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Is the Dalai Lama Relevant?

Posted by: Buddha Dude
Posted On: 11/7/2010 1:23:41 PM

Our little Sangha, a group of spiritual friends, headed to downtown Toronto yesterday; we went to see the Dalai Lama give his talks on; “Human Approaches to World Peace”. What a show! Over 30 thousand people from all walks of life filled the Roger Center, the same stadium where the Toronto Blue Jays play. Except for a few seats in the 500 section, every available seat was full.  There were vendors everywhere, outside, there were scalpers buying and selling tickets, artist...

Is the Dalai Lama Relevant?

Posted by: Buddha Dude
Posted On: 11/7/2010 1:23:41 PM

Our little Sangha, a group of spiritual friends, headed to downtown Toronto yesterday; we went to see the Dalai Lama give his talks on; “Human Approaches to World Peace”. What a show! Over 30 thousand people from all walks of life filled the Roger Center, the same stadium where the Toronto Blue Jays play. Except for a few seats in the 500 section, every available seat was full.  There were vendors everywhere, outside, there were scalpers buying and selling tickets, artist selling hand drawn Dalai Lama prints and counterfeiters selling T-shirts.  Inside, there were 10’s of tables selling hats, “official” Dalai Lama T-shirts (of which I am currently wearing as I write this), Dalai Lama books, Tibetan flags and hand made Buddhist artwork going for over $1000.00.

When we got to our seats, ladened with bags holding our flags, “been-there-done-that” T-shirts, jumbo popcorn, Fuzzy Peach candy and jumbo drink ($15 bucks for the snacks I might add) we were ready to be entertained; we were not disappointed.  For a full hour before His Holiness came out, the Toronto branch of the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Center (TCCC), performed traditional Tibetan dances, including the dance of the Tantric Guru and the dance in honor of the Dakas and Dakinis.  The colorful masks and costumes looked beautiful under the massive stage lights and the deep thumps of the rhythmic drums went right through you as they pulsated out of the massive sound system, then reverberated from the echo of the Domed stadium.  In many ways it reminded me of a blending of Hawaiian Luau meets Native American dance.  We were close to the stage but had absolutely no problem seeing the dancers and His Holiness because of the four “Jumbotron” projection screens surrounding the stage.

Yes my friends, it was a show.  I think the point I am trying to make can be captured when my sister-in-law said, she could remember seeing the Dalai Lama 15 years or so ago in downtown Toronto, but back then it was in a small theater of only a few hundred, an intimate talk with a few followers.

You might be thinking I am being snide, negative, pointing out the materialist nature of the talks, but I am not, I am leading up to something, so please read on.

His talks themselves were wonderful, from his calming voice, gentle smile, sincerity, to his humoristic, almost playful attitude, it brought the serenity of many hours in meditation.  But I digress; the point of this article is not on the “show” or even the “official” talk on “Human Approaches to World Peace”, it is on two small points that he made, the first one at the very beginning, the other one at the very end. Quite near the beginning, he started talking about, and then almost rhetorically asking if, the (office of) Dalai Lama is relevant, he then went on to say it really is not up to him, it is up to the people of Tibet whether the reincarnation should continue or not.  I really did not understand why he would bring this up, is there distain in Tibetan political and/or Buddhist ranks?  Is he reaching out to us?  Is he trying to tell us something?  This point really stuck with me during the talks as I had never really thought of a world with out a Dalai Lama, but it was the second point that really got me thinking.

At the end of his talk, they asked His Holiness questions that had been submitted by people over the internet, after the last question, he said that he has started asking one question to the audience, “Does the Dalai Lama deserve the same human rights as us?  If so, can the Dalai Lama retire?”  The condensed version of his point is this, he is 75 years old, the schedule and stresses are taking a toll on his health, he wants to take a vacation; he wants to retire.   I have studied and contemplated all of the great philosophers, I have studied all of the big questions, but this my friends is the greatest philosophical question I have ever heard, can the Dalai Lama retire?!?!?

