Today, I met my new hero. He goes by the name…
Despite the common introduction, this man is waaaay cooler than James Bond. Granted, I’ve never seen any James Bond movies (add that to Rocky and The Terminator –I’m un-American, I know) but I do know that Mr. Bond is reputed to be quite the womanizer.
What are His Holiness’ views on women? Well, he advised the young men in the audience to marry based on inner beauty because outer beauty is fleeting. I realize that’s not a completely original message, but I strongly believe that it cannot be repeated often enough… for the sake of the male and female populations alike. I wonder if my 7th graders picked up on it; we’re reading Holes, a novel in which the main character’s great-great-grandfather is warned that his beautiful love interest has a “head as empty as a flowerpot” (yeah, similes) and that anyone who chooses her will be committing matrimonial suicide.
Yeah, it was probably just me who made that connection. Sigh.
As with most educators, my mind is never fully switched out of “teacher mode.” Therefore, when the Dalai Lama’s speech began, I started jotting down general observations so that I could rehash the speech with my 9th graders; we just started Animal Farm and are studying the format, rhetoric, and other elements essential to effective persuasive speeches. However, the brief outline for my students quickly turned into a collection of copious notes for my own personal use. The speech was not at all what I expected it to be, nor was the man who gave it.
When you think about the Dalai Lama, what adjectives first come to your mind? Before I heard that he would be making an appearance at Woodstock, my list would be embarrassingly vague, like: religion, peace, Asia… old… important? Pathetic, I realize. I am now slightly more knowledgeable, thanks to conversations with colleagues, a presentation during assembly from a couple students, and, let’s be honest, Wikipedia. Pathetic, I realize… but informative! During his 1959 flight into exile, the 14th (and current) Dalai Lama took refuge in Mussoorie. He lives elsewhere in northern India now.
Now, if I were to make a new list of associative adjectives for the Dalai Lama, it would include progressive, open-minded, and accepting. These words aren’t usually representative of older people—His Holiness is 77—and they also aren’t usually representative of extremely religious people, not to mention iconic religious mastheads. The fact that he contradicts such conventional classification should be applauded. Which it was, at the end of the speech.
Prior to the speech, though, you could literally hear a pin drop. A few minutes before His Holiness was scheduled to appear, an eerie hush blanketed the entire gymnasium. There were so many people—so many children—in the gym that this silence demonstrated the most deeply rooted, intense respect that I have ever seen paid to another human being. Still, he addressed us as “brothers and sisters,” and proceeded to explain that he chose this address because we all share a common humanity, regardless of race, religion, nationality, etc…
Yeah, yeah, yeah… totally expected.
But then, after this introductory phase, he had to ask his assistant to remind him about the topic of the speech that he had already started giving.
Uhh… totally unexpected.
And that’s when I realized that this was not your average sermon. He was occasionally very quiet and difficult to understand, he sometimes went off on random anecdotal flourishes, and at one point he had to ask if Woodstock was a university. Still, his speech was ultimately about compassion, and the quirky delivery actually compounded the idea that we are all imperfect people. He said that seeking out perfection only leads to stress, anxiety, and unhappiness, which in turn detracts from internal peace. I am plagued by perfectionistic tendencies, so this was a much-needed reminder. Even though he spoke in pretty broad generalities, the majority of his talk hit close to home. Here were the main points:
-The health of one’s mind and body are interrelated.
-Personal happiness is achieved primarily through a positive attitude.
-Ethics are essential to the survival and happiness of our species. Religions—all of them—promote universally sound ethics, so all religions are valuable.
-Secular ethics are equally valuable. You do not have to be a religious person to be a good person.
-Good ethics necessitate a concern for future generations and the environment in which they will live, especially as we interact on an increasingly global scope.
-A smile is a comforting global language.
-Once we gain personal happiness, it becomes outwardly obvious (through that whole smiling business) and can then be harnessed for the common good.
There was then a question/answer session with representatives—nominated by the teachers—from grades 7-12, who each composed a well-crafted question to pose to HH. Some more nuggets of wisdom emerged during this Q&A portion:
-Technology is wonderful—almost a miracle—but sensory experiences alone will not bring inner peace.
-The purpose of education is to bridge the gap between appearance and reality… education should make people more realistic about differences and capable of engaging in dialogue with those who are different.
-Religious diversity is not something to be tolerated; it should be actively supported. He has been called a “good Christian” and is not offended, because Buddhism and Christianity share the same aims.
-People should accept religion based on thorough exploration, not blind faith.
-We should be grateful for hardship; if life is too easy, the good times are spoiled.
Then, HH probably gave our principal a heart attack when he welcomed questions from random audience members. This was my favorite part of the event. The questions were unscripted and off-the-cuff, and the answers were similarly blunt.
There were a few requests from the audience. A woman in a wheelchair asked to be healed, or to know how she could be healed, and another staff member asked for a blessing. In both cases, HH humbly declined. He referred to himself as a skeptical person who does not believe in mind-reading, future-telling, the ability of a mere mortal to heal or bless. How different from the minister of the church I attended in Ghana, who “blessed” water for people to take home with them and who “blessed” me before I flew back!
But my favorite question was something along the lines of, “What is the experience that has given you the greatest hope?” It took him awhile to speak, but the answer was so poetic it was well worth the wait. He said he once saw someone giving a speech and, while she was talking, the wind blew up her skirt. He explained that the wind is independent and does not care about formality, and that formality separates us from reality.
I find it interesting that he said formality separates us from reality, and also that (as previously mentioned) education is supposed to make us more realistic. The best education, then, is informal? It should not be about students (or teachers, for that matter) jumping through a series of meaningless hoops? I like it. I see what you did there, Mr. Lama. The pieces are falling into place…
As HH recounted the story about the windblown speaker, he was giggling like a little schoolgirl. He displayed quite the arsenal of various types of laughter, some of which involved snorting; occasionally, he even broke out the evil chuckle. Everyone immediately started laughing when he laughed, which was often—it was so contagious! He explained that most situations in life do not require seriousness.
This ability to laugh at others—and himself—is what I think keeps HH so young and vibrant. But what about his answer, when asked about the key to his boyish charm and dashing good looks?
Hmm… perhaps these two are more similar than I thought… : )
I took pictures of my own, but this one (taken from Woodstock's FB page) captures the experience best!