, love is the key motivation.” The message may be the same, but I saw a different Dalai Lama this time. For one, the spectacle has changed. The Dalai Lama is a much bigger deal now. You sense something going on from miles away. Traffic changes. As you get closer you see lots of security, The Dalai Lama as Buddhist teacher: Conducting a Vajrayana ritual at Bokar Monastery in northern India. MAR 42-49.indd 44 MAR 42-49.indd 44 12/19/07 2:13:01 PM 12/19/07 2:13:01 PM