A Day with the Dalai Lama

July 12, 2015 § 3 Comments

Because it’s not every day one gets to sit in the presence of the Dalai Lama, I thought I’d share some of my experience doing just that. Somehow it didn’t matter that I shared him with 18,000 other people who no doubt felt the same way ~ that it was an honor and a privilege and truly lovely to feel some of his sweetness and magnificence, live and in person. For that, I am fairly wowed.

photo courtesy of dalailama.com

photo courtesy of dalailama.com

One week ago today, three friends and I had prime seating at Anaheim’s Honda Center, host to a 3-day Global Compassion Summit organized by the Friends of the Dalai Lama. The theme for our day was to be “The Transformative Power of Art and Creativity” (how perfect is that?) as well as a special day of celebration for His Holiness’ 80th birthday.

His birthday wish? The well-being of others. “If humanity is happy, then I’ll be happy, because each of us is dependent on others.”

The Dalai Lama has dedicated his life to the well-being of others; to inner peace as a means to outer peace; to forgiveness; to gratitude; to acts of kindness. He is a force for good, with a message that consistently reminds us to be more compassionate in all we do; with others, with ourselves, and with our planet. It’s a beautiful message. A necessary message. A message that requires action. And in this, His Holiness is exemplary; the very essence of love and compassion. And joy. (Have you heard his laughter? It’s infectious, sheer delight.)

And so we gathered in Anaheim expecting to be graced by not only his presence, but by an event appropriately reverent and reflective of his spirit and his life’s work. As event host Ann Curry told us, because the Dalai Lama always gives so much to others, it was a day to give to the Dalai Lama.

I imagined Tibetan monks, perhaps some chanting. Tibetan music. Dance. Art. (Remember the theme?) Perhaps a prayer or meditation at the beginning or end, or interspersed between speakers and entertainers and birthday cake. I expected stimulating discussions. Something inspiring, uplifting. Something with heart. And with joy.

Instead, we were barraged by two-plus hours of an odd mix of environmental scientists, a few nobel peace laureates, and several second-tier celebrities giving generally self-important speeches around and about the value of compassion. Naturally some were better than others, and while it doesn’t really matter if I recognized them or not, some of those I did recognize had me shaking my head (M.C. Hammer?) There were videos with birthday wishes for His Holiness from people who couldn’t attend the event ~ there again, with the exception of Desmond Tutu and his wife, I’m not sure the significance or value of the chosen set of well-wishers. There was also a big push for people to tweet about compassion. (How very 2015.) So people could feel good about themselves without having to do anything? (Excuse my cynicism. I do understand the idea that at least, even for a 140-character moment, it puts compassion in mind. Spread the word. Jump on the bandwagon. Use social media, I get that. The thing is, compassion is an act, not a promise of one. Okay, rant over.)

There were some high moments ~ particularly when children were involved, the Dalai Lama positively glowed. We were moved by Venerable Lama Tenzin Dhonden’s words (Personal Emissary for Peace to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Founder and Chair of the independent, non-profit Friends of the Dalai Lama), and I particularly liked the fact that artists were adding finishing touches to the murals stage right and left. (I had hoped that that “interactive” element would have been carried through, but it was not.) When His Holiness spoke (yes, he did finally get a chance), we hung on every word. And he showed his marvelous humor at times, even suggesting that we in the audience “imagine we are enjoying a piece of the cake he was about to eat”.

Yes, there was cake. It was bigger than life and looked rather like gold-painted plastic. There was also a horrendous “gift” at the end with a dancer inside a lotus contraption with space-age music playing and I literally could not conjure a connection to the Dalai Lama, his life or his message in any way, shape or form (except for the symbolism of the lotus itself). This was the big reveal, so to speak. Really? And he would think this was neat, why?

I actually came away feeling embarrassed ~ was this the best we could do with the rare and high honor of celebrating this great man’s 80th birthday? There was a lot of fluff and a lot of ego and a general lacking of soul. Unbefitting.

And yet, there he was, the Dalai Lama, the picture of grace and patience and I would assume detached appreciation.

One has to wonder though, as one of the world’s great spiritual leaders, as someone who’s experienced enormous strife and lived a non-materialistic life devoted to genuine care for humanity ~ and simply as a human being himself! ~ how this largely superficial spectacle came across. Of course, well practiced in the art of inner peace, he was probably fine.

But, oh, what this event could have been.

And that all said… despite my reaction to the whole ~ the good, the bad, and even the ugly ~ I’m still wildly glad I had this very special opportunity to be there. It was an honor. He is that wonderful. And I hope his wish will come true one day soon.

artist applying finishing touches to mural, stage right and left

artist applying finishing touches to mural, stage right and left


photo courtesy of dalailama.com

photo courtesy of dalailama.com

photo courtesy of dalailama.com

photo courtesy of dalailama.com

My favorite moment: the Dalai Lama thanking the children's Agape Choir. (photo courtesy of dalailama.com)

My favorite moment: the Dalai Lama thanking the children’s Agape Choir. (photo courtesy of dalailama.com)


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