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Lions Roar : May 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2010 54 even aFTer ThIrTy-FIve years of knowing some- one, it’s still possible to be surprised, enlightened, moved— especially if that someone is as constant, as multifaceted, as the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. It took me decades, I think, of watching him and following him on his travels around the world to see that one of his greatest and most mysterious gifts is a kind of radar that alerts him to who in a crowded space is most in need of help. he’ll walk into a jampacked school auditorium and, in the midst of greeting his hosts and shaking hands with everyone eager to say hello to him, mak- ing eye contact with each one, he’ll notice through a kind of peripheral vision (or intuition) someone on crutches, and walk instantly over to that person and offer a blessing, a reas- suring touch. While going through an almost unimaginably busy sched- ule on a typical day of touring, he’ll be hustled toward his next appointment and then, suddenly, alone among a crowd of fifty or so, he’ll veer off, because he’s seen a child in a wheelchair, by herself and ignored, over in one corner. of- ten, he’ll respond warmly to even the pushiest person trying to make contact with him on the street, and that is perhaps not only because he tries to live without aversions as well as attachments, but because he’s sensed that that person is in need in some form—lonely or unsure of himself—and the pushiness is just an expression of deep pain. over and over, traveling with him, I’ve seen him bring this kind of vision to each microsecond, as startling to me as the way he’ll remember the color of the shirt my father was wearing the last time he saw him (twenty-three years before) or, peering into a large crowd, recognize someone he last saw in Lhasa in 1957 (one of the least esoteric but most practical results, I suspect, of all the meditation and other forms of training he engages in every day). as leader of his people for seventy years now, used to deal- ing with kings and prime ministers and amdo peasants, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is of course as richly schooled in di- plomacy and every kind of protocol as the Queen of england or Thailand’s king. and his intuition means that, upon sud- denly greeting a roomful of strangers, old acquaintances, and colleagues, he’ll know which one to shake hands with, which asked who he was, I found out when I researched it, he said, “a simple Buddhist monk.” Listen to the doctor’s careful prescription instead of just raving about his bedside manner, I tell myself as he returns to Japan in the bright autumn days for another few days of engagements. It’s too easy to fly off into lofty theorizing about the man, into essays on him or abstractions, into comparisons and projections and all the kind of vagueness or myth-making that he would forcefully counsel me against. Maybe on this occasion I can just try to take down what he says—to listen— and to see how every sentence contains a teaching. how even a modest-seeming event at a girls’ school can offer as much as some of his most sonorous discourses. There are roWs anD roWs of six-year-olds, im- peccable in their blue skirts and tops and bonnets, lined up in the brilliant sunshine as the Dalai Lama and a small group of secretaries, bodyguards, and attendants arrive (along with my wife and me) at Chikushi Jaga- koen. high schoolers are standing, equally serious and attentive, at their side, and even some college students, in scrupulously quiet styles and pale colors. Fukuoka is a long way from Tokyo and Kyoto, on an island to the south, and not many dignitaries trouble to come here. But as I walk behind the Tibetan leader on the warm november day, it’s clear that we could be walking around any school in nova scotia, or Indiana—or the Tibetan Children’s village in Dharamsala. The Dalai Lama bends down to shake each little girl by the hand, sometimes affectionately tweaking a cheek as if this yuki or sachi were his great-niece. he engages the high school girls in conversation, looking into their eyes and attending to their answers as if they were his guides to contemporary Japan. “how many of your students speak english?” he asks the teachers on arrival, so he can make best use of the hours. given that most have at least studied it, he can speak to them directly, and not have to lose time on translations. one day before, he had been addressing a group of 400 local Buddhists, from different sects, burying their differences to come together to listen to him direct them toward certain useful texts from shantideva and nagar- juna as an answer to loneliness and confusion. In the afternoon, he’d addressed thousands of regular folks in Pico iyer on the Dalai Lama’s unerring ability to home in on those who most need his love Radar of Compassion