If you do not understand the significance of these two questions, let me give you some background.  It is not like the Catholic Pope asking is the Pope relevant, can a Pope retire? The Dalai Lama is not chosen by peers nor the Tibetan people, under the Buddhist religion, he is literally the reincarnation of the last Dalai Lama!  I am not going to debate the merits of this belief, but I will just say, to many Buddhists of the Tibetan faith, the Dalai Lama, the office not the person, is the reincarnation to Chenrezig, the Tantric deity of compassion; the Dalai Lama the person, not the office, is a living Buddha.  So this question becomes similar to Jesus asking if he can retire; now you understand.

(The rest of this article is written as if I am answering the Dalai Lama an open letter of sorts.)

To the first question, “Is the Dalai Lama Relevant” I have two answers, “I do not know” and “A Big Resounding YES!”  The office of the Dalai Lama is actually two “chairs”, he is the leader of the Tibetan government (currently in exile), in some ways, he is like a king.  The relevance of this chair is totally up to the Tibetan people and if there is discontent and a cry for democracy, then let the Tibetan people speak, let them vote on it.  To not do this, to quell any talks against the Dalai Lama would to be no different then the Chinese that currently occupy Tibet.  To the second chair, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, is it relevant? IS IT RELEVENT?!?!  It is almost too shocking a question to ask. You (the Dalai Lama) have absolutely no idea what you do for the world, do you?

In your lifetime you have done more to spread the word of love, compassion and peace then any other person even Gandhi.  In just fifteen years, you have gone from a footnote, an, “oh BTW, the Dalai Lama was here”, to being the lead story on the NEWS last night, going from attracting a few hundred “new agers”, to filling 30 thousand seats; all eagerly wanting to hear your message.  The multi-gazillion watt sound system so that every person could hear your own voice, the “Jumbotrons” so that every person could see the sincerity on your face, the bright lights so every person could see that you are human.  On the way home, while on the subway, I saw a little old white lady, all hunched over, shuffling along with her walker; she had one of those Tibetan flags that were for sale, peeking out of her purse; she was there my friend.   
Many years ago, I was an atheist, an angry, narcissistic bigot kind of atheist, wallowing in the suffering of my own bad Karma, it was your books and teachings that awakened me; you have set me free.  My aunt, a 70 something white woman, brought up as a devote protestant found out I am Buddhist and she started sending me your books, the ones she has finished reading.  She has been following you for years; you have set her free too my friend.  You have opened the door for the likes of Lama Dias, Jack Kornfield and Thich Nhat Hanh, the message is compounding.

I now have a question for you, the Dalai Lama, is the position of the leader of Tibetan Buddhism still only relevant to the Tibetan community?  Should only the Tibetan community be the only ones to decide?

The second question, “Can the Dalai Lama retire?” this is much more difficult to answer, much more personal to both you and individual Buddhists.  When you were talking about this, I had such a deep feeling of compassion for you, I am only in my mid 40s and I can not wait to retire.  I sleep in my own bed every night, I am with my family and friends on the weekends, Friday at 5pm is the highlight of my week, but you do not get to enjoy such small joys.  From reading books from people that have worked with you, your schedule is booked for years; from your own teachings, I would have to say you are suffering from the fruits your own Karma.

You could have stayed in Dharamsala and “governed” the Tibetan refugee community in relative peace and serenity, but you choose not to, you choose to go out onto the world stage and bring the message of peace. For better or worse, especially in these troubled times, this message is being heard; but a grueling schedule is hard enough for a young man, let alone for a senior citizen; you are a true Bodhisattva.

The real answer to this question can only be made by the Dalai Lama, but there is one more thing I would like to say, I have lit a candle and incense for you, I have chanted Chenrezig’s mantra for you and dedicated all merit to you, may it find you and ease your suffering, may it be my way of saying Thank You!

Buddha Dude