Saw the Dalai Lama!
Quite a long weekend.
It culminated on Sunday with the lecture given by the Dalai Lama at my alma mater, Rutgers.
I also attended a wedding the same night; quite a spectrum of events to absorb in one day.
I would like to preface by stating that I am an atheist. I am attracted to Buddhism not for the
spiritual/religious aspect of it, but rather the philosophical/moral
aspect and the message of the Dalai Lama, one of peace, compassion,
acceptance, and altruism without exception.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this lecture; I wasn’t sure why
I plopped down $30 for the tickets. I was first formally
introduced to Buddhism in my Chinese Civ. class by a Dr. Peter Li (who,
in retrospect, reminds me a lot of the Dalai Lama in mannerisms,
speech, and approach). As I mentioned, I’m an atheist and thus,
Buddhism, to me, is not so much a religion as it is a philosophy of
Having been removed from that academic environment, I’ve been
slacking in terms of my continued studies of Buddhism. To that
effect, I wasn’t sure that there would be any purpose or value
in going to this event. Was it just to satisfy my ego?
Bragging rights? I don’t know, but I felt that I had to go, being
that this might be a <cliché>once in a lifetime chance</cliché>.
The day began early for us as we took the scenic route to Rutgers (really scenic). As we waited in the stadium, I found that I was quite surprised at the number of people that showed up
(I’m not quite sure why, as I knew that the lecture was sold
out). It’s an awesome sight to see so many people congregate in
one place for a non-sporting event. What struck Sandy and I the
most was the incredible diversity of the group that was
present. In our day to day lives, I think that most people rarely
deal with such a diverse population (be it your classroom or you
Aside: The population of Rutgers, and New Jersey in general, is
incredibly diverse. I recall sitting outside, waiting for my
classes to start and watching as people of all races, cultural
backgrounds, and religious beliefs passed by. What’s amazing is
the level of acceptance demonstrated by everyone. I mean, yeah,
we had our share of bad apples (I recall some anti-semetic graffiti),
but for the most part, the Rutgers student body is bountiful in its
cultural and racial differences.
It was simply amazing to witness the event; as 10:40 arrived,
the entire crowd of thousands of people sat in silence, focused
completely on the presence of a single man. The Dalai Lama
himself is a simple man of simple words and simple ways. He began
by addressing the crowd in Tiebetan and had a translator translate his
For the remainder of the lecture, the Dalai Lama addressed us in
English, only turning to his translator for a few terms here and
there. The lecture had a very informal feel to it. In
speech and mannerisms, we, his audience, were just as “old
acquaintances”. I half expected a much more formal, more serious
tone to his lecture. Okay, actually, I fully expected it
to be a very stale lecture. To my surprise, the entire stadium
would occasionally erupt with warm laughter as the Dalai Lama made
small jokes throughout his speech.
The subject of the lecture itself contained nothing earth
shattering (I won’t bore you with a transcript of what was said, you
can catch that from the videos); nothing that you or I haven’t thought
of before. In fact, when Igor asked me what I had learned from
the lecture, I struggled to figure out what exactly moved me so much? Why
should it matter that these views were being conveyed to us by this
man? I thought deeply about this after the lecture and today as well and I think
the reason it was such a moving speech (yes, I teared up at one point)
was the absolute conviction with which he delivered his message; one
full of compassion, understanding, acceptance, and altruism. The
very embodiment of the Buddhist philosophy. Yes, I found myself moved to tears as I sat there listening to his views, in complete silence, along with 40,000 of my brothers and sisters.
What made the entire experience even more enriching is that you can
only truly realize how down-to-earth and “everyman” the Dalai Lama is
if you see him, observe his mannerisms, and listen to his speech.
He made it plain and clear that he is just like everyone of us and no
different. He has his moments when he suffers from afflictive
emotions such as anger and jealousy. He doesn’t claim to know all
of the answers; in fact, he states the opposite quite frankly.
When asked about this thoughts about the conflict between the Israelis
and the Palestinians, he offered his views, but added a footnote that
since his history of the region and the background of the two groups
was insufficient, he was incapable of providing us with The
The appeal of his message, and of Buddhism as a whole, I think, is
the idea that there is hope for humanity. No, there is hope for all
sentient beings to live in peace and contentment. And the
solution lies not in some mystical god who works in mysterious ways,
not in some relic, not in some religion, but in each of us.
The fate of this Earth lies in our own hands and we can only truly
achieve peace through education, self cultivation (be it spiritual or
otherwise), compassion, and shedding our ignorance inherent in
perception (as opposed to reality).
Igor asked whether I felt that this was a religious experience or an
intellectual experience. In reality, it was neither. It was
a humanistic experience that occurs but rarely in our lifetimes.
I highly recommend watching the video recap of the lecture (linked
off of the Rutgers site above). And if you should ever get the
chance to see him in person, even if you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim,
Black, Caucasian, Americn Indian, or Martian ;-), I can only advise
that you do not miss the chance as he is truly an extraordinary human
being, whether he thinks so or not.