Last weekend marked His Holiness The Dalai Lama's 78th birthday and also "National Compassion Day." While it is nice to honor such an important sentiment such as compassion, I think compassion, or having empathy for others, should be honored every day, not just once a year. With so many unfortunate occurrences in the world, I think it's important for us to be reminded of one anothers circumstances. This encourages me to reminisce about the time when The Dalai Lama visited my hometown in California back in 2009. Prior to the full-day event at UC Santa Barbara's Thunderdome, I skimmed some of his books and journaled some of what I found to be the most salient points he has shared over the years. I brought my moleskin notebook to the event to document his words of wisdom, and it was good that I did, because to quote my friend, Anna Quindlen, "Seeing the Dalai Lama is like opening fortune cookie after fortune cookie," and her comment was right on.
His Holiness walked out on stage with his ocher robe draped over his bony shoulders. He gently sat on the wood-framed sofa adorned with lush red pillows. He folded his legs beneath him. White orchids were strategically placed on either side of the sofa, which nicely framed his aura. After the clapping simmered down, he put his hands together beneath his chin in prayer position and bowed to his fellow monks and entourage seated in the first few rows and then to the rest of the audience. In the chair to his left sat his translator.
The Dalai Lama (meaning, 'ocean of wisdom' in Mongolian) was born as Tenzin Gyatsco and when he was 4, it was decided that he would be the 14th Dalai Lama. To me, this is an amazing concept. Since an early age he received vigorous instruction and preparation for his upcoming role. Further, since the age of 24, he has been in exile from his native country of Tibet, living in India.
To be in the presence of The Dalai Lama has had an ever-lasting impression on me. In his natural and self-effacing manner, he effortlessly spoke his mind, incorporating his wonderful sense of humor, infectious giggle and penetrating intelligence. At times he spoke in a matter-of-fact tone and other times as if he'd done this talk numerous times before. Not only did his energy permeate the air, it resonated into the depths of one's soul. He is such a wise man and Buddhism is a simple, yet profoundly logical way of looking at the world.
His morning lecture focused on "The Nature of the Mind," conveying that all religions carry the same message -- to improve the mind. In order to give freedom to the mind, he said, we must reduce fear and anger and increase joyfulness. He discussed the connection between the body and the mind saying that verbal action depends upon the motivation of the mind, and that those things we want and do not want are completely motivated by our minds.
The afternoon lecture was titled, "Ethics for Our Time," and unlike the morning lecture was delivered primarily in English. The Dalai Lama used personal anecdotes to reflect his observations about the world today. He professed that, "a healthy society comes not from government, but from families and from individuals." He referenced the importance of nurturing young children and how his own mother showered him with love, which he equates to his present ability to have compassion for others. Basically, he said that those raised with compassion grow into compassionate adults.
During both lectures, The Dalai Lama repeatedly emphasized the need for compassion, the spirit of forgiveness, maintaining a realistic attitude, giving, and the importance of living and appreciating the moment.
Here are some more highlights I gleaned from this experience:
• Live in the moment
• Having compassion brings inner peace
• We can do without religion, but we can't do without spirituality
• Everyone appreciates love and inner kindness regardless of their religion
• Happiness is a state that exists, in spite of the ups and downs
• The principal characteristic of genuine happiness is peace; inner peace, involving a high degree of sensitivity and feeling
• To achieve a happy and cheerful life, we must take care of our minds
• A peaceful mind is important for preventative reasons
• Everything depends on motivation
• Those with good ethics are happier than those without
• Ethics and compassion are human values we all understand
• Many of the problems we are facing today are man-made problems
• One member in a house can spoil a good atmosphere
• We need to cultivate and reinforce positive qualities
• Rise above thoughts of pain and anger and focus on the here and now
I strolled away from the event feeling much calmer than when I walked in. I felt rejuvenated and had a deep yearning for the simple life. So many of The Dalai Lama's snippets of wisdom resonated with me and I continue to mull over them and their validity.