Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dalai Lama Laces Piety with Humor


Meditation and prayer don’t hold a candle to direct action, the Dalai Lama told a sold-out crowd this morning at Middlebury College.

If you want to change the world, that is.

“Investigate reality thoroughly,” explained the charismatic spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. “You must be realistic. You must look at reality from different angles and from a distance.”

The most effective purveyors of violence employ those means — so why shouldn’t we? he asked, before breaking into a long chuckle.

Hundreds of appreciative titters and guffaws swept through the audience of 2,800 ticket-holders at the college’s Nelson Arena, and among those who watched and listened to off-site, live-stream projections of the event.

Humor punctuated much of the half-hour talk and a subsequent discussion of pre-submitted questions.

His speech, “Finding Common Ground: Ethics for a Whole World,” was the second in two days at the liberal arts institution.

During much of his seemingly improvised talk, he advocated for the practice (teaching and learning) of “secular ethics, not based on religious faith,” as a universal path to empathy.

But as often as not, the winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, known formally as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, seemed intent on puncturing preconceptions of his own piety.

He occasionally rocked back on his onstage sofa to laugh, saffron robes waving and brown oxfords swept airborne.

He found humor in his determination that America’s political parties currently are “in substance, not much different.”

When asked whether Americans should refrain from visiting Tibet because of its implicit support for the Chinese occupation, the Dalai Lama, 77, didn’t hesitate: Contact of any kind with Tibetans would surely help in the long run.

“I think whenever you have the opportunity, you should go,” he said.

It’s a costly journey, he added, still keeping a straight face. The cash-strapped tourist might borrow money for the trip, buy what look and smell like Tibetan antiques — and then sell them for a profit later.

He cracked a wide grin, and it met with laughter and applause.

Chinese authorities had once called him a “demon,” the Dalai Lama continued: “Maybe, but a warm-hearted demon!”

The author of one submitted question noted his radiant smile: What is his secret?

“If it’s a secret, then maybe I should keep it,” the Dalai Lama answered, and burst into another bobbing spell of mirth.

Yet the talk had its serious moments.

A reasoned appreciation of humanity’s common identity and concerns is essential to our survival in the 21st century, the Dalai Lama said: “At the present time, destruction of your enemy is the destruction of yourself.

“There will still be conflict, but there must be a change of methods,” he added. “This can be a century of dialogue.”

He elaborated on the theme later in the morning: “I don’t believe peace will come through prayer. It will come through our actions.”

This weekend’s visit was the Tibetan’s third to Middlebury; he participated in symposiums at the college in 1984 and 1990.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who has known the Dalai Lama for years, introduced him Saturday as “a man of remarkable humility, patience, and perseverance,” with “a steady voice of reason and compromise” through years of exile.

Some of that perseverance surfaced Saturday during a silent, nearly slapstick bid by each man to insist that the other be seated first.

The Dalai Lama won.

October 13, 2012
By Joel Banner Baird, The Free Press staff writer, The Burlington Free Press

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