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Lions Roar : May 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2010 57 these girls, he’ll find the place of common experience between them and him—his life as a student, his life as a brother—and exchange certain basic human principles of attention and self- confidence to kids who may not know or care about the four noble truths. a large part of a doctor’s skill comes not in making the diagnosis, but in explaining it in simple, everyday, human terms that any lay person can understand. The fact that his own english is imperfect is itself a small re- assurance—a reminder that he’s on the same level as his listeners and is not an all-knowing sage laying down the law from a throne or a mountaintop. his voice goes up and down, never a mono- tone, and his sentences are as full of emphases and clarity as his fa- mously articulate Tibetan. yet at the same time, in its calligraphic directness, his solid and succinct english gets the point across with little room for ambiguity, or wild misinterpretations. as he speaks about our “global family” and the “new reality” of a world without “them and us,” the Dalai Lama speaks always with his being, leaning in toward the students, rocking back and forth while sitting cross-legged on his chair, coming to the front of the stage when he arrives so he can make eye contact with as many people as possible. he waves to familiar faces. he looks up at the adornments of the stage. he conveys his humanity through pulling a tissue out of his robes. and when he asks for questions, to my astonishment a hundred hands shoot up, the generally reticent Japanese clearly so engaged by his presentation that their defenses are gone and they’re as eager to speak to him as they are to some respected classmate. one girl after another stands up, and poses a question as direct and to the point as any the Dalai Lama could ask for: “how do I bring peace and love to the world—I’m only small?” “Do you get disappointed trying to protect Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism?” “What do you do if you’re losing hope?” Clearly, like most audi- ences he visits, they’ve been studying the Tibetan issue in prepa- ration for his trip. But clearly, too, they’re posing the questions that are most urgent to them right now—the bullied girl or the scared one, the idealist and the one who is feeling isolated and frustrated. They all get up and find a way to frame question after question that comes from the heart. The Dalai Lama listens to them as keenly as a physician lis- tens to his patients, and, though he hears variations on the same questions several times a day, he responds to each one with un- qualified vigor and intensity. “as soon as you feel some problem, some disappointment,” he tells the first questioner, “then you must look at the problem from a wider perspective, through different angles.” I realize, with a pang, how close this issue is to his own predicament, with the Chinese government cracking down on Tibetans in Tibet more unsparingly than ever. “Then you can see there’s a possibility of a compromise,” he goes on. “If you look only in one way, you think, ‘I can’t accept this.’” I recall too how on this trip he’s been talking over and over about the challenge of forgiveness and how much he admires the way the Japanese, after seeing two of their biggest cities de- stroyed, did not express hatred toward their american antago- nists in war but decided to learn from them. over and over he’s been saying that Japan, particularly as the world’s only victim so far of atomic bombings, can both lead the world in the cause of nonviolence and serve as a model for combatants everywhere of how to break the cycle of vengeance. “you suffered,” he says, “and yet you turned that experience into a determination to prevent war, not into a hatred of your oppressor.” he’s speaking to the Japanese girls, clearly, but it’s not hard for the rest of us to hear how this might apply to our lives—we all face conflict—and, no less, to the lives of every Tibetan. again and again, as the questions continue, I see how compressed and practical his responses are. asked about getting discouraged in his work for Tibet, he answers, without hesitation, “here, one sense of hope is, I’m a Buddhist. although a not very good practitioner. But still I try to be a practitioner. one of my main practices is to make one’s existence something useful and helpful to others. That’s my prayer.” (his prayer, I notice, is his practice. his practice is his prayer). “That really gives me inner strength. so, generally, when there is some challenge, there is better opportunity to make some contribution.” again, it sounds so simple, but it is as real and com- plex an idea as his beloved shantideva’s reminder that your seeming enemy is your best teacher, moving you to call upon your native clear-sightedness and patience and compassion. When asked what advice he can give to Japan, he stresses at the outset, “of course I have no direct responsibility.” But then he re- sponds with typical pragmatism. “But I feel—just one small gesture: you young Japanese have great potential to serve, to help humanity, particularly in asia. now, maybe here one obstacle is language. Per- haps learning english more widely may be one factor: you have the knowledge, you have the ability, but language sometimes becomes an obstacle. In order to utilize your abilities widely, perhaps more attention to learning english may be a good thing.” I notice those favorite words of his—“utilize,” “widely,” “perhaps”—but I also notice how he’s speaking about communi- cation, dialogue, the search for common ground, not in the lofty words of the golden rule, but in terms of concrete, everyday practices. “even this poor english, broken english, quite useful in communicating with other people,” he says, and the girls relax and laugh again. and so it goes. someone asks him what has touched him most in his life, and he says, “I don’t know” (which always draws a laugh—of surprise blending into relief: he doesn’t claim to have all the answers). “usually, one is Buddha’s teaching,” he goes on