This might be first place you’ll read that the Dalai Lama is cute — a stooped, shuffling little old man whom you want to hug, or at least help into his chair. There is something so endearing about a stooped, shuffling little old man with a beautiful smile, twinkling eyes, and a hearty laugh. A simple monk, as he says.
I spent three days in the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Madison, Wisconsin, and also received a Green Tara empowerment and blessing. I sat less than 30 feet from him for all three days, and when he walked in, everyone in the huge events center rose from their seats and you could hear a pin drop. I was seeing him for the first time, and I started to cry. In my training with Sarah Powers she spoke about meeting the Dalai Lama and how he radiates “presence” — how as yogis we should cultivate “presence”, not merely cultivate awareness of being in the “present moment”. Think about that, yoga peeps. Now I know what Sarah meant by “presence”.
His Holiness’ teachings were on Lama Tsongkhapa’s Experiential Teachings: “Songs of Spiritual Experience: Condensed Points of the Stages of the Path” and “The Good-Goal Expression of Realization: The Spiritual Autobiography of Lama Tsongkhapa.” These texts were divided into short paragraphs and His Holiness spoke at length in Tibetan about each paragraph which his translator then explained to us. His explanations were fascinating, but two lines from Tsongkhapa’s Songs of Spiritual Experience resonated with me: “If we do not contemplate the causal process of the origin of suffering, we will fail to understand how to cut the root of cyclic existence.”
Here are a few notes from my three days with His Holiness:
He advises people to stay with their own religion, because sometimes changing religions can cause confusion. He feels very strongly about this. But he also believes that we can learn from other traditions, so the “whole planet can be one entity.” Having knowledge of others’ practices, leads to having more respect for the other person. However, if the other tradition (such as Buddhism) seems more effective to you, then study it deeply. It is our individual choice, but it does not mean that our original tradition is no longer good or effective, we should still respect our former religion.
He said that the key approach to Buddhism is the cultivation of “discriminating awareness”, i.e., developing a deeper insight into the nature of reality which is the impermanence of all things. This discriminating awareness will bring about the transformation of our emotions from a mind that denies what is real or exaggerates what is real to an awakened mind that arises from a deeper understanding of the buddha-dharma.
To be truly on the Buddhist spiritual path, one must be grounded in the nature of reality, which Buddha taught in his First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma upon his enlightenment, i.e., the Four Noble Truths: that there is suffering, what is the origin of suffering, what is the cessation of suffering, and what is the path that leads to cessation of suffering. It is only when we have this basis of understanding, that we have the potential to change via the Noble Eightfold Path. Buddha said that root of all our suffering is our own ignorance of this reality; our own ignorance is what perpetuates our own suffering and keeps us in the “cyclic existence” of our own negative samsaras.
As for following a spiritual path, I thought that what His Holiness had to say can also apply to the relationship between a yoga teacher and the yoga student. He said that someone whose own mind is not disciplined, should not be training others’ minds. The Dalai Lama believes that this idea should be taken seriously.
According to Vajrayana Buddhism, the student should examine the person they want as a teacher. The teacher’s qualities should not be confined to knowledge, because knowledge can be inferred. The key is to check the level of realization — again, a disciplined state of mind. I took this to mean not just talking the talk, but walking the walk, with sincere effort. As my own teacher says, even if you fall off the path 500 times, get back up and keep walking, with determination. His Holiness believes that if the spiritual mentor displays the qualities that the student is seeking, then the student can infer from external behavior the suitability of a teacher.
But the spiritual seeker also needs certain qualities — objectivity, no bias one way or the other; a certain degree of intelligence to evaluate right and wrong; and sincere interest. As I tell my students, come to class with a beginner’s mind and an open heart, but take that attitude off the mat and into your life.
After the teachings, I went to the Dalai Lama’s public address where a few Christian fundamentalists were demonstrating against him, handing out their literature that said that Buddhists have no concept of right or wrong and that the Dalai Lama is going to hell unless he accepts Jesus Christ. I thought about how ironic this was considering His Holiness’ strong belief in not leaving your own religion. The topic of the Dalai Lama’s public address was “Compassion: The Source of Happiness.” I guess those Christians should have sat in on his speech.
As a practicing Buddhist, being in the Dalai Lama’s presence and experiencing his teachings was profound and powerful for me. I must still be in the Dalai Lama Zone when my students tell me how grounded and centered I look. What I especially loved about His Holiness was how he made fun of himself and how he admitted to being judgmental — like how some of his meetings are a “waste of time”, how he thinks some speeches are “boring”, and how he probably would not have a lot of patience with raising children! He’s human! And a simple monk, with exquisite intelligence and a beautiful smile.
may all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness
may all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering
may all beings never be parted from freedom’s true joy
may all beings dwell in equanimity,
free from attachment and aversion
om mani pedme hum