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Lions Roar : September 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 73 with them. One woman wanted to know what Buddhist tradition of retreat she should do next? Another was struggling with his relationship with his mother and his stepfather, and some business he was being asked to join with them even though he did not get along with the stepfather. It went on. With each question, the Dalai Lama listened patiently, scratched his jaw, even asked a question or two. Then, with great delicateness and discretion, he made simple recommendations. Mostly his sug- gestions could be reduced to two words: keep sitting. But I saw how these people, vulnerable in that way people are when they come out of long retreats, hung on his every word. I knew they would do what- ever he said. They would go home and for months his off-the-cuff suggestion would be their guiding mantra, their compass in life. What a burden. What a responsibil- ity. What ridiculousness to carry on this charade. But he too knew that they would do whatever he said, so he was careful and conservative in his responses. It only made me respect him more. In sum, I would like to report, first, that the forty-five-minute interview turned into ninety minutes. Later I was told that that was quite exceptional. “He really warmed up to you,” Lhakdur said. He liked me; he really liked me. For months afterward, when people asked about the encounter, I joked, “We really bonded.” I would also like to report on all the details of the encounter but in truth the whole thing went by in a blur. Later when I transcribed the taped conversation—and I waited six months to do so, like a kid who saves the cherry on the sundae un- til the end—I discovered that much of what he said was just barely interpretable. Sometimes in interviews people express what they mean more through inflection and pauses and meaningful looks, or even through physical gestures and mannerisms, or through the trappings of their clothes or the room furnishings. But this was in the extreme. I pieced together fragmented sentences to make it all make sense. In an attempt to glean deeper meaning from it all, I noticed how many times he used certain words, thinking that he might have been talking cryptically. Indeed, the words he used most frequently—reality, realistic, reason, intelligence, intellec- tual—spoke volumes about the deeper point he was making. I came away believing His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a man of science, a man of intellect, a man of reason, a man of eth- ics, who himself is part of the reason Bud- dhism has grown in popularity. Had he not become the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, I think he would have become a valued citizen of the planet. He is a man of deep compassion, embedded in all the best re- ligions, and, finally, he is a religious man. He is the leader of a nation not through instinct or desire, but because history re- quired it of him. He had told me that he does not proselytize Buddhism, that he rather promotes “human values.” None- theless, without ever intending it, he is Buddhism’s best advertising agency. ♦ From Buddha or Bust, by Perry Garfinkel. © 2006 by Perry Garfinkel. Published by Harmony Books, a divi- sion of Random House.