A friend described hearing the Dalai Lama speak in a convention hall as "being in the presence of God." Another friend, who years ago also was in the audience at another big arena, said the feeling of peace that came over her from being so close to His Holiness was a "life-changer."
So when the opportunity to be in a smallish setting with him at a celebrity-studded lunch hosted by the Lourdes Foundation in Los Angeles was offered, my hand shot up.
Here's what I learned from being in the same room as the Dalai Lama:
1) The Dalai Lama has a wickedly contagious laugh that melts hearts and Hollywood egos.
I suspect he wishes it could also melt weapons of mass destruction, but even falling short of that, it's still a joy to hear. He laughs especially hard when he is telling one of his own stories, like the time he was chased by a ferocious dog when he was a small boy. Running from danger is sometimes the best course of action, he noted, and shows wisdom not cowardice.
2) Being the messenger of peace is a hard job. Being the messenger of inner peace, even harder.
And hardest of all may be convincing people that the key to their happiness lies within them, not some place else. The switch to our inner light belongs to each of us. His Holiness says that when one person is happy, it spreads to their family; when the family is at peace, so becomes the community, the state, and so on. To change the world, we must first change ourselves.
3) The Dalai Lama would consider going to the moon with Sharon Stone.
While he may not be alone in this thinking -- and has discussed his weakness for beautiful women before -- he used the occasion of sitting under the space shuttle Endeavour's wing at the California Science Center to answer a question of whether he would ever consider space travel. Thanks, but no thanks, said His Holiness, at least not until it becomes more commonplace. And he turned to actress Stone to see if she wouldn't join him. He stared at the Endeavour hovering over him in its majesty and proclaimed that while it "looks like a solid entity," its successful function depended on many many other things. Like all great things of achievement, he said, there was a team behind it.
4) It isn't technology that is bad -- quite the contrary.
Technology is good. It's when we let it control us that it becomes a bad thing. Technology does not produce compassion. The Dalai Lama does not own a smart phone, nor does he watch much TV -- which we suspect disappointed many of the reality TV stars in the audience.
5) The Dalai Lama carries a toothbrush with him.
His Holiness carries a small orange day bag with him. The contents: several pieces of candy that he offered to share with actress Stone; extra reading glasses; an under-arm thermometer in case the flu bug bites; and a toothbrush kit because, he said, it's important to brush after every meal. He also carries a small clay statue of Buddha, which he wouldn't unwrap even when Stone asked to see it. Everyone needs a strong sense of self, he said. Without it, you are weak. It is from this sense of self that compassion, determination and altruism are born. The flip side of that coin is ego.
6) We chase the wrong kind of wealth.
The pursuit of materialism -- external wealth -- derails our pursuit of inner wholeness -- internal wealth. His Holiness knows monks who live in the most spartan of conditions, surrounded by the barest of necessities and yet they are happy. He also knows many of the world's richest people who are financially able to surround themselves with every trapping that money can buy. And they are some of the loneliest people he knows.
7) People are attracted to the calm, not the storm.
The Dalai Lama has an entourage. People just want to be in his presence. His Holiness says that a calm mind brings inner strength and is essential for good health. Practicing kindness and compassion and learning to understand the roots of anger are the compasses for finding the calm.
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