On Tuesday 18 June, I shook hands and looked into the eyes of the man who seems to be the happiest man in the world—His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. More than meeting him, at the end of our event I received a blessing from him. It was very real but also surreal.
As one might imagine, it takes a lot of work and preparation, and a bit of stress. Ok, a lot of stress. Every detail must be taken care of. Every person must have a seat, but no seat should be empty. This person is responsible for this, that person is responsible for that. So much detail that until the night before I’d almost forgotten: tomorrow I would be in the presence of the Dalai Lama! But would everything run smoothly? Had I forgotten anything? The anxiety-filled mind chatter would return.
When you are an event organiser (which I have inadvertently become), you are the key person for everything on the day. Here or there. Make sure this area is clear. This person doesn’t have a ticket. That person is unaccounted for. Remember to breath.
With a wonderful team of people from the Dalai Lamas office, NSW Parliament House, ABC Big Ideas, and a small number of generous Council members and volunteers, the Sydney Peace Foundation staged an intimate gathering with His Holiness in conversation with Australian compere Andrew West. The doors opened just before 8am, and by 8:25 the Theatrette was filled with high school and university students, the Tibetan Community, and key supporters of the Foundation.
When His Holiness was walking down the long set of stairs into the Theatrette foyer a hush filled the air. The mind chatter disappeared. Quiet.
I peered up at the maroon cloak. A calm energy filled the space. He shook our hands, and we introduced ourselves. Took a photo. Put on the microphone. And he entered the Theatrette.
A new hush. Silence.
The audience stood in awe of his presence. He let out friendly chuckle as he walked down the aisle. To the front, he stood in the centre stage. Hands in prayer. Blessed the space. On stage, he took his seat. Andrew joined him. And the discussion began… His words rang true, as if directed at me.
“Religious institutions, not religion, cause violence.”
“Religious violence comes from a singleness of mind.”
“Be true to your tradition, but don’t be attached to it.”
“I am a Buddhist,” He chuckled, “so I can not be attached to Buddhism.”
I wondered if I should be be more open to Christianity. Not in the sense of believing in supernatural spooks in the sky, or in the sense of conforming to the doctrinal interpretations of Christianity as an institution, but in the sense of appreciating the history of my ancestors. Have I lost this appreciation? I’m not sure.
While writing my thesis on panentheism and peace, when I come across scholars who have an intention to convert people to a fundamentalist Christianity (in the sense of believing in a literal interpretation of the Bible and a belief in its inerrancy) I turn off. I simply cannot entertain the notion that Christianity is the only way to heaven or peace.
As His Holiness observed, “if you think there is a creator, then the creator must have created Buddhism too.” If it weren’t for the arrogance embedded in some Christian domination’s exclusive approach to God I’d be much more into it.
Many forms of Christianity are not like this – for example, the Uniting Church and the “Emerging Church” interpret the Bible in its historical context, understanding the elements written as myth and Midrash, and find far meaning in it this way. In particular, I’d like to visit the Unitarian Church, which is explicitly panentheistic. But all in good time… for now I’ll sit with my blessing, do my yoga, write my thesis, and contemplate the marvels and surprises that life brings when one is open, works hard, seeks and persists.
At the close of the conversation, His Holiness blessed a number of people who had made significant contributions to the event:
Following the conversation His Holiness said a few more words about the values of human rights, dignity, well-being, nonviolence and compassion, and how promoting these values can help bring about a more peaceful world:
View the broadcast of “Ethics for a Whole World” : His Holiness in conversation with Andrew West – on ABC Big Ideas http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2013/09/23/3853188.htm