Woke up in time to miss my train and arrive on the West Lawn of the Capitol in time to ease into the group of people who just got our piece of lawn before they close the area. I settle in on my bright batik sarong, Rebecca and Kate next door on a white beach towel. We share snacks and sunscreen and look over the multiple thousands of people who have pushed through the crowded streets to come together to hear from, and be in the presence of, one of the great teachers and humans on earth—His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama is in Washington DC for 10 days, teaching and leading in an event for world peace (http://www.kalachakra2011.com/). This morning is the big public, and free, event and the city has turned out for it. People who look to be from many walks of life, young and old, multi-cultured and diverse, all gather together in the sweltering sun, sweating with the hope of peace. The event starts and dancers and musicians begin, an ethereal sound spreads out over the area, reverberating tranquility and invites our focus to the stage.
I’ve had a number of people ask me in the last 24 hours, “So, how was it? What was it like to see the Dalai Lama? Did it change you?” I’ve searched for words to answer, specific sound bites to share, and keep coming up short. I can’t say “It was the most profound and amazing 2 hours I’ve ever spent!” or “He was so charismatic that I clung onto every word.” And yet, that was what was so profound. His humble, deeply wise presence could be felt, even up on the top corner of the lawn, hiding in the bit of shade under my umbrella. I didn’t hear every word, some lost in the air and accent, some peacefully washing over as I pondered the sentence before. Each word was obviously gently and carefully chosen, but none demanding me to cling to them. I heard every laugh. That I know. His laugh gurgled out with the innocence of a toddler, in-filled with the depth of the wise elder that he is. He laughed at himself and laughed at human nature, embodying the joy and lightness that he was speaking of.
“But Anna, you must have heard something of his message, his words, that stuck with you that you can share.” I’ll try to capture a few gems into words to share.
The first gem comes from Nelson Mandela, who gave a video address introduction. President Mandela spoke of his respect for the Dalai Lama and for the leader he’s been for a more peaceful world. Then he addressed the crowed, “It’s your turn”. He went on to remind us that something he and the Dalai Lama share in common is that they are “retired men”, they have lived their life of public service, incredibly sacrifice and world-changing leadership. He offered the image of he and the Dalai Lama sitting on his front porch sipping rooibos tea and watching the grandchildren play. “It’s your turn to work for peace” he challenged us.
This charge caught my attention, and quickly brought a flood of internal dialog. “Yeah, right, us the next Mandela?” “How could any of us sitting on our beach towels, downing the bottles of water being handed out by orange shirted volunteers, every come close to the work that these two great humans have done?” That’s when the Dalai Lama entered the stage. We all stood in reverence, he stood in greeting and then told us that his favorite way to speak is not a speaker to a crowed, but person to person, in a conversation, so he would be sitting in a comfy chair. Besides, “It’s hot and the chair is in the shade”. He sat and began to talk.
He talked about how world peace comes through inner peace. He talked about how every human craves for inner peace and seeks it in many ways. And he reminded us of our shared humanity and that every person is part of the global solution to peace. He challenged us to look inside and think about how we are seeking peace in our own heads, in our internal dialog. He asked how we are treating the people who we share a home with, our spouses, children, parents, our co-workers, the people we meet on the street. It is in these interactions that the ripple will start and move outward, meeting other peaceful currents and sweep the nations with a tsunami of compassion and peaceful living.
No one is exempt from being part of the global solution and no moment is apart from the opportunity of peace. It’s our turn. Our turn to live in the way of peace and justice, radical compassion and relentless dedication and devotion as our elders have done.
And His Holiness didn’t let any one path off the hook, or offer the “right” way. He spoke eloquently about the variety of religious (and non) paths, the many tools that can lead to a life of compassion. He spoke of the importance of growing an intelligent mind and a warm heart. He spoke of teaching compassion in all contexts, sacred and secular and how embodied compassion is the way of religious life. He reminded me of one of the Swedenborgian teachings I hold dear, “All religion is of life and the life of religion is to do good”. It is the life we live from what we believe that matters. Regardless of our life circumstances, religious holdings, or stages of life, we have a part to play. He broke down any walls of excuses or “not me” and with his raw humanity and humility called us to a higher place of compassion, justice and peace.
I can’t remember the last words he said. I do remember his smile though, kind and wide on the big monitor and moving with the bright red of his robe that I see getting up from the chair on the stage. Still shining as he walks down through the crowed and the music begins to play. We begin to pack up our things and roll our blankets. A quiet is over the crowed. If we can all be peaceful together for 2 hours, in 90+ weather in the middle of the charged swirl of the Capitol City of the United States…maybe peace can continue to seep into our world.