Listening to the Dalai Lama

There we are, in a college basketball arena, and we’re wedged into seats that are too small, too close together, and too close to the row in front so there’s noplace to put my legs.

But I don’t care.

Down in the front row of the $1000/each floor seats, it’s Richard Gere. Not a surprise.

On the stage are several cushions upon which a number of monks are arraying themselves, including the gentleman who will be the translator.

And then, after a brief introduction, His Holiness the Dalai Lama appears, blesses the crowd, and sits in the chair provided for him.

He has a little bag (as do many of the monks)… turns out he’s got the book he’s teaching from in it, and whatever else. He has a rock-star-style microphone over his ear, but it’s small and not really noticed.

They start off with questions from the previous session (this was the 3rd of 3 teaching sessions). The Dalai Lama answers these in English, occasionally being helped with a word by his translator. He has good humor, though, which is one of his trademarks.

Much of the rest of the two hour teaching session is done in Tibetan with a translator. This leads to some discontinuity, but though the Dalai Lama’s English has improved out of all recognition in recent years (owing to considerable effort on his part), he much prefers his native tongue (and wouldn’t you? I would). The session is about compassion and understanding differences. It is peppered with bits and pieces of the basics of Buddhist philosophy that I have been able to learn so far, which helps, notably the principle of an inherent emptiness to all things, and the interrelation of cause and effect.

I found myself thinking about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and Schroedinger’s cat, both of which are elemental parts of quantum physics. For those not quite up on their quantum mechanics, the former posits that it is impossible to know both the position and state of a subatomic particle at the same time (Star Trek, incidentally, relies on “Heisenberg Compensators” in the transporter mechanism to be able to preserve both position and state of a person’s particles when beaming them from place to place, a neat bit of technobabble handwave). The latter can be summed up as a statement that the act of observing or measuring an event has an effect on the outcome of that event.

This isn’t as far of a logical leap as you might think. The Dalai Lama himself has noted the similarities between Buddhist teachings and physics, particularly quantum physics, and the book I am *still* struggling through, THE UNIVERSE IN A SINGLE ATOM, is his exploration of this connection.

Still, there was a connection to compassion and understanding in all this — when the cause and effect are tied together — you cannot have an effect without a cause, and each cause has an effect, and there is what I would call a feedback loop tying cause and effect together — some effects can mask, conceal, or prompt an observer to misidentify the cause. If you understand this, you may be in a better position to understand the circumstances of someone else’s life. Through *that* understanding comes compassion.

I’m overly simplifying this, I realize.

Unfortunately for me, just as I was getting seriously into it, the session was over.

The other part I picked up on here was a sense of peace, of grace, as it were, from the man himself. He has no airs about him at all, he just *is*. Oh, he is 100% human — that is without question — but the contentment he has radiates and you can’t help but share in it. Just be. Learn all that you can. Be kind to others. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But that simplicity is the elegance.

I would still love a small-audience situation with the Dalai Lama. This is a man I know I can learn much from. I will, for now, be content to read the books, and hope for another opportunity to meet him.

If you get the chance yourself, take it.



  1. If you’re ever out in Vancouver, look me up and I can introduce you to a monk with much the same serenity to him. He’s currently on retreat in Nepal but he’s come back here in the fall. The believing of two apparent opposites such as emptiness and compassion to what we see are things I’m working on right now. I’m much better at emptiness than compassion.


  2. Thanks for posting this. It sounds like it was quite an experience. I would like to see him speak sometime.


  3. I’ve met maybe 2 people that I would say held the same grace as you’re describing. 2. I’m not one of them by far.


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