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Lions Roar : January 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2009 63 3. Into the Mainstream BY 1989, it had been ten years since the Dalai Lama’s first visit to the United States. He had returned for regular visits, convened sev- eral meetings with prominent scientists, and had a few small books out. He was a moderately well-known political–spiritual leader who could draw a pretty sizeable crowd. But in December of that year, he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, saying in his address, “As we enter the final decade of this century, I am optimistic that the ancient val- ues that have sustained mankind are today reaffirming themselves to prepare us for a kinder, happier twenty-first century.” During that “final decade” the Dalai Lama’s popularity and rec- ognition would soar, and he would spearhead Buddhism’s entry into the popular culture. In 1991, the Dalai Lama’s appearance in Central Park drew 5,000 people. In 1999, 40,000 showed up. Robert Thurman, Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and founder of Tibet House, believes that people began to notice the Dalai Lama after the Peace Prize, not at first as a Buddhist teacher, but as someone who could revive the Gandhian ethic. “He was not promoting Buddhism. In fact, he made clear that rigid religious identities had been one of the great barriers to peace,” Thurman told me. “But people started to notice, ‘Oh wow! He’s a Buddhist,’ and so they began to conclude that Buddhists must be ethical and nonviolent. He showed people the fruit of Buddhist practice. As his fame spread, it was the fame of the bodhisattva, fame that is used to spread the dharma. In fact, the word kirti, as in the famous Buddhist names Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti, means ‘fame.’” By 1991, other Buddhist teachers, most prominently Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chödrön, had also begun to attract serious notice, because the teachings they presented were in plain and poetic language, with a lot of heart and warmth. Previously, Buddhist books had sold well by the standards of the small, specialty publishers who put them out, but Buddhist books didn’t attract much attention from mainstream publishers. HarperCollins published a memoir of the Dalai Lama that came out just after the Peace Prize. It did not sell particularly well, but the trends indicated that a wider audience was ready to hear about Buddhism. The first real breakout book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, came into being after Amy Hertz, His Holiness the Dalai Lama addresses 40,000 people in Central Park, August, 1999. PHOTOBYDONFARBER