Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Dalai Lama extols virtues of compassion

Well-received spiritual leader's visit runs smoothly

His Holiness the Dalai Lama offered his greetings to an audience of thousands at "A Message of Compassion and Healing" on Sunday, Sept. 11, at the Wood River High School's Phil Homer Field in Hailey. Photo by Willy Cook

Express Staff Writers

Wrists adorned with brick-red bracelets were raised high Sunday during Kiril Sokoloff's introduction of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, creating a sea of people responding to a call for compassion. Compassion, the day's message, was stamped on the wristbands distributed to some 10,000 people who came to hear the 70-year-old Tibetan monk's healing address. For Buddhists, red signifies wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity--words that were all part of the Dalai Lama's message given at the Wood River High School's Phil Homer Field.

As well as the compassion bracelets, each member of the audience was given a long white scarf, known as a kata, which lends a positive note to the start of any enterprise or relationship and indicates the good intentions of the person offering it. Strands of silk clung to clothing like snow as they were passed from one person to another.

The sun shown brilliantly with puffy clouds reminiscent of those featured in Tibetan art, highlighting a very real sense of providence, of being in the right place at the right time. Calm, peaceful and smoothly managed, folks milled around the field awaiting the arrival of His Holiness, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists and one of the most revered and beloved people on earth. Some people meditated while waiting as some practiced yoga on the sidelines. Others nursed babies, visited and greeted each other with tangible anticipation.

For trekking guide Ginger Harmon of Ketchum, it seemed like a lifetime ago when she spent much of the decade from 1975 to 1985 walking through the Himalayas enjoying the company of the mountain people. It was one of the best times in her life, she said.

"I loved the way the Buddhists in the high country live," she said while finding a place in the home team bleachers for Sunday's long awaited address. "It was my good fortune to travel there. I came away with a kind of empathy for their feeling for the Dalai Lama. He was so important to them. The other thing I brought home was an appreciation of Buddhist values.

"This is amazing," Harmon added as she energetically looked over the crowd before the Dalai Lama was introduced. "I wish the whole world would learn from their values. What a great world that would be."

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne arrived with his wife, Patricia, and two children in tow and warmly greeted well wishers. Kempthorne introduced the key organizer of the event, Kiril Sokoloff, who in turn introduced the Dalai Lama. After His Holiness was driven to the field in a golf cart, several monks and security people escorted him to the stage. Tibetan monk Tenzin Dhonden, who helped organize the visit, held an umbrella over his head, but the Dalai Lama grabbed it from him and marched up with great stamina.

The Dalai Lama asked everyone who'd raised their hands during Sokoloff's introduction to pledge themselves to living with compassion.

"You made a promise to be more compassionate," His Holiness said on the occasion of the historical "Healing Address" made on the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks on the East Coast. "That's wonderful. You be determined to be more compassionate.

"So, from today I think you should quarrel less, you should fight less."

The Dalai Lama often referred to Sokoloff, who is an internationally known investment analyst and Ketchum resident, as "my friend." A Buddhist, Sokoloff was the primary sponsor and host of the visit by His Holiness.

In his vigorous introduction, Sokoloff said this was the beginning of a pendulum swing, the tipping point of change.

"We will send a message of love and compassion indeed to every part of the world," he said. "We are all interdependent. I entreat all of us to be ambassadors of compassion. You can say you were present when energy shifted in the world."

Infectious laughter punctuated the Dalai Lama's address, which was mixed with both humor and theology.

In his address on compassion, given mostly in English with some help from his Tibetan language translator, the Dalai Lama counseled on ways to deal with suffering by looking at tragic events from a wider perspective and making a regular effort to develop a calm mind. He offered healing words both in honor of those who have suffered from the events of 9/11 and more recently in the path of Hurricane Katrina.

"We are all aware that recently the United States has also been hit by great tragedy, natural disaster," he said. "So, one is man made tragedy, one by nature. Of course, both cases are determined by a sort of painful experiences. Not only those people who really experienced on the spot, but like myself, who is watching television, really feel very sad, very sad."

He said his foundation, which handles the royalties from his books—such as the recent "The Universe in a Single Atom"—donated $100,000 to the Hurricane Katrina relief fund.

"Scientists say our mental state is a very crucial factor," he said. "We can critically analyze emotion. Through more effort you can change, then share with others. Compassion begins with one person."

The Dalai Lama went on to share how in the face of heartbreaking news, sentient beings are capable of solving problems within the framework of friendship.

"Within atmosphere of compassion, meaningful dialogue can take place," he said.

The Dalai Lama has been living in exile for 46 years since the Chinese began their long occupation in Tibet.

"In my life I go through lot of difficulties and painful experience--hopefully my mental state can remain calm," he said. "Warm heartedness is truly precious. We cannot buy them through supermarket or medicines. It must develop most within us. We have the seed of this quality at birth. Pay more attention to (this) inner value. This will make you happier."

Drawing parallels with his own storied country's history, he said, "We lost not only our freedom but our country. For 46 years we always keep our spirit. (We) never give up our hope. No matter how tragic we should not lose our hope or determination.

"As a practitioner of impermanence it is useful to remind us," he laughed. "We fret over little problems." His Holiness then made a sour face, put his hands out as though flustered. "Oh, oh, oh," he mimicked. "Things happen, no use worrying. You just suffer yourself.

"The causes come from conditions because of something that happened the previous day, month, year or century. They are chain reaction. It's difficult to find independent target, so many factors we focus the anger, and we see only one thing. Which is the real target?"

Anger, harsh words, negativism all contribute to an unhappy mind, he said. He admitted to losing his temper sometimes.

"Afterwards, when my mind is normal, I feel shy to meet the person, embarrassed. It's hard to judge when we're angered. You cannot see the reality."

He said the "gap between rich and poor especially in this country, is morally wrong and practically (speaking), the source of troubles."

"I think 21st century is the most important century. There are positive signs. I look forward, full of spirit and determination and with clear vision. If the last century was one of pain and violence, this century should be one of dialogue and compassion, led by these people."

The Dalai Lama pointed at the audience and laughed delightedly when they raised their arms again.

At the end of his address the Dalai Lama responded to a number of questions in an informal atmosphere.

He was asked to address an apparent human trend to cause violence and fight war in the name of religion.

"There are many mischievous people everywhere," he said. "It's a mistake to blame whole religions for those people. I have Muslim friends who are very gentle, very compassionate. They say people who act (in violence) in name of Koran are not real Muslims. All traditions talk about love, compassion, forgiveness, self-discipline and contentment. So, all major religions have the same potential to make better human beings, happier human being."

When asked about family values and how to better incorporate them in your life, he said, "I don't know. You have more experience." Much laughter followed his blunt response. However, he added, "Children should have more time with their families. It's very important. I learned about compassion from my mother, not my guru. She was a very kind-hearted mother."

He also revealed that all his siblings share his joking sense of humor. Following the event many spoke of his charm, humor and the childlike quality of his laugh.

He was asked how to spread the word of compassion, to which he responded, "Each of you then get this (message) to your friends like when water ripples when you throw a stone. In any case it is my share of the responsibility. Make small contributions. It's not easy but there is no other alternative."

He was asked how people should ask for compassion from their leaders? "Leaders not come from sky, from society. The short-term answer is ask directly."

When asked why he appeals to so many different faiths, he replied: "I don't know—my smile? I approach things informally, with humor. Tibetans are quite jovial. It's my nature. I think that's better."

He closed with his advice for a happy life.

"Water," he held up a glass of water. "And sleep. I love sleep. Perfect. That's my secret."

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