Before I saw the Dalai Lama speak at the Long Beach Convention Center this weekend, I lacked concrete expectations. I have never read any of his books, I haven’t listened to any of his speeches or watched any videos. All I knew was that he was Buddhist, everyone calls him “His Holiness”, and he is supposedly good friends with Richard Gere (a fact from my mom, who is similar to me in that she likely knows more about Richard Gere than the Dalai Lama). All of those facts led me to believe that I was going to embark on a dramatic life-altering spiritual awakening that may or may not feature Richard Gere rescuing me from my 3rd floor walk-up while poking out of the sunroof of a limo that disrupts a flock of pigeons inconveniently hanging out in the middle of the street.
None of that happened. But, I did discover something both humbling and profound: the Dalai Lama is, in his own words, “just another human being” no different from the rest of us. It isn’t all that hard to adopt his ideas for better peace of mind and ultimately, peace on Earth. And, he and I have much more in common than I thought.
What struck me immediately about His Holiness was how straightforward and unabashedly human he was. He commented on how comfortable his chair was once he sat down, shared a lot of adorable anecdotes from his childhood, and spoke very informally, often ending sentences abruptly only to start again with a new train of thought. And, that’s because he is just a guy. Granted, he is a guy who has most of his life and the world’s collective experience figured out. But, I can’t deny that there was something oddly refreshing about hearing one of those stories about a skin rash that I would ordinarily hear from one of my grandmother’s church friends coming from a man people call “His Holiness.”
Throughout the talk, he emphasized that he was simply another human being: not a healer, a God King, a demon, or even a person with the answers to life’s questions. “I don’t know everything”¦ that is ridiculous,” he said to the crowd. He stressed that he was a human who felt the same attachment, jealousy, and anger as everyone else. And, to him, all of humanity is predicated on its universal and basic potential for great compassion. He spoke wistfully and fondly of his mother, who lovingly raised him and his 15 siblings, and described how a person’s happy life full of love and care can foster the same loving concern for others in themselves as they grow older. Conversely, people who have not felt the compassion of others can become clouded with negative emotions, including distrust and competition, that prevent them from meeting their own potential for compassionate living. Humans, he explained, can create our own problems by refusing to think of how our actions can affect others and not exhibiting a basic sense of compassion, which can create a cycle of negativity.
His Holiness also drew parallels between human beings and religions. When discussing religious conflicts, he explained his view that religion itself is not the true cause of these conflicts; rather, the true causes of religious conflict are the people who have “such an attachment to their own religion that they cannot see the value of other religions.” His Holiness explained that all religious traditions share the same core values: love, compassion, self-discipline, contentment, forgiveness, and tolerance. All religions, he says, “have potential to provide inner strength” and are meant to provide for the well-being of humanity as a whole. Just as religions share the same core values, human beings are connected at their core by their shared potential for compassion and their core needs for respect and contentment. Conflicts between human beings and different religions come from an overemphasis on disagreements and secondary differences, when the real focus should be on shared qualities and values that they can connect with on a truly basic level. All people are different and all religions are different, and the source of harmony must be a connection over what these differing entities may have in common.
Now, these concepts aren’t exactly revolutionary. I think most people, not just the Dalai Lama, are familiar with these ideas and/or believe most of these statements to be true. The key to understanding and creating a strategy for peace of mind and, ultimately, for world peace is to piece all of these individual elements together.. What I gathered from His Holiness is that humanity has such great potential to do amazing things and to be more at peace with one another. But, none of that potential can be reached until we can connect with our fellow human beings, looking past the secondary differences that we have been trained to focus on (religion, race, economic class, nationality, etc.) and recognizing that at our core, we are all looking for the same things- respect, autonomy, tolerance, and contentment. To truly be at peace with ourselves and with others, it is crucial for us to develop a concern for other people- whether that means ignoring secondary differences and focusing on our basic human desire for compassion and connection or acknowledging the values of those differences to the overall wellbeing of our world.
This man, a member of the human race just like all the rest of us, loves humanity because of its flaws, quirks, and oftentimes awkward or inconvenient displays of emotion. And, he doesn’t just love humanity, he has complete and utter faith in it. He sees our potential for good, and he knows that we can achieve it if we could all open our eyes, connect, and show compassion for one another. As a passionate feminist and a highly emotional person, it can be very difficult for me to remain positive. In my zeal for learning and my constant need to keep up with the news, I can get overwhelmed by how much is wrong with the world. But, listening to the Dalai Lama really helped me to retain my focus and to recognize why I became a feminist and an activist in the first place: I am the way that I am because I believe with every fiber of my being, just like His Holiness does, that human beings are good. I would not protest, I would not write, I would not raise the tough questions or fight the good fight if I did not know deep down that humanity has great capacity for change and so much potential to be and do better. Without that knowledge, I wouldn’t see the point in wasting my effort. So, despite the fact that His Holiness and I could not be more different, I have found this core value and belief to connect with him. I believe in us, and I care about us, too. And, I think Richard Gere probably feels the same way.