One day last week, I hung out with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
That’s what it felt like. Low-key, informal, friendly. He is a greatly esteemed spiritual leader, and the respect and feeling for him was apparent from all around him, including me. He was open, approachable and easy in his demeanor, reminding me of how a good friend is. I liked that.
He taught about forgiveness and compassion. Separate the action from the actor, he said. Do not accept wrong action, confront it, but treat the person doing it with concern. He is going down the wrong path of karma, and will have to suffer the reaction that must come from his action; help him avoid this suffering by guiding him away from this path. That is compassion. He also spoke about secular ethics, bringing all the world religions together for the secular values they all contain and putting them out to heal the world together.
It was exceptional, to learn the Buddhist way straight from HH the Dalai Lama. What made it so exceptional was to observe him in action.
He was mindfulness incarnate. When he listened to his translator, that’s all he did. Just listened. Distractions around him, a person getting up here, a noise over there, none of them affected him. He didn’t move his eyes, while keeping his head cocked towards the translator, as if to cover a mind that has wandered. He never wandered. He also never interrupted; he waited till the translator finished his thought to ask for clarification.
And then, he gathered his thoughts before opening his mouth. Calmly, he spoke. Whether he was speaking on the death penalty (he’s against it), the afterlife (depends on your karma), or how hot it was in Mumbai (yes, the humidity gets to him too), he spoke thoughtfully and slowly. And, most marvelously, he grinned, cracked jokes, and laughed at his own jokes across all topics and issues. Nothing was sacred at the same time that everything was sacred.
He took time to respond, and his responses didn’t exude judgement. Many times, someone from the audience shared her perspective, hoping for affirmation from him. He simply said, “okay”. If that works for you, go for it, seemed to be the subtext. How often do I rush to judge, because I feel like I need to have a position on something, everything? It’s not necessary, he showed me.
He has a position on issues, that was clear. He talked about the wastefulness of the big, fat, opulent weddings that are visible these days – he clearly didn’t approve, calling it utterly “silly” and “foolish, foolish” to spend like this instead of feeding the hungry poor that fringe the outer walls of the wedding halls.
He was also refreshingly candid. When asked for a prayer that could heal sickness, he said, “there’s no prayer, get medication! If prayer and meditation could heal, my knee wouldn’t hurt the way it does,” promptly chuckling while rubbing his right knee gently.
Throughout the day, I kept trying to imagine him as a regular person and what that would be like. Instead of his monk’s robes, what if he was in a pair of pants and a shirt, and I saw him on the road? I would still notice he was different from the rest of us. There is a steady calm that emanates from his face that is uncommon. The depth of stillness. An unshakeable sureness about who he is, about the world, about life.
And that’s probably why he is so relaxed. Why he can make funny remarks and laugh from his belly like they are the best thing he heard. Why, in the midst of a serious explanation of karma, he grins at someone in the audience.
He wears maroon socks with his black shoes. Not black, maroon socks. They look delightful, like they are embracing life for the way it is. They go perfectly with his beaming face, ever ready to break into a toothy smile.
It was one of the best days of my life, observing mindfulness from HH the Dalai Lama himself. I highly recommend it.