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Mindfulness Matters

The Dalai Lama is coming to Vermont and giving two talks on his current tour. The one for the public is entitled, “Finding Common Ground: Ethics for a Whole World.”

I wasn’t planning on going, I did not wake up at 5:30 A.M. to get online to buy tickets at 6:00 A.M. Even folks who did that were not successful in gaining tickets. Yet, a ticket fell into my lap due to the generosity of one of the members of my meditation community.

The theme of his visit, “Cultivating Hope, Wisdom, and Compassion,” encompasses both of his lectures. According to Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz, the purpose of the talks is to help people explore resources for hope, optimism, and cooperation, while challenging them to lead lives of courage and engagement.

I’ve had some history with H.H., so I didn’t feel the need to make a big deal of his arrival. I’ll describe this history in a moment. We were both younger men then, twenty-seven years ago.

So, now I am going to and I was jsut reading through the fine print that came along with the ticket. Doors close at 9:00 even though the talk is at 9:30. If you don’t make it through security by 9:00, tough luck, you are heading towards the overflow room.

I’ve heard people are planning to show up hours before the event. I’ve heard rumors from other appearances where people rush in to the venue lack a mad crowd trying to get a good seat. I guess they missed the irony.

I guess we could all use  little more compassion and wisdom and by hope I hope he means not despairing on the state of the world and persisting with our efforts to make it a better place.

When I took the bodhisattva vows from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1985 at the age of twenty-two, I did so as an invitation to live my life in a way that would have integrity. I was planning to pursue psychology as a profession to help others. As a bodhisattva psychologist, I could change the world. I’m still working at it. .

Back in 1985, I sat in a klatch of Western spiritual seekers, stage left of His Holiness the Dalia Lama. Along with these Westerners was a collection of about ten thousand Tibetan Buddhist monks and 250,000 Tibetans in exile and those who had received special permission from the Chinese government to be in Bodhgaya for the Kalachakra Tantra ceremony. His Holiness read and commented upon Santideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. Upon conclusion, he offered the Bodhisattva vows to everyone. I took them.

The year before, I had another more intimate encounter with H. H. This occurred at the small chapel of Amherst College in 1984 for the Inner Science Conference (the precursor to the Mind and Life Meetings). The meeting centered on the Dalai Lama who was giving lectures on Buddhist cognitive psychology, preceded and followed by lectures given by Western psychologists, other scientists, and philosophers. This introduced and turned me on to Buddhism.

During the meeting, The Dalai Lama’s interpreter became ill.  Called in his place was Robert Thurman. Keep in mind that this is 1984 and Thurman was relatively new to Tibetan Buddhism. While he could translate most of what His Holiness said, he could not capture all of the nuances. What ensued was a lot of miscues followed by gut wrenching laughter from H.H. and the rest of the audience.

The teachings were transmitted through the absurdity of the situation, rather than through literal understanding, which is ironic given the arcane nature of the Dalai Lama’s teachings for that conference on Buddhist psychology. There was something very appealing about that.

When I went to India after meeting His Holiness in Amherst, I figured I’d find H.H. in Dharamsala. While I was in Darjeeling, I learned he and a gargantuan entourage would be in Bodhgaya instead. So, off I went to Bodhgaya. I arrived in the middle of the night on the back of a flat bed truck. I awoke at dusk to a processional of monks. They kept coming and coming, seemingly without end. They were on their way to the great Stupa, all ten thousand or so of them.

I had no idea what the Kalachakra Tantra was or that I was going to take the Bodhisattva vows. I didn’t have to know. It was the happening of my lifetime.

I’ve read a bunch of his books and seen lots of talks in the years between. Stay tuned for an updated report on a live encounter.

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