He’s in Atlanta for a series of events at Emory University, where he received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1998 and accepted an appointment as Presidential Distinguished Professor in 2007.
Not knowing what to expect, I spent an hour talking with him in his hotel room when he first visited Emory in 1987, two years before he won the Nobel Peace Prize. I knew less about the situation in his native Tibet than I should have then and understood even less about Tibetan Buddhism. Based on quick coaching from a couple of academics who knew a lot more than I did, I anticipated that the hour would be much like I imagined an hour at the Vatican with the pope might go. Interesting, perhaps inspiring, but not a whole lot of fun.
Perhaps my expectations of a session with the pope were unfair. I can’t say, because I’ve never had that experience. But my expectations were totally wrong about the Dalai Lama.
Oh, the conversation had its serious side, especially when we talked about the situation in Tibet, where the Chinese government was — and is — actively oppressing the native population. But the Dalai Lama is a very informal man, who immediately set me at ease. He threw solemnity out the window, chuckling, laughing, smiling. He was the opposite of any holier-than-thou religious figure. He knows that he doesn’t hold all the answers to the art of living but he believes “a sense of universal responsibility is needed,” love and kindness are the common grounds of all religions and, if we help other people, we will be happier. And, as he told me and reiterated to Emory students when he spoke to them later, if you don’t find any wisdom in that advice, just forget what he said.
My special hour with him was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. But I’ve heard him speak one more time since then and I’ll be in the crowd for one of the events at Emory on Tuesday. To prepare for the occasion, I’ve just re-read an anthology of his wisdom compiled shortly after he won the Nobel Peace Prize, “The Dalai Lama: A Policy of Kindness” (Snow Lion Publications).
A few excerpts:
— “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart, is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
— “Suppose that something is definitely proved through scientific investigation. … And suppose, furthermore, that that fact is incompatible with Buddhist theory. There is no doubt that we must accept the result of scientific research. You see, the general Buddhist position is that we must always accept fact. Mere speculation devoid of an empirical basis, when such is possible, will not do.”
— “Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. … Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.”
— “If through weapons we could achieve real lasting peace, all right. Let all factories be turned into weapon factories. Spend every dollar for that — if we achieve lasting peace. But this is impossible.”
— “… basically, we are the same human beings. That is what binds us to each other. That is what makes it possible for us to understand each other and to develop friendship and closeness.”
— “Once your mind is dominated by anger it becomes almost mad.”
— “Inner peace is the key: if you have inner peace, the external problems do not affect your deep sense of peace and tranquility. In that state of mind you can deal with situations with calmness and reason, while keeping your inner happiness. That is very important.”
— “Responsibility does not only lie with the leaders of our countries … . It lies with each of us individually.”
— “The very purpose of religion is to control yourself, not to criticize others.”
— “… there are ways in which we can consciously work to develop love and kindness. For some of us, the most effective way to do so is through religious practice. For others it may be non-religious practices. What is important is that we each make a sincere effort to take seriously our responsibility for each other and for the natural environment.”
— “When I speak about this, I regard myself not as a Buddhist, not as the Dalai Lama, not as a Tibetan, but rather as one human being.”
— “My true religion is kindness.”