September 25, 2004--During his five days of talks in South Florida, the Dalai Lama spoke as an international religious leader, Nobel Peace Laureate, and advocate for Tibetans living under Chinese occupation.
But when he addressed the more than 3,600 people who gathered at the University of Miami for religious teachings on Monday and Tuesday, he took the stage as a Tibetan Buddhist master, the spiritual head of the four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism and an incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of compassion.
For many Buddhists in attendance, the Dalai Lama's two-day religious teaching marked the highlight of his visit.
"He's everything for me. When I am happy, I remember him. When I'm sad, I remember him," said Pasang Tsering, a Tibetan who came down from New York to hear the Dalai Lama and who served as one of his bodyguards from 1991 to 1994. "The teaching today is a blessing."
Sitting on a throne in front of a 50-foot painting of Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha, the Dalai Lama expounded in Tibetan on the eighth century Buddhist text Garland of Views, composed by the Indian Buddhist saint Padmasambhava.
Speaking through a translator, the 69-year old Dalai Lama outlined the fundamental tenets of the Buddhist path as well as the more subtle doctrines of the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, philosophy. And the crowd of monks, nuns, fledgling Buddhists and advanced practitioners seemed to take it all in stride, even when he tossed out phrases like "the wisdom that sees the nonexistence of selfhood."
"He has a way of making things understandable to everyone," said Wendy Jenkins, 36, a Miami graphic designer who has practiced Buddhism for five years. "I've read what he's saying before, but it's different coming from him."
Others, however, admitted some of the teachings went over their heads.
"Even though I'm a Tibetan, sometimes it's difficult," said Karma Lama, a 32-year-old banker from New York.
But by all appearances, a good part of the crowd was in the know. Some people performed prostrations, a sign of respect for the teacher and for one's own inner wisdom, after the Dalai Lama settled into his intricately decorated throne. Others meditated on the steps outside of the UM Convocation Center during the break. A few walked around in Dalai Lama T-shirts.
Sensitive to his audience's level of knowledge, the Dalai Lama asked those familiar with the Buddhist teachings to look for new meaning in old concepts.
'As it is stated in the sayings of the great Kadampa [a Buddhist lineage] masters, `Although there is nothing new I've heard, perhaps there is something new I've understood today,' " he said, adding, "Even though I repeat myself, perhaps there is no error in this."
According to the Madhyamaka or Middle Way Buddhist philosophy, all suffering arises from misunderstanding the nature of self, the Dalai Lama explained. By viewing the self as permanent and disconnected from the rest of reality, people become attached to their bodies and as a result suffer as they undergo sickness, old age and death. By understanding the self as impermanent and transitory, spiritual seekers can gradually overcome their attachment and attain nirvana or relief from suffering.