(Photo (c) ellen scordato/twi-ny.com)
Meditation and the importance of going to bed early were just a few of the topics the Dalai Lama addressed during his Saturday afternoon teaching in New York City.
The spiritual leader of Tibet, whom Richard Gere called “the hardest working man in the dharma business,” gave a series of teachings and a public talk over the weekend at Radio City Music Hall.
I attended Saturday’s afternoon session, and although I felt very much like I joined a class at the end of the semester without having done any of the reading, I enjoyed it immensely.
Even the set-up was interesting. The Dalai Lama sat on an elevated chair at the center of the Radio City stage, flanked by monks and nuns sitting on purple cushions. There were two giant screens on either side of the stage, which alternated between the Dalai Lama and his translator. The text for the Saturday teachings was “A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life” by Shantideva.
Much of it was about meditation.
“The best time for meditation is early morning,” His Holiness said in English. “There is no question…. The dinner should be less and, of course, go to bed a bit early, then the next morning you can get up earlier.”
And what, exactly, does that mean for him? Well, apparently, after a light dinner, he’s in bed at 7 p.m., and up at 3:30 to meditate.
“There is a Tibetan saying that when you meditate, when you end the session,” he said, ”you should do so in a friendly manner [so it] will be a joy to return…. Otherwise, when you see the meditation seat, you feel revulsion.”
Big laugh from him and the audience.
He also said that it’s better to meditate for five minutes initially and work your way up to longer periods than it is to set aside an hour for meditation and doze off occasionally.
Even as non-Buddhist, I appreciated this practical advice.
And, as an editor who routinely receives e-mails in which God is invoked to defend every conceivable political opinion, and books that advocate one faith over another or one theological position over another, I also really appreciated him saying:
“This very life is created by God. Because of this, there is no separation between God and me. Therefore, we have a close relationship, and an intimate feeling.”
For me, that quote helped silence the political chatter and endless debates. It reminded me of what I find so beautiful and powerful about faith: the poignant hope that there is more in this world than what we can see–that we can connect with God; that life is quite precious; and, ultimately, the hope that God is, indeed, close by.
Sometime, he said, it’s easier to feel close to your teacher but God feels very far away. He said several times, “God is very close.”
Finally, although I didn’t know the text, I was struck by how he described meditation as a practice, as something you work on, gradually lengthening the time of your meditation and improving your focus. He talked about the importance of trying. Just before the two-hour teaching ended, he offered a last piece of advice: “Attempt is important.”
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