I spent more than an hour with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Saturday.
(If the first thought that pops into your head when you read that is, “Big hitter, the Lama,” don’t be ashamed. My brain works that way, too.)
Not exactly one-on-one time, mind you. The Tibetan spiritual leader was in Madison and gave a public talk at the Alliant Energy Center Coliseum, so I had to split time with about 7,000 of my closest friends.
I first heard about his visit on Friday morning, and had a ticket by the lunch hour. He had also been in Madison in the spring of 2007, but that event was sold out.
I’ve spent my share of time in coliseums and amphitheaters and other buildings where sizable crowds gather, listening to singers belt out a lyric or musicians strum guitar chords.
This…was a totally different dynamic.
The Dalai Lama walked out slowly and the crowd stood and began sort of a low, courteous applause. When he got to his high-back chair in the middle of a sparsely decorated stage, he made a motion with his arms for everyone to sit...but instead, the applause immediately grew much louder and more enthusiastic.
The words of Gov. Jim Doyle’s introduction, who mentioned that the Dalai Lama often refers to himself as “just a simple Buddhist monk,” were illustrated when the Dalai Lama began by saying that some come to see him because they think he has great religious power or spiritual power or healing power...but in fact, he says, he has none of those powers.
He spoke..very..deliberately..at times. With many..short...pauses..between his words. And then...sometimes as he was making a point, his voice would raise up an octave or two, and he would stay that high for a dozen words before coming back down, and taking...a few..more...pauses..while he spoke.
A favorite phrase, noticeably overused during his speech, was, “...so therefore...”
Often difficult to understand, partly because of his accent and his understated speaking style, and partly because I was in the nosebleed of all nosebleed seats in the coliseum, the Dalai Lama’s message was one that almost all of us have heard before: compassion, affection, humility, kindness to other people.
He stressed that we cannot achieve peace in the outer world until there is peace within each of us. “Frustration leads to anger, and anger leads to violence,” he said.
While I didn’t conduct a straw poll of those around me, I’d imagine that many in the crowd were there, sure, to hear the words he had to share with the audience. But also, simply to be in his presence.
After he spoke for about 35 minutes, he spent another 35 minutes answering audience questions, which were pre-written on cards and delivered by his aide who was on stage with him throughout the speech.
The questions ranged from a middle-aged widow’s request for advice on how to overcome her deep sadness and depression at the recent loss of her husband, to the Dalai Lama’s opinion on the Chinese government, to the source of his strength.
“Good sleep, and good food,” the Dalai Lama said with a laugh in answer to the last question.
Big hitter, the Lama.
“Whether one believes in a religion or not,
and whether one believes in rebirth or not,
there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate
kindness and compassion.”