Well, Hello Dalai


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This past Tuesday I hung out with the Dalai Lama. That is to say: I was in the same room as his Holiness, along with 1000 others, for a panel discussion of “The Significance of Education in Advancing Universal Human Values.” The event was made possible by the University of California at Irvine, the Center for Living Peace (www.goodhappens.org), and my friend Melinda who waited in line months ago and bought the tickets. I took my other pal, Ari, a leader in education publishing, who changes lives daily, because it seemed right. We will all be digesting the experience for quite a while.

I am not religious, but in actuality, HHTDL (his Holiness the Dalai Lama) doesn’t preach religion. Yes, many hold him up as their religious leader, but by his own description, he is equally a scientist, philosopher, and psychologist – the three areas of intellectual study he finds most important. The production itself was as pedestrian as one can imagine: an audience in bleachers, panel in a semi-circle on a plain stage, microphone malfunctions, schedule delays … but there was one difference, he was there, and that changes everything. For me, the “astonishing-factor” proved to be a slowly rising tide – it crept up on me – or perhaps I had to acclimate to it. See? I’ll be thinking about this for some time to come. But for now, how do I describe my experience of this holy hyphenate?

The Dalai Lama is many things, but above all, for me, he is a respite – a reprieve and the embodiment of possibility.




I read the news … a lot … too much. I read all angles of all stories, which exasperates my angst but has also led me to believe the following: every real problem we have in the world – and we have many – is further compounded by the politicizing of that problem. In fact, the problem itself is often difficult to define accurately or analyze, for all the spinning of data folks do to justify various sides and arguments. Add to this, that for every legitimate problem, we also have manufactured problems masquerading throughout it – falsities piggy-backing the issue for the self-advancement of the group benefitting most from that problem or ironically the victims who may benefit from the solution of that problem, but who may only be offered said solution by perpetuating the problem itself. Wait, what?

Here is an example: racism. It is real and it is a problem worth solving. We have it. We also have manufactured racism, which likely takes our eye off the ball of actual racism but allows more opportunity for loud rhetoric we are told benefits those targeted by racism, but doesn’t solve the problem of racism itself – one could argue it may actually fuel the polarization of people. We have, too, the backlash of acknowledged racism whereby the pendulum swings to the other extreme causing over-diagnosis of racism leading to reverse-racism, which is … racist   Then we have a well-meaning populace telling us to “embrace our differences,” creating parades, museums, holidays celebrating our diversity, but at the same time, we aren’t allowed to actually be different, because admitting we are so would be tantamount claiming superiority and thus racism. Are you as exhausted as I am? Good. Now, do the same mental gymnastics for climate change, the global economy, the war on poverty, gender equality, gun control, the 2016 political race, ISIS and terrorism, and season five of Game of Thrones … and what do you have? The 24-hour news cycle.

But back to the Dalai Lama, or as my friend’s child referred to him: the Jolly Llama.



Walking into the seminar with HHTDL I naturally assumed I’d hear inspiring messages; I’ve read several of his books and he can turn a phrase, and I was looking forward to it! I imagined he and others on the panel would talk about how to better ourselves and our world in general terms like “be the change.” I mean, I expected more than a Hallmark card, but I certainly hadn’t anticipated the feeling I actually had, because I have never experienced anything quite like it.


I was there in the stands, watching an ordinary-looking panel, but when his Holiness spoke, and especially when he laughed, I was suddenly in the presence of … the absence of bullshit. Seriously. It’s not what he is – spiritual leader, scientist, philosopher, etc – it’s what he isn’t. There is no spin, no manufacturing of issues, no politics. He is devoid of “image.” He is not (gasp!) concerned with optics. It took me a while to be able to comprehend what I was experiencing, but HHTDL simply is. And it’s remarkable in its honesty.

He is. Not in any sort of posturing “is-ness,” or pontificated “one-ness with the world,” (though he’d explain
scientifically why we actually are). No, he’s not some Hollywood, pop-culture version of spirituality – nothing flighty or flakey. He is the antithesis. He is here, grounded in the present (like no other), aware, informed and opinionated in all current events. But unlike every world leader, every news pundit, every other person I’ve ever met, myself included, he isn’t spinning tales, marketing arguments, juggling statistics, parsing words, disseminating the histrionics we accept as intrinsically part of this worldly experience. To encounter him is to recognize the artifice of all that.

In the room, I suddenly had the image that the rest of us are like Kindergarteners in adult clothing – an amusing combination of swagger and self-aggrandizement and about as effective at constituting real change. The only offense is that Kindergarteners are aware of their game, yet we … have bought into the ruse. I’m laughing as I write, because you’d think the realization would be somehow shaming, but it’s not … it’s just funny. Light. Light in weight, light in light. We are blowhards and HHTDL is nudging us to recognize it.



He’s a funny guy. Crack-you-up hilarious. He is joy, even when he is serious. His face is remarkable. He is eighty and looks fifty – and when asked how this is possible, he joked (but not really), “Nothing is the best medicine – super cheap anti-aging!” He meant that in a quantum physics way: all things reduce to basically nothing – at their smallest unit indefinable but for your perception of it. Once you let go of perception (and all the emotions tied to your perception), the body flourishes – so at ease finally that dis-ease is absent. Um, so I don’t need the fillers and botox? Take that Orange County Housewives (probably in the audience).



HHTDL’s message on this, his 80th birthday tour, is simple: compassion. In his words, the power of compassion has not yet been explored – he means it both scientifically and experientially. He spoke of questioning everything, including what he says: exploration with a skeptial eye is true education. His issue with our schooling is that we value the clever brain over a healthy inner world and only when those are in balance can we be wholly educated. True education is the “gathering of conscious knowledge and the practice of good beliefs.” Teach our brains and exercise techniques of compassion. He emphasized, as did some of his students, that it takes practice – moment by moment. Compassion is not just “the right thing to do” – some societal obligation or nicety – compassion, he says, is powerful; it is, in fact, human fuel. And we are driving on empty.




Some might call the Dalai Lama the essence of spirit here on Earth, but I would argue he is the most human, real person alive today. He demonstrates … proves … our potential to be that as well by his existence. That is his radical protest to what we have created: he exists, and for a moment in his presence we embody that potential, too. When with him, our personal, biased perception evaporates … no, doesn’t evaporate … it’s not there long enough to even dissipate.   That is the “nothing” to which he referred. To encounter a space free from pretense, even for a moment, is like being wholly rested, no longer clinging exhaustively to our agenda-driven identities, amazed that this world has been there all along. That is his gift to us. All of us in that room recognized this – some tried to articulate it but the very articulation (like this post) diminishes it. It is the experience that is real – not the quantifying of it.


Still, the experience alone changes nothing about the problems we have here; those are real. His Holiness is also not the only conduit to getting real; he himself says we can forge the path on our own and he encourages it. But he is a sort of worm-hole to that more-true reality and sometimes you have to know where you’re going to get there. Tuesday was a good day.


Dalai Lama compassion

